California wildfires

Wildfires this summer in California.

Alabama’s state climatologist is either a groundbreaking scientist or an academic outlier whose beliefs about man-made climate change are not only against scientific consensus, but also potentially dangerous for the future of the planet.

We prefer the latter. And we trust the overwhelming number of international scientists who believe man is partly responsible for Earth’s rising temperatures, and that those temperatures are causing profound damage to our planet.

John Christy, Alabama’s state climatologist, is also the distinguished professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. By any measure, he is a leading figure in his field who has testified on this topic before Congress. But his dissenting opinion about the empirical basis for man-made climate change has earned a national reputation tinged with controversy.

Four years ago, a New York Times profile of Christy carried this headline: “Though Scorned by Colleagues, a Climate-Change Skeptic Is Unbowed.” This summer, nearly a third of American states are burning with significant wildfires and much of Europe — Sweden, Greece, Finland, Latvia, Spain — has suffered from that continent’s worst wildfire season since 1900. Similar fires last summer burned three times more land than the annual average in Europe, according to National Geographic.

Four years later, Christy remains unbowed. “It is only a perception that is being built by the media that these (wildfires in California) are dramatic worst-ever heat-wave kind of things,” he told Yellowhammer News, “but when we look at the numbers, and all science is numbers, we find that there were periods that were hotter, hotter for longer periods in the past.”

This exemplifies the scientific conflict between Alabama’s climatologist and the prevailing opinion of his colleagues, and we have no doubt who is correct. Human foolishness and greed are harming our planet. Politics, too. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has blamed the California fires’ severity on “environmental terrorist groups” who fight the removal of dead timber, and only after widespread criticism has he agreed that climate change has played a role.

Earth’s climate is perpetually changing, but man’s mistakes are worsening its effects. A heavier prevalence of wildfires is only one byproduct.

Carolyn Kormann, writing this month in The New Yorker, explains that “rains have swamped parts of the East Coast, and tornadoes have swept across the plains. More severe rainstorms and flash floods are expected in the South and the East Coast in the coming days. The jet stream — the freeway of air that circles the Northern Hemisphere — is behaving erratically, meandering like a drunk. ‘It’s one of these wavy jet-stream patterns that’s causing all the crazy weather,’ said Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers.”

Alabama’s climatologist is committed to his beliefs. And until an overwhelming number of scientists agree with him, we will remain committed to ours. Weather-wise, we fear for our planet’s future.