WHAT OTHERS SAY: It's getting tougher to deny scientific results

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Critics of the latest report on climate change — the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, for example — have a word they trot out when these reports go public. The word is “overblown.”

We find it a curious choice, given one of the conclusions of the report released last week: Americans will experience more extreme weather in the future. Scientists have been telling us for decades that climate change will destabilize and disrupt weather patterns and bring with it more extreme events.

It may be difficult to tie a single event, such as our own 2011 tornado, to climate change, the way it is to tie one particular person’s lung cancer to smoking. But it’s also becoming increasingly difficult to deny the larger pattern with climate change, just as it became impossible to deny the larger pattern with smoking.

Maybe you know one person who smokes and gets lung cancer, but you can dismiss that connection as coincidence. But what do you believe if you know 10 people in 10 years who all get lung cancer after smoking?

One tornado in one town? OK. But what do you believe if you know 10 communities in 10 years hit by tornadoes? Overblown?

Like we said, it’s a curious word choice.

Others will say it has always been this way, and they’ll recall a drought from the 1950s or a tornado from the 1970s or the flood of 1943. And of course, you can always find a scientist who will dismiss climate change. But then again, you can always find “experts” who don’t believe smoking causes lung cancer or who deny the Holocaust and the moon landings.

But that search for the contrarian, the gadfly, misses the point: More than nine out of 10 experts who study climate change believe it’s happening, believe its impact is already being felt on the ground both worldwide and locally and that it is going to get worse. More than 300 scientists signed on to the latest report.

The analogy we’ve heard before is worth repeating: If nine out of 10 doctors tell you that you are at risk for lung cancer if you continue smoking, and that you need to change your lifestyle immediately or risk losing your health, but the 10th doctor you visit says, “Don’t worry about it. Your fears are overblown. I know a guy who has been smoking since the Spring River flood of ’43” — who does the smart person listen to?

Climate change, according to the report from the National Climate Assessment, is “expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond.”

But don’t worry about it.

And smoke ’em if you got ’em.

Copyright Joplin Globe. Reprinted with permission.

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