Climate change is a nasty beast, especially when trying to understand and gather knowledge of the complex science behind it. No matter if you’re inside or outside the climate research community, the way climate change is communicated—or framed—to you plays a major role in your understanding and interpretation*[HK1] . Here are some examples:
- Politicisation: Climate change becomes a bipartisan issue, which can sway public understanding depending on their political view.
- Runaway Science: A method of an alarmist type of communication, which is catastrophe-based and represents out-of-control consequences. This can often lead to rapid desensitisation.
- Media Influence: This is often a biased source which can lead to miscommunication of scientific findings to the public.
It’s important to understand where the information that you’re intaking is coming from. Always question what the original source is. Is the original source from a respected scientific community? If not, how might the science within it be biased? And if the information is not from an original source, has the information been twisted to meet the secondary author’s prerogative?
Now, not everyone is a climate expert and not everyone has time to play detective. That’s why I want to take a moment to introduce some context so that when you come across articles, graphics, newscasts, etc. talking about climate change, you can develop a greater understanding of the information being presented to you, but also so you can understand the biased in which you could be interpreting that information. So if you already know most of this, let me know if I can make any improvements! But for the others who might need a little more background on the matter, I hope this helps.
First thing that needs a brief discussion is the difference between climate and weather. Weather can be described as short-term atmospheric conditions (ie. Will it rain or not today?) whereas climate relates to long-term observations of the atmosphere over time (ie. The Sahara is on average dry and hot). So essentially, average weather patterns make up the climate in a region and when these weather patterns become more consistently abnormal, the climate is then considered to be… changing.
Now that’s a very simple way of looking at it and there are many factors involved and considered in that explanation. For example, what happens if one year—or over a couple year timespan—the weather patterns in a particular region shift? This fits the description in my previous paragraph so technically, isn’t this climate change? The most reasonable response is: No. One thing to take into account are Atmospheric Oscillations in this case.
Atmospheric Oscillations are naturally occurring ocean & atmospheric patterns over different locations and timescales, and one you might be familiar with is the ENSO (El Niño / Southern Oscillation) comprised of El Niño and La Niña. These are shifting phases of warm and cool oceanic surface water in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean which can cause some predictable shifts in regional climates (see photos). I say some predictable shifts as each phase can have a different intensity altering its “expected” impacts in different regions. So, if there are weather pattern shifts that match up with a specific phase of an atmospheric oscillation—whether it be the ENSO, Arctic Oscillation or Indian Dipole Oscillation, among others—you can’t directly blame climate change. However, you can analyse the impacts of these oscillations over time to see if climate change is affecting the severity or frequency of these expected weather pattern shifts per each oscillation phase.
Another thing I’d like to talk about is the accuracy of the science produced by the research community, who is the original source providing us with the scientific knowledge and projections behind the climate change movement. There are international academic bodies and organisations comprised of talented scientists who work their fingers to the bone analysing, collaborating and doing the physical labour needed to discover insights to fine-tune our understanding of the past, present and future of the earth’s climate. These talented people create and use the equations and instruments which have been meticulously advanced over the years to continually refine our knowledge of our current impacts and future climate shifts. This is necessary to develop accurate climate projections used to advocate climate-focused measures in an effort to reduce the impacts of climate change.
But what are climate projections and how do scientists create them? Climate projections are the different pathways or scenarios that, for example, temperature or precipitation might shift in the future depending on specific inputs (ie. human emissions such as greenhouse gases and aerosols). Of course, when it comes to replicating the earth and the earth’s systems, we will never reach 100% accuracy due to the dynamism of the planet and its energetic reactions. However, to make sure the outputs are as accurate as possible, scientists rely on measurements of past observed weather data to equilibrate their climate models and equations. This creates a well-represented earth model within these tools which lays the foundation for more accurately produced climate projections. And with more accurate projections, more progress can be made.
There are plenty more tidbits of climate context that I’d love to share, but I’ll leave that for future blog posts. As this blog post was less about the costs and more about the context, in my next post we’re going to dive back into the original theme and explore the Siberian Arctic to see what costs are associated with the permafrost melt in that region… and some of the facts might *blow* your mind.
[HK1]Nisbet, M.C., 2009. Communicating climate change: Why frames matter for public engagement. Environment: Science and policy for sustainable development, 51(2), pp.12-23.
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