Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Letter to the Editor

Climate denial opinion pieces  are commonly found in our local news papers.  I am often asked to write rebuttals, but the letter-to-the-editor word limits don't allow for a sufficient response to address even the errors of fact, much less to craft a well-reasoned commentary.  One recent opinion  from December 19th dealt with COP20, so it seemed appropriate to post the response I would have sent to the editor on this blog.  The author, Mr. Policelli, serves on the board for the Green Knight Economic Development Corporation (a group working to create a landfill gas-to-energy plant).  His opinion pieces are routinely found in the paper.

So here is my response – written from the perspective of someone who actually attended the conference he writes about:

Mr. Policelli, There is much disagreement as to how to create an ambitious, effective, and equitable international agreement to deal with the global climate change problem.  But in order to have a constructive dialog about this, one must first get the facts straight.  The meeting that wrapped up earlier this month was the "Conference of the Parties" or COP - that is, the signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (a treaty) that goes back to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. You can learn more here.  The U.S. is one of the signatories to this agreement.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is not, as you say, a "corrupt blob of unelected bureaucrats that demands endless power and money."  From the official definition of the IPCC:
 The IPCC is a scientific body. It reviews and assesses, at regular intervals, the most recent scientific, technical and socioeconomic information produced worldwide, relevant to the understanding of climate change. It does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate-related data or parameters. The COP receives the outputs of the IPCC and uses IPCC data and information as a baseline on the state of knowledge on climate change in making science based decisions.
These are scientific experts from around the world who -- as volunteers -- review the peer-reviewed, published data and create reports that are meant to serve as resources to the policy makers on the various working groups within the COP and the negotiators from nations around the world.

Are there activists at these meetings?  Yes.  Are there world leaders like Bolivian President Morales in attendance who give lengthy, fiery speeches out of frustration?  Yes. John Kerry came in at the end of week 2 representing the U.S.  His remarks were pretty fiery too, and they were pretty harsh on climate deniers.  Are there developing countries who are suffering the consequences of climate change demanding financial and technical assistance for adaptation and risk reduction?  Yes, and many of these countries have not significantly contributed to the problem, or at least not until recent years, as opposed to countries like the U.S. who have used fossil fuels for around 2 centuries.  This concept of "polluter pays" is a common theme discussed at COP meetings.  And instead of this payment be in the form of fines, these countries are asking for help to allow them to develop to a decent standard of living without going down the same polluting paths that we have.

As a scientist and a delegate to the past 6 COP meetings, I am happy to engage in constructive dialog as to how to deal with climate change -- a problem that science has clearly documented.  Let's find a good forum to have our own regional conversations and conferences to sort out facts from fiction, and to determine how our local governments should set policies of mitigation, adaptation, and risk reduction.  But let's leave the science denial and insults at the door step.

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