By Natalie Crnosija
During the final day of the three-day “Changing Climates, Changing Minds: Storms, Trust and Public Perception” Climates Initiative Conference sponsored by the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook, The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and the Department of Philosophy, Dr. Spencer B. Weart, a physicist and historian of global warming, said, “Your grandfather was right.”
“All of his ‘When I was a boy, we had to walk ten miles through three feet of snow to go to school’ stories have validity,” said Weart. “There is strong evidence that the world was cooler a hundred years ago.”
The conference was organized by the three departments to equally address global warming, the public’s shifting perception of the scientific phenomenon, and its sociological implications.
Weart’s lecture, “Warm Weather and Heated Debate: A Short History of Beliefs About Global Warming,” focused on the historical views and early research of global warming. Weart, the author of The Discovery of Global Warming, traced the early development of global warming theories, which originated from the research of Svante Arrhenius (yes, man did climate too).
Arrhenius, in search of an explanation for ice ages, went to the North Pole and eventually developed a theory “that humans were putting as much CO2 into the environment as volcanoes. Therefore, the world should warm up within a thousand years,” said Weart. “This sounded good for someone from Sweden.”
Arrhenius thought that the increased warmth over time would yield peace and plenty via increased agrarian output, ending world hunger and deprivation. Little did he know that such climatic change would lead to the aridization of Africa’s Sahel Zone, the Ethiopian famine, murderous heat waves which hula hooped around the globe, the expedition of the spread of epidemic disease and massive forest fires.
People thought little of climatic change until the 1930’s when the climate measurably warmed, which was likely responsible for the American Dust Bowl and the Joad’s change of address. Still, the climate received little attention until the atomic bombs were dropped and it was proved “that human beings did have the ability to change the environment,” Weart said.
According to Weart, over time, Arrhenius’ reanimated theory was bolstered by Charles David Keeling, a climatologist who created the Keeling Curve, which accounts for the oscillation of temperature during the year and showed a definite increase in temperature–and by Roger Revelle, who, through the study of the chemistry of sea water, observed increased carbon in the complex soup that makes up the sea.
The timeline of scientific breakthrough in climatology by noted scientists, who together make a persuasive pyramid of evidence, was countered by the public’s belief that nature can equilibrate itself, according to Weart.
Media coverage of global warming has created more debate on the issue, but has also caused the politicization of a scientific concept. This led to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s endless conference, which finally produced the exceptionally well-tailored decision that, “Temperature is likely to increase 1.4 degrees to 5.8 centigrade by 2100 and, without precedent, during the next 10,000 years.”
Clearly, world leaders agree that Morlocks will be grievously affected by global warming…it is just the present that they are unsure about…
In her presentation, “Seeing the Climate, Believing the Change,” Dr. Heidi Cullen, Weather Channel Climatologist, stated that “57% of the public perceive a disagreement among scientists on global warming, 63% of the public disagree upon how global warming is happening, and 80% of the public believes that global warming is happening.”
Dr. Cullen described the relationship between climatologic anomalies, like global warming and normal weather patterns as “an electric guitar playing over an orchestra.” The overpowering effect of global warming and the greenhouse effect distort normal weather patterns. Man-made CO2 (13C as opposed to natural 12C) makes up two of every five CO2 molecules in earth’s atmosphere, according to Cullen.
Cullen pulled up a slide of Jackson Pollock’s #8 for comparison with a climate map. Each exhibited broad swathes of color, which overlapped and interplayed with one another.
“We are already beyond the worst-case scenario,” said Cullen. The only solution, according to Cullen, is to change CO2 consumption behavior and stabilize emissions. Cullen believes that the lack of action by people can be attributed to the human tendency to side with “common sense” over science when the two conflict.
However, there are those who are using such sense to lower emissions. Wind farmers in the American Wind Belt and German sun-power harvesters (Deutsche Sonnenenergieerntemaschinen, Ja!) are the quiet forerunners of the slow crawl to a reduced-CO2 Babylon.
Cullen emphasized that the attack on CO2 emissions cannot be treated with a Manhattan Project formula, “With 30 scientists locked in a bunker for six years.” The public must be involved and uniformly push forward.
Cullen’s stance on climate change drew public ire when she was named as the “Number One Threat to America” by Stephen Colbert. Cullen, who received her doctorate at Columbia University and is a climate expert at Princeton University, said she “was told to just be a weather girl” by angry viewers.
Weart’s belief in the public’s disbelief of scientists was confirmed through Cullen’s own experience. According to Cullen, all people from all fields have to be aware of global warming and learn to trust the facts, however hard they might be to accept.