In this short series of articles, I will cover a number of topics to highlight a very important point. Science, politics, mythology, and studies of long-term climates show us all that not only is there no excuse for the rapid changes we are making on our planet, but that we have already lost much more than we should have.
How misunderstandings happen with new science
One of the cool things about science is that it is supposed to be a method of finding truth, and not a canon of sacred and unchanging faith. There is no verse at the end of the textbooks of science that promises a divine curse on anyone who tries to add information. In fact, the whole point of science education is to train the next generation of questioners who can test the existing knowledge base and add to it.
Although science often finds very solid facts we now trust every day, even the most established science can and should be thrown away if better facts come to light. The process may be slow at first with opposition from the scientific establishment and the public, but that opposition often forces diverse researchers to better prove their case, leading to better science.
It is at least the theory, but practice is more complicated.
Because science is performed by imperfect beings living in an imperfect civilization, this process of finding better ideas does not always work as it should. Sometimes solid findings that gain broad acceptance have a fundamental flaw that we will not see until later. Sometimes the support for the status quo is irrationally strong or intentionally supported, preventing science from gaining ground (eg denial of climate change). Other times, hateful ideologues and traditionalists cling to old or out of context scientific ideas and then use old “science” the way they use scripture – as a bludgeon against their enemies.
When dishonest people arm a perverted version of science like this, the result is an intentional sowing of misunderstandings in public. “Scientists keep changing their minds, so they clearly do not even know what they are doing.” they say. “Open your Bible, guys. That never changes. God would not have blessed us with fossil fuels if it was really bad for us in the long run. ”
But when it is not a convenient argument, they embrace “science” again. “I know we said we can not trust scientists, but trust this old misunderstood version of genetics. You can trust it this time because it makes transgender people and minorities look bad. ”
It’s the art of telling people what they want to hear.
Let’s talk about a long-term climate in a minute
A common thing climate improvers use is the long history of the climate. To explain this, we need to explain some scientific terms that differ from ordinary language.
What we usually call the “ice age” is actually just an episode of cold that our planet has been through. Scientists call these freezing episodes the “ice age” because glaciers grow and cover the land much further from the poles and much further down the mountains than they do today. When it warms up again, they retreat further north again, almost to where they are today.
Scientists call these warmer periods, like the one we live in today, an “interglacial” because the ice has not completely disappeared from the earth. The last time the ice completely disappeared was about 2.5 million years ago, so in scientific language we are still in an ice age, even today. We’re just in one of the interglacials between the ice ages. Over billions of years, there have been a number of real ice ages and real times where the ice disappeared completely.
This information alone has been misused by climate deniers. “Look? The earth was so hot before all the ice melted! There were no SUVs and pickup trucks 2.5 million years ago. Chess mat, liberals!”
What chuckleheads did not understand (or understand and hope the public does not) is that these changes took place for many thousands of years, mainly driven by periodic changes in the Earth’s orbit. Sometimes the planet is closer to the sun. Other times it’s a little further out. This leads to ice ages, ice periods, interglacial periods and warm periods without ice at all. Species, including our own, could survive these changes because they happened gradually enough for adaptation to occur. Rapid change, as we see it today, does not give life a chance.
“Stupid scientists used to scare us about global cooling!”
After the public grasped the nuances of gradual natural climate change in relation to the rapid man-made warming, the lies went on to another way of discrediting climate science. A short-term cooling trend in the middle of the century combined with a better understanding of long-term climate science led some to believe that global cooling was becoming a major problem.
The facts behind this seemed pretty solid at the time.
Ice periods have a rhythm or a pattern, mainly because there is a pattern of changes in the earth’s orbit. It would take a long, long time to explain how it all works together to create the glacial periods, but if you want to learn all these details, you can learn more here. All information pointed to a pattern that seemed likely to repeat itself, so that the earth seemed to be delayed in yet another ice age that would freeze civilization to death.
Add to that a minor short-term cooling trend back then, and the result was startling headlines that the planet is slipping into a deadly ice age. While some researchers were concerned about cooling, the general scientific consensus, even then, was that the greenhouse effect is warming the earth. It did not prevent journalists from exaggerating the issue and even calling for government intervention to warm the earth to save humanity.
These old headlines are now routinely used by climate deniers to discredit climate science. Take these old articles, claim that they reflected the understanding of all scientists, and then say things like “These scientists can not decide.” or “See how stupid they were.” and then point out the calls for government intervention. “Obviously, they’re just inventing things to support their real agenda: big government!”
It turns out that both heating and cooling are real
Science never has a complete understanding of the universe. Of course, we know many things, and these things have been extremely useful, but we do not know everything there is to know. The gaps in our knowledge sometimes lead to situations where we are like the blind men and the elephant. One person may feel the legs and think it is a tree, while another may feel the trunk and think it is a snake of some kind. The unknown big picture can meanwhile prove that everyone is right.
It turns out that scientists who were concerned about global warming and scientists who were concerned about global warming were both right. They just did not have the full picture. To show this full picture, we need to look back over 10,000 years, and it’s long before humans wrote anything down for us to read today.
In Part 2, I will examine some ancient myths, and later I will show how everyone, including ancient people, was at least partially right in the climate.
Featured image of Public Library of Science, CC-BY 2.5 license.
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