Response to ‘Evaluating Threats”

Mike Baynton, Minnesota Daily reader

Earlier this month, the Minnesota Daily published a letter to the editor by Rolf Westgard that questioned the threat posed by climate change and President Barack Obama’s associated policies and public calls to action. 
 
In a nation as populous as the U.S., it will always be possible to find crises demanding immediate attention. Westgard includes riots that were ongoing in Baltimore, a plummeting Midwest aquifer and potholes as examples.
 
These examples are topics that he believes deserve more time and energy than climate change, and he hints that Obama would have served us better by choosing one of these topics instead in his Earth Day call to action. I believe it is appropriate and sensible for Obama to use the stature he enjoys as president of the United States to periodically remind us to look beyond situations that are imminent — and therefore obviously needing attention — to the less immediate challenges we also face. 
 
In any case, most of us are not well-positioned to enact civil disobedience in Baltimore or to improve our roads. But perhaps by keeping climate change on our minds, some of us will simply reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions or even be inspired to search for the more sustainable energy sources mankind would so tremendously benefit from.
 
Westgard makes a number of claims designed to downplay the presence or threat of climate change. The claim that “there has been no global warming in the 21st century” is at best in dispute. 
 
Also, he notes that the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has not linked increasingly severe extreme weather to humans, but he doesn’t mention other threats from climate change that this panel has identified with high confidence such as the submergence of coastal regions and the net negative impact to crop yields, among others. 
 
But ultimately, the climate change debate is a costly distraction that keeps the nation from becoming truly dedicated to a brighter energy future. Even if humans are powerless to impact the global climate, there are ample additional good reasons to act now — such as to achieve energy, food and water security. 
 
And all it takes to act is to make the decision: Scientists now believe energy-producing controlled nuclear fusion is achievable on earth, a process whose products wouldn’t be hazardous like those of today’s fissile reactors. Yet modern civilization has only dedicated the resources to advance this field at one site worldwide (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France), and at this scale it is not expected to progress quickly. Climate change or not, it is time we make the decision to direct the resources needed to this and other renewable energy technologies for them to take off.