We Need to Talk About Climate Change

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Despite fears about doing so, scientists can talk openly about the reality of global warming. There are some clever ways to help you do so.

It’s hard to believe that in the modern age, people can still be afraid of talking science.

For a lot of researchers, that fear comes from discussing climate change with the public, despite the majority scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity are causing changes in the climate.

“I feel like I need to be careful when I talk about climate change. It speaks to a lot of things right now,” says Molly Cadle-Davidson, chief scientific officer for ABM based in Geneva, New York.

Cadle-Davidson, an expert in the field of genetics and well-versed in the application of genomics and next-generation sequencing techniques for trait-based microbial research and development, says she’s often faced with a problem all too common among researchers — how to talk about human-caused climate change without creating controversy, and whether to talk about it at all.

“If the audience is unknown to me I will ask conference organizers if I can bring up the issue of climate change. There are people who just don’t want to discuss it or hear it talked about, and as a scientist, that can pose a huge challenge. How do you communicate the message if you can’t talk about something so important?”

According to a recent Yale Program on Climate Change Communication survey, 70 percent of Americans now believe global warming is happening. However, only 53 percent believe it is caused by human activities in the form of greenhouse gas emissions. Only 33 percent say they discuss the topic at least occasionally.

A majority of Americans, though, support policy changes aimed at curbing global warming. Over 80 percent want to see research funding for renewable energy sources. 75 percent want to regulate CO2, while almost 70 percent want to set strict CO2 limits on existing coal-fired power plants.

While those numbers are encouraging, rejection of climate change data is still a powerful force, with still half of Americans continuing to be skeptical of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s still a very powerful force in agriculture, notes Claudia Wagner-Riddle, professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. She studies mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and what farmers can do to reduce production of greenhouse gases on-farm.

climate change“The farming community is becoming more convinced in regard to climate change, but there are still views out there along the lines of, ‘Yes, the climate is changing, but there’s no good proof of what is causing it.’ That’s unfortunate, because we have plenty of evidence that it is caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Problem is, the science is difficult to convey in a simple way.”

Why the Denial?

Climate change rejection/denial is prevalent on social media, and according to Wagner-Riddle, a major hurdle for scientists to try and get over.

“There’s a lot of disinformation being spread, and a notion that scientists are somehow biased because they get research money to study climate change. It really is ludicrous — a scientist by definition is skeptical, and if someone could prove human-caused climate change isn’t happening, that would be done in a heartbeat,” she says.

The evidence continues to pile up showing human-caused climate change is real and having dire consequences for the globe. Thirteen federal U.S. agencies recently released a comprehensive report concluding that, based on extensive evidence, it is “extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

The U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report, approved for release by the White House itself (despite President Donald Trump’s continued doubts about the reality of climate change), goes on to state that, “In addition to warming, many other aspects of global climate are changing, primarily in response to human activities. Thousands of studies conducted by researchers around the world have documented changes in surface, atmospheric, and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; diminishing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea levels; ocean acidification; and increasing atmospheric water vapor.”

Despite the overwhelming evidence for human-caused climate change and massive support for measures to curtail it, efforts to undermine those messages are prominent. That disinformation is so effective due, in part, to the American political climate. Trump famously tweeted in 2012 that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to steal American jobs. Combine that with a lack of efficiencies in science education and the general public’s mistrust of science, and you have a recipe for climate change skepticism.

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