Climate Change, controversial? I think not.


Glacier, Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

Glacier, Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile | Linda Shaffer, World Resources Institute

Last week the Pew Research Center released a poll showing that the number of Americans who believe in climate change, and believe that it is caused by human activity, is growing. Sixty-seven percent of Americans believe climate change has increased over the last few decades.

This percentage has been steadily increasing – up 10 percentage points from 2009. However, though the number is growing, it is still the case that only forty-two percent of Americans believe that this increase in climate change is caused by human activities that release carbon emissions into the air.

Unfortunately, there is a serious lack of communication between climate scientists and the general public. Most mainstream news outlets don’t report on the exciting world of climate science, so it is often up to us to educate each other about climate change.

Given my passion for learning (and teaching), I think it is important that everyone, regardless of their opinion, is informed about what anthropogenic (human induced) climate change is and what potential impacts may affect us. So, what can we say to our fellow citizens who do not see the connection?

Well, a couple of things:

First, we can tell them about the basic science behind climate change. As a natural part of the earth’s atmosphere, energy we receive from the sun passes through the atmosphere, warming the Earth’s surface. Naturally, the temperature increases, and the Earth reflects heat energy back into the atmosphere. Similar to a greenhouse, a percentage of reflected heat is absorbed by a set amount of atmospheric gases, like carbon dioxide to make sure the earth is able to stay warm and habitable. However, today, because of the burning of fossil fuels and other carbon dioxide emissions, our “greenhouse effect” is in overdrive, with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, trapping an ever greater amount of heat, causing the earth to warm.

Secondly, we can remind them about the potential impacts of climate change, like rising temperatures and the crippling droughts and floods we’ve seen across the country this year.   We’ve seen the five hottest years on record since 1997, and ten of the 10 hottest years since 1990, including the warmest years on record in 2005 and 2010. While it may be easy to brush off a small increase in average temperatures, don’t let the word “average” steer you wrong.  While there may be only a small increase in temperatures near the equator, areas near the poles are experiencing extreme temperature increases. Significant changes like this lead to small “average” changes in temperature. Not only do these temperatures lead to increases in public health, water quality and quantity issues, rising temperatures have been linked to a number of changes in the water cycle, more severe and frequent storms and droughts, and shrinking snowpack and glaciers. Many models project these trends will continue as temperatures rise further.

Finally, we can remind friends that over ninety-seven percent of scientists who research and report on climate science believe that climate change is occurring and that it is explicitly tied to human carbon emissions. Their views are based on the best available science, often provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body that researches and provides assessments on the worldwide risk of climate change caused by humans and the effects it may have on everyday life.  

After education comes action. It is our goal here at American Rivers that once people understand the potential impacts of climate change they will be spurred to action. This is where our attention needs to be – preparing and planning for the potential impacts of climate change.