Facing climate change

Scientists agree on climate change, so why doesn’t America?

“Ninety-seven percent of all climate scientists agree that the evidence is overwhelming that there is a human component to global climate change,” meteorologist Paul Huttner said.

When 97 percent of a group of specialized scientists agree, they’re probably right. Why then, according to a 2010 study from Yale University, did only fifty-two percent of the American population believe that there is a human component in climate change?

“I think part of it is an education process,” said Huttner, who writes the Updraft blog and appears regularly on Minnesota Public Radio.  “There’s still a good percentage of Americans who have not learned enough about the science of climate change to understand and accept it. Part of it is that there are political forces that are trying to convince people that climate change is not real, and those forces have economic interests that don’t want to accept the science behind climate change. ”

What political and economic interests might the public have that lead them to believe that climate change isn’t a valid problem?

“I would imagine an economic interest is raising gas prices,” said Minnehaha economics teacher David Hoffner, who explained that basic economics say that when the price of something goes up, demand goes down. So the government would put a tax on gas to make demand for it go down. Gas is one of the main problems of climate change because, like other fossil fuels, it emits carbon when used in cars. So making gas more expensive could reduce the pollution that causes climate change.

This also could be an example of people distrusting science. There have been other examples of this, such as when African leaders refused to accept food that came from crops that were “genetically modified” to be more productive and disease resilient. As a result, many people starved. All because they didn’t trust the science behind it. Another example, with maybe a little better founded reason to distrust science, is Chernobyl – a nuclear power plant disaster in the Ukraine in 1986.

“Then you get something in the news like Chernobyl, where you have this nuclear meltdown, and it caused a lot of radioactive this, that or the other thing to be released into the atmosphere, causing bad health effects,” said Minnehaha science teacher Erik Hadland. “There are reasons out there to question science, and you should entertain those questions and have good answers for those questions, but I think when something like that happens and it’s very public, people’s knee-jerk reaction is to just dismiss science categorically rather than ask the question: What good is this providing for us?”

Whether public scepticism is related to people not wanting gas tax to rise, or the distrust of the science behind climate change, or both, the situation is especially disconcerting since climate change could be making things worse. For example, it could cause storms like Hurricane Sandy to grow even stronger.

“The theories behind climate change have always been that if you have more heat in the ocean, you have more here in the atmosphere,” Hutner said. “Then storms will become stronger and there’s some evidence to support that, but what’s difficult is to take one specific storm and tie it to climate change or say that climate change made it stronger.”

Climate change means heat. Heat melts things. Here on Earth there sits some big things that melt — the North and South Poles, Greenland, and glaciers. If they melt, what could happen? First, ocean levels would rise. Estimates have shown that 99 percent of Miami could flood by the year 2120, 62 percent of New Jersey could flood, followed by other cities along the coast. But this isn’t just a problem for the U.S., it’s a global problem. Coasts and islands around the world could be flooded or completely submerged from this global heating and melting of our extremities. But in some places, people face massive droughts.

Evidence for climate change

Some skeptics look at one winter here in Minnesota when it gets down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit and decide climate change isn’t real. Even when there’s two feet of snow on the ground, climate change could be at work.

“Climate change is a long-term effect, and you can’t take one winter or one summer and say ‘Aha! This is climate change!’” Huttner said. “But when you look at trends that span decades, that’s where you start to see the signal of climate change.”

Evidence simply shows that climate change exists and is starting to take effect on the world. There are record heat waves in the lower 48 states, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There are record droughts, according to Think Progress. There are record carbon emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. There are record precipitation levels across North America, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that first eight months of this year had the “most extreme” weather, in terms of drought, temperature and precipitation, since it began tracking data in 1910.

“There are the three independently produced climate data sets that are studied worldwide that show that the climate is changing in significant ways,” said Mark Seeley, a professor of climatology and a meteorologist at the University of Minnesota. “The measurement systems that we deploy around the world, temperature, precipitation, pressure,  etc… showing changes and so the statistical interpretation of those measurements is that the climate is changing – not uniformly, it is changing more rapidly and profoundly in mid- to high-latitude positions than in lower-latitude positions.”

Over the years, time and time again leaders have gotten heated trying to teach the public about climate change, while others try to disprove it for their own benefit. Maybe people aren’t facing the facts because they don’t want gas taxes to go up or for some other economic reason. It is important to look at the facts of the issue and decide who is telling you things in their best interest and not yours.

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About Will Anema

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