Can we be honest? I mean really, really honest? The sophomoric debate over what "scientist's believe" will not solve the problem. Academic research is largely a follow the money effort. It's publish or perish and if you want published you have to come to similar conclusions as your peers reviewing your work. Say anything outlandish and your funds will dry up high a hot August day on the Powder River.
There is significant evidence for climate change. There is significant evidence the activities of man are responsible for the change in climate. But the sources typically blamed for the changes are wrong. Fossil fuels are, perhaps a contributing factor, but if you do the math, they are not the sole source of the problem. Yes, we should, IMO, move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. There are much cleaner ways to produce electricity. But fossil fuels are being unfairly bastardized.
If we are going to solve the problem, we need to better identify the sources which have raised CO2 levels so dramatically. As an agronomist from arguable the best ag school in the country it REALLY pains me to say this; the main culprit in the elevation of CO2 levels is our farming practices. Our practices need to change.
Consider the following: An acre-furrow slice is an area of land 208.7 ft^2 by 6 inches deep. An acre-furrow of soil weighs approximately two million pounds. Every 1% organic matter equates to 20,000 pounds of organic matter or carbon.
Soils in the tall grass prairie of the midwest historically had about 8-10% organic matter. Organic matter is mostly carbon. Those same prairie lands, which have been repeatedly plowed now have about 2-3% organic matter. The oxidized material goes off as CO2. If over time we have oxidized 5% of our OM we have put 100,000 pounds (50 tons) of CO2 per acre into the atmosphere.
There are currently 90 million acres of corn and 88 million acres of soybean production in the US. So from that many acres of cropland we have potentially put aproximately 8,900,000,000 tons of CO2 in the atmosphere. Additionally, we have inhibited natures primary mechanism to capture and sequester CO2.
We have also allowed our forests to become overgrown with our fire suppression policies. In the process, we have lost a significant portion of the herbaceous
cover. Herbaceous cover is must more efficient at removing CO2 than are trees.
The climate change problem is completely solvable if we make some changes. We can make significant in-roads in reducing CO2 levels in 10 years with these changes. We need to covert a large portion of our farmland back to tall grass prairie. It's stupid to pump the Oglala aquifer dry for corn used to feed livestock or make ethanol. Instead of feeding cattle corn in a feedlot, we need to shift to feeding them grass in high intensity - short duration grazing operations. It's much better for the land and grass-fed beef is demonstratably more nutritious. Meat products are a superior form of protein for human consumption instead of plant protein.
We need to make a significant effort to restore and maintain herbaceous cover of the ground. The species of soil bacteria change as the soil temperature increases. When the soil gets too hot all of the bacteria die and mineral cycling is greatly reduced or stops.
In short, we need to be honest about the true sources of the problem and change our food system to meet those challenges. Unfortunately, the political posturing is going to make this difficult. If we want changes resulting in reduced CO2 levels, increased biodiversity, and healthy soils, it happens because those of us on the ground start managing differently and forcing the system to follow our lead. Something to think about.