H. BRUCE RINKER: Do You Believe In Gravity?

H. Bruce Rinker

An oncology nurse at a nearby research center asked me on an unseasonably warm day in late winter if the spring-like weather might be due to climate change. I responded that it is difficult to link one particular meteorological event to something as global and cumulative as climate change.

Then, frowning, the nurse asked me, “Don’t you believe in climate change?” I told her that her query was like asking me if I believed in gravity. Close parallels exist between gravity and climate change just as we have close parallels between our respective fields of study (viz. medicine and ecology). The scientific models, principles, observations, methods technologies, experiments, and the volumes of congruent data gathered from around the world over a long period are all similar. To deny either means that we would have to disregard the scientific model in its entirety as it applies to all fields of scientific study. So, yes I believe in climate change as much, as I do in gravity.

Let us consider a few other defining perspectives on climate change. Let’s be more definitive with our reference to this phenomenon. Instead, we can call it human-accelerated climate change. This soubriquet assigns the blame directly to human activities and stresses its worsening impacts. Nor does it dismiss other possible causes (e.g., volcanism). Of course, Earth’s climate has changed over its billions of years of evolution. But, the pace of change is now speeding up in startling widespread ways particularly in polar and high mountainous regions.

A cautionary consensus has been building within the following widely- respected institutions and in many others:

  • American Medical Association: “The Earth is undergoing adverse global change and that anthropogenic contributions are significant.”
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science: The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.”
  • NASA: “The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.”Telltale signs include: measurable sea level rise, global temperature rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, declining Arctic sea ice, glacial retreat, extreme events, ocean acidification, and decreased snow cover – all of which have been predicted by our scientific models.
  • Global Insurance Industry: “The ability of the global insurance industry to manage society’s risks is being threatened by climate change.”
  • S. Military: “We must address the threats of climate change – both by reducing emissions and by increasing resiliency. Failure to do so will make every other security change of the 21st century nearly impossible” (such as for power-lines, piers, coastal bases, military and radar installations, and coastal storage tanks for fossil fuels.

Yes, I believe in the benefits of science for the betterment of Earth and Society. I tend to dismiss most of the politicians of our day because many of their contrived campaigns have been subsidized by lucrative donations from the fossil fuel industry and have knowingly confused citizens with their repugnant anti-science rhetoric – as false as the false news that has recently plagued news reporting from around the world.

The nurse kindly acknowledged my point of view. I asked her if she believed in climate change. “Yes, I do, but climate scientists could do a much better job of explaining its relevance to the layperson.”

I heartedly agreed. Our discussion was brief, cordial, and mutually respectful. Human accelerated climate change will impact the human and natural worlds with woeful consequences. In this case, our naiveté could wreck havoc on society for generations hence. Is this an acceptable risk?

 H. Bruce Rinker, Ph.D., is a forest ecologist, science-educator, and conservationist living in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. He is also the founder of Bioquest Solutions LLC, a multi-service environmental consultancy at home and abroad. Bruce may be reached at [email protected].