Global warming and climate change are controversial topics in today’s society. How and why did a scientific fact morph into a supposed opinion made for fire-throwing debates? The perception of global warming has become stretched upon a wobbly range. People who fall in this range are groups who strongly believe it, groups who think man is not to blame for it, and groups who don’t believe in its existence at all. Here, we dissect some of the most common factors that help shape people’s views on the phenomenon we know as global warming.
“How and why did a scientific fact morph into a supposed opinion made for fire-throwing debates?”
First, let’s talk about some basics. Global warming, as we know it, is the increase in temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere by the work of greenhouse gases. These gases include methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, but the most abundant and problematic is carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is released through various natural processes but is more so propelled by human-influenced processes. Even though these processes may be quick – like burning fossil fuels – some of the carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years, keeping its role as a greenhouse gas the whole time (Zhang 2015). This greenhouse gas then produces what is known as the greenhouse effect – absorbing the Earth’s radiation of the sun’s heat – which warms up the atmosphere. This results in drastic but gradual climate change around the globe. Although the phenomenon is known as global warming, the climate change that follows includes odd cold temperatures as well. The altered wind patterns and ocean currents impact climate in numerous ways such as prolonged drought, floods, heatwaves, rising sea levels, and snowstorms just to name a few. Furthermore, most of these weather patterns show up at unexpected times. There has been a need for sweaters during springtime and shorts during late fall.
A study conducted on the different ideologies of global warming observed that people’s view on global warming is heavily influenced by the weather patterns and temperature trends of where they stay (Shao 2016). People are generally more believing of something when they are able to visualize it around them. For instance, India lies right above the equator, which receives the most direct and intense rays from the sun. Being close to the middle of the globe, India does not have varying seasons throughout the year. Instead, seasons are split into two: screeching hot summer and humid rainy monsoon. Although every coming year climbs higher in temperature and wins the hottest year award, the drastic changes in overall climate are not very explicit. Perhaps this is why some people can’t believe in climate change. People may understand global warming better if they’re a part of its consequences. However, this does not mean that people in tropical central Africa do not believe in global warming just because they aren’t able to see the change for themselves. In fact, people in North America and Europe, who even after experiencing odd climate patterns, still do not believe in the phenomenon. So this is just one of many pieces that fit into the larger puzzle of taking a stance on global warming.
Potentially the most important factor is education. A student who majored in Environmental Studies, for example, may almost certainly believe in climate change, while someone who hasn’t been exposed to this knowledge may not. The mighty question that standard learning does not cover is why do some people disbelieve global warming? A study assessing America’s views on the risks of global warming brought out interesting results which stated that high scientific literacy and reasoning skills correlated with lower levels of concern about climate change (Kahan et al. 2012). This points to a different perspective; maybe education and awareness don’t necessarily establish a belief in global warming.
For some people, culture & religion are among the ingredients that make up their belief in global warming. Many traditions around the world contribute to damaging the environment, especially those of ritualistic or sacrificial burning. The carbon dioxide released from such practices is another entryway of global warming; people involved in these acts may tend to prioritize tradition over the environment. Not all religious views counter the idea of global warming, however. Religion often revolves around the creation of the Earth, and this can impact how certain groups view climate change. For instance, some core values of Christianity are that God has created the world and that we as inhabitants should preserve it. Mankind may be seen as culprits because of the over-consumption and destruction of natural resources that some believe are given by God. Since global warming is seen as a threat to the prosperity of God’s creation, these individuals may be more proactive about it and believe in it strongly (Wardekker 2009).
What can we infer from all this information? Take a step back and think about why you believe what you believe. Much of scientific knowledge is questioned these days, whether it is global warming, vaccination, human origin, etc. It is up to us to be open enough to learn as much as we can. We can trust science enough to know that global warming is a threatening reality and the more that people believe this, the more likely we are to do something about it.
Kahan, D., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L., Braman, D., & Mandel, G. (2012). The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks Nature Climate Change DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE1547
Shao, W., Garand, J. C., Keim, B. D., & Hamilton, L. C. (2016). Science, scientists, and local weather: Understanding mass perceptions of global warming. Social Science Quarterly, 97(5), 1023-1057.
Wardekker, J. A., Petersen, A. C., & van Der Sluijs, J. P. (2009). Ethics and public perception of climate change: Exploring the Christian voices in the US public debate. Global Environmental Change, 19(4), 512-521.
Zhang, X., & Caldeira, K. (2015). Time scales and ratios of climate forcing due to thermal versus carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Geophysical Research Letters, 42(11), 4548-4555.