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JOHN BRUMMETT: At the proper time

By John Brummett

This article was published September 14, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

The nation's chief pollution permission official told a television interviewer the other day that it was insensitive to talk about climate change while Floridians were suffering.

He buried his head where sand used to be.

I refer to Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. He got the job because he had been active as Oklahoma's attorney general resisting the Obama administration's "overreach," which is what Republicans call protecting the environment.

Pruitt says man's activity has little to do with whatever climate change is occurring. That's a sop to status quo energy generation and consumption. It's fear of change in the way we make money. It's conservative resistance to government regulation.

Scientists say it is empirical nonsense.

Several of them responded to the New York Times by insisting there was no more appropriate time to discuss climate change than while southeastern Texas was under water and Florida was flooded and darkened by a hurricane as broad as Texas.

In 166 years of record-keeping, 2017 is the first year in which two Category 4 Atlantic hurricanes struck the United States.

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, told the Times that scientists warning of climate change are repeatedly told they don't receive major news coverage because the effects of what they warn are so gradual that there is no "news hook."

Tides that routinely wash up higher in Miami Beach than they used to ... that's more suitable for an Al Gore documentary, or so we seem to think. Routine is not news.

Here, then, in Harvey and Irma, were two powerful news hooks for climate change. Yet the nation's EPA administrator was saying the equivalent of this logic: No one should dare talk about seat-belt safety because it would be insensitive to the family of someone recently thrown through a windshield.

Here is what most of the scientific experts say: Yes, we've had powerful hurricanes forever. And, no, we don't have empirical proof that Harvey and Irma were climate-change events. But the data that we've collected and recorded for decades reveals that atmospheric temperatures and ocean temperatures are rising in small, slow and steady increments.

That new warmth and the heightened energy from it do not increase the number of hurricanes, they say, but they will cause--and, anecdotally, seem now already to be causing--storms that generate stronger winds, span newly vast expanses, collect more moisture and move more slowly.

Harvey's hovering for days over Houston, Beaumont and Port Arthur, to the point that it was regenerating its own rainfall--case in point, they say.

A hurricane so uncommonly big it struck the lower western coast of Florida and flooded downtown Jacksonville hundreds of miles north on the eastern coast, and left two-thirds of a large state without power--case in point, they say.

Oh, please, say the climate-change scoffers. They don't have data, but they have what they call common sense and they have their own eye tests. They say:

• We have hurricanes every September. Some are worse than others.

• If the climate is changing a little, and maybe it is, a little, then nature--not mankind--is doing it. We don't need to overreact to a little sub-decimal change in the Fahrenheit reading of some distant ocean water.

• Scientists frequently get things wrong. They were forecasting storm surges of a size not achieved in Florida. It is their job to warn of worst-case scenarios. It is the media's addiction to play up those direst forecasts.

There's some truth in some of that. Some within some.

But here is what the scientists reply, if I might paraphrase in a colloquial way: We are trained in atmospheric and oceanic sciences. We apply carefully gathered data to what we know about how air and water work. Thus, we make credible predictions about unprecedented and worrisome effects.

We can look at Houston and Beaumont and Port Arthur like the rest of you. We can see rain beating down harder and longer on that one region than we've ever seen before. We can see water rising higher and over much broader expanses in that region than we've ever seen before.

Yet we hear the nation's top environmental official saying it would be "very insensitive" if we dared to suggest that people consider the anecdotal evidence they're sloshing through and boating atop.

The current president has said climate change is a hoax. He's said a lot, little of it supported by evidence, little of it sensitive and little of it credible or relevant hours later.

To listen to him and not scientists ... there's a proper time for us to ponder with great sensitivity the wisdom of that. Like now.

Otherwise, Florida will not be alone in the dark.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 09/14/2017

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23cal says... September 14, 2017 at 8:21 a.m.

I know people who had two feet of Chinese hoax in their living room.

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KnuckleBall says... September 14, 2017 at 8:33 a.m.

Good Article John, I bet if asked the man from Oklahoma would say the Great Dust Bowl in his state in the 30s was not caused by man. If man doesn't do something soon and hopefully not too late, Mother Nature is going to make living on this rock harder and maybe impossible in the future.

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davidscherreysbcglobalnet says... September 14, 2017 at 8:53 a.m.

It was nearly 12 years till Harvey that the last major hurricane made landfall in the U.S., which is the longest such period on record.
Harvey couldn’t go any further, so it just meandered, because it was blocked by high pressure in midwest.

1915 3 hurricanes hit USA two at Cat 4.

List of 3 or more hurricanes hitting USA in a year.

1852 3 hurricanes, 1854 3 hurricanes, 1860 3 hurricanes, 1861 3 hurricanes, 1869 4 hurricanes, 1870 3 hurricanes, 1871 3 hurricanes, 1879 3 hurricanes, 1880 4 hurricanes, 1854 3 hurricanes, 1882 3 hurricanes,
1886 6 hurricanes hit USA, 1887 4 hurricanes, 1881 3 hurricanes, 1893 4 hurricanes, 1896 3 hurricanes, 1898 3 hurricanes, 1906 4 hurricanes, 1909 4 hurricanes, 1913 3 hurricanes, 1915 3 hurricanes 2 at Cat 4, 1916 4 hurricanes, 1926 3 hurricanes, 1933 5 hurricanes, 1936 3 hurricanes, 1944 3 hurricanes, 1947 3 hurricanes, 1948 3 hurricanes, 1949 3 hurricanes, 1950 3 hurricanes, 1953 3 hurricanes, 1954 3 hurricanes, 1955 3 hurricanes,
1959 3 hurricanes, 1964 4 hurricanes, 1971 3 hurricanes, 1985 5 hurricanes, 1989 3 hurricanes, 1998 3 hurricanes, 1999 3 hurricanes, 2004 5 hurricanes,and for six weeks, Florida reeled under the assault of four hurricanes.

It is likely that 2017 will see a net increase in Greenland’s ice mass for the first time this century.
125,000 years ago was definitely warmer than today based on paleoclimatic data from tree rings, ice cores, sediments and other ways of examining Earth's history said NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt.
I don't think there were any automobiles 125,000 years ago.

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PopulistMom says... September 14, 2017 at 9 a.m.

Great column, John.

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TimberTopper says... September 14, 2017 at 9:08 a.m.

I think a good bit of the deny on climate change comes as a result of friends and money. He has friends with lots of money, that oil is their cash cow. Then there's the friends of friends, that coal is their cash cow. Any thinking person, that has been on this earth for any length of time knows the weather has changed in their lifetime. The men and women of science for the most part say it is due to the pollution man has put into the air. Yet the opposition says it's not. Maybe that group needs to never go to a medical doctor, as they depend on science to cure. Or maybe, it's just something in the drinking water in Oklahoma. Another good one, John.

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Packman says... September 14, 2017 at 10:03 a.m.

"In 166 years of record-keeping...." And with that Brummett stumbles into his own logical fallacy. Climate has been happening on the Earth for literally billions of years. It's insane to think accurate conclusions can be drawn from a sample size so small (166/1,000,000,000,000). No true scientist would ever make such a claim.
It's always interesting to note the climate change cult accuses the opposition of being "science deniers" while supporting the notion a person can change the science of gender. Liberal hypocrisy truly has no bounds.

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gohogs17 says... September 14, 2017 at 10:31 a.m.

This climate change hoax is as redundant as Hillary's excuses.

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hah406 says... September 14, 2017 at 10:48 a.m.

Packman, I thought the GOP thought that the Earth was only created a few thousand years ago. I guess that is actually just the ultra-religious corner of the party? You are right that the sample size is very small. Unfortunately by the time it is large enough to analyze, there won't be anyone left alive to do it.

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mrcharles says... September 14, 2017 at 11:09 a.m.

In the cool of the evening the deity was walking [huh?] in the garden. Adam where art thou and your lovely Eve? Whatyou been doing?

The point being if the deity cant figure out where primates are hiding or what they have been doing, the most powerful being in the universe as long as it doesnt mess with iron chariots, how can mere creations of the creator, talking primates [ of course there are talking donkeys and snakes] do not have the ability to figure out climate change which we will all agree is harder to figure out than where them two creatures were hiding in the garden and/or what they been doing. [ uncle joe chirps in but the deity has the power to know everything, and see all], I remind him sea bass claims the same powers but is batting about .101.

I suggest that all the divines just use their powers and knowledge to turn dirty water into clean water, turn dirty air from clean coal to clean air, and as to the climate , making things up here kinda like San Diego wouldnt be a bad idea.

I heard tom coburn from Oklahoma has the world's biggest snowball collection.

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PopulistMom says... September 14, 2017 at 11:21 a.m.

Well, let's see. The scientists said that the earth is getting warmer and that includes ocean waters. These same scientists predicted that the warmer ocean could cause bigger monster hurricanes. This year we've gotten hit with two monster hurricanes. There just might be something to what the scientists are telling us!

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