Chris Hayes on Climate Change and “The Crisis of Authority”

from his book, Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy

By the end of the fail decade, belief among Americans in the basic, scientific consensus on climate change was plummeting.  A comprehensive Pew poll on the issue released in October 2009 found that only 57 percent of people thought there was evidence of warming, down from 71 percent the previous year.  The number of people who thought climate change was a serious problem was down to just 35 percent.

In order to doubt the science of climate change you must believe in a vast conspiracy to deceive, one that involves thousands of scientists, bureaucrats, and journalists.  And implausible as this may be, it is precisely the theory that prominent media figures are selling to their audiences.  In 2010, Rush Limbaugh told his 15 million listeners that the list of untrustworthy institutions extended way past Al Gore.  He described “government, academia, science, and media” as making up what he called the four corners of deceit.  “Those institutions,” he told his listeners, “are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit.  That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.”

Think about what it would mean to dispatch the duties of citizenship while discounting every single piece of information that emanated from government, academia, science, or the media…

Agree?  Disagree?  Thoughts?  Ideas?

Climate Change in Science Education

As a physical geographer and educator, occasionally I’m asked to give a GeoSphere presentation on climate change.  Even more frequently the topic comes up at cocktail parties.  Having kept up over the years with the scientific issues involved, I’m quite comfortable portraying the basic physics and expanding body of research on the subject.  However, as the article Climate Change: The New Battlefield In Science Education points out, many in our society don’t like what they are hearing.  Also, many teachers are outside their comfort zone when trying to explain climate change.  For those who want to get up to speed quickly on the subject, I recommend reading Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Sciences – A Guide for Individuals and Communities. Of course if you think that all the basic science it contains is just evidence of a vast conspiracy, the long list of federal departments that endorse the Climate Literacy project will bolster your argument as well.

-Steve Jansen, GSC Board Member

Global Climate Change

I have been following environmental issues since my college days in the late 60s and early 70s. So far, the biggest issue of the 21st Century has been global climate change. As I have traveled the U.S. teaching geography over the past 12 years, I have been asked repeatedly, “Is global warming real?” While some of the details are not yet clear, a great deal of good science has led us ever closer to the answer.

I recently came across an Associated Press article by Charles J. Hanley that gets to the heart of the answer to this question. He reports that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that this summer’s weather-related cataclysms fit patterns predicted by climate scientists. Specifically the WMO is referring to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which made specific predictions in its latest assessment in 2007. In the article, Hanley goes through a litany of climate-related woes the Earth is experiencing this summer that fit the IPCC predictions. These include:

  • Russia – Prolonged drought and record heat leading to disastrous wildfires
  • Pakistan – Heaviest monsoon rains on record resulting in devastating floods
  • China – Worst floods in decades causing landslides that have killed thousands
  • Arctic – Largest iceberg calving since 1962 and second lowest ice coverage ever recorded for July

Below I have included some NASA Earth Observatory images so you can see for yourself what is happening in theses locales. If you click on the link embedded in the title of each image, it will take you to the NASA website where you can see an explanation of the images, follow these events over time, and learn more about them.

Severe Drought in Southern Russia

Smoke Over Western Russia

Unusually Intense Monsoon Rains in Asia

Flooding in Pakistan

Landslide in Zhouqu, China

Ice Island Calves off Petermann Glacier

While all reasonable climate scientists are reluctant to attribute any individual unusual weather event to global climate change, the weather events of this summer support the IPCC’s conclusions – that increases in CO2 in the atmosphere are due to fossil fuel burning, which is contributing to rising temperatures, which in turn have led to this summer’s unusual events.

According to NOAA, this past June was the hottest month on record. Arctic sea ice covered an average of 4.2 million square miles (10.9 million square kilometers) during June, the lowest June extent since record-keeping began in 1979. At the same time, Antarctic sea ice extent in June was above average, resulting in the largest June extent on record. This latter fact points out the reason that we should refer to the phenomenon as “global climate change” rather than “global warming.” The name implies that the planet will not warm uniformly but will actually cool in some places as oceanic and atmospheric systems adjust to the added greenhouse gas load. Climate change models also predict that many places will get drier while some locales will get wetter. The extreme events of this summer do not prove that models of human-induced climate change are correct, but they make it much more likely that climate scientists are on the right track in understanding the impact of our uncontrolled burning of fossil fuels.

Some skeptics of the accepted climate models point out that there are natural cycles that cause CO2 and other greenhouse gases to fluctuate widely in the atmosphere and oceans. This is absolutely true. In fact, human life on this planet was not possible until the current balance of atmospheric gases had evolved over geologic time. However, it also is certainly true that current dramatic rise in CO2 is associated with human use of fossil fuels since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Consequently I believe our continued survival depends on doing what we can to maintain that delicate balance.