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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Normal Citizen's Opinion on Climate Change/Global Warming


Let's talk about climate change.

There's been a lot of stories about the environmental impact we're having and whether or not it's the cause of Hurricane Sandy/Katrina/Rita or "Hottest Year Ever" (not the good, girls gone wild kind). Humans are OBSESSED about weather. My wife can't go to sleep without finding out the weather for the day. Even if she has no plans to go out. The radio announces the weather every five minutes. Guess when the only time I ever listen to the radio is? In the car, where I can SEE OUTSIDE.

As much media as there's been, the reactions to it have been just as lukewarm (I'll try to avoid temperature puns in this post). There are observed changes and unobserved changes. Lots of debate as to cause, correlation, and combinations thereof. Whether it's human-induced or not, or it's simply the patterns of the Earth (we are due for another ice age and a giant volcano exploding at the same time). We don't have El Niño to blame it on anymore. (In fact, didn't global warming kill El Niño?)


Basically, I just want to say this: when it comes to climate change and global warming, I have no idea what to think. It's so easy to distort the facts on something as complex as weather that I simply choose not to form an opinion. Because I can't trust anything that comes out of people's mouths. It seems like they always have some kind of agenda. Scientists and lawyers are paid to get the results they want. Media reports news as dramatic story retellings, not facts. Remember all the hoopla about the SARS and vaccine shortage? How we were all going to die?  What happened? Nothing.


In the eighties, everyone was worried about the greenhouse effect, CFCs in aerosol cans, and that hole in the ozone over Antarctica. And then it all went away. Then Al Gore released "An Inconvenient Truth" and it all came back. Then it was followed up by "The Day After Tomorrow", which sensationalized the phenomenon and was one of the least scientifically accurate movies of all time.

It's a political issue that makes no money, effects are long-term, and it's always expensive. It's a media issue that can range from getting no coverage to using scare tactics. No one seems to know what we can do about it.  Any actions that we take, like recycling and flex fuel cars, seem to be the equivalent of throwing a cup of water on a forest fire.  Turning the lights off when you leave the room?  Not throwing batteries away?  You can't regulate habits.

Now I'd be lying if I said I didn't notice a change in the weather. I live in Minnesota, and we've had some crappy snow these past few winters. Bad for skiing, bad for sledding. And in the summers, it seems like we never get enough precipitation. Our garden yields terrible crops and it's always too hot.  But we're not dying. We're not in the dust bowl years. And the temperatures don't seem unusually warm in winter or cold in summer. I used to be on the side of "yes, it's changing", but then I read "State of Fear" by Michael Crichton.


I trust Michael Crichton -- he gets his science right -- he has a background in anthropology and medical science. I've read "Jurassic Park" and "Timeline" and both had plausible theories/reasonings for time travel, genetic manipulation, historical interpretation, and chaos theory. While he has received criticism about his accuracy, he does seem to be able to Jules Verne it pretty well. He knows his shit. He does his research (Christ, "Timeline" has a bibliography as long as a chapter).

Anyway, back to "State of Fear". The book is essentially like "Timeline" but with global weather changes instead of medieval times. An eco-terrorist is using weather to create awareness about global warming before a big conference that could decide its fate. That part is just the plotline -- the part I want to talk about is the science. In-between adventures like dodging targeted lightning bolts in a redwood forest and escaping cannibals, the protagonist visits a science think tank, where smarter people than me explain the whole problem with climate change.

Basically, that weather is too complex and too morphable to correctly ascertain whether a problem exists. The media exploits the story by preying on people's fears and "david and goliath" human interest. And that scientists can manipulate their studies either way to show the facts they want. I found the same result in "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" -- scientists with less-than-ethical procedures.


I trusted that for a while until the Bloomberg cover came out. It's pretty hard to deny the destructiveness of all these hurricanes. When I was a kid, hurricanes never reached cities like New York -- they stayed in the gulf. I don't know if they're more destructive now or they always were and we didn't have the media (Twitter, Instagram) to give the sense of immediacy and exposure.

What we need is a Neil DeGrasse Tyson of climate change. Tyson has become an outspoken figure in the field of astronomy and astrophysics. Why? Because he's trustworthy. He's someone who's into it for the love, not the profit. You can tell he's sincere because he doesn't pander to the man. I used to be against reclassifying Pluto as a non-planet. Then I found out Tyson was for it and I thought "Well, gee. Tyson knows his stuff. If he's in favor of it, then I guess they made the right decision."


Because we, the people, don't need facts. I mean, yes, we're not stupid, and facts are always good evidence. But there are so many facts, so many ways of manipulating them, that you can't trust facts anymore. What you need is someone you can trust to look at the facts for you. Someone who can render a decision and demonstrate that he's not on the side of the corporations or politicians. Tyson's done that by appearing in multiple venues, both new media and old. He's communicative and entertaining. He studied under respectable mentors (Carl Sagan). And his career is long, in which he never compromised his integrity or values.

We sort of have a climate change advocate like that already -- Bill Nye. But... I don't know. Nye's been around so long, he's already established his reputation as a more generalized scientist.  Not that that makes him any less legitimate, but he's got a big concentration on entertainment, especially with his background as a television comedian and former kid's show host.  People watched him when they were kids, but now we need someone new and fresh.
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