“We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”
Anybody who has been following my blog knows that I’m all about educating people on the science and evidence regarding climate change. I try to make sure people are up on the facts and I try to dispel the myths that are often expressed in various sources of media as if they are undisputed truths. Sometimes it gets interesting dealing with it all.
For example, a local individual in my community who believes that global warming isn’t a real phenomenon frequently expresses incorrect statements as facts. Comments that are completely inaccurate. (He and I are Facebook friends so I that’s how I get to see his posts.) He recently posted a link to an article arguing that global warming is over, and that global cooling is about to begin. I reviewed the article, written by Professor Don Easterbrook who is well-known in climate science circles as a dissenter from the mainstream opinion regarding global warming and climate change. In it, he suggests that global warming is over and includes some data to support that “fact.”
The funny thing about my friend posting this link is that the article came out in 2008. (Sometimes I’m sure I read the misinformation more thoroughly than those who are passing it on.) In the four years since Easterbrook published his predictions, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were all hotter years than 2008. In fact, if you click on the link you’ll see that one of the graphs supporting the author’s data is from 1997. The twelve hottest years on record since accurate thermometer measurements have been available all occurred since that graph was produced. Hard to argue that the trend in global warming was over, especially when you take into account that the last 12 months have been the hottest ever on record, as I pointed out in an earlier blog post. I would go so far as to say that Professor Easterbrook’s prediction has been proven false.
I couldn’t help but comment about this on my Facebook friend’s link and explained these same points: that Easterbrook’s prediction that temperatures were going to start declining was made four years ago and subsequently proven incorrect, and that all sorts of studies have shown the trend is indeed continuing. I also cited the references to those studies. I always try to support my comments with facts when I can so people know I’m not offering simple conjecture or opinion. As a scientist (albeit a medical one), I still seek to find the truth. If a belief I currently hold is disproven by rigourous scientific data, I am more than happy to accept what the new evidence proves.
Here’s where the dialogue got silly. After I pointed out these facts, from sources including the NOAA and the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature data set, his response made me laugh. “Brad, that’s simply untrue.” But unfortunately, he offered no sources or references to dispute the facts I offered, or to support his claim that the information I pointed out was untrue. I find this happens a lot, and it makes for a frustrating dialogue when you try to have a rational discussion on these issues. By simply stating “something is untrue”—by his logic—then it’s untrue. Full stop. Case closed.
Here’s another recent example of an inaccurate soundbite: in my local newspaper, there are occasional letters to the editor on environmental issues including some on climate change. If something ever needs to be clarified, I always feel compelled to respond even more so than to a Facebook post, since there tends to be a much bigger audience for a letter to the editor than among Facebook friends. Last week, someone wrote a letter to the editor pointing out that we shouldn’t worry about climate change because it has nothing to do with us. “Volcanoes spew out far more carbon dioxide than human activities do,” was the argument being made.
I had to respond as I’d already studied this issue before. And using the same approach, the letter I wrote included facts rather than just expressing opinions as facts. I included a link to an article supporting these facts written by Terry Gerlach from the US Geological Survey and published in June 2011. Despite the original claim that volcanic eruption “produces far more toxic gases than the entire population of our planet does,” the facts indicate otherwise. It turns out our human activities generate about 150 times as much carbon dioxide than all of Earth’s volcanoes. Whereas our human activities produce about 30 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, volcanic eruptions create only about 200 million tonnes in an average year, although that number clearly fluctuates year to year, ranging anywhere from about 130 to 440 million tonnes. But what a misrepresentation of the truth to suggest that we’re not the problem, the volcanoes are. Even automobiles alone generate about 3 billion tonnes per year, still about 15 times more than volcanic eruptions.
I wish this sort of misinformation didn’t happen so frequently, but it does. Since so many people get their information from such brief soundbites as Facebook posts or Letters to the Editor, we need to do a better job at getting the facts out. I feel it’s my personal mission to pass on the truth about these issues. Hopefully people will realize when references are provided that I’m standing by the facts. When others simply express inaccurate information as facts without any backup references, arguing that the facts “are simply untrue,” I hope the discerning reader will learn to realize that those soundbites aren’t worth much credence.
It always boils down to facts vs. misinformation. (Almost sounds like a political campaign, doesn’t it?)