As I was looking for ant-related news pertaining to the election, I instead came across this article by Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post. It is more about climate change than the election, but as it includes a reference to one of Aesop’s Fables, “The Ant and the Grasshopper”, I feel the need to comment.
Huffington writes on the apparent inability of mankind to prepare for future disasters. As she puts it, “Why is it so difficult for us to look around the corner and prevent upcoming disasters, or at least mitigate their impact?” She goes on to cite some nonscientists on the reasons why Hurricane Sandy should create concern about climate change. One of these is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who stated that “anyone who says there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality.” The fuller quote is:
There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That is not a political statement, that is a factual statement. Anyone who says there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality.
This sort of reasoning is as ubiquitous as it is annoying. It goes something like this: Extreme weather event, therefore climate change.
This is the inconvenient truth: scientists simply don’t know yet to what extent the strength of Hurricane Sandy was influenced by climate change. Period. As MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel says, “[the climate science] profession hasn’t done its homework … I think there’s going to be a ton of papers that come out of this, but it’s going to take a couple of years.” Discovering complicated causal relationships takes years, not days, as many in the media would have you believe. At this point, allowing Hurricane Sandy to even influence beliefs about climate change is concerning. It gives fodder to those who rabidly resist climate science, despite the overwhelming amount of data produced on the subject (for example, a Google Scholar search of “causes of climate change” yields 2,130,000 results). Such skeptics can easily point out, quite correctly, that the link between Hurricane Sandy and anthropogenic climate change is questionable at the very best. Skeptical readers may get the impression that scientists are coming to quick conclusions, when in fact the true issue is that writers of newspapers and blogs too often present assumptions as well-studied, scientific facts.
Ultimately, it is best not to automatically trust writers like Arianna Huffington who, even if they are eventually shown to be correct, make claims without presenting the views of experts in the field. U.S. Representative Ed Markley, NY Governor Cuomo, and journalists like Robert Kuttner and Timothy Egan are not experts. Exclusively citing the opinions of such commentators has the dangerous potential to mislead the public into thinking science has shown something it hasn’t. Climate change is an issue for a myriad of important reasons, and humans are making it worse. But this truth has been shown through decades of research by thousands of scientists, not by assumptions made in the course of a week.