Dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter
Most of the time I am focused on helping our clients measure and respond to their key sustainability impacts, including their carbon footprint. We're on the same page about the need to address environmental problems like greenhouse gas emissions, and don't spend a lot of time discussing the basic science. It's just taken as a given--like gravity, or evolution.
But occasionally I am challenged to explain to a skeptic that climate change is real, and caused by human activity. Now let me be honest. The argument about climate change has become so polarized that I doubt a round-up of the most credible scientific findings would convince skeptics. They have convinced themselves that climate change is at best a misguided delusion, and at worst a vast global conspiracy in which scientists, politicians, and--yes, sometimes even the energy companies--are tricking the American people into paying higher taxes.
I realize, however, that it's difficult for a sustainability professional (who naturally believes that climate change is real) to engage in these kind of discussions without getting judgmental and patronizing. If we're honest with ourselves, we have to admit that often we treat climate skeptics like idiots--uneducated, conspiracy-theorist, head-in-the-sand...you get the idea. I have this tendency myself.
The moral superiority on both sides makes having a reasonable discussion about the realities of climate change extremely difficult. Most of the time I simply try not to engage climate skeptics--it stresses me out and I'm pretty sure that there's nothing I could possible say to change their minds. After all, how do you try to convince someone you're not in on a conspiracy?
That's why I'm so grateful to be able to point to the following resources from Skeptical Science--they take on the burden of explaining the scientific evidence in support of climate change. Now perhaps I can just point my radically conservative cousins (you know who you are) here, rather than fighting with them over Facebook.
Resource #1: What We Know About Climate Change - The Video
The video below is a sweet 10-minute summary of the case for climate change science. It explains in simple language the chemistry and physics behind the greenhouse effect, highlights a few of the many, many studies from around the world showing empirical evidence supporting climate change theory, and explains why you shouldn't be looking for "the one study to rule them all".
Resource #2: Skeptical Science Website
Scientific skepticism is healthy. Scientists should always challenge themselves to expand their knowledge and improve their understanding. Yet this isn't what happens in global warming skepticism. Skeptics vigorously criticise any evidence that supports man-made global warming and yet eagerly, even blindly embrace any argument, op-ed piece, blog or study that refutes global warming.
So this website gets skeptical about global warming skepticism. Do their arguments have any scientific basis? What does the peer reviewed scientific literature say?
A common skeptic argument is that there is no empirical evidence for man-made global warming. People who make this claim can't have looked very hard. As most don't have the time to scour through the peer-reviewed scientific literature, the multiple lines of independent evidence for global warming are given here.
Resource #3: iPhone App
From The Guardian: An Australian solar physicist called John Cook, who runs the popular Skeptical Science website, has developed an app which "lets you use an iPhone or iPod to view the entire list of skeptic arguments as well as (more importantly) what the science says on each argument". So the next time you're caught at the fag end of a wedding reception in an interminable one-way conversation with a reactionary uncle who's boring on about how "the climate's always changed", just switch on this app, hand them your iPhone, and proceed to the bar.
Here's how it works:
You browse arguments via the Top 10 most used arguments as well as 3 main categories ('It's not happening', 'It's not us', 'It's not bad'). When you select one of the 3 main categories, a list of sub-categories pop up. You can then select any category to see the skeptic argument, a summary of what the science says and the full answer including graphs plus links to papers or other sources. A novel inclusion is a feature that lets you report when you encounter a skeptic argument. By clicking on the red ear icon (above left, shown to the left of the skeptic arguments or above right, next to the headline), the iPhone adds another hit to that particular skeptic argument.
Beware - this app has received some criticism from the skeptics--not that anyone should be surprised. You can check out the (funny, if it weren't so sad) back-and-forth in the full article from The Guardian.