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Sundin: The art of denial

Hal Sundin
Staff Photo |

There seems to be a growing trend toward selective denial of science in the United States, particularly as it relates to evolution, global warming, overpopulation and chemical agents produced for corporate profit.

The dictionary defines art as “the use of skill and imagination in the creation of works of beauty.” But “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” meaning it is subject to personal opinion. Conversely, science is defined as “knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws as obtained and tested through the scientific method.”

The scientific method is the collection of facts through impartial observation and experimentation, and the making and testing of ideas that need to be proven right or wrong to justify a conclusion. Conclusions must be based on a critical review of confirmed findings, and facts must precede conclusions. Starting with preconceived beliefs and searching for and selectively picking out facts (often questionable) to support those beliefs is not science

Let’s look first at the corporate-profit motivated denials. A glaring example was the furor of denial by the DDT industry in its attack on Rachel Carson for her 1962 book “Silent Spring,” in which she exposed scientific evidence that DDT was responsible for a collapse in bird populations, especially our national bird, the American eagle. Another example was the ludicrous performance of the string of tobacco industry executives, who, one after another, parroted the line “We do not believe that nicotine is addictive” at a 1994 Congressional hearing, despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary.

But denial of global issues like overpopulation and climate change are much more important, because they are crucial to the future livability of our planet. Many have long held that mankind’s numbers could not possibly affect the inexhaustible supplies of Earth’s resources. The first phenomenon to shatter that myth was the over-fishing of the world’s enormous oceans, which has brought many species to the verge of extinction. More recently, we have been forced to realize that we are running out of the amount of water and arable land needed to feed the world’s ever-growing population.

We must also recognize that increasing numbers of people and escalating living standards, especially in China and India, are combining to accelerate the consumption of the finite resources of minerals and fossil fuels that are critical to the survival of future generations. We must learn to accept the fact that the mantra that producing more and more capital goods for a constantly growing population is essential for the health of the economy is a treadmill to oblivion.

Next, we come to the issue of global warming or climate change. Whichever you call it, it is real. To deny it is like believing the Earth is flat or that the sun, moon, and stars all revolve around the Earth. After all, all you have to do is look around you and it will be obvious that these are true. But the facts uncovered by science tell us otherwise.

The rapid increase in Earth’s atmospheric and ocean temperatures, and the accelerating rate of melting of Arctic Sea ice, the Greenland ice cap, and glaciers throughout the world during the past few decades are irrefutable. And, the fact that the rates of these phenomena are unprecedented since the era of high volcanic activity is a reason to suspect that there may be a connection between global warming and human activity, namely our steadily increasing consumption of fossil fuels, starting with the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.

We know from scientific evidence going back several hundred thousand years, that there is a direct correlation between the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and global temperature. Atmospheric CO2 has risen to 400 parts per million from 350 ppm, and global temperature has gone up 1 degree F, since the centuries prior the Industrial Revolution. The 50-ppm increase in CO2, and the decline in the proportion of Carbon 14 in atmospheric CO2, are both consistent with the amount of fossil fuels which have been burned over the past two centuries.

The consequences of denial of overpopulation and global warming and unwillingness to do anything about them on future generations are frightening. What is more alarming is the pride so many Americans take in their ignorance — the attitude that if it doesn’t agree with what I believe, it isn’t true. Perhaps that’s because they find the facts just too overwhelming to deal with, and therefore reject them.

— “As I See It” appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at asicit1@hotmail.com.


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