‘A Convenient Truth’: Some CFHS science teachers doubt human influence on global warming

By Vincent Stigliani 2010

The idea that humans are causing the earth’s temperature to rise is becoming a less and less controversial and debated issue.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently came out with a report conducted by thousands of scientists from over 130 countries that states that there is over a 90 percent chance that humans are causing global warming.

The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for their work on climate change. It has been a main focus of the United Nations, and a once skeptical Bush administration now recognizes global warming as a pressing issue.

It has also been one of the few issues that all three presidential candidate frontrunners can agree upon.

There is no scientific body of comparable magnitude that has concluded that humans are not causing climate change, although there are a number of skeptical scientists who periodically publish papers claiming the current warming trend is due to natural causes.

As a consequence of these differing views, public opinions are currently split among those that believe, and those that don’t believe or are unsure about the human causes of climate change.

These divergent views are reflected in the opinions of the CFHS science teachers.

A small sample of the CFHS science department showed that two teachers believe human actions cause global warming, one teacher is not sure and two teachers are not convinced.
“I don’t think humans are causing global warming,” CFHS science teacher Debbie Paulsen said. “The earth itself has gone through many patterns of heating and cooling throughout history, so it stands to reason, of course,” she said.

Paulsen said that there have been humans on the earth previously, and that even when there are no humans on the earth, the temperature rises. “So why us, why now? We don’t have any evidence of that (global warming),” Paulsen said.

The debate has gotten past whether the earth is warming or not, but critics still say there is no link between temperature and human actions.

“We all agree the earth is warming up; no one is going to argue with that,” CFHS science teacher Jason Steffen said. “We don’t, in my opinion, really have enough data to conclusively say that man is changing the global environment,” he said.

Some feel that the debate has left the realms of science and is now also a political question.

“Today global warming is a political issue, not a scientific issue. The two have unfortunately meshed together, and it’s hard for the public to figure out what’s politics and what’s science,” Steffen said. “I don’t know if they (politics and industrial interests) sway the findings; they sway the opinions of how you interpret data. It’s not a question of what they are finding; it is how you interpret data.”

“It’s that whole potential of is there a government conspiracy. In this case, is there a big liberal conspiracy to hide data that says ‘No, we aren’t warming the atmosphere,’” Paulsen said.

The issue of global warming is brought up in some of the CFHS science classes.

“We talk about it in meteorology, of course. I will tell them that anything I say is mostly opinion based on what I have learned. I’m not trying to persuade people one way or the other. I’m just trying to put things out there and say ‘OK, this is what I know. This is what I’ve been told. This is what you can see. Make your own conclusions,’” Steffen said.

A difficult issue with global warming is the abundance of data that can be found to support both sides of the argument.

“There’s a number of scientists out there, depending on your sources, that say ‘Yes, the atmosphere is warming up,’ or there’s a lot out there that say ‘No, it’s not,’ so it’s a really tough one to make a call on,” Paulsen said.

“I have had a lot of environmental and earth science classes, mostly at UNI, but it’s one of those things where you have to look at the data and say ‘Where have we been, where are we going, what’s normal, what’s not,’” Steffen said.

For some critics, only time can convince them.

“It’s hard, for me to be convinced. It would have to be something that we wouldn’t see until we are all dead, because history itself is the best indicator,” Paulsen said.

There are also CFHS science teachers on the other side of the fence.

“I believe that there is a strong correlation between the warming of the earth and the burning of fossil fuels and the CO2 production,” CFHS science teacher Jeff Hartman said. “I can’t say beyond a doubt that humans are causing global warming, but I believe there is a strong correlation, and there is a good chance that they are.”

Despite the opposing viewpoints, there was a general consensus that humans need to take better care of the environment.

“Of course we are being harmful to the environment; there is no doubt about that,” Steffen said.

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