OK, let’s get it on! Global climate change is real and it’s happening now.

In my last several posts, I've fended off know-nothing comments from deniers of climate change just to keep them out of the way so the rest of us could explore the actual subject of my post. I’m tired of playing that game, so I’m tackling the issue head on. This is about climate change. It's your chance to speak your piece, on both sides of the question.

Full disclosure: For me, the question is answered. See above.

The U.S. government also is persuaded. On June 16, the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program issued its report “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.” Just to forestall any pretext for complaints that this was a rogue agency pushing a murky agenda, the report was released in the White House, with commentary by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The key message here is that global climate change is occurring now and it is occurring here, in the U.S. This isn’t just a tree-hugger’s lament over the fate of penguins in Antarctica or polar bears in the Arctic; this is affecting your grandmother in Des Moines and your favorite ski resort in Vermont. Some of the changes we're seeing are good, some not so good, but all require us to adjust.

Commenters on my earlier blogs smugly claimed they had avoided being carried away by the global warming propaganda in “the media,” a convenient, faceless bogeyman passionately hated by everyone.

I have a different take on why the know-nothings deny: The 30-year ascendancy of fundamentalist religious ideology in public discourse has undermined our critical judgment by placing sacred Scripture on a par with empirical scientific inquiry as a source of knowledge about the physical world.

Nearly half of all Americans now think they can dismiss evolution by natural selection as a “theory” (by which they mean hunch) and substitute their own hunch (not, scientifically, a theory) about “Intelligent Design” to explain the universe. From that pinnacle of sophomoric sophistry, it’s a small step to insist that we’re all free to assert our own truth, basing it on what we choose to believe instead of on pesky, non-malleable evidence. If we can choose our reality without reference to facts, then everyone’s opinion is as good as everyone else’s. Opinions, I've been told, are like bellybuttons; everybody has one and they’re all different. That's the state of public discourse today.

One comment posted on a recent blog of mine said, “I dont intend to debate global warming either since their is no legitimate empirical evidence that it exists or is caused by man and since neither you nor I are scientists or meterologists neither can claim to be an expert.” This poster evidently believes he is expert enough to dismiss the empirical evidence of global climate change offered by thousands of scientists worldwide. Then, paradoxically, he denies my right to believe their evidence and his own right to disbelieve it by asserting, accurately, that neither of us is an expert. The difference between us is that I accept that there are experts who have earned the right to be called experts through training their minds and practicing their science. Even if I wish they were not right, I acknowledge that they know more about the subject than I do, and I trust their judgment about the evidence they offer to support their findings.

As a man of faith, I am appalled by what literal-minded Christian fundamentalists have done to our nation’s intellectual life by their insistence on giving Scripture primacy over scientific inquiry. They have all but precluded our ability to talk rationally about any subject mentioned in the Bible and, in the process, have tarred Christianity’s good name with the brush of their willful ignorance.

I trust Scripture to teach me truth about matters spiritual; I trust science to open the door to knowledge about the material world. These fields of knowledge are harmonious and complementary, not mutually exclusive.

And, since this is an ENR blog, how is all this relevant to engineering and construction? First, it is relevant because engineers are scientists. You, Mr/Ms engineer, may take issue with claims about global climate change because you dislike the prospect of spending vast sums of money to solve a problem before it’s an undeniable crisis, but that’s different from insisting that it’s bunk. Please, be honest enough to examine the evidence before you dismiss it. And if you’re not an expert in climate science, then stick to practicing your own expertise and trust that those who have devoted their lives to studying climate science are more likely than you are to be right about what the evidence means.

Second, it is relevant because our country already is grappling with the effects of global climate change, and those effects, by and large, require engineering solutions. Your country needs your engineering knowledge. Don’t stand aside with arms folded until the crisis breaks like a wave over us. By the time that happens, nothing you can do will be much help.
Lead, follow or get out of the way. There's too much at stake to keep squabbling over this.