"The great thing about science is that it's true whether you believe it or not."
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson
Why we should care
After a long winter, three friends decide to visit together. Aileen Gulledge, a stay-at-home mom; Fred Spencer, a successful business man; and Tom Lawson, a professor of geophysics, share lunch one spring day.
Aileen: 2013 has been a pretty good year, so far. After all, we managed to survive the end of the world in 2012. Of course, there was no big surprise there.
Fred: It’s funny how many of the doomsayers really didn’t have anything to say when December 22 came along and the world was still here. The silence was deafening.
Tom: Sometimes reality shuts the crazies up. At least for a while, but there is always a whole crop of them waiting in the wings to start something new.
Aileen: A crop of crazies?
Tom: What ever it is you want to call a bunch of crazies. Maybe a nutcake of crazies? How about an insanity of crazies?
Fred: Crop works for me. Don’t you get upset having to deal with all of the crazies and their claims?
Tom: Nah. I get use to it, but others don’t. Some types of research draw more attacks than others.
Fred: Like what?
Tom: Climate change research is a real notable one. There is a well organized and financed effort to discredit any research into climate change and to attack researchers involved in it. Some of those guys really get targeted. I remember reading about how Michael Mann said anyone supporting the climate-change debate is immediately attacked by professional climate-change deniers. Mann is the scientist that originated a graph showing rising temperature levels between the years 1000 and 2000 A.D. which has become known as the ‘hockey stick’ because it resembles that shape. A very vocal group of people feel they have to personally attack Mann because they don’t like the science. In fact, scientists that publish papers on climate change are subjected to attacks and even have their families threatened. Ben Santer at Lawrence Livermore National Labs had someone leave a dead rat on his doorstep one night. Kenneth Trenberth of the IPCC once said he received over 90 pages of particularly nasty, abusive and hateful emails. I spoke to one climatologist who told me he had to hire a bodyguard when he gives lectures to protect him from physical attacks. It has gotten so bad the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a statement that they were “deeply concerned” about attacks on climate scientists.
Some scientists take all of this in stride as being part of the business. Unfortunately, these kinds of organized attacks lead others to withdraw from any kind of public debate. This is really bad because it can have a chilling effect on research and the efforts to educate the public about what is being found.
Fred: This is reason enough for everyone to care about climate change. Clearly, there are groups out there that don’t want the public to know what’s going on. My first thought is, what are they afraid of? Why do they want to hide this information from the public? I can’t believe they are working in my best interest.
Tom: Many of these kinds of attacks are most likely organized by industry trying to protect their special interests and are definitely engaged in a disinformation campaign on global warming. They bus people in for organized protests to give the appearance that it is a public reaction. They cannot argue the science, so they are arguing the public relations. They act like lawyers instead of scientists, arguing about every word instead of dealing with the science. Take the 2009 Climate Gate for example, where stolen emails were released. This led to accusations of data tampering and other wrongdoing. Every review has shown there was no misconduct on the part of the scientists that sent those emails. But, the skeptics love to point at those emails to support their claims that global warming is a hoax and those emails certainly damaged the public perception of what is going on. Tell me the people responsible for that did not intend that result.
The disinformation campaign is very well funded and very well organized. It is also very effective. Just look at the results of polls to see what I mean. Surveys show 97% of scientists in climate studies believe in manmade climate change. But, only 64% of people in the U.S. think the world is warming and only 47% believe it is due to human activity. Even more telling, only 39% of the public believe most scientists think global warming is occurring and 40% believe there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about it. What is really interesting is that among the most skeptical group of the public only 5% believe that scientists agree. Obviously, this all flies directly in the face of the fact that 97% of climate scientists that are convinced.
The news media is playing right into this. They portray the issue as a controversy then give skeptics, even the craziest of them, equal air time. This gives the impression that the skeptics are somehow credible.
Something like this doesn’t happen by chance. There are people working hard to make the public believe this. I am very bothered by these organized campaigns. They are something that we all should care about. It undermines our entire scientific infrastructure.
Aileen: The old ‘attack the messenger’ strategy. When you can’t prove the research wrong, intimidate the messengers. I think that may be the best evidence that claims about global warming are accurate. If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be such a strong reaction from the deniers.
Fred: Yes, too bad it’s so effective. People are obviously denying climate change for reasons other than the science. I don’t know how much accuracy there is to it, but my observation is that there is a correlation between global warming deniers and creationists. I guess if you’re going to deny science for one issue it becomes easy to deny science for another. And, we’ve seen this before. Remember how hard the cigarette companies worked to deny smoking causes cancer?
Any guesses about who is behind it?
Tom: An organization known as The Heartland Institute is reported to be behind a lot of it. They get a lot of donations from major corporations that might be at risk from climate legislation, including one anonymous donor that is responsible for about 20% of their funds. In turn, they fund anti-global warming individuals and work to keep the media from reporting the message of authentic climate scientists. Some of the companies donating to them are Microsoft, Koch Industries, Altria and RJR Tobacco.
Aileen: It is interesting to see the tobacco industry involved in the denial of science after their experience with shutting down the science on cigarettes and cancer. When are they going to figure out that the truth will eventually come out and it will cost them in the end?
What about fossil fuel companies?
Tom: Several of them are involved in funding the deniers. A group called The Carbon Brief studied over 900 published papers denying climate change and found that 9 out of every 10 climate change deniers had a link to Exxon Mobil. This is strange because Exxon has publicly endorsed the idea of manmade climate change and has even committed to investing billions of dollars to develop Arctic oilfields, something that would not be possible without global warming. But, they seem to think they can have more influence on legislation affecting them by funding the deniers.
Fred: I just have to think that is really silly of them. If it was my company I would come out supporting the science and come off as the white knight. It would be a gigantic public relations coup for some company. And then, people will get in their cars tomorrow and fill up the gas tank and life would go on. The difference is that my company would look like a hero instead of a villain.
Aileen: Too bad they don’t think like you do, Fred. It would make things a lot easier.
Fred: This is another good reason why we should all care about climate change. It is providing another opportunity for the rich and powerful to make decisions for us that will affect our lives. And, does anyone really think companies like Exxon or the coal companies care about our well being? I, for one, do not feel better knowing that these companies funding climate change deniers are working with the world governments to influence legislation and policy. It is not to our advantage.
Tom: They aren’t the only ones responsible. There is a pretty strong anti-science crowd out there and they are well organized. There is positively no amount of evidence or argument that you can produce that will succeed in changing their minds. Like you said, Fred, they are rejecting the science for other reasons.
You should see the amount of pure crackpot correspondence we receive from these people. It used to be something in the mail or maybe a nutcase at a convention. But, with the electronic world we have today we are bombarded by fruitcakes sending us emails and links to videos. I received one recently that said the Sun is the only shining object in the sky, we can’t see anything further away than 150 million kilometers, space is a mirror and everything else is just a reflection off this space mirror. This individual calls it the space mirror mystery. That is just one of many. What is really amazing is that these people actually believe in what they are saying.
Fred: And, this doesn’t bother you?
Tom: It use to, but you hear it all the time, nowadays. It has really become this cottage industry. Like, have you seen that show ‘Ancient Aliens’ on the History Channel? It is totally weird. I guess a bunch of nonsense is worth putting on TV as long as people are tuning in to watch. They are out there and have a right to their beliefs, so you just find a way to deal with them.
Fred: I’ve seen that show. They have some real weirdos on there. How about that one guy with the crazy hair? He looks like he’s been probed by the aliens a few times too many.
Aileen: Yeah, and his statements are just as bad – real crazy stuff. But, there are people out there that believe what he’s saying. Just amazing. And, we know already that there is nothing you can do to convince them they’re wrong. Like you said, they will hold on to their beliefs, no matter what kind of evidence is provided. If facts get in the way, too bad for the facts.
Tom: Can you believe there are still people that believe the Moon landings were faked? Some idiot comes up with a bunch of non-evidence and all of these people don’t have enough sense to check it for themselves. Maybe that’s why all of these nutcases keep popping up. People just take what they are saying without doing any homework. Even a little effort would be enough to figure out there is no basis to any of these claims.
Aileen: I noticed they have been really quiet since NASA released the high definition images of the landing sites.
Tom: Yeah, stories like that are pretty sad. Speaking of climate change and crackpots, I remember a TV interview with a guy, Joe Bastardi, who claimed global warming is impossible because it would violate the first law of thermodynamics. The first law says you can’t create or destroy energy, therefore, according to him; putting CO2 in the air can’t create energy and can’t warm the planet. It was so bad that any undergraduate physics major could punch it full of holes, yet there he was on TV and they were taking him so seriously. Then there was this article I saw about this same guy leaving Accuweather. Officially, he resigned, but it sounds like he was forced out because he kept making so many anti-scientific claims and was hurting their reputation.
Fred: Even I can see the problem in his claim. Global warming theories don’t claim CO2 is adding energy to the atmosphere, they say the CO2 traps energy that would otherwise be going off into space. That’s pretty lame of that guy. And, I might add that it is pretty lame of the TV network to give him air time.
Tom: You two sound like you’re up to speed on global warming.
Fred: I’ve followed it in the news and read articles about it in science magazines. There’s really no doubt in my mind that we are changing the climate.
Aileen: I agree. I’m not sure just how bad it is or how much we are responsible for the change, but I’m sure we are responsible for at least most of it, if not all of it.
Tom: Good for you guys. I have to spend a lot of my time trying to convince enough people already. It’s good to know my friends aren’t in that group. Of course, like you said, many of the people coming to me with objections can’t ever be convinced they are wrong. They live in their own little world where science doesn’t matter. They are only interested in their conclusions, the evidence and scientific facts are irrelevant to them.
Fred: Again, you don’t get tired of this?
Tom: It’s all part of the job. I actually enjoy the crackpots and comics, in a perverse sort of way. First, people are going to ask me about some of the claims they make and I want to be prepared. But also, it’s like playing a game: How many errors can you find? It helps keep the mind sharp.
Aileen: Like doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku?
Tom: Exactly! My favorites are usually the ones that claim to prove Einstein wrong. I recall how one in particular started out saying he had been sitting on a mountainside in northern Thailand when he had this revelation about how Einstein’s theory of relativity was wrong. I thought, ‘Well, that explains it! All of this time I’ve been studying and working hard when I should have been sitting on a mountainside in northern Thailand! Boy! I wish I had known that before I started grad school!’
Fred: Would have saved you a bunch of work, wouldn’t it?
Aileen: Not to mention it sounds like it might be a lot of fun.
Tom: The thought has occurred to me at times that it might not be too late. Just for the record, Einstein proposed two theories of relativity, special relativity in 1905 and general relativity in 1916. These two theories have been put to extremely rigorous scientific testing and have passed every single test.
Fred: Don’t worry. I don’t think we’re about to head off to Thailand. Hey! That could be a new catch-phrase for someone making anti-science claims, ‘That guy is heading off to Thailand!’
Tom: Glad to hear you’re not heading off to Thailand. Anyway, when I hear someone claiming to prove Einstein wrong my warning senses all start tingling. The game is afoot! But, they are so silly as to be even funny. I actually laugh out loud when I hear some of their claims. That’s why I like to call them comics. We had the 2012 comics and there are the Moon landing comics. Pick your topic, there are comics out there. Now, we have the global warming comics.
Aileen: It seems as though there are a lot of global warming skeptics out there. I’ve been hearing a lot of them after the big blizzard. They think they are so clever with their jokes about global warming and cold weather. Correct me if I’m wrong, but no one is saying winter will go away, are they Tom?
Tom: No, winter is due to the Earth’s tilt relative to the Sun so that the poles spend six months in darkness. Try spending six months without sunlight see how cold it gets. Winters are getting shorter and milder, but they won’t go away completely. A funny thing about big winter storms is that they are actually evidence of global warming.
Fred: How’s that?
Tom: Well, like I said, the poles are still in darkness for six months and even regions far from the pole have little or no light for long months. This means it still gets really cold up there. But, without some way to move it, that big mass of cold air would just sit there. The very fact that all of that cold air moves down into the lower latitudes shows that there is a gigantic amount of energy stored in the atmosphere that can do the work to move the cold air. All of that energy has to come from somewhere and the record shows that storms are getting more energetic and more frequent. That means the atmosphere actually has more energy in it today than it did in the past, even in the winter time. And, snow requires water vapor to be in the atmosphere. As the ice cover decreases there is more water vapor in the air which means more snow in the winter and bigger rains the rest of the time.
Look at it this way, suppose we had a factory making ice and that ice was loaded on a train to take it somewhere. The arctic is the ice factory, the atmosphere is the train and heat provides the fuel to run the train. Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but that illustrates the basics of it.
Aileen: You’re saying that without global warming we wouldn’t be seeing all of this violent weather we’ve seen the last several years?
Tom: Violent weather requires energy. What I’m saying is without energy in the atmosphere there would not be storms at all. So, violent weather is a measure of how much energy is stored in the atmosphere. An increasing amount of violent weather is an indicator that the amount of energy in the atmosphere is increasing. We would certainly see violent weather, even without global warming, because we have always had violent weather. But, there is a definite, measurable increase in the amount of violent weather, and we would not see that increase, or maybe not as big of an increase, if it wasn’t for manmade emissions causing global warming. Global warming is kind of like steroids for the weather. There will be weather anyway, but the additional heat makes everything more extreme. Heat waves are hotter, more frequent and last longer. The same goes for droughts and floods. Tornadoes and hurricanes become more frequent and more severe. Hail storms, too. And, even winter storms.
Fred: That seems pretty obvious the way you explain it, even without going into details. You would think most people would accept an explanation like that. Instead, there are still a lot of people that deny global warming.
Aileen: People seem more likely to reject science when things are rough. They might be worried that policies will harm the economy or they may be afraid that policies to address the problem will limit individual freedoms or the free market. There may just be a limit to how much people can worry about at one time.
Fred: According to one study I read, our list of concerns, in order, are the economy, jobs, terrorism, Social Security, education, energy, Medicare, healthcare, deficit reduction, health insurance, helping the poor, crime, moral decline, the military, tax cuts, the environment, immigration lobbyists, trade policy and global warming. It is just not something people are concerned about. One of the reasons for that is because scientists have not shown to people that this is something they need to worry about today. Instead of telling people about the environmental impact global warming will have on our grandchildren, they should be telling people about the economic costs it is having right now. If the economy and jobs are the top two things people are concerned about, show them how climate change affects the economy and jobs. If you show the unemployed the reason they are unemployed is because of the effects of climate change then they will take it much more seriously.
Aileen: Fred is right. I think part of the problem is that a lot of the statements scientists make sound like these doomsday predictions and people have a hard time with that. It’s easier to just reject the statements than to believe doomsday is coming. We all already have problems right in our face to worry about. Why should we care about climate change that won’t happen for years and years, if at all?
Fred: I think the idea of manmade climate change is intimidating to most people. That is the kind of thing that can make people lie awake at night. They deal with it by just denying the idea. Most people avoid extremely unpleasant news until they no longer have a choice.
Aileen: I think one reason people prefer to ignore the idea is that deep down they know that the only solution will require a new way of living and thinking. Change is difficult at best and having to deny ourselves something that makes us comfortable is even harder. They hear what sounds like doomsday predictions and they dismiss them. Scientists give predictions about next century, but it is easy for people to dismiss that. They want a reason why they should care about it today.
Tom: You both make a good point. The scientific community has to get better at that. And, we really do need to care about it today. Climate change isn’t something that is going to happen next century, it’s already happening and it’s affecting everyone’s lives. Let me give an example of something going on right now.
What people really don’t get is that climate change comes down to water management. Like I said earlier, droughts and floods are going to be worse, as are storms. This is already affecting water distribution all over the globe. In some areas, reservoirs are going dry and crops, livestock and even forests are dieing due to the lack of water. Other areas are getting too much water and are experiencing massive floods resulting in billions of dollars in damages. Water management is changing due to climate change and is something that is already affecting nearly everyone on the planet, one way or another.
Aileen: That’s a pretty good reason for people to be concerned about climate change right now. How about another?
Tom: One of the real hazards of climate change is food production. We have seen that climate change in the past has disrupted food supplies resulting in mass famines that have killed millions and even brought down cultures. Remember that we saw drought was one of the contributing factors for the fall of the Mayan civilization. Drought is also attributed as a factor causing the fall of the Ming Dynasty in China. But, drought isn’t the only concern. Incredible floods in Europe in the 14th century resulted in massive crop losses and the collapse of the economy in many nations. The climate change we are experiencing today is greater than anything any of those previous cultures ever experienced.
Aileen: That sounds like doomsday scenarios, Tom.
Tom: OK, lets talk about non-doomsday, but still important. One of the things we are seeing is increased droughts, not the end of the world type, but still big ones. For instance, the 2011 drought in Kenya left 2 million people and 20 million heads of livestock in emergency need of food and water. Drought isn’t new to that region, but they had already experienced a severe drought just two years earlier.
Another example is Australia, which just went through a massive, 10-year long drought that resulted in widespread wild fires and dust storms. The size of sheep herds dropped by 50 percent and rice and cotton production collapsed in some years. The drought affected tens of thousands of farm families across Australia before it ended in 2010. And, as is often the case, it ended with torrential rains and flooding. The evidence is piling up that climate change may have been responsible for that drought. At the very least, it severely aggravated it. The American southwest may be in a similar situation with long-term rainfall decreasing across the area.
Fred: That is a good example of things that are going on right now that we need to be concerned about, but aren’t the end of the world. If we take steps we can get through that, but we need to get busy.
Tom: Adapting is the big key and is why we need to be concerned today. Africa, in particular, can expect to see more frequent and more severe droughts in years to come. They need to start adapting now.
Weather in general is getting more extreme and we can expect more violent and extreme weather events. According to data on weather events, floods, droughts, wildfires, windstorms, blizzards and tornadoes are all becoming more frequent and more severe. According to NOAA, the U.S. had at least 12 weather disasters in 2011, each of which caused more than $1 billion. This is happening today. We need to adapt right now.
Aileen: These are still big, scary changes. Can you list some changes that aren’t so scary, but still going on right now?
Tom: Allergies are getting worse. Plants are producing pollen earlier and making more of it so people are having worse allergies.
Fred: I know some people would consider that to be a doomsday scenario. And, they would probably confirm that their allergies have been getting worse.
Tom: Food production between 1980 and 2008 has not increased as much as it could have without rising temperatures. Corn and wheat crops have been getting larger but not as much as they could have. Because of rising temperatures, corn production is down 3.8 percent and wheat production is down 5.5. It is estimated that his has caused the price of corn to go up 6.4 percent and wheat to go up 18.9 percent.
Fred: That isn’t the end of the world, but it takes money right out of the average person’s pocket.
Tom: We can expect to see more and more changes to the ecosystems of the world and we live in those ecosystems which mean there are already lots of changes that are affecting us right now. This is already occurring, but it will happen more quickly in the future. Almost half of the world’s land area can expect to see its ecosystem change. Tundra, forests, grasslands will all turn into something different. Again, this isn’t the end of the world, but it will have a big impact and we will need to adapt.
Fred: It’s pretty obvious that there will be lots of changes occurring and some of it is already happening. We really do need to make plans to adapt. There will be winners and losers. The winners will be the ones that make plans and the losers will be the ones that don’t. Kind of like Kodak. They were at the top of their industry but didn’t adapt when digital cameras came along. They are even the ones that invented the digital camera.
Tom: Adapting is the key. Climate change is here to stay. If we completely stopped producing greenhouse gases today there is already enough in the atmosphere that it would take centuries to get back to pre-industrial levels. It is typically thought it will take 100-200 years for the environment to remove all of the gases that are currently in the atmosphere but some models have shown it may take well over 3000 years. In fact, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 36% in just the last 150 years and half of that was added in the last 30 years. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere of today is greater than at any time in at least the last 800,000 years.
Fred: But, the production of greenhouse gases is part of life and industry. Just by living we will produce greenhouse gases. As the world population increases and becomes more industrialized we will continue to produce those gases and climate change will continue. We need to learn how to control our emissions and how to adapt to the changes we are making to our planet. But, we are not stopping the production of greenhouse gases. Not today, probably not ever. Realistically, the best we can hope for is to reduce them and keep them under some acceptable limit.
Aileen: And yet, there are those that, for what ever reason, refuse to believe. We have seen several reasons why we should all care, but so many people just ignore the whole situation.
Tom: It’s pretty mysterious. People need to understand that taking no action is actually making a decision, the decision to do nothing and let events play out as they will. And, that’s a bad decision because things will not play out to our advantage if we just leave everything the way it is. The scientific evidence is so overwhelming that anyone with an open mind can do just a little bit of homework and see that the theory is valid. I would bet that any person of average intelligence could prove the validity of manmade global climate change with the information that is available.
Fred: What do you mean by ‘open mind?’
Tom: Someone that is willing to apply the scientific method and live by the results. Universally, every global warming skeptic I have ever met or read about has rejected the scientific method on this topic. And, I mean without exception. They will look at the scientific data and just reject it because it doesn’t fit their preconceived conclusions. We have been able to show without question that the climate is warming and human activities are the main cause.
Aileen: But, aren’t there some scientists out there that are skeptical? Are you really saying they have rejected the scientific method?
Tom: Sure, why not?
Fred: Why would a scientist, or anyone else for that matter, reject science?
Tom: Some of the deniers are being funded to reject the science and push the denier agenda. For instance, two of the most visible deniers are Craig Idso and Fred Singer, both of whom are funded by the Heartland Institute. They give Idso $11,600 per month and Singer $5000 per month plus expenses.
Others simply have a hard time accepting the consequences. Scientists are subject to all of the weaknesses other humans are. We like to think we are above emotional decisions, but the record clearly shows we are not. I have found that skeptics are almost always skeptical for other, non-science reasons. Maybe they are opposed to proposals for the government to regulate or control certain things. Maybe they are just scared of the idea that things are spinning out of control. Motivations like this affect scientists just like they affect anyone else. And, don’t be fooled. Over 97% of scientists that are active in the field agree that climate change is occurring and it is primarily caused by human activity.
Aileen: Wow! You almost make scientists sound like they’re human!
Fred: Maybe not all of them, just a select few.
Tom: Pseudo-human, at least. But, there are extremely few scientists in the climate-related sciences that have rejected global warming theories. Nearly every scientist that is on record as being a skeptic is in some other discipline. Also, many of the ‘scientists’ you speak about are not formally educated in the sciences or employed as a scientist. You don’t need a license to be a ‘scientist,’ you can just hang your shingle out front and start making claims. In fact, that is exactly what some of these people have done. I get emails from high school students calling themselves ‘scientists.’ If some guy retires after spending his life reading science magazines and decides he wants to be a scientist, he can make that claim. Technically, they are, but not in the traditional sense.
Fred: What about that Nobel Prize winner a couple years ago? He is certainly a scientist in the traditional sense and he quit the professional union he was in because he disputed global warming claims.
Tom: Yes, Ivar Giaever resigned from the APS, the American Physical Society. I remember him. Part of his complaint was about global warming. But, he also had a complaint about the wording in the society’s statement on global warming. The statement stated that ‘the evidence is incontrovertible,’ and he felt that this precluded any discussion on the issue. There have been a few errors discovered in the IPCC report on climate change and that has received a lot of publicity. The fact is, the report is over 3000 pages long and there will always be some errors in a document that large and complicated. But, none of the errors affect the IPCC reports and they remain unchallenged in the research community.
I agree with him that there should always be debate and discussion because that is part of the scientific method, but I believe the wording is correct. There can be no rationale scientific conclusion other than manmade emissions are causing global warming. Any debate at this point should be about the details and how we can move forward. Just because we can prove global warming really exists doesn’t mean we understand everything about it. In fact, it’s just the opposite, there is much we don’t know or understand. That part is open to debate but we shouldn’t be spending our time arguing about the role of manmade emissions in global warming any more than we should be debating if the Earth orbits the Sun.
Aileen: But, Tom, the guy is a Nobel-prize winner. Are you still saying this guy has rejected the scientific method? Isn’t that harsh?
Tom: I don’t think I’m being harsh. I’m just showing my faith in science and the scientific method. He won the Nobel Prize for his work in quantum solid state physics, how matter works at the sub-atomic level. I would not want to debate him about tunneling in semiconductors. But, he is not a climatologist so I have no problem saying he is wrong on this issue. And, if he applied the scientific method to subjects that he is not expert in I contend he would reach a different conclusion. I believe he is reaching the conclusion he wants, not the conclusion that is supported by evidence.
At the same time I would point to the skeptic that did a big study to prove there was no global warming and came away believing there was. His name is Richard Muller and he spent two years examining data before reaching the conclusion the climatologists were right. That is the way the scientific method is suppose to work.
The fact is the Earth is absorbing more energy from the Sun than it is sending back out into space. Given that scenario, it is inevitable that the Earth has to be warming. We know that planetary heat is trapped by greenhouse gases. We can see that the amount of greenhouse gases is going up and that this is due to manmade activities. These are scientific facts. The rest is details.
Debating whether or not there is manmade climate change makes no sense. I don’t need to get into a debate about whether there is a tooth fairy. It’s about the same. And, saying that climate change is coming is like standing in a foot of flood waters and saying a flood is coming because the three-foot flood crest hasn’t arrived yet. We are in climate change right now.
Aileen: But, don’t you think it is healthy to question scientists? Just like we should be questioning any voice of authority? There needs to be trust, but shouldn’t there also be some skepticism? I think the skepticism and the questioning actually leads to better trust. I think we, the non-scientist public, need to be able to question scientists about topics and receive satisfactory answers to our questions. We shouldn’t just blindly accept what we are being told.
Tom: I agree. And, keep in mind that policy also extends to scientists. I may be expert in my area of study, but I can’t be expert in everything. At some point, I have to trust fellow scientists and accept what they are saying. But, as you said, we have to be able to question them and receive good answers. This is what I’m talking about with that guy that resigned from the APS. He is expert in semiconductors, but he is not expert in climatology. He has a right to question what is being said. In fact, as a scientist, I believe he has a duty to question what is being said. But, I believe the evidence is overwhelming and he would have to reject the evidence to reach the conclusion that there is no global warming. Questioning is healthy, but it must be done in a responsible manner. Questioning does not mean you question that the Sun will rise in the east. At some point, you have to accept the science.
Aileen: I guess it could it go too far. What about these crackpots you were talking about? It doesn’t sound to me that they are really questioning, responsibly or otherwise, they are outright rejecting what scientists are saying.
Fred: Yes, that would be a difference between the crackpots and a reasonable, questioning individual. I think we need to accept that scientists are experts, but expect them to justify their statements to us. But, when you question someone you have to be prepared to accept the answers. The crackpots seem to have decided that they are smarter than the scientists and deny everything that doesn’t agree with their preconceived beliefs. The typical climate change denier isn’t trying to get an answer. They are trying to corner the scientist and score points.
Tom: Well said. The problem is that so many people fall victim to the crackpots. There are people that hear what the crackpots have to say and just accept it without doing any real homework. They just read blogs by other crackpots and take what they say as truthful. It’s rather ironic. They accept anything the other crackpots have to say, but they won’t accept anything the scientists have to say.
Much of the debate in the public forum is not healthy or responsible.
Aileen: I understand. I might not be able to completely understand the science and methods involved, but I can recognize false arguments and valid reasoning by using critical thinking skills.
Tom: Right! And, of course, don’t forget the scientific method. Anyone can check to see if the scientific method is being used. We discussed that a lot last year when we were talking about 2012. You can also question assumptions that are made and how the data was collected. Again, there is enough data and literature out there that anyone can do this. Unfortunately, there are those that ignore the science and go for the fringe claims that have no supporting evidence.
Aileen: Let me ask you something, Tom. You said nothing can convince the deniers they are wrong and that global warming is real. But, what if they are right? What would it take to convince you to change your mind?
Tom: That’s a fair question and I can answer that one. All they have to do is provide the proof via the scientific method that the claims about climate change are not real. I will believe in the science, no matter which way it goes. But, to date, all of the science shows climate change is real and I am going to support the science.
Fred: I’m intrigued by this claim of yours that anyone can prove global warming. It seems to be counterproductive. You are saying the scientific data is out there for anyone to demonstrate that theories about manmade global climate change are valid. Doesn’t it stand to reason that there is also enough data to prove they are false? Aren’t you opening the door to everyone in the world to try and do this?
Tom: You are completely correct. If the theories are false, the data is out there to prove it. But, if that is the case, why hasn’t anyone done that? And, I don’t mean one of the ‘violates the first law of thermodynamics’ proofs. I mean a valid, rigorous proof that follows the scientific method and is reproducible by other scientists. And, yes, this does open the flood gates for every crackpot, scientist-wannabe and comic out there. But, the game has to be played that way. Scientists don’t have magical powers. Anyone can do science with proper training. Therefore, you reach the conclusion that the whole populace is entitled to try to prove their theories. I am on record as being a firm believer in manmade global climate change. Technically, the term is anthropogenic global climate change. But, if someone could prove, via the scientific method, that the theories are not valid, then I would change my position. You have to go with the science. The problem is the skeptics are rejecting science, not using it.
Fred: You say the data is out there. Where, for instance?
Tom: A quick Internet search will turn up lots of scientific sites devoted to the topic. Just off the top of my head, I know of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NOAA Climate Services, NASA Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, known as the IPCC. RealClimate.org is a good website for information from climate scientists. There are lots more, but those come to mind quickly.
Fred: I’m getting an idea. Why don’t we do another dialogues, like we did on 2012? Why not do one on manmade global climate change? The one on 2012 was a lot of fun and I really learned a lot from it. What do you guys think? We still have the list serve we could use to keep our dialogues emails separate from our regular every day emails like we did before.
Aileen: I like it. I agree the 2012 dialogues was a lot of fun. We can use the format of Galileo’s Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences again. One of us can be Salviati, arguing for the theory, one can be Simplicio arguing against it, and one of us can be neutral Sagredo.
Fred: Sounds great. But, Tom, you can’t be Salviati again.
Tom: Why not?
Fred: You said the information was out there for anyone to prove the theories valid. Let’s put it to the test. Aileen or I will be Salviati this time, proving the science, and you be Simplicio, the naysayer. You come up with reasons why global warming isn’t happening or it isn’t manmade and we have to prove that it is. This way we can show if a non-scientist can prove or disprove the theories.
Aileen: I could enjoy this.
Tom: I like it. Although I have to warn you I have lots of stuff to use. I keep all of the emails I get from skeptics, and I have a lot of them. Also, I get questions from my skeptical students all the time.
Fred: That’s OK. That is the stuff that the average person on the street hears, so that is the stuff we need to be able to deal with, just like anyone else.
Aileen: How do you want to go about this?
Fred: Let’s start with what we were talking about, namely how you would go about proving manmade global climate change. I think you have to start with the basics. Is the Earth warming? I know a lot of people still don’t believe there is any warming going on. Clearly, if you can’t prove the Earth is warming then all the rest is irrelevant.
Aileen: I think you’re right, there are still lots of people that are skeptical global warming is even occurring. There are also people that accept the Earth is warming, but think it is all due to natural climate change. I think the next step should be to prove that, if the planet really is warming, it isn’t due to natural causes. If the planet is warming, but not because of the greenhouse effect then manmade emissions don’t matter.
Fred: Good idea. But then, we are at the real crux of the question. If the Earth is warming and at least some of it is due to the greenhouse effect, are manmade emissions contributing to that effect? There could be an increase in greenhouse gases purely due to natural causes and manmade activities are not doing anything to contribute to the problem. Or, manmade greenhouse gases are contributing, but are insignificant compared to natural causes.
Aileen: Great! If we can apply the scientific method to each of these questions and the answer is ‘Yes’ to all three, then we can safely conclude that manmade activities are, at the very least, contributing to global climate change, or global warming. A ‘No’ answer to any one of these questions would indicate that manmade activities are not causing global climate change.
Tom: This all sounds like a good start, but then we would need to address the issues the skeptics bring up as ‘evidence’ that there is no climate change. Such as, the theories and the data are all wrong. If you have a bad theory and bad data the result you reach is going to be incorrect. We need to examine their claims and show if they have any validity or not.
Fred: Like the guy that claims it violates the first law of thermodynamics?
Tom: Yes, but there are other, more valid, objections. For instance, we know there are natural variations in the climate. How much of any observed climate change is due to natural changes that would occur even if we were not here?
Aileen: I think we need to talk about what could be done about it, also. There are people that claim global warming is a good thing and we don’t have anything to worry about. And, those that say we need to take all sorts of draconian measures. I’ve heard people saying we need to basically go back to horse and buggy days. I would like to think there are things we can do that aren’t quite that extreme.
Fred: Just for the record, let’s review exactly what we mean when we say we’re following the scientific method.
Aileen: As I recall, the scientific method consists of four steps that repeat over and over: 1. Observation of some phenomena; 2. Forming a hypothesis or theory; 3. Using our hypothesis to make a prediction; 4. Testing the prediction. Then, the process begins again by observing the results of the test and adjusting your hypothesis and making new tests. I also remember you said the definition of a science is anything that follows the scientific method. If it doesn’t follow the scientific method, it’s not a science. Cut and dried.
Tom: Right! And, as we saw before, one problem scientists have talking about science with the general public is that scientists use different definitions for some words, like ‘hypothesis’ and ‘theory.’ The common definition of ‘theory’ is a best guess. But, in science a best guess is called a hypothesis. A theory is something that has been tested and passes all tests. A hypothesis can only be elevated to being a theory if it reaches the point of never failing the tests. There are just two grades in the scientific method, 100% and fail. So, in day to day language, skeptics will say, ‘that’s just a theory!’, but in science, to say something is a theory means that it has been rigorously tested and it has passed all tests.
Aileen: So, we need to use these steps to prove global warming?
Tom: Yes, but we don’t have to actually do the experiments or collect the data ourselves. We can use data that was obtained and tested under the scientific method that is already available. That is why I say anyone can do this. Scientifically valid data is easily available to anyone that wants to examine the issue themselves. Plus, there are lots of scientific papers and news articles about these results. There are also those skeptics you mentioned out there calling the data into question. We can examine those claims to see if there is any validity to them under the scientific method. If the scientists have to conform to it, so do the skeptics.
Fred: Alright, it sounds like we have a plan. We may need to add something along the way, but that won’t be a problem.
Tom: Just one question, are you going to put all of this together into a book again, like you did for our 2012 discussions? I would love to have one on global warming.
Aileen: Oh, yes, Fred! That was such a nice book you put together. I use it all the time.
Fred: But, I’ll have to type up our conversation tonight from memory. And, since I’m doing the work, I get to be the hero.
Tom: Of course. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Chapter 1 – Why we should care
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 True story
 Feder, Toni, Climate scientists not cowed by relentless climate change deniers, Physics Today, Vol. 65, No. 2, Feb 2012, pg 22
 ibid. #1
 Somerville, Richard C. J. and Susan Jay Hassal, Communicating the science of climate change, Physics Today, Vol 64, No. 10, October 2011, pg 48
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 Cullen, Heidi, The Weather of the Future, Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes from a Climate-Changed Planet, Harper, NY, pg 266
 ibid, pg 30
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 Ibid #26
 Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist Resigns Over Global Warming, http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/09/14/nobel-prize-winning-physicist-resigns-from-top-physics-group-over-global/?test=latestnews
 Somerville, Richard C. J. and Susan Jay Hassal, Communicating the science of climate change, Physics Today, Vol 64, No. 10, October 2011, pg 49
 Borenstein, Seth, ‘Skeptic now agrees global warming is real’, Associated Press, Oct 31, 2011, http://news.yahoo.com/skeptic-finds-now-agrees-global-warming-real-142616605.html
 NASA, Earth’s energy budget remained out of balance despite unusually low solar activity, http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/energy-budget.html, Jan 30, 2012
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