Yesterday, at work, I had a conversation with a fellow co-worker about global warming. It had just snowed, and she made a comment to the effect of “I wonder how much we are going to hear about global warming this winter.” At a grocery store, much of the conversation between the cashiers and customers consists of talk about the weather. When the weather is particularly unusual (say snowy and cold on the tenth of October), we often get the sarcastic comment, “so much for global warming, eh?”
Anyway, my coworker made this comment, and I said, “so you don’t believe in global warming then?” which sparked an hour-long discussion that ranged from global warming to evolution to the Nobel Peace Prize. Anyway, her take on global warming was basically skeptical. She said she has read a lot about scientists that do not believe in global warming.
When I pointed out to her the disparity between the scientific community’s opinion and the popular opinion on global warming, she went on for quite a while about how she has heard that certain scientists who oppose the majority opinion (that global warming exists) have lost their jobs, their funding, and respect. She went on about how the government and the “intellectual community” are at odds and how the government oppresses certain scientists and their findings.
I mentioned assignment when we had to search on scholarly and newspaper databases to try to find articles refuting the existence of global warming and compare the results. She seemed to be listening, but I could tell she didn’t necessarily believe the fact that no such articles existed in the scholarly database. She seemed to believe more in the minority opinion that the climate change we are experiencing is part of a “natural” fluctuation and that humans have not caused it.
I tried to explain about carbon parts per million, but I butchered it (it was nine o’clock in the morning and I couldn’t remember the exact statistics). She was wary of scientists’ findings because, she said, we have only just begun to measure the earth’s temperature so how could we know if it was different? This was an especially weak argument, but at the time, I could not find a suitable response. I told her about ice cores and how scientists measure temperatures from those.
(Then she branched off into talking about evolution and how it might not be true, it’s just a theory, it hasn’t been proven, etc. etc. I kind of tuned out at that point, I didn’t want to argue any more.)
It was a civilized debate, but both of us walked away from it with the same opinions. It made me think, though, how are we supposed to approach people like this? Those of us who have confidence in the scientific community, who believe the facts, who know that humans are putting too much carbon into the atmosphere and that it is affecting the climate, how do we convince the skeptics? How can we make them understand that the scientific community is not divided on the topic of global warming? That it shouldn’t be a political issue? That it is very, very real? How?
Obviously, I didn’t think I was going to convince this woman that global warming was real in the span of one hour, but say we had more time to talk, what then? What about the entire population of skeptics? Is it possible to convince them before it is too late? Where must the change begin? With the media? With our politicians? At a more grassroots level, in conversations between coworkers? What will it take for the skeptics to believe, nay understand, the magnitude of the problem?
I don’t get it, I just don’t get it.