The Short Past and Long Future of Global Warming

Adelie Penguins at Paulet Island
Adelie Penguins at Paulet Island


By Maeve Hogel

In 2005, when I was only 12 years old, I asked my parents for something extremely unusual; a trip to Antarctica. To be honest, I have no idea what sparked my interest in Antarctica, but my parents, being avid travellers, looked into taking the trip. After much research, they told me no because trips were only available in January and February, the heart of Antarctica’s summer and the middle of my school year. I vowed that day that I would make it to Antarctica someday. Little did I know that someday would be only a few years later in 2008. The retreating ice was allowing boats to arrive at Antarctica as early as December 25 at that time. For my 15-year-old self, this was the greatest news I had ever heard. However, once we got there, I started to understand that although this loss of ice and increased temperatures allowed me to take the trip of my dreams, it also meant decreased penguin populations and possible rises in sea levels all over the world. All of a sudden the concept of global warming, which was a hot topic of conversation at that time, seemed much more real to me. I was amazed that in just three years, there could be enough of a change to allow tourists to get to Antarctica several weeks earlier. It has now been six years since I was in Antarctica and the IPCC in its most recent report, last year, stated, “there is high confidence that the Antarctic Ice Sheet is in a state of net loss”. Today I looked at the National Geographic website, at the exact trip that we took, and saw that their tour dates now start as early as November 28th, almost a full month earlier then what was available six years ago.

I am amazed now, that in 2008, when I was just beginning to understand global warming, so was the rest of the world. The history of the discovery of global warming, although very complex, is relatively short. Spencer Weart in his book The Discovery of Global Warming” does a fantastic job showing the progress and evolution of global warming. Although he cites discoveries as early as the 1920s, the majority of discussion about global warming doesn’t begin until the 1970s and it wasn’t until the late 90s into the 2000s that these discoveries start to become accepted. Weart writes that “Business week called 2006 ‘the year global warming went from controversial to conventional for much of the corporate world”’ (Weart, 188). In every year since 2006, I think we have seen global warming becoming more and more conventional, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t still people who doubt its existence completely. The acceptance of global warming and the policies to prevent it have come along way in the very short period of time since its discovery, and hopefully will continue to evolve at such a rapid pace. However, it takes the efforts of every person and every country to combat such a global issue. As we look to what the future of climate change looks like, its important to begin to recognize the effects its already had in our very recent past and present, and you certainly don’t have to go half way around the world, like I did, to understand that.

Climate Change: What’s the beef?

Cows grazing in South America. Photo by Sabiha Madraswalla, Dickinson ’15.

By Maeve Hogel

Argentina is world renowned for being one of the largest producers and consumers of beef. I just returned from a year studying there and having been served beef at practically every meal, I can attest that it lives up to its reputation. As someone who is always looking for grass-fed meats and prefers to buy local, I was pleased both by the delectable taste and the environmental friendliness of Argentine beef. The cattle are free to roam farms freely with their diets being mainly grass, unlike the diets of corn that are common in the United States. In the rural areas, many farms are still small and feed only the local people, such as the one pictured above. However, what I failed to think about until reading Anna Lappe’s Diet for a Hot Planet was the effect that all of these cows in Argentina, and all over the world, have on climate change simply by existing.

Many are familiar with the connection between greenhouse gases and global warming. Particularly, we understand how humans can cause increases in carbon dioxide emissions. However, aside from carbon dioxide there are other greenhouse gases that are also important players in climate change that many, including myself, often forget to consider. As Lappe points out in her book, “though the livestock sector contributes only 9 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, its responsible for 37% of methane and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions” (Lappe, 26).

As I was sitting down to enjoy a delicious argentine steak, I certainly was not considering how that cow had affected climate change. Climate change is far from most people’s minds while they are enjoying their lunch or dinner, but maybe it shouldn’t be. Lappe’s book is filled with fascinating personal stores and interesting facts about farming not only in the United States, but in many parts of the world. Yet, for me, the fourth section of her book in which she titled “Action” is a must read for everyone (Lappe, 218). I’m absolutely a meat lover, so I will never suggest that we should all become vegetarians in order to prevent more greenhouse gas emissions. However, Lappe’s 7 principals of a climate-friendly diet are important ideas to keep in mind both for personal health and for the health of our planet. We all can eat more real foods, look for organic, lean towards local, and send packaging packing as Lappe suggests (Lappe, 218). Often we let ourselves believe that we personally can not make a difference, but when it comes to food we make a conscious choice about what we eat and where it comes from and hopefully we all start fitting climate change into the equation when making those choices.


The News of Climate Change: Is it Fair and Balanced?


By: Maeve Hogel

Upon googling “Is climate change real?”, I was presented with a whole slew of articles and websites that give a wide range of responses to what seems to be a yes or no question. The first two links, a government website and Wikipedia, agree that climate change is in fact real. However, the third article, from Fox Business, argues that there really is no significant consensus on climate change. So how can we, as readers and Google searchers, distinguish what is true from what is not? Living in an era with a high reliance on the Internet and powerful search engines, such as Google, we have access to massive amounts of information at the touch of a button. But should we believe that all of this information is correct?

In Merchants of Doubt, authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway argue that a handful of scientists, with the assistance of the media, have created doubt about many significant scientific findings. Currently, we can all agree that tobacco is linked to cancer and that smoking is bad for your health (after all, it says so right on the cigarette box). However, Oreskes and Conway show that it took years after scientists first discovered tobacco’s harmful effects on health to convince the world of this fact. After the media began reporting these significant findings with catchy slogans like “Cancer by the carton”, the tobacco industry decided to refute these discoveries by hiring their own public relations firm (Oreskes, 22).

The decision to hire a PR firm, in a business sense, was genius. We heavily rely on the media, through the Internet, the TV, the newspaper, to learn about new information. By presenting different facts or showcasing data in a different way, the tobacco industry could easily show the American public a different story about the harms of smoking, just as Steven Tobak does with the data on climate change in Fox Business’ Article mentioned before.

Oreskes and Conway in their book often discuss how science is never exact. It is impossible to ever say for sure, 100% of the time, that a finding or discovery is correct. It is only true until the next discovery proves that it isn’t. This doesn’t mean we should never believe a new scientific discovery. It does however mean, that in a country with freedom of the press, there will always be someone looking to capitalize on that little sliver of doubt that exists in the field of science. Much responsibility falls on us, as we read an article or Google a question, to recognize what is reliable information and to filter out those who just trying to create doubt. It is in no way an easy task, but as climate change becomes an even more pressing matter and there continues to be many powerful naysayers, it’s a very important one.