Noted Climate Scientist Confirms That Climate Change is Real

The headline reads like a spoof from the Onion. Anyone who reads the newspaper or follows the many reports from the leading scientific organizations, like the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, already knows that global warming is real, and a real cause for concern. But don’t take it from me. Take it from a scientist, Richard Alley, Ph.D., of Penn State University, who explained the scientific consensus on climate change at a Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor’s Forum to a capacity crowd at bar headquarters on November 6. Richard is a glaciologist who is widely credited with showing that the earth has experienced abrupt climate change in the past—and likely will again, based on his study of ice cores from Greenland and West Antarctica.

Richard is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, and has worked with both organizations on published reports explaining the consensus on climate change. He served as one of the authors on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose members shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He has many other accomplishments in the area of climate science.

Richard began his presentation with the “skinny version of the program,” which is that “we enjoy the good that we get from energy use, which is now primarily from fossil fuels. We must change or suffer really really serious consequences and the sooner we start changing the better off we will be economically and in other ways. So you can now enjoy your dinner.”

The problem is the huge volume of CO2 we are now emitting into the atmosphere, many of us without realizing it, because CO2 is invisible. To illustrate the point, Richard asked the audience to compare the weight of household trash per person per year in America, which is less than 1,000 pounds, to the weight of CO2 put into the atmosphere per person per year in America, which is about 40,000 pounds. “This cannot continue,” he explained. “We are burning fossil fuels roughly a million times faster than nature saved them for us.”

CO2 blocks cooling, something science has known for a long time, and more CO2 will block more cooling of the Earth as it emits energy from the Sun’s rays. This is why, when asked if he “believes in global warming,” Richard responds: “We don’t believe it. It’s physics. And it’s physics like if I drop this pencil it will fall down. There isn’t another side of that.”

Anyone who could not make the program, but wants to learn more, should listen to this podcast of this Chancellor’s Forum. Among other things, Dr. Alley discussed the devastating consequences if we do not reduce CO2 emissions substantially and very soon.

It’s hard to overstate the seriousness of the issues if we can believe Richard Alley and the reports from the science community. Do we believe them? Listen to Dr. Alley and judge for yourself.

How do I look? Supreme Court to Weigh In On Dress and Grooming Policies in Two Religious Liberty Cases

The Supreme Court this term will consider two religious accommodation cases involving dress and grooming requirements. Regardless of how they are decided, the cases are a reminder to employers to consider employees’ religious rights when making employment decisions or developing policies, including policies on dress or grooming.

In Holt v. Hobbs,[1] the Court will consider whether a prisoner has the right to grow a beard for religious reasons.  Arkansas inmate Gregory Holt believes his Muslim faith requires him to grow a beard. He challenged an Arkansas state prison system policy prohibiting inmates from growing beards (except for quarter-inch beards for inmates with diagnosed dermatologic problems).  The prison system argued the policy was justified by security concerns and the possibility that beards could conceal contraband.  The District Court ruled against Mr. Holt, finding that prison officials’ security concerns deserved deference—even though the court itself doubted the validity of the security concerns. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. At issue before the Supreme Court is how much deference to give prison officials when policies infringe on religious liberty, which is protected by federal statute. And if deference is not required, how are courts to draw the line on balancing religious rights with competing concerns?

In the second case, EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.,[2] 17-year-old Samantha Elauf, who is Muslim, wore a hijab—a traditional Muslim headscarf—when she interviewed for a salesperson position in an Abercrombie store in Tulsa.  She did not mention the hijab or her religion in her interview, but the interviewer assumed she was Muslim and that she wore the hijab for religious reasons.  Evidence suggested the hijab influenced the decision not to hire her because it conflicted with Abercrombie’s “look policy,” which required sales persons to wear “classic East Coast collegiate style of clothing.”  The EEOC brought suit on Ms. Elauf’s behalf and won summary judgment, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, holding that because Ms. Elauf had not notified Abercrombie of her need to wear the hijab for religious reasons, her religious accommodation claim failed as a matter of law.  The Tenth Circuit reasoned that the burden of notice is on the employee or applicant, disagreeing with the EEOC’s view that something less than particularized, actual knowledge of the need for an accommodation is required. That issue will now be addressed by the Supreme Court.

The two cases follow last term’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that some corporations could refuse to provide contraception coverage to their employees on religious grounds. After finding broad religious freedom rights for corporations, many are interested in how the Court will interpret those rights in the context of individuals.

The Holt case was argued on October 7, 2014, and the Abercrombie case has not yet been set for oral argument.

-Therese Dennis

[1] No. 13-6827 (argued Oct. 7, 2014).

[2] No. 14-86 (cert. granted Oct. 2, 2014).