By Walter Borden
Astrophysicist Adam Frank recently commented on NPR that climate change really is not really humanity’s fault. The crux of his argument is that while the science is settled that human activity has caused climate change, we really could not have known better. Clearly there is some real truth in this assertion. To quote from the article:
But here’s the crux of the issue: 150 years ago when we started building that fossil-fuel based civilization, we had no idea of what we were doing. We’d found this black goo seeping up from the ground and it turned out you could do awesome things with it. In the winter, you could burn it in a furnace and keep your house warm. In the summer, you could burn it in a power plant and use the electricity to keep your house cool. You could also burn it in an internal combustion engine and travel hundreds of miles in a single day. And all that electricity you were generating from the power plant? You could use that to keep the lights on at night and watch moving pictures of stuff happening on the other side of the planet.
At the outset of large scale fossil fuel utilization and into the 20th century this point is fair. But we must consider the case of Exxon, for example has worked to undermine climate science including widespread dissemination of both its own scientific findings as well as those of other groups. According to the New York Times:
So, even as one in-house memo stated that “fossil fuels contribute most of the CO2” that was turning the earth into an overheated greenhouse, another memo showed that the company would seek to “emphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions.
Other major players in Big Oil very likely done same. And quite naturally politicians in the House Science Committee (under the chairmanship of Lamar Smith, R-TX) who take large contributions from Big Oil are using sweeping new congressional protocols modeled on the open-ended Benghazi hearings, to harass and intimidate climate researchers. Dr Frank argues that its time to go beyond narratives of greed. Maybe not quite yet. While we all strive to avoid ad hominem, it seems greed driven attacks risk damaging the basic process by which our nation funds basic research. As David Roberts points out in an very thorough post at Vox:
To be clear, Smith has not alleged any corruption, wrongdoing, or even bad science. He hasn’t alleged anything. Nor has he offered any justification for why he needs access to NOAA internal communications. The new rules mean that he no longer has to explain or justify himself to anyone. He’s just hoping to find something he can use.
So, while Dr. Frank’s point has merit, and invective isn’t likely to help much its important we understand its not other factors, and indeed putting profit before future generations apply now as well as to the late 20th century. Because as he stated:
That’s because the real truth is this: While triggering climate change might not be our fault, not doing everything we can about it now that we know it’s happening — that would be our fault. Worse, it would be our failure as a species.