Unit 5: “A Song of Ice’

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In this  essay, Elizabeth Kolbert says "The problem with global warming--and the reason it continues to resist illustration, even as the streets flood and the forests die, and the mussels rot on the shores--is that experience is an inadequate guide to what's going on."

2016 was a year of record highs: it was the warmest year ever recorded, both on land and within the oceans, its average temperature approaching one entire degree Celsius above the 20th century average - and science journalists spend much of their time reporting how this is changing our planet. And yet, many politicians and American voters strongly disagree that anything is amiss. Do you agree or disagree with their efforts, and how do you think scientists and journalists should address the problem in the future? Use the  "Recognizing Logical Fallacies"  resource to help explain your response, if its helpful.

Write your response in a comment to this page.

22 thoughts on “Unit 5: “A Song of Ice’

  1. James W.

    Major research is being done on the ice fields of Greenland. For the scientists, this is to better understand how global warming is affecting these massive ice sheets. They are claiming that the pollutant actions of humanity over the last 50- 60 years is causing the average temperature of the Earth to steadily rise. They spend quite a bit of time explaining that this is most likely an exponential growth. As the Earth grows warmer, it will continue to warm at an increasing rate.

    Make no mistake, I agree with the research of global warning, and the warnings that scientists across the world are shouting at us. However through this article, it does step on its own toes at least once. Kolbert tells the story of ice core samples, recovered from army outpost Camp Century. Which through examining, and comparing to other samples from around the world, shows that there have been fast and dramatic temperature swings throughout history. “25 such events in the past 115,000 years.” With the position of this paper, this information might be working against them. While they are working toward the answer that mankind is causing global warming, they also present information saying that sometimes the temperature shifts dramatically on its own? This dilutes their argument. Saying, “Global warming and the melting of Greenland’s ice sheets is caused by the pollution of the industrial age, OR it could be another dramatic temperature swing seen repeatedly through history.” Won’t do much to convince the skeptics.

    Perhaps more of a focus should not be on what is causing the ice sheets to melt, and calve into the oceans, but what can be done to slow this process. Or, if the melting of the ice sheet is accelerating through its own momentum as they say, what needs to be done to protect the coastal cities of the world from oceans who may rise as much as 6-7 feet. Perhapse global warming is such a vast and hard to grasp concept to be easily understood by the masses. Maybe a better way to effect changes in the production of pollution is to focus on subjects slightly smaller; garbage and plastic killing marine life, smog in major cities choking its population. Solving the small problems, while being easier to grasp by the masses, will also work us toward the ultimate goal of reducing global warming.

    1. Kimberly Ulery

      I agree that the statement “25 such events in the past 115,000 years” really turned my attention to thinking the changes were more related to how Earth is constantly changing, instead of it being directly related to the humans and their potential impact on global warming. I also agree that the focus could have been changed to what we can do to help slow the process of ice sheets melting and calves falling off into the ocean, but one of the factors as well would be whether or not global warming is humanity’s fault; or not, with the chance that it may be just evolution.

    2. Ryan Hoskins-Chaddon

      It could be difficult discussing climate change with the sudden increasing in the world temperatures. I think, though, that the changes were so sudden that climate change doesn’t quite explain it. We’re accelerating towards the outcome, for sure, but we are still comparatively crawling to the levels that they are speaking about if I’m understanding it correctly. Otherwise it would be first and foremost on the ammunition list that people who deny climate change would be using. Perhaps there was some odd fluctuations during those times with our magnetic field or some other catastrophic event to cause the anomalies? I don’t know for sure, and neither do the scientists in Greenland from the sounds of it. I’d be really interested in hearing more about that particular study.

    3. Justin Baugh

      Even though they threw in items that could be used against them in this article, but it did give a history to climate change and gave the author credibility by using these facts. Even though Earth is warming up they are trying to sue the human impact to explain why it is warming up even faster than what scientist think it si supposed to be warming up at.

  2. Kimberly Ulery

    Many politicians and Americans may disagree that anything is amiss, but even with this I still see on a daily basis, small changes being made to help save the environment, and effort being put in to prevent global warming. However, as stated by Kolbert, “The climate operates on a time delay. When carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere, it takes decades – in a technical sense, millennia – for the earth to equilibrate. (Pg 113)” We are not seeing the immediate changes based on actions we committed within the last few months. It takes decades for us to see what our actions of the past have done to the environment. I think scientists and journalists need to emphasize this; that right now, the warming we are experiencing is due to what occurred 20-30 years ago, and what we are doing now will affect us in 20-30 years.

    I would have to say I currently disagree with the nonchalant response from Americans and politicians. While I am a skeptic, I do believe that what we are doing to the earth is impacting our future. While change in Earth’s climate and global warming may just be scientific, we are still destroying the earth with our waste and emissions produced. Altogether, I believe scientists and journalists should address the fact that what we see now is the results of 30 years ago damage, not what we are doing to the earth now. However, I do think many great steps are taking place in order to reduce the damage we may be causing; with the development of electric cars, recycling, and overall the responsibility that is being placed on everybody’s shoulders, that everybody’s small change can and will make a big difference.

    1. Isabella Darrah

      I’m glad you mentioned recycling and such as I heavily associate climate change with being (or not being) eco-conscious. I definitely agree that there are many simple steps like that to take that make more of a difference than we may notice at this time.

  3. Ryan Hoskins-Chaddon

    It’s hard to grasp that American politicians, and their constituents, disagree with climate change. When did we begin to ignore scientifically gathered facts when once we were the leaders in scientific pursuits? Looking at the burgeoning Greenlandic civilization may be able to give us a better understanding on why many Americans ignore the overwhelming surplus of evidence.

    Greenland, home of an enormous glacial sheet, is actually quite excited about the speeding change in climate. With their ice sheet melting at unprecedented rates the people and politicians are beginning to prepare for an unheard-of boon to their industry. The smaller the sheet becomes, the more access that the people have to untapped mineral and precious resources. Already a port that only a couple of decades ago was annually iced in is now available year round, increasing the quality of life of everyone on the island.

    While it seems that everyone in Greenland is for climate change there are a few who understand the unfortunate repercussions that it can have on their society, especially if they want to eventually become independent from the Denmark. These repercussions are ones shared by the rest of the planet; dying sea and coastal life, flooding, and changing agricultural problems. Many Greenlanders, however, dismiss this, positing that they have been adapting to living conditions for the last 5,000 years (pg 105), despite, in that time, a number of civilizations had perished (pg 106-107).

    We can see that, at least in Greenland, many people cannot wait for climate change to enhance their importance and status on the world stage. Can it be much different over here? In America we have politicians who rely on the backing of large domestic and foreign companies, and being associated has proven beneficial to the politicians. This is much like the mineral industry supporters in the Greenland parliament right now, promising a greater life that the population is used to. Perhaps it is a need to ignore and fight against the evidence that threatens to take their standard of living away.

    More likely, though, is a reason much more human. We don’t want to be wrong and we don’t want to be responsible for something so globally terrible. It’s not likely that these are conscious desires but they are ingrained in each one of us that ignores or cherry-picks facts and is reinforced by politicians who identify with one party or another who do the same.

    It is important it increase scientific literacy throughout this country and have us all respect the information that comes from scientific studies. People should learn from an early age to keep our curiosity at the forefront of our minds and research what we hear from others, to be skeptical and thorough. I believe there is a lot of improvement that can be done to address this issue and it’s more important than ever to find a way. Without a scientifically literate population we cannot be the leaders that we should be in finding a way to cope with the disastrous effects of climate change and there is so very much to do.

  4. Isabella Darrah

    The typical person, like myself, doesn’t see drastic change in the climate from just one year to the next. Those who dedicate their careers to studying climate change and all its concerns, like science journalists, would be more than qualified to speak on this topic to the typical person. For anyone, especially someone with influence like a politician, to deny climate change without any type of reasonable counter argument is silly. I agree with science journalists’s efforts because climate change is happening no matter how many people may say it is not. I think they are doing us all a kindness by passionately informing us of what is happening and what we can do about it.
    The argument I have heard the most from politicians or voters who deny climate change isn’t much of an argument at all so much as it is a simply denying. One may wholeheartedly be against the fact for no strong reason. If scientists and journalists were to change their efforts in any way, it would be to normalize a more simple, more accessible discussion of climate change. Lay out the facts in a very plain, easy to digest manner and put it into our radio shows, social media news feeds, and magazines.

    1. Scott Chaddon Jr

      I agree with you for sure. The fact that we have all of these scientists and journalists trying so hard to get people to listen, trying to get more people involved, is wonderful. Perhaps one way that they could draw better attention to it is to have a short weekly or monthly update on global warming effects in papers or news programs (similar to daylight hours gained/lost), like “Springs starting X weeks early” or “Water Levels in City Z rise X inches this month, and Y inches in the last year.”

      1. Ryan Hoskins-Chaddon

        We do have a few things that even people not well-versed in climate science can see that shows the effects of climate change. The winter storm that was usually hits Alaska and dropping the temperatures to 60 below missed us entirely and landed in the mid-west. The categories of tropical storms, hurricanes, and the like as well as their number and events when they merge have all increased. Puerto Rico is a great showing of these increased storm activities, having been hit twice with two different hurricanes in the span of a week or two. This subject gets interesting when you take a moment to look just the slightest bit closer. I enjoyed your post, thanks.

    2. Marissa King

      I could relate to your post very well because we don’t recognize the change in climate in our everyday life or from one year to the next. It isn’t broadcasted enough for people to think global warming is an actual issue. I completely agree with journalist and scientist because global warming is in our everyday lives without us even noticing. I do believe though most politicians points are not complete and accurate because they don’t have valid points.

  5. Scott Chaddon Jr

    “It’s likely that the ‘floodgates’ are already open, and that large sections of Greenland and Antarctica are fated to melt. It’s just the ice in front of us that’s still frozen.”

    As a species, humans are prone to procrastination. If there is something that we like that is causing harm in another way, we will hold off on fixing it until it is obvious that we have to undo the harm or lose something forever. This is especially obvious when dealing with global warming. People look at the temperature changes and think “That’s not that big of a change,” or they look at the weather saying “Well it still got -this- cold last winter.” People use what they choose to see to mask what is actually happening, looking for any excuse so that their lives don’t have to change.
    Our media has been so flooded with so much information on global warming that many tend to just turn away, either with a small thought as to their opinions or just not caring due to hearing about it so much, tuning it out. I, myself, ended up tuning out most of the global warming arguments. “Too much drama, too many politics.” I took a neutral stance, until watching Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s remake of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.” The episode “The World Set Free” focused on the greenhouse effect and global warming. This is what finally drew my attention and helped me start taking notice.
    I want scientists and journalists to keep track of the changes, and I want them to keep on trying to reach people, but I think that their tactics need to change. Just telling people and screaming for people to listen isn’t working, the media has been over saturated. People just aren’t paying attention to it as much as they should. To many, these ideas are just not personal enough. In countries that focus on the self over all else, the tactics need to be focused on the individuals, or at least appear that they are.
    American politicians and voters undoubtedly know that if the claims that they are ignoring are true, then the lives of their children and grandchildren will be more difficult. On the other hand, if they accept it, that means that they have to take responsibility. It means that they have to take action and remove some of their own personal comforts and portions of their lifestyles to try and fix things. They are simply too frightened to do so. It takes an incredibly brave person to leave a comfortable life for one that benefits others. To paraphrase one of my favorite books “There will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).”

    1. Chelsea Barnett

      I completely agree with you that climate change is an issue that people don’t want to face and would rather pretend isn’t existing. I think that there is so much confusing information about climate change that it is easiest to step out of the debate and remain neutral. I think that sometimes people are so unwilling to accept the truth that the completely ignore the consequences of if the truth is true.

    2. Rub y

      I agree that people don’t really want to take responsibility for global warming problems. I think it might be because many people don’t see it affecting them directly, or their home. I think people are quick to think global warming is a natural thing because they don’t want to take responsibility. We’re comfortable in our ways. I think the politicians dont really worry about responsibility but how changing some things might have an affect on their income. Many big pollutant problems are big industry income and I believe that is a lot of what they are concerned about.
      Excellent quote, also love Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and I find the quote fitting for this response.

  6. Chelsea Barnett

    “’We’re losing everything,’ McGovern said. ‘Basically, we have the equivalent of the Library of Alexandria in the ground, and it’s on fire.’” (pg. 107)
    I believe that this quote is important because it relays the importance of preserving sea ice. This comparison is powerful and relays the urgency of the problem as well as the effects of letting this fire continue.

    The response of politicians and American voters is wrong because politicians and voters have irresponsible priorities and also because politicians and voters are misinformed. Irresponsible priorities and motivations like money and new prospects for development outweigh environmental health and climate change. The environment should be the priority because one irreparable damage is done, humanity is doomed. Politicians and voters are distracted by a lust for money while disregarding the responsibility they have to protect the environment. Misinformation also fuels the response from politicians and American voters to not take climate change seriously. Businesses and politicians who profit from continued exploitation of things that harm the environment spread misinformation about what the effects of their business will have on the environment. This misinformation about the reality of our environment motivates voters to ignore environmental problems and focus on other things instead.

    Scientists and journalists can adjust people’s views on the importance of limiting climate change and protecting the environment by making information more accessible and easier to understand. Climate change is a complex issue that can seem daunting to the general public, if information was written in a way that was more digestible to the average person, the urgency of the problem could be better delivered. Journalists can work with scientists to deliver correct, detailed, and clear information to the public.

    1. Manny C

      Irresponsible priorities and misinformed populace, well said. The tendency to overlook the environment because, “It’s not that bad, yet” is definitely a poor approach and ignores future consequences of our inaction. Your comment about businesses and politicians profiting from environmental issues took me to the passage where Dorph says, “–climate change, while regrettable in many ways, was for Greenlanders filled with economic promise.” (Kolbert, 110) How motivated are the politicians and people of Greenland in light of the potential economic boom due to recent climate change? Do they see dollar signs or does the genuine global impact come through? Again, the struggle of genuine scientific fact faced with human agenda. I am definitely a fan of unbiased information, presented simply and succinctly, to help inform the public.

  7. Manny C

    The factual evidence of scientists and journalists should not be disregarded. Their efforts are essential to the continuous attempt to understand the planet and universe in which we live. While humanity works to advance its place on Earth, it simultaneously causes greater stress and brings upon new challenges never before addressed. Who better to look to in these matters than the scientists on the front lines of those changes?

    The issue comes when scientific fact gets intermingled with corrupt politics and journalism. If the delivery of facts can be improved, separate to political agenda, I think issues like climate change will be looked at less skeptically. But as long as journalists try to play to emotions, and politics preach for votes, the American people will have a sense of being manipulated. I appreciate science presented without any strings attached, much like the format of this course’s text. I enjoy being presented with facts and being able to respond without persuasion.

    Earth is everyone’s home, and it’s problems are everyone’s problems — eventually. Danish glaciologist, Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, put this struggle in great context when she said in regard to abrupt climate change, ” But we still struggle to understand how we can get these very big abrupt changes, and I really think that understanding them is one of the most important challenges we face. Because if we fail to be able to understand them in our past, we don’t have the tools to be able to understand the risk of them in the future.” (Kolbert, 101)

    Science should be accepted regardless of political party or what news station you tune in to, for in the end the facts will outlive the hype.

  8. Marissa King

    Yes, I completely agree that there is an inadequate guide to what is going. What we see in our everyday news has very little to do with global warming but always is showing what new makeup has been dropped and etc. We as humans do not pay enough attention because we don’t see it, talk about it or do something about it. Scientist and journalist should could help change peoples views to limiting global warming if it was in our everyday news or broadcasted on the radio. As for politicians they deny climate change without any real evidence or a valid reason. I feel that if scientist had a better way of explaining and proving their point that it would be beneficial to every politician and people everywhere.

    1. Christian Williams

      I like your take on it, consumerism is definitely a huge problem and why we have way too much waste and pollution on our planet, but I never saw it as a distraction from actually seeing the problem in the first place. If people only focus on what they want, they’ll never care about something like climate change.

  9. Christian Williams

    For a really long time, I did not believe in global warming and even now I still like to remain skeptical. I understand that there is a lot of harm that humans are doing to the environment and that the greenhouse gasses that are emitted are accelerating Earth’s natural warming process. While I used to believe in their efforts, mostly because of blind belief in the politics I followed, now I believe that humans have a negative impact on our planet. I think that we need to begin working for a cleaner environment and a push for cleaner lives. I think though, that a lot of what people warn about with global warming isn’t happening anytime soon. The other things like plastic pollution and wasting resources are going to destroy Earth long before global warming does.

    I think some people will believe whatever they want, no matter what the proof says. So with that, I think proponents of climate change need to change tactics. Focus way more on reversing the damage done than convincing people that climate change is happening. I think there will be a lot more success in convincing people that their actions are polluting the Earth and they should seek green solutions or the route of going through the government and trying to legislate green solutions into law. Our planet should transcend politics, especially so because not every country’s politics align or agree. So I think more people should try and convince those who staunchly believe against climate change to live a cleaner life. One that reduces waste, uses products that were made cleaner, etc…

    The world is on a trajectory that is damaging, but many people are already well on their way to helping reverse the damage done. One example I can think of is the direction cars are headed in. Fully electric cars (Tesla) and cars that run on hydrogen (Toyota Mirai) are already completed and driving on the road. Both are way cleaner than cars that run on petrol or diesel. Plus most major manufacturing companies all have go-green initiatives that they have bound themselves to, that they use to work to cleaner production and products.

  10. Justin Baugh

    And yet, many politicians and American voters strongly disagree that anything is amiss. Do you agree or disagree with their efforts, and how do you think scientists and journalists should address the problem in the future?
    In this article, the author talks about the history of trying to study the ice formations of Greenland and how over the years that the ice in the country of Greenland has been shrinking at an alarming rate. The author is trying to get the reader to think about how they can change how they live so the environment can help sustain us for longer than what is predicated if global warming continues to heat up the Earth at an expectational rate due to what scientists have viewed as the human factor. Scientists and journalists should have been working on a global warming campaign to try and slow down the rate of global warming.

  11. Ruby

    I agree with the efforts of scientist and journalists in informing the public about global warming. I don’t think that there could ever be a prevention for global warming, as the Earth does naturally go through temperature shifts. This is one of the problems that scientists and journalists face when confronting this issue because many people will take that information of “natural changes” and simply label what is going on around them as a natural occurrence. Perhaps it might be natural but as humans we also like to defer responsibility for just about anything unless it is affecting us directly. So we take something like the natural occurrence of global warming and we exasperate it until it actually becomes a real problem. I think this essay gives information on both sides, the pollutants and the natural temperature swings to show that both could cause Greenland’s ice sheets to melt. When both are happening in tandem the question shouldn’t be what is the source of the global warming problem but who is able to make a change? Obviously if there is a natural temperature shift there is nothing we could do about it, it will happen on its own, but our pollutants could be resolved or at least lessened from the equation. If we speed up the process of a temperature swing who has the ability to adapt. I like the aforementioned quote, “The problem with global warming–and the reason it continues to resist illustration, even as the streets flood and the forests die, and the mussels rot on the shores–is that experience is an inadequate guide to what’s going on” because it demonstrates the inefficiency of adaptation in the natural world of this rising global warming problem but it also demonstrates our inability to take responsibility for our hand in it due to inexperience. I think that scientists and journalists should address this problem as it relates to the average person. In our last reading we read about the problems of global warming in the Arctic, someone in the south might not even care or understand how the issues with walrus and whales might be a problem to them. If this is a global problem there is regional affects and they should be directed properly, show people what is happening in their own backyard and elaborate the consequences if it continues. Then give them ways they can personally make differences. Politicians won’t give those kinds of statistics because the oil industry and waste from companies and corporations that are huge contributors to the global warming issue fund them, they want to keep that money going at the stake of our environment. It’s up to the each individual to make some changes and the scientists and journalists to make that point across to them.

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