Climate Change

Why don’t people believe in climate change?

Over the course of the presidential elections in the US, many researchers were keen on finding out what the candidates and the public in general feel about climate change. The results? Not good.

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). Hilary hasn’t taken any serious stand yet, but if her views on starting a World War III are anything to go by, the environment isn’t looking so good in the future.

What was even more disturbing was the feelings of the general public. Surveys conducted came up with results that were quite shocking. Almost 40% of the population in the US have mixed and/or negative feelings about climate change.

Why is this the case? Climate scientists around the world concur when it comes to climate change: it is happening. What they squabble about is the rate, when we will cross the point-of-no-return, it’s effects and suchlike. I was curious as to why the public are still making up their mind about this when the science and the world around are clearly giving a loud signal: Things are changing and changing fast.

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  • There is a difference between climate change and global warming!

Some climate change skeptics are grossly misinformed when it comes to terminologies and scientific evidence. 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). Let me put this out loud and clear: CLIMATE CHANGE AND GLOBAL WARMING ARE NOT THE SAME THING.

Global warming implies that the average global temperatures around the world are rising over a long period of time. Climate change, implies that the climate that an area experiences is varying (sharply). This means that certain places can get hotter than what is recently known, while other areas get colder. These variations occur due to changes in the total energy within the Earth system (and many factors control these variations; total GHG concentration is one of them). What’s really alarming is that this change is seemingly random and unpredictable, unlike climate which is more or less constant for a region.

  • Conflicting effects of climate change

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.*

  • Lack of scientific knowledge

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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 to really understand the dynamics of climate change; something that requires investment of energy and time.

  • The inherent nature of science

This is a big reason for the disbelief in climate change. 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?

  • Also, most scientists are poor communicators

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 pleasantly, 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.

  • Media loves short cuts. Sometimes, it’s too short

If a scientists says, “It is highly unlikely that an earthquake will occur in this location at this particular time. Earthquakes can’t be predicted.”, the media can just as easily turn that into, “There will be no earthquake here!”**

  • People just don’t want to change

Yes, such people do exist. Accepting climate change would mean bringing huge changes into how we live. That will shake the very core of society today. It is easier to deny this is happening and continue to live on. This is by far the most dangerous reason for climate change skepticism.

Why does this all matter?

It matters because we are heading towards an ecological disaster. Our activities have very really contributed to global change. This includes the climate, ecosystem processes, animal behavior, landscape changes and mass extinction. Only if every citizen of the world; and I mean every citizen accepts this fact, we can rectify the situation we are facing. If we accept this, the change that will happen will happen in 5 years or less. That’s the power of our will.

*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.

**This actually happened. An earthquake hit Italy in April, 2009. Some random guy on a radio show predicted that the earthquake will hit, to the day. People went crazy. Geologists said that it’s unlikely that that can happen. But it happened. For this, they were jailed with a charge of manslaughter! see here for the full report.

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