What everyone seems to get wrong about climate change
Last Thanksgiving, I got up at four o’clock in the morning to go to Logan International Airport in Boston. When I left, it was freezing cold; my flight was briefly delayed on account of the snow. As I watched it fall through the terminal window, I remember thinking how happy I would be to be back in California, where my hometown’s last snowfall was in the 1960s.
When I got back home, though, it was raining. It didn’t stop raining until the weekend after Thanksgiving, which was unfortunate, as I hadn’t packed a coat. But even the rain was a blessing in disguise; it helped to put out the Camp Fire, the largest and deadliest forest fire in California’s history.
In the aftermath of the fire, I wanted to write about climate change. The consensus, though not the universal agreement, has been that climate change played a significant role in prolonging the duration and intensity of the fires. Our president in the way that only he could, and a lot of people had a laugh at his expense. But I let the subject drop in December, because I had other things to do.
I was reminded of the Camp Fire with the arrival of the “polar vortex,” an extreme weather pattern over the Midwest which has plunged temperatures to lower than Arctic levels. The consequences have been tragic; a handful of people have lost their lives from the extreme weather, and it’s likely to cost the economy millions of dollars in lost productivity. Fortunately, in exchange for this, we have a asking us, “What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!”
The Trumpian worldview suggests that the globe isn’t actually warming, and as a result liberals changed “global warming” to “climate change” as part of a scheme to lie to you. Never mind the fact that ; this past weekend, it’s been . How can the Earth be warming if it’s colder than ever outside?
The is that low temperatures near the Arctic allow for a wind current called the jet stream, which contains the polar vortex in northern Canada. As global temperatures increase, the jet stream slows down, allowing the vortex to expand. However, I think the argument, faulty though it is, is insightful for a different reason. You’re just not going to convince someone in Minneapolis right now that he should be desperately worried about the average global temperature rising by a few degrees when he’s snowed in and it’s twenty below outside.
On this note, Americans need to change the philosophy with which we view climate change. And, if these past few months have been any indicator, we need to do it quickly.
Reasonable people can have reasonable disagreements about politics. We can disagree about how much the wealthy ought to pay in taxes. We can disagree about whether a fetus constitutes a human being with a right to its own life superseding the mother’s right to choose. We can disagree about the proper way to administer health care in a society built on the free market, or the proper way to assimilate immigrants, or the proper way to handle race relations. Historically, such disagreement has been tolerated, even lauded as part of American democracy. While some solutions are clearly better than others, none of these questions has a “right” or “wrong” answer in the same way that two plus two invariably equals four. Since these problems can’t be solved with mathematics, they must be solved with discourse.
The global warming “debate”, on the other hand, is binary, with no middle ground; either climate change is real or it isn’t. And the answer is — oh, come on. You all already know what the answer is.
Of all the major political parties in the United States and Europe, the only one that refuses to acknowledge the reality of this problem, let alone pledge to do anything about it, is the Republican Party. I don’t want to be too critical of the GOP because I agree with much of their platform, but on this issue, their attitude is simply disgraceful; it’s hard to come up with a more overt example of willingness to ignore the truth for the sake of political expediency. No one on Capitol Hill is completely innocent of this, but certain Republican lawmakers are shockingly guilty. For instance, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who once brought a snowball into Congress to “prove” that global warming was a hoax, . Nothing to see here; move along.
The problem lies in the fact that many fossil fuel companies are fully aware that climate change is real, and human activity is causing it, and therefore we should prevent it by regulating the oil and gas industry. As soon as you admit to the first part of this, it’s only a matter of time before you get to the last. The only way to prevent this regulation and subsequent action is to cloud the consensus about climate change.
Unfortunately, this obfuscation of these facts is much easier than it should be, because the battle for science is fundamentally asymmetric. Scientists must be one hundred percent correct one hundred percent of the time to be taken seriously. Any time one icecap fails to melt exactly in accordance with a scientific prediction, the inconsistency/inaccuracy can be taken as evidence that the entire “global warming theory” is falling apart. So, over the last half-century, veiled interests have induced doubt in the scientific process by accusing academia of liberal bias, defending the patriotism of pollution, and hiring experts — — to deny the risks of climate change today. In this way, the debate shifts away from the realm of the scientific and into the land of politics, the safe space of irrational opinions.
But you don’t need to be an expert in climatology, or even a Democrat, to understand the basic premise of global warming. Just as smoking isn’t healthy for your lungs, burning massive quantities of coal and oil — carbon-rich compounds that took thousands of years to form under high pressure deep underground — and releasing the gases they contain into the atmosphere all at once isn’t healthy for the planet. Whether it’s cold outside today or not doesn’t change that.