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Climate change

Focus on finding workable solutions not on continued arguing about the science

There are precious few issues that cannot be politicized and likely none for which it is not at least attempted. Given its methodologies, though, it would seem that science is among the top candidates for being handled apolitically, particularly as evidence mounts that supports a particular theory. That is the case with climate change, and as such, it is time to move beyond the debate about whether and why it exists and move on to how to fix it.

The most recent science heavyweight to bolster this position is one who was for a long time unconvinced that climate change was real. Richard A. Muller, a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, was among the most credible and outspoken skeptics of global warming’s existence – that is until he did his own study.

His skepticism was not so much based on an alternative theory as it was concern about the studies that supported the notion of climate change. So he set about to improve the science with funding in part from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, which is controlled by Charles and David Koch, staunch deniers of global warming. Now, Muller is convinced of the phenomenon’s existence, that it is human-caused and of the need to do something about it. He is right.

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Muller notes that efforts to link global warming to anything other than carbon dioxide levels fell flat: “We tried fitting the shape to simple math functions (exponentials, polynomials), to solar activity and even to rising functions such as world population. By far, the best match was to the record of atmospheric carbon dioxide. ... The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried,” Muller wrote, adding that his findings do not prove causality, but that “an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does.”

So far, such an explanation has not been offered, and as Muller said, the focus should now shift to addressing the problem as it is defined.

“I’m hoping we can settle the science so the more contentious issues – what to do about it – can then be debated,” Muller said on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show.” And with humans on the hook for having created the problem, we are also capable of – if not obligated to – finding a solution.

“If we are a cause, we can do something about it. If we’re not a cause ... then it’s hopeless. We just have to wait for something to happen,” Muller said.

It is not hopeless, and there are many viable options for addressing the problem. If the growing body of knowledge is correct, those options must center on reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted around the world. Carbon credits, alternative energy technology, cap and trade – each and all of these, as well as a wholesale move away from our global dependence on coal – can each be used effectively. Doing so will require a worldwide commitment to the exercise, with developed and developing nations each doing their part to address their contribution to the problem.

It will also require leadership from the biggest offenders and an honest reckoning of that role. The science is clear; the politics less so.