“He had discovered that the earth itself was breathing.”
—Justin Gillis, referring to scientist Charles David Keeling’s finding that the levels of atmospheric CO2 oscillated according to the seasons
In an informative article published last week in the New York Times, Justin Gillis points out that now that climate change deniers—through the Republican takeover of the House—have some political clout, they intend on using it to “subject climate researchers to a season of new scrutiny”:
One of them is Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California. In a recent Congressional hearing on global warming, he said, “The CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rather undramatic.”
But most scientists trained in the physics of the atmosphere have a different reaction to the increase.
“I find it shocking,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the government monitoring program of which the Mauna Loa Observatory is a part. “We really are in a predicament here, and it’s getting worse every year.”
It was from data collected—beginning in the 1950s—on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa that Dr. Charles David Keeling discovered “the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” which Gillis claims “transformed the scientific understanding of humanity’s relationship with the earth.”
When Keeling made his first super-accurate measurements, he discovered that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 310 parts per million. By the time he died in 2005, it was 380 parts per million and rising. Gillis writes that predictions are that without efforts to control carbon emissions, “the number could pass 560 before the end of the century, double what it was before the Industrial Revolution.” Here is the way Gillis explains what may result from such an increase:
The risks include melting ice sheets, rising seas, more droughts and heat waves, more flash floods, worse storms, extinction of many plants and animals, depletion of sea life and — perhaps most important — difficulty in producing an adequate supply of food. Many of these changes are taking place at a modest level already, the scientists say, but are expected to intensify.
None of that worries right-wing radio and television talk show-climatologists, their climate change credentials being that they have microphones and big mouths. It is these chattering consensus-doubters who are responsible for much of the shift in public attitudes toward climate change. Polls show an increase in skepticism, which emboldens public officials like Dana Rohrabacher and Republican Senator Jim Inhofe to pursue their crusades against the science of global warming.
According to Wikipedia, Senator Inhofe has compared the environmentalist movement to the Third Reich; he has compared the Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo; he has said that global warming is “the second-largest hoax ever played on the American people, after the separation of church and state.”
Needless to say, Inhofe is one of the right’s heroes, when it comes to this issue.
As for the politics of Dr. Keeling, whose research first alerted us to the possible dangers of global warming, here is Gillis again:
In an interview in La Jolla, Dr. Keeling’s widow, Louise, said that if her husband had lived to see the hardening of the political battle lines over climate change, he would have been dismayed.
“He was a registered Republican,” she said. “He just didn’t think of it as a political issue at all.”
You can bet we will be in for a real treat when newly empowered Republicans in the House execute their assault on the lifetime work of Dr. Keeling and his fellow scientists.