Head in the Sand

Last month, global CO2 readings reached another milestone at 410 ppm just as the Trump administration quietly cancelled NASA’s carbon monitoring program. This follows the purging of data from government websites regarding climate change. I guess when the data does not support one’s belief system, just get rid of the data? So, the country that put a man on the moon is now choosing ignorance. Personally, I think that choosing ignorance is asinine, but that is the way of this administration. And it is an example of the danger of having leaders that are scientifically illiterate.

I know that facts and evidence are actually not too convincing to ideologically driven people. When facts do not support one’s notions, we humans are really good at rationalizing and attempting to punch holes in the evidence. For decades, misinformation led many to deny climate change. Now, the argument has shifted because it is obvious climate is changing. Some assert that the earth’s climate is always changing and the billions of tons of carbon that humans produce annually has no effect on climate. After all, how can something measured in parts per million have any effect on our thin atmosphere? Others claim that the excess carbon will benefit our economy. After all, if Arctic ice melts, we will have easier access to drill for oil and exploit/pollute even more areas of the world. Agribusinesses will be able to use land at higher latitudes for profits. But how true are these assertions?

In terms of agriculture, farmers have always been at the mercy of the weather. One weather event such as a flood, tornado, or hail storm can ruin a crop. Drought and the increase in fire risk also ruin crop lands, as well as homes and businesses. Excess carbon in our atmosphere can cause more extreme weather events. In addition, several studies have shown that crops grown in higher CO2 levels such as wheat and rice are less nutritious. A recent meta-analysis of 143 studies found significantly less protein, iron and zinc in experimental crops grown in higher CO2 (Meyers, et al., 2014).  So, the argument that plants would flourish in a higher carbon dioxide environment is not supported by the science, the facts.

It is true that carbon dioxide is less than 1% of our atmosphere’s composition. But, there is a range that is best for human life. And even though this amount is very small, it has a profound effect on our planet. Think about the effect of a very small amount of medication on the human body. If one measured the percent of one prescription to the mass of an adult body, it would be most likely be measured in parts per billion, but a small amount of medication can have a profound effect on the human body. Just listen to the disclaimers about all the side effects of medications on the television commercials. And what fool would nearly double the amount of medication prescribed. For another analogy, think about what would happen to your lawn if you doubled the amount of fertilizer you distribute. It would burn up the grass. So, even though the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is small, the effects of too little or too much could be devastating to human life.  

It is true over geologic time, the amount of CO2 and planetary temperatures have varied. But humans, and the flora and fauna that support our lives are adapted to a particular range. From a geologic time perspective, the planet is coming out of an ice age. From the same perspective, humans are rapidly changing the planet and populations do not have time to adapt. These natural processes are very slow and rapid changes will cause extinctions and reduction of biodiversity. I discussed some studies that provide evidence of human impact on species extinction in a previous post called Rapid Changes in the Biodiversity tab on this site. More facts and evidence for deniers to attempt to poke holes in.  

So, we can stop collecting the data and ignore the preponderance and convergence of evidence from the majority of scientists on the planet, but that won’t change the reality. The sad part is the old white dude politicians and rich CEO’s will be long gone when the effects of their carelessness and short-sightedness profoundly affect the quality of human life on the planet. If we sacrifice our future for the present, our lives have no meaning or purpose. We must pull our heads out of the sand and remind Washington that our country was designed to reflect a government for people’s best interests, not corporate profits. We definitely need to exert our scientific expertise not only in collecting data, but also in solutions to the problem of carbon reduction. You can’t fix a problem until you recognize it exists. Let’s pull our heads out of the sand.