*Originally published in the opinion section of Boulder’s “The Daily Camera,” April 6, 2014*
Greetings. I’m a senior at Fairview High and I’m writing to urge the Daily Camera to follow the example of the Los Angeles Times and commit to no longer publishing letters to the editor that deny human-caused climate change. The claims made by climate change deniers are not only inaccurate, but also damaging, and newspapers have no obligation to propagate their misinformation. In fact, they have an obligation not to.
Let me begin my argument with few words about science. There exists a faction of citizens, pundits, and politicians that like to remind us that climate change is “just a theory” and therefore any attempts to mitigate it would be thoroughly premature. Per the diligent conditioning of my biology teacher, I would like to state that the term “theory” bears a different significance in the sciences than it does in casual conversation.
To a scientist, a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation. Gravity is a theory. The idea that some diseases are caused by microorganisms is a theory. The idea that an object heavier than air can achieve flight when lift balances weight and thrust exceeds drag, which makes air travel possible, is a theory. And the theory of special relativity that makes your GPS function is, in fact, a theory. To oppose one of these concepts and not another would be hypocritical, for each is subjected to the same degree of rigorous review.
A UN panel on climate change declared they were 95 percent certain humans are causing climate change last September, which is the same probability scientists express that smoking causes lung cancer. Anyone unmoved by that kind of scientific certainty: I invite you to smoke to your heart’s (dis)content… just not with other people around. Because the problem with smoking is it doesn’t only impact you; it subjects those around you to the same risks through second-hand smoke. In the same way, the denial of climate change is irresponsible because the consequent damage incurred by neglecting its causes endangers everyone.
The purpose of the opinion section is to facilitate debate. But not every debate. For the purpose of debate is to assess different options so we can move forward with greater lucidity, not to perpetuate misinformation and give harmful ideas a platform to shine. Like global temperatures, gun violence in the United States is on the rise. There is a crucial debate to be had about the leading causes of this increase — is it the Internet? The media? The law? — as well as the best ways to address the issue.
But if a letter were submitted arguing that gun violence isn’t increasing at all, and therefore nothing needs to be done, surely it would be rejected. Such an argument would be hinged on a factual inaccuracy and would contribute nothing to the conversation. In fact, it would hinder our ability to resolve the issue by promoting dysfunctional denial. In the same way, the leading causes of climate change, the severity of the issue, and the best courses of action are all topics that must be debated… but not the existence of a problem.
A newspaper should allow every opinion to be heard, but the existence of climate change is not a matter of opinion. It’s a scientific issue, and I assure you, any of the pseudoscientific claims made by deniers can be put down by carefully constructed and thoroughly peer-reviewed scientific explanations. Newspapers can moderate many interesting debates, but a scientific theory has its own process for public scrutiny that need not be obfuscated by the incidental “research” of civilians.
Propagating climate change denial creates apathy where action is desperately needed. I urge the Daily Camera to stop publishing climate-change-denying letters, allowing our society to pull our collective head out of the sand and start building a brighter future.