Many of the activists on Global Warming don’t believe that educating people about this crises works, that education won’t do any good for those who refuse to be educated. Or that people in Utah who are not on our side won’t be educate; or some variant of these.
What I see, however is that the best scientists and leaders of the movement are right now trying desperately to educate. James Hansen is one example. His lecture on Monday night at UNC, Chapel Hill is here.
Why I say education is needed, and we need it ourselves, is that the science and the data related to Global Warming (GW) and Climate Change (CC) are constantly changing. The implications and likely results of what we are doing becomes more dire each week. If we want to ask for policy changes and personal changes because of GW & CC, it would seem that we should know the situation, at least have conversational knowledge of the topic, or we should know where to go to get the current best information. We probably need that at-hand if we are going to talk to those in our communities about it, deniers or not. So education and accurate communication is crucial when the situation gets more dire each week.
Much of the science is straightforward, much of the data is clear and simple. I don’t think that learning the science of GW & CC—at least to get to understand that catastrophe is soon approaching–is more difficult than learning how to drive. Yet, we learn driving because we see it as necessary to operate in our world. Because GW & CC is not yet seen as necessary to understand by many, perhaps most, does not mean that we can’t take the position that it is important for everyone to understand the basic science and data.
To those who say that science and data won’t be learned and most won’t learn or listen, I say that many things very difficult to learn and tough to absorb are learned and listened to when it is important to those who have to (from their point of view) learn the material. And if we ask for the basic data related to GW & CC to be understood and ask the leaders of our state to ask for it as well, then we have taken the simple position of at least asking our choir and our allies to get up-to-speed. It also assumes that policies needed to address the worst aspects of this crisis will follow basic understanding of the information related to it. Can policy change happen any other way? Hundreds of people that I have talked to recently that are on our side do not know what to say, nor do they know where to tell people to go in order to get the most basic answers and counter the most absurd statements of the “deniers.” Now it is true that it is much easier to obfuscate, and that there are clear financial rewards for some to mislead—the Western Business Roundtable sending out press releases promoting fringe folks like Roy Spencer is an example–but we could be expected to have at least a basic understanding of the data and science to counter the most outlandish claims.
For example, I would suggest that we should know how to refute the foolish assertions of the deniers related to “climategate” and glaciergate…….. or at least know where to go to get those refutations. Clear and credible refutations exist. I find that many of our allies can’t express to their families what they believe about the climate, frequently because they are not sure of the credible information and how to address the simple things people say that can be readily refuted.
If you follow where I am going, the important point about changing the culture and educating our larger communities so that all of Utah can be given good information about GW and CC means that those on our side must be educated and then they can share that education around the dinner table, the water cooler and the church social hour. What people tell me who know in-their-hearts that the Climate Crisis is real is that they don’t know what to say or how to convey the gravity to others.
So where are we?
What we do know is that what we have tried so far has done precious little to address this crisis. We know we are getting deeper in-the-hole by burning more and more fossils. We know also that many people have had ideas about what would work to address this crisis, they have tried and they may be still trying to push those ideas, and their work has yielded nothing. We also don’t have good object lessons or historical examples related to this looming catastrophe, a crisis too abstract and too distant from everyday life or everyday outside temperature, to guide our actions.
To rely on education and asking people to grasp relatively simple science is what I am suggesting. Meaning I am suggesting that we ask people to look at reality. And we ask them to consider the science as well as it’s implications.
That covers basically what I am trying to suggest. Below, I try to elaborate the gap between what is known by the science and what is understood by the public, even our own converted public.
* There is an enormous gap between what the data, information and science happens to be compared to what the public understands. For examples, the average increase in temperature for the last century is about .8 degrees C, or about 1.4 degrees F. The increase is higher over land masses because of the inertia of the water masses (the oceans). Therefore, the reality, or I would say the fact that the earth is warming is beyond dispute. That is, we have the measurements. There is universal agreement on the warming itself. There is no dispute about observed and measured warming.
* Similarly, the inertia of the oceans explains in straightforward terms that an 8th grade student could understand why the warming over land masses is greater than over water masses. Water, and the ocean’s depth is frequently measured in kilometers, is much more slowly warmed. Simple stuff. Therefore, there is much more warming built into the system already that will occur by the forcings realized in the future related to CO2. This is science so basic that it could be called common sense. Our best, James Hansen explains this week that much more warming is in the pipeline. This makes the warming coming “no matter what” relatively easy to understand.
*There are many observed and real changes in earth ecosystems and areas since we began our most intensive burning of carbon/fossils in the last hundred years. Glaciers are decreasing. The albedo (the ratio of the light heat energy reflected by our planet to that received by it) feedback effects from melting are not disputed. That means simply that with decreased ice, temperatures do rise. Again no dispute there. Sea level is rising. In this area, there is no dispute about the data.
Our task then would seem to me to be to focus on the data, the science and observed phenomena that are the result of undisputed global warming. The undisputed data and real world observations can take the sting away from “climategate” and “glaciergate.” We know that the deniers will relentlessly obfuscate. We know that the Corporate/Fossil fuel interests will continue to lie and deny. Nonetheless, our Glacier National Park soon will have no glaciers. Our western forest fires are consistent with the simple warming already upon us. Pine beetles have consumed and devastated 30 millions of acres of pine forest in British Columbia. See the 10 minute film,Mountain Pine Beetle: A Climate Change Catastrophe . The evidence of warming and its catastrophic effects are all around us. Warming then, is not in dispute. How CO2 warms by greenhouse effect also is not in dispute. Therefore, to decrease warming, sequestering carbon is required. Burning more carbon is insane from that simple and understandable viewpoint.
So, the legislature is not our target. The people on our side and those confused in the middle are our target. And our first message is that the warming is real and undisputed. Its effects are clear. The remedy is straightforward. There is a caveat here, however. The caveat is that by simply reducing the amount of burned carbon, the CO2 in the atmosphere will not dissipate. The reason for that, and this is misunderstood by even the vast majority of graduate students at MIT for example, is that the level of CO2 emitted worldwide must decrease to about one-half of its current rate worldwide, in order to stabilize the net amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. This article illuminates the “bathtub effect” which explains that caveat. So, reductions in burned carbon must be worldwide and dramatic in order for the warming to slow down and the ecosystem disruptions to dissipate.
The measured data does demonstrate the likelihood that if we keep burning carbon and increase CO2 to the extent of just one part/thousand in our atmosphere —a point reached recently in geologic time, when the data shows that for 25 million years the temperature was some 8-to-10 degrees C higher, enough to eliminate most terrestrial species—then we will end civilization. See Hansen’s ppt related to that here. The point is that while correlational data does show that complex life was eliminated on the surface of the earth when CO2 reached one-part-thousand, and we are moving in that direction so quickly that melting ice could release enormous quantities of CO2, in methane form, that could multiply the warming off- the-charts virtually overnight