Recently I was invited to visit the University of Hull as a part of that hugely exciting university selection process that I’m sure most of you will end up going through. Now Hull is, depending on your route, at least two train journeys and a bus ride away, which gives the traveller plenty of time to sit, relax, open a book, and start to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations.
There were far too many interesting conversations to mention all of them, and they ranged from the travelogue of a group of bluenoses (Birmingham City football fans) to a couple of young musicians discussing the Iliad, so rest assured that it was interesting. But some of the comments that really fascinated me in particular were those of a family of four who sat across the aisle from me. Indeed, it was one specific comment by the daughter, and the response from her mother which captured my attention and made me think.
It has, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, been snowing, and the daughter asked something along the lines of “Why is it snowing if it’s global warming?”. To which the mother replied, “That’s an interesting question. They asked someone about it on the radio, but I got the the fourth word and was lost.”
Now let me just point out that the question of snow during a process of global warming is not especially interesting, and usually requires a simple explanation of the concepts ‘global climate‘, ‘local weather’, and maybe a quick discussion of the gulf stream’s warming effect, and the impact of increased water levels on such. It is not an especially hard concept to understand, except perhaps for how water levels are affected and why water levels might then affect natural ocean currents, which are things figured out by people who have lots of special qualifications like doctorates and PhDs. Which leads us to an obvious question: If these things are not hard to understand, why don’t people understand them yet?
What is desperately needed therefore, is an understandable way of explaining the issues surrounding climate change. Not just man-made climate change either. It may be easier to ‘dumb down’ climate change to the idea of man-made global warming, but that isn’t accurate. There are many different processes involved. Perhaps better would be to note that the majority of scientists in the area believe that they have reasonable evidence for humans heating up the earth by putting chemicals like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Indeed, the concept of ‘majority’ is fairly important here. When a majority of scientists believe something, it is usually either correct, or a reasonable enough guess.
As for snow? Well, on a global scale the earth is warming up. But the earth rotates, and tilts, and moves around. Already different parts of the world have different weather – imagine the UK compared to the Sahara desert. If everything is warming up, then that just means that there is a higher average temperature across the world, during the course of a year. It still means that we can have vastly different weather to the Sahara, and that we can still have snow at certain parts of the year.
But then I’m sure you knew that already. I realise that when I discuss climate change, I’m preaching to the fairly converted. However, I’m sure you all know people who, if not climate ‘skeptics’, certainly don’t understand the issues of global warming, and the importance of it. It is these people that science needs to reach, and it is these people whom science consistently fails to reach. If we can act as ambassadors of science, then perhaps some greater awareness for the issues our modern society is facing from climate change will be reached among the population. Yes, you too can save the world.