It’s getting hot in here

Al Gore-coached climate change speaker delivers the goods in Red Bluff

Dr. Peter Joseph

Dr. Peter Joseph

Photo by Vic Cantu

More on Joseph:
Dr. Peter Joseph is an emergency physician who has long championed social responsibility. His next Northern California talk is scheduled for April 18 in McCloud. Go to for more info.

Tonight I’m going to talk about our civilization and how to save it.”

Thus began a two-hour multimedia presentation about climate change by Dr. Peter Joseph held at the Red Bluff Community Center Friday, March 2. Joseph is a member of former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. As one might expect during a talk by someone Gore trained for the task, there was at least one vocal critic in the crowd.

“I know several of you think this is all a crock and I welcome it,” Joseph said early on.

A co-founder of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the anti-nuclear-weapons group Physicians for Social Responsibility, Joseph quickly informed the approximately 100 attendees about the lethal dangers of deforestation, autos and factories that use oil and gas and spew carbon-dioxide (CO2) greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. The heat generated by these sources is melting ice caps and increasing sea levels, threatening the homes, land and livelihoods of those who live nearby.

Levels of CO2 are higher today than at any time in the past 800,000 years, Joseph said, and at current rates are expected to double in the next 35 years.

“We’re at a tipping point,” he said. “Our biggest worry today is not a nuclear winter but a carbon summer.”

At that point a middle-aged man lowered his head, raised his fist to his mouth and made a mock coughing sound as he shouted, “Bullshit!” Several alarmed audience members turned toward him, and when a woman admonished him he retorted, “What, I can cough, can’t I?”

Ignoring the cougher, Joseph showed a brief video of every U.S. president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama citing the dangers of manmade pollution, including greenhouse gasses. Obama ominously labeled the increasing climate change a national disaster and said it places our nation’s health and safety in jeopardy.

At this point the cougher, who’d been squirming in his seat, again said, “Bullshit!” as he stood up and stormed out of the room. That proved to be the night’s final outburst.

Joseph addressed skeptics by showing slides documenting that virtually all science academies and 97 percent of climatologists concur on the manmade causes and dangers of global climate change. He also showed a colored graph featuring five different levels of public opinion on climate change, from “Alarmed” on the far left to “It’s a crock” on the far right. When he asked if anyone fit into the “crock” category, no one raised a hand, but a few exclaimed, “He just left.”

Joseph said that by the end of his talk he hoped some would shift their attitudes closer to the graph on the left.

He also said that skeptic groups such as the Heartland Institute and The George C. Marshall Institute are funded by large petroleum and corporate interests with profit-driven motives. In past decades such groups lobbied legislators heavily to convince them that tobacco and secondhand smoke were harmless, despite documentation that showed 100 million died worldwide from smoking in the 1900s.

However, the skeptics are a strong force, as evidenced by a Red Bluff school’s recent refusal to allow Joseph to speak there.

His talk was bolstered with graphics and videos, such as a photo of a hypodermic needle with a quotation by former President George Bush Jr. that read, “We’re addicted to oil.” Joseph recounted how as a physician he’d treated many military veteran addicts who engaged in behavior that could kill them.

“We’re like that, except we use fossil fuels,” he said.

The root of the problem is that so many of the world’s 7 billion people use energy-gulping devices to live, such as light bulbs, stoves and automobiles. Many of the products are made in factories that are a major source of CO2 gasses. One graph featured a scientific study showing that even if we completely stopped the output of CO2 gasses now, the earth’s dangerous temperature increases would not stabilize for another 1,000 years.

“The question is not if we’ll have deadly global warming, but how fast it will happen,” Joseph warned.

The talk was not all doom and gloom. A political commercial of conservative presidential candidate Newt Gingrich sitting on a couch with Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi decrying global warming made the audience laugh.

On the serious side, Joseph lamented the lack of public discourse on the subject, saying that in the past year the three biggest television networks had dedicated a total of only 32 minutes of news time to climate change. Additionally, though President Obama is a firm believer, Joseph criticized him for seldom addressing the issue.

He emphasized that since the ice age ended 10,000 years ago the earth’s climate has stayed relatively stable. It was not until the industrial age in the 1800s that scientists noticed consistent, long-term temperature increases. He said the largest contributors per person are in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and Canada.

On the hopeful side, he emphasized that no civilization has possessed knowledge of its past, present and future as accurately as ours does. He said that allows us to clearly see the dangerous road we’re headed down and gives us the power to change it.

Among several steps to help solve the problem was an admonition to develop political willpower. He advised citizens to push politicians and businesses to convert to clean energy such as solar and wind power. He also encouraged implementation of a carbon tax and joining his Climate Change Reality Project.

“We need a sense of urgency like we had the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor,” Joseph said.

When one woman questioned the use of windmills because they can kill birds, Joseph replied, “Yes, everything has a cost. Windmills have been known to kill some birds, but global warming will make them extinct.”