Email letters, November 7,  2013

Scientific evidence clearly links climate change to emissions of greenhouse gases

As a scientist, I must respond to letters published in the Sentinel Nov. 4 and 5. The first letter posits that alternative energy will never be economical and is in fact a “perpetual motion machine.”

The author’s argument suggests that we will have to rely on fossil fuels forever, which is — given our population growth, the increasing wealth of the rest of the world and the resulting accumulation of greenhouse gases — a dubious proposition. While it is true that fossil fuels are the result of more than 65 million years of geochemical changes that began with the absorption of solar energy, we burn these at a rate orders of magnitude faster than they are formed.

Furthermore, we do not use the energy of photosynthesis directly. Less than 6 percent of the light hitting most plants is converted to biomass, which is what we eventually
burn. Currently, solar photocells convert about 12-15 percent of sunlight to electrical energy, which can more or less be directly used. The author also argues that renewable energy sources will need to be subsidized forever. Fossil fuels are also heavily subsidized, both directly and indirectly. The entire freeway system, built with taxpayer dollars, is a subsidy to the oil industry, for example.

Taxpayers’ payment for cleaning up the messes left behind at superfund sites by many of the extractive industries is another example. We subsidize the health consequences, both short- and long-term, that are a consequence of fossil fuel use. We may already be subsidizing the effects of fossil fuel on world climate. To say that scientists and engineers will never be able to solve the problems associated with both traditional and nontraditional energy sources is a lack of confidence that I do not support.

The second letter argues that CO2 is not a pollutant. Neither is lead, when it is not concentrated in our water sources or food. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, not the worst greenhouse gas, but it is the one that is being produced at rates about 40 times higher than before the Industrial Revolution and it is concentrating in our atmosphere. 

The scientific foundations underlying the effect of changes in Earth’s atmosphere on climate were laid in the mid- to late-1800s by Fourier, Tyndall, Arrhenius and others. The science of the relationship between atmospheric changes and climate is not something that has just been invented to annoy conservatives and the fossil fuel industries. It is a real, quantifiable effect.

The author’s use of the Heartland Institute as an information source is telling. The Heartland institute is funded by corporate sponsors, including Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries (coal) and tobacco giant Altria (formerly Philip Morris). They specialize in spreading disinformation disguised as science. They still maintain that the public health community’s campaign against smoking is “junk science.” They have compared scientists, whose data are consistent with the hypothesis that the increasing atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases changes climate, to the Unibomber.

The Heartland Institute spends a lot of money trying to create the idea that there is substantial scientific dissent on issues that affect the bottom lines of their sponsors when there is none. They have been frightfully effective at this.

The preponderance of evidence clearly supports the idea that we are changing our climate through the excessive emission of greenhouse gases. To create doubt that this may be true undercuts full-on efforts to address the problem, both by technological advances in renewable energy and by efforts to mitigate the immediate and currently necessary use of fossil fuels.

Grand Junction

School board election articles should have been on opinion page

The reporting on the local school board election was shockingly bad. The last straw for me was Wednesday’s headline (Nov. 6), “Voters reject reform candidates.”

To proclaim such anti-teacher, reactionary candidates
as reform candidates without question is just the last in the string of reportage which equated the candidates who lost with everything good in the world, and the candidates who won as somehow behind the times.

These so-called articles would have been fine on the opinion page as Emily Shockley’s personal views on this election, but they certainly did not merit front-page placement as actual reporting on an important local race.

Luckily, Grand Junction residents are smart enough to figure things out for themselves.


Grand Junction

Will 250,000 Coloradans find their new coverage better and more affordable?

Today’s startling Sentinel (AP) headline – “200,000 Coloradans set to lose health insurance” – is a bit misleading and therefore requires further explanation.

More accurately stated, 249,199 Coloradans will lose health insurance coverage under their current policies as of Jan. 1, 2014, but all are eligible to obtain new (and often better and perhaps even more affordable) health insurance coverage through Connect for Health Colorado.

Of the 23 carriers canceling policies, only 10 are offering new policies on Colorado’s competitive health insurance exchange – suggesting that 13 carriers were offering only “junk policies” that actually provided “health insurance coverage” in name only.

106,083 Coloradans are losing individual plans “for reasons connected to federal law.” There are only two such “reasons.” First, while policies issued before the Affordable Care Act was enacted in March 2010 were all “grandfathered” (even if not compliant with the ACA’s minimum standards), some of “the companies don’t want to write that particular line of business any longer” – expecting that those policyholders would find better and/or more affordable coverage on Colorado’s exchange in any event.

Second, non-compliant policies issued after March 2010 cannot legally be renewed after January 1, 2014 – necessitating either upgrade or cancellation. Rather than planning to upgrade such non-compliant policies, insurers knowingly wrote them as a marketing ploy to attract customers they hoped to keep even after the “individual mandate” takes effect.

Fortunately, some 75 percent of affected Coloradans “have coverage through two [reputable] carriers” who “are offering dozens of new plans for 2014” on Colorado’s exchange. As of September 2013, 96 different Bronze and Silver Plans were being offered there.

Of course, the question remains whether those 250,000 Coloradans will find their new coverage both better and more affordable (after considering premium credits) than what they are losing. We should eagerly await the Sentinel’s follow-up report.

Grand Junction


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I wonder if Mr. Stetler’s sources are any more “credible” than the Heartland Institute he demonizes in his letter. I see he didn’t cite any of his own other than some researchers from the 1800’s.

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