"Aha!" said a man watching the TV in the next panel of the strip. "I knew it!"
That pretty much sums up what a surprisingly substantial number of people are concluding: that negligibly consequential errata from a tiny fraction of the vast corpus of scientific research is enough to convince one that climate change is a myth or that we shouldn't move so fast to assume it's real.
Never mind the overwhelming evidence that the world is growing hotter and that it correlates closely to the rise in greenhouse gases generated largely by human activity. And, in the wake of controversies about the validity of scraps of evidence from research sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, purloined e-mails from British scientists that indicate holes in their research and even the idiotic claims by some that the record snowfalls along the mid-Atlantic region this winter disprove climate change, these voices seem to be getting louder and more visible.
It's leading to some truly startling policy making. As Science Magazine recently reported, "On 9 February, the Utah House of Representatives passed a resolution stating that there is no evidence that the world is warming and urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revoke its 'endangerment' ruling that carbon dioxide is a threat to public health. Citing the same concerns, the state of Texas on 16 February sued EPA to overturn the endangerment finding. The same day, Virginia's attorney general filed court petitions questioning EPA's ruling."
Pardon if this sounds a bit naive to some, but I'm rather mystified by the opposition. I'm troubled that so many would reject the rigorously derived conclusions of an overwhelming number of experts.
Notably, the proportions of those who believe in climate change (and that human activity is responsible for it) have remained mostly the same over time. A survey by NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll conducted by the polling organizations of Peter Hart and Bill McInturff in December 2009, for example, shows that positions for and against that view have changed little over the last ten years.
As Andrew Revkin, one of the most respected journalists covering environmental science over the last decade and a half, said in a recent interview, about 20 percent of the public "absolutely reject[s] the idea that humans are or could dangerously destabilize the climate.... [and] 15 to 20 percent... are totally bought-in." The vast majority, he says, "are those who are disengaged, confused, totally uninterested in anything except Britney Spears or the stock market."
Indeed, it seems that the more expert the testimony and solid the scientific evidence, the more suspect it is in the eyes of doubters -- and seemingly unmoving for those who in the "clueless" category. As Revkin observes, "There's pretty good evidence that when you have some event, or when the Al Gore movie came out, it essentially appeared to intensify the positions of people who are already in either the 20 percent who are bought in or the 20 percent who reject this concept utterly. It hardened positions, rather than changed positions."
That's exactly what I heard a couple weeks ago from someone who works at a major climate change policy and research group, and it leaves the organization in a quandary. The more they try to roll out credible experts to make the case, the more the opposition fights back. Also, because they had assumed that the question of climate change had been settled, the group moved on to advocating for policy solutions. Now the organization is considering putting some of that on hold to go back to educating some more about the threat and existence of climate change. They're losing what could be precious time going over old ground they thought they'd won long ago.
Much of this could be happening now, says Revkin, because "push is coming to shove — twenty years ago the treaty that was signed in Rio by so many leaders was purely aspirational — it didn’t have teeth... There was lot of lobbying, a lot of intensity. But the stakes were not concretely laid out. Now you are talking about bills going through at least one side of the Congress, we’re close to having a bill passed that might get to a president’s desk. The EPA has determined that the stuff [greenhouse gas] is dangerous and needs to be regulated. So the stakes are higher, and people are getting more intense, people meaning the lobbying community."
There's a lot to be troubled about here, and one of them is the seemingly willful reluctance to trust anyone who offers credible evidence of an impending problem. I don't want to say that there aren't some smart people who have raised serious, albeit unconvincing, questions. (For more on this, Foreign Policy Magazine has published this guide to climate skeptics, which sorts out the serious contrarians from the cranks and others with bad motives.) But it's almost as if they don't want to hear that the ship is sinking or the house is burning. For whatever reason, they'd all rather sit and wait, hoping that the unlikely happens. I see this on a lot of other issues, too, and it truly vexes me.
And, even in the unlikely event that our worst fears about climate change don't materialize, isn't there a value to finding new sources of energy that don't emit pollutants or require extraction? Shouldn't we prepare for the possibility that, someday, those traditional sources of energy won't be there? And isn't there a value -- in economic and security terms -- to decreasing our dependence on others who have the lion's share of the raw materials that we use to generate energy? Even if you don't believes the polar ice caps are melting, doesn't it appear that the status quo is untenable?
This just doesn't make sense.