Sherwood Rowland's life should be celebrated as we work to force our leaders to act on climate change.
Denying the obliteration
The death last month of chemist F. Sherwood Rowland was hardly noticed, but it served to underscore the danger presented by climate-change deniers.
Rowland, noted Time magazine, “saved the world.” In the early 1970s, he began looking at chlorofluorocarbons, the aerosol compounds for everything from the deodorant sprays we whisked across our armpits to refrigerators that produced cool drinks on hot days. In 1974, he and a colleague showed how CFCs were destroying the ozone, a thin layer of molecules that shields the earth from harmful ultraviolet rays.
Predictably, a host of naysayers led by the chemical industry attacked the research. Rowland didn’t let up, continuing to warn of the dangers of CFCs. When British researchers indeed did find a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, nations signed a treaty banning CFCs. And you know what? We changed our ways on an international scale and abated the danger. Rowland and two colleagues earned a Nobel Prize for chemistry. If they gave an award for courage, he should have received that too.
So here we are today, with everyone from major candidates for president of the U.S. to bloviating state legislators in Wisconsin loudly denying the overwhelming proof of climate change. They have throttled and threatened scientists, invented specious alternative explanations or simply labeled climate science a hoax.
Unfortunately, they may be winning the battle, at the expense of life on Earth. Never mind that major insurance companies, buffeted by record numbers of violent weather incidents, have called for action on climate-change abatement.
Environmental activist Bill McKibben, not one to cower from this fight for the future of the globe, used an uncommonly hot late winter and spring this year to remind us something is up. He noted recently that even the normally “just the facts” National Weather Service has taken note of this year’s anomalous weather.
For instance, the Chicago NWS office said in an official statement, “It’s extraordinarily rare for climate locations with 100-plus yearlong periods of records to break records day after day after day.” Wisconsin maple syrup producers, their business devastated by the heat wave, can only nod their heads in agreement.
Hey, as a lifelong resident of this cold-weather state, it’s hard not to suspend all rational thought and just enjoy. But when low temperatures are higher than record high temperatures by double digits, it’s weird.
McKibben has endured death threats for pointing out what ought to be the obvious. We’ve never seen anything like what we’re seeing the past few weeks, McKibben says, adding: “Except, of course, in the models that the climatologists have been printing out on their supercomputers for the last two decades. This is what climate change looks like, just like last year’s new record for multibillion-dollar weather disasters is what climate change looks like.”
It’s unfortunate that many major farm and conservation groups have sidestepped this issue because it’s too hot. It’s unfortunate that the Obama administration hasn’t insisted that we address it head on. Maybe Obama will if he wins re-election against whatever denier earns the GOP nomination.
It’s easier to listen to those who are backed by huge oil companies and others with a stake in burning carbon than to do something about what the vast majority of scientists know is a problem. Yes, it’s easier, but F. Sherwood Rowland taught us we can’t always take what seems like the easy way. And the fact is, we have the wherewithal to fix this global environmental problem. It would be a major step in human evolution. Yes, that’s right. Evolution. While we’re at it, we can address another big global issue: population control. Yes, that’s right. Population control.
April 8, 2012
post a letter about this article »
read letters on this article (2)
Bill Berry is a FightingBob.com contributing editor who lives in Stevens Point and writes columns for the Capital Times and other publications.