Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Global warming is not fake news

In a Naturewatch column I wrote, for the first Sunday in July 2006, we find a word to politicians: Keeping your head buried in the sand will keep you from needing to consider the effects of global warming, but there is still the matter of your legacy and what your grandchildren's grandchildren will have to endure.

We environmentalists sometimes went overboard in the '70s to get a point across, often with bad science, but who can call global warming bad science, or continue to think it a theory, or political issue thought up by the Democrats when so many leading scientists and climatologists worldwide agree?

We can see the effects ourselves in Alaska's changing landscape, glaciers in particular. One, the Riggs Glacier, caught my eye, probably because it was photographed 65 years ago, the year I was born, and again in 2004, two years after we were there. The comparison of these two images of the glacier at Muir Inlet in Alaska's Glacier Bay is startling. The 65-year-old photo shows it as a 2,000-foot ice flow, whereas the recent photo is of navigable water, hillsides with trees, and the glacier retreated to a distant valley. These photographs, along with more than 200 taken from the 1890s to the late 1970s, show what the glaciers were like, and when compared to images taken by Bruce Molnia, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey over the past four years, show how these frozen rivers of ice have shrunk dramatically. (Molnia's images were taken from precisely the same locations and pointing in the same directions as the older one.)

Permafrost is melting, as my wife and I noticed upon seeing telephone poles sunk to the cross bars or precariously tilted in the once-frozen ground along Route 2, south of Fairbanks. Engineers responsible for the 800-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which carries about a million barrels of oil a day and generates 17 percent of the nation's oil production, are concerned that melting permafrost could make the 400 or so miles of pipeline above ground unstable.

"The rapid melting of the glaciers, the increasing vegetation in the high Arctic and the invasions of insects, where insects were once unknown, are all happening," Molnia said, "and I would not question that a significant component of the change is due to the heat-trapping greenhouse effect — certainly a human-caused issue — but I wouldn't say it's all caused by global industries."

"We've had so many strange events, things are so different than they used to be, that I think most Alaskans now believe something profound is going on," said Dr. Glenn Juday, an authority on climate change at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks in 2002. "We're experiencing indisputable climate warming. The positive changes from this take a long time, but the negative changes are happening real fast."

It is now 2018 and many still hold the belief that global warming is a sham — even though the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere is the highest in 3 million years. Temperatures are rising, have been, and will continue if we don't make a world-wide concerted effort to "cease and desist." With hotter air comes greater ocean evaporation, resulting in a warmer atmosphere that can hold more water, and can intensify weather events. The oceans are warmer and coral reefs are dying, fisheries are suffering. And as ocean ice melts at a faster rate, entire ecosystems are beginning to fail. Woodlots and forests are suffering from invasions of disease and insects, and it isn't only trees, but agricultural crops are suffering. Droughts are more frequent and more serious in some places while in others crops rot. Livestock is in peril in many places in the world.


Finally, here are two sources you may find tremendously helpful to better understand Earth's plight.                              

The Union of Concerned Scientists explain what is at stake, "Global warming is already having significant and harmful effects on our communities, our health and our climate. Sea level rise is accelerating. The number of large wildfires is growing. Dangerous heat waves are becoming more common. Extreme storm events are increasing in many areas. More severe droughts are occurring in others.

"We must take immediate action to address global warming or these consequences will continue to intensify, grow ever more costly and increasingly affect the entire planet — including you, your community and your family."

The Union also has an interesting website, full of graphs that you may find useful: And another source, new to me is, a Pulitzer Prize-winning, non-profit, non-partisan news organization dedicated to covering climate change, energy and the environment.

And those in power still have their heads in the sand!

Thom Smith welcomes readers' questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of

The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201


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