Conspiracy Theories: A Scientist on Global Warming

Sometimes the lazy way out of a conflict is to let someone else fight the battle.

By , Columnist

My dear childhood friend, Dr. Christina Ravelo, had no idea that on one recent lovely sunny Southern California day another friend of mine, an author of worldwide renown, was accusing her of being part of a global warming conspiracy.

Dr. Ravelo is a Professor in the Ocean Sciences Department and was formerly Director of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at U.C. Santa Cruz. She studies the sediment in the sea from up to 10 million years ago to learn about past, current, and potential future weather patterns. She is highly respected and trusted by her colleagues around the globe.

My conspiracy theorist friend asked, “But does she receive grant money?”

I replied that she is, of course, constantly applying for grants.

He then argued that she, like all the other “global warming scientists,” is writing grant proposals in a way that pleases the government. “If the proposal supports the global warming theory, she gets the grant!”

I started to defend her life-long history of being someone with the utmost integrity but decided to hear arguments directly from the conspiring scientist herself.

Are grants approved either on the basis of their assumption that global warming exists, or in their pursuit to prove that it does?

There are very few scientific studies being done any more to prove global warming. It has been proven many times over that increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere create global warming. The majority of studies in this field are being done with respect to mitigating the effects of global warming, adapting to it, and improving predictions of how much it will warm or how much it will affect regional climate like extreme storm events, extreme drought, etc.

At this point questioning global warming is like questioning gravity. It is basic physics, quantum mechanics and the Earth’s energy balance: if CO2 goes up, global warming occurs.

Is the process of receiving grant approval in any way political?

First, a very small percentage of legislators don’t believe in global warming. Second, grants are decided by a peer review board, not legislators.

Can solar flares or any solar activity cause global warming?

Solar activity is always taken into consideration. It may cause some warming at times, and cooling at others, but it cannot explain the upward trend of the earth’s temperature that has occurred over the last decades and which continues to occur. There are two reasons. One is that the sun’s energy increases and decreases in cycles, whereas greenhouse gases AND global warming are both steadily increasing with time. The second is that changes in solar energy would be expected to affect the earth’s surface. Greenhouse gases, on the other hand, should heat up the entire atmosphere, which is what is observed. Even taking into account the sun spot cycle, you cannot explain global warming with solar activity.

My friend argues that the CO2 levels have been high in our planet’s history.

That is actually one of the compelling pieces of information that support the idea that greenhouse gases cause global warming. In the past, when CO2 was high for natural reasons, the earth’s temperature was warmer. So, the cause and effect relationship between CO2 and global temperature is borne out by looking at the past. There is abundant proof that there is nothing in nature creating the increased levels of CO2 and there is clear science that our use of fossil fuels is creating it.

My friend says, “We always have holes in the ozone!” Is that true?

The holes in the ozone actually have nothing to do with global warming, but he is partially correct. The poles, for instance, have weather patterns that naturally create low levels of stratospheric ozone in those areas. But the hole that everyone has been concerned about, a deep and large hole over Antarctica that extends to Australia and Chile, and a less intense hole over the Arctic, was caused by the increased levels of CFCs in our atmosphere.

This is actually an area where we have positive news to report. Because we have decreased our levels of CFC output, the ozone hole that we created has stopped growing. It’s only a matter of time before it will start closing up.

This is entirely due to human behavior changing. For instance, HCFCs and HFCs have been developed to replace CFCs in appliances. These replacements are short lived and don’t even make it up into the stratosphere. It’s actually a very exciting turn of events, which demonstrates how science was used to inform international policy to solve a global environmental problem.

Is there hope that we can turn around global warming too?

I am not optimistic about turning our political attentions away from fossil fuels to renewable resources. It would benefit our country if we followed China and Germany’s lead to be at the cutting edge of renewable resource technology. We could be left in the dust. In the future this will make us reliant on them and other countries like them. The science is there: we must turn to renewables.

You mean the “science” that you make up at meetings on unknown islands with politicians and scientists, rubbing your hands together, conspiring to pull the proverbial scientific wool over the world’s eyes?

[Laughing] I would not be able to convince a conspiracy theorist otherwise. I have a colleague who is on sabbatical doing research at U.C Santa Cruz. Dr. Kiehl has the unique perspective of being a scientist who builds climate models based on his research results, and also happens to be a psychologist. He has found that no amount of scientific evidence will actually change the mind of a conspiracy theorist.

So there is no convincing my friend — even with this interview?

You need to find out who your friend trusts, who he listens to. Dr. Kiehl has found that it isn’t what is said that changes our minds, but who says it. There is another factor as well. We are—all of us—naturally lazy in our discernment skills. We rely on past knowledge and experience to evaluate current information. Therefore, if you have a tendency to believe in conspiracies, you will likely apply that belief to other situations.

I can still try to convince my friend that you are not creating science to match a government agenda.

That would be great. In the meantime, I’ll get back to work.

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Bridget Fonger is the co-author of “The Lazy Woman’s Guide to Just About Everything,” a book that helps women become happier, more passionate and fulfilled by living the “Lazy Way,” aka with less stress and more joy! Ms. Fonger has been featured on HGTV several times with her home décor and…

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