Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fourth and final report on climate change. The report contained no big surprises, since it essentially summarized the findings of the three reports issued over the past year. But the panel, having reviewed all the data, was now in a position to take a broad view of the issue.
Said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”
The panel has been reviewing the issue since 1988. All told, they have reviewed some 30,000 scientific studies, which led to the conclusion that most of the warming that has occurred since 1950 was due to emissions generated by human activity. They reached this conclusion with 95 percent confidence. What they found is that we have set in motion a process that has disrupted the natural balance of our climate. And we have done it with all of the carbon-based fuels that we collectively burn every day. If you want to get a sense of how much carbon that is, you should take a look here.
Despite the fact that the National Climate Assessment showed that climate change is already impacting every American, the American public is lagging far behind the science on this issue. A Pew Research poll taken last year shows that while 69 percent of Americans believe that climate change is occurring, only 40 percent see it as a threat. A similar poll, taken in 39 countries around the world, found that Americans have the lowest level of concern about the issue, despite the fact that we have emitted more cumulative CO2 than any other country in the world.
Why are Americans so blasé about this? Well, first all of all, the world doesn’t seem that much different yet. Yes, there are unusual rainfall patterns, the droughts and floods, the melting ice, the release of methane from Arctic permafrost, the unusually severe storms, the fact that plants are blooming earlier, birds and insects arriving sooner from migration or winter dormancy, the arrival of tropical diseases into temperate zones, and so on. But most people don’t notice these things because most of them are invisible most of the time.
Three or four degrees don’t seem like such a big deal when the temperature changes more than that during the course of a typical day. Also, Americans, despite our prosperity and our widespread use of technology, are not particularly savvy when it comes to science. In fact, in an international comparison of science education, American students ranked 27th out of 35 countries, well below most Asian and European countries. That’s something we need to fix.Click to continue reading »