A Convenient Forum

Some issues actually have two sides. Global warming, though? Not so much.

We just watched An Inconvenient Truth, and are amazed that people disagree with its message. Whether or not you like Al Gore as a person, this movie goes beyond politics and personalities. It is a clear condemnation, not just of the corrosive practices that led to the current situation, but also of the general public’s apathy, ignorance, and ambivalence toward global warming.

The vast majority of the scientific community supports some variation of the global warming theory. That is, due to human activity, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rising to unprecedented levels and leading to dangerous changes in global weather phenomena. According to the film, out of 928 scientific articles on the issue, none took the opposing side. Maybe it’s just us, but that seems like pretty persuasive evidence. And yet, due to political maneuvering and journalists’ lack of investigation (or, perhaps, journalists’ attempts to strike a balance between both sides of any issue, even if there really is only one side), much of the general public believes global warming to be some kind of unconfirmed hypothesis.

Perhaps the skewed public perception regarding global warming has to do with the fact that the two most powerful people in the country, the Vice President and President of the United States, both made their fortunes in the oil industry. Actually, VP Dick Cheney is still making his. It’s no surprise that they’re reluctant to risk their own interests by taking action. (Classic fossil fuels, let’s not forget, are among the chief reasons we have all this extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to begin with.)

What is surprising is that this administration would go so far as to manipulate science and its presentation to reflect their own political agendas. Dr. James Hansen, a top official at NASA and the world’s leading global warming researcher (according to CBS News), made headlines last year by announcing that the White House had been censoring his reports. Imagine someone with no expertise in your field having such extreme influence over what you publish. Now imagine how damaging this could be when you’re writing about something as potentially cataclysmic as global warming. Of course, this administration’s track record with science is not so good to begin with, given its willingness to distort facts in abstinence-only education and intelligent design, as well as its general hostility toward stem cell research. So, like the breaching of the levees in New Orleans, maybe we should have seen this coming.

As scientists, and scientists-in-training, The Tech’s readership is unusual in that the majority are more qualified to comment on this issue than is the average person on the street. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing someone who thinks “astronomy” is a typo for “astrology” challenge scientific evidence. It would be like one of us offering Barry Bonds batting tips. That’s not to say they’re not entitled to their opinion, of course, but some opinions are more informed than others. Since neither of us specializes in global warming research, and our opinions may not be fully informed, we are willing to concede the possibility that our conclusions are wrong. If that is the case, and there is a legitimate reason to be skeptical of global warming (beyond the standard “We can’t trust the scientists!!! It’s just a leftist conspiracy!” sort of allegations), those within the scientific community with evidence to support this skepticism have a responsibility to enlighten us.

Even if there is reason to doubt the scientific consensus about global warming, we ask: what is the harm in taking appropriate action regardless? If the consensus is proven to be wrong, we would have done nothing but become more energy and fuel efficient, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Otherwise, we may yet avert global catastrophe.

We are accustomed to excellence at MIT and are encouraged to believe we can change the world. It is time to give this important issue the consideration and thought it deserves.

Andrews is a member of the Class of 2005 and is The Tech’s Campus Life editor. Klesch is a member of the Class of 2007.