United behind the science

United behind the science

A few days ago Greta Thunberg departed England to attend and speak at the United Nations climate talks. She is traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States using a zero-emissions mode of transportation. Unwilling to board a plane and incur the responsibility of adding carbon dioxide emissions to our atmosphere, Greta chose to accept a “ride” on the Malizia II racing yacht.

She left Plymouth, England along with a small crew and her dad, Svante Thunberg. The captain, 38-year-old Boris Hermann from Germany, is taking a southern route in hope of finding the best sailing conditions.

A documentary filmmaker, Nathan Grossman, is making the 14-day trip too. The racing yacht is a 60-foot open-cockpit monohull that has been fitted with solar panels to power the equipment. There is a bucket for a toilet and a headlamp for her reading light. There is a tiny desalination machine on board for drinking water and freeze-dried foods but no shower facilities.

Greta’s goal is to bring attention and hopefully incite actions to address the climate crisis. This has not been an easy task even though thousands of scientists worldwide have evidence the unprecedented rising level of carbon dioxide in the troposphere is not from natural occurrences but is mostly man-made.

Scientists point to three major pieces of evidence: satellite data showing the upper atmosphere of the planet is cooling, the temperature of the surface is heating and the carbon in atmospheric carbon dioxide is not from recent carbon sources but rather from “millions-years-old” carbon sources.

The last piece of data is analyzed by looking at the carbon isotopes. “Geological materials like coal, oil and methane are so old they no longer have any carbon-14,” the type found in recent carbon sources. The carbon they are seeing in the atmosphere is not from a plant source but from a fossil fuel source.

Even with all the data, studies, models and scientific consensus, many people do not believe in climate change or that it is driven by man-made sources. I experience this denial almost daily. People with little to no science background want to “debate” me on the validity of climate science. Even more troubling is the way this topic gets tagged as being a “political topic” when it is pure science; chemistry and physics underlie climate change science.

According to a recently released report co-sponsored by Yale Climate Change Communication and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, about 73 percent of Americans think global warming is happening and 62 percent understand it is mostly due to man-made emissions. These same percentages also think their local areas are being affected, especially by extreme heat conditions.

While the number of Americans who feel climate change is a threat has grown, this has not been true across party lines. About 27 percent of Republicans or Republican-leaning individuals feel it is a threat, compared to 83 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning individuals.

You might say this could be due to a lack of knowledge. However, a survey by Pew Research showed that looking at all levels of education from high school to a terminal degree, those Republicans with the highest level of education only believe in man-made climate change slightly more than their less educated (high school only) counterparts, an increase from 19-23 percent believing in man-made induced climate change. More education increases Democrats’ belief from 49-93 percent believing in man-made induced climate change.

Why is this divide among climate change deniers and believers mainly along political lines? Why are physics and chemistry principles treated as opinion? How is the fossil fuel industry using various tactics to keep us in a state of confusion when it comes to the climate crisis?

For sure, the fossil fuel industry has taken many of its methods from the tobacco industry’s playbook. Their job is to manufacture doubt when it comes to fossil fuels and climate change. In a world where the media can make or break a story, climate scientists grapple with ways to communicate the seriousness of this crisis. After many studies, some tactics used to sway public opinion and direct the discourse have been identified by psychologists and scientists.

One technique is called “fake experts.” The fossil fuel industry will find one or two scientists who are willing to disagree with the majority. They will attach enormous amounts of time and money to these scientists to give credence to their contradictory opinions.

These “experts” are not actually experts at all, and most have never published their studies in peer-reviewed journals. A real expert will have a doctorate degree in the field and will have many publications in peer-reviewed journals.

Another technique is called “cherry picking data.” Someone might point out a piece of data that supports their claim while ignoring another piece of data that does not. Donald Trump did this when he used the example of a snow storm last winter to show how climate change was not happening. Yes, it was a large snow event, but more importantly it was caused by a climate-change-related polar vortex. Climate change causes many of the extreme weather patterns we see today.

Even the new face of the climate crisis fight, Greta Thunberg, is being used to divert the focus of the crisis away from the issues. This was evident when a former member of the Trump transition team described Greta on Twitter as “the ignorant teenage climate puppet.”

There is a 97 percent consensus among doctoral-degree climate scientists that we are in a crisis caused by man-made carbon dioxide emissions. This is not up for debate.

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