Consequently, the role of these feedback loops and their importance is still poorly understood (see references 2). “The impact of human induced climate change on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is not simple,” said lead author Paul Holland at the British Antarctic Survey. That doesn’t mean polarization doesn’t exist. At one point in the Earth's history, a natural imbalance in the amount of carbon dioxide released by respiration vs. the amount fixed by photosynthesis had a significant effect on Earth's climate. Based in San Diego, John Brennan has been writing about science and the environment since 2006. The causes of climate change can be any combination of: Internal variability in the climate system, when various components of the climate system—like the … 3. “Even one of the most highly-cited climate change communicators in the world didn’t know the mechanism over dinner,” he says. Methane is a potent GHG created by many bacteria in oxygen-poor environments like swamps and bogs (see references 2). Over the past one million years, the Earth has experienced a series of ice-ages ('glacial periods') and warmer periods ('interglacial'). Gla… A hydrocarbon gas produced both through natural sources and human activities, including the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture, and especially rice cultivation, as well as ruminant digestion and manure management associated with domestic livestock. . More than 130,000 page views later, Ranney is not shy about his aims: “Our goal is to garner 7 billion visitors,” he says. Causes of Climate Change The climate changes when the total amount of energy in the Earth’s atmosphere changes. Kahan found no correlation between one’s understanding of climate science and his or her acceptance of human-caused climate change. Just the process of extracting and processing coal, natural gas, or oil involves the release of greenhouse gases -- those activities make up 11% of the total emissions. Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens. Trees help to regulate the climate by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. Increasing livestock farming. When people produce greenhouse gases, energy leaves Earth even more slowly—raising Earth’s temperature.”. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Can the Observed Changes be Explained by Natural Variability? Consequently, water vapor can act as part of feedback loops, where an increase in temperature triggers an increase in water evaporation, which triggers an increase in temperature and so forth (see references 2). TSI is presently about 1361 watts per square meter by way of comparison (see references 5). That apparent cognitive dissonance has vexed two scientists in particular: Michael Ranney, a professor of education at the University of California, Berkeley, and Dan Kahan, a professor of law at Yale University. Brennan holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego. At least, he did at first. Because in the world, that’s what happens.”. But time and again, he heard “climate change” as an answer. Kahan suggests that these people use their significant analytical skills to seek evidence that aligns with their political orientation. According to both, we haven’t been asking the right questions. Several hundred million years ago during the Carboniferous period, vast swamp forests of seedless vascular plants fixed huge amounts of carbon, causing atmospheric CO2 concentrations to drop fivefold (see references 6). Unlike Ranney, Kahan did find strong evidence for polarization. “There were a lot of things that were culturally predicted, like thinking we were in a geocentric universe or that smoking was fine for you or that the Earth was flat—all manner of things that eventually science overcame.”. The leading one is the notion of dualism, when someone mentally separates two apparently conflicting ideas and yet feels no need to reconcile them. Americans generally trust climate scientists, The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers. Without naturally-occurring greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide, our planet would be downright freezing. Many climate alarmists, however, are like the fellow who unwittingly admitted that he's not actually alarmed about climate change in and of itself, just climate change caused by human activity. “For many Americans, they’re caught between a radio talk show host—of the sort that Rush Limbaugh is—and maybe a professor who just gave them a lecture on global warming. Other particles such as soot (black carbon) absorb the sunlight and drive temperature rise, leading to local warming of the atmosphere level where the soot particles circulate. Funding for NOVA Next is provided by the Eleanor and Howard Morgan Family Foundation. The correct mechanism is subtly different. of varying lengths in multiple languages explaining just that. In those circumstances, declaring a position on the issue becomes more a statement of cultural identity than one of scientific understanding. Whatever the cause, Kahan thinks the case of southeast Florida is worth studying. The sun's output shows small variations over the course of an 11-year cycle, so the average amount of solar radiation that reaches Earth's outer atmosphere, the TSI, varies by about 1.4 watts per square meter over this time frame (see references 1) (see references 4). In a second experiment, 79 psychology undergraduates at UC Berkeley scored an average of 3.8 out of 9 possible points when tested on mechanistic knowledge of climate change. This site explores the debate on whether climate change is caused by humans (also known as anthropogenic climate change).. Some particles reflect sunlight back to space ( aerosols ), similar to the volcanic particles, having a cooling effect. Not too cold. Both human-made and natural factors contribute to climate change: • Human causes. Ice is melting worldwide, especially at the Earth’s poles. There is — and has already been enough — evidence showing that climate change is being driven by human activity, and is not just a part of a natural climate cycle. Orbital Change Another natural occurrence that has caused major changes in the Earth's climate in the past is shifts in the Earth's orbit. 2. How Does Car Pollution Affect the Weather? Kahan’s ideas are based on his own surveys of the American public. During this time period, atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) have notably increased. The climate on Earth has been changing since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. “I don’t think it makes sense to believe that if you tell people in five-minute lectures about climate science, that it’s going to solve the problem,” he says. But if you did, do you think you’d be giving that lecture to them with Rush Limbaugh standing right next to them pointing out they they’re full of shit? Volcanic eruptions can sometimes have a significant impact on Earth's climate. When the delicate balance of these GHGs is maintained between what we add and what plants absorb, the long-term average works out like Goldilocks and the Three Bears for life: Not too hot. National corporate funding for NOVA is provided by Draper. These changes are called Milankovitch cycles and scientists believe these are the culprit in Earth's past ice ages (see references 3). In addition, most of the measures of climate science knowledge that Kahan uses in his research focus on factual knowledge rather than mechanism. Models that account only for the effects of natural processes are not able to explain the warming observed over the past century. Average surface temperatures on earth have risen more than 2°F over the past 100 years. To obtain these products, many community members cut down trees in nearby forests, known as deforestation. He also found that, as expected, conservatives are less likely to accept that humans are changing the climate. The large quantities of dust and ash scattered by huge eruptions may circulate for some time and reflect solar radiation, keeping Earth slightly cooler than it would be otherwise (see references 2). Climate illiteracy isn’t just limited to the general public, either. The Milankovitch Cycle is the name for the slow process of going in and out of … This is caused by the increased concentration and effect of greenhouse gases, such as carbon … Plus, Ranney points out that Kahan’s studies are correlative, while his are controlled experiments where causation can be more strongly inferred. Hundreds of millions of in-person lectures would certainly be impossible, but Ranney has high hopes for his online videos. This happens on occasion with religious medical doctors, he says, who reject evolution but openly admit to using the principles of evolution in their work life. Meanwhile, Dan Kahan says that it’s not a wisdom gap that’s preventing acceptance of human’s role in climate change, but the cultural politicization of the topic. When people are asked about their acceptance of anthropogenic global warming, he says the questions tend to confound what people know with who they are and the cultural groups they identify with. Despite the fact that the general public has been inundated with scientific facts related to global warming, Ranney says that our climate literacy is still not very high. 4. Current evidence suggests the TSI has increased by about .12 watts per square meter since 1750, although there are significant uncertainties in these data (see references 3). The energy changes spread out around the globe upsetting climate processes. Human activities are not the only ones that can impact climate, however, and throughout Earth's history natural activities have also caused climate fluctuations (see references 3). Climate change continues Despite global efforts to address climate change, including the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels continue to … These are often utilized in inefficient stoves or on open fires, which results in increased need for these products due to inefficient burning. Consider the Sahara desert, for example. With every new experiment, Ranney found consistently low levels of knowledge. Burning coal, oil and gas produces carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. It’s certainly true that liberals are more likely to accept anthropogenic global warming than conservatives. Carbon dioxide is released by animals and other organisms as part of respiration; plants take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and fix it into organic compounds (see references 2) (see references 6). In his experiments, after the first round of questions, Ranney included a brief lecture or a written explanation on the correct mechanism behind global warming. Click the image to view a larger version.Earth's temperature depends on the balance between energy entering and leaving the planets system. Climate change denial, or global warming denial is denial, dismissal, or unwarranted doubt that contradicts the scientific consensus on climate change, including the extent to which it is caused by humans, its effects on nature and human society, or the potential of adaptation to global warming by human actions. In other words, though we may hear a lot about climate change, we don’t really understand it. © Copyright 2020 Hearst Communications, Inc. Our confidence comes from the culmination of over a century of research by tens of thousands of scientists at hundreds of institutions in more than a hundred nations. Kahan is skeptical that Ranney’s approach can … “If you don’t understand the mechanism, then you just have competing authorities, kind of like the Pope and Galileo.”, One of the most common misconceptions, according to Ranney, is that light energy “bounces” off the surface of the Earth and then is trapped or “bounced back” by greenhouse gases. Some people who knew quite a bit on the topic still didn’t accept the premise of anthropogenic climate change, and vice versa. In fact, we are statistically more confident that humans cause climate change than that smoking causes cancer. But if you ask these same people if they believe in climate change, they’ll say, “no, that’s something entirely different!” Kahan says. Ranney recalls a scientist’s presentation at a recent conference which said that many university professors teaching global warming barely had a better understanding of its mechanism than the undergraduates they were teaching. At one point in the Earth's history, a natural imbalance in the amount of carbon dioxide released by respiration vs. the amount fixed by photosynthesis had a significant effect on Earth's climate. When they remain for an extended period in the atmosphere, they are likely to cause climate change. These gases accumulate in the atmosphere, blocking heat from escaping, and they don't respond to the temperature changes (the greenhouse effect). Yet back home, President Obama still faces an electorate that doesn’t believe climate change is caused by humans. He hadn’t set out to tackle environmental issues—he was first trained in applied physics and materials science before turning to cognitive psychology. Methane. Americans generally trust climate scientists So when they are cut down, that beneficial effect is lost and the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse effect. Perhaps most notably, acceptance increased among both conservatives and liberals. This, despite decades of scientific evidence and the fact that “You’re also not in a position to give every single person a lecture. Cutting down forests (deforestation). Myriad studies and surveys have found that. In the UC Berkeley study, acceptance rose by 5.4%; in the Mechanical Turk study, it increased by 4.7%. Additional funding is provided by the NOVA Science Trust. (Study participants in Japan and Germany had a similarly poor showing, meaning it’s not just an American problem.) There, the community has been able to examine the scientific evidence for climate change and take action despite widespread disagreement on whether humans are actually driving climate change. When incoming energy from the sun is absorbed by the Earth system, Earth warms. series of no-frills videos Last week during his tour of Asia, President Barack Obama struck a new global warming deal with China. Humans have increased atmospheric methane concentrations by growing rice, raising cattle and using natural gas (see references 2). That’s because greenhouse gases work like, well, a greenhouse. But political affiliation doesn’t always overwhelm knowledge when it becomes available—Ranney found no evidence for a difference between conservatives’ and liberals’ change in willingness to accept climate change after his “knowledge intervention.”. Kahan is skeptical that Ranney’s approach can be very effective on a large scale. In ocean currents or atmospheric circulation, can also influence the climate for short periods of time. The Climategate controversy in late 2009 over leaked e-mails between climate scientists and Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe’s insistence that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax are just two examples of the widespread conflict among the American public over what is causing the planet to warm. Climate change has always happened on Earth, which is clearly seen in the geological record; it is the rapid rate and the magnitude of climate change occurring now that is of great concern worldwide. “It’s certainly the case that one’s culture has a significant relationship to whether or not you accept [anthropogenic global warming], but that doesn’t mean your global warming knowledge isn’t also related to it. It was a landmark agreement that many expect could break the logjam that has kept the world’s two largest emitters largely on the sidelines of talks to curb greenhouse gas emissions. And if you don’t understand the mechanism, then you just have competing authorities, kind of like the Pope and Galileo,” he says. It’s similar to how lots of people follow the ups and downs of the Dow Jones Industrial Average but don’t understand how those fluctuations relate to macroeconomic trends. Increases in the concentration of so-called greenhouse gases in the atmosphere resulting largely from burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, have led to an observed and projected warming of the earth, known as the enhanced greenhouse effect . Just right. “They only need to be able to recognize what the best available scientific evidence signifies as a practical matter: that human-caused global warming is initiating a series of very significant dynamics—melting ice, rising sea levels, flooding, heightened risk of serious diseases, more intense hurricanes and other extreme weather events—that put us in danger.”. He also questions the applicability of Ranney’s experiments, which have mostly included students and Mechanical Turk respondents. Temperature extremes stress infrastructure, transportation, water supply, and electricity demand; severely affect ecosystems and forests, and increase wildfire activity. Models that also account for the greenhouse gases emitted by humans are able to explain this warming. The climate is changing — the thing is, it isn’t just due to humans. Only 40% of Americans attribute global warming to human activity, according to When the suns energy is reflected back into space, E… According to Kahan, the problem lies in the discourse around the issue. When Ranney surveyed 270 visitors to a San Diego park on how global warming works, he found that exactly zero could provide the proper mechanism. Natural influences on the climate include volcanic eruptions, changes in the orbit of the Earth, and shifts in the Earth's crust (known as plate tectonics). Heat strokes—the most lethal condition of hyperthermia—can be caused by exposure to high ambient environmental temperatures7. There was no evidence for political polarization. National Climatic Data Center: GHG Frequently Asked Questions, NASA Earth Observatory: Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment, Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment: TSI Data. Despite their apparent disagreement, Ranney thinks the debate is a bit of a false dichotomy. Chemical analysis of the atmospheric CO2 that reveals the increase is coming from burning fossil … “The people who are disagreeing in the world are not college students,” he says. 1. “Mechanism turns out to be a tie-breaker when there’s a contentious issue.”. Greenhouse gas emission is a major human causes of climate change, and their sources include transportation, electricity production, burning fossil fuel in industries, commercial and re… Ranney and Kahan, much like the skeptics and supporters of human-caused climate change, question the other’s conclusions. It is easy for a person to say humans are not influencing climate, but no one has come close to backing up that statement with rigorous scientific calculations and papers, or … The term ‘Climate Change’ commonly refers to influences on climate resulting from human practices. Much of this fixed carbon was buried in the swamps and gradually compressed to form coal (see references 6). Ranney and Kahan, much like the skeptics and supporters of human-caused climate change, question the other’s conclusions. All around the world, families burn a wide variety of solid fuels and biomass for heating and cooking purposes, including wood, charcoal, animal dung, and agricultural waste. Ranney had also noticed that while the scientific community had converged on a consensus, the general public had not, at least not in the U.S. Specifically, it’s a lack of understanding of the mechanism of global warming that’s been retarding progress on the issue. “This is the first evidence for a direct link between human activities and the loss of ice from West Antarctica. Both countries agreed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, with the U.S. ramping up reductions starting in 2020 and China beginning cuts in 2030. There are many causes for these energy shifts, called climate forcers; some internal in the climate itself, some natural but external to climate, and some man-made. Still, despite many people’s strong reluctance to accept anthropogenic global warming, cities and counties in places like southeast Florida have gone ahead and supported practices to deal with global warming anyway. The more knowledgeable a conservative, for example, the more likely they are to not accept human-caused global warming. They let sunshine in and trap some of its heat in our atmosphere, making life on Earth possible today. And it doesn’t mean you can’t overcome a cultural predilection with more information,” Ranney says. “Whatever we can do now will be heroic for our great-grandchildren, and whatever we do not do will be infamous,” Ranney says. include burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, and developing land for farms, cities, and roads. Water vapor is the most abundant GHG in Earth's atmosphere, although changes in its concentration are typically a result of temperature changes (see references 2). (For example, the multiple choice question, “What gas do most scientists believe causes temperatures in the atmosphere to rise?”). This natural internal climate variability is superimposed on the long-term forced climate change. People don’t need a sophisticated understanding of climate change, he says. Global warming is attributed to the enhanced greenhouse effect. If one or both of them are right, the shift in tone could transform our society’s debate over climate change. He then polled the same people to see whether they understood it better and whether they accepted that humans are causing climate change. The resulting global cooling led to an ice age (see references 6). Until recently, natural factors have been the cause of these changes. Declaring a position on the issue can become more a statement of cultural identity than one of scientific understanding. Ranney and his team say that a “wisdom deficit” is driving the wedge. In the 1990s, Michael Ranney started informally asking people what they perceived to be the world’s biggest problem. Over the past two centuries, human activity has increased the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG) like carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere, and scientists believe these changes are causing a rise in global surface temperatures (see references 3). First, no credible scientific body has ever said climate change threatens the collapse of civilization much less the extinction of the human species. The key, Kahan says, is that they have kept politics out of the room. Cows and sheep produce large amounts of methane when they digest their food. Greenhouse Effect on the Climate & Global Warming. Perhaps Ranney and Kahan are on the same team after all—they would probably agree that, at the end of the day, both knowledge and culture matter, and that we’d be well-served to focus our energy on how to operationally increase acceptance of anthropogenic global warming. Convinced that the key to acceptance is understanding the mechanism, Ranney created a Milankovitch Cycles. This leads me to stress that climate models cannot be confined to the connection between human activity and increases of atmospheric temperature: they should be multivariate models, where the main ’causes’ of climate change are non-human: the first, the sun and its spots, since their non-occurrence coincides with cooling periods. Earth's position with respect to the sun also varies slightly over a longer time frame as a result of cyclic, predictable changes in Earth's orbit (see references 3). But they disagree on what, exactly, those questions should be. Causes of Climate Change. This is the most important long-lived "forcing" of climate change. This includes mountain glaciers, ice sheets … a recent Pew Research Center poll Major funding for NOVA is provided by the David H. Koch Fund for Science, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS viewers. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb heat radiation. . With les… Currently the Earth's stratosphere is free from volcanic aerosol (see references 2). As the water vapor concentration increases, however, the water vapor also condenses into clouds, which reflect solar radiation and have an opposite effect (see references 2). Natural forces beyond human control are also gradually affecting our climate. Ranney’s work, on the other hand, is all about mechanism. Kahan’s not exactly sure why some people act in ways that directly contradict their own beliefs—he laughs and verbally shrugs when asked—but he has some ideas. Ranney’s research group has boiled it down to 35 words: “Earth transforms sunlight’s visible light energy into infrared light energy, which leaves Earth slowly because it is absorbed by greenhouse gases. These cyclic changes correlate with the number and frequency of "sunspots," the so-called solar cycle (see references 3). In addition to natural causes of climate change, changes internal to the climate system, such as variations. Two scientists, two very different answers to why some people refuse to believe that humans are changing the climate. He also collected demographic data, including political orientation. Kahan relates one anecdote in which state and local officials in Florida have argued for building a nuclear power generator higher than planned because of sea-level rise and storm surge projections. His articles have appeared in "Plenty," "San Diego Reader," "Santa Barbara Independent" and "East Bay Monthly." There are many “natural” and “anthropogenic” (human-induced) factors that contribute to climate change. While these are very important for long-term fluctuations in climate, they have very little impact on shorter timescales because they take place so slowly (see references 3). In a third study, 41 people recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online marketplace for freelance labor, scored an average of 1.9 out of 9. In one recent study of 1,769 participants recruited through the public opinion firm YouGov, he assessed people’s “ordinary climate science intelligence” with a series of climate change knowledge questions. The last such major event was the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 (see references 2). Climate change is a term that refers to major changes in temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind patterns lasting for decades or longer. The climate of the Earth has always changed, but the study of palaeoclimatology or "past climates" shows us that the… Much less the extinction of the measures of climate science knowledge that Kahan uses in his Research on. Effects of natural processes are not able to explain the warming observed over the past century other... 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