For some time now, many have declared that the 'debate has been settled' on the topic of climate change. Oftentimes, those rallying around this notion adopt something approaching a 'you are either with us or against us' attitude toward anyone who claims to be sceptical about some of the scientific data that 'proves' climate change. On the other hand, there are still deniers, that, perhaps as a defense mechanism and however illogically, have adopted the attitude that nothing man does has an impact on the environment, whether it is cutting down rainforests, polluting waterways, or putting smog into the air.
In reality, both sides are likely too extreme in their views. The impact of poisoning the water we drink and air we breathe is unquestionable. At the same time, the power of the earth's systems to self-heal and repair themselves is tremendous. Many scientists claim that data has proven that the climate is changing. However, others dispute this, and due to 'Climategate,' even what was considered to be unbiased data has come into question. Many leaders on the international stage claim that they are believers in climate change, while lack of domestic support renders them impotent. The climate has undeniably been changing since the Earth was formed, but with absolutely no help from our species for substantially most of that time. It is also unclear what exactly impact myriad changes to carbon emissions standards now and in the future will have on warming trends. With so many questions unanswered, and so many debates outstanding, why is it so wrong to be undecided about what some call the greatest issue of our time?
Just like everyone who is a sceptic should read publications such as the IEA World Energy Outlook, true believers should make sure they read material such as this article by David Rose outlining the position of some top scientists that we are entering a cooling cycle similar to those the Earth has entered every few decades over the past century. By taking a look at both positions, the public can best inform themselves about all of the views about the topic, and not rely on hot air-spewing primetime commentators on either side of the debate for their opinions. This should not be a Republican v. Democrat debate, nor a Fox News v. MSNBC argument.
To be curious or perhaps sceptical about climate change is not to be a denier. It is simply to believe that this is not an area of settled science. Mere decimal place changes to projected data make projected outcomes vary wildly, and there is not even one settled model that can definitively prove what will happen next week nevermind next year or next decade. Scientists know more about the surface of the moon than they do about all of the factors that impact the climate. And with the legal, political, and financial changes required to impose some of the restrictions many advocate for being nearly incalculable, it should be a more socially acceptable option to be curious about climate change.
This is not to say that nothing should be done now. Clearly deforestation needs to be curbed, with proper management taking its place and ensuring that timber is a renewable resource. Incentives need to exist to reduce pollution, if for no other reason than to curb the tangible impacts of smog and acid rain. Reliance on fossil fuels needs to be reduced; such dependance is a security threat for importers and it is undeniable that, someday, the planet will run out of coal and oil. Finally, for efficiency sake, money needs to be spent on initiatives such as Smart Grid, which will make the economy more productive while reducing oil use and increasing security. All of these initiatives are positives for those who believe man is destroying the planet while also making sense from a completely neutral standpoint. They also all ultimately reduce net costs in one way or another while allowing the incomes and standards of living for all to increase. This should allow those nations who are still playing catch-up with the developed world to continue on an upward path.
The world is changing. It always has and always will. There are many data points discussed by scientists with many potential outcomes. Being curious about this, and making oneself informed of all of the information available does not mean that someone is opposed to change. It also does not mean that someone is a denier of man's impact on the world. For example, no one considering themselves curious would stop thinking about the climate debate merely because we are in the midst of a record-cold winter. However, many of the changes advocated for by some are great departures from current practices, and at the very least deserve further debate before legal structures and international agreements are changed, enormous financial burdens are taken on, and the quality of life of billions is impacted. In the meantime, leaders should do their jobs and work to make their constituents better off. This can be accomplished by creating a healthier world with more efficient economies that positively impact the greatest amount of people. There are many uncontroversial measures that can be taken to ensure this while what some still consider to be an unsettled debate continues.