Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Interview with Simple Climate

A couple weeks backs, I answered a few questions about coral reefs and climate for at Andy Extance's site Simple Climate.

At the end, he asked how I would explain the global warming situation to someone who had no previous exposure at all. Of course, like any scientist, my first instinct is to launch into a discussion about the radiative transfer, the carbon cycle, etc. But explaining the science without considering the context is pointless. Here was my quick answer for Andy:

I’d start with talking about how it can be hard to “believe” that people can change the climate. For thousands of years, we’ve assumed that only powers greater than us could possible influence something as vast as the atmosphere. That’s enshrined in most cultural and religious traditions. But today, there are so many people on the planet, and we’ve consume so much energy every year, that we generate enough waste products – greenhouse gases – to alter the climate.

I’d then stress separating the science from the politics. The science tells us that human activity is changing the climate. How you want the world to respond to that information is a value judgment. As a scientist working on this subject for a number of years, I can provide you a reasonably informed opinion on the costs and benefits of different responses. But the choice is not mine alone.

After all that, if the person was still awake and interested, I’d then talk about the scientific evidence.

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