Editor’s Note: In several installments of their weekly Earth Matters column, Billy Mason and Anna Zivian have explored the subject of climate change from several different perspectives. This past Saturday, Billy wrote about the earth’s energy balance and the relationship between the greenhouse effect and global warming. Now this from Lise Waring of Mountainfilm in Telluride. Lise’s question: Why does public opinion still lag in the face of the evidence? A front page story in the Business section of last Saturday’s (April 20) New York Times, “No Place for Heated Opinion: Discovery’s ‘Frozen Planet’ Is Conspicuously Silent on Causes of Climate Change,” offers one possible explanation: gutless media. When it comes to pop outlets such as the Discovery Channel, “the pursuit of ratings can sometimes clash with the quest for environmental and scientific education, particularly in issues like global warming that involve vociferous debate.” Discovery may be displaying, ahem, cold feet on the subject. Mountainfilm will face it head on. Read on for a teaser of what’s to come. (The big event takes place Memorial Weekend, May 25 – May 28.)
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), March 2012 set temperature records that dominated the eastern two-thirds of the nation and contributed to the warmest March on record for the contiguous United States since 1895. Last month, more than 15,000 temperature records were broken.
It’s easy to glaze over when hearing these alarm bells, but here are a few direct statements from NOAA’s “State of the Climate National Overview March 2012” that might hit home.
• There were 21 instances of the nighttime temperatures being as warm, or warmer, than the existing record daytime temperature for a given date.
• The first four months of 2012 were also the warmest on record.
• Warmer-than-average conditions across the eastern U.S. also created an environment favorable for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. According to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, there were 223 preliminary tornado reports during March, a month that averages 80 tornadoes.
William Geer recently wrote an editorial for The Seattle Times entitled “Address Climate Change with Science, Not Opinion Polls.” In it, he challenges that elected officials and policymakers should note the findings of biologists whose research shows that species move when their habitat no longer supports them. These species have tough choices: adapt, migrate or die. He argues that we will soon have the same choices, and government officials should act accordingly.
So why does public acceptance on climate change oscillate? Why — with clear and concrete data since 1895 — is there even a debate? We know that politics are not simple, nor swift, but what will it take to at least steer public opinion in the direction of science?
Thanks to the likes of Bill McKibben and the folks at 350.org and 16-year-old Alec Loorz (who will be at Mountainfilm in Telluride this year with a new film) and his peers at Kids vs. Global Warming (who are now suing the government for the development of a comprehensive greenhouse gas pollution reduction plan), the word is getting out.
It’s just a matter of getting people to actually listen.