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The Science Behind the Climate Change "Debate"

Scientists work their entire careers creating hypotheses and testing to see if theories can be proven by nature. An immediate reaction to their proven work that exploits reality is denial, as it can be shocking and challenging to believe new information. Though most people support scientific research, many only choose to believe it when it aligns with what they already know or how they already live.

When science seems to challenge someone’s lifestyle it can be harder to accept it than it is to change existing habits. Many scientists have worked individually and found the same results as thousands of others: that climate change is not only happening but that it is caused by human activity. Though many contest this, climate change is not the only widely denied information because it is a difficult concept to grasp and contradicts both lifestyles and profitable industries.

Experts have found similarities in the tactics of the fossil fuel industry to the ones the cigarette industry used to protect their profits. The cigarette industry knew early on the risks of their products but denied the facts. Some denied the health risks altogether, “there still isn’t a single shred of substantial evidence to link cigarette smoking and lung cancer directly” (RJR, 1954). Once the companies couldn’t deny the scientific proof and health risks they claimed science should not be the basis for political or legal action.

The tobacco industry initially denied health risks, then denied science, and when they could no longer deny either, they tried to change the language as best they could. They would use phrases such as “there is a causal correlation between cancer and smoking” or omit the term cancer altogether to make it sound less dangerous. Eventually, there was no hiding the hazards of cigarettes. Scientists that were ridiculed for their findings, sent death threats because they wanted the information out there, but were finally backed by health organizations, the government, and the public. It was not that the evidence wasn’t readily available and true, but that many did not want to believe it. Industries stood in the way of consumer knowledge even though lives were harmed in the hiding of valuable information.

The fossil fuel industry has used the same tactics to create doubt and postpone evidence from being public and universally accepted. The industry spent over $2 billion on lobbying against climate change action from 2000-2016. Fossil fuel companies give large sums of money to politicians to assure they deny climate change, deny that it is human-caused, deny the severity, or vote against legislation that protects the environment but would harm their industry. New legislation has been made to get rid of lobbying transparency so that people are not aware that the fossil fuel industry lobbies specific organizations- making them seem as though they are credible, unbiased sources of information.

Why do people strongly deny climate change when there’s supportive, factual evidence from reliable sources? Part of it is political. Admitting climate change is caused by one of the largest, most profitable industries in the world makes many people feel the need to protect the industry at all costs. More Republicans deny and question climate change than Democrats because protecting the environment would require regulations on the free market. When free-market solutions are offered in a discussion of climate change, Republicans are more likely to accept that climate change is real and caused by human activity. The facts have not changed but the potential solution has and they feel less inclined to protect their beliefs. Supporting science comes down to more than facts because people's beliefs and preferences strongly influence their will to believe factual evidence.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in parts per million (ppm) for the past 800,000 years, based on EPICA (ice core) data. NOAA, based on EPICA Dome C data (Lüthi, D., et al., 2008) provided by NOAA NCEI Paleoclimatology Program.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides a scientific analysis of climate change, its environmental, political, and economic impacts and risks, as well as possible solutions. It came out with a shocking report that previous climate change predictions were not comprehensive enough and that the temperature predictions are more severe than initially believed. Unbiased scientists from all over the world comprise this team and use their years of experience and data to provide the public with information. Thousands of other scientists and organizations have presented similar information. Their data shows the same trends using vastly different data sources in different geographic regions.

There have been record-breaking storms, forest fires, droughts, coral bleaching, heat waves, and floods around the world with just 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of global warming. These events are not necessarily caused by climate change but have increased in frequency and severity because of the rising temperatures. Climate change has cost the U.S. more than $240 billion each year for the past ten years. This is from both health impacts from burning fossil fuels and the increasing severity of natural disasters.

Ultimately, there is denial that dinosaurs existed and that the earth is a sphere. There will continue to be biased articles and lobbied politicians. Some people will refuse to analyze or admit factual evidence. With the new age of the internet, vast amounts of information are readily available to the public whether it be accurate information or not. Unlike laws that assure companies cannot provide inaccurate or misleading information to consumers, the internet has far less regulation. It is up to individuals to research not only the information they want to know but where it comes from as well.

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