PORTLAND – Relying primarily on a British tabloid’s spin of a “leaked” copy of a yet-to-be released report, in his Sept. 20 column (“Facts undercut claim that scientists agree on global warming“), M.D. Harmon yet again tries to convince readers that climate change is not happening.
And yet again, he ignores not only overwhelming scientific evidence of global climate change, but also substantial evidence of ongoing damage to Maine’s economy caused by our overreliance on fossil fuels.
Harmon bases most of his argument on a recent climate change article in the Daily Mail, a London tabloid known for its conservative positions, and which has been found liable in court on numerous occasions for articles containing false accusations or claims.
As stated by another British paper, the Guardian, in reference to articles in the Mail and the Telegraph, “Both UK periodicals focus on short-term noise and ignore the rapid long-term Arctic sea ice death spiral. When it comes to climate science reporting, (they) are only reliable in the sense that you can rely on them to usually get the science wrong.”
Scientists reviewing claims in the Mail (which Harmon uncritically repeats) have found numerous errors (for example, see stories at Carbonbrief.org and Slate). In fact, while there is more sea ice this year than last, 2013 is still well below the 30-year average, and the sixth-lowest measured.
Of particular interest to Mainers is that while global average land temperatures have not significantly increased in the last 15 years, each of nine of the last 10 years has been among the 10 warmest ever recorded.
More than 93 percent of that extra heat is being absorbed by the ocean, with the upper 700 ocean meters at record high temperatures and pH levels at record lows. These changes in the ocean, which is a foundation of the Maine economy, should concern us all.
Indeed, recent Maine newspaper articles have reported on studies showing 1) declines in clam populations off the Maine coast, due in part to ocean acidification and an influx of invasive predators aided by warmer waters, and 2) threats to sea birds, which are experiencing starvation and unusual migration behaviors linked to warming ocean temperatures and severe weather events.
Also at risk are Maine’s coastal properties and businesses. Studies demonstrate that sea levels off the East Coast have been rising three to four times faster than the global average since 1980, and extreme weather events are increasing in number and magnitude of damage caused.
Also harmed are our land-based wildlife and the tourism businesses dependent on them. A National Wildlife Federation report declares climate change to be “the biggest threat wildlife will face this century.” Recent Maine news reports highlight changes in forest ecology to the point where the black-capped chickadee, Maine’s state bird, has begun shifting its range toward Canada.
Harmon also does not discuss the huge costs to every taxpayer from fossil fuel use and climate change impacts. A federal study found that our use of oil, coal and gas causes $120 billion in damages annually (in 2005 dollars), primarily through damages to human health from air pollution, and that damages from climate change — such as harm to ecosystems and infrastructure, insurance costs, negative effects of air pollutants and national security risks — could amount to an additional $120 billion per year.
It is ironic that Harmon, a retired military officer, ignores findings by CNA Corp. and the Department of Defense that climate change is a “threat multiplier for instability,” posing a serious threat to America’s national security.
Just this year, the Defense Department released a detailed Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, not only because “climate-related effects are already observable at DoD installations around the world,” but also because of the greater risks of foreign wars and unrest due to climate disruptions.
Each year, Mainers spend billions of dollars to import fossil-fueled electricity, heating fuel, and petroleum products that undermine our fishing, forestry, farming and tourism industries, and cause Americans billions in health and property losses. Isn’t it time to spend our money on energy sources found in Maine, such as wood, wind and water that could also produce new Maine jobs, and develop cleaner technologies?
In sum, just as more than 97 percent of scientists and their studies find that our ongoing use of carbon fuels is damaging to our health and the ecosystems we depend upon, so too should more than 97 percent of Mainers agree that it is time to take control of our own futures by embracing local efforts to develop clean, renewable energy sources and technologies in order to sustain our environment and build our economy.
Jeff Thaler is visiting professor of energy policy and law at the University of Maine and Maine Law School.