American Meteorological Society president Marshall Shepherd, Patricia Yager of marine sciences, and other UGA colleagues courageously wade into the public debate on climate change:
As author Upton Sinclair noted, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding it.” While economists and policymakers focus on policy solutions, our goal here is to clarify several erroneous statements in McClanahan’s commentary.
Scientists have used the phrase “climate change” for decades. While “global warming” is an example of climate change, so are changes in drought frequencies, Arctic sea ice, hurricane intensities, etc. If a child is sick with multiple symptoms of flu, is it accurate to say she just has a fever? Warming from greenhouse gas emissions has implications for the climate far beyond temperature.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides public-access data confirming “average temperature in the United States for 2012 was ... 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, and 1.0 degree above 1998, the previous warmest year” in the United States. It is also well-documented that over the last several decades, we have experienced far more record-high temperatures than record-low temperatures. Up to the early 1970s, numbers of record high- and record-low temperatures were about even.
This editorial contribution is not only courageous but also an important part of their duties as public-spirited scientists and scholars. Fighting misinformation in the public sphere on complex matters of great importance is a difficult task - and vested interests rely on apathy on the part of those who know, as well as ambivalence on the part of those who don't want to know. It's quite easy, after all, to sow doubt among those whom the status quo favors. That Sheperd, Yager, Mohan and Porter feel a sense of responsibility to speak up says much about our faculty. Their calm reliance on facts and evidence is reassuring, even if what we are doing to the planet is not.
Image: Global map of carbon dioxide concentrations from July 2003, courtesy of Goddard Space Flight Center - Aqua Project Science, via Wikimedia Commons.