Why do people deny global warming?
While it is a hypothesis and not a scientific law, this hypothesis has verified since the dawn of the industrial revolution, with the Earth warming nearly 1 degree Celsius since then. Take a look at the picture below, which shows the increase in temperature since the the dawn of the Second Industrial Revolution.
|Credit: NASA Earth Observatory|
Additionally, this hypothesis is grounded in scientific laws, particularly those pertaining to how infrared radiation escapes from the atmosphere. The picture below shows atmospheric absorptivity windows; i.e. how much of a certain wavelength that a given gas absorbs. When carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, the wavelength "bands" below for carbon dioxide (those grey things) increase in magnitude and get slightly broader, meaning that more radiation is absorbed. Since the wavelengths that these bands are in are in the infrared spectrum, this means that the absorbed radiation is in the form of heat, and the planet is warmed. Of course, there are many, many feedbacks in the climate system and additional things that humankind has released into the atmosphere such as aerosols that tend to cool the climate, but the net effect of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is to warm the atmosphere, as the increasing concentrations of these gases increases the absorptivity of infrared radiation and makes it harder for heat to escape.
|Credit: Robert A. Rohde for the Global Warming Art project.|
Take a look at the carbon dioxide measurements at Mauna Loa from 1960 to 2014. BTW, according to co2now.org, concentrations were at 400.26 ppmv (parts per million volume) this past February, so we've crossed the 400 mark. Cool! (or warm)
|Credit: NOAA. Retrieved from the University of Washington Press Blog|
Finally, if that wasn't enough, the ice cores retrieved from Vostok, Antarctica provide a very clear relationship between greenhouse gas levels and temperatures. Notice how CO2, methane (CH4), and solar insolation line up nearly perfectly with temperature measurements.
|Credit: U.S. Global Change Research Program|
I could go on and on with evidence. As the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report says, "warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia." As the picture above shows us, the carbon dioxide concentrations now are likely higher than they have been in the past 400,000 years.
In the face of all this evidence, why do, according to a 2008 Gallup poll, 58% of the public deny that global warming is caused by human activities?
Well, I believe they are a multitude of reasons, but I think they all lead back to one general reason: accepting climate change doesn't fit their agenda. It's not that these people are stupid; Richard Lindzen, a professor at MIT renowned for his work on atmospheric thermodynamics, denies that climate change exists (he also denies that smoking cigarettes causes cancer and allegedly smokes them in his office). Why? Because he's a contrarian. Also, the fact that he gets lots of money from oil companies doesn't discourage him either. Between 2002 and 2010, conservative billionaires secretely donated 120 billion to 100 organizations to cast doubt on anthropogenic global warming (Goldenberg, 2013), and I would suspect that this is just so that they could gain support for any economic plans they had that would emit greenhouse gases (and thus get more money). Yes, a lot of it's about money. But a lot of it also has to do with people not wanting to change how they live. I believe that this unwillingness to reduce carbon emissions subconsciously leads to global warming denial as a defense mechanism so that people don't have to change their lifestyles. There's no need to worry about carbon dioxide emissions from your yacht if global warming doesn't exist, right?
If there's one thing I've learned about America, it's that we love rebels and mavericks. We love Dirty Harry, Indiana Jones, and Rocky Balboa. We love all the Founding Fathers. And boy oh boy do we love Rush Limbaugh, the host of the most-listened-to radio talk show in the United States, and Fox News, America's most-watched cable news station for 13 years and counting. In short, there's nothing America likes more than a tenacious white man. And if you are a tenacious white man who denies global warming by bringing a snowball to congress, you might as well be a true American hero.
The thing is, many of these conservative badasses love to stand up to these scientists and deny that global warming is caused by humans. And to be honest, you've got to give them some credit for their bravado; it takes some serious balls to deny the scientific consensus on global warming. The cards are definitely stacked against them.
|Would you trust this guy?|
But ironically enough, that just might be why so many Americans don't believe in global warming. Many people cannot trust these scientists, and that is completely understandable considering how the media portrays many of them. Have you ever seen "The Nutty Professor"? But they can relate to these climate change deniers because the deniers allow them to live out a fantasy persona of being the aforementioned "true American hero." Of course, you've got so many deniers now that there are millions of these heros throughout our beautiful nation.
So, what do us enlightened folk do with these heros? How do we show them the path to salvation?
Well, I personally think that providing evidence of global warming is a moot point. They've heard it all before and they'll just pass it off as liberal socialist agenda. Rather, you should tell them why you think they don't believe in global warming. Ask them what they have to gain from denying global warming. Ask them if any of their idols deny global warming. If accepting global warming doesn't fit their agenda or lifestyle, why would they want to believe it in the first place? If you can make them realize that their personal agenda is the deciding factor in their decision of whether something is true or not, you may be able to reach into the scientific side of things and show them some evidence. Do not make alarmist claims; in my opinion, global warming alarmists are only slightly better for society than global warming deniers, and the margin is very slim. One of the biggest claims of the past couple years is that Hurricane Sandy was caused by global warming. This claim has no scientific evidence to support it; in fact, according to a paper by Barnes et al., events like Sandy are actually expected to become less likely in the future.
Time for me to wrap up, it's getting late. What are your thoughts on global warming deniers? Go ahead and comment below!