Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Tragedy of Climate Misinformation

Wednesday, September 23, 2015
3:52 pm            

Albuquerque Tea Party, April 2009

Global warming deniers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are quite bold in their statements, denying any reasonable scientific claim, and instead claiming that global warming is a 'socialist scam.' Others are more subtle, claiming that evidence for the Earth warming is "inconclusive." And then there are others that claim that yes, the Earth is indeed warming, but there is no evidence that humans are causing it. Some will go so far as to say that the very thought of humans being able to influence the climate is a manifestation of the arrogance of mankind. Pretty ironic, huh?


But we also know about the global warming alarmists. The "Chicken Littles" of society. Just like the deniers, no matter what you say to them, they'll deny the science and instead claim that global warming is going to destroy us all. And just like the deniers, there are the true "air raid siren" alarmists who go door-to-door prophesying the end of the world as we know it, and those who simply pass on alarmist misinformation from biased, unreliable sources.

I firmly believe that the vast majority of both deniers and alarmists are not to blame for their ignorance when it comes to climate change. Instead, I think the blame falls on a few self-appointed experts on climate change, our politicians, and most of all, the media.

I did a quick Google search for "Climate Change," and here are some recent news articles I found.

The Guardian
The Guardian

Articles like these frustrate me immensely. The first article ties a slight (10% increase over the past few decades) increase in precipitation to massive rainfall totals this year that destroyed pumpkin crops, thus blaming climate change on pumpkin pie shortages. Yes, climate change will increase precipitation intensity in many places around the world, but blaming a massive rainfall event solely on climate change? There are so many other variables to consider, most notably the goliath El Niño event currently underway in the tropical Pacific. As far-fetched as this article is, it is significantly more reasonable than the three below it.


I also checked out the positions on climate change of the top two GOP candidates from the most recent Pew Research Center poll this October. Front runner Donald Trump (25%) says climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese to distract the United States and allow the Chinese to overtake our economy, while Ben Carson (16%) believes that the climate changes any time that the temperatures go up or down. This theme is common throughout the party, both for the candidates and the others in politics. I believe that most of them actually do believe that anthropogenic climate change is real, but they deny it to gain support from certain industries and their voter base.

Finally, let's not forget about the wacko scientists who make false claims about global warming.

Dick Lindzen. Credit: The Cato Institute

The most notorious of these climate swindlers is Dr. Dick Lindzen of MIT. The thing about Dr. Lindzen is that he is a very smart dude. If I had a debate on climate change with him, I would lose, even though I am right and he is wrong. He has published over 200 scientific papers, and was the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology for 30 years. He even did work for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He focused his career on atmospheric dynamics and significantly advanced knowledge of that area in our field. He's a genius.

But he's also a contrarian. Not only does he deny anthropogenic global warming, he denies that smoking plays a significant role in causing lung cancer. It's OK to have opposing viewpoints when evidence supports them, but Lindzen relishes the contrarian label. Numerous scientists, including professors I know, have categorized him as "intellectually dishonest," "deeply unprofessional," a "formidable opponent," etc. Naturally, he's gone on places like Fox News to discuss his views, and viewers just assume he is right because of his credentials. If I didn't know anything about climate science, I know I would.

Another disturbing thing is that, according to a 2015 George Mason University study, only 74% of broadcast meteorologists believed that human activity was at least half to blame for global warming. When this study was done in 2011, only 65% of broadcast meteorologists held this view.

With all of this misinformation floating around, it's no wonder that the public is so confused about climate change.

I believe that things will get better as time goes on and global warming becomes more apparent. There will be fewer and fewer deniers, both in the atmospheric science community and elsewhere, and as climate change becomes more and more of a mainstream topic, the public will become better educated on what it actually is.

In the meantime, there are some fantastic resources for getting accurate information on climate change. I highly suggest reading the EPA's page on climate change, and NOAA's Earth Systems Research Laboratory is a great resource as well.

One of the biggest misconceptions floating around is that you can attribute an individual event to climate change. For example, right after Hurricane Sandy, there were tons of articles linking that singular event to climate change, even though there was some evidence that hurricanes in that part of the Atlantic would be less likely under global warming. Asking whether an individual event can be attributed to climate change misses the entire point of climate change... it focuses on long term climate, not day-to-day weather. Every weather event is affected by anthropogenic global warming because the climate in which it occurs is warmer and moister than it otherwise would be if humans never emitted greenhouse gases. In order to truly see evidence of climate change, you have to look for signs of the climate, well, changing. Hurricane Sandy is not an example of the climate changing, but the Earth warming over 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880 is.

Credit: NOAA's National Climatic Data Center

And when you consider that 93% of the additional heat due to man-made climate change is going into the ocean compared to just 2% for the atmosphere, you can see that global warming is very real, and very serious. But it as serious as this?

Credit: History Today

I don't know about the UK minister, but I'll take global warming over nuclear war.


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