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OPINION | CORALIE KOONCE: Change is here

U.S. must do more on climate by CORALIE KOONCE SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | October 23, 2021 at 3:30 a.m.

Denial isn't just a river in Africa.

Surfing social media and reading the newspaper, I often run into contrarian opinions about climate change and renewable energy. Posters don't know that ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Koch Industries have spent millions of dollars to support organizations that deny climate change. It's apparently easier to believe that the world's scientists are stupid or corrupt than that fossil-fuel industries produce boatloads of propaganda to safeguard their profits.

Some regard themselves as authorities because they once took a course in a related subject--or they read something somewhere. Maybe Donald Trump said it. People have claimed online that there is "no evidence" for human-caused climate change. Here is a brief summary of evidence, from NASA: climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus.

Wannabe experts like to parade their pet factoids. Yes, the planet was just as hot 6,000 years ago. Scientists have never said that human activities are the only factor that has ever influenced climate. Complex interactions require research data to understand fully.

Here and now, almost 8 billion humans depend on crops that need regular rainfall; on healthy oceans providing oxygen and food; on not having heat waves that reach temperatures incompatible with human life; on coastal infrastructure now threatened by rising seas and unpredictable storms. Forty percent of us live on coasts.

Some posters find it suspicious that what used to be called "global warming" is now called "climate change." The newer name is more descriptive, because there are other changes besides rising temperatures.

Deniers use ad hominem against anybody in sight, notably Al Gore and Greta Thunberg. Some people think that too much intelligence is unseemly in politicians or teenagers. Gore popularized the dangers of climate change based on scientific information. Gore began life well-to-do and gained more wealth as a green tech investor; however, he didn't get rich from popularizing climate change.

They say Thunberg should keep quiet because of her age. Some other famous teenagers: American investigative journalist Nellie Bly began her career at 16; Louis Braille at 15 invented the Braille language for the blind; Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize at 17 for her dedication to education for women; at 19, the Marquis de Lafayette turned the tide of the American Revolution.

Commenters assume that transitioning from fossil fuels will automatically lower living standards. Skepticism about renewable energy is mostly based on outdated information. There's been a lot of progress in the past decade.

A recent study published in Environmental Research says that fossil- fuel air pollution (mostly as fine particulate matter) kills one in five people worldwide. Living is even more important than living standards.

Somebody always brings up the notion that scientists predicted an ice age in the 1970s. Most scientists expected warming, but media sensationalized the opinions of a small minority. (Skepticalscience.com/ice-age-predictions-in-1970s.htm)

A number of posters assert that the U.S. is the world's leader in combating climate change, and the rest of the world is "doing nothing." Both assumptions are incorrect. Costa Rica is close to 100 percent renewable. Germany was 46 percent renewable last year, according to Reuters. The North African countries of Morocco and Gambia are exceeding their Paris Accord goals with 35 percent renewable electricity. According to a 2019 National Geographic, India is a global leader in renewables, but Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the U.S. were "barely trying."

China is the world's top carbon emitter; coal is the culprit. China also has installed the most renewables. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the world's biggest share of coal reserves--22 percent--and Sen. Joe Manchin, from a coal-producing state, is able to throw a monkey wrench into his party's plans to combat climate change.

Emphasizing only wind and solar leaves out important ways to mitigate climate change, such as preserving and planting trees.

The small countries of Bhutan in Asia and Suriname in South America are already carbon neutral because of their large forest cover. Big reforestation projects are underway in Africa, China, and India. The U.S. has a lot of commercial timber, although pine plantations don't sequester nearly as much carbon as do deciduous trees of mixed species and ages.

Technical fixes and new, more efficient industrial processes are very significant ways to reduce carbon emissions, such as developing green cement or plastics not based on petroleum.

Many opinionators declare that either the idea of climate change or trying to do something about it is "socialist," probably because progressive Democrats have been the most visible supporters of action. However, virtually all the world's nations recognize that the threat exists--and most of them aren't socialist.

People across the world, including in Arkansas, are planting, inventing, and building ways to combat the crisis. There's no magic bullet, but numerous parts and pieces exist.


Coralie Koonce is a writer living in Fayetteville. Her latest book is "Twelve Dispositions: A Field Guide to Humans."

Print Headline: Change is here

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