This week’s polar vortex elicited comments on climate change from both sides of the aisle. Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh were quick to suggest that the presence of cold weather debunks hundreds of thousands of years of climate data, while the Obama Administration suggested that climate change had contributed to the freeze.
Ignoring the fact that while it was bitterly cold here, Australia was experiencing a heat wave like none its ever seen before, it’s impossible to pin any one specific weather event–extreme cold, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.–on the global warming trend climate scientists have been studying for years. Even so, it was interesting timing for a talk on climate change. University of Louisville Chair of Geography and Geosciences Keith Mountain spoke about climate change and his research as part of the university’s “Meet the Professor” series yesterday.
Mountain says there are several facts that shouldn’t be up for debate, when it comes to talking about climate change: levels of carbon dioxide and methane in the Earth’s atmosphere are at levels that haven’t been seen in hundreds of thousands of years, and overall, global atmospheric temperatures have been increasing since the late 1800s. There are, of course, regional variations, but globally the trends suggest that the planet’s climate is changing.
Mountain’s research has focused on glaciers, chronicling the way they react to changes in climate, and extracting the hundreds of thousands of years of climate data contained in the ice. “These glaciers are telling us something fundamental,” he said during Thursday’s talk. “They’re archives of our climate history.”
Mountain says his main complaint with think tank publications (such as these from the Heritage Foundation) that purport to disprove climate change is that they offer criticism without undertaking their own research. He wants these arguments held to the same standard of verification as publications from institutions like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including peer review.
In this vein, Mountain laid out seven steps to move the conversation on climate forward. Here they are (emphasis his).
- Public must trust in science and climate scientists. There must be objectivity and openness.
- Scientists must not be so naïve as to assume the data speak for themselves.
- The public must take time to be informed of the issues.
- We must hold the political structure responsible to enact responsible and informed measures.
- The social media must present information in a fair and balanced forum.
- What ever the strategy for solution there must be a long-term commitment to that strategy.
- Non-climate change advocates must be held to the same standard of verification as those that present climate change as a valid environmental and social concern.