What do you think of when you think of global warming? Surely pictures of melting ice glaciers and stranded polar bears on floating pieces of broken ice comes to mind. And you would be right on the right track, but what exactly does “global warming” mean and why is it such a controversial topic?
Global warming defined by Britannica is “the phenomenon of increasing average air temperatures near the surface of Earth over the past one to two centuries. Climate scientists have since the mid-20th century gathered detailed observations of various weather phenomena (such as temperatures, precipitation, and storms) and of related influences on climate (such as ocean currents and the atmosphere’s chemical composition).” So, what do humans have to do with this? Well, there is a lot of controversy surrounding how much we contribute to the warming of the planet by the fact we are producing far more greenhouse gases in the 20th century than ever before and this has caused some serious negative impacts on the environment. It is important to know what greenhouse gases are before we go further into what global warming is. Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and CFCs (chloro-fluoro-carbons). According to NASA, The trapping of these gases in the atmosphere is what keeps our planet warm and without them we wouldn’t have a planet to live on at all and this is what we call “the greenhouse affect.” “Earth is sometimes called the “Goldilocks” planet – its conditions are not too hot and not too cold, but just right to allow life (including us) to flourish. Part of what makes Earth so amenable is its natural greenhouse effect, which keeps the planet at a friendly 15 °C (59 °F) on average.” See the diagram below.
In a journal by the UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Policy, there is an acceptance in the scientific community that the concentration of these greenhouse gases is increasing based on the measurements that are being continually gathered by the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii since 1957. “These data show that since 1957 the concentrationof carbon dioxide has increased from approximately 330 parts permillion (ppm) to 360ppm, or almost 1 ppm per year.” That is pretty substantial, and is also where the beginning of the global warming controvery arose.
BritannicaProCon.org traces the orgin of the controversy to 1988. “NASA scientist James Hansen presented testimony to the US Senate stating that increases in CO2 were warming the planet and “changing our climate.” At the time, MIT meteorologist Richard Lindzen criticized these findings, arguing that computerized climate models were unreliable and that natural processes would balance out any warming caused by increased CO2.” Then in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was agreed to by 37 industrial countries including the United States that set targets to lower the greenhouse emissions for each country by 5%. However only 5 years later, President George W. Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, “due to Senate opposition and concerns that limiting greenhouse gas emissions would harm the U.S. economy.” and 171 nations went on with the protocol without the U.S. and this was just the beginning of the United States government’s up and down relationship with the United Nations agreements and proposols. Below is a diagram showing the United States greenhouse gas emissions projected if we stay on this same course with no regulation in place for our greenhouse gas emissions.
It wasn’t until 2006 when Al Gore released the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” that people started to get a real sense of the danger we were in as not only a country, but as a human race. This was a huge campaign to bring awareness about global warming and to persuade people of it’s importance by appealing to their emotions. It struck to the core of the issue and didn’t sugar coat the way humans were directly affecting climate change. By directly appealing to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the documentary hit at the very bottom of the pyramid, the physiological and security needs. No one felt safe after watching that documentary and they shouldn’t have because it was directly meant to instill that fear in all of us that if we don’t make a change soon, we could lose it all. Al Gore’s political and celebrity status also was held highly in the eyes of views as a former vice president. There was a credibility there and he was clearly targetting his democratic constituents.
Ever since, there has been a huge advertising movement to push global warming awareness so that voters hold it at the forefront of their minds, so that they will hopefully view this as a real issue and to make it a priority when chosing which political candidate to vote for.
The reason we even think of stranded polar bears is because advertisers have engrained this image of polar bears in all of our brains to appeal to our “pathos” or emotions to persuade us to make a difference. Coca Cola used this type of persuasion tactic in their Arctic Home Campaign with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2012 and polar bears decorated the Coca Cola cans to promote their partnership bringing awarness literally into people’s hands.
While this was a successful campaign for Coca Cola and WWF, unfortunately just buying a coke can doesn’t mean you are making a difference. There is still so much more to do to convince people that global warming is a real and there won’t be any resolution in the future if our governments don’t come together and form a consensus on what needs to be done which is reducing our carbon emissions and fossil fuels. Unfortunately, there are people and organizations who are pushing against this progress just as much as there are people promoting it. In an article by The Guardian, big oil companies like Mobil, ExxonMobil and BP were trying to downplay the affects of global warming and put the blame on individuals creating the “reduce your carbon footprint” phrase, in order to shift public perception onto what can each person do to reduce carbon emissions instead of blaming themselves, the big oil companiesm, who in actuality, are really to blame for the increase in fossil fuels.
Now, what is the general consensus among American’s on global warming? The Pew Research Center found that, “Roughly half of adults (48%) say climate change is mostly due to human activity; roughly three-in-ten say it is due to natural causes (31%) and another fifth say there is no solid evidence of warming (20%).” So, that is good news, but that is still a long ways away from a certain view point being established. A lot of this has to do with political affiliation as the research center also found that, “…conservative Republicans [are] much less inclined to anticipate negative effects from climate change or to judge proposed solutions as making much difference in mitigating any effects. Half or more liberal Democrats, by contrast, see negative effects from climate change as very likely and believe an array of policy solutions can make a big difference.” While Al Gore’s documentary was fantastic at bringing awareness to global warming, but it could have benefitted by not letting Al Gore be the main spokesperson because it swayed the public to believe that only democrats could relate to his campaign and they would have been better off letting a much more politically neutral figure promote the documentary.
Global warming will continue to be the issue it is today and remain a controversial topic if we continue to elect government officals who don’t want to do anything to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It’s important to note that as individuals, what we can do largely lies with who we vote for and by making sure that they are going to do everything they can to go against big oil companies instead of partnering with them to boost their campaign finances. As much as we would like to think that by riding a bike to work instead of driving or buying that can of coke with the polar bear on it will help to stop global warming, it is going to take much more than that if we want to see a real difference.