Thinking Objectively About Climate Change

Ever since I wrote my opinion on the Copenhagen conference a few days ago I have become more and more optimistic about the outcome of the negotiations. Here are some of the latest headlines:

“U.S. and China to go to Talks with Emissions Targets” – NYTimes 26/11/09

“UN Climate Chief: The World is Waiting for the EU” – EUObserver 23/11/09

These are just two examples of articles you can find now about the Climate Change Conference. Quite frankly, I am tired of reading speculative hypotheses on what might happen. I have offered my opinion and will now refrain from comment on the topic until the conference is over.

Right now you are wondering what this entry will be about then? It’s about how we view climate change. Apart from all the media coverage of the conference, there is an underlying debate on the assumption of the existence of climate change. Recently, the number of news and scientific articles explaining how climate change does not exist or that the data supporting it was manipulated has increased. Trying to discredit the scientific support for climate change is the last desperate attempt made by some people to infuse doubt in the public’s mind. I will show you why, even if you play along with the skeptics, you will still agree that we need to cut emissions.

Firstly, climate change is generally characterized with rising temperatures, melting ice-caps, rising sea/ocean levels etc. If you forget all the scientific and media coverage of such events and just focus on your own experience for a moment and please answer the following questions: 1) has the weather been strange lately in comparison with previous years? 2) Have there been ‘freak’ storms? 3) Have your natural surroundings changed visibly?

Here are my answers: 1) yes, the winter of 2008-09 was the coldest in Belgium I have ever seen; the in the summer of 2009 we had the most sunny days and the highest temperatures in Belgium I have ever seen. 2) Again, in the winter of 2008-09 was the first time that I saw heavy snow storms in Belgium, with the snow staying for around 2 weeks. Yet, this winter is actually looking rather warm for now. 3) I have not seen any visible change in my surroundings, but I spoke to some Australians the other day and they told me they were worried about the disappearing coral reef. That’s something worth looking into. Try answering these for yourself, see what comes out. So, we can see that there are some changes in our climate which might be caused by greenhouse gasses.

Then, enough about the weather. Let’s talk about your personal health. With the A(H1N1) roaming I would like to stress that I am NOT talking about the flu. Rather, think about smoking. Most people are now aware of the adverse effects of smoking and of even being in the same room as someone who is smoking (second-hand smoke is just as bad). Well, walking and breathing in some of the most polluted cities on the planet (like Bangkok, NYC, London) have been shown to have the same effect on people as smoking. The effect of pollution on health is evident and cannot be disputed. Taking this into consideration, should we not do something to reduce pollution? Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will definitely contribute to better personal health for people who live in urban areas.

In the former argument, I took the doubtful/skeptical viewpoint. The result is that I have empirical evidence of something going on, but I cannot explain it. That is the general feeling about climate change – we see an effect but we are not sure of the cause. In the latter argument, I try to show you why you should still care about pollution as a result of greenhouse gas emissions – your personal health and the health of your children. This also applies to health of livestock (cows, sheep etc.); imagine if you could not eat a nice steak because these animals became ill from breathing polluted air. So, even if you are skeptical and do not care about the effects on the environment, please, take care of yourselves, your families and your children and support cutting emissions.

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