Saturday, December 12, 2009

Climate Change Truthiness

A few people out there are working really hard to educate the masses about climate change, yet The Record's letters to the editor are still full of concerns that we're going to waste a ton of money unnecessarily since climate change is obviously not really happening. Look how cold it is outside today! We need to spend more time doing more studies to find the Truth...

It was years ago that the common vernacular was changed from global warming to climate change precisely because people were making this very error. They'd look outside at the snow and balk at the idea that the globe is warming. But a name change is not enough. To convince people that there is a tragedy in our midst and the solution will necessitate an inconvenient change in the way we live, you pretty much have to hit them over the head with the facts because nobody wants to believe it's true.

There was a psych study that found, "...if someone set out to draw up a problem that people would not care would look exactly like climate change." They call the fact that people focus on the immediate gains of today and lose sight of very long term planning "psychological distance": "...there's a sense that this is a problem for somebody else or some other time." Almost 2,500 years ago Plato noticed the same common human malady, but he called it an inability to measure, and he insisted teaching the skill of measurement, recognizing that distance (time or place) doesn't decrease the importance of issues even though it appears to, should be the focus of curriculum in every school. I'm not sure it's a teachable skill, but that's a post for another day.

Jeffrey Simpson pointed out that "...even a senior minister in the Harper government stated as fact that the atmosphere was cooler today than in 1998, the inference being that climate change was a hoax...." The weather oscillates all the time, but climate changes very slowly. We can't just look at the last ten years to find a trend; we have to look at the world over the past several hundred years to notice that things are dramatically different in our atmosphere.

And, he continued, that the Arctic is changing faster than anyone predicted. We once thought an ice-free Arctic would be the result if we keep on doing what we're doing for about 100 years. Now we're down to 30. Less ice means less reflection of the sun, which means warmer land, and more melting, and a rapid release of gases trapped in the ice. Michael Healey adds that, even worse, there's billions of tonnes of methane gas locked in the permafrost (a misnomer we now know), and methane is 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Yikes!

Thomas Homer-Dixon and Andrew Weaver had a half-page spread responding to the skeptics. They hit the four big issues of contention: 1. global warming has stopped, 2. warming is due to the sun's radiation, 3. the climate is always changing, and 4. scientific uncertainty is so great we shouldn't make any policies yet. To steal from the creepy future spirit of A Christmas Carol: Beware them all, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this last one, for on its brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.

I like that line so much it's in bold and italics! It's especially fitting because the one to be feared the most is ignorance. If we decide not to act until we have everybody convinced that this is a problem, it will be too much of a problem to act on anymore, and we will be doomed.


Canada Guy said...

Yes, feedback cycles could mean a large acceleration in climate change. These cycles may explain why things are progressing much faster than scientists predicted.

Marie said...

Scarey, isn't it.