Earlier in this extreme-weather summer, I asked readers for their thoughts on climate change and what we as a society and as individuals need to do about it. I also wanted to know if those previously skeptical of human-caused climate change had reevaluated their stances after a summer of debilitating heat, raging fires, pounding rains, and rushing floods.
Today’s column focuses on readers’ perceptions of the problem and their thoughts on a macro response. My Friday column will present respondents’ thoughts on individual actions that should be pursued.
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Many readers based their belief in climate change on things they themselves had observed. Dominic Cucé,71, of North Attleborough, noted that during his family’s first winter there, back in 1988, he and his wife had taught their kids to skate on a nearby pond over Christmas break. “During the last few years, the pond barely froze,” he wrote.
That doesn’t, of course, mean that the warmer winters have been human-caused — but that’s where the scientific world’s exhaustive research and modeling comes in. That work concludes that the rise in global temperatures is being caused principally by the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, in particular carbon dioxide. The relationship has been most famously outlined by the so-called hockey stick graph, which demonstrates how closely the rise in global temperature tracks the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
The United Nation Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that to forestall the most catastrophic effects, the world needs to limit the increase in global temperature to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit — but that doing so will take a dramatic worldwide reduction in current levels of greenhouse gas pollution, which must be reduced by more than 40 percent by 2030 and hit net zero by 2050.
Jessica Brodbeck, 60, an oncology nurse educator at Blue Cross Blue Shield, expressed deep frustration that a scientific issue and challenge has become mired in partisan politics.
“We will all face the consequences of climate change, and time is running out,” she wrote. “We have more refugees than at any time in history, even World War II. We are losing wildlife at a record never known. Right whales may be extinct in my short remaining lifetime. We risk losing thousand-year-old redwoods in California due to drought, fire, smoke.”
Rodney Taylor, a retired surgeon from Grantham, N.H., wrote, “Melting glaciers and polar ice, soaring temperatures, hundred-year storms on an annual basis, thousand-year droughts, and rising average temperatures are documentable facts. But I am unsure that we have the time or the will to reset the environment.”
He’s not alone. Brian Watson, 71, of Swampscott, architect and author of the pessimistic “Heading into the Abyss,” doesn’t think humanity can summon the will or undertake the sacrifice to ward off the worst effects of global warming.
“While I believe that we should keep trying to reduce global warming, we will run out of time to make the transition to sustainable living,” he wrote.
“I am sure this is the end of the world, at least for humans,” wrote Sandra Sonnischsen, 67, a retired fishery biologist from Goshen, N.H.
Several respondents said they feared necessary changes are being ignored because they are simply too controversial: stabilizing, and even reducing, the size of the population by limiting future family sizes and moving away from meat-based diets that drive so much of current agricultural policy.
“The media are too scared to report this as a rule, but one must have fewer children,” wrote Kira Barnum, 56, a Somerville hospitality worker.
Air travel should be priced so that passengers pay for its environmental cost, said William Bennett, an 82-year-old Cambridge psychiatrist.
Still, despite their high level of worry, many left-leaners remained opposed to building more nuclear power plants as a source of emissions-free electricity.
One proffered solution is a favorite of mine: a rebatable carbon tax that would essentially make users of fossil fuels pay for the true cost of their pollution and thus speed the transition toward greener energy.
Young Kim, 47, an energy analyst from Brookline, and John Hanger, 66, a two-time Pennsylvania Cabinet secretary and utility commission head, each said consumers everywhere need the option of buying renewably produced electricity.
“Choosing to power your home with zero-carbon-generated electricity is the single most important choice any consumer can make to protect the environment,” said Hanger, now of Shrewsbury.
“Solar should be required on the roofs of every mall, big box store, and parking structure everywhere,” wrote Carol Lampson, 65, an accountant from Yarmouth Port.
Along with greenhouse gas reductions, the world needs to undertake a serious effort “to deflect more heat from reaching the earth’s surface,” including reflective paints for roofs and roads, and tiny reflective particles injected into the atmosphere, wrote Damon Carter Jr., of Dedham, a retired electrical engineer.
Rather than simply stabilizing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we need to reduce it significantly, wrote Peter Fiekowsky, coauthor (with Carole Douglis) of ”Climate Restoration.” How? By fertilizing the ocean with iron, which would create a carbon-consuming plankton bloom.
One scheme I hadn’t heard before: the creation of more grasslands, which function as carbon-capturing sinks. Another was a plan by MIT scientists to float reflective space bubbles high above the globe to reflect sunlight upward.
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But though most acknowledged the climate science and its urgency, others were put off by what they saw as excessive alarmism surrounding the issue and said we could adapt more gradually. Another group insisted it was all a hoax.
Some who held those views seemed to consider the whole idea of climate change a conspiracy, a way for climate scientists, grant makers, “alarmists,” and activists to compel people to follow their dictates.
Asked about the strong level of agreement among scientists about anthropogenic climate change, they cited this dissenter or that, as if their views somehow trumped the overwhelming consensus.
“Trump was right: Man-made climate change is a hoax,” and the Paris Agreement “allowed China and India to build thousands of coal plants,” wrote a 65-year-old who asked to go unnamed.
Those nations should certainly be encouraged to do more, faster, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but one justification for the different reduction schedules for different countries is that Western nations have emitted larger shares of the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
“Anyone who thinks climate change is a hoax should know that the leaders in the Pentagon see it as a national security issue and they have for some time,” noted Gabriel Heilig, 80, an essayist and screenwriter from Sterling. Brad Chase, 64, from New Hampshire, said he thought everyone should assess their opinions and ask themselves this question: “What if I’m wrong?”
“The worst-case scenario if ‘do nothing’ is the wrong choice? We all die,” he wrote.
And then there was this, from Kip Brown of Milton, a retired operations analyst. Climate change is a big problem, he wrote, but so is the finite supply of oil and gas, which means we’ll have to transition to different energy sources anyway within the next 25 to 50 years.
“If we can find and implement alternatives to oil and gas before we run out of them, we will likely solve the climate change problem at the same time,” he wrote.
That reality offers a cornerstone of common sense for concerted climate action: Given both the climate crisis and the fossil fuel reality, why not make a big energy transition push now?