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Thursday July 27 2017

On the Existence of Climate Change

Growing up, I always thought climate change was a, you know, thing. That it existed. I believed news about glaciers melting and species going extinct, and felt the summers getting hotter. Apparently not everyone seems to hold this belief, though, and currently, the pot of climate change is being stirred by the new President-elect of the United States.

Donald Trump, who is now raising concerns regarding the role of the U.S. in the recent Paris climate agreement, does not believe climate change is real. In fact, as reported by the New York Times, in 2012 Trump tweeted that the concept of climate change was something that China had invented to gain a trade advantage, presumably because the U.S. government was looking to reduce coal consumption.1 What makes this matter more interesting is that China is now perhaps looking to usurp the role of leader from the U.S. in the world of climate change, with President Xi Jinping of China recently emphasizing the serious need to address the issue of climate change.1 This represents a very great switching of roles, both politically and arguably globally — previously, President Obama had been responsible for convincing China to ensure that its greenhouse gas emissions peaked by 2030 and that it would change 20% of its energy source to non-fossils fuels by then.2      

The goal of the Paris climate agreement is to work towards limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, considered an ambitious but crucial goal to prevent catastrophic environmental effects.1,2 While the Paris climate agreement was established last year, there is current concern that Trump might try to withdraw the U.S.’s support when he becomes President. While the feasibility of the Paris climate agreement is an entire topic of its own, it is quite interesting to note the literature that exists on the perceptions that exists regarding climate change worldwide. Why do some believe that climate change is a hoax?

As we know, climate change and global warming are often used interchangeably. Interestingly, one study has shown that liberals prefer the former wording while conservatives prefer the latter.3 The study reported that “Republicans were less likely to endorse that the phenomenon is real when it is referred to as “global warming” rather than “climate change,” whereas Democrats were unaffected by question wording.”3 This raises questions regarding the ability of the wording of survey questions in distorting the representation of public opinion, especially when it becomes relevant to public policy development. Another study explored the role of possible influences including social factors, demographics, and beliefs on public climate change awareness and risk perceptions in countries globally.4 Its results showed that education is the strongest predictor of climate change awareness worldwide, and suggested that improving basic education and public comprehension of the local aspects of climate change are vital for increasing public engagement and awareness and encouraging action to fight climate change.

Research into the public perception of climate change is still hazy and needs considerable effort to produce solid measures of what exactly influences how people see climate change. Regardless, icebergs are melting, heat waves are increasing in numbers, and sea levels are rising. But as we transition from one President who perhaps did more than many in not only committing the U.S. to action but also convincing China to join to another who doesn’t even believe climate change exists, the future of efforts to reduce climate change worldwide may be in a precarious situation.5 

By Takhliq Amir

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References

1. Wong E. Trump Has Called Climate Change A Chinese Hoax. Beijing Says It Is Anything But. New York Times. Nov. 18 2016. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/19/world/asia/china-trump-climate-change.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fscience [Accessed 22nd November 2016].2.

2.Wong E. China’s Carbon Emissions May Have Peaked, But It’s Hazy. New York Times. 3 2016. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/04/world/asia/china-climate-change-peak-carbon-emissions.html [Accessed 22nd November 2016].

3. Schuldt JP, Konrath SH, Schwarz N. “Global warming” or “climate change”? Whether the planet is warming depends on question wording. Public Opinion Quarterly. 2011;75(1):115-124. Available from: 10.1093/poq/nfq073 [Accessed 22nd November 2016].

4. Lee TM, Markowitz EM, Howe PD, Ko CY, Leiserowitz AA. Predictors of public climate change awareness and risk perception around the world. Nature Climate 2015;5(11):1014-20. Available from: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v5/n11/full/nclimate2728.html [Accessed 22nd November 2016].

5. Gillis J. 3.6 Degrees Of Uncertainty. New York Times. 15 2014. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/16/science/earth/is-a-two-degree-limit-on-global-warming-off-target.html?_r=0 [Accessed 22nd November 2016].

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The Meducator is McMaster University’s undergraduate Health Sciences Journal. It publishes pieces that critically address current issues with a high degree of scientific rigor, but in a way that is accessible to a broad audience.

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