I went to a scientific communications workshop at UBC (University of British Columbia) last week. It was a great seminar teaching PhD students and postdocs how to communicate their science to the media. What caught my attention though – and what I will be writing about here – was not the tips and tricks to science communication, but the continuous use of “global warming” and “climate change” as examples of controversial science that might be trickier to communicate.
As a scientist, and as a person who knows a little bit about climate research, I am absolutely baffled at the constant referral to global warming as a controversial issue. There is nothing controversial about climate research or about global warming. 97% of all climate scientists agree that the human act of burning of fossil fuels causes the CO2 levels in the atmosphere to rise, which in turn leads to and will continue to lead to warmer and more extreme weather on the planet earth. That is completely agreed upon by 97% of those who research it! The remaining 3% of the climate scientists are not disagreeing with the 97%, they are merely not completely sure yet. It is impossible to find any topic in which 100% of people in the field will agree. For example, a few scientists are still unsure whether evolution can be completely contributed to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. That does not make the scientific topic of evolution a controversial topic. Or another example: The theory that the world is round and not flat was also a bit controversial at first. But as more and more evidence emerged and more and more researchers were convinced that the earth was in fact round, it simply could no longer be argued against (although a few people continued to do so for various reasons). There comes a point when a new theory is so strongly backed up by evidence that it can no longer be refuted. That point has been reached in the theory suggesting CO2 build-up in the atmosphere causing global warming a long time ago!!!! It is NOT controversial anymore. What is controversial is the political debate connected to global warming, but that is completely separate from the scientific facts. And the fact that it is happening.
I must admit that I was a bit disappointed. A seminar held for aspiring researchers at a world renowned university, home to professor William Rees (the inventor of the term ecological footprint), and home to several nobel laureates in both physics, chemistry, and medicine, should at the very least base their opinions and recommendations on scientific facts and solid research. And yet still, we were repeatedly told at the UBC seminar that climate change and global warming is controversial.
Let’s not cater to the people that are trying to pin disbelief and uncertainty to the concept of global warming. It is not a matter that is decided by public opinion or whether you believe or not; it is a scientific fact. If you take the time to study the science, there really isn’t a shred of controversy to it. There just isn’t!