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A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 5 - Global Warming

Ben CarsonThis is a continuation in my ongoing series to take a closer look at the views and positions of Ben Carson, mainly by looking at articles he's written. The index contains links to all of the entries in the series.

For this entry, I'm actually going to break from the original articles I'd found on RealBencarson.com, and look at his position on global warming. In an interview towards the end of last year, Carson made some troubling statements about global warming. The statements can be found in the Bloomberg article, Ben Carson Not Convinced on Global Warming:

"There's always going to be either cooling or warming going on," the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate said in an interview this weekend in Des Moines, Iowa. "As far as I'm concerned, that's irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment."

Carson, a retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, often talks about his medical background and science during his speeches. Pressed on the fact that the bulk of the scientific community believes the Earth is indeed warming, Carson pivoted. "You can ask it several different ways, but my answer is going to be the same," he said. "We may be warming. We may be cooling."

Let me get the obvious out of the way, first. Global warming is real and caused primarily by people. I wrote about this seven years ago in the entry, Global Warming - It's Real, And We're Causing It, and the evidence and scientific consensus have only grown stronger since then (the latest by Phil Plait, No, Adjusting Temperature Measurements Is Not a Scandal, is a good recent discussion). I have another entry from that same year, Political Litmus Test, where I explain why I would never vote for somebody who didn't accept global warming - "to reject anthropogenic global climate change altogether requires ... that someone lacks knowledge of the issue, is willing to ignore the consensus of experts, and is willing to ignore evidence in favor of their ideology." Add to that the actual danger associated with global warming and the necessity of politicians doing something about it.

I'm glad Carson thinks we have 'an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment', but you can't do that properly if you ignore the largest threat to the environment in historical times*. Acknowledging that climate change is real means taking vastly different approaches to public policy. Of course, there are obvious examples like coastal habitats - don't conservation efforts in the Everglades seem futile if we do nothing to stop global warming and let them become ocean in a hundred years (see this interactive map on sea level rise - Global Warming Art - Sea Level Rise Explorer)? There's also the acidification of the oceans and effects on corals, not to mention major climatic shifts changing rainfall patterns on land, or the much publicized melting of the polar ice caps and the effects that's having on arctic creatures, etc. Given that global warming is such a huge driver of changes to the climate, it must be an integral part of any comprehensive environmental conservation plan.

Carson has made similar statements about global warming before. Here's a quote from an editorial he wrote early last year, Energy's role in the path to peace:

Whether we are experiencing global warming or a coming ice age, which was predicted in the 1970s, we as responsible human beings must be concerned about our surroundings and what we will pass on to future generations. However, to use climate change as an excuse not to develop our God-given resources makes little sense. Expanding our wealth of energy resources, as well as encouraging the development of new renewable energy sources, would provide an enormous economic lift with obvious benefits, but it also would bolster our role as a formidable player in the struggle for world leadership.

When he says that "to use climate change as an excuse not to develop our God-given resources makes little sense", I don't think I'm reading too much into that by interpreting it to mean that he thinks we should continue to use coal, oil, and other fossil fuels at current rates (because no one's using climate change as an excuse to not develop renewable energy sources). This is, quite simply, a horrible idea. Since global warming is real, using more fossil fuels is going to make the problem worse. It is exactly the reason why we should slow down on 'developing' those particular resources.

If there were no global warming, there would still be concerns over methods of extraction and ways to clean up the exhaust (such as scrubbers), but coal and oil are wonderfully convenient energy sources. And they're still fairly plentiful, with many decades of oil left, and probably at least a century of coal left (source - World Coal Association). Without global warming, we could budget research on renewable energy at a far lower rate, since we'd still have plenty of time before we'd have to transition.

But global warming is a reality, so we as a civilization must try to drastically slow down our use of fossil fuels and develop alternative renewable energy technologies. Well, I say 'must', but it really depends on what consequences you're willing to live with - more extreme weather events like hurricanes, droughts, and floods and the deaths they'll cause, rising sea levels and shrinking coastlines including the inundation of major cities and entire islands, disruptions to the food supply, more wildfires, disruptions to fresh water supplies, mass extinction, etc. (more info - Union of Concerned Scientists - Global Warming Impacts). It's not going to be the complete downfall of civilization or the extinction of every living thing on earth, but it's going to be a lot of suffering and expense that could be avoided with some increased funding right now. Personally, I see it as a no-brainer, but if you only care about yourself and don't give a damn about future generations, then I suppose you might want to just continue on with the status quo. I think Carson probably does care about future generations, but you can't address the effects of climate change if you don't first accept the reality of it.

I also can't let slide the statement he made about "a coming ice age, which was predicted in the 1970s". This is at best misleading, at worst a lie. A minority of scientists in the '70s were predicting an ice age, but the majority even then were predicting global warming (Skeptical Science - What were climate scientists predicting in the 1970s?). Only a tenth of the of papers published between 1965 and 1979 predicted cooling, while nearly two thirds predicted global warming, and the consensus has only grown stronger in the 35 years since then.

It's not like this is the issue that's finally pushed me over the edge in not supporting Carson. I wasn't too found of him based on everything else I'd read prior to this. But even if I didn't know all those other things and this was the first I'd heard about him, it would be enough to disqualify him as a viable presidential candidate. Our politicians must start addressing climate change much more aggressively if we want to avoid passing on all the associated suffering to future generations. And the first part of that action is acknowledging the reality of human caused climate change.

Related Entries:

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Continue to Part 6 - Equal Opportunity

*Note that global warming isn't the only current environmental threat. Habitat destruction is another huge one, and why it's frustrating to see some of the proposals to address global warming that worsen the habitat loss problem.

Updated 2015-02-18: Added links to related entries. Slightly reworded one sentence to read better (but not changing the meaning).

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