A week ago, I did something my better judgment told me I shouldn’t do. I engaged in a Facebook discussion about global warming. A cousin of mine posted this statement on his Facebook page: “OK, somebody much smarter than me is going to have to explain why this record cold weather is caused by man-caused global warming. It was explained to me once but I forgot.”
The statement was loaded for a number of reasons. First of all, it was coming from a person who doubts that anthropogenic climate change is a thing. I suspected that his asking for an explanation was less a cry for understanding and more a way to get a larger discussion started. Currently the thread has 172 comments, so if that was indeed his motive, it’s safe to say he was successful.
Also loading the question was the way it appropriated one event—the polar vortex that chilled much of the lower 48 last week—to the overall trend of global warming. We all know that there were probably such strange weather events long before humans started burning fossil fuels, but the wording of his question wanted proof that one thing led directly to the other. Unfortunately though, one wicked cold snap cannot prove or disprove climate change.
The other part of my cousin’s statement that made it feel loaded were these words: “somebody much smarter than me is going to have to explain.” By trying to answer, there was an insinuation that I was saying that I’m smarter than him, and goodness knows I am not. I have come to different conclusions than he has come to on the topic of climate change, but I am not smarter than him.
I was the first to respond to his Facebook post, and I gave him a couple of links from the Union of Concerned Scientists webpage. This one, that explains how scientists have linked global warming to human activity and this one, that explains how the polar vortex can be destabilized. From there, the posts went in a few different directions.
There were plenty of people who fell into the “God is in Control” category with their posts:
-“No such thing as global warming it’s all in God’s hands simple as that”
-“God is in control. Simple as that. Who on earth thinks they’re smart enough to control the weather. Warming , colding, rain, shine. Who would even dare to say they can control it. Not me….”
-“The Bible says in Genesis 8:22 while the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest,and cold and heat,and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. That tells me that God is still in control and that we will always have hot and cold weather. from the beginning time till now, it has been this way, and will continue to be so.”
And there were those that took a more conspiratorial tone:
-“Now that it’s no longer getting warmer, they changed it to “Climate Change.” The climate has been changing since the beginning of time, but somehow these libs think they can stop it from ever changing again. And, best of all, no matter what happens (hotter or colder, more hurricanes or fewer) they can blame it on climate change. How conveeeeeeenient!”
-“I wonder if Al Gore’s net worth has had anything to do with GW? What a great investment. Influence an army of idealist college students and send me out to become global warming evangelists…”
Interspersed throughout all of this there were was one young man who kept speaking his mind, saying over and over again that scientific data shows that humans are causing the earth to warm. He became exasperated. Insults were tossed his way. Some were direct, such as this one:
-“Not all of us believe we are gods and not all of us believe we have the power to shape something we have no idea how to control (climate superstorms etc.). But now we know you think fairly highly of yourself and the power you wield. Be careful with that power – sometimes the only one you can fool is yourself.”
And some were more passive aggressive:
-“I find it interesting that, when young, a great many people tend to be more idealistic, liberal and non-religious. As they age and face the reality of living with the taxes associated with their young idealism, they tend to become more realistic and conservative. As they age more and face their own mortality, if they have not already realized the “truth” in what God says, they tend to turn toward Him as they realize that there just might be an afterlife after all. The old saying “There are no atheists in foxholes,” tends to be true. Science is not absolute truth. God’s Word is!”
Throughout the comments there were plenty of charts and graphs and websites that were mentioned, as well as a recommendation to watch Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and another movie called The Great Global Warming Swindle. Regardless of which side of the debate these posts fell on, these ones tried to keep the discussion within the realm of science.
Of the 172 posts, two touched on the philosophical/practical:
-“‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.’ ― Rumi”
-“It’s all too overwhelming. Remember think globally, act locally.”
After watching this discussion unfold, and minimally participating in it, I am left with so many questions. First of all, does a discussion like this do anything to change anyone’s mind? That remains to be seen, but it’s doubtful. Still, my personal opinion is that it’s better to talk about it than to not talk about it.
Certain people believe history is directed by God and since He is in control of all that happens it’s not so much a question of whether climate change is real or not real, human-caused or caused by non-anthropogenic forces. To them, climate change is irrelevant and governments spending resources to address it is a waste of time and energy. Scientific findings are unlikely to change their fundamental beliefs.
Those who are climate change skeptics may be more inclined to change their positions if they are open to changing their minds. But our tendency as humans is to pick and choose information from sources that confirm our own biases. Most of us are not climate scientists or statisticians and we have to rely on experts to interpret all of the data that’s out there. In this article from The Telegraph, Tom Chivers explains his approach to choosing what to believe: “I’ve decided who to trust, and it’s mainstream scientific opinion: the Royal Society, the Royal Institution, Nasa, the US National Academy of Sciences, the US Geological Survey, the IPCC, the national science bodies of 30 or so other countries. And that gives me a possible route out of the confirmation-bias trap: I have, in advance, outsourced my judgment to expert bodies. If several of them changed their position, I would change mine. It’s far from perfect, but short of becoming a climate scientist myself, it’s the only option I have; otherwise my reasonable belief that the climate is changing due to human behaviour becomes an article of faith. As it is, although it is mediated through authority, it’s still, I hope, based on empirical data, on the scientific method.”
So what am I taking away from this Facebook discussion on climate change and the subsequent reading I did on the subject? There are too many points to address in one blog post, but here are just a few:
-All the good science in the world will not change some people’s minds.
-Insults won’t change minds.
-The idea of human-caused climate change is not just overwhelming to some people; for some it does not fit with their faith in God so they will not allow themselves to consider the possibility.
-Anything to support any position on climate change can be found on the Internet and it will have charts and graphs and renowned scientists to back it up.
Mostly, my cousins Facebook statement and subsequent discussion left me wondering if caring about something as big as climate change is worth the effort. If climate change is indeed caused by human activity, and I believe it is, then what can I possibly do to address it? It is so big and I am so small. From a moral standpoint, is the magnitude of the issue a good enough excuse to do nothing?