Rural climate skeptics are costing us time and money. Do we keep indulging them?
“Climate change is real and the world is changing,” says one of my friends, at the kitchen table of our remote cabin in southern Alaska. “When I was 8, I knew if I went outside in the morning and didn’t see a squirrel, it was because a tornado had moved through last night.”
He laughs out loud. “Seriously, I have a whole notebook full of these things.”
My friend is a climate skeptic, and he’s not alone. In the past five years, more than 130 people from more than a dozen countries have published a book about climate change and its effects. They’ve written of the growing realization that carbon emissions are a major environmental problem, and the potential for damage to crops, forests, and other natural resources resulting from rising temperatures in the Arctic and elsewhere. Their work has contributed to a global discussion that began in 2007 when a study found that the Arctic was warming more than twice as quickly as the global average. Since then, researchers have found that the Arctic is warming at a surprisingly rapid pace. Since 2009, temperatures in the Arctic have risen by more than 0.6 degrees Celsius, while the global average has risen by 0.3 degrees C.
Most Arctic scientists remain skeptical of the warming. Their work suggests that the Arctic’s surface temperatures are still falling, and that the region could even be cooling over the next two decades as Arctic sea ice begins to shrink. But even skeptics acknowledge that the Arctic’s melting ice and glaciers could have damaging effects, particularly if they accelerate. Indeed, many argue that the Arctic’s rapid melting is the primary cause of Arctic warming.
And although climate change skeptics say they object to the claims and fears of skeptics, they say they don’t want to be seen as out to stop progress. They want to ensure that the scientific process moves forward, and that those who believe in climate change get the best advice possible.
“I guess my question is, should we stop funding research on this?” asks Robert J. Michaels, a professor at Georgia Tech who says he’s lost thousands of dollars in grants because climate change skeptics have used their influence to derail studies that could have produced the