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Of folly and Fonzi 

Correcting the disingenuous argumentsof climate change deniers is always a worthwhile task

After New Times conservative columnist Al Fonzi unloaded on global climate change and the Paris Accord ("Hypocricy and climate hysteria," June 8), his New Times sparring partner, Michael Latner, noted that he would decline the pleas of readers to refute Mr. Fonzi's arguments. Latner opined that studies have shown that "additional facts will not cure Mr. Fonzi of his delusions," ("The struggle continues," June 15).

Welcome, frustrated New Times readers! What Mr. Latner won't do, I will. Here's why: I don't doubt that studies have shown what Latner says they have shown, but when Fonzi, Latner, and I set fingers to keyboards, we are engaged in the same enterprise: adducing arguments in support of our positions in order to persuade as many people as possible. Persuading Mr. Fonzi is not the point. If, as Mr. Latner has it, his co-pundit is making delusional claims, bristling with scientific citations, and the names of official arbiters of fact, that's a problem. Statistically, there have to be some folks out there who read Mr. Fonzi's intimations that the International Panel on Climate Change now says that climate change is no big deal, and gratefully latch on to such claims. Doubt is sown. Inertia is assured. Mission accomplished.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, fully 90 percent of Fonzi's piece is genuinely not worth responding to, as it consisted of rapping the knuckles of rich people who, while arguing that climate change is real and a threat, live in big houses and avail themselves of current modes of transportation to get where they need to go.

Other than that, Fonzi claims:

Media scream, "Rising sea levels will flood our cities," but the data says sea level rise has been roughly consistent at about one-eighth of an inch per year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Here's what else NOAA says:

"Global sea level has been rising over the past century, and the rate has increased in recent decades. In 2014, global sea level was 2.6 inches above the 1993 average—the highest annual average in the satellite record (1993-present) sea levels will likely rise for many centuries at rates higher than that of the current century. ... Higher sea levels mean that deadly and destructive storm surges push farther inland than they once did, which also means more frequent nuisance flooding ... estimated to be from 300 percent to 900 percent more frequent within U.S. coastal communities than it was just 50 years ago ... . In urban settings, rising seas threaten infrastructure necessary for local jobs and regional industries. Roads, bridges, subways, water supplies, oil and gas wells, power plants, sewage treatment plants, landfills—virtually all human infrastructure—is at risk from sea level rise."

In other words: Yes, Mr. Fonzi, rising sea levels will flood our cities.

Fonzi claims:

We're told the polar ice caps are melting, but according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the East Antarctic ice sheet (two-thirds of the continent) is showing no discernable trend and the Western ice sheet and peninsula are losing mass.

Admitting that a large chunk of Antarctica is melting would not seem to be a great argument in support of Fonzi's nothing-to-see-here position. But neither is the argument that the rest of the Antarctic is just fine. Jay Zwally, lead author of that study, told Nature: "I know some of the climate deniers will jump on this, and say this means we don't have to worry as much as some people have been making out. It should not take away from the concern about climate warming." Per skepticalscience.com, data shows that "the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is growing slightly over this period [1992-2011] but not enough to offset the other losses. There are of course uncertainties in the estimation methods but independent data from multiple measurement techniques all show the same thing, Antarctica is losing land ice as a whole, and these losses are accelerating quickly."

Fonzi claims:

... the data shows "little trend in the frequency" of strong-to-violent tornadoes, no trend in the frequency of tropical cyclones, frequency of hurricanes, or accumulated cyclone energy.

Per "Will Hurricanes Change as the World Warms?" accessible at NOAA's climate.gov site, the apparent increasing number and frequency of such extreme weather events is probably due to our improving ability to find and measure them, but "that's not to say that tropical cyclones have not changed due to human influences, nor that any changes in future tropical cyclones will not be attributable to our warming climate."

And beyond that, Mr. Fonzi appears to have played fast and loose with the findings of the researchers at the International Workshop on Tropical Cyclones, who published their findings in Nature Geoscience in 2010. Per climate.gov:

"Models project there will be an increase in hurricane intensities as the climate warms over the course of this century. Though there will likely be fewer Atlantic hurricanes overall, wind speeds for the ones that do form will be about 4 percent stronger for every 1 degree Celsius increase in sea surface temperature."

Fonzi claims:

The International Panel on Climate Change has also reduced by half the projected increase in global temperatures.

Mr. Fonzi pulled this one from the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC: "The rate of warming of the observed global mean surface temperature over the period from 1998 to 2012 is estimated to be around one-third to one-half of the trend over the period from 1951 to 2012."

But:

"Even with this reduction in surface warming trend, the climate system has very likely continued to accumulate heat since 1998 and sea level has continued to rise."

And the IPCC hasn't felt a need to revise the conclusion of its Fifth Assessment Report:

"Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era driven largely by economic and population growth. From 2000 to 2010 emissions were the highest in history. Historical emissions have driven atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide to levels that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years, leading to an uptake of energy by the climate system."

With the current administration slashing science funding and ordering government websites to scrub words like "climate change" and "Paris accord," climate deniers and doubters are feeling their Cheerios. Now is not the time to dismiss them with a wave of the hand. Yes, it is folly to attempt to persuade Mr. Fonzi and his hard-core ideological fellow travelers of anything they don't want to believe. But it is never folly to counter their bad stats and false arguments, because their clear goal is to persuade anyone who might be persuadable that nothing of consequence is occurring, there is no cause for concern, and nothing needs be done about climate change. Their whole purpose, a la Hamlet, is to ensure that the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er, and enterprises of great pith and moment with this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action. Δ

Andrew Christie fights for the environment as the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through clanham@newtimesslo.com.


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