I love eggs and bacon. I eat eggs and bacon at least once a week – and sometimes several times a week. And I will keep on eating eggs and bacon, until they pry those over-medium golden yolks from my cold carotid arteries. But there’s not a year that goes by where I don’t see some report from a scientist or individual researcher saying eggs are bad, which seems immediately followed by another report by another scientist telling me eggs are good. My reaction to this is natural – I ignore it, because the research and science seems weak and unsubstantiated. But let’s make something perfectly clear here: Climate change isn’t like eggs and bacon.
The “eggs and bacon” issue in science is fairly common, and I’ve learned to expect this depending on the parameters of the research or study being conducted. Individual researchers generally use smaller samples or datasets to produce some finding. They aren’t very well funded, and there aren’t many others doing similar studies to which their results might be compared and peer-reviewed. I know an initial finding in a study by one scientist doesn’t mean much. And, even though the process is still technically “science,” I’m also a good enough critical thinker to know how to interpret findings like this, and decide how much I should allow it to impact my life. I’ve learned to wait until the science community as a whole reaches a more clear conclusion, after they’ve analyzed lots of data and peer-reviewed each others’ reports. I also know how to analyze which types of statistics are actually meaningful or not.
Here are some examples of statistically accurate research findings, but which are still absolutely meaningless and/or lack adequate supporting information to properly contextualize:
- Most fatalities in water are caused by drowning.
- Most deaths on freeways are caused by motor vehicles.
- If you’re poor, you’re more likely to get cancer.
These are basic examples, but without any context – and particularly in the hands of crafty beady eyed evil little political and business marketeers – ambiguous data like this could easily be used to mislead people. Should we pass a law banning everyone from the oceans, or outlaw cars from all freeways, or falsely assume poverty in and of itself actually causes cancer? No, of course not. The findings are simply weak or inconclusive or have no clear connection to any real problem.
Now, there’s another area of science that may cause similar conflicting opinions among the populace: Theoretical physics. We see theoretical physicists trying to figure out the nature and origins of the universe – which is similar to trying to answer the question “What would a cat look like on planet J1407b?”. Since we’ve never actually been there, and we have no way to actually see the surface of a planet (which we’re not even completely sure exists), it’s all theory and conjecture. In situations like this, I say leave theory to the theorists. If one day they come up with something that helps me convert oxygen into coffee as I breath, great. Otherwise, you all just go do whatever it is you do, and explain it to me later if you find anything interesting. Theoretical physics doesn’t seem to have any direct impact on my life, until it does – and when it does, I know it’s usually a good impact (except for that whole splitting atoms thing you guys, and girls, figured out in the 1940s).
When we’re talking about climate change though, we’re talking about the kind of science familiar to most of us, that we trust and know can impact our lives in positive ways every day. People come up with theories about the world in which we actually live, they collect enough data to begin to see clear patterns, they compare notes and tests, and then tell the world what they’ve found.
The Earth is round and rotates around the sun. Gravity is a thing. You can’t move faster than the speed of light, but you can use wormholes to reach some far-away destination in less time than it would take traveling at light speed. We know the Earth is billions of years old, and people today are the product of evolution. Simple stuff… which took years of real science to figure out.
Climate science isn’t eggs and bacon. And it’s not theoretical physics. So, for politicians to take advantage of people’s normal reaction to other kinds of science they see in the science world – science which most people can admit can sometimes be weak or just impossible to comprehend – is just plain wrong, if not outright ridiculous.
Take for example the recent claim by the newly appointed chairman to the Senate committee that oversees vital climate science, who is basically saying climate change is real, but man didn’t cause it. Let me write that in a slightly different way… The Senator and all of his colleagues, and pretty much all conservatives in any position of power or media today, are saying “You can (now) believe the scientists who tell us climate change is happening – but you can’t believe the scientists who say ‘man’s activities are causing it’.”
Either both eggs are bad, or both are good. You can’t split scientific research down an arbitrary line drawn in the middle.
At this point in our history, if you follow a politician, or any religious leader who says man can’t hurt the world in which we live (or the world that god gave us), then you seriously need to just walk away from them, right now. Man can, and has repeatedly damaged this world – at times bringing us almost to the brink of extinction. Up until the mid 1800’s, man simply didn’t have the capacity to destroy the entire world – but now, we do. Get over it. But if you want to keep holding on a few minutes longer…
Science helped us figure out that leaded gas was poisoning us, while the gas companies did everything possible to deny that fact for over 20 years. Science helped us figure out that pesticides and ozone depleting aerosols were putting all of us and our entire food chain at risk (while the industries behind those things also put a lot of resources into protecting their own revenues – even if their products were killing people and threatening the future).
The world’s scientists are all telling us we’re impacting our planet. Meanwhile, the world’s oil companies are telling you there’s nothing wrong with fossil fuels. Unless you consider thermometers and spreadsheets to be tools of Satan, or part of some fantastic global liberal conspiracy to trick you into buying hemp cloth, the more likely truth here is 1) the science is valid, and 2) the world’s wealthiest business interests are doing what they’ve done since the dawn of time: anything and everything necessary to making more money, even if they have to foul their own nest and steal from future generations.
I grew up in the 70s and 80s. I remember rivers catching fire; fluorocarbons destroying the atmospheric layer that keeps deadly solar radiation from killing us; leaded gasoline; and utility companies poisoning entire regions across the nation (and people who lived there) because that was cheaper than properly disposing of their waste. I remember nuclear accidents and oil spills, and being able to eat fish, eggs (mmmm, eggs), poultry and meat without worrying about fatal bacterial infections or brain damage. We also (now) know what happens, and what can happen, when we cut down forests with no concern for the impacts, or when we overfish the oceans and threaten 90% of the worlds human population that depends on fish to quite literally survive.
Your very existence today is possible because of science. Science has identified and saved us from serious jeopardy on numerous occasions. But as in the past, your future continues to be threatened by unregulated, uncontrolled corporate interests. These are facts, not some liberal conspiracies.
Aside from the irrefutable proof, here’s the simplest summary of the most important thing anyone needs to know about our planet’s climate today:
99% of the planet’s foremost experts and scientists who research global climate, after having researched, produced and peer-reviewed over 10,000 individual studies, have concluded and agree that 1) the climate is changing, AND 2) man is causing it. Period. End of discussion. Drop mic.
Now, after all this having been said, we’re only human, right? Even if the scientific community concluded one day that eggs are bad for me, citing incontrovertible evidence and large-scale peer-reviewed conclusions, I would simply say “Fine. I acknowledge the truth in your factual, well-researched effort – But I choose to ignore it, because, I love eggs and bacon.”
I just wish the “drill baby drill” politicians would be as honest with regard to environmental issues. If they want to disregard science, then just say so – but there’s only so much runway for you guys, the longer to try and claim science is just a big lie.
By choosing instead to lie to Americans and the world, polluters and big business are simply digging themselves and the rest of us deeper into a hole from which even their descendants cannot escape. It’s time to believe science – not the people who, history and common sense should tell us, are only out to make every last buck they can, regardless of the cost and consequences.