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The Tragedy of the Atmosphere

Bill Schlesinger, the retired president of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, has been writing a blog from his home in Maine. He graciously agreed to share his Citizen Scientist blogs with our readers.  We include the last few here. The most recent refers to the atmosphere that he identifies as suffering from tragedy of the commons, a common dump for our carbon emissions.  As I watch climate-change deniers put forth more and more outlandish arguments against the scientific consensus that humans are changing the Earth’s climate, I am beginning to believe that the debate is not really about climate change, but rather about loss of personal liberties and increased government regulation. Arguing about climate science is merely a way to divert our attention from the real conservative agenda. Just recently, I had to explain, again, to a climate denier that volcanoes are not responsible for the rise in CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere. (See Volcanic Carbon Dioxide for my explanation.) And how many times will it be necessary to point out that NASA’s satellite measurements show the icecap in Antarctica is decreasing, not increasing, as some repeat, apparently believing that if you utter a misstatement often enough, it will become accepted as the truth. Many deniers have dismissed global warming because the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere and the rise in Earth’s temperature have not been in lock-step during the past 10 years. This betrays a lack of understanding of natural oscillations of weather and climate patterns, like the few cold days in April that might interrupt an otherwise steady rise in temperature from January to July.  We don’t throw out our predictive theory of the seasons just because of a cold-snap. Private landowner rights go back many centuries. There is only modest regulation, such as zoning, that restricts the rights of land owners. The regulation of waters has a more recent history, even though the Bible suggests that one should not pollute the waters that run from one property to another. Ezekiel 34:19  Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet? But no one owns the atmosphere, and it has been the dumping ground for various pollutants, such as woodsmoke, since the beginning of human civilization. Why should we change now? Of course, we know why this must change: the atmosphere is not finite and dilution is not the solution. Even though no one owns the atmosphere, rapid changes in the atmosphere are having an enormous impact on the lands and waters that humans occupy and, in some cases, own. If one looks only slightly beneath the surface, the current arguments against climate change are not about the science, but about how the regulation of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere would result in a loss of individual and corporate liberties and about raising the cost of the good life. The science asks that we pay the costs of pollution today, so that we leave a better environment for all people tomorrow. It is the role of government to balance individual rights with the well-being of the seven billion people who occupy this planet. With the banning of smoking in public buildings, we’ve already regulated personal liberties with respect to air chemistry. We can and should do so again. Second-hand CO2is harmful. We must ban it today, before the level of CO2 in the atmosphere locks us into rapid and catastrophic changes in the Earth’s climate, which has been so supportive of human society for the past 8000 years on this planet. link: