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Letter: Never Underestimate The Power of Denial

Though I should have expected it, given the Fox News Channel’s constant perpetuation of the same asinine talking point over the past few weeks, I was still astonished to read the insane commentary regarding the reality of global climate change and questioning the credibility of Al Gore, simply because of the recent snow storms that slammed the Northeast coast of the United States. Robert McMillan’s opinion piece in the March 10 issue of the Mineola American, “Where is Al Gore?” touts scores of serious errors, both in content and context, regarding what should be recognized as an irrefutable scientific reality.

Though global climate change is undoubtedly a multifaceted subject, certain fundamental truths are not difficult to understand. The first of these is that with an increase in CO2 levels, there is an increase in temperature because as this particular greenhouse gas builds up, it traps more and more heat that would normally radiate out of the atmosphere, thus warming the planet.

The second is, in 650,000 years of recorded data, extracted from ice core samples taken from the earth’s polar ice caps, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has never risen above 300 parts per million (ppm), and this includes the various natural cycles of ice ages and warming periods. Yet today, as a direct result of the industrial age and the activities of human beings (i.e. burning fossil fuels, deforestation, increases in livestock production etc.), the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is nearly 400 ppp, a number which scientists agree is incompatible with the global ecosystem as we have known it for thousands of years.

Now, while McMillan derides the semantics of terms like “global warming” versus “climate change,” (the latter being the more accurate idiom) it is only because he apparently fails to understand the enormous consequences of a warming planet and its effect on the delicate systems in which we have come to exist. For example, as global temperatures rise and the north polar ice cap and glaciers covering Greenland begin to melt and disappear (as they are precipitously each year), the North Atlantic ocean is rapidly becoming diluted by the massive influx of fresh melt water. If this continues unabated and the ice melts completely, aside from the immense devastation which would result from dramatically risen sea levels, a massive increase in fresh water in that region would also work to interrupt, or even completely stall, the Gulf Stream current, which is responsible for delivering a steady stream of warm water and temperatures from the Gulf to the North Atlantic. If this occurred, it would not only ravage oceanic ecosystems and demolish longstanding seafood-dependent economies, but it would also sever the cycle of warming oceanic currents that we depend on, and plunge Europe into another ice age. So yes, while the climate is getting warmer, it is called “climate change” for this very reason.

McMillan relishes in detailing just how much bad winter weather the United States has experienced this year and points to this as somehow evidence or proof that climate change is not only not happening, but also that it is little more than a half-cocked conspiratorial scare tactic engineered by Al Gore and the modern environmental movement.  

Following this logic, I should be incredibly frightened because I am writing this at nighttime, and the sun has disappeared. I have to then assume this means the earth has now been plunged into infinite apocalyptic darkness because apparently, according to McMillan, what is happening right now in my small corner of the globe is the only thing that is happening. Thus, if it snowed two or three times this winter, then global warming doesn’t exist at all and Al Gore is the person to blame. (Yet, I don’t remember Al Gore ever being or claiming to represent all global climate change science, or even making the more outrageous assertion that it will never snow in winter ever again.) However, for those borderline schizophrenics that continue to live in the fanciful world of denial, facts don’t seem to matter as much as misguided character assassinations and simplistic conservative talking points, neither of which are grounded in any logic, reason, or reality.

Never mind the multitude of glaciers that have been disappearing over the last few decades, glaciers that remained virtually untouched for thousands of years, or the chunks of ice larger than the state of Rhode Island breaking off the Antarctic ice sheet and floating out to sea, or the fact that species loss is now 1,000 times the normal background rate, or even the record number of intense hurricanes, typhoons, and tornadoes that have pummeled the earth in the past few years alone. According to McMillan, this is all part of a natural cycle and has no relationship to humanity’ss current habit of burning fossil fuels, driving gas-guzzling cars, erecting smog-spewing smokestacks, burning down the rainforests, polluting oceans and rivers, and clearing land to raise livestock for the now 6.3 billion people on the planet, all of whom, he writes, can’t possibly have any effect on it.  

Furthermore, despite the recent winter storms, the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred in the last 20 years. The arctic ice cap has diminished by 40 percent in the last 40 years alone and in the next 50 years it is projected to melt completely in the summer season.

McMillan states that to “blame humans for ‘Global Warming’ is absurd,” and yet literally the exact opposite is true — to deny that human behavior since the dawn of the industrial age has had no impact whatsoever on the earth is completely and unequivocally ridiculous.

Despite being buried under a mountain of scientific evidence which proves this, the fact that such a blatantly incorrect, illogical, and indefensible viewpoint remains ubiquitous in the American media may be the scariest fact of all, and it just goes to show you, never underestimate the power of denial.

Sean Callahan