There are certain column topics that set readers' hair on fire, no matter which side you take. Gun control falls into that category; so does immigration reform. And the only thing more flammable than Plan Bay Area is gasoline.
But not until last week, when I sat in on a lecture about climate change and wrote about its potential effects, did I discover how fervently opposed some people are to any admission that global warming exists. I'd describe them as hot under the collar, but that would steam them. They're certain nothing on Earth is getting warmer.
"Global temperatures have not increased in the last 12 years," one emailer wrote. "The hottest U.S. temps in recent history were in 1934."
"Data is being manipulated to attempt to show warming," another wrote. "The various model forecasts don't hold up to actual conditions."
And this: "Perhaps the greater question is why has there been such great effort to promote this factual untruth."
There were several other messages, more colorful in tone, but they all boiled down to this: A slow-witted simpleton like me should not be allowed to express his opinion publicly. I'm fairly sure that was in reference to the climate change column, but they may have been thinking more generally.
Two of my correspondents identified themselves as Ph.D.s in engineering. One said he'd worked at Livermore Lab. Most emailers directed me to supporting online links, including one site that listed more than 31,000 American scientists who oppose the 1997 Kyoto global warming agreement (petitionproject.org).
Their petition states: "There is no convincing scientific evidence that the human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouses gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate." So there. End of debate.
Who knew people felt so passionately about climate theory? Readers usually ignite only over matters that threaten their lifestyles or political beliefs. Climate change is a theory, not a commandment, but some folks can't wait to dismiss it.
What apparently fuels the outrage is the belief that legislators are using the global warming "hoax" as justification for further regulating our lives, that government agencies and academics are exploiting it to fund unneeded research projects.
The organization in every doubter's cross hairs is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, because it not only has the temerity to put "climate change" in its title but it was created by the United Nations, a favorite target of scorn. The panel says its global warming evidence is irrefutable, but there's a whole lot of refuting going on.
It's enough to leave a fellow dazed and confused. How to react when so many people feel so positively certain about such diametrically opposed views?
Perhaps the most interesting perspective is one expressed by UCLA public health professor Richard Jackson during the lecture that stirred all this up when he was asked about doubts raised by climate change skeptics:
"Suppose we buy a fuel-efficient car, insulate our houses, walk more, get on bikes, use public transit, grow food in our backyard, it turns out we're wrong, and we're happy for no reason."
Yeah, suppose we made the planet healthier when we didn't even have to. Think how silly we'd feel then.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com.