A layman’s problem with assessing Climate Change

The difficulty with climate change is that its effects are masked by the variations in the weather that have a more immediate impact on our lives. Trying to get to the bottom of climate change often requires interpretation of complicated graphs of temperature variations, many of which make assumptions that are reasonable to the scientist(s) who created the graph.  These assumptions are outside our sphere of knowledge, and so beyond our ability to judge.  We are inclined to accept the graphs and the conclusions they support because of the credibility of their creator(s).

We are baffled when other scientists, often with a long string of initials are their names, reject those assumptions, or dispute the validity of their projection into the future. We don’t appreciate that science benefits from scepticism, and rejection of an opinion is a salutary part of an on-going process. Although we can manage probabilities and time lines concerning events that present a challenge to our daily lives, we are uncertain when confronted with a truly calamitous impact upon our civilization that we have grown accustomed to thinking of as the epitome of human progress.

Because of a very few, well-publicized, erroneous claims about the effects of climate change, we may feel that we have taken in by exaggerations.  Bjørn Lomborg, who is the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, goes further. He said in a recent article reported by the Globe & Mail:

“The fact is, trying to scare the socks off people with end-of-the-world rhetoric doesn’t make the world a better or safer place. Yes, a startling statistic combined with some hyperbolic prose will make us sit up and pay attention. But we quickly become desensitized, requiring ever more outrageous scenarios to move us. And as the scare stories grow more exaggerated, so, too, does the likelihood that they will be exposed for the exaggerations they are – and the public will end up tuning the whole thing out. “

It is understandable if lay people are relieved if  they can wash their hands of climate change until scientists get their house in order.

Forourgrandchildren does not agree that we can wait.   There is significant unanimity among scientists, and we cannot expect more. Whatever does happen can be projected to affect the twenty-first century world and millions of people in it, some of whom will be our grandchildren. Won’t you join us in our efforts to keep the issue before the Canadian Government and the people of Canada?

Peter Jones

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4 thoughts on “A layman’s problem with assessing Climate Change”

  1. I really wonder what course of action the climate change skeptics – who don’t believe climate change is a threat worth addressing – are advocating. I’m not talking about the interest groups and lobbyists, such as the fossil fuel industry, who actively promote climate change denial for business reasons. I’m talking about average citizens who write off climate change as just another scare tactic.

    Do they think that it’s no problem if everyone in China and India owns a car? That we should stick to coal plants and stop wasting time on alternative energy sources and reducing carbon emissions?

    Even if you take climate change out of the equation, reducing emissions and our environmental footprint are still urgent, pressing issues. There are simply not enough resources (starting with land, food, water) to support endless population growth and overconsumption. And we can’t expect the over 2 billion people in China and India not to aspire to the lifestyle of the average North American, with a footprint of 25 acres per capita, if we keep living this way. Increasing populations, increasing rates of consumption, and decreasing supplies of resources is a recipe for disaster whichever way you slice it.

    And what about the air and water pollution caused by burning fossil fuels and coal, and resultant threats to human health? According to the Canadian Medical Association, there were 21,000 deaths in this country alone this year relating to exposure to airborne pollutants in 2008. Or the ecological destruction and wildlife habitat loss occasioned by projects such as the Alberta Tar Sands? Aren’t these good reasons in themselves to seek out renewable, less destructive alternatives?

    The fact is that we cannot cotinue to pursue limitless growth on a planet with finite resources. There are plenty of undeniable reasons why our current way of life based on the growth model of the Western world is woefully unsustainable, even if you choose to remain skeptical about climate change. This call to action doesn’t require an understanding of complex scientific projections; it just requires common sense.

    How does Bjørn Lomborg and his supporters propose we deal with these issues, if at all?

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