To the editor: Scientists foresaw destabilizing climate change 30 years ago

In cleaning out some old papers, I stumbled on a New York Times article from March 20, 1988 titled “Instability of Climate Defies Computer Analysis” that I had cut out and saved.

I believe that it was the first time I had encountered the concept of climate change and found it so intriguing that the clipping had been safely set aside. The lead paragraph states:

By changing the contents of the earth’s atmosphere, humans are delivering a sharp kick to a machine that scientists now believe capable of rapid and unstable responses.

Dr. Stephen Schneider, a climate expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, summed up the obvious lesson from what little we knew about climate change almost 30 years ago:

The lesson is, don’t fool around with Mother Nature at unprecedented rates, or you get nasty surprises.

Well, we have continued fooling around and the impact is increasingly obvious and nasty. The 10 highest average annual global temperatures since 1880 have all occurred within the last 20 years, with 2014, 2015 and 2016 being the three hottest. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are continuing to rise thus ensuring more record temperatures in the future.

It is hard to believe that with the mass of climate data, computer models and scientific papers all pointing to the disastrous consequences of ignoring the rise in greenhouse gasses that any rational national leader would (without offering any facts to dispute the data) proudly advocate for policies that will exacerbate rather than alleviate the problem. Coal and oil are the problems and not the solutions.

Much of America’s greatness stems from a willingness to embrace science and change to make the lives of all Americans better. We have the technologies today and even better technologies are rapidly emerging to make us the leaders in clean energy, with Vermont at the forefront!

Even decades ago, Dr. Schneider could foresee the potential destabilizing impacts of inaction:

The physical system is going to be out of equilibrium, the biological system is going to be out of equilibrium, so is the social system. Good luck, Charlie, trying to forecast that.

Wise advice we should have heeded.

Steven Davis

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