Friday, May 21, 2010

Questions for Climate Change Skeptics

Here's a big surprise: The National Research Council has released another report saying that climate change is, in fact, still really happening.

Here are a few questions for climate change skeptics:

1. Do you believe in the greenhouse effect? If not, why does your car get incredibly hot when it sits out in the sun?

2. Do you believe in chemistry? If not, how do homemade volcanoes work?

3. If you believe in chemistry, do you believe that burning fossil fuels creates carbon dioxide? IF not, how do you know that? Let's see some proof. Peer-reviewed articles would be nice.

4. Also, If you believe in chemistry, do you believe that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leads to a more powerful greenhouse effect? If not, I'll need to see some more paperwork to back that up.

5. Do you believe that humans are capable of devastating the environment? If not, how do you explain the depletion of the ozone layer? (side question: do you know why we need an ozone layer?) And what do you make of the calamitous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

6. In short, do you believe in science?

This last question is very important because science is all around us. The lights you switch on, the computer you use, the radio you listen to, the television you watch, the car you drive, the airplane you fly in, the paper you write on... none of these would be possible without science (well, obviously). These inventions rely on hundreds if not thousands of discoveries, big and small, made over the ages. Before we could invent a television, we needed to know about electricity, radio waves, the behavior of light, glass making, etc. But the same scientific method that brings us these dazzling inventions also tells us about how we're poisoning the planet.

So how can you enjoy the benefits of science and simultaneously demean its methods? Because when you deny human-driven climate change, that's what you're doing. You're calling into question the validity of thousands of detailed studies in all sorts of fields (chemistry, physics, atmospheric studies, oceanography) that you probably know next to nothing about. And your ammunition is pitifully insufficient. You're reduced to blaming it all on some vast left-wing conspiracy.

There is not enough time on a news broadcast, or in a single article, to go over the thousands of pages of evidence that support the theory of climate change caused by humans. So instead, the stories are distilled down to "this scientist says this, but this right-wing conspiracy theory group disagrees". And even though journalists are supposed to tell us all sides of the story, there really is just not equal footing for these two arguments. Just because you haven't seen all the proof for climate change, doesn't mean it's not really there. You're probably just not reading a lot of science journals.

This pattern of denying science on the most ludicrous terms goes beyond climate change, of course. I'll devote another column sometime to debunking the beliefs of Young-Earth Creationists.

It's infuriating when I hear fundamentalist Christians argue that every word of the Bible must be considered the literal truth, if you're to believe in any of it. So by the same token, scientists and science advocates like myself must be careful not to couch science in the same counterproductive dogma. But remember: you can always argue with a scientific theory. You're just going to need some evidence. And Sarah Palin's opinion doesn't count.

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