We All Make Choices. How Will We Respond to Climate Change?
Commentary by Pete Haug
“Feedback loop” — there it was in the mainstream press! I first encountered that term nearly 60 years ago, learning to model ecological systems in the early days of ecological modeling.
That CNBC article, “Risky feedback loops are accelerating climate change, scientists warn,” highlights key points made by researchers from Oregon State University, Exeter University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. They identified 41 feedback loops, “the most extensive list available.” Of these, 27 were “amplifying” loops, accelerating global warming. Seven were identified as slowing it.
An example of an amplifier (positive feedback loop) occurs in Arctic waters: Melting sea ice exposes dark water, which absorbs more heat than brighter ice, and warming increases. Other amplifying feedback loops accelerating climate change may not be fully accounted for in current climate models.
The IPCC Report
When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its five-year report, “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” two weeks later, response was instant.
Within hours, international media headlines appeared: “Warnings about humanity’s future don’t get more dire than this”; “World’s top climate scientists issue ‘survival guide for humanity,’ call for major course correction”; “Scientists release ‘survival guide’ to avert climate disaster”; “World is on brink of catastrophic warming”; “The Guardian view on the IPCC warning: a last chance to save the planet”; and “World can still avoid worst of climate collapse with genuine change.”
And those are just a small sample.
A denialist’s view
A few days earlier, a letter in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News was headlined “God offers hope.” The writer stated that fears “concerning COVID-19 and climate change propaganda” are causing “a loss of hope by many people.” He concluded with a sermon. My past correspondence with this individual has convinced me that, although devout and well-educated, he cherry-picks viewpoints, true or not, according to his preconceptions.
Science, although sometimes fallible, corrects itself. Studies published in peer-reviewed outlets, like the IPCC reports, are credible because they undergo scrutiny by other knowledgeable scientists. In the case of a pandemic, where time is of the essence, evidence can be faulty or misunderstood, leading to mistakes. Mistakes were made trying to understand COVID and its attendant vaccines. Much still remains that we don’t understand, but long term, science is self-correcting.
Climate science: long-term perspective
Since Eunice Foote first demonstrated in 1856 that excess CO2 can warm air, evidence supporting global warming has accumulated. Unnumbered peer-reviewed scientific articles provide additional evidence. In 1988, 132 years after Foote’s discovery, the United Nations established the IPCC to address greenhouse gas effects. This formal recognition of climate change by the UN has resulted in the coordination of climate data for 35 years, as well as past data. Along the way, the IPCC team picked up a Nobel Peace Prize. Climate science continues to evolve and converge.
IPCC scientists throughout the world collaborate across continents to better understand this “greenhouse” effect and the feedback loops driving increasing temperatures, as well as secondary and tertiary interactions. Peer-reviewed studies have discovered that increased temperatures disrupt historical weather patterns, bringing droughts, floods and, ultimately, starvation. Entire populations — men, women, children — try to escape lands no longer able to support them. Ask folks from the Horn of Africa. Or even parts of California.
Some personal background
I spent a couple of decades using ecological systems analysis to evaluate environmental impacts of activities overseen by state, federal, and tribal governmental agencies. I left that career to teach English in China for eleven years, coming home in 2007, the year the IPCC received the Nobel prize. By then I was scientifically obsolete, but I wanted to understand climate change.
I took to the internet. Available information overwhelmed me. Some seemed reliable, but I couldn’t distinguish between science and falsehood, between accurate information and clever disinformation.
After taking an online course from a Baha’i institution, I felt comfortable discussing climate change in articles and community talks. I even taught a short evening course for the City of Pullman. I also started working with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Palouse Chapter, to raise local awareness.
It’s our choice
Baha’i scriptures recognize nature as an emanation of God’s will:
As we contemplate effects of climate change on such grandeur, our free will requires that we choose our response.
Pete plunged into journalism fresh out of college, putting his English literature degree to use for five years. He started in industrial and academic public relations, edited a rural weekly and reported for a metropolitan daily, abandoning all for graduate school. He finished with an M.S. in wildlife biology and a Ph.D. in systems ecology. After teaching college briefly, he analyzed environmental impacts for federal, state, Native American and private agencies over a couple of decades. His last hurrah was an 11-year gig teaching English in China. After retiring in 2007, he began learning about climate change and fake news, giving talks about both. He started writing columns for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and continues to do so. He first published for SpokaneFaVS.com in 2020. Pete’s columns alternate weekly between FāVS and the Daily News. His live-in editor, Jolie, infinitely patient wife for 61 years, scrutinizes all columns with her watchful draconian eye. Both have been Baha’is since the 1960s. Pete’s columns on the Baha’i Faith represent his own understanding and not any official position.