© Copyright 2020 Hearst Communications, Inc. The correct mechanism is subtly different. Additional funding is provided by the NOVA Science Trust. In a second experiment, 79 psychology undergraduates at UC Berkeley scored an average of 3.8 out of 9 possible points when tested on mechanistic knowledge of climate change. Kahan’s not exactly sure why some people act in ways that directly contradict their own beliefs—he laughs and verbally shrugs when asked—but he has some ideas. Models that also account for the greenhouse gases emitted by humans are able to explain this warming. 4. Yet back home, President Obama still faces an electorate that doesn’t believe climate change is caused by humans. Natural influences on the climate include volcanic eruptions, changes in the orbit of the Earth, and shifts in the Earth's crust (known as plate tectonics). During this time period, atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) have notably increased. In those circumstances, declaring a position on the issue becomes more a statement of cultural identity than one of scientific understanding. All around the world, families burn a wide variety of solid fuels and biomass for heating and cooking purposes, including wood, charcoal, animal dung, and agricultural waste. Temperature extremes stress infrastructure, transportation, water supply, and electricity demand; severely affect ecosystems and forests, and increase wildfire activity. Ice is melting worldwide, especially at the Earth’s poles. Climate illiteracy isn’t just limited to the general public, either. The last such major event was the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 (see references 2). Average surface temperatures on earth have risen more than 2°F over the past 100 years. Over the past one million years, the Earth has experienced a series of ice-ages ('glacial periods') and warmer periods ('interglacial'). When incoming energy from the sun is absorbed by the Earth system, Earth warms. Increases in the concentration of so-called greenhouse gases in the atmosphere resulting largely from burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, have led to an observed and projected warming of the earth, known as the enhanced greenhouse effect . There, the community has been able to examine the scientific evidence for climate change and take action despite widespread disagreement on whether humans are actually driving climate change. Heat strokes—the most lethal condition of hyperthermia—can be caused by exposure to high ambient environmental temperatures7. Kahan’s ideas are based on his own surveys of the American public. Both human-made and natural factors contribute to climate change: • Human causes. Major funding for NOVA is provided by the David H. Koch Fund for Science, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS viewers. When Ranney surveyed 270 visitors to a San Diego park on how global warming works, he found that exactly zero could provide the proper mechanism. Burning coal, oil and gas produces carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. The energy changes spread out around the globe upsetting climate processes. This includes mountain glaciers, ice sheets … They let sunshine in and trap some of its heat in our atmosphere, making life on Earth possible today. The term ‘Climate Change’ commonly refers to influences on climate resulting from human practices. In the 1990s, Michael Ranney started informally asking people what they perceived to be the world’s biggest problem. “Even one of the most highly-cited climate change communicators in the world didn’t know the mechanism over dinner,” he says. The climate of the Earth has always changed, but the study of palaeoclimatology or "past climates" shows us that the… As the water vapor concentration increases, however, the water vapor also condenses into clouds, which reflect solar radiation and have an opposite effect (see references 2). At one point in the Earth's history, a natural imbalance in the amount of carbon dioxide released by respiration vs. the amount fixed by photosynthesis had a significant effect on Earth's climate. Two scientists, two very different answers to why some people refuse to believe that humans are changing the climate. Kahan found no correlation between one’s understanding of climate science and his or her acceptance of human-caused climate change. Some people who knew quite a bit on the topic still didn’t accept the premise of anthropogenic climate change, and vice versa. In his experiments, after the first round of questions, Ranney included a brief lecture or a written explanation on the correct mechanism behind global warming. It’s similar to how lots of people follow the ups and downs of the Dow Jones Industrial Average but don’t understand how those fluctuations relate to macroeconomic trends. The Climategate controversy in late 2009 over leaked e-mails between climate scientists and Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe’s insistence that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax are just two examples of the widespread conflict among the American public over what is causing the planet to warm. Kahan is skeptical that Ranney’s approach can be very effective on a large scale. . Americans generally trust climate scientists, The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers. There is — and has already been enough — evidence showing that climate change is being driven by human activity, and is not just a part of a natural climate cycle. Chemical analysis of the atmospheric CO2 that reveals the increase is coming from burning fossil … Increasing livestock farming. That’s because greenhouse gases work like, well, a greenhouse. Climate change denial, or global warming denial is denial, dismissal, or unwarranted doubt that contradicts the scientific consensus on climate change, including the extent to which it is caused by humans, its effects on nature and human society, or the potential of adaptation to global warming by human actions. To obtain these products, many community members cut down trees in nearby forests, known as deforestation. Still, despite many people’s strong reluctance to accept anthropogenic global warming, cities and counties in places like southeast Florida have gone ahead and supported practices to deal with global warming anyway. Despite their apparent disagreement, Ranney thinks the debate is a bit of a false dichotomy. But time and again, he heard “climate change” as an answer. Causes of Climate Change. 1. Natural forces beyond human control are also gradually affecting our climate. Just right. Funding for NOVA Next is provided by the Eleanor and Howard Morgan Family Foundation. These cyclic changes correlate with the number and frequency of "sunspots," the so-called solar cycle (see references 3). Cutting down forests (deforestation). Plus, Ranney points out that Kahan’s studies are correlative, while his are controlled experiments where causation can be more strongly inferred. Brennan holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Click the image to view a larger version.Earth's temperature depends on the balance between energy entering and leaving the planets system. Hundreds of millions of in-person lectures would certainly be impossible, but Ranney has high hopes for his online videos. Americans generally trust climate scientists These changes are called Milankovitch cycles and scientists believe these are the culprit in Earth's past ice ages (see references 3). Despite the fact that the general public has been inundated with scientific facts related to global warming, Ranney says that our climate literacy is still not very high. of varying lengths in multiple languages explaining just that. This, despite decades of scientific evidence and the fact that Ranney had also noticed that while the scientific community had converged on a consensus, the general public had not, at least not in the U.S. Milankovitch Cycles. Unlike Ranney, Kahan did find strong evidence for polarization. With every new experiment, Ranney found consistently low levels of knowledge. This is the most important long-lived "forcing" of climate change. “You’re also not in a position to give every single person a lecture. Methane. How Does Car Pollution Affect the Weather? Myriad studies and surveys have found that. National corporate funding for NOVA is provided by Draper. Water vapor is the most abundant GHG in Earth's atmosphere, although changes in its concentration are typically a result of temperature changes (see references 2). 3. But if you ask these same people if they believe in climate change, they’ll say, “no, that’s something entirely different!” Kahan says. Currently the Earth's stratosphere is free from volcanic aerosol (see references 2). Ranney recalls a scientist’s presentation at a recent conference which said that many university professors teaching global warming barely had a better understanding of its mechanism than the undergraduates they were teaching. When people are asked about their acceptance of anthropogenic global warming, he says the questions tend to confound what people know with who they are and the cultural groups they identify with. Climate change continues Despite global efforts to address climate change, including the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels continue to … This happens on occasion with religious medical doctors, he says, who reject evolution but openly admit to using the principles of evolution in their work life. The climate on Earth has been changing since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. “I don’t think it makes sense to believe that if you tell people in five-minute lectures about climate science, that it’s going to solve the problem,” he says. Ranney and his team say that a “wisdom deficit” is driving the wedge. In ocean currents or atmospheric circulation, can also influence the climate for short periods of time. Because in the world, that’s what happens.”. He also found that, as expected, conservatives are less likely to accept that humans are changing the climate. He also questions the applicability of Ranney’s experiments, which have mostly included students and Mechanical Turk respondents. (For example, the multiple choice question, “What gas do most scientists believe causes temperatures in the atmosphere to rise?”). Meanwhile, Dan Kahan says that it’s not a wisdom gap that’s preventing acceptance of human’s role in climate change, but the cultural politicization of the topic. In the UC Berkeley study, acceptance rose by 5.4%; in the Mechanical Turk study, it increased by 4.7%. “Mechanism turns out to be a tie-breaker when there’s a contentious issue.”. People don’t need a sophisticated understanding of climate change, he says. It’s certainly true that liberals are more likely to accept anthropogenic global warming than conservatives. Convinced that the key to acceptance is understanding the mechanism, Ranney created a In fact, we are statistically more confident that humans cause climate change than that smoking causes cancer. Ranney and Kahan, much like the skeptics and supporters of human-caused climate change, question the other’s conclusions. In a third study, 41 people recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online marketplace for freelance labor, scored an average of 1.9 out of 9. Greenhouse Effect on the Climate & Global Warming. Methane is a potent GHG created by many bacteria in oxygen-poor environments like swamps and bogs (see references 2). Gla… But if you did, do you think you’d be giving that lecture to them with Rush Limbaugh standing right next to them pointing out they they’re full of shit? Global warming is attributed to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Consider the Sahara desert, for example. The large quantities of dust and ash scattered by huge eruptions may circulate for some time and reflect solar radiation, keeping Earth slightly cooler than it would be otherwise (see references 2). This leads me to stress that climate models cannot be confined to the connection between human activity and increases of atmospheric temperature: they should be multivariate models, where the main ’causes’ of climate change are non-human: the first, the sun and its spots, since their non-occurrence coincides with cooling periods. The sun's output shows small variations over the course of an 11-year cycle, so the average amount of solar radiation that reaches Earth's outer atmosphere, the TSI, varies by about 1.4 watts per square meter over this time frame (see references 1) (see references 4). The causes of climate change can be any combination of: Internal variability in the climate system, when various components of the climate system—like the … Cows and sheep produce large amounts of methane when they digest their food. Kahan is skeptical that Ranney’s approach can … TSI is presently about 1361 watts per square meter by way of comparison (see references 5). Climate change is a term that refers to major changes in temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind patterns lasting for decades or longer. Whatever the cause, Kahan thinks the case of southeast Florida is worth studying. Causes of Climate Change The climate changes when the total amount of energy in the Earth’s atmosphere changes. “There were a lot of things that were culturally predicted, like thinking we were in a geocentric universe or that smoking was fine for you or that the Earth was flat—all manner of things that eventually science overcame.”. So when they are cut down, that beneficial effect is lost and the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse effect. “If you don’t understand the mechanism, then you just have competing authorities, kind of like the Pope and Galileo.”, One of the most common misconceptions, according to Ranney, is that light energy “bounces” off the surface of the Earth and then is trapped or “bounced back” by greenhouse gases. Last week during his tour of Asia, President Barack Obama struck a new global warming deal with China. “It’s certainly the case that one’s culture has a significant relationship to whether or not you accept [anthropogenic global warming], but that doesn’t mean your global warming knowledge isn’t also related to it. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Can the Observed Changes be Explained by Natural Variability? Humans have increased atmospheric methane concentrations by growing rice, raising cattle and using natural gas (see references 2). He hadn’t set out to tackle environmental issues—he was first trained in applied physics and materials science before turning to cognitive psychology. With les… Only 40% of Americans attribute global warming to human activity, according to Earth's position with respect to the sun also varies slightly over a longer time frame as a result of cyclic, predictable changes in Earth's orbit (see references 3). Ranney’s research group has boiled it down to 35 words: “Earth transforms sunlight’s visible light energy into infrared light energy, which leaves Earth slowly because it is absorbed by greenhouse gases. This natural internal climate variability is superimposed on the long-term forced climate change. Until recently, natural factors have been the cause of these changes. While these are very important for long-term fluctuations in climate, they have very little impact on shorter timescales because they take place so slowly (see references 3). That doesn’t mean polarization doesn’t exist. There are many causes for these energy shifts, called climate forcers; some internal in the climate itself, some natural but external to climate, and some man-made. Kahan relates one anecdote in which state and local officials in Florida have argued for building a nuclear power generator higher than planned because of sea-level rise and storm surge projections. And it doesn’t mean you can’t overcome a cultural predilection with more information,” Ranney says. The more knowledgeable a conservative, for example, the more likely they are to not accept human-caused global warming. He then polled the same people to see whether they understood it better and whether they accepted that humans are causing climate change. In one recent study of 1,769 participants recruited through the public opinion firm YouGov, he assessed people’s “ordinary climate science intelligence” with a series of climate change knowledge questions. The leading one is the notion of dualism, when someone mentally separates two apparently conflicting ideas and yet feels no need to reconcile them. “Whatever we can do now will be heroic for our great-grandchildren, and whatever we do not do will be infamous,” Ranney says. Perhaps most notably, acceptance increased among both conservatives and liberals. When the delicate balance of these GHGs is maintained between what we add and what plants absorb, the long-term average works out like Goldilocks and the Three Bears for life: Not too hot. Just the process of extracting and processing coal, natural gas, or oil involves the release of greenhouse gases -- those activities make up 11% of the total emissions. Not too cold. . “The people who are disagreeing in the world are not college students,” he says. Consequently, water vapor can act as part of feedback loops, where an increase in temperature triggers an increase in water evaporation, which triggers an increase in temperature and so forth (see references 2). Volcanic eruptions can sometimes have a significant impact on Earth's climate. When they remain for an extended period in the atmosphere, they are likely to cause climate change. Current evidence suggests the TSI has increased by about .12 watts per square meter since 1750, although there are significant uncertainties in these data (see references 3). If one or both of them are right, the shift in tone could transform our society’s debate over climate change. In addition to natural causes of climate change, changes internal to the climate system, such as variations. Many climate alarmists, however, are like the fellow who unwittingly admitted that he's not actually alarmed about climate change in and of itself, just climate change caused by human activity. Orbital Change Another natural occurrence that has caused major changes in the Earth's climate in the past is shifts in the Earth's orbit. He also collected demographic data, including political orientation. Greenhouse gas emission is a major human causes of climate change, and their sources include transportation, electricity production, burning fossil fuel in industries, commercial and re… Over the past two centuries, human activity has increased the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG) like carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere, and scientists believe these changes are causing a rise in global surface temperatures (see references 3). “They only need to be able to recognize what the best available scientific evidence signifies as a practical matter: that human-caused global warming is initiating a series of very significant dynamics—melting ice, rising sea levels, flooding, heightened risk of serious diseases, more intense hurricanes and other extreme weather events—that put us in danger.”. 2. a recent Pew Research Center poll Human activities are not the only ones that can impact climate, however, and throughout Earth's history natural activities have also caused climate fluctuations (see references 3). More than 130,000 page views later, Ranney is not shy about his aims: “Our goal is to garner 7 billion visitors,” he says. Several hundred million years ago during the Carboniferous period, vast swamp forests of seedless vascular plants fixed huge amounts of carbon, causing atmospheric CO2 concentrations to drop fivefold (see references 6). But they disagree on what, exactly, those questions should be. The climate is changing — the thing is, it isn’t just due to humans. Without naturally-occurring greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide, our planet would be downright freezing. Kahan suggests that these people use their significant analytical skills to seek evidence that aligns with their political orientation. Based in San Diego, John Brennan has been writing about science and the environment since 2006. Specifically, it’s a lack of understanding of the mechanism of global warming that’s been retarding progress on the issue. Our confidence comes from the culmination of over a century of research by tens of thousands of scientists at hundreds of institutions in more than a hundred nations. And if you don’t understand the mechanism, then you just have competing authorities, kind of like the Pope and Galileo,” he says. Carbon dioxide is released by animals and other organisms as part of respiration; plants take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and fix it into organic compounds (see references 2) (see references 6). include burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, and developing land for farms, cities, and roads. It was a landmark agreement that many expect could break the logjam that has kept the world’s two largest emitters largely on the sidelines of talks to curb greenhouse gas emissions. First, no credible scientific body has ever said climate change threatens the collapse of civilization much less the extinction of the human species. According to both, we haven’t been asking the right questions. In addition, most of the measures of climate science knowledge that Kahan uses in his research focus on factual knowledge rather than mechanism. Climate change has always happened on Earth, which is clearly seen in the geological record; it is the rapid rate and the magnitude of climate change occurring now that is of great concern worldwide. But political affiliation doesn’t always overwhelm knowledge when it becomes available—Ranney found no evidence for a difference between conservatives’ and liberals’ change in willingness to accept climate change after his “knowledge intervention.”. This site explores the debate on whether climate change is caused by humans (also known as anthropogenic climate change).. Some particles reflect sunlight back to space ( aerosols ), similar to the volcanic particles, having a cooling effect. Consequently, the role of these feedback loops and their importance is still poorly understood (see references 2). That apparent cognitive dissonance has vexed two scientists in particular: Michael Ranney, a professor of education at the University of California, Berkeley, and Dan Kahan, a professor of law at Yale University. “The impact of human induced climate change on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is not simple,” said lead author Paul Holland at the British Antarctic Survey. This is caused by the increased concentration and effect of greenhouse gases, such as carbon … According to Kahan, the problem lies in the discourse around the issue. Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens. His articles have appeared in "Plenty," "San Diego Reader," "Santa Barbara Independent" and "East Bay Monthly." National Climatic Data Center: GHG Frequently Asked Questions, NASA Earth Observatory: Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment, Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment: TSI Data. The resulting global cooling led to an ice age (see references 6). Much of this fixed carbon was buried in the swamps and gradually compressed to form coal (see references 6). These are often utilized in inefficient stoves or on open fires, which results in increased need for these products due to inefficient burning. These gases accumulate in the atmosphere, blocking heat from escaping, and they don't respond to the temperature changes (the greenhouse effect). When the suns energy is reflected back into space, E… Perhaps Ranney and Kahan are on the same team after all—they would probably agree that, at the end of the day, both knowledge and culture matter, and that we’d be well-served to focus our energy on how to operationally increase acceptance of anthropogenic global warming. Own surveys of the human species trust climate scientists they remain for an period. 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