My wife and I just returned from a week’s vacation in Tahoe Vista, which is one of the many little towns that are spread across the northern side of Lake Tahoe, the large lake that divides parts of California and Nevada. The lake, for those unfamiliar with this part of the world, is nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains and is home of some of the most gorgeous vistas in the country (if not the world).
Back in January, when we planned this respite, we thought we’d be able to enjoy a week of golf in the beauty of northern California’s spring. We were, after all, going to be there for the week leading up to Memorial Day, which, in Sacramento, often sees daytime high temperatures approaching 100 degrees.
Imagine our surprise then, when we found ourselves playing golf in a mini-snowstorm on the last day of our stay. Not that that particular weather was all that different from what we had experienced earlier in the week. Indeed, we rarely saw the sun and never enjoyed temperatures as high as 60 degrees (except for the days we spent in Reno, which were a little warmer).
But as surprising as that weather was, it pales in comparison to what we found waiting for us when we returned. Sacramento is still trying to shake the vestiges of winter, with temperatures still topping in the low 70s and dropping as low as 45 at night. And, we are still getting measurable precipitation as we usher in the month of June. Global warming? Not here. At least, not this year.
But don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I mean a little chill in the air and some always welcome, if unexpected, rainfall are hardly grounds for a major harangue, especially with the true tragedies that have befallen many parts of the Midwest, where tornados and floods have devastated communities and destroyed individual lives over the past month or so. That kind of weather, predictable though it may be, we can all do without.
But the weather we are having in this part of the world is highly unusual, even if we do return to a more normal pattern in the weeks to come. (Normal for us, by the way, would be constant sunshine with hardly a cloud to be seen from Memorial Day until Labor Day and lots of heat along with it.)
I imagine it won’t be long before some Fox News pundit points to the odd weather we are having as “proof” that global warming is a myth or a liberal plot to revolutionize the economy. If they don’t pick up on that theme, it will only be because Sacramento is not on their radar screen. That’s how unusual this weather pattern is.
But, of course, the vagaries of one season in terms of weather have nothing to do with the change in the world’s climate that is undoubtedly occurring. That one winter produces violent snowfalls in one part of the country, or that one spring is unusually cool and wet in another, does not prove anything in terms of whether the planet is getting warmer.
The evidence on that point is global, not local, and know-it-alls who point to local patterns are merely exposing their ignorance, if not their ideological bias.
The debate, if there is to be one, shouldn’t be about whether the change is occurring but what, if anything, we, as the inhabitants of the planet, should do about it.
And on that point, I readily confess that I don’t know the answer. I am not a scientist, and scientists are whom we should be listening to, first and foremost, on this subject. The world’s temperature is a measurable, scientific fact. It isn’t conjecture that major ice caps are melting at an alarming rate or that sea levels are rising precipitously. These things are happening. They are beyond dispute.
The first serious question we should be asking is what these things portend for the future of the planet. What kind of life will they provide? Will they enhance human existence or detract from it? Will they improve the living conditions for other species or make their existence more tenuous?
To get answers to those questions, we should listen to those who have expertise on the subject, to wit, the scientists who spend their professional lives studying these matters.
And, assuming their answers are that the changes are deleterious and undesirable, we should listen to them further to learn what is causing these changes and what might be done to reverse them or impede their further development.
And, where the scientists disagree, as can occur in scientific study, we should look to their credentials, to what organizations are paying for their studies, to how many line up on one side or the other of the issue, and to which of them offer the more plausible reasons (again, scientifically based) for their conclusions.
From all I have read and studied from these experts, the vast majority (by a scale of something like 98 to 2) hold that climate change is real, that it portends ill for the future of the planet and its inhabitants, and that it can be impeded, if not reversed, by significantly reducing the various pollutants we are putting into the atmosphere. And, I would add that the 98 appear to have no axe to grind in the debate (that is, they don’t owe any allegiance to outside interests), while the 2 are usually funded by institutions that are supported by economic interests that would suffer if the proposed remedies were enacted.
Now I readily admit that scientists are not policy makers. In our democratic system, we elect individuals whom we trust to make the decisions necessary for our (the nation’s, the world’s) well being. Those individuals must consider a vast array of factors in reaching the decisions we rely on them to make.
But if they deny the validity of scientific study and opinion, if, indeed, they look instead to the unusual weather pattern Sacramento is having this spring as “evidence,” then they are betraying their public trust.