Recently I’ve given a series of presentations to students in my local school community regarding climate change. These presentations were to roughly 1,000 students aged between 12 and 16. Our project consisted of calculating a transport carbon footprint for the school, identifying ways of reducing the school’s carbon footprint and convincing students and teachers to do their bit.
As part of this, I had a segment where I had to briefly present the effects and dangers of climate change. This presented quite a few dilemmas. It’s very easy to go onto Google and to find computer generated images which could shock people. For example, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament during a big flood:
But I felt that doing so would achieve no purpose but to scare people. It’s also counter productive; when you watch a presentation which takes climate change on such a slippery slope to such ridiculous and shocking effects, your natural thought would be that the presenter is a tree-hugging nutcase. Obviously if that happened we would have failed in the primary purpose of the presentation: convincing people that they need to do their bit.
I deliberated for quite a while on this picture of polar bears stranded on ice. This photo is itself often used as evidence of climate change. But do a little more research and you find out that it could simply be due to the Arctic ice naturally melting every summer. And some people point to evidence that polar bear populations seem to be on the up again.
I felt it was a misrepresentation to imply that the photo was evidence of global warming because it’s impossible to know the exact background behind the photos. But it did allow us to mention a lot of the scientific evidence for climate change: temperatures in the Canadian Arctic have risen by 4C in the last 50 years. 500 cubic miles of ice have been lost from Alaska ice melt in the last 50 years. And polar bear populations have dropped by 25% in the last 20 years: not only that, their physique has declined.
To try and balance out this implication, we added a picture of a polar bear on a deckchair as a way to inject a little humour but also to try and reduce the implied statement that the photo of polar bears stranded on ice could be linked back to climate change caused by humans.
The UK Floods of 2007
The other main dilemma was whether and how we should present the UK Floods of 2007. The reason why this was an especially potent event to present was because the area in which I live was at the heart of the region which was most strongly affected by the floods. More or less everybody has their own story of the floods.
Here was the problem: scientists and meteorologists suggested that the floods happened because the jet stream being further south then it should have. Some scientists claimed that the floods had a link to climate change. I didn’t feel it was fair to present that: there are simply so many different factors involved in weather systems. Everybody has heard of chaos theory: how a butterfly flapping it’s wings could cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. The weatherman can barely predict the weather for next week, let alone for tomorrow. So to present the UK floods as evidence for climate change would have been a perversion of the scientific evidence. Indeed, a week after giving the presentation, scientists then said the floods were not caused by climate change.
The way I decided to present it was that the floods of summer 2007 showed an example of something that would happen more regularly with climate change. Scientists have a weight of evidence that climate change would lead to more extreme weather. Of course; higher temperatures means more snowmelt which could lead to downstream flooding.
It is always going to be quite difficult to present climate change. I’ve given an example of how some people claimed that the UK floods of 2007 were caused by climate change. When further research was then released which said that the floods were not caused by climate change, the sceptics feel vindicated and take it as evidence against climate change. To state what you do not have reasonable scientific evidence for is, therefore, counter productive to your cause. But at the same time, it’s possible to be so ridiculously sceptical that you won’t have an argument that will convince anybody. And that’s the dilemma of presenting climate change.