Over the last few decades there has been a growing division between us. We have each chosen our position and vigorously stuck to our set of facts, confused about how the other side can be so easily duped by misinformation. The internet gives us access to global news and volumes of research, yet we normally seek out stories that agree with what we already believe to be true, seldom crossing the aisle to see what the other side is saying. There is no dialogue or compromise, only an unwavering conviction that our side is right.
I had a chance to cross the aisle and hear what climate change skeptics and deniers are saying. Someone in my social network posted a story that detailed the plight of a climate research vessel, which was stalled by Arctic ice despite scientists forecasting the Northeast passage would be clear of ice thanks to increased summer ice melt. The brief story mentioned 2 other similarly stalled scientific expeditions, appearing to build a case against climate change “alarmists”. Reactions to the story highlighted where we stand as a country on climate science. Comments were evenly divided between those who used the piece as proof that climate change is a hoax and the others who fired back with scientific facts and data. Shouting at each other until the loudest one wins is not a solution to this problem. We must come to an agreement on what is impacting the planet we all call home so that we can work together and fix the problem.
Some of you are skeptical of climate science and believe that humans could not possibly change the earth’s atmosphere; that it is a hoax created by environmentalists, liberals, the government, or the United Nations. Others believe that changes in the sun’s distance, brightness, and/or temperature are responsible. Or that volcanoes are causing warming, or skewing the measurements, and that the earth is actually cooling. Some of you in colder climates don’t see the harm in a warmer planet. Or counter that meteorologists can’t predict the weekend weather, how can they predict what will happen in 100 years? Or that today’s seasonal weather proves that climate is not changing. You might argue that the climate has always gone through cycles and we just need to ride it out. Or if it is changing that there is nothing we can do about it. Or if we tried to change it would destroy the economy.
Skepticism is not new to science. I would argue that skepticism is the foundation of science. It encourages critical thinking and engages us to look for explanations. Science is not a final answer, but a work in progress, with new discoveries forcing us to revise the way we view the world. Driving exploration is the scientific method, which is an ongoing process that requires ceaseless questioning, new data, and the requirement for a theory to be proven by multiple sources before being accepted. Science is not perfect, but the struggle to understand how things work has advanced our civilization, allowing us to share this conversation on whatever electronic device you are reading this on.
There is a big difference between skepticism and refusal to accept facts. There is a history of rejection of scientific findings: Galileo Galile and Nicolaus Copernicus met with violent objections to their theories about the universe, flat earthers and those who chose not to believe in plate tectonics are gaining traction, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and vaccination remain controversial… I could go on, but lets tackle some of your objections to climate science.
I will ask you to keep Occam’s razor in mind: among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected, meaning that the least complicated theory is often the correct one.
To believe that climate change is a hoax would mean that for more than 50 years scientists around the world have conspired together, with the support of government institutions and non-profit organizations, to mislead the public. How would they benefit from perpetrating this gigantic fraud against the world? To what end would all of these agencies conspire together? And if this were the case, where is the evidence of this collusion?
There are some who believe China manufactured climate change to gain a competitive advantage over the U.S., which would mean that all of the other countries in the world who signed on to the Paris Accord are participating in the hoax. It would also mean that China, which only recently emerged as a global manufacturer, traveled back in time to the 1950s to seed concerns about climate change.
Thermometers don’t have a political or financial agenda. The ocean is warming, and there are several indicators that confirm this. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the largest coral reef in the world, has existed in some form for over 200,000 years; the current living reef is estimated to be 6,000 to 8,000 years old. Since 1979 coral reefs have been dying off around the world, with a global coral bleaching event in 2016. Scientists have linked the events to increased water temperature and acidification, caused by increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Portions of the Great Barrier Reef have already lost 83% of their coral and this ancient living organism may not survive.
Another sign of rising ocean temperatures is polar ice melt. The polar regions are heating up faster than any other place on the planet. The icecaps, which are being attacked from warmer air and warmer water, are flooding the oceans with freshwater ice. This is impacting water cycle patterns, changing the weather, and increasing ocean levels. What reason would scientists lie about warming oceans when we can see the ice melting? What alternative cause might explain these linked events?
The average temperature of the earth has continued to rise since the Industrial Revolution. The planet’s average temperature has increased 1.4º Fahrenheit (0.8º Celsius) since 1880, with two-thirds of that rise occurring since 1975. Every year is hotter than the next, with 2016 the hottest year in recorded history. Temperatures from around the world are aggregated to reach this average, with some areas, including the polar regions, experiencing significantly larger increases. If man-made climate change is a hoax, how might you explain measurable increases in temperature?
Dear climate skeptic, I am not trying to change your world view, but merely posing some questions to ask you to challenge your own. Ask yourself if you would rather spend your energy denying that we are impacting our planet or to do something. Maybe you have children. Maybe you have grandchildren. Maybe you would like for them to enjoy the world in which we live today. You can make that possible. The choice is yours.
Header Image Credit: NASA