Former Sen. Bob Bennett wants us to refrain from "panic" about climate change. Given the scientific uncertainties involved, he said we should research the issue more and do "things that make sense, anyway."
That all sounds very fair minded, but given that Bennett doesn't go on to advocate any specific climate change mitigation strategies, his rhetoric makes me a bit suspicious.
My suspicion is based on my experience as a former climate change doubter, and as an Earth scientist who has since discovered there is overwhelming evidence that humans are taking an enormous risk by failing to curb our greenhouse gas emissions. I found out, unfortunately, that Republicans like me tend to deny, or at least downplay, the consensus of climate experts simply because we don't like the solutions proposed so far.
Some Republican officials, like Bennett, have at least acknowledged that there is likely something to the science, but I don't get the feeling that they are really trying to properly assess the risks involved. Instead, they tend to overemphasize scientific uncertainty by ignoring most of the available evidence, then oppose any proposed action by calling it "panic." They say we should take actions that "make sense," but then never quite get around to proposing anything concrete.
Bennett's appeal to uncertainty is based on the fact that global average temperature hasn't been going up as fast during the past 15 years as it did the 20 years before that, and he goes on to say that the "climate is far too complex to be captured by the models that have been built."
All of this is true, but he leaves out too much of the evidence. For instance, multiple lines of evidence — not just climate models — all show that the most likely climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases is in a dangerous range, given our current emissions trajectory. Also, climate models predict there actually should be periods of several years in which warming is slower, or perhaps it even cools a bit. They just can't predict when those periods will be with much accuracy.
Faster or slower warming periods are largely due to chaotic cycles in ocean circulation, such as the El Nino and La Nina cycles, which sometimes bring warmer or cooler water from the deep ocean to the surface. Recent research indicates the present slower warming is mostly due to a preponderance of La Nina (cooling) episodes during the past few years.
There is simply no reason, given the multiple lines of evidence available regarding where the climate is likely headed, to conclude that the temperature change won't speed up again. There is always uncertainty involved in science, but I hope my fellow Utah Republicans will stop sweeping most of the evidence under the rug to justify putting off hard choices. We have to make decisions based on the best information we have, and given that Utah has already experienced significant decreases in snowpack, leading to increased drought and wildfires, we ought to be proposing solutions, rather than merely disparaging what others have proposed as "panic."
Barry Bickmore is associate professor of geological sciences at Brigham Young University. His opinions no not necessarily reflect those of BYU.