Americans are misunderstanding the nature of Global Climate Change

Alex Godziela, Contributing Writer

Of particular concern regarding the earth’s changing climate is the abundance of fossil fuels that are being released into the atmosphere, easily the dominant factor in the earth’s rising temperatures. There is no doubt that this phenomenon, known as global climate change (but often referred to as global warming, a slight misnomer), is overall increasing earth’s temperatures and changing the planet’s climates as a result. While scientists are unsure of the future consequences of climate change, I am going to go a step further and say that there are incentives to make assertions about the future of climate change despite the uncertainties surrounding this topic.

This can be seen in many aspects of today’s media. Take, for instance, the news article, “Global Warming Makes Heat Waves More Likely, Study Finds,” by Justin Gillis. I mentioned before that scientists are not sure what the future impacts of global warming will be–mostly because there are too many variables to accurately predict how the climate will change over 10 or 20 or 50 years. Regardless, the title of Gillis’ article is a generally misleading. Many people do not understand that this is rising of temperatures in aggregate, and that overall weather will become more extreme and volatile. Articles like this are why politicians and pundits are frequently citing unusually cold winters as proof against global warming (even though this is actually proof of its existence).

I feel that this phenomenon is not displayed in any better way than within the government. President Barack Obama currently has an entire webpage devoted to his action plan against climate change. A quick glance reveals many strategies the White House has adopted to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions or to withstand the increased temperatures and the possible consequences that follow. A more detailed read reveals that almost all of these strategies would require the creation of new jobs. This beneficial consequence is mentioned briefly on the webpage, but the focus of the page is meant to be on battling the possible repercussions of climate change. It is not known if all of these strategies, particularly the “preparations,” will be necessary because it is unknown whether the climate will change in the way the White House expects. The Obama Administration has an incentive to prepare for the worst and revolutionize the country’s infrastructure because it will create jobs which is a huge part of Obama’s platform.

The political incentives for challenging claims about global warming leads to increased polarization on an issue where there shouldn’t be differing opinions. If the Obama Administration takes a stand against global warming by spending a lot of money to combat the changes, many Republicans voting against him will likely take the opposite side to appeal to those unhappy with the president or to those that are proponents of the oil, coal, and gas industries. In this case, members of the Republican Party have the incentive to downplay the role of climate change in today’s world in order to undercut their political opponents. This ends up putting a lot of pressure on scientists, who are often cornered into supporting a party’s political agenda, which also hinders scientists from citing inaccuracies or modifying their predictions.

Scientists have every right to make predictions about how global warming will affect the planet, and they should make these predictions because they help put the problem into perspective for people unfamiliar with the science behind the issue. People still need to be careful about drawing conclusions from these predictions, because there are incentives for taking either side in the debate.

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