Perhaps for the first time in some time, science has been thrust into the attention of the media with regards to climate change. It has become a political issue as well as a topic of casual debate. Even schools grapple with its tenets.
Fossil fuel emissions represent the primary contributor. This fact has fueled legislation and technology to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the real threat to the consequences of climate change is not emissions, but rather the distrust of science.
Obstacles to Understanding
Science’s approach to climate change started out poorly by calling it global warming. As research has shown since, this label does not encompass the vast range of effects possible because of greenhouse gas emissions. It was a misnomer of the worst kind and unfortunately, set the stage for skepticism.
Another obstacle exists with scale. When you read of a study, chances are it is well defined. It concerns one drug or research on one particular health condition. Climate change involves a scale few of us can grasp. There is not one cause and effect, but rather hundreds if not thousand of scenarios, each determined by local conditions.
The scientific community has a well-defined approach to publishing research. Studies must be reviewed by peers and stand up to the scrutiny of being able to replicate results. The scientific method provides the framework for research.
The problem comes when findings are published in mainstream media. If new data is uncovered, the media reports it as if one study is the basis for fact, which is contrary to science. Science views the data as a whole and does not base conclusions on one set of findings. This is one area in which climate change has suffered.
The fact remains that the data regarding climate change is in an active process of discovery. For example, satellite imagery is improving the understanding of the impacts to help better grasp its scale. Research that depended upon scientific models is now being confirmed by observational data. More often, studies speak of regional effects and not blanket findings.
The question of climate change will be debated for decades. The important thing to remember is that science is dynamic. With information comes new insights. The question remains, is it wise to wait for the definitive answer?