On March 26, 2013, a long-retired faculty member of our department, Don Easterbrook, presented his opinions on human-caused global climate change to the Washington State Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee at the invitation of the committee chair Sen. Doug Ericksen, R.-Ferndale. We, the active faculty of the Geology Department at Western Washington University, express our unanimous and significant concerns regarding the views espoused by Easterbrook, who holds a doctorate in geology; they are neither scientifically valid nor supported by the overwhelming preponderance of evidence on the topic. We also decry the injection of such poor quality science into the public discourse regarding important policy decisions for our state's future; the chair of the committee was presented with numerous options and opportunities to invite current experts to present the best-available science on this subject, and chose instead to, apparently, appeal to a narrow partisan element with his choice of speaker.
We concur with the vast consensus of the science community that recent global warming is very real, human greenhouse-gas emissions are the primary cause, and their environmental and economic impacts on our society will likely be severe if we don't make significant efforts to address the problem. Claims to the contrary fly in the face of an overwhelming body of rigorous scientific literature.
We intend no disrespect to Easterbrook personally. We appreciate his previous service to our department and to Western. His present appointment as emeritus professor was made in light of his long-standing history at WWU. But people of the state of Washington need to understand that Easterbrook's ideas on anthropogenic global warming have not passed through rigorous peer review in the scientific literature. Additionally, Easterbrook's claims in this forum and elsewhere require the existence of a broad, decades-long conspiracy amongst literally thousands of scientists to falsify climate data and to prevent publication of opposing research. This opinion demonstrates a profound rejection of the scientific process and the fundamental value of rigorous peer review, and is also simply wrong.
Science thrives on controversies; it rewards innovative, unexpected findings, but only when they are backed by rigorous, painstaking evidence and reasoning. Without such standards, science would be ineffective as a tool to improve our society. It is worth acknowledging that nearly every technological advance in modern society is a direct result of that same scientific method (think the Internet, airplanes, antibiotics, and even your smartphone).
Easterbrook's views, as exemplified by his Senate presentation, are a stark contrast to that standard; they are filled with misrepresentations, misuse of data and repeated mixing of local vs. global records. Nearly every graphic in the hours-long presentation to the Senate was flawed, as was Easterbrook's discussion of them. For example, more than 100 years of research in physics, chemistry, atmospheric science and oceanography has, via experiments, numerous physical observations and theoretic calculations, clearly demonstrate - and have communicated via the scientific literature - that carbon dioxide is a powerful greenhouse gas; its presence and variations in Earth's atmosphere have significant and measureable impacts on the surface temperature of our planet. Alternatively, you can take Easterbrook's word - not supported by any published science - that the concentration and effects of carbon dioxide are so small as to not matter a bit.
In a specific example, Easterbrook referred to a graph of temperatures from an ice core of the Greenland ice sheet to claim that global temperatures were warmer than present over most of the last 10,000 years. First, this record is of temperature from a single spot on Earth, central Greenland (thus it is not a "global record"). Second, and perhaps more importantly, Easterbrook's definition of "present temperature" in the graph is based on the most recent data point in that record, which is actually 1855, more than 150 years ago when the world was still in the depths of the Little Ice Age, and well before any hint of human-caused climate change.
As the active faculty of the Western Washington University Geology Department that he lists as his affiliation, we conclude that Easterbrook's presentation clearly does not represent the best-available science on this subject, and urge the Senate, our state government, and the citizens of Washington State to rely on rigorous peer-reviewed science rather than conspiracy-based ideas to steer their decisions on matters concerning our environment and economic future.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Western Washington University WWU Geology Department faculty members who authored this column are Douglas H. Clark, who holds a doctorate in geology; Bernard A. Housen, who is the department chair and holds a doctorate in geophysics; Susan Debari, who holds a doctorate in geology; Colin B. Amos, who holds a doctorate in geology; Scott R. Linneman, who holds a doctorate in geology; Robert J. Mitchell, who holds doctorates in engineering and geology; David M. Hirsch, who holds a doctorate in geology; Jaqueline Caplan-Auerbach, who holds a doctorate in geophysics; Pete Stelling, who holds a doctorate in geology; Elizabeth R. Schermer, who holds a doctorate in geology; Christopher Suczek, who holds a doctorate in geology; and Scott Babcock, who holds a doctorate in geology.