It is disheartening, to say the least, to read that Dakota Access Pipeline operators are dismissive of climate change (“Analysis: Dakota Access operators call climate change ‘undefined, vague, and ambiguous’ in official filing,” Herald, Nov. 13).
Climate change is defined by NASA as any long-term change in Earth's climate, or in the climate of a region or city. This includes warming, cooling and changes besides temperature. “Global warming" refers to the long-term increase in Earth's average temperature; this is the climate change that is of greatest concern because of significant trends of increasing average temperature at the global scale.
Climate change has been intensively studied by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is an international body of 195 governments under the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization. For more than 30 years, thousands of world-class scientists from these 195 nations have evaluated the scientific literature and produced reports to guide policy makers. With each successive report, the uncertainty about climate change and its effects has lessened. Every member government signs off on each of the reports before they are released. I would hardly call this ambiguous.
The warming trend that the Earth is experiencing is caused by “greenhouse gases” (carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases) that trap heat in the atmosphere. These gases are predominantly produced by oxidation of fossil fuels and by breakdown of plant matter. The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stayed relatively stable for hundreds of thousands of years, but began to rise rapidly at the time of the Industrial Revolution, and it has risen even faster since about 1950. This warming threatens global agriculture and food production, human health, both land and marine animals, and coastal communities. It is already contributing to human migration around the world. The economic impact will be considerable.
Many scientists are now saying that global warming is no longer a scientific question (in the sense of “is it happening or not?”), but a moral question. The evidence for climate change is overwhelming, and some scientists warn that we are actually pressing up against planetary boundaries for survival. The question now is what we will do about it.
For a fossil fuel company to be dismissive of climate change is disingenuous and immoral. Unfortunately it is not surprising.