Climate change is an ever-ranging debate that seems to have no conclusion. Different parts of the world have different opinions on this debate.
The debate is actually more nuanced: Is human-induced climate change real? Is CO2 emission from human activities causing climate change?
In the US, President Donald Trump has gone on record to say that he think climate change is a “hoax perpetrated by the Chinese” and wants to completely do away with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). During the 2016 presidential elections, surveys revealed that a significant part of the US population have mixed and/or negative feelings about climate change.
In Europe, political circles largely believe climate change to be real, and political movements supporting “green development” are widespread. This is notable in the Nordic countries, Germany and the Netherlands. However, a majority in Britain and Russia seem to oppose this view.
Climate change is a very real threat to Small Island Nations in the Pacific, as it is for the poor in Africa and Asia. As an Indian, I can tell you from experience that winters have become colder and shorter, and summers are hotter and longer and drier. Monsoon is unpredictable, and is wreaking havoc on our food systems.
So why is there such a large difference of opinion? Climate scientists largely concur that climate change is real. It is a geologic fact. The climate has changed in the past and it will continue to change in the future. The debate is actually more nuanced: Is human-induced climate change real? Is CO2 emission from human activities causing climate change? What is the rate of climate change and how could it affect our lives?
The 7 reasons for climate change denial are…
Climate change has become an existential debate because of certain misconceptions creeping in, creating confusion. Today, we’ll take a look at these misconceptions and the top reasons for climate change denial.
Reason #1: We have mixed up climate change and global warming…
Some climate change skeptics are grossly misinformed when it comes to terminologies and scientific evidence.
It is important to understand this: Climate change and global warming are different phenomena.
Global warming implies that the average global temperatures around the world are rising over a long period of time. This happens when the Earth emits less energy than it receives from the sun.
Climate change, on the other hand, implies that the climate—the average precipitation and temperature—experienced by an area is varying from what has existed for a long period of time. The variation can mean that an area can get hotter than what is recently known, or colder. The area could get wetter, or drier. The duration of summer and winter could change.
These variations occur—that is, climate changes—due to changes in the total energy within the Earth system and one of the ways this can happen is if the Earth warms.
Its a cause-effect relationship. Global warming is one of the causes of climate change.
So, human-induced global warming (where we attribute rising temperatures to CO2 emissions from human activities) may be debatable, but climate change (the changes in the climate of an area) is not. Because many parts of the world are experiencing it as we speak.
Reason #2: …because of the mix-up, people expect the whole world to become hotter…
I recently read two articles. One was on how sea ice is decreasing in the Arctics and the other was on how ice cover is increasing in Antarctica. People are confused as to how there could be reverse effects in the two polar regions. And that throws them right of.* Many respondents of a survey conducted by PRRI/ARR said that they don’t believe in climate change because it’s getting colder where they live (see here).
Climate change never meant that temperatures must increase around the world. As the climate is controlled by various factors, climate change can cause places to get colder than normal also.
Reason #3: The climate is complex and we do not understand it completely
Most people just don’t understand how complex the Earth is! Climate has multiple variables that affect each other constantly. Therefore, different regions of the world react differently to climate change. The phenomenon cannot be generalized for the globe.
Part of the reason people didn’t understand why Antarctic and Arctic regions are responding differently is because there is a lot more to ice build-up than just temperature. It requires constant and extensive scientific study and constructive debate; not brow-beating and flawed arguments.
Reason #4: The inherent nature of science
Science, and scientists, are built to contradict. That is how science evolved into what it is today and that is how it will continue to grow in the future. It gives scientists the freedom to explore different options, conduct extensive studies and experiments before coming up with a final consensus (even then, there will be skeptics). While that is very healthy in the scientific community, people outside do not understand that! The general public relies on information provided to them by experts, and if these experts can’t come to an agreement, how are they supposed to believe what is told?
Reason #5: Scientists have muddled their explanations
The in-fighting among scientists and complexity of nature can both be handled if scientists could do one thing well: communicate effectively. If they took out the time to explain what they were studying and explain it with simple language and relatable metaphors, there is no reason why people will not believe what they say!
But if scientists sit in front of a camera with an expressionless face, drone on about facts and figures displayed behind them in a monotone with words that are too hi-fi for people to understand, people will naturally turn away.
Reason #6: Media and political bias
Climate change has, unfortunately, taken on social and political meaning because the solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change speak to different groups of individuals. As a result, people base their opinions on climate change based on their social circle, the types of media they consume and the political ideologies they follow. Climate change is no longer about facts or graphs, but it is about how you want the world to look like. This brings various biases into play.
The media, our primary source of information, also loves short-cuts. They like a clear cause-effect relationship in their stories; otherwise they lose their audience. This doesn’t help scientific communication, which is, more often than not, nuanced. It certainly doesn’t help climate change communication.
For example, in April, 2009, a radio jockey in Italy brazenly predicted that an earthquake will hit the town of L’Aquilla right to the day. People panicked and began to evacuate. Alarmed by the national response, geologists held a press conference where they said, “It is highly unlikely that an earthquake will occur in this location at this particular time. Earthquakes can’t be predicted.” The news media reported this as “There will be no earthquake here!” Reluctantly, the residents moved back to their homes the night before the predicted day of the earthquake. And as unlikely as it was, an earthquake struck the town on the very next morning. For this, they were jailed with a charge of manslaughter! Many blamed the complete breakdown of communication as the cause for this injustice.
Reason #7: People just don’t want to change
Accepting climate change would mean bringing huge changes into how we live. This change is expensive, uncomfortable, and we may not see the results of our change for many years. It is easier/necessary to deny climate change, or expect the “future generations” to deal with their own problems. This is by far the most dangerous reason for climate change skepticism.
Why does this all matter?
Climate change is real. It matters because we cannot continue our current standard of living and our luxuriant way of life if, under a changing climate, we do not have water or food to eat!
There is a scientific consensus that climate change is happening. There’s a significant body of evidence that also suggests that the rate of climate change is far more than the natural rate, and we are the likely cause.
So, we need to speak about this topic, have a healthy debate. Let us mitigate further negative impacts. If you have a problem with the human-induced climate change paradigm, let us at least agree that as a society, we need to adapt. Only this can take our society forward safely.
*Actually, that is the answer. These two places are poles apart! The reason ice cover in Antarctica is rising has a lot to do with the cold ocean current circling the continent. It constantly upwells the water in it. This water is cold, hence the name: cold current. It is negating much of the climate change effects in the region, for now.