Though the validity of the climate change phenomenon has come under attack in recent months, USF officials maintain that the science is one of merit.
At the core of the debate is whether humans are influencing the global climate in a significant and adverse way, altering Earth’s weather patterns. In July, several reports surfaced that questioned principles of the theory. However, Mark Stewart, a USF geology professor, said there is 150 years of direct observation showing the global climate is warming.
For Stewart, global climate change is a topic that divides lines of political allegiance more than it divides experts in the scientific community.
“Assume that we’re looking at a media outlet that is trying to be unbiased,” he said. “There is a tendency, for example, if you’re going to have a climate focus on a panel or something, you would put it on and be done with it. It’s not political. It’s just to generate the impression in the public that there actually is a controversy when it’s like 98 out of 100 physical scientists who agree with the concept of global warming.”
However, in July the New York Times investigated scientist Charles Monnett’s 2006 report, which was published in a peer-reviewed journal and stated that high numbers of polar bears were drowning in the Beaufort Sea. The investigation into the report’s integrity cast doubts on the global climate change movement in general, as polar bears were featured in Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” as victims of climate change.
Another July article, published by the Globe and Mail, said Canadian scientists discovered that melting ice, which some believe caused the polar bear drownings, could be due to varying salt levels in the ice, not just global warming.
A third July report came from NASA’s Terra satellite, which “indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed,” according to Forbes.
The Forbes article, which is titled ‘New NASA data blow gaping hole in global warming alarmism’ was written by James Taylor, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, a highly conservative, right-wing non-profit, said USF Office of Sustainability Director Christian Wells.
“They’re working to undermine legitimate environmental sciences for their own political agendas,” he said. “So, you have to investigate with these kinds of stories why they’re writing the story and who’s writing it.”
Despite the skepticism accompanying the articles, Wells said it’s proven that humans have contributed to changing the climate and changing the Earth over the past thousand years.
“Examples are greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and nitric oxide and so on,” he said. “It’s very clear from the atmospheric records of the past several hundred years – even before the Industrial Revolution – that humans are uniquely responsible for increasing the concentration of those gases in the environment.”
Seth McKee, an associate professor of political science at USF St. Petersburg, said in an email that scientific research can be a direct threat to political values and “perhaps (skeptics’) moral universe.” He said this is why some Republican politicians dispute or deny that humans play a role in climate change.
“It is notable that an issue like climate change would polarize many elites in our major parties since scientific discovery is generally assumed to lack a political agenda,” he said. “Nonetheless, there are many constituents in American politics who do not trust science and also question the motives of scientists. In a way, climate change appears to be a newer manifestation of the evolution fight.”
None of the professors said they believe USF’s studies into the subject will be affected by the new reports.