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Why are so many people afraid of the truth?
Published December 2, 2003

Truth is a pretty elusive thing. The best we can do is get as close as we can to the truth and never stop trying to get closer. That's what scientists around the world are doing with the truth about global warming, but for some reason there are a lot of people who are afraid of the reality of climate change. What have they got to lose by accepting this scientific truth? Perhaps the question should be rephrased: what do that have to win by denying the truth?

Science is an ugly beast, and one little understood by a lot of people. One of the most important lessons that science teaches us, however, is to look at facts--observations or experimental data--and to formulate a theory that best matches these facts. That seems straightforward enough. What isn't straightforward is that science is also about abandoning old theories if either new facts come to light that contradict those theories, or if a new theory is developed that better fits the original facts. That's why science demands a level of mental discipline that our public debates often lack: a good scientist cannot simply stand firm on dogma and tradition and ignore the reality of the world around her; some, unfortunately, have done just that, but they are the exception that proves the rule.

What's all that have to do with global warming? Simply this: science is a process of replicate results and consensus, and the current consensus and results show that global warming is real, it is a growing problem, and if we don't do something about it soon, we are going to be in big, big trouble. There are scientists who argue that global warming is not real, or a negligible threat; there are also scientists who argue that alien abductions are real, that creationism is a valid, scientific alternative to evolutionary theory, and that there really was a continent called Atlantis that sank under the waves thousands of years ago.

Why, then, should anyone be afraid of admitting the truth about global warming? Why should they deny it? If we let the environmentalists have their way on global warming, our cars won't spew noxious fumes, our air won't be thick with smog, and our power plants won't belch poisonous clouds of smoke into our atmosphere. Sounds pretty awful, doesn't it? But what about the economic costs? In the short term, energy costs might rise, but not if the government were serious about change, and change is necessary. That much is plain.

The people who will be hurt are the gas and oil companies. If they're smart, they will redefine themselves as energy companies and move into other areas, because the gravy train of fossil fuels will be coming to an end anyway in the next hundred years. If they aren't smart, they'll fade away. Other companies will replace them. The current President will be hurt; after all, he's been in the oil business, and a lot of his cronies and pals--not to mention his VP--are deep in it and shoveling money right from our pockets into his.

I don't see many other losers. The transition period will be difficult, but the government could help ease the pain and new industries would provide new jobs; infrastructure improvements would pour money into dozens if not hundreds of communities. New and emerging technologies would give birth to industries that we haven't even imagined yet. Quite possibly the demand for these technologies could spur on economic growth even in the tool and die industry here in Crawford County.

We urgently need to change our entire energy infrastructure in the next century. Only 20 percent of our energy currently comes from sources other than fossil fuels; a lot of that is from nuclear power, which makes a lot of people a little nervous, and from hydroelectric dams, of which we can't build any more on our rivers. Most of our energy comes from burning coal, which is also where most of our non-vehicular pollution comes from.

Cars, of course, are the worst pollution offenders. What can we do about it? Well, we can demand stricter emissions guidelines; we can demand more efficient vehicles; we can demand more and better hybrid vehicles; and we can demand the auto industry do all these things now, as soon as possible. Why don't we do these things?

We like big, fast cars. We like cheap gas. We like cheap electricity. Most of all, we like things the way they are. That's fine. I like it here too. But our children will inherit a parched, devastated planet, filled with natural disasters--fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and the rest--that will only get worse as time goes by.

When the worst happens, it'll be too late to stop it, too late to do anything but try and live through it. If you think I'm being alarmist, just look at our own government's websites (www.epa.gov) and see how most of our effort is going into planning ways of dealing with the fallout of catastrophic global warming. That's not a bad plan, but a more courageous one would be to do as much as we can to stop or slow the devestation. It can be done, if only we would have the will to do it.