Global environmental challenges
Countering the contrarians on global warming
That’s what everyone wants to know, and the focus of a lot of research. But parsing through the science can present some problems, with plenty of opportunity for mischief.
Aaron Huertas has been in this game for a while, so he figured there might be problems as soon as he saw the headline on the release from Rice University: “Global warming: Our best guess is likely wrong.”
The text of the release, which was promoting a paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience, noted that climate models can’t explain all of the heating indicated in the geologic record of a warm period some 55 million years ago. And one of the scientists who did the research told Reuters that this could mean current forecasts are underestimating how hot Earth’s atmosphere will get in the future.
But Huertas, press secretary at the Union of Concerned Scientists, figured the initial headline from Rice University might be used by those skeptical about climate change — he calls them contrarians because he feels all scientists are skeptical — to argue that the carbon dioxide generated by human activities isn’t to blame for global warming.
Sure enough, USAToday’s headline read “Could we be wrong about global warming?” There was no reference to the notion that this research could indicate a greater global warming trend ahead.
The blog Right Side News went further, with a post entitled “UN models on global warming fundamentally wrong.” The subhead read: “Study shakes foundation of climate theory! Reveals UN models ‘fundamentally wrong’ – Blames ‘Unknown Processes’ — not CO2 for ancient global warming.”
“We haven’t heard a member of Congress that opposes climate legislation incorrectly cite this study yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time,” Huertas said in an e-mail accompanying his non-profit group’s analysis of the study.
He sees this as a matter of science education, made more difficult when those who oppose acting to curb climate change choose their own facts. “You’re dealing with an opposition movement that literally doesn’t care what the research is, they can just make stuff up,” Huertas told me.
One good thing: most peer-reviewed journals, including Nature Geoscience, are available in some form online. Check it out yourself, but be warned: the headline on this particular article is “Carbon dioxide forcing alone insufficient to explain Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum warming.”
Photo credits: REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus (workers during heat wave in Las Vegas, July 16, 2009); REUTERS/Francois Lenoir (sea otter cools off with an ice block, Antwerp, Belgium, July 2, 2009)