November 11, 2012

Letter to the Editor: The Problem with Climate Science

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To the Editor:

Re: “Letter to the Editor: Don’t Write Off Fossil Fuels Just Yet,” Opinion, Nov. 6

In his letter to the editor, Mr. Provenzano hit upon the crux of the problem with fossil fuels: Fossil fuels are necessary for every single aspect of human life in a large portion of the globe. However, we know there is a clear correlation between fossil fuel use and global warming. The problem, though, as anyone who has taken a basic statistics course will tell you, is that correlation doesn’t imply causation.Are fossil fuels causing global warming? Many scientists believe this is the case. However, no scientist would be willing to say that Hurricane Sandy was caused by greenhouse house emissions from fossil fuels. Why? The reason is that science is, fundamentally, an experimentally derived process. When nature provides a single hurricane, scientists can at best give a probabilistic assessment of what caused the phenomenon at hand, and therefore prefer to work with trends instead. Thus, while Mr. Provenzano is right to assert that it is factually incorrect to blame hurricane Sandy, he ignores the prediction of hundreds of meteorologists who have correctly predicted the trend in damages due to increased numbers of hurricanes.Damage to hurricanes aside though, we still need fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have been responsible for enabling the massive advances in technology in recent human history, and currently we lack the ability to stop their use. As a result, maybe it is incorrect to say that fossil fuels are evil.  However, we can state without fear of overreacting that we are addicted to fossil fuels.It is this addiction what makes us incredibly vulnerable. Not only do scientists strongly believe that fossil fuels are at the root of global warming, but there is evidence that fossil fuel production has peaked and that oil is quickly becoming a rare resource. Is it not in our best interests then, to diversify our energy sources as quickly as possible instead of being reliant on a single energy mechanism?The problem with fossil fuels is not the people who extract the oil, nor with the companies that make the profit, or with the countries that buy unquantifiable amounts each day, because none of these entities is evil at its root just because of its association to fossil fuels. Rather, what is evil is our addiction to a small set of substances and our inability to react to the impending catastrophes that inevitably follow any addiction. We need to stop relying entirely on fossil fuels now if we are to avoid further damages, and we need to stop scapegoating scientists who are trying to diagnose the problem by cherrypicking single events instead of trends.Written, sadly, with electricity provided by the coal plant up the lake,

David Angeles Albores ’13