Leftside – A Polarized Public
It’s time to stop politicizing ‘global warming’ and start listening to the experts
Let’s face it: When it comes to the subject of global warming—or climate change, to use the more recently preferred term—we’re caught in a polar vortex. I’m not talking about the streak of extreme cold we had this winter. I’m talking about the nature of the debate itself. On one side, are people who claim, as the Natural Resources Defense Council does, that “climate change is the single biggest environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time.” On the other side, are people like Rush Limbaugh who claim that it’s a “hoax”—a leftwing conspiracy to destroy capitalism once and for all.
This is but one manifestation of a society that is increasingly polarized on all sorts of social and political issues, of course, from tax policies to gay rights. The difference is, many of the other subjects that pit the left against the right are matters that anyone can fairly weigh in on.
Climate change is a different matter entirely—a subject of such scientific complexity that most lay people cannot begin to comprehend it. And yet, people without any scientific credentials whatsoever have no qualms about staking out a position with passionate conviction.
As one commentator on Fox News put it recently after bashing the “hoax”: “I think [concern] over global warming is going to die this year, given the cold weather we’ve had this weekend.”
Before I continue, let me say two things: First, I am not a scientist. Second, this guy’s a moron.
I may not be a scientist, but I know a little bit about how science works: To argue that a spate of cold weather disproves global warming is about as scientific as saying, concern over cigarette smoking is baloney because my grandfather smoked for 60 years and never got cancer.
So what are we, as average citizens, to make of this issue?
The best thing we can do as far as I’m concerned is consider what actual scientists have to say on the matter.
Here’s what NASA has to say: “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” (climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus.)
The web site goes on to provide a partial list of these organizations, along with links to their published statements and a selection of related resources.
Call me an “environmental wacko” if you will, but I’m inclined to believe that NASA’s credibility on scientific issues carries a tad more weight than Rush Limbaugh’s or the opinions of countless other naysayers.
Some other naysayers, of course, acknowledge that climate change is occurring but argue that it’s just a natural cycle.
NASA acknowledges that this cycle has occurred.
“The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history,” the site states. “Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era—and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.
Sounds as if this is something we just have to accept, then, right?
Well, not so fast.
“The current warming trend is of particular significance,” the NASA article continues, “because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.”
Nothing in that statement is conclusive, I’ll admit. When we’re talking about 650,000 years, after all, what do 1,300 years amount to? A blip.
And yet, the one number I can’t ignore is that 97 percent. If the vast majority of people who study this for a living agree that climate change is happening at an alarming rate and that human activity is largely responsible, who am I—or you—or Rush Limbaugh—to argue with them?
The notion that all of those scientists are just going along with the hoax, as some naysayers argue, so that they can win grant money, is the very depth of cynicism, not to mention rigid partisan thinking. So the 97 percent is made up of grant-whores but those in the remaining three percent are principled? How do people arrive at that conclusion?
Because they want to believe it. No other reason.
OK, fair enough, you might say? But what’s to be done? We can enact all of the regulations we want in response to this problem, but China will continue to ignore them. Is that fair? Perhaps not. But it’s up to our country to take a leadership role in the world once again.
We cannot simply look to our leaders to do that. We citizens must participate as well, beginning by educating ourselves as best we can—with an open mind. Could be that 97 percent of scientists are wrong. But it’s a pretty big number.
Tom Robotham is an award-winning writer and an adjunct professor of American studies at Old Dominion University. He was born and raised in New York City but has lived in Norfolk for the past 22 years. He can be reached at email@example.com or at the Taphouse Grill in Ghent.