June 26, 2005
Seeing Is Believing, Or Believing Is Seeing?
By: Rowan Wolf
I frequently talk to my classes about global warming and ask them "What would make people respond to this problem?" I consistently get the response "When people see it," or "When it affects them." Since I see the changes happening all over the place, I have to wonder why others don't "see" it. Is it that the news reports in the U.S. are so sparse and don't get big play, or is it that they don't "believe" in global warming and so they don't "see" what is right under their noses? In other words, is this an information problem and when folks are informed they will see it? Or is this an issue that people will not see it until they believe it?
There is an article by Timothy Egan in the June 26, 2005 NY Times called The Race to Alaska Before It Melts. In it he notes that "Alaska is changing by the hour." This would seem to be true as he also notes that the "Exit Glacier, just outside the town of Seward and one of the most visited bodies of ice in the north, has receded by nearly 1,000 feet over the last 10 years".
One thousand feet in ten years. Given that (at least at this point) we can assume that it is not melting year round, let's assume that it is melting for only six months out of the year. So that would be 60 months. Let's look at the following calculation:
1,000 feet/60 months=16.666 feet per 6 month period 16.666 feet/6= 2.777 feet per month
This means that the glacier is melting at a rate of approximately 3 feet a month for each month warm enough for melt to occur. It must indeed seem like the glacier is melting before one's eyes ... and one's ears. My guess is that a melting glacier, or ice sheet, is not a silent process. I have heard lakes and streams melting. It is not like ice cubes melting in a glass. Large bodies of ice creak and groan, snap and sometimes sound like gun shots. Ice does not go quietly into its fluid form.
Another way to "see" global warming is to look at before and after pictures. There is a site with good photos called World View of Global Warming. Look for yourself - send the link to the "unbelievers." Or send them the link to the Climate Hot Map of North America.
I was having a conversation about global warming with a friend of mine who rather than being a global warming denier is a global warming enthusiast. We live in Portland, Oregon which has a pretty "temperate" climate; however, it is too cold by her standards. She thinks that a 10-30 degree increase in temperature would be a great thing. I was horrified and we argued hotly for a while. I just can't get to the level of my personal temperature range comfort level in the face to the catastrophic effects such a change represents. But my guess is that is part of the general non-response to global warming. "We" like warm weather. Actually I don't, but many do. Many feel that warmth is good. But look at folks in Arizona or Southern Nevada running from their air conditioned homes to their air conditioned cars to their air conditioned stores and back. Wow, they obviously "love" the heat too - that's why they spend so much time avoiding it.
Another easy denial tactic is that "weather changes." Most people see weather as rather whimsical. It rains and shines, is hot or cold, is "seasonable" or not. So it's a "warm" year or "cold." Trends and significant changes are seen (and portrayed by TV weather casters) "exceptions," and that reinforces the minimization of the changes. What happens when the exception becomes the rule? That is clearly what folks in western Europe are being warned of - "Outbreaks of freak weather will increase, climate experts warn. There are no such media warnings in the United States.
Last night I was watching the Weather Station report on the heat wave in the central and northeastern U.S. The weather person was going on at great length about the anomalous temperatures - temperatures that were 1) setting records, and 2) over 20 degrees above normal in most areas. While he was obviously amazed (and visibly stunned verging on horrified) by the "heat wave," neither global warming, nor climate change was mentioned once. Just more "freakish" weather. One might think that there is active censorship going on.
I remember when I first watched "The Day After Tomorrow" (a movie about catastrophic climate change). I actually chuckled as one weather person after another was "eliminated" by the monster storms. I know it wasn't nice of me, but there was some justice in the storms spawned by global warming taking personal offense at weather people who have lead the way in deceiving the public.
So we circle back to the questions of "Do people not see global warming because they don't believe it?" or "Do people not believe in global warming, and hence do not see it?" My guess it is an element of both, but what is clear is that there is a virtual conspiracy in the U.S. to provide fodder for lack of belief and blindness.
Posted by Rowan at June 26, 2005 7:29 AM Category: Global Warming
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This seeing/believing continuum is an interesting concept. But then one must remember the conundrum of "the emperor's new clothes," and how willing humans can be (on occasion) to see merely what functions to best sustain their status quo.
So in the case of global warning, anyone who has been alive for more than a decade or so, can begin to piece together, not only radical changes in weather patterns, but a general atmospheric alteration that I imagine is caused by the continued accumulation of greenhouse gases.
One of the most profound instances I recall seeing that really made me BELIEVE in global warning was a series of photographs you showed our Social Problems class. It chronicled the melting and breaking off of a huge chunk of Alaskan coastline. That floored me, and if I had any doubts previously, I was convinced then.
Posted by: Pamela at June 28, 2005 11:15 AM