Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Denying Global Climate Change

It’s a sad fact - no amount of data will change the mind of ANYONE who tries to make a scientific issue into a political one.  It is almost comical how predictably few surprises there are in the arguments most people make against the reality of global climate change.  I personally have no idea what would motivate an ordinary citizen to deny what the vast amount of solid, scientific evidence widely supports, nor do I understand why reasonable people consciously choose to promote corporate self-interests and conspiracy theories above the basic needs of future generations.  At least large corporations have a financial interest in denying what’s obvious and clear.

I truly fail to see the motivation behind the average persons denial of what 97% of scientists already agree upon, other then a deeply ingrained pattern of blind and unquestioning allegiance to an ideology that appeals to emotional decision making and submission to authority rather than an open-minded, unbiased exploration of the truth.  For the average person, such an unwavering marriage to unreason is much like voting against your own best interest.  For what?  What is the payoff for the average person?  I can honestly say that I don’t know.  Such a vast display of credulity is completely beyond me.

As far as the science behind global climate change, here’s what we know.  According to the latest, July 2011 issue of Scientific American “the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) occurred roughly 56 million years ago when the super-continent Pangaea was in the final stages of breaking up” (although if you believe that the earth is only between 6,000 – 10,000 years old, I can’t help you). Many uninformed climate change deniers often try to use the PETM example to build their case for the idea that we don't need to worry because the earth has “natural periods where it has gotten hotter.”

The main problem with the “naturally occurring cycles of the earth getting hotter” theory is that we DO need to worry - the PETM was a period of MASS EXTINCTIONS on a global scale.  The PETM, if one were to actually look past the superficial, misinformed bumper-sticker slogans, is actually a strong counter indication of ones denial for concern.  According to cited Scientific American article (titled “The Last Great Global Warming”), the PETM “was a period which saw massive shifting of global climate zones which caused mass global migrations of plants and animals and some of the deepest areas of the ocean becoming acidified and oxygen-starved, killing off many of the creatures that lived there.”  We are seeing a vast amount of evidence for this process occurring today. 

The truly frightening aspect of all this however (and a point many climate change deniers tend to miss), is that during the PETM the earth saw a 5-9 degree temperature rise over the course of 20,000 years (which was originally thought to be relatively fast on a geological time scale). Compare that to the current rate of temperature rise and it completely pales in comparison to what the earth has seen, and does so in a very dramatic way.  It’s only been a period of roughly over 200 years, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution for the same predicted spike in carbon/global temperatures.  If the trend continues (and there’s no evidence to suggest that it won’t), the current inhabitants of this planet are going to inevitably subjected to a considerable amount of suffering in terms of a general rise in food and water scarcities, increased risk of drought, fire and floods, more heat-related illness and diseases, rising seas, destabilization of weather patterns which will promote stronger storms and more damage, habitat loss, acidification of the oceans, extreme weather changes, not to mention extreme economic challenges and a general level global destabilization this world has never seen before.  Keeping in mind that the earth took roughly 200,000 years to recover from the PETM spike, one could easily see why it’s safe to say that we are quickly becoming the architects of our own demise.

Most scientists (97% of them) agree that the earth is currently hovering around 390 ppm of unsequestered carbon in the atmosphere.  Most scientists (again, 97% of them) also agree that the number 350 is what is sustainable for most inhabitants (we crossed that threshold several years ago).  This is pretty straight forward and widely accepted within the scientific community.  The only time in the history of earth that reached these levels in such a short period of time was 56 million years ago, during the previously mentioned PETM. Our current rate of increase is dramatically faster than that of the PETM.  No previous “naturally occurring cycles” in the history of this planet have ever seen such an alarming increase. The PETM is the closest we’ve ever come and that was extended over a period of 20,000 years - an increase in carbon emissions which inevitably lead to massive extinctions on a global scale.  The emissions of carbon increased during the PETM by a rate of about 1.7 petagrams a year.  Compare this to our current rate of increase, which is somewhere around 25 petagrams per year.  This is a rise in carbon emission at a astounding rate of merely a couple HUNDRED years (as opposed to the the thousands it took for the emission to built in the atmosphere during the PETM). 

This is fairly simple math and the differences are staggering.  Our current rate of carbon emissions is obviously occurring on a much quicker scale than the PETM - an increase that coincides with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the increased burning of fossil fuels.  At this current rate of increase (not even taking into considering the countries who are rapidly urbanizing), the damage is going to be much more catastrophic then it was during the PETM.  These are real life consequences that deserve reasonable discourse rather than a culture of unreason or outrageous arguments based on an array of easily digestible logical fallacies.  Emotional reasoning and conspiracy theories built upon unsubstantiated evidence serve only to distort and compound this global problem. By the current trend, it is predicted that the planet will pass 600 ppm by the end of the century, which coincides with roughly a 6 -8 degree temperature increase, depending upon what model you’re using.  This is going to be truly disastrous for the planet and the creatures that inhabit it because there will be no time for species to adapt to such massive and abrupt changes.  All this of course, is undisputed science and lies outside the arena of left or right wing political agendas.  It’s hard to argue with solid facts, no matter how you try to spin it.  

But all this compelling information, no matter how vast and logical it might appear, never seems to penetrate the ideological armor of the climate change naysayers.  The fact of the matter is, I’ve had people confidently tell me that they could easily disprove what I cited and argue that I am merely “cutting and pasting” off of left-leaning websites.  The fact is, my main current source of “felonious data” (as I had one reader call it) is not from a left-leaning website.  The information that I am citing here came straight from the pages of the latest Scientific American - a magazine that is based on scientific understanding (as the name implies), not politics (the magazine was also the 2011 winner of the Nation Magazine Award for General Excellence, but I digress).  But that’s just where I got my information TODAY.  I have many other books and published studies I could have consulted and have wound up with the same information.  That’s not the point.  The point is, you don’t have to go very far to find the supporting evidence, which again, most scientists (unless they're being paid off by corporate lobbiests) will tell you, is overwhelming.  My gathering of empirically validated evidence (in this case, from my coffee table where the magazine was sitting) is called “supporting your hypothesis”, and is generally considered to be an intrinsic part of the scientific method of understanding. 

The science behind global climate change has been found to be quite solid and widely accepted, despite the continual drone of the right-wing hype. One obviously doesn’t have to look very far to find solid evidence that supports what I’m saying – it’s all around us.  All logical fallacies aside, this is not going to change.  Outrageous claims, such as the fact that global climate change is a hoax or a conspiracy, require outrageous evidence to support it.  Just because a person will make erroneous or unsupported claims and blanket statements about “felonious data,” doesn’t automatically get them off the hook or magically make their argument any more true or valid.  Arguments from authority hold very little weight among the scientific community or within the realm of logical discourse.

With that said, global climate change is not a “house of cards” as many climate change deniers have come to call it. The 2009 leaked East Anglia emails are often widely held as definitive PROOF that there’s a conspiracy among climate scientists. Unfortunately, the only thing it definitively proves is people’s vast ignorance of the scientific method of understanding.  Besides the fact that there are lots of single sentences taken out of context to “appear” incriminating, the main focus of many is the use of the word “trick.”  This is unfortunate, because this is merely an example of a deep misunderstanding of how the word was applied by scientists.  Using a statistical “trick” in a chart (in this case, illustrating a recent, sharp warming trend) is not a trick in the sense that scientists are out there maliciously trying to “fool” the public as part of some greater, left-wing conspiracy among scientists.  It’s a basic statistical term that is obviously being misunderstood by linear, literal thinkers with a low education in the hard sciences. It’s a term scientists often used when working with statistics to refer to a “good way to solve a problem.”  It was not being used in terms of “keeping a secret” however the scientifically challenged try to read into it. It sounds like incriminating evidence only to those who are looking for incriminating evidence to share with their equally credulous, like-minded supporters of weak arguements and flawed logic.

The other 3% of scientists who reject the majority view, just in case you’re wondering - their expertise tends to fall far below that of their colleagues as indicated by publication and citation rates.  This makes them easy targets for the prestige and financial support that can be obtained by large, global corporations seeking their scientific credibility in order to promote their general goals of corporate deregulation.  An important question would encourage anyone to ask is, of the 3% of scientists who disagree with the widely accepted evidence, who exactly is responsible for the financing of the majority of their research?  I have said this before, and believe it’s a worthwhile and prudent suggestion – FOLLOW THE MONEY!!!  From FreedomWorks, to Citizens for a Sound Economy, to the Cato Institute, to Americans for Prosperity, follow the money trail and you’ll find that most of it inevitably leads right back to the Koch brothers who have historically shown to fund large scale lobbying and playing a decisive role in the denial of global climate change.  Why?  For the simple fact that deregulation is good for (their) business. Most of the 3% of scientists who are in denial have been bought off by a Koch funded, global warming denial machine, who have deep ties to the media in the form of Rupert Murdoch which promotes their views and confuses the public (as indicated by a recent NPR study that shows the American public’s acceptance of global climate changes has gone form 70% in 2007 to 50% today, coinciding with the continual deregulation of the rules in which our "professional" media are required to abide by). 

But all this is besides the fact.  I would encourage anyone who doubts the science behind global climate change to study the methods used to obtain the data and understand WHY scientists are no longer using tree ring data to track temperature fluctuations.  Only THEN can one ever hope to adequately criticize it.  Pulling out one or two interpretations of the data, getting stuck on the East Anglia emails, or on opinions of a few well-paid scientists (who are vastly outnumbered by the majority), does not change the empirical results of the widely accepted data.  Basing a belief solely on any one of these myopic points, without taking a look at the full picture, not only displays a great deal of confirmational bias, but is just poor science in general (which is why I believe it’s so important to teach our children critical thinking skills and the scientific method in school, but I digress). The evidence for global climate change is overwhelming. Take away two or three cards from the house of cards (a metaphor I borrowed from some uncited article I once read), and you have 49 or 50 cards (most of the deck) still facing you. It’s simply a matter of statistical significance.  If you still can’t see that, it’s not because there isn’t ample evidence - it’s simply because, for whatever reason, you have consciously chosen NOT to see it.

It all boils down to the fact that people who disagree with the facts of global science generally haven’t done the proper research or understood the relatively straight forwards facts, as cited by the science that supports it.  The fact of the matter is some people are just so entrenched with their beliefs for whatever reason, that any logical evidence presented to them will fail to register.  For whatever reason, these people tend to have a deep emotional, unquestioning attachment to their own unchallenged beliefs despite the ample contradictory evidence that’s staring them right in the face.  Since continuing to argue with those so strongly married to their unreasonable ideas is an absurd task more suited to the tragic Greek hero Sisyphus, I’ll just make it simple, stick to one point to make my argument, and then leave it at that:

•         97% of scientists agree that man-made global climate change is occurring.

Whatever anecdotal evidence one provides, whether it’s an email leaked out of context and grossly misunderstood, or reading into the reasons why some scientist left his position (as if that actually “proved” anything) truly pales in comparison to the overabundance of hard scientific facts that supports the phenomena.  97% is what we call in science “statistically significant.”  That’s good enough for me.

"Smart People believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non smart reasons"
- Scientific American

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