From the Editor | May 2023

Science Fact of Fiction: 
As my penultimate letter as editor, I want to write about what I consider several related items. These are my word only. They do not represent the opinions or positions of the Board of the HGS or its members.
Last week, a major news outlet ran a story over several segments about the loss of land in South Louisiana. The presenter was a national “meteorologist” standing in a boat stating where she said had been dry land not that long ago but now was covered by water several feet deep. She presented a list of 3 causes; one might assume they were in the order of significance. First was climate change and the resulting rising sea levels due to fossil fuel usage. Second was the dredging of canals by oil companies to move drill rigs about to drill for and extract oil. Third was subsidence which she also attributed mostly to oil extraction. All three essentially blaming the loss of land on the oil industry.
I doubt she knows anything about South Louisiana geology and likely she was just reporting what she was told to say. But please, if you are going to present a report on the loss of land in South Louisiana, why not show some level of credibility. The Gulf of Mexico basin is a trailing passive margin where regional subsidence is the norm. Any geologist who has worked the area knows that much of South Louisiana is subject to regional subsidence, and that subsidence has been ongoing throughout the Cenozoic. NASA claims there has been a 6-8 inches of world-wide sea level rise in the last 100 years. This rise is nowhere near the several feet of water the reporter boat was floating in. Canal dredging does not cause the sea to rise or the land to sink.
Fluid extraction can cause local subsidence if the water and oil are extracted at a rate higher than the replenishment rate. We see it here in Houston, where we extract truly massive amounts of water from very shallow aquifers. But this human-forced subsidence is generally considered to be local and can only happen if the reservoirs are shallow and the volumes removed are massive. The reporter suggested that the regional subsidence of the Gulf of Mexico basin was caused by regional hydrocarbon extractions which, by inference, would suggest there is a very shallow oil field that is bigger than any oil field I can find on any map at any depth.
Regional subsidence in the Gulf Coast basin has been long offset by over-bank deposits derived from Mississippi River floods (this is sediment filling accommodation space, in geological terms). But this natural flooding process is no longer allowed to happen because of the continuous dykes and levees built along the length of the Mississippi to stop the very floods that bring sediment to the low areas. So, you can’t have it both ways. If you stop the floods, you also stop the very sediment that fills the accommodation space, and the land seems to “sink” — but what it lacks is sediment influx.
So sure, sea level rise can happen and human-induced subsidence can happen. But these two factors are not happening to the degree and extent the reporter suggested. It was junk science and misinformation.
Recently I saw an interview of a relatively famous astronomer from the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium. (I don’t know his qualifications on climate change, but he was actually misrepresenting another AMNH geologist’s work). He stated that if we don’t stop “climate change”, sea level will rise to reach the elbow of the Statue of Liberty, about 70 meters. Scary, but is it realistic? Of course not. The IPCC reports ( have completely dropped scenario RCP 8.5, the most extreme model ever presented for sea level rise. Not even RCP 8.5 predicted a 70 meter rise in sea level.
Antarctica has been located over the south pole and glaciated for about the last 34 million years. Much of that ice has survived through periods where the earth’s was warmer than the worst warming predictions made by the IPCC. The southern continental glaciers also survived the glacial interstads when the earth was considerable warmer than today. Additionally, it would take many thousands of years to happen — if it were even possible.
Put another way, there is not basis in history or the currently accepted IPCC scenarios where sea level rises 70 meters. So where did this “expert” get his information? I suggest Twitter, or maybe this “scientist” is getting his “facts” from the sensational movie about climate change I saw almost 3 decades ago.
This brings me to a phone call I heard on a national call-in program where a 10 year old girl was in tears because she has been told many times that the world is coming to an end because of climate change. She is not the first or likely not the last I will hear telling this. In a recent speech, ex-Vice President Gore claimed that we are going to be destroyed by a rising sea level and at the same time he predicts that the oceans are going to boil away. Yet there is no basis for these fear-mongering in the IPCC reports. We have some education to do at our schools. No wonder our children and grandchildren are scared. But is it true and will eliminating the fossil fuel industry and pushing us all to electric cars, jet planes and even the latest electric military tanks save us? When are we going to refute these unsubstantiated assertions and claims?
My last story is about my recent trip to a school to present the Bones in Schools program to fifth graders. I taught 6 classes of twenty-five students, aged 10 -11 year old, about fossils and the world they came from. The morning four classes went well. I actually had two students approach me at the end of their class and thank me. One drew a dinosaur on the back a thank you note. The second asked if he could hug me for coming to his class to teach them. That is much of the reason I do it but I wish we had more volunteers to have that experience.
The afternoon classes were a different story. The first teacher fell asleep five minutes into my presentation (I guess I was too boring for her to listen) and did not wake until I asked her how much time I had left. She answered that I had already run over.
The students did not want to leave and asked if I could let the other class in to sit on the floor so they could stay over to hear more. The second teacher left the room after 10 minutes to talk on the phone and did not return until the class was about over. I’m sure the students learned more about the level of uncaring of the teachers or the science they hopefully learned from me.
So, do we sit back and allow these young people to be scared and misinformed and allow our industry to be destroyed or do we speak out about the truth? We cannot stop earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or plate tectonics and we can have little if any sustainable affect the climate trends we see today.
All of the increases in CO2 over the last 15 years come from coal-fired power generation in China and other Asian countries — not from the US, not from oil and gas, and not from Western Countries individually or as a whole.
What we can do is learn to adapt to our ever-changing climate like all species do rather than go extinct. But we need to teach our students, and teach the public, a lot more about the importance of real science over sensationalism.