Saturday, January 30, 2010

Climate change and the hoax question I get in class

There are a number of planetary patterns such as the Milankovich cycles that influence climate in relatively predictable ways. Volcanic outputs of particulates and sulfer dioxide also influence global climate, as may the billion tons of dust swept from the Sahara each year. However human activities add large quantities of material to the atmosphere as well. This is something over which we have some degree of control. I will agree that modelling future events is something done with risk of error and it is foolish not to acknowledge this simple fact. Any scientist will freely discuss this in reports and publications unless he or she is a complete messianic whacko. I think the press often oversimplifies science articles either because they don't fully understand what they are writing about, or because they assume most readers won't be able to understand any degree of complexity.  However, as intelligent beings we CAN attempt to understand what drives our world, evaluate relative risks, make decisions and plan for the future.

It is fun to get attention and make people upset (believe me, I know this from personal experience).  One can make people upset by bringing bad news. Attention and fun can also be had by going against the deeply held (and sometimes rational) belief's of others.  This is especially true with scientists, who expect any attacks to be well-thought out, supported by hard data, and properly cited. Our culture requires that all opinions be heard and given equal consideration.  I support listening to others, but do not support believing whatever happens to be most forcefully expressed.

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