Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wisdom from Bill O'Reilly

Bill O’Reilly’s recent column on climate change (“Hmm, is it getting a bit warm in here?” December 15) includes at least one welcome suggestion but also some very problematic ideas about climate science.

It is good that O’Reilly’s understands the value of “positive environmental behavior” and a cleaner Earth. His authentically conservative conclusion is that conserving resources is a good idea, whether the climate is changing or not. Most of the remedies that arise from concerns about a changing climate are simply good stewardship.

O’Reilly’s interpretation of climate science and its implications, however, is flawed in several important ways. First, he asserts that “only the deity knows for sure whether the planet is in danger from warming.” It is one thing to exaggerate the uncertainty about climate change; it is quite another to assert that such uncertainty is inevitably permanent. We already know enough about our interruption of the carbon cycle – and its results – to act.

Second, O’Reilly describes the growing consensus on climate change and the growing business interest in alternative energy, and assumes that the latter caused the former. A far more reasonable interpretation is that the smart money is following the science. It is laughable to suggest that the “climate change industry” has somehow outflanked Big Oil in its ability to influence governments.

The reality is that the evidence is mounting in favor of the most direct explanation for climate change: roughly half the carbon that accumulated in fossil fuels over eons has been released in just two centuries, increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide dramatically and increasing average temperatures steadily.

Near the end of the article, O’Reilly expresses a desire for an affordable system to provide renewable energy for his home; on that, we can agree. At the very end of the article, however, he could not resist a flippant dismissal of the science that underscores the need for such innovations.

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