OPINION: A scientist’s response to Ed Berry’s ‘climate denial’

To change or not to change?

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Most of us wish that Ed Berry’s denials of climate science are correct. Certainly, I do. None of us want to change how we get the energy to run our civilization. Unfortunately, we must change and Berry’s climate denials aren’t credible, never will be, and are extremely dangerous for the planet.

Berry claims to be a physicist with a specialty in meteorology. Yet he denies one of the most fundamental principles and facts in climate science — that carbon dioxide, CO2, is an important greenhouse gas that traps some of the heat radiated off the Earth and prevents it from going back out to space, thus warming the planet. CO2 around the Earth is like a sleeping bag around your body that traps your heat and keeps you warm. No credible scientist denies that CO2 is one of the most important heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Berry writes (Dec. 20 letter): “Our CO2 does not control climate. CO2 is not a pollutant. The best way to ‘address’ climate change is to do nothing.” What Berry fails to understand is that without CO2 in our atmosphere, the Earth would be an ice-covered planet from pole to pole. We want neither too much, nor too little CO2. Doing nothing is not an option.

The basic science is not very complicated:

1) CO2 and methane are greenhouse gases that trap heat and that as their concentrations increase in the atmosphere they will cause the climate to warm. The increased energy trapped in the atmosphere corresponds exactly to the wavelengths of energy trapped by CO2 and methane, proving exactly where that heat energy comes from.

2) The concentrations of both CO2 and methane have risen dramatically since the start of the Industrial Revolution (CO2 from 280 parts per million to over 400 ppm today and rising; methane, which is 29 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, from 0.720 ppm to 1.85ppm and also rising).

Knowing those basic facts will convince anyone, who is not an ideologue with a rigid mind or on a paid agenda, that the Earth’s temperature should be rising because the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and methane are rising. So, is the temperature rising? Undeniably, yes. The average global surface temperature on Earth has risen by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Two-thirds of the global warming has occurred since 1975, at about 0.27-0.36 degrees Fahrenheit every 10 years.

As a consequence, the oceans are warming, sea levels are rising, the total amount (mass), but not necessarily the area, of the Greenland, Antarctic, and Arctic ice sheets are declining. As we in the Valley all know, the glaciers in Glacier Park are shrinking. Some of us may not know that also shrinking are the glaciers in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Alaska, other parts of the Rockies, the Cascades, and Africa. Those are the facts and they are indisputable. They do not bode well for the future of the planet.

However, the exact, year to year, prediction of precisely what will be the temperature, hurricane number and intensity, rainfall, blizzards, drought, jet stream course, ocean level and currents, glacier mass, etc., is considerably more complicated and even the best computerized climate models are an approximation, within a given statistical error, of what will happen if the concentrations of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere continue to rise.

Apparently Berry never studied statistics as it applies to scientific experiments. His argument is that because the climate models are not 100 percent accurate, they fail and can be ignored. He doesn’t understand that all quantitative scientific models and results, even Einstein’s, are considered correct within a certain probability – 95 percent, 99 percent, 99.9 percent, etc. Climate models are no different, and each prediction from each model has a certain high probability of being correct (typically 95 percent or better) within a given range of results.

There are many climate models and many predictions, some of which vary, yet all of which point in the same direction — that rising greenhouse gas concentrations will cause the climate to warm at an alarming rate. What is the probability that all the models are incorrect? Virtually nil.

That is only some of what Berry gets wrong, and why all the major national science academies in the world agree that human CO2 producing activity is causing the Earth to warm, and that is why 196 nations signed the Paris Climate Accords.

Are all those scientists and concerned citizens of the world deluded, low information liberals who can’t think for themselves? I don’t think so.

I’m a biologist and not a meteorologist, so I’m not an expert in climate science and can’t argue the merits of each model and each prediction. But I read and study enough to agree that human fossil fuel burning is causing the Earth to warm and that Berry is an anomaly and huge outlier among the vast majority of scientists and particularly atmospheric physicists and climate scientists.

We certainly don’t know all we need to know about our climate, but we know enough to know that we have a serious problem that isn’t going away by ignoring it and continuing to burn the last fossil fuels we can find. To do so, is disingenuous, irresponsible, and perhaps worse.

Matthews Bradley, of Kalispell, has a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology and is an entrepreneur who owns a biotechnology company.

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