Why do people doubt Climate Change?

Many people in the U.S. don’t think that Climate Change is happening, even though a vast amount of evidence shows that it is. Justin Farrell, at Yale University, looked into the reasons there is so much polarity on the subject. He examined two decades of public texts on the subject, and found that there are over 150 organizations that have something to lose is alternative sources of energy are promoted.

In looking at the data, he found that organizations with corporate funding were more likely to give out information that was meant to polarize that organizations with public funding. He also found that the corporate funding influenced the content, and lead to a digression from actual science.

In short, he suggests that contrarian efforts by some actors seeking to mislead the public have caused so much confusion that many Americans are no longer able to figure out who to listen to or believe. He suggests that his research also highlights the needed for more information dissemination from publicly funded sources to counter those that are backed by corporations.


Here are some links to actual scientific information on Climate Change and Global Warming.

  1. Climate change: How do we know? [NASA]
  2. Global Climate Change Indicators [NOAA]
  3. Evidence for Global Warming [Skeptical Science]
  4. Global Warming Science [Union of Concerned Scientists]
  5. Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense [Scientific American]
  6. A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems [Nature]
  7. Ecological responses to recent climate change [Nature]
  8. Tropical Glacier and Ice Core Evidence of Climate Change on Annual to Millennial Time Scales
  9. Ice Core Evidence for Climate Change in the Tropics: Implications for our Future
  10. Modern Glacier Retreat on Kilimanjaro as Evidence for Climate Change: Observations and Facts
  11. Archaeological and palaeoecological indications of an abrupt climate change in The Netherlands, and evidence for climatological teleconnections around 2650 BP

Politics shouldn’t get in the way of science

What does the word “theory” mean? Most of the time it means a guess, or having an opinion on something. But not in science. In science a theory is the best explanation for why and how things happen. It’s the best explanation we have so far, supported by lots of evidence. It might be wrong, and if there is evidence that it’s wrong then scientists will either change it to have it include that evidence, or throw it away for a different theory.

For example, we used to think the Earth was the center of the universe. After all, it looks that way. But it didn’t explain the motion of the planets. Copernicus proposed that the sun is at the center, with the planets orbiting in circular orbits. It explained reality better. Then Kepler proposed that the orbits are ellipses, which explained observations better. These theories were controversial at the time because they went against Church doctrine that the Earth is the center of the universe. Now we accept the reality without problem because of the vast amount of evidence that we orbit the sun.

There are a number of current theories that are controversial. Generally not because there is controversy among scientists, but because they are unpopular for other reasons, generally religious, political, or economic. Climate change is one of these. The amount of science supporting climate change, and the human causes for it, are enormous, and more is being found all the time. But to face climate change is to accept that our way of life is one of the causes for it, and we’d have to change to try to stop it. This would involve lots of money, and changing our lifestyle. These are not things that come easily to politicians. Some people would rather stick their heads in the sand about it than actually face reality.

In Wyoming, the legislature has rejected the Next Generation Science Standards. Not because the standards are bad science, but because they don’t like the economic reality of it. The science standards were unanimously recommended by the Wyoming State Board of Education. Then the state legislature (lawyers, not scientists or educators) prohibited public spending to implement the standards. They want a new set of standards that better reflect the values and economic interests of Wyoming. They’re upset that the NGSS includes climate change, and teaching it would harm Wyoming’s economy, which is the nation’s largest energy exporter, mainly in coal, natural gas, and oil. These energy sources produce CO2 and other greenhouse gases, leading to more global warming.

This kind of thinking harms science, harms the United States’ position globally in science, and hurts our children’s education. As Bill Nye said,

Science is the key to our future, and if you don’t believe in science, then you’re holding everybody back.

and

If you’re an adult and you choose not to believe in science, fine, but please don’t prevent your children from learning about it and letting them draw their own conclusions.

 

Drunken Trees

Drunken_treesWhile drunken trees may sound like a joke, it’s not. There are drunken trees in Alaska, Canada, and Northern Europe. Trees should go straight up. However, if the trees are in places with permafrost, and the permafrost melts, then the ground can collapse and the trees will end up tilted. This leads to trees that look like they are drunk. And it’s happening due to climate change. Other effects are erosion, and depressions in the land (thermokarst). Sometimes the trees can survive, but not always. Birch and black spruce are most affected because they have shallow root systems.

It’s not just trees that are affected by this. It also affects animals in the ecosystem that depend on the trees for food or shelter. The depressions created can be big enough to swallow whole houses, which has happened. Families have had to move, roads have been destroyed, pipelines have cracked. And it’s only going to get worse as the global temperature continues to rise.

US Navy making fuel from seawater

The US Navy has come up with a process that manages to take Hydrogen and Carbon Dioxide out of seawater and convert them into long chain hydrocarbons, such as jet fuel or gasoline. The process uses electrical energy to drive the reaction, and obviously requires more energy than they get out of it in fuel. But if the electricity is generated from reactors or some other carbon neutral method, then this will be one method to get fuel. Their production ship can produce fuel at about $6 / gallon, but since about half of that cost is for the ship itself, a shoreline based system should cost about $3 / gallon.

Hopefully the process doesn’t involve releasing the CO2 from the seawater into the atmosphere. Since the process needs the carbon atoms, I expect they use almost all of the carbon they get from CO2.

Other sources:

  1. NavyTimes

Oil from algae?

A new technology can create crude oil in under an hour from algae. While there are already techniques to do this, they are expensive and slow, requiring drying the algae before turning it into oil. This new technique uses wet algae, so it is faster, and doesn’t use as much energy.

If this can be scaled up, then it solves one of the two main problems with oil synthesis from algae. The other is growing enough algae in the first place. Scientists are working on that problem.

Because algae uses carbon dioxide from the air, this method would be carbon neutral, or possibly even carbon negative because not all the carbon gets burned. Carbon that isn’t burned can be used in plastics, and that would be kind of like carbon sequestration.

Yes, there are many other problems that need to be worked out before this is close to feasible. But I like that the research is being done on methods like this. I’d like it even better if we can have a system that doesn’t have emissive pollutants.

This may be Australia’s hottest year in history

According to The Guardian, Australia is on track for 2013 being its hottest year in recorded history. The past 12 months have been warmer than those months in any previous year. Almost 2 months to go, and their summer is looking pretty hot.

So far in 2013:

  • Warmest summer
  • Warmest January and September
  • Warmest 12 month period
  • 15 months in a row of above average temperature

Migration patterns of animals have changed due climate change.

And, just like her in the US, their politicians are also head-in-the-sand saying that climate change isn’t real. It’s sad. Really sad.

Acidification of oceans leading to stressed krill

In an earlier post I mentioned that previous mass extinctions have been linked to the oceans becoming more acidic (lower pH). Well, it looks like small ocean organisms (the ones that are more vulnerable to this) are showing signs of stress due to the acidification.

Antarctic krill are showing early signs of acidification damage. 40% of the CO2 that is absorbed by oceans ends up in the Southern Ocean. The polar latitudes are affected more than tropical latitudes due to ocean chemistry. With predicted levels of ocean pH, krill eggs don’t develop properly. By 2300 krill wouldn’t be able to reproduce in large areas of the Southern Ocean. Then there are the large animals that eat krill. Blue whales and minke whales would be affected.

Health of oceans in trouble

A BBC science report tells that the oceans may be in for a mass extinction. While the oceans have been absorbing CO2, they have been helping shield us from the effects of climate change. But as they absorb CO2, the ocean’s pH lowers.

Previous extinctions seem to have been caused by rising temperatures, lower pH, and less oxygen. With similar things happening now, how long until we reach a tipping point?