Written by: Shanae Brown
Environmental scepticism is built on the idea that environmental changes have been grossly exaggerated or fabricated (Jacques P 2013). Often, sceptics have a strong belief that the world and economy has been consistently improving since the industrial revolution (Dunn and Kinney, 1996). While for most countries it is true that the economy is thriving, the environment is not.
As accurately stated by James Shaw, people are sceptics because they do not want to take up the lifestyle changes that come with caring for the environment (M. Theunissen, 2015). For many countries, lifestyle change means economy changes, economy loss and maybe even economy failure. To many, public and politicians alike, this does not sound ideal.
So, this has become the selfish thought that drives many climate change deniers. Why would I give up my SUV for the sake of the planet, for the sake of other life or for the sake of future generations?
It is mine. I want to enjoy it, even if it costs the future of our planet.
Many sceptics choose to ignore the growing evidence that climate change is occurring. One of the most used evidence of change is the rise of atmospheric CO2, which is measured by using ice cores from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers (Johnson, S. 2016). The trend of CO2 rise can be seen on the graph below:
When looking at this graph, it is easy to see that we have gone beyond what has occurred in the last 800,000 years with natural climate cycles. But this poses another question, how is the change we are seeing now different to change seen in the past? Or in the words of a sceptic, this is just the natural cycle of the earth, so stop saying we need to reduce emissions.
The biggest change is that on top of natural climate cycles, we have human pressures as well; deforestation, fossil fuels and aerosols, just to name a few. These are all things people often disregard as harmful. But in 2018, IPCC found that 89% of global CO2 emissions came from fossil fuels, causing 0.3C of the 1C increase in global average temperatures (IPCC,2018), this makes it the single largest source of global temperature rise (Höök, M., & Tang, X. 2013). The graph pictured to the left from the IPCC shows temperature rise over time, with temperature rise to 2020 shown by the orange line. Currently, emissions have continued to follow the ‘business as usual’ trajectory, which is the worst rated scenario for both us and the environment (IPCC,2020).
Aerosols have also been found to change cloud properties, stop cloud formation, and reduce evaporation (Nakajima, T. et al. 2001). This means that rain and snow are shifting from highly polluted areas to more oceanic regions (Rotstayn, L. D., Ryan, B. F. & Penner, J. E. 2000). The issue with this shift is increased droughts in some regions and floods in other regions. Examples of this are Australia and the USA, who often see enhanced floods and droughts due to precipitation changes (Whetton P., Fowler A., Haylock H., Pittock A. 1993; USGCRP, 2017).
Even with this evidence, environmental scepticism still occurs. The problem is that many global issues such as those mentioned above are not published in local newspapers or other easily accessible literature, but rather kept to the scientists and those who dig for the information. On top of this, many of the more harmful climate change issues do not impact humans, but rather animals; and why should we care about those changes when they do not impact us, right?
Even so, eventually the loss of sea ice extent, the extinction of species, ocean acidification, sea level rise, extreme events, glacial retreat, decreased snow cover and warming oceans will affect us all.
NZ has one of the highest rates of climate scepticism (Tranter B., Booth K. 2015). A number that rises with both CO2 emissions per capita and with country vulnerability to climate changes. Keep that in mind as you cling to your clean, green kiwi image, New Zealand.
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