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Climate Change and Common Belief

December 5th, 2012
in Op Ed

Written by Michael Kulla

Mega Storm has created shockwaves for the unaware but less so for believers in the legitimacy of climate alteration. In either case, Sandy should serve as a rude awakening. The question is will we seriously address it or kick the can down the road like we've been doing for years.

Think about it. Entire towns like Stony Point were submerged under water surrounded by hurricane winds sounding like freight trains. People were fleeing for their lives, some trapped in their flooded cars or homes. Ships were tossed on land, houses ripped from their foundations. Firefighters were either trapped or low pressure from hydrants resulted in frustration, causing them to watch as houses burned to the ground.

Follow up:

From 34th Street down to the battery was taken out. The subways were shut down as the salt water and electricity proved to be a deadly mix. The Westside highway was inundated. Water burst into the Battery Tunnel. Health risks proliferated and still do. Ocean water breached "natural" barriers for the first time in Metropolis's history.  Here was utter bedlam with marked after effects for millions of people

Is this the beginning of things to come or is it a one-time event? A number of climate scientists are saying that it's too early to tell. But what's undeniable is that ocean waters are warmer than ever before. Ice caps are melting at the most significant rate in recorded history. Ocean levels have risen and are projected to go higher. The number of storms could diminish but they are more intense. Science projects that we'll see more flooding in the future. Especially vulnerable is the low lying coast line.

Over the years scientific understanding of climate change has solidified while the public understanding of it has not. Instead, the subject matter has become more polarized. Climate change adherents and opponents mix like salt water and electricity. The former are usually worried stiff by its threat to existence as we know it. The latter's responses range from denials and/or far-fetched conspiracy theories from mainstream science to causality not by man but by the sun, volcanoes, water vapor, etc. Some believe God will rescue man and the earth.

Climate change came into public view in the late 1980's from evolving understanding of it over more than 150 years through the accumulation of observable data, testing and refinement of hypotheses.

In 2010 the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change concluded that with high or very high confidence that the Earth is warming., more so over the last several decades due to human activity, and that other climate shifts are occurring (rising sea levels, widespread ocean acidification, etc.) all posing risks to a wide range of environmental and human systems - human health, e.g. respitory, cardiovascular, cognitive loss, infection and death, and it is expected to continue for decades and in some cases centuries.

Virtually every national science academy and every major scientific organization has affirmed that climate revision is real and very dangerous. Of the active and prominent climate scientist, 97 to 98 percent "endorse" global climate change. In contrast, only 49 percent of the US public supports the idea! Argentinians weigh in at 81 percent, Japanese at 91 percent (Gallop poll 2007 - 2008).

Why are US public beliefs so divergent from sciences' opinion? First, the physical phenomenon of climate change is hard to grasp. Second, the public's view is being shaped as a policy issue in which a well funded and orchestrated campaign has had success in promoting striking variation with scientific evidence. Third, its hard to understand climate shifts unless one is personally experiencing it. Fourth, people rely on mass media for their information. Accurate reporting is only one objective of media that also seeks to maximize sales and conform to the interest and values of the media outlet owners and its advertisers. Fifth, the communications medium is prone to frame stories dramatically, e.g. as impending dangers or as controversies with sharply opposing sides, and to report "breaking news" stories in preference to ones of slow onset or a chromic nature. Sixth, news stories are condensed for brevity sake and attention span considerations.  Seventh, giving equal space to the "the other side" is too often conceded to under pressure regardless of its legitimacy. This phenomenon seems to have increased as news outlets have slimmed the ranks of science journalists due to economic pressures.

Unfortunately, the previously mentioned variables may create biases and emotional reactions as opposed to logical responses to climate news.

Confusion, fear and anger are widespread in America. Blame is too freely fixed while reason is diverted. Consider the assault on science and scientists who all too often are portrayed as "those pointy-headed elite." This is a frightening precedent. Then in April 2012 the House of Representatives denied the Environmental Protection Agency's recent finding that climate change is unequivocal.

We continue to dawdle while environmental and human insults go on and get worse. Maybe Sandy's imprint will move us out of our do-nothingness to address carbon realities, not band aid solutions.

 









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