Open Forum: To elevate the discourse

Posted: April 8, 2014

I am disappointed by the recent coverage of climate change in The Star. Readers may be unaware that this week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report on the impacts of climate change. Instead, they may have only read Donovan Quimby’s Open Forum piece framing climate change as a tool used by Democrats to “justify increased taxes, increased spending, and bigger government while at the same time diminishing our individual liberties.” While this claim may contain bits of truth, it represents a very limited view on climate change and its potential impacts on our society.

Mr. Quimby concludes his piece by “passing” on proposed climate change policy “until there’s a better understanding of climate change and why it really has to be addressed.” I would urge him and other readers to look into the most recent IPCC report, which is one of the most thorough compilations of climate science to date. It describes potential impacts on human health, weather, energy, and natural resources, and highlights the importance of investing in and studying climate science to help us understand the implications of a warming world.

Today, there is a general consensus in the scientific community that humans have affected the global climate system, due in large part to greenhouse-gas emissions. The details and magnitude of these effects can and are being debated as new scientific results are released. However, the impacts are real, as detailed in the IPCC report.

The fact that politicians are beginning to respond to climate science should be applauded, and I generally agree with Tim Kaine’s assertion that climate change could affect Virginia’s agriculture, forestry, and coastal populations (see Sally Voth’s article from March 12). Some of Mr. Quimby’s issues with Kaine’s points are indeed valid, particularly the ambiguous desire to “solve” climate change and the unfair analogy to the Clean Water Act. However, Kaine’s goals to update environmental regulations, incentivize scientific research, and promote innovation are steps in the right direction, not threats to our individual liberties.

My main disagreement with Mr. Quimby’s piece is it reduces the climate policy debate to typical Republican vs. Democrat finger-pointing. I believe that if The Star’s (as well as other news outlets’) coverage of climate science and its potential impacts was more thorough, we could elevate the public debate to a more productive level. A more educated public can force politicians to speak more knowledgeably and clearly on the topic of climate change; this will, in turn, lead to more effective, fair policy.

Bobby Arthur, born and raised in Winchester, is a doctoral candidate in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.