CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's coal industry, and many coal-friendly politicians, still scoff at scientific claims that global warming is caused by burning fossil fuels. But they're suffering repeated setbacks.
Last week, Dr. James Hansen, chief of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, published another scientific report saying extreme heat today is much worse than during the postwar period through the 1980s. He wrote that climate change clearly is to blame for "the deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year." Tens of thousands of deaths were attributed to the European heat-ups.
Also last week, federal experts said the previous 12 months were the hottest in America since records first began in 1895.
Meanwhile, the Earth Surface Temperature Project at the University of California, Berkeley -- previously critical of warming claims -- reversed itself dramatically, saying new research fingers human activity as the culprit in rising temperatures.
Physicist Richard Muller, the project's chief, wrote a New York Times commentary that began: "Call me a converted skeptic." He said Earth's land temperature has risen 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past half-century, and his group's research links this rise firmly to carbon dioxide from fuel-burning.
"It appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases," he wrote. His claims were outlined in five scientific papers posted online at BerkeleyEarth.org. Ironically, his project's work previously was funded by the conservative Koch brothers, who often bankroll research that questions global warming.
Muller's daughter, co-founder of the Berkeley project, wrote a separate newspaper essay saying:
"One of the first steps should be to encourage a switch to natural gas from coal in developing countries ... . Coal is one of the dirtiest sources of energy, producing more than twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas. Many developing countries still use coal as a primary source of energy. China has been adding a new gigawatt of coal energy every week ... . By shifting to natural gas from coal, they could reduce emissions by 50 percent or more."
Another major method to curtail greenhouse gases, she said, would be to intensify energy conservation through more insulation and halting wanton loss of heat. "According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the United States wastes 58 percent of its energy."
That's outrageous. It's sinful to waste anything valuable -- especially when the waste drifts into the sky as heat-trapping gases that threaten enormous losses as the planet warms.
More violent storms inflict billions in damage. Rising sea levels menace coastal zones. Tropical diseases spread northward, hurting people, livestock, forests and crops. The expense of global warming is colossal. Practical common sense requires steps to reduce this loss.
Still another cure for the crisis lies in greater development of wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear, biomass, tidal and other energy sources that don't send greenhouse gases skyward.
This week, California Gov. Jerry Brown launched an Internet website declaring that global warming is a fact. It says:
"Just as we reached a point where we stopped debating whether cigarette smoke causes cancer, we need to end the climate change debate and focus on how to solve the problem."The coal industry and many West Virginia politicians will brush off all new evidence -- as they've done with previous findings -- but millions of Americans are watching wild weather extremes and deciding it's time to get serious about global warming.