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The Only Way To Understand Climate Change In A Post-Truth World

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The Only Way To Understand Climate Change In A Post-Truth World

Climate Change

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Seeing terms like “post-truth” and “alternative facts” gain traction in the news convinces me that politicians, media workers, and readers could benefit from a refresher course in how science helps us understand the world. Reporting on science is difficult at the best of times. Trying to communicate complex ideas and distill entire studies into eye-catching headlines and brief stories can open the door to misinformation and limited understanding.

Recent headlines about a climate study, “Shifting patterns of mild weather in response to projected radiative forcing,” in the February 2017 issue of Climatic Change illustrate the predicament. Some news outlets implied the study showed countries such as Canada and the U.K. would benefit from increasingly frequent “mild weather days” brought on by climate change. Many failed to convey the true take-home message: Climate change will have devastating consequences for human civilization.

Just ask the study’s author, Karin van der Wiel, a research scientist at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. She studied the frequency of mild weather days as a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. She found a few countries, mostly in the mid-latitudes, will experience slightly more frequent mild weather—defined as days between 18° and 30°C with less than one millimeter of rain and dew point temperature not exceeding 20 C.

But that’s not the whole story.

“The climate is changing in many places over the world and these changes are ongoing now,” Van der Wiel said in an email. “Globally, mild weather is decreasing and in many locations summers are going to be increasingly too hot and too humid to be considered mild. These are not desirable changes.”

Van der Wiel chose to examine climate change and mild weather rather than extreme events such as floods, wildfires, and drought to make it easier for people to relate to the issue and inspire them to learn more.

“I am happy the research was picked up so widely; that way more people hopefully will learn that climate is changing the weather near them and in the coming decades,” she said, adding, “mild weather is not the only important thing in climate change, and therefore the other, more alarming aspects of climate change should not be forgotten.”

Van der Wiel points out that mild weather isn’t necessarily good, as it can also create negative conditions.

“If there are projected changes in mild weather, that means there are changes in temperature, precipitation, and/or humidity,” she said. She noted that although mild weather could create more opportunities for things such as outdoor recreation, it could also have negative consequences like changing snowmelt patterns and threatening water resources.

Mild weather at the wrong time and place can be disastrous. The wildfire that devastated Fort McMurray last year reached city limits on a mild weather day, with an average temperature of 22.1 C and no precipitation, after several weeks of unseasonably warm and dry weather.

“Mild weather is not good for everything,” Van der Wiel wrote. “If you like skiing, increasing mild weather is bad. We haven’t investigated the coincidence of wildfires with mild weather, but such a link might exist and would indicate again that climate change is something the global community should try to mitigate as much as possible.”

This research is an important piece of the emerging narrative about the impacts of climate change, but we must consider it in the context of all the work on climate. Prior to her work on mild weather, Van der Wiel studied extreme precipitation and flooding in the U.S. She has since moved to a project investigating climatic conditions that could negatively affect agriculture, to determine if it’s possible to warn farmers and communities in advance of bad crop years.

Science is the most useful tool we have to adapt to climate change and avoid its worst outcomes. But it requires critical thinking and a big-picture perspective to ensure we consider all available evidence. With so many people scrolling through social media feeds for news rather than reading entire articles, facts and clarity can become elusive. It’s up to us all—media and consumers alike—to dig deeper for the full story.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation

IMAGE: Environmentalists demonstrate near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, as the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) continues at Le Bourget, December 12, 2015. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol


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  1. Godzilla February 13, 2017


    Climate Change has been debunked so many times only ignorant Dolts believe this nonsense

    1. I of John February 13, 2017

      ignorance is bliss

      1. Independent1 February 13, 2017

        And continued ignorance and denial of climate change could well be fatal to all or most of humanity.

        1. I of John February 14, 2017

          Stupidy is the original population control.

    2. Independent1 February 13, 2017

      What utter BS!! None of the facts stated in the article HAS EVER BEEN DEBUNKED!!!

      What is it about climate change facts are you calling fake?

      Is it the wildfires that are occurring in Chile right now in the hottest summer that Chile has ever experienced which are drying out and burning up large sections of that country at an unprecedented rate?

      Is it the damage being done along the Florida coast to its roads and the shoreline because of sea level rise that even Republicans are collaborating with Democrats to try and repair, mitigate and protect from continued sea rise?

      Is it the fact that the Atlantic ocean’s level has risen so far that salt water is seeping in and polluting the aquifers along the southeast coast of Florida such that about 6 million residents of the West Palm Beach area are being threatened with running out of potable water to drink?

      Is it the fact that the sea ice in the Arctic has melted such that for the first time in recorded history sea lanes have opened up that non icebreakers can use to transport goods via ship from America’s Northwest to Europe?

      Is it the fact that for the first time in recorded history the Inuit’s in the Arctic are finding they have to move some of their villages because so much sea ice has melted that some of their villages are being threatened by destruction?

      Is it the fact that more than 50% of virtually all the glaciers around the planet have melted off in the past several decades when they hadn’t melted to such an extent in hundreds of thousands of years?

      Given all that’s occurring around the planet which points to rising temperatures, just what is it about facts which point to these rising temperatures are you claiming is FAKE NEWS??

      Do you have your head so far UP YOUR BUTT that you’re even too blind to see the destruction caused by warming temperatures in our planet?? Does that destruction actually have to hit you personally before you wake up to reality??

      Are you going to continue living in denial until the temperature where you live becomes to hot to even sustain your life???

      What fools you mindless right-wingers are!!! IGNORANT AS ROCKS!!!!!!

    3. Independent1 February 13, 2017

      Here moron, call this fake news too you total ignoramus!!!

      The Big Thaw

      “If we don’t have it, we don’t need it,” pronounces Daniel Fagre as we throw on our backpacks. We’re armed with crampons, ice axes, rope, GPS receivers, and bear spray to ward off grizzlies, and we’re trudging toward Sperry Glacier in Glacier National Park, Montana. I fall in step with Fagre and two other research scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey Global Change Research Program. They’re doing what they’ve been doing for more than a decade: measuring how the park’s storied glaciers are melting.

      So far, the results have been positively chilling. When President Taft created Glacier National Park in 1910, it was home to an estimated 150 glaciers. Since then the number has decreased to fewer than 30, and most of those remaining have shrunk in area by two-thirds. Fagre predicts that within 30 years most if not all of the park’s namesake glaciers will disappear.

      “Things that normally happen in geologic time are happening during the span of a human lifetime,” says Fagre. “It’s like watching the Statue of Liberty melt.”


      So is the National Geographics producing FAKE NEWS about the fact that 120 of 150 glaciers even here in America have melted in the past 100 years or so??

      Glaciers that hadn’t melted in hundreds of thousands of years!! And what do you suppose caused all the glaciers to melt??

      Come on!! Let’s here your fantasy creating mind come up with something!!

      What would cause glaciers to melt in 100 years that hadn’t melted in hundreds of thousands IF IT ISN’T GLOBAL WARMING!!!!!!!!

      Are some space aliens out there using ray guns to melt them or something??

      Come on!! Let’s hear your explanation DIRTBAG!!!

  2. I of John February 13, 2017

    In the end, Mother Nature doesn’t really need us to understand. We can not debunk her nor with our ignorance escape her wrath.

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