Letter: Climatolicious!

Editor, the Gauntlet,

Kudos to Mr. Sieppert for engaging in the climate change discussion and providing his views on university education [Bruce Sieppert, “Fact or Fiction?” Apr. 6, 2007]. We believe that both are of critical importance. As H.G. Wells said, “human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”

Mr. Sieppert’s letter comments on a guest lecture, delivered in our Geophysics 375 Natural Disasters class by Dr. R. Spencer, that showed some of the factors associated with climate: solar output, geothermal heat flux, atmospheric water, and human-generated carbon dioxide. Dr. Spencer also presented some interesting correlations of Earth’s temperature with the Sun’s variations over the last 35,000 years as well as data, over 400,000 years of a Vostok ice core, allowing that rising temperatures may precede carbon dioxide elevation. Mr. Sieppert found the lecture’s evaluation of data different than that expressed by some of his other sources, like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Fortunately, there is considerable measuring, modeling, and debating underway in attempt to understand Earth’s climate and its drivers and there are varying opinions attached to all of the above. Much as some would like us to believe, climate change science is not over and fossilized quite yet.

Mr. Sieppert wants to know “who’s correct?” on climate change, what’s “Fact or fiction.” However, this is a bit like asking whether it will rain next week. Fair questions–actually, I’d like to know too! But, he seems to suggest that it’s “irresponsible” to allow differing viewpoints on the subject. Furthermore, he imagines that “there must be an explanation for the differences in interpreting scientific data on climate change. Maybe it has something to do with living in Alberta. Maybe there’s a link between what’s professed here and those who gain from such professions.”

I’d suggest that in Alberta–home to thousands of bright geoscientists and engineers who work most days with the geologic results of sea-level variation and climate change–professionals are educated to be cautious about correlations and look for a range of explanations and interpretations of our environment.

Nonetheless, both geo-people and historians would probably agree that assembling the past is essential, but difficult, while predicting the future is crucial, but harder. Let’s see much more effort dedicated to understanding climate change and mediating its vagaries.

Dr. Rob Stewart
Professor of Geophysics

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