What the ozone-layer and global warming have in common
2011/01/08 § 5 Comments
Remember the 80s? Let me refresh your memory: towards the end of the 70s scientists found evidence that there was a huge problem with a component of our atmosphere, namely the Ozone layer. Ozone is a chemical substance that consists of three oxygen atoms and acts as a UV filter, protecting plants and animal life, but also bacteria and other microorganisms from too much damaging, because highly energetic, UV rays.
Initially people doubted the findings, because scientist said that humans were to blame. Certain chemicals that at the time were used in many different products were to blame, in accordance to the scientists. Mostly known to the public was their usage in sprays, such as deodorants, hairspray and the like. Many could not imagine that a few people using sprays could cause our atmosphere damage. Nevertheless, within 10 years politicians the world over managed to pass laws that dammed these chemicals.
In fact, I remember very well that on my travels in Australia in the 90s people strongly rejected the notion that the hole-in-the-ozone-layer, as it became to be called, had anything to do with human activity. People did believe that it was there, alright, but this was probably going on due to natural mechanisms we poorly understood. They thought that it was an entirely natural process. Sounds familiar? To me it does. The same arguments are applied today when it comes to global warming and climate change.
A recent press release about a study on the ozone layer- that is constantly being observed- reveals that the ozone layer is recovering. One may take that as the strongest evidence to date that scientist were right to transfer the results of their computer models to reality and caution all of us to change our behavior.
Fast forward, today I am struggling in discussions with the same argument: it has all been here all along and will not harm us. First off: I am not an eco-nutter who prays “ecologism”. I do not adhere to the new religion of ecological correctness and I could not care less if you fly a lot, drive a hummer or buy your produce from the remotest regions of the world. All I care about is to defend science where necessary. And in this matter I find it necessary.
The science behind the claim that the undisputed fact of climate change and an overall warming of the planet has a strong foundation in human behavior is solid. Solid enough for more than 97% of climatologists who recently participated in a scientific questionnaire to agree with the notion that humans are to a large part to blame for the changes we see. How come that so many “average Joes” struggle to believe the science facts?
As one scientist put it: “the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes.”
This is of course frustrating for me as a scientist. It is, however, far from being the only of first time that the public has a totally skewed view on something that is of no debate amongst the individuals who understand the topic best. Most of us do not argue with our physician about the right treatment for our sore throat, or with our car technician about how to put on the tyre of our car.
Interestingly, when it comes to things that are much more complex and complicated than that we think that, because we do not entirely grasp the issue, no one can. This is the crux, because some indeed can. Some spend all their work days on a topic that eludes most of us, and they get a good grasp on what is going on. Why are some of us so extremely resilient to trust the experts in this case?
Certainly, an important factor is a recent tendency to see conspiracies everywhere. I am startled and stunned by the fact that so many can imagine a gigantic global conspiracy more easily than a global ecological problem. Sad to see that this trait of our society or people today damages so much of good science and inhibits so many useful or even crucial developments.