Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fukishima Radiation Clouds the Topic

I made a presentation yesterday, April 11, about the Arctic sea ice and showed how the extent of sea ice has dramatically decreased over the last 30 years. After the talk a guy in the audience came to talk to me and ask some questions. His claim was that the radiation from Fukushima was responsible for the melting of the Arctic sea ice and he wanted to know what I thought of that.

First, the Fukushima disaster occurred after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The sea ice extent has been declining since at least 1980, long before the earthquake ever occurred. But, here's the bigger issue, the amount of radiation released from Fukushima is trivial on the global scale. If you are outside of the Fukishima exclusion zone the level of radiation falls way below background radiation levels.

He asked me if I would feel comfortable swimming off the coast of Washington state and I told him I would have no fear at all, at least not due to any radiation. The plume of radiation that is working its way across the Pacific Ocean is harmless and may even be undetectable by the time it gets to Washington. No monitors have even detected it yet.

I asked the guy if he knew anyone that smokes. He admitted that he does. I pointed out to him that the amount of radiation he gets every year from smoking a pack a day is more than four times the average total dose as a result of the Three Mile Island accident. A pack a day of cigarettes provides about as much radiation as a mammogram. Yet, he wasn't concerned about this radiation. He wasn't concerned that the radiation from his cigarettes is greater than the amount of radiation he was blaming for the melting ice caps.

This is an example of the problem we have educating the public. This guy made two assumptions, neither of which has any credibility: the radiation from Fukushima was enormously larger than the reality; and this radiation could melt the polar ice cap. He then used these two bad assumptions to come up with an invalid explanation for an observed event in an attempt to find a conclusion to support his beliefs.

Ultimately, the problem was he did not want to believe in global warming. When presented with incontrovertible evidence of what is going on, he wanted to deny global warming so much he came up with a completely unrealistic alternative explanation.

The easy, and obvious, explanation for the observed melting of the Arctic Ocean is global warming. The evidence is overwhelming. And yet, when confronted with something that challenged his beliefs, he rejected all of that evidence and created this fantasy that allowed him to maintain the beliefs he wanted to keep.

And, that is the moral of the story. So many people have reached the conclusion they want to believe in and no matter the evidence, they will continue to believe in them. And, if necessary, they will invent illogical and unrealistic scenarios to allow them to continue the way they are.

Its an uphill fight.

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