Butterfield: The trouble with geniuses

T he trouble with geniuses is they missed some high school lessons. My father was nicknamed Honest John of Philadelphia, either in respect or derision, due to his gawky, ramrod earnestness which he unleashed in all sorts of circumstances, while being (reputedly) the finest, meanest, most erudite and exacting legal mind in the city. A cult-like group fawned over his gifts (and foibles) throughout his life, but in the end my father’s genius did not outshine his disruptive personal flaws which delivered gnawing disappointments to himself and others.

We have that frame when it comes to climate. It is ocean acidification, enacted through this formula:

Carbon dioxide plus water yields carbonic acid.

It’s recognizable to all who were even slightly academic in high school, including honest skeptics. And regular folks understand, too, that carbonic acid damages calcium compounds like shells and teeth.

Last week Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, demonstrated this acid principle when she defended climate science to a congressional committee by putting sticks of chalk into glasses of water, some of them tainted with vinegar, to show the result of rising acid levels in our oceans as they absorb CO2. The chalk in acidic water dissolved while the others did not.

It is no coincidence that Lubchenco gave this science lesson in response to “Climategate” and the partisan outcry about the stolen e-mails. The acid story is the intellectual end-run that clinches the deal, and it should have been out in force years ago because acidification is already sickening our seas, as reported in the Portland Press Herald. Noting that baby clams are already dying in their mud nests due to acidity, marine scientists of Maine are now saying acidification threatens to do more harm than global warming by attacking plankton which are the base of ocean food webs and produce half of all atmospheric oxygen.

Drifting at surface where the CO2 mixes in, plankton’s demise could lead to a “complete collapse of our biosphere” said Professor Robert Steneck. “These are not academic things, these are real,” he added.

Had the acid story been pushed by climate advocates when it came out in 2004, the fishing industries of the world could have become the climate’s personal Teamsters Union as allies.

With friends like the Teamsters defending a science as simple as chalk in vinegar, how far could enemies of climate science get by stealing a few e-mails? But ocean acidification was underplayed, and at the dawn of Copenhagen the enemies of the green economy played gotcha with a few e-mails that look bad because they were drafted in anxiety or anger and in disregard to the fact they would probably get stolen.

Anne B. Butterfield, dailycamera, 10 December 2009. Full article.

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