Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

A story about academic debates, Twitter and the deep emotions surrounding the Global Warming debate

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

 

The Pew Center for Global Climate states that “the scientific community has reached a strong consensus regarding the science of global climate change. The world is undoubtedly warming, and the warming is largely the result of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human activities. “[1]

While the majority of scientists hold this opinion, some scientists question a number of aspects of the Global Warming debate. The disagreement primarily revolves around two areas: questions of the validity of climate models, and whether the fundamental causes of Global Warming are human-made or, as of yet, unknown.[2]

Regardless of how you view this debate, the prospect of our planet warming up is a huge threat to our environment and should be taken seriously. The costs of not proactively prevent and/or minimizing the warming of our planet would be catastrophic. 

Actions aside, I believe that it is worth our time to continue an open discussion about the underlying science behind this phenomenon, including the academic papers that cast doubt on some of our basic assumptions. Having worked with complex data before and sharing conversations with scientists who study climate, I know there is a reason this science is part of a field called Complex Systems: accurate results are difficult to predict. There are multiple articles questioning various aspects of the Global Warming problem[3] and some scientists such as Richard Lindzen[4] from MIT have expressed the “opposing side” of the Global Warming debate. Some researchers suggest that “Antarctica as a continent is actually getting cooler,”[5]“Glaciers are not melting all over the world; they’re growing in some places,”[6] and the observation that “there are large errors in Global Climate Predictions.”[7]  The sources of these articles are among the most reputable journals in the field of science: NatureProceedings of the National Academy of Science, and Science. If we are truly interested in discerning the underlying causes of Global Warming, it seems prudent to investigate these claims further.  While I am not claiming they are correct, I think maintaining an open mind in the pursuit of truth is the only way to arrive at the root of this complex problem.

This brings me to part two of the story. Recently, I had an interesting experience on Twitter, the acclaimed social networking medium where roughly 6 million users have real-time conversations through posts of less than 140 characters at a time. People who “follow” you can read your tweets, comment on them publically or privately, or re-tweet them to share them with their own followers. I am active on Twitter under the handle @thesciencebabe.

While using Twitter, I recently learned, just how difficult it is to communicate scientific concepts in 140 characters in real time, and, furthermore, how heated and politicized the discussion of global warming can be. Based on this experience I am concerned that we have so deeply enmeshed this topic with politics and emotion that we can no longer calmly discuss the facts. I am not an expert in the field of Global Warming, and I am conscious that views contesting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s claims[8] are not ubiquitous. But why not keep the question open to a healthy debate?I believe in harnessing the power of social networks as a learning tool and as a means of fostering education. As Wikipedia demonstrates, knowledge is increasingly becoming a collective process. The Internet and Twitter are tools for enabling open debates that help increase our collective knowledge. This can only be the case, however, if we remain open to and respectful of those expressing new ideas.I find it wonderful that the climate change debate has incited social change by pushing many of us to conserve the beautiful planet we inhabit –a worthwhile endeavour regardless of Global Warming. Additionally, reducing our wasteful consumption of energy and searching for alternative energy sources is a necessary and sensible undertaking. However, I don’t want to see our social mediums become too averse to discussing the scientific facts behind an issue – even when “sensitive topics” are involved. Many times topics such as these are the ones directly in need of the kind of spirited debate social media can foster.