Do You BELIEVE in Climate Change?

Of all of the questions I’ve been asked since I’ve returned, this is perhaps the most common, and perhaps the most puzzling?

Believe?  I mean, like the Tooth Fairy?

Believe?  I mean, like gravity?

When I was little, and one of my baby teeth fell out, I put it under my pillow, and the ToothFairy took it away (she missed one once), and left a dime, or later, a quarter.  And I can tell you from experience, that it didn’t matter if I BELIEVED in the ToothFairy or NOT.  She STILL put a coin under my pillow.  For every baby tooth.  Every time.

When I was little, I fell down a lot.  Usually I skinned a knee, an elbow, a chin, once my neck, and my dad asked how on earth I managed to skin my neck (it was the branch I got hung up on my way down from falling out of the tree I wasn’t supposed to be climbing so high).  And I can tell you from experience, that it didn’t matter if I BELIEVED in Gravity or NOT.  It STILL pulled me down.  For every fall.  Every time.

Climate change is a bit like that.  It really doesn’t matter if you BELIEVE in it or not.  The polar ice caps are melting.  We can measure it.  We can be alarmed by it.  Or not.  We can try to understand it. Or not.  But whether or not we BELIEVE it is happening, the ice is going to just keep on doing what ice does — freeze and melt — and at present, it seems to be melting faster than we expected it to.  When someone asks me if I BELIEVE in climate change, or tells me they do, or tells me they don’t, I am not quite sure how to respond. The truth is, whether or not they BELIEVE, that is not going to change the weather.  And whether or not I BELIEVE, this is not going to change the weather, either.   If it is going to rain, it is going to rain.  If it is going to snow, it is going to snow.  And if it is going to be blazing hot, it is going to be blazing hot.

What matters is what we DO.  I do believe it is very important to understand something as critical to us as our climate.  Whether or not someone tells me they do or don’t believe in climate change, my job as a scientist is to help understand and answer that question. Fortunately, many, many, many scientists around the world also want to help understand our climate, and great progress is being made.

Whether or not I BELIEVE, the ToothFairy still brings quarters.  For every tooth.  Every time.

Whether or not I BELIEVE, Gravity still holds me tightly to the earth.  For every fall. Every time.

Whether or not I BELIEVE, my actions really do impact the world I live in.  For every action.  Every time.

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4 responses to “Do You BELIEVE in Climate Change?

  1. Pingback: Thank you! to Mrs. Corlett’s Kindergarten | cfurse

  2. Hi Dr. Furse,

    I’m not sure what others mean when they ask if you believe in climate change or not. I do agree with you that our actions impact the world in which we live. I suppose it’s a type of feedback loop.

    I wonder if a more accurate question would be, “is it your opinion that the environmental factors currently attributed to what we consider to be accelerated warming in the pole regions are accurate?”

    Unlike the feedback loops we work with as engineers, there are virtually countless inputs and ancillary considerations in the feedback loop of the earths environment. We can’t even reliably solve problems involving a dozen atoms in a closed environment using simulation.

    I might even take it a step further and ask “With the very limited amount of data we have collected (not even spanning two full centuries of any given data set), is it justifiable to claim that the rate at which the ice caps appear to be melting is in fact accelerated?”

    We have so little knowledge or other natural cycles and environmental factors, considering the amount of data and processing power we have available to us, I find it hard to definitively identify one human factor or another as being the cause.

    So while I don’t disagree with you that there is a measurable increase in the melting of the ice caps, and that globally the mean temperatures appear to be on the rise, I do wonder if the scientific community is being hasty in attributing the cause of those observed facts (and their predicted outcomes) to specific, contemporary industrial choices. I’m also not sure that the variances we see right now are any more significant than similar periods of warming or cooling that might predate us by only a few hundred years, but weren’t recorded due to obvious limitations.

    I don’t really intend to argue one way or the other, because I don’t see enough data to draw a conclusive opinion myself, but this might be what people really mean when they ask you if you “BELIEVE” or not.

  3. From: National Science Foundation Update
    Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2011 12:15:01 -0600 (CST)
    Subject: Scientists: Big City Life May Alter Green Attitudes
    Scientists: Big City Life May Alter Green Attitudes

    People with good jobs found in large cities are more likely to engage in pro-environmental activities. So says a new study of China’s environmental behavior published this week in the British journal Environmental Conservation.
    For the first time, scientists weighed employment and leadership when considering how people act regarding their natural surroundings. They found the status and political power of companies in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin strongly …
    More at http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=118360&WT.mc_id=USNSF_51&WT.mc_ev=click

    This is an NSF News item.

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