Friday, January 31, 2014

The climate change vortex

The notion that the recent Polar Vortex somehow disproves climate change is illogical and patently false.

The Polar Vortex has passed and as Iowans, we can now say we survived one of the coldest winters on record. However, as the Midwest starts to thaw from this extreme weather event, the argument over climate change remains contested. With the extreme cold past us, a number of prominent political leaders and journalists on Fox News look at this past winter as justification to throw out all premises of climate change and place it among the list of pseudosciences. But this thought process completely misunderstands climate science.

Aside from ignoring that climate scientists warned of extreme weather conditions decades before the vortex, the argument that one scrap of evidence can discredit mountains of scientific findings to the contrary is poor logic. Using such logic, I could discredit almost any scientific fact, from a heliocentric solar system to the laws of gravity.

Take for example Professor Mordehai Milgrom, who has been working to better understand laws of gravity. He has found that many of Newton’s laws of gravity start to fall apart if acceleration is slowed to extreme conditions. So then, does this mean that Newton’s laws of Gravity should be tossed out with the bath water? Of course not, that world be ridiculous. So then, why is climate change different?

Image created by the Environmental Protection Agency
One reason could be that this is a relatively new idea in the grand scheme of things and has had little time to sink in. Today we take Galileo’s idea of the sun being the center of the solar system for granted, but this was once a revolutionary and dangerous idea. The notion that the Earth revolves around the sun was so poorly received that Galileo was placed under house arrest and his works burned

In the 16th and 17th century, when Galileo presented the idea of a heliocentric solar system, both knowledge and acceptance of new ideas came slowly, which makes this idea’s poor reception more understandable in a cultural sense. But today we have the internet, television, public school, and libraries in almost every town. With such easy access to knowledge, it is hard to argue that people can’t access information about climate change.

Some people may feel threatened by climate change due to fear of uncertainty. This is more than understandable, as the revolution climate change may bring to the world economy is gargantuan. Change in such areas threatens jobs and business’ profits. However, we must look at the long-term costs of climate change denial.

Although it is largely forgotten by recent generations, we have faced environmental crises caused by man, like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The areas affected by the Dust Bowl were devastated, but it taught farmers and the nation in general the importance of conservation practices. It is understandable to be skeptical of new scientific data and ideas. That’s how we push to improve our understanding of the world. But, how close do we want to get to disaster?

Nick Harder is a contributing writer for Iowa Peace Network and an undergraduate at the University of Iowa, studying Political Science and Sociology. He is also a research assistant in the Center for the Study of Group Processes.

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