Many of my relatives don’t believe that climate change is occurring. As a scientist interested in what climate change means for the ecosystems humans rely on, this is a mite frustrating.
One of my aunts is actually interested in learning more. In our last discussion, I realized that a lot of things that I think of as “climate change common knowledge” most definitely are not, so I sent her the IGBP’s climate change index and a slideshow from the EPA on climate change indicators.
Her response reminded me that communicating science is really, really challenging. I’m going to answer my aunt here in a series of relatively short posts. I’m doing this publicly because a lot of people share my aunt’s concerns, questions, and misconceptions and I’m hoping some of my readers will add to the discussion.
The first of her concerns I’ll cover is a common one: Money.
In more than one of our discussions, she’s echoed Senator James Inhofe’s position that climate change is all a hoax perpetuated by money-grubbing scientists. I’m not sure I’ve been able to totally disabuse her of the notion that scientists are rolling in money from NSF grants (really, grants do not add millions to your salary, or really even add to it at all in many cases), but I think my own experiences as a scientist have at least shown her that not all scientists come from Inhofe’s imaginary world.
A somewhat separate, but related concern she has is that
our government is not willing to spend money and spend it wisely on real scientific studies that are not and cannot be influenced by corporate entities.
Ironically, my aunt uses this statement to reinforce her skepticism of climate change. Why ironic? Because the “global warming controversy” was largely created by fossil fuel interests and political pressure has mostly been used to silence science that showed evidence for global climate change, not to silence scientists that disagree with climate change. As for her claim that “government is not willing to spend money and spend it wisely on real scientific studies,” the US government spends about $2 billion a year on climate change science. Considering the magnitude of the problem facing us, $2 billion a year probably isn’t enough, but it certainly isn’t an amount small enough to accuse the government of being unwilling to spend money on climate change research. I imagine most scientists could find an example of climate change research that they believe shouldn’t have been funded, but I expect you’ll find merely a handful of loonies that agree that the vast majority of climate change studies were unwise to perform or that they weren’t “real” scientific studies.
The government is spending money on good, peer-reviewed, as-objective-as-it-gets science, and that science supports climate change. Fossil fuel interests, on the other hand, are spending money to create a controversy and keep their own profits high.