By Jacey Gould

With the emergence of climate strikes around the world, climate change has become an increasingly popular and controversial topic. With so many people speaking out on the issue, the voices we hear most often are either those completely denying climate change or those that say that the climate crisis is not only real–it is urgent.

There are scientific experts on both sides. Many experts today are in favor of the view that climate change is occurring and say that we should try to reverse it before it is too late. However, a surprising number of experts do not feel it is urgent.

Experts in Favor of Urgency

One of these experts is Wallace S. Broecker, a geology professor at Columbia University who passed away in February. Over his many years of study, he researched nearly all things climate, especially in relation to the ocean.

Broecker worked his whole life to form as much of an understanding of climate change as possible. He never grew to fully understand it (as none of us have) but his core belief for over 40 years was that the climate is certainly changing, and in a threatening way.

Broecker’s Scientific Research

In one of Broecker’s scholarly journals entitled “The Role of Ocean-Atmosphere Reorganizations in Glacial Cycles,” he states that “[reorganizations of the ocean and atmosphere] constitute jumps between stable modes of operation which cause changes in the greenhouse gas content and albedo of the atmosphere.” 

In another one of his journals, “Abrupt Climate Change Revisited,” he explains that the rapidness of climate change has been due to “extensive winter sea ice formation which created Siberian-like conditions in the regions surrounding the northern Atlantic.” His articles illustrate the fact that Broecker not only believes in climate change; he also has done extensive research on its causes.

Another prominent science professor who believes in climate change is Michael E. Mann. He teaches in the area of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, and he has published dozens of papers about his studies of how climate change works and how he is currently studying how to help reverse it.

Mann’s Scientific Research

In one of his scholarly journal articles entitled “Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries,” Mann writes that “time-dependent correlations of the reconstructions with time-series records representing changes in greenhouse-gas concentrations, solar irradiance, and volcanic aerosols suggest that each of these factors has contributed to the climate variability of the past 400 years, with greenhouse gases emerging as the dominant forcing during the twentieth century.”

A book entitled Dire Predictions– Understanding Climate Change is one of Mann’s influential writings on the subject. The synopsis of the book on Mann’s website states:

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been issuing the essential facts and figures on climate change for nearly two decades. But the hundreds of pages of scientific evidence quoted for accuracy by the media and scientists alike, remain inscrutable to the general public who may still question the validity of climate change.”

It goes on to state:

“The scientific findings that provide validity to the implications of climate change are presented in clear-cut graphic elements, striking images, and understandable analogies.”

Mann seems to assume that the skeptics concerning climate change are people only within–well– ‘the general public.” But this is not the case.

Climate-change Skeptics

There is a large number of esteemed scientists who are skeptical regarding the general concept of rapid climate change. Lennart O. Bengtsson, a Swedish meteorologist, is one of these scientists.

Bengtsson’s Scientific Research

In 2014, Bengtsson published a research journal to Environmental Research Letters. The journal expressed skepticism concerning whether greenhouse gases actually cause great harm to the environment.

“The paper was rejected for publication for what Bengtsson believed to be ‘activist’ reasons. The paper disputed the uncertainties surrounding climate sensitivity to increased greenhouse gas concentrations contained in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth and Fifth Assessment Reports.”

Bengtsson has recently joined the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which “is a non-profit organization and self-described think tank.” It was created “to counteract what he considered to be an exaggerated concern about global warming.”

Another person on the skeptical side of the controversy is Richard S. Lindzen, an MIT professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Lindzen has spent his career researching the workings of the ozone layer, as well as pressure in the air. He has also discovered a number of other scientific phenomena. Lindzen is also skeptical of the supposed climate change threat, specifically because he believes that scientists shouldn’t be fully trusted to make such predictions.

Lindzen’s Scientific Research

“He has been especially critical of the notion that the ‘science is settled.’ In a 2009 Wall Street Journal op-ed, he maintained that the science is far from settled and that ‘[c]onfident predictions of catastrophe are unwarranted.’ For his trouble, Lindzen has suffered the usual brutal, ad hominem attacks from the climate-change establishment.”

This quotation by Lindzen shows his clear skepticism of the climate change urgency. “CO2 for different people has different attractions. After all, what is it? – it’s not a pollutant, it’s a product of every living creature’s breathing, it’s the product of all plant respiration, it is essential for plant life and photosynthesis, it’s a product of all industrial burning, it’s a product of driving…”

Whether or not you believe it is real, climate change is at least a topic that stirs enough controversy to cause the climate to change if it hasn’t been already. This is at least true in terms of our political climate.

President Donald Trump has stated clearly that climate change is not something he believes is occurring. This has upset many of those who oppose him.

Presidential Politics and Climate Change

One would assume that climate change would also be a key topic in the debates for the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

However, candidates have spent a surprisingly small amount of time debating this issue in the 130-minute Democratic debate on Nov. 20, even though the Democratic Party is the party more concerned about climate issues overall.

One comment made by Bernie Sanders about cities being on the verge of submersion in water was later fact-checked and proven to have been a vast exaggeration.

The Climate Change Generational Gap

The debate on climate change is currently very popular among the younger generations, Millennials and Generation Z. Young activists have come forward to organize school walkouts to protest inaction by lawmakers about what they believe is a climate crisis. According to The Washington Post, most U.S. teenagers have taken some sort of action to keep the discussion going about climate change.

However, many people in the generations after these are more skeptical about climate change, especially those in the “baby boomer” generation. The reason for this “gap” is not clear, although there have been many cases of resentment of the “boomer” from Gen Z and Millennials. The young people feel that their elders, for their own selfish gain, have contributed to a terrible future for their descendants.

The differences of beliefs across the generations further complicates the controversy, along with many other complicating factors.

At this point, we can only hope that whatever side of the climate debate we are on, that we will be willing to listen and consider the opposing side’s point of view. When we are deaf to others’ opinions and criticism, there is no way for us to grow and learn.