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Treason Against The Planet

by H. Bruce Rinker, Ph.D.

As a scientist, I am baffled by two “head in the sand” negative attitudes manifested these days by a sizeable sector of American society, albeit a politically conservative and scientifically naïve segment of American society.

One stance is anti-evolution.  Evolution is the reigning, unifying postulate in the life sciences that ties together all the rich biodiversity on the planet: past, present, and future.  Its cognate in the physical sciences is gravity.  Both evolution and gravity have stood the tests of time as unsurpassed explanations for the workings of the universe.  Understanding and accepting evolution has repercussions in all sorts of related fields including agriculture, medicine, genetics, and urban studies.

The second attitude is anti-climate change, or at least that portion of climate change caused by human actions.  The evidence for global warming is unequivocal based on actual observations with the most rapid warming since the 1950’s and very likely (95% probability) anthropogenic, or human-caused.  In other words, climate change is upon us; and it’s mostly our own fault.  Yet the naysayers go on and on about “hoaxes,” “conspiracies,” and “lack of evidence” with seemingly no interest in the truth of the matters.


I can only speculate that both concepts – evolution and climate change – are complex subjects, often filled with arcane scientific jargon that spooks the nonscientist.  Further, we live in an era of uncertainty about the economic health and well-being of the nation.  As caring citizens, we are skeptical about viable solutions emerging from the toxic political quagmire in Washington; and we’re alarmed about our entanglement in a debt-ridden global economy.  Naturally, we seek black-and-white solutions to our pervasive issues.  But evolution and human-caused climate change are not easy explanations of our origins and our impact on Earth’s living systems.  Denial maintains the status quo and allows some to cast suspicion on the messenger: with these two concepts, the scientific community at-large.

So let me provide a different herald for both concepts: the Roman Catholic Church.  In the case of evolution, Vatican officials have implicitly criticized the literal interpretation of the Bible, defending evolution against “useless” creationism.  And, in the case of global climate change, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has just published an extraordinary document entitled innocuously, “Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene.”  (See for the complete text.)  For the remainder of today’s column, let me focus my comments on this encouraging publication.

Among the naysayers for anthropogenic climate change, I often hear reference to natural cycles of cold and warm periods in Earth’s history.  In other words, don’t worry about climate change because the planet has cooled and warmed cyclically throughout the millennia; what we’re experiencing today is just a part of that overall natural sequence of events with no niggling consequences for our present rates of energy consumption.  The Vatican document puts to rest this false and duplicitous attitude.

It states unequivocally: “The primary triggers for ice ages and inter-glacials are well understood to be changes in the astronomical parameters related to the motion of our planet within the solar system and natural feedback processes in the climate system.  The time scales between these triggers are in the range of 10,000 years or longer.  By contrast, the observed human-induced changes in carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases, and soot concentrations are taking place on 10-100 year timescales – at least a hundred times faster.  It is particularly worrying that this release of global warming agents is occurring during an interglacial period when the Earth was already at a natural temperature maximum.”

This statement about global warming sends chills up and down my spine.  Notice the emphasis on “observed” and on “human-induced.”  The scientific data are unequivocal and long-term.  The causes condense into a single biological phenomenon: Homo sapiens with an insatiable appetite for more and more, regardless of the consequences.  We have exhausted our credit, and now we’re exhausting our credibility as a species.

The Vatican document recommends three measures: (1) reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions without delay, (2) reduce the concentrations of warming air pollutants (such as methane, dark soot, and lower atmosphere ozone) by as much as 50% within a short period of time, and (3) prepare to adapt to the climatic changes, both chronic and abrupt, that society will be unable to mitigate.

It’s time to act.  It’s also time to turn our backs on the useless and naïve shrugging of responsibility by political and religious pundits who have an axe to grind.  The Roman Catholic Church condemned Galileo centuries ago for his stance on heliocentricity yet today that ancient institution has summoned its resources to support evolution and human-caused climate change.

In conclusion, the document offers hope: “We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink, as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us.”

 Recently, conservative politicians have resorted to throwing around accusations of “treason” like so much confetti in the wind for anyone who disagrees with their sentiments.  Perhaps it’s time to raise that same banner against those who mistreat Earth, especially its richly evolved biodiversity.  It’s treason against the planet.

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  1. Well Bruce, as always you have made a wonderful point. The government does not give a hoot about our enviroment, it cares only about greed and how rich they shall become by overlooking things they shoud not, and saying oh well, “we will be dead by the time it gets the worse” I am appauled at the fact the government allows companies to dump tocix waste into our ocean’s and on our land, and what do these multi billion dollar companies get fined? No more than $25,000.00. Now that’s like the most idiotic thing I have seen done when it comes to Earth. The Indians had this land before anyone else, did they live well and live for years and years? Yes, but where are they now? On reservations being treated like animals, and we are hurting the earth on a daily basis. I love the thought of going back to horse and buggy’s, they do not put all the garbage in the air that motor vehicles do, but then again, that would mean people could’nt listen to thier music while traveling, and it might rain, and they might get wet..Lazy is what we have become, we depend on things that hurt the earth everyday, but who cares right? Not enough people do, or they are just to busy to pay attention!! Keep up the wonderful work Bruce!!

  2. I do not agree with The Theory of Evolution but everyone has a right to his own beliefs.
    As for the climate changes how anyone Scientists or other wise can say there is no such thing is beyond me. All we have to do is look at the seasons and how they have changed…Hardly any Spring and Summers so hot it takes your breath away to go out and then short Autumns and a Long cold harsh Winters. This Winter is supposed to worse yet.
    .we all need to stand up and Take care of our Earth and she will take care of us.If we don’t Lord help us!!

  3. Bruce, this is probably the clearest and best-written article on evolution and climate change I have ever read. You have written so one does not have to be a scientist or environmentalist to understand the overwhelming evidence and the dire consequences that loom if we continue this unheeding, greedy way of life.

    You are a true hero and this newspaper is to be commended for continuing to bring your great writing to the public.

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