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Climate change a ‘very real’ problem

Letter to the Editor | Sunday, February 17, 2008

I was disappointed – but not surprised — to read Matt Gore’s Letter to the Editor (“Stop the climate change propaganda,” Feb. 7). Like many in the dwindling group of people who continue to resist mounting evidence of the negative global impacts of climate change, he has chosen to downplay the severity of a very real problem.As any discerning reader should, Gore questions the validity of the claim that climate change could cause mass extinction. He mentions a study by Chris D. Thomas that found that only the Costa Rican Golden Toad has gone extinct due to “global climatic shifts.” Being the climate change believer that I am, I double-checked this citation. To my surprise, however, in the first line of Thomas’s report “Extinction Risk from Climate Change” (Nature, 2004, Vol. 427, p. 145), the author concedes that indeed, climate change has caused the extinction of only one species over the last three decades. But alas! All is not well for Gore, for later on the same page of the same report, Thomas states that even in the minimum expected climate change scenarios (read: inevitable), between nine and 31 percent of species are predicted to go extinct, depending on their dispersal abilities. While I grant that nine to 31 percent of species is not most or all of the global species community, the climate change-induced extinction of such a significant portion of global biodiversity would be a large blood stain on the hands of humanity.Gore also argues against the claim that climate change will threaten the existence of life on Earth. He is right to point out that species have persisted through more intense climate changes than are expected in the next few centuries. I agree – just look at cockroaches. The larger point at hand, however, is not how life in general will fare, but individuals. Although the majority of species, including Homo sapiens, could likely persist through expected climate change scenarios, individuals of those species may not emerge unscathed. As Professor Darcia Narvaez hinted in her Feb. 5 letter (“A call to conserve”), there is widespread acceptance among the scientific community that climate change will severely and adversely affect many human communities.Admittedly, most reports acknowledge that certain areas of the world could benefit: Some economies may boom as agriculture yields increase with warmer weather and reduced precipitation in some areas may limit transmission of diseases like malaria. The cost for other communities, however, will be profound. As we all have heard from various media sources, people around the world are at risk for reduced water supply in already water-stressed areas, loss of arable land due to increased temperatures, and massive flooding due to sea-level rise. (For a detailed summary, read the executive summaries of reports by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.) The potential consequences of climate change, even if only potential, are not to be taken lightly. While I appreciate Gore’s ultimate agreement that we should take steps to conserve energy, I worry that his resistance to the potential consequences of climate change is indicative of a mindset that denies sans reason the gravity of our situation. By labeling people who voice concern as “fear mongerers” and by exaggerating their claims, naysayers in the discussion prevent others from working to curb human-induced climate change. If we are going to make a positive difference, however, we all must work together. It is true that no one knows the future and the exact impacts of climate change, or how severe they will be. Personally, however, I choose to err on the side of caution.

Erin BurnsalumnaClass of 2008Feb. 8