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Jan. 10, 2010

Climate Change and the New Decade

by Jesse Medalia Strauss

Click to enlarge images

Greetings, Dear Readers.

I write to you from the tight confine that is the window seat of a Bolt Bus. My legs, holding in place a duffel bag filled with clothes, are practically stuck for the next four hours, a torture barely offset by the fact that Bolt offers Wi-Fi. As the sky slowly begins to grow darker and the driver steers the bus south down the highway, I can feel my much-needed winter break slowly draw to a close and the pressure and anticipation of the start of a new semester loom over me, like an overarching shade that grows darker as the bus continues to progress towards its destination.

Now, for all those reading this, currently going through the ridiculousness of epic proportions that is the college process (and most likely the subject of a future blog post), what your various guides tell you is true: when you go to college, you will be meeting all different kinds of people. For example, growing up in New York City and attending a highly liberal high school, I was always under the impression that I needed to fly all the way to America’s heartland and venture to some cabin on the outskirts of a forest in Idaho, to find someone who still doesn’t believe in climate change. Yet despite the urban and strong academic environment that is American University and the overwhelming scientific consensus, I've been shocked that the fact that Earth’s climate is changing just doesn’t seem to resonate with a great portion of the student populace.

Considering that when it comes to climate change, civilization as we know it is at stake, it is absolutely ridiculous, nay, disturbing that there is an ever-expanding distrust of the scientific community within the United States. How can bright young people, educated people, men and women of ambition, looking to further their worldly studies through a university, hold such high disregard for such crushing evidence. I’ve literally had conversations with students living in my dormitory who have said, in a manner that suggested they knew better than thousands of experts who have dedicated their lives to this area of research, that human beings have no effect on the Earth’s climate. That after more than a hundred years of industrialization, a population that is growing exponentially and rapidly, and the past century of devastating warfare, we have placed no burden on our planet. That the thick, disgusting smog over Los Angeles, a city where there are more automobiles than people, would have been there regardless of anything we have done. When I point out these facts, my peers' answer is always the same: “Scientists can be wrong.” I understand that in the past, individual scientists have made mistakes and have drawn the wrong conclusions based on collected data, but when you have an entire field of experts working independently of one another drawing the same conclusions, plus satellite photographic evidence of the polar ice caps dwindling away, I think it’s safe to say the Earth is changing. But unfortunately for America, it’s easier to say those satellite photos were photoshoped in a massive scientist conspiracy to get more grant money.

This attitude that a large majority of our population has embraced is not only defeatist, but suicidal. If people convince themselves that a problem doesn’t exist, then they will do nothing to solve or prevent it. At the rate we are going, by the time our country wakes up, the people in my home town, the sunken borough of Manhattan, will be living in refugee camps in Canada. Every once in a while, a generation gets a necessary call to act and sacrifice. The last time this happened, a nation mobilized to defeat the armies of fascism. The most powerful force on Earth is a mobilized democracy calling for action, and that is what we need to be. Right now, we have been granted a very small and rare window to change our ways to save this planet for our children. A new decade means a clean slate. Unlike now in 2010, when 2020 rolls around, let's be able to say truthfully we left the decade with the Earth better than we found it.

Be Skeptical, Be Critical, Take Nothing On Faith.

All the best,
Jesse M. S.

About Jesse Medalia Strauss

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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