“Global Warming ate my homework: In Defense of Legitimate Skepticism About Climate Change.” Mickey Glantz. June 30, 2010

Written by M. Glantz. Posted in All Fragilecologies

Published on June 30, 2010 with 2 Comments

Poor “global warming.” It seems it is getting blamed for everything under the sun! It is blamed for droughts, floods, forest and bush fires, heat waves, disease outbreaks and the spreading of desert-like conditions. It is blamed for the illegal migration of people from one country to another, and so forth.

When I was in middle school, teachers would give out homework assignments with instructions to turn in the homework the next day. One time I didn’t do it. When asked by the teacher why I didn’t give her my homework, I lied. I said, as did many other kids my age across America that “my dog Fido ate my homework.”dog_ate_my_homework

Like Fido, the unruly dog, global warming gets blamed these days for everything unpleasant that happens. That is a disservice to Fido and it is clearly a disservice to the global warming issue. Some people argued that Hurricane Katrina, for example, was strengthen by global warming when in fact it was just a strong hurricane not an extraordinary one.

Opinions about the possible impacts of global warming are rampant in the printed and electronic media and, in many instances, are not based on facts but on subjective opinions. Was this or that specific drought or flood or fire the result of natural variability in the climate system or was it the result of human induced warming of the global atmosphere? When will we be able to identify the actual impacts attributable to global warming: some say we can already see them while others say we’ll never be able to sort it out between what is the result of natural variability versus an actual warming of the global atmosphere.

The media does not help. They tend to seek balance of opinions, even when balance is not really warranted. So, those who believe in global warming’s influence on intensifying hurricanes and in increasing their frequency will tend to state that perspective to the press. Even if a large majority believes it is so, the media still call for an opposing statement that rejects that perspective, seeking to ‘level the playing field’ when it does not need to be leveled. Fact and fiction are presented as are subjectively based wishful thinking and guesstimates.

So, it is no wonder that the public remains confused about the science of global warming, about its real possible consequences. Global warming has become a business of sorts, an industry much like the drought industry (industria da seca) that exists to assess drought-plagued Northeast Brazil. The drought industry is made up of people who come from all social and economic sectors of society as well as from just about every academic discipline at a university. There is money to be made off of hazards. There’s money to be made: by researchers, by engineers, by technologists, by the news media, and especially by those who are savvy enough to capture the media’s attention to expose their views, opinions, whatever on climate change.

We have to become more responsible about how we talk about the global warming issue. We have to reduce the hype, encourage solutions and educate individuals and policymakers about the issue and its relative priority to other pressing issues. We should openly and aggressively challenge knowingly false claims using sound reasoning.

We quote polls and surveys which to me are interesting but relatively useless for action. I say this because accepting a poll’s findings requires trust and I for one have lost that trust for polls and interviews regarding beliefs about global warming. Though I might know better whom to believe or whose views to challenge, many people around the globe do not know how to calibrate the views of commentators about global warmingpollnumbers1250985368

In the USA for example, a sizable portion of a survey’s respondents blamed the destruction of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina on God’s wrath because of the corrupt lifestyle of the city’s inhabitants! As another example, the UN Secretary General stated his belief that the violence in Darfur, western Sudan was the first global warming war! Comments like these must be challenged.

Scientists, media, policy makers must be more responsible about attributing various climate-related impacts to global warming (or to denying such attributions). In truth anything that society does is happening under a changing climate; the climate is always changing. The contemporary concern is about the level to which it changes and the rate of that change.

The UN has two definitions of how to look at adaptation as a response to climate change: (1) adaptation of society only to changes attributable directly to global warming and (2) any changes related to climate. The latter makes it easier to respond to climate impacts on the part of society. The former sets up an untenable situation in which human influence on climate must be unquestionably identified before action is to be taken, whereas the latter makes it easier for the researcher.

My teacher knew right away that the homework had not been done and probably knew that I did not even have a dog. She was skeptical from the outset. I think that the attributions that are made by scientists, among others, require closer scrutiny than we have tended to do to date. Global warming like Fido should not be taking the blame for all our inconveniences. As research has shown time and again, the behavior of societies has a lot to do with the impacts of even normal weather. It may take decades before some of the occurrences in Nature can accurately be blamed on global warming.


2 Comments

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  1. check this editorial out as a podcast at http://www.sparetimeuniversity.com
    then click on ‘blogging out loud’

  2. Another good example of blaming climate change is the hyperbole surrounding “climate refugees” or “climate change refugees”. See http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123300605/abstract for an explanation of the problems with those phrases. This is not denying that climate and climate change influence migration, but puts the climate influences into the context of other factors. And, inspired by this blog, see http://www.alertnet.org/db/blogs/61843/2010/06/9-110648-1.htm

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