What Alabama’s John Christy really says about climate change

The latest Bloomberg Businessweek laments that Alabama may do little to nothing to address climate change because of a particular university researcher.

As chairman of the state senate’s education budget committee, [Republican state senator Trip] Pittman directed money to the University of Alabama in Huntsville to fund research by John Christy, a climate scientist who has testified before Congress denouncing claims of man-made climate change. Christy, who is also Alabama’s official climatologist, says it isn’t worth fretting over. “We count the tornadoes, we count hurricanes,” he says. “None of those are increasing. Floods are not increasing.”

For more information about what Christy actually says about the impact of climate change, it might interest you to revisit the comments he made to Carolina Journal Radio in 2008.

Kokai: Open-minded listeners might ask, “OK, so why do so many people believe there is such a big problem? Why are we hearing so much about global warming and the problems it’s going to create?”

Christy: OK, I’m asked that a lot, and I don’t know the motivations of all the different types of people. Some see it as a way to increase their business share, because it’s a great business plan when you think about it – to get the government to force the public to buy your product. So, if you make windmills, the best thing you can do is have the government make a law that utilities have to use windmills to generate their energy. Think about it. Then others are more in the religious realm, I think. They view the earth as this delicate system that has never been disturbed in the past, and that we are the evil infestation on the planet that is trying to destroy and disturb this natural balance, when, in fact, the earth system has never been in balance. It has gone through tremendous upheavals in the past. And the best I can tell, everything that you see in the climate system – the icebergs breaking off or Arctic melting or whatnot – all of that has happened before, without human influence. So just the observation that something happens in the climate system in no way points the finger at humankind as the cause.

Kokai: Should we be concerned at all?

Christy: There are many things about which to be concerned in the environmental system. No. 1, I think, would be the water quality we have across the planet. The lack of good water, good sanitation, is probably the leading killer, in terms of the environment or the world. That’s No. 1. And another one is the lack of energy that people have around the world forces them to use wood, or dung, for energy. These are very poor sources, very polluting sources. And so they end up destroying forests, habitats, and really destroying their environment as a result of a lack of affordable and reliable and clean energy.

Carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere. There’s no question about that. And one of the benefits of that that is rarely mentioned is that about one-sixth of the food production we have in the world today is due to the extra CO2 we’ve put back into the atmosphere. That’s a pretty big benefit when you think about worldwide, that much food. But it is not a gas that is toxic, so breathing it is not going to be a problem. We breathe it all the time; we produce it. And CO2 will cause the radiation balance, the way the energy fluxes within the earth system, to change. There’s no question about that. But it turns out there are bigger greenhouse gases and effects out there, much bigger than carbon dioxide. And how they respond to the little bit of extra carbon dioxide is really key.

I think I would want to add on this point that, if you are concerned about humanity, it turns out – and I lived in Africa, so I know this to be true – that without energy, life is brutal and short. And so going around the planet, claiming that energy is evil and bad is looking straight into the facts of the matter and lying because energy means life. There is no question about it, and so denying access to energy that’s affordable and reliable, in a way, is creating terrific burdens and hardships for people around the world. And, as someone who’s a member of this human race, I find it very hard to stand on that side of the issue.

Want more? Check out Christy’s global warning debate with William Schlesinger of Duke from 2009.

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