Americans seem to be dropping real climate science in favor of something easier. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in October found that only 35 percent of Americans consider global warming a serious problem. That’s down from the 44 percent that the Pew Research Center measured in April 2008. America must act, as it has failed to do up till now, to reduce its climate-changing emissions.

What was once a serious debate among scientists has been degraded to political feuding and conspiracy theories. Environment and Climate News, a monthly paper and the deceptive mouthpiece of the far-right Heartland Institute, recently featured a video on its website in which, “Former Governor Jesse Ventura investigates who is behind the exaggeration and hype of the global warming movement.” According to the site, “his investigation leads to billionaire Maurice Strong.” That’s insane. And the problem is many otherwise intelligent, genuine individuals read and believe the paper.

In the interest of reversing the trend of climate change denying, let’s look at some of the popular misconceptions perpetuated in the Environment and Climate News:

“Floridians have suffered through the coldest winter in almost 30 years. In some parts of South Florida, it’s been colder than anytime in the last 83 years. … Gore’s claims that global warming will produce dramatic and cataclysmic warming appear to be melting faster than any glacier” (2010: The Year Global Warming Froze Florida, 03/08/2010).

According to official reports released by NASA and available at climate.nasa.gov, 2009 was globally the second-warmest year since modern records began around 1880. As one NASA scientist pointed out, the continental United States makes up only 1.5 percent of the globe’s surface area, making it very possible for the conditions specific to the continental United States to be an exception to those experienced globally.

“IPCC Discredited, Evidence of Fraud Mounts,” read the cover of the March 2010 issue of Environment and Climate News.

The greatest controversy is over a specific piece of information the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change used regarding glacial melting — a single paragraph in a 938-page report. The IPCC was called out for basing its information on a source that had not been peer-reviewed — not exactly an issue undermining the science of climate change.

But to be sure I had the full truth, I asked Dr. Natalia Andronova, a research scientist studying climate in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences and a contributor to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning IPCC, for help. The question is really whether promising new information that hasn’t been peer-reviewed, so-called “gray literature,” should be used by the IPCC. Andronova’s opinion is that it should be, as long as the source is clearly and properly cited as such. As she pointed out to me last week, the role of the IPCC is to assess the science that has already been done, not to do new science, which means they’re limited to data already produced.

Another misconception: “Contrary to what the politicians tell us, there is no consensus of scientific thought on whether there is a man-made component to global warming. The science is certainly not settled” (Support for Global Warming Alarmism Continues to Wane, 10/09/2010).

In the words of Andronova, “Among people doing (climate) research, there is consensus that humans are influencing the climate.” The only questions remaining, she told me, are in what ways and to what extent humans impact the climate.

Her judgment is consistent with another poll by the Pew Research Center from July 2009. Eighty-four percent of the 2,500 scientists Pew surveyed believed human activity is warming the earth. That’s just shy of the 87 percent of scientists Pew found who believe humans and other creatures evolved from simpler life forms.

Chances are, most members of the public don’t believe, as the description of Jesse Ventura’s video states, that “… some people are using (global warming) to make billions of dollars, start a one-world government and control our lives…” But it seems the messages from the real scientific community are sufficiently diluted by misinformation to keep many Americans questioning and in doubt. The science is complex and the consequences of warming are hard to accept.

“The public really wants to know what is right, what is wrong,” Andronova said. The most important thing for individuals to do now, she said, is to simply show the facts.

And scientists need to do just that. The fact that only one-third of the general public agrees with 84 percent of the scientific community on a matter of science should tell us that those facts are getting lost in translation. It’s vital for scientists to expand outreach to the public in defense of science.

Nicholas Clift is an Engineering freshman.

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