Despite denial climate change still major threat

By Jillian Correira

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This winter, record low temperatures have been seen across the United States, along with snowstorm Hercules dumping nearly two feet of snow in some areas in the Northeast in early January. This weather has given climate change deniers “evidence” to support their claim that climate change, specifically global warming, doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, their evidence isn’t actually evidence; it’s anecdotal. Weather and climate change are not the same. It is not logical to justify the non-existence of global warming by saying, “the weather is cold in winter, therefore the earth is not getting warmer.” Climate change is detected by studying patterns and trends over periods of time. Singular events are insufficient to either prove or disprove it.

Also, thanks to earth’s tilted axis, seasons do exist. Global warming is not equivalent to an earth in a suspended state of summer. And though we have seen instances of record-low temperatures this winter, a February 2013 Climate Central report shows that across the U.S. since the 1970s, winters have, in fact, been getting warmer over time.

The frigid temperatures some areas of the U.S. have been experiencing can be explained by what’s called a “polar vortex,” which sounds like a cool “Star Wars” planet Hoth thing, but it’s not, and despite its dangerous-sounding name, it’s pretty simple to understand.

According to meteorologists speaking to the Los Angeles Times, the polar vortex is a “huge mass of arctic air [that] has slipped away from the North Pole, settled over the U.S. and made everything really, really cold.” Usually, masses of arctic air are held in to either the North or South Pole by jet streams; this particular polar vortex detached from above the North Pole and made its way southward. Ryan Maue, a Florida-based meteorologist, told the L.A. Times that the polar vortex is “a normal feature that’s part of the polar climate.”

Despite the scientific explanations for the cold temperatures, the reasoning that “global warming isn’t real because weather happens” is persistent and it’s used by many influential people to serve their false sense of accuracy in the climate change debate. By influential, I don’t only mean Donald Trump (though I do believe his prominence in pop culture does not help the climate change cause) – I’m talking our very own representatives in Congress. Recently, Louisiana Congressman John Fleming tweeted out a CBS News link to an article about the recent record-low temperatures, along with his own personal message, “‘Global Warming’ isn’t so warm these days.” Clever.

Rep. Fleming isn’t the only person in Congress denying the science behind climate change. The organization Think Progress has an interactive map of the U.S. detailing all of the Congressional climate change deniers in each state – who are entirely Republican.

I think it’s important to point out that these representatives are the same people who believe the United States should be a global leader, a place other countries should look to as a shining example of success, a model for the rest of the world. But the country Congressional climate change deniers want the United States to be, one where they’ll gladly accept millions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry and deny the science behind global warming, is a frighteningly terrible example for the rest of the world.

President Obama, who has on multiple occasions voiced his support for fighting climate change, looked to place the U.S. at the forefront of efforts to reduce global gas emissions at the start of his first term as president, hoping other countries would follow the lead. His goal was a global treaty similar to (but better than) the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol is a global treaty that set targets for curbing greenhouse gas emissions in each country that signed on and was widely seen as “badly flawed,” according to The New York Times. Many countries who signed it didn’t take it seriously and didn’t meet the requested emission targets. The U.S. didn’t even ratify it. The lesson here, says Bill McKibben of environmental organization, is that “if the U.S. isn’t taking it seriously, there is no reason for anyone else to.” President Obama’s 2009 attempt at a treaty that sought other countries to agree to reduce emissions failed to result in any “legally binding commitments,” according to The New York Times.

So how do we stop the culture of climate change deniers from globally spreading dangerous misinformation? If there’s an answer to that question, it’s probably already being done. Education seems to be the best bet; it’s undoubtedly important that we teach children (and everyone, for that matter) the urgency of climate change.

It also helps to drown out the noise. The L.A. Times recently stopped accepting letters for publication from climate change deniers. Their letters editor Paul Thornton explained in an editor’s note, “Letters that have an untrue basis (for example, ones that say there’s no sign humans have caused climate change) do not get printed.”

This is because, for them, the debate is no longer. Climate scientists are 95 percent certain that global warming exists and that it is man-made threat (though it doesn’t seem high enough to some, 95 percent is generally considered the gold standard for certainty in science). And 97 percent of climate scientists are at a consensus that “climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities,” according to NASA’s global climate change web page.

These are the facts. And yet we live in a reality where people genuinely believe that a boat carrying climate scientists that got stuck in a piece of arctic ice — which probably broke off precisely because of global warming — proves that global warming doesn’t exist. If climate change deniers have resorted to this type of reasoning in an attempt to prove the unprovable, hopefully it signifies an inevitable end to their culture of denial.

Jillian Correira is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]