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Heated Debate

Editor's note: Few articles in our tenure with Desert Exposure have caused such controversy or elicited so much response as Larry Lightner's November "Ramblin' Outdoors" column. To our surprise, readers mostly responded to Lightner's brief comments on global warming–not to his tongue-in-cheek "solution," which occupied the bulk of the column.

Please note that word "column." We publish a number of columns containing a variety of viewpoints, from Larry Lightner's to Siri Dharma's, from Henry Lightcap's to Marjorie Lilly's. These columns do not necessarily represent the views of Desert Exposure, nor do we require them, by their very nature, to adhere to the principles of objectivity and balanced reporting that we apply to our feature articles.

Some have suggested we should have censored Lightner's views on global warming; ironically, this intolerance comes from those who were most vocal when views they agree with were stifled in other local media outlets. We disagree. We present a range of opinions–including those we personally may differ with–because we believe it's important for Desert Exposure to foster thoughtful debate about issues facing our community and our society. We also realize that we may not have all the answers, that it's possible someone might persuade us–and our readers–to change our minds. That's an attitude the doctrinaire of the left and right alike might want to adopt, though it would mean abandoning the comfortably smug if erroneous feeling of already having all the answers.

In that spirit, we present below all of the letters on this column that we received by our deadline. We also give Larry Lightner a chance to respond to his critics.

 


 

Sometimes I take Larry Lightner seriously. Sometimes he uses his personal experiences to inform his readers about things they may never have encountered or considered. Sometimes he tries to be a bridge between groups with conflicting values. Sometimes he's amusing, and usually good-natured.

The problem is, Lightner offers enough good advice and insightful commentary that some people might take for granted that he always knows what he is talking about. Not so! I am referring to his November column on global warming.

I'm not an expert and I'm not going to rebut his opinions point by point, but I have read enough on this topic to know that he has not read enough to know what he's talking about. One point I agree with — the earth will "heal itself." The question is: Will the human race be around to see it? Or will civilization consist of the handful of hunters/gatherers/barterers he facetiously proposes?

Having gone through the Desert Exposure archives and read a number of past "Ramblin' Outdoors" columns, I sensed that Lightner feels our only choice as a species is to accept what may come, and we'll survive just fine. In this context, his column reflects the pervasive willful ignorance and denial within our society. We prefer the easy choice–do nothing.

True, no one can predict the specific or ultimate effects of global warming, but there are some likely (and frightening!) scenarios that go way beyond surprisingly wet summers. Maybe there is nothing the human race can do to prevent catastrophe, but that doesn't mean we should (to quote Lightner in an earlier column) "lie in a still fetal position and hope the bear goes away." In that column he gave us advice on how to survive an attack from a cougar–KNOW THERE IS A THREAT AND TAKE MEASURES TO COMBAT IT. It's particularly effective when people are working together. I think the same applies to global warming.

Kyle Meredith
Silver City, NM

 

 

One fascinating aspect of what passes for public discourse these days is that people can say any old thing and get away with it. Consider Larry Lightner's latest column, where he claims that scientists are evenly divided between believing global warming is natural, and believing it is caused by humans.

In fact, the great majority of scientists agree that global warming is caused by humans. Here's a citation from Science magazine, which took me about two minutes of Googling: www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5702/1686. This article concludes, "There is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic [human-caused] climate change. Climate scientists have repeatedly tried to make this clear. It is time for the rest of us to listen."

The "natural causes" explanation for global warming is preferred by many people because it means that we don't have to take responsibility. Since global warming is out of our hands, they believe, there's nothing we can do, so there's nothing we need do. As usual, time will tell, but somehow I doubt that the global warming denialists deserve much credibility at this late date.

Gordon Solberg
Radium Springs

 

I am trying to be kind, but I was shocked at Larry Lightner's article on global warming. With all the information out on global warming supported by scientists and many, many studies, it was as if Bush wrote that last paragraph about industrialization being the culprit, then kiss it all goodbye as the only solution is to decrease population. WOW. Does he not read anything but his own articles? And how he thinks this is natural? Yes, climate change happens on the earth and it has gone on naturally for billions of years, but we as a species have gone insane with greed, living in ways that use up the resources and create global warming at a more unnatural and intense rate. That is "critical issues facing the world" 101. I am disappointed and really dumbfounded that his person wrote all this false information. Just read some facts.

Sorry to be unkind, but it is not me making up all the obvious issues and FACTS facing us on global warming, why and what we can do. We can do a helluva lot if we just decided not to be lazy and narcissistic. Try replacing three lightbulbs in your house, Larry. If we all did that simple act in the US we would have stopped the CO2 of 35,000 MILLION cars. And the ozone hole did not just close up; it took a commitment to changing our ways that totally created that shift. See how easy that was! DO YOUR RESEARCH. Who is your fact checker?

I feel kinda bad to be so insulting, but I work very hard on my own educating people on global warming and what they can that is simple yet powerful. I feel hopeful and a responsibility to Mother Earth and humans and my child. I have no disrespect toward Larry; I am sure he is a good guy and a great writer.

Nancy Harris
Las Cruces

 

As a long-time fan of New Mexico, I often read your magazine. In the "Ramblin' Outdoors" column in your November issue, Mr. Lightner asserts that scientists cannot agree on the causes of global warming and that scientific opinion is split 50:50 as to whether the observed warming is natural or human caused. This is flat-out wrong. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that the warming observed over the last 50 years has a human origin. If Mr. Lightner wishes to understand this issue, I suggest he read Dessler's The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change: A Guide to the Debate. At present he is doing a disservice to the public by presenting misinformation on an issue, with potentially grave consequences.

Ronald Parry
Professor of Chemistry
Rice University
Houston

 

The article by Mr. Lightner left me pondering: Why do many people think only in terms of black and white? For example, he concludes that since there has been neither extreme tornado nor hurricane seasons this year (by the way, summer is not the hurricane season and it is not yet over), the "global-warming soothsayers" are all wet! Yep, black or white. Mr. Lightner, the global climate models show that there will be year-to-year changes in strength and/or number of storms. They also indicate that the atmosphere and hence the oceans (the source of energy for hurricanes) are warming (both verified by observations). So on average storms will become more frequent and stronger. Lightner's one observation of less than one complete season proves nothing except his belief is stronger than his objectivity and Mother Earth's actual changes!

This is substantiated by his misunderstanding of the ozone layer, which functions as a filter on ultraviolet rays. If this layer were to be depleted entirely, there would be dire consequences for many life forms (in his words, "the sky would be falling!"). One reason that the "large holes have healed themselves" is that people with scientific knowledge, together with the will of governments and their constituents, resulted in international cooperation to reduce certain chemicals that deplete ozone. An international report from about 250 scientists finds that restraints on production of ozone-destroying chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons are having the intended effect: the concentrations of chemicals that destroy ozone are at or near a peak (Kerr, 2002. A brighter outlook for good ozone. Science, vol. 297: 1623-1624.).

Further, Mr. Lightner would have us believe that about 50 percent of scientists studying climate change believe that it is not caused by human activities. (Hmmm, how many of these are funded by petroleum companies?) Where did this alleged fact come from? I provide more substantial evidence from an essay in the peer-reviewed journal Science (Oreskes, 2004. Beyond The Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Science: Vol. 306: 1686), in which Oreskes states the following:

"The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC is not alone in its conclusions. In recent years, all major scientific bodies in the United States whose members' expertise bears directly on the matter have issued similar statements. For example, the National Academy of Sciences report, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, begins: 'Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise.' The report explicitly asks whether the IPCC assessment is a fair summary of professional scientific thinking, and answers yes: 'The IPCC's conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue' [emphasis mine]. Others agree. The American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) all have issued statements in recent years concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate is compelling."

Oreskes' study of 928 publications between 1993 and 2003, which had the words "climate change" in their abstracts, found that none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position; that is that humans are having a marked impact on global climate. Mr. Lightner, where are those other scientists?

Lightner's "solution" again relies on a black-or-white mentality: "only a drastic decrease in human population. . . all else is a Band-Aid." What about conservation of energy (short of becoming a hunter-gatherer) like turning off lights not in use, replacing standard bulbs with low-wattage ones, more than one person commuting in fuel-hogging trucks and SUVs (or even trading those in for vehicles with better fuel economy), lower highway speeds (oops, not the old "stay alive at 55," heaven forbid!), development of nuclear, wind and solar energy and other technologies?

Mr. Lightner's article contains claims that he presents as fact, yet are clearly fiction. Presenting one's personal beliefs/opinions as such is one thing; suggesting that scientific misinformation is factual is another. It took me less than five minutes on the Web to find peer-reviewed articles that provided the above facts. Maybe the ozone layer over southwestern New Mexico is so depleted that the UV rays baked some brains?

Two Crow
via email

 

Larry Lightner responds:

I don't usually respond to comments on my columns, and in fact have done so only once before, but because of the resulting firestorm of comments to my column on global warming, I have decided to break my rule.

I feel it is necessary to qualify some of the things I wrote, beginning with the sentence that said, "But what scientists can't seem to agree on is what is causing it, and they seem to be evenly divided."

I assumed that readers would know automatically that I was giving my opinion. What I should have said was, "But what scientists can't seem to agree on is what is causing it, and from what I've read and heard on the news, to me they seem pretty much divided 50/50."

Some readers have also commented that I was denying global warming. That is not so; I said in that same paragraph, "No one would deny that our planet is in the throes of unusual warming."

I still believe that no one knows for sure what is causing the effect, and that it is a cyclical thing, even though humans are exacerbating the problem (in fact just today I was reading an article that said there was a similar warming thousands of years ago that permitted the early natives to migrate here over the Bering Strait). Having said that, let me say again, I'm entitled to my opinions!

On another point, there were a couple of comments that complained that Desert Exposure editor David Fryxell should have edited my column to prohibit such comments as those which I made. He is the editor, not a censor. He fulfills his job admirably by not censoring and I appreciate the fact that he allows me to go against the stream, if you will, even when he knows I may well shoot myself in the foot!

I wonder, had David allowed a full scientific article, by a true scientist, that espoused the warming to be cyclical, would they have cried for it not to be published in Desert Exposure?

Tammy Bruce, in her book entitled The New Thought Police, said the far left wants to assault free speech and free minds, and she equates this movement to "left-wing McCarthyism." I agree with her; thank the Lord that David Fryxell is not of that persuasion! By the way, Bruce happens to be a liberal and former head of the Los Angeles NOW Chapter; certainly no right-wing bastion!

With all of that said, I want to thank each and every one of you who wrote and expressed umbrage. I have always said that I don't want people to necessarily agree with me; I simply want to motivate them to THINK! I must have accomplished that this last time!

 

Cat Fight, Cont.

In your October article about feral cats ("Where the Wild Things Are"), reference was made to the Web site of the Humane Society of the United States. Your article failed to mention that the HSUS supports Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) because it is proving to be the most effective way all over the country to reduce the number of feral cats. Nancy Peterson is the feral cat program manager for HSUS.

An article on feral cats in the HSUS Summer 2006 issue states that TNR is a compassionate and effective way to reduce the homeless cat population while at the same time improving quality of life. TNR also lessens the load on overcrowded animal shelters. The purpose of TNR programs are to reduce and eventually eliminate cats living on the streets.

Pat Danser
Deming

 

I would like to respond to some issues raised in the October article by Donna Clayton Lawder regarding feral cats. I have maintained feral cat colonies for 30 years so I have some expertise in this area.

The present method of controlling overpopulation of cats (and dogs) is euthanasia. It has not worked. If mass euthanasia did work, then why do we still have a problem with cat and dog overpopulation?

TNR does work to reduce overpopulation. To contend that it is not effective one would have to believe that sterilization does not work to prevent kittens from being born. A sterilized male cat cannot impregnate any female cats. A spayed female can have no kittens, so how can you say that TNR does not work in reducing the feral population?

In many countries it has been common to use poison, shooting and other inhumane methods to eradicate the cat overpopulation. These methods have not worked. Many of these areas finally adopted TNR and discovered that it truly is the most effective way to curb the feral cat population.

I would not advocate for TNR if I had not been involved in it for so long. I would not support this program if it did not produce results. Yes, those results do take a few years to be really noticeable, but they do come.

Roaming unvaccinated pets can spread disease just as easily as feral cats. The easiest way to prevent roaming domestic cats from contracting illnesses from feral cats or other roaming pets (or by transmitting the disease to feral cats) is by administering the FVRCP and FeLV vaccines yearly or as recommended by the AVMA.

The incidence of feline leukemia (FeLV) and FIP (feline infectious peritonitis) or FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) in managed feral colonies is less than two percent. Upper-respiratory infections are fairly common in all cats. The common term for this complex of infections is referred to as panleukopenia, not feline parvovirus as claimed by Dr. Dykhouse. The FVRCP vaccine is extremely effective in preventing panleukopenia in cats.

We all pay for animal overpopulation through expenditure of our tax dollars to maintain animal control and the euthanasia factories that exist there. While TNR programs are usually self-funded, some cities began to support TNR programs when they saw that the numbers of animals taken into their shelters, as well as the euthanasia rate, was decreasing.

I hope that your city and county will reconsider its stand on TNR. If, as reported in the article, the feral cat population in Silver City is 4,000, your problem is already unmanageable and will continue to grow. More communities in the US are moving to subsidize low-cost or free spay/neuter for pets and feral cats. It is an idea whose time has come.

I would be willing to be a resource person for anyone in your community interested in setting up a TNR program. Please feel free to contact me.

Kathy Billing, Director
Feral Cat Management Program (www.nmsu.edu/~fcamp)
Las Cruces

 

Editor's note: As the reply to last issue's letters on this article makes clear, the Humane Society of the United States endorses Trap-Neuter-Release only if accompanied by a level of post-release follow-up and care that most experts agree is impractical, at least given the resources available in Grant County. Our article quoted Dr. John Wenzel, the veterinarian who performs the neutering for Grant County's TNR effort, as describing that program as "a failure." As previous coverage in Desert Exposure has dramatized, spay and neuter programs for household pets, such as SNAP, are not only effective but critical to combat pet overpopulation.

 

Can You Dig It?

Thank you for the article on the Gila Conservation Education Center's "trunk" program ("Teaching Moment," November). As a volunteer, I put together the Archaeology "trunk," and by the response of the students and the feedback from teachers, I know that these "hands-on" presentations are fun and effective learning experiences for the children.

One correction, though: It is the Grant County Archaeological Society (GCAS) that has partnered with GCEC, not the Mimbres Archaeological Society. GCAS was incorporated in 1938 and is the oldest archaeological society in New Mexico. The group was instrumental in saving the Eisele Collection for Grant County–the pottery and artifact collection that is now at WNMU–and helped get the highway opened to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Today the group's focus is on preservation education, and many members are New Mexico SiteWatch volunteers and monitor area archaeological sites.

Marilyn Markel
Vice President, GCAS
Silver City

 

Hospice Help

Kudos to Prashant Ziskind for such a well-written and poignant look at the hospice program in "Doing the Neighborly Thing" (November). I remember my mother's agony during my father's last few weeks of life, and the gentle, kind hospice team in Florida who helped her through a very difficult time. In the last days, a member of hospice was with my parents 24-7 until my father quietly slipped away.

I think hospice is a wonderful, sensible approach to the end of life we will all inevitably face, no matter how high-tech the medical world becomes.

Pat Young
San Lorenzo

 

Correction:

The Gila Cliff Dwellings is open on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, contrary to an item in last month's "Tumbleweeds" section; the visitor center at the cliff dwellings is, however, closed on those holidays.

 

Let us hear from you! Write Desert Exposure Letters, PO Box 191, Silver City, NM 88062, fax 534-4134 or email letters@desertexposure.com. Letters are subject to editing for style and length.

 

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