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Donka At Odds With Welch, Climate Science

Mark Donka, a Republican running for Congress against Rep. Peter Welch, has views on climate change that are in conflict with widely-accepted science on the matter.

On Vermont Edition Friday, Donka confirmed that he believes climate change is real, but argued that humans aren’t necessarily the primary cause.

“Are we having some climate change? Most definitely,” Donka said, “but I think it also cycles through that the earth does this. What percentage is man-made? I don’t know. I’m not a scientist.”

Gillian Galford is a scientist. She studies climate science at UVM, and she knows of a few thousand peer-reviewed scientific articles that say climate change is man-made.

Galford points to a 2013 study that examined 11,944 peer-reviewed articles from 1991 to 2011. The study found that about 4,000 of those articles stated a position on whether climate change was caused by humans, and 97 percent of those 4,000 articles said it is.

But to hear Donka tell it, the split is far more even. When asked about the large body of scientific evidence that climate change is caused by humans, he said that was just part of the story.

“With one group, yes, you’re going to find that,” he said. “It’s going to be that they’re going to say that it’s all from man-made problems. And then you have the other team, so to speak, that’s on the other side that’s saying ‘No, it isn’t all from man-made problems,’ that this is what happens, the earth is going through a cycle.”

The teams, as the 2013 study shows, aren’t very even.

Donka goes on:

“As I said, I don’t think any of the scientists have been able to definitively say what happened to the ice caps that were going to be melted? They’re not melting now. They’re saying that they’ve gotten bigger.”

Donka pointed multiple times to growing ice caps as evidence that climate science is flawed. But as of September 15, 2014, the ice cap around the north pole was significantly smaller than the average over the past 30 years, according to the federally funded National Snow & Ice Data Center.

Donka is not the only Vermont politician who disputes that climate change is man-made. Bob Hartwell, a state senator who sits on the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, has expressed similar opinions on the matter.

Another study Galford mentioned used simulations that broke down greenhouse gas contributions from fossil fuels (which have a different chemical signature than naturally occurring greenhouse gasses) and from natural sources.

“So they were able to model how temperatures would change if we accounted only for natural factors or natural forcing of climate versus if you add in the anthropogenic or the human components of climate,” she said. “And when we only consider natural force, we can’t seem to emulate what was actually observed.”

In other words, if humans weren’t having a significant effect on changing climate conditions, the global climate wouldn’t be the way it is today.

“As scientists, we’re very united on the fact that climate change is due to human effects, but the media and politicians like to portray it as this divided front – that there’s two very evenly-believed theories,” Galford said.

She sums up the issue with a quote from popular scientists and host of the rebooted Cosmos series, Neil Degrasse-Tyson.

“The good thing about science,” Tyson says, “is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

Questions about climate change? On Monday Vemont Edition will host climate scientists to talk about how climate change will affect Vermont.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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