Knowledge gap



climate fears

By Jay Brodell
July 3, 2021
NASA image of Arctic sea ice June 30, 2021
This is a NASA image of Arctic sea Ice extent on June 30, 2021.
Some young men and women are so frightened by future conditions that they have chosen to remain childless. Others actively agitate for governments to act to change the climate.

Surveys show, however, that real knowledge is in short supply and misconceptions are being fueled by social media. As Julius Caesar so correctly put it in his Gallic War epic: Men are nearly always willing to believe what they wish.

That is one reason belief of a climate catastrophe has become akin to a religion, and an 18-year-old Swedish woman is the messiah. Attacks on the comfortable life, most in the West, lead is an indirect condemnation of sin and the need to stomp out evil, and, perhaps, humanity.

There also is a financial component. Many fortunes depend on climate uncertainty, not the least of which is Al Gore, who won a Nobel Prize for his sensationalized movie. Today entire university departments revolve around permitting climate science to attract students. Academics feed the correct narrative to get funding with their peer-reviewed papers. Politicians urge reconstructing the nation's housing among other giant leaps. Non-profits beg for money to save the supposedly starving polar bears.

Curiously, most of those, like Gore, who promote belief in the dark days ahead have limited science education. Older Americans remember when they were told the country would run out of food in 1975 due to a growing population or would soon live in a chilly place because of global cooling.

That's why public opinion polling shows an age chasm between those who demand an aggressive government policy to solve an existential threat and those who have seen it all before. A Pew Research Report says “Gen Z and Millennial social media users are more likely than older generations online to engage with climate change content on social media and to express a range of emotions when they see climate-related content there – including anxiety about the future and anger that not enough is being done . . . .”

There also is a shortage of science knowledge in the voting public. The University of New Hampshire reported in 2019 on a third round of surveys that tested the local public's knowledge of what researchers said was “a four-item test of basic, climate-relevant but belief-neutral geographical or physical knowledge, such as locations of the North and South Pole.”

The mean number of knowledge questions answered correctly by survey respondents on a 0 to 4 scoring was just 1.9, the university report said. After a similar 2010 study Yale University researchers said that only 8 percent of Americans have knowledge equivalent to an A or B, 40 percent would receive a C or D, and 52 percent would get an F.

Although many supporting drastic climate action call those who do not support their views deniers, hardly anyone doubts the world is warming slightly. Just 20,000 years ago an ice sheet two kilometers thick stretched as far south as what is now New York City. Sea levels have risen about 410 feet since then inundating what had been dry land. Florida, for example, was three times as wide. Throughout the world there are sunken lands on which humans used to farm or build cities. The British Isle used to be connected to the European continent.

Most of this happened before there was an industrial revolution or when the carbon dioxide content of the air exceeded 400 parts per million, as it does now. That's 0.04 percent.

Despite doomsday predictions, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the absolute global sea level rise is believed to have been 1.7 +/- 0.3 millimeters a year during the 20th century. Measuring sea level is tricky work because the oceans keep changing or land subsides or is elevated. Atmospheric pressure also can affect measurements.

The  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports sea levels at a number of U.S. location. At Fort Pulaski, Georgia, near Savannah, the relative sea level trend is 3.39 millimeters a year, which is equivalent to a change of 1.11 feet in 100 years. At Ocean City, Maryland, the trend is 6.03 millimeters a year, equivalent to a change of 1.98 feet in 100 years.

At the Battery at the tip of New York City sea levels have been measured at least since 1850. There the relative sea level trend is 2.88 millimeters a year or equivalent to a change of 0.94 feet in 100 years.

On the West Coast at San Diego, California, the trend is 2.2 millimeters  a year, equivalent to a change of 0.72 feet in 100 years.

Proponents of governmental climate action say that the sea level trend is increasing due to the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, but that is not obvious from the measurements. Nevertheless, the anticipated increase is far lower than the 20-foot sea level rise predicted by Gore.

Even disregarding the Gore film there are a lot people playing games with words. Carbon dioxide is considered a pollutant even though it keeps the world's plants alive. In addition, it is the most dangerous greenhouse gas for those who are unaware that up to 85 percent can be water vapor.

Much has been made of the debunked study claiming that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real, man-made and dangerous. But that is not what the survey asked. A consensus also was cited to silence Galileo.

News articles about the climate frequently depict belching smokestacks, yet carbon dioxide is invisible. All that billowing emission is usually water vapor.

Then there are the discussions about acidification of the oceans. These generates images of little fish swimming along and gradually having their flesh eroded from their bodies. This is a scary word. In fact, the pH, which measures the hydrogen ion concentration of the ocean, is about 8.1, well above the 7.0 marker between basic and acidic on the logarithmic scale. Anything lower than 7.0 can be considered acidic. Battery acid comes in about 1.0. Headlines hardly would thrive on the term “slightly decreasingly basic.”

Some news stories on the climate feature discussions and images of glaciers crashing into the sea. The suggestion is that this is bad, but this is what glaciers do. They move as the weight of snow inland pushes them forward until they reach the point where the snout melts or collapses.

Polar ice also is a concern to some because of the water
contained there. They fear catastrophic melting. Gore repeatedly cautioned about the Arctic and said in 2009 that the polar ice cap had a 75 percent chance of being fully melted in summer in five to seven year.

The Danish Meteorological Institute and the National Snow and Ice Data Center at Boulder, Colorado, keep close track on the ice cap. Current conditions are about average in ice coverage, report the Danes. The center says that the 2021 maximum is tied with 2007 for seventh lowest in the 43-year satellite record.

Proponents of government action are quick to cite local weather anomalies as proof of a long-term trend. Be it a hurricane, hot spell, forest fire or flood, the situation is blamed on climate change. For perspectives those seeking facts should look at the historical record.

Despite blazes in California's badly managed woodlands, forest fires are very low in extent historically. The 1900 Galveston Hurricane killed from 6,000 to 12,000, according to the U.S. Hurricane Center. The deadliest Atlantic hurricane took place in October 1780 when an estimated 22,000 people died.

Summer temperatures in the 1930s were so high that they helped create the Dust Bowl.

“The 'Dust Bowl' years of 1930-36 brought some of the hottest summers on record to the United States, especially across the Plains, Upper Midwest and Great Lake States. For the Upper Mississippi River Valley, the first few weeks of July 1936 provided the hottest temperatures of that period, including many all-time record highs. . . ,” reports the U.S. National Weather Service, adding “The string of hot, dry days was also deadly. Nationally, around 5,000 deaths were associated with the heat wave.”

The U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information tracks past climates from data “derived from natural sources such as tree rings, ice cores, corals and ocean and lake sediments.” The centers says that abrupt changes over as little as a couple of decades were frequent.

“Paleoclimate records indicate that climate changes of this size and speed have occurred at many times in the past. Past human civilizations were sometimes successful in adapting to the climate changes and at other times, they were not.”

The online research report includes commentary on droughts in the Mayan and Akkadian empires as well as the end of the African humid period some 6,000 year ago.

Everyone sees the world from their personal point of view, and this is well-documented in the psychological literature. Climate discussions reflect this egocentrism. Hardly any today lived through the Dust Bowl years, much less the last glacial maximum.

Consequently there is a tendency to extrapolate to the future the current local conditions. Much of climate computer modeling that predicts soaring temperatures is based on this extrapolation of data from a recent period to a distant future. A climate cycle such as El Niño/La Niña in the Pacific can really skew these computations.  That's why less than 50 years ago some scientists and the media were touting global cooling with magazine covers showing New York covered with ice.

Climate cycles are so lengthy and complex they are hard to comprehend. There have been many glacial periods, and the U.S. environmental Center estimates, citing research, that “glacial–interglacial cycles have had a frequency of about 100,000 years.”

Despite the complexities a simple solution is to vilify carbon dioxide. Yes every good researcher knows that correlation does not mean causation. After all, an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide may be a result and not a cause of the a slight warming in the global average temperature.

In addition, the 2009 climategate scandal showed that researchers considered manipulating data.

Still, there is a push for global governmental action to slow climate change even though a number of previous international agreements have had no results. The recent fumbling in efforts to curb the COVID-19 virus highlighted governmental incompetence against nature. And now a few true believers are even suggesting a return to lockdowns to somehow curb the temperature.

This assessment is likely to be torn apart by those who believe otherwise. The readers, therefore, are directed to the following sources to make their own decisions based on facts:

U.S. National Hurricane Center

U.S. National Weather Service

Abrupt climate change
U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information

Sea level trends
U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Polar ice:
Danish Meteorological Institute

National Snow and Ice Data Center

Public attitude:
New Hampshire study:

Yale University Project on Climate Change Communications

Pew Research Center

Forest fires
National Interagency Fire Center