Letter: Leaders must be educated on basics of climate change

The recent wave of unusually low temperatures affecting the East Coast has compelled U.S. President Donald Trump yet again to take to Twitter and perpetuate misconceptions concerning our changing climate. On Dec. 28, Trump managed to simultaneously dismiss the existence of climate change, accuse the rest of the world of insufficient economic commitment, and suggest that a little global warming would provide relief against the cold—all in a single tweet.

Aside from his steady stream of inflammatory comments, this president consistently aims to do as much damage as he can to the legal mechanisms designed to prevent environmental abuses. His decision to reduce the size of land protected under the Bears Ears National Monument, and America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord are just two examples of this.

Trump’s antagonistic position on renewable energies and his relentless quest to scrap environmental legislation could see America regress several decades into the past. His approach is not only dangerous, but is also an act of selfishness, as the U.S. is the world’s second largest polluter and carbon emitter.

By refusing to participate in collective efforts to tackle the climate crisis, the smaller nations of the world remain vulnerable to the effects of climate change despite barely contributing to global emissions.

This is the case for many island nations of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, where the rising sea levels pose an imminent threat to their peoples. For these first groups of climate migrants, the clock is already ticking. Other susceptible regions include Bangladesh and the Netherlands, both of which have large populations, with significant portions of them living at or below sea level.

Therefore, to anyone with minimal impartiality and respect for the scientific method, it is evident that climate change is one of the top issues facing current and future generations. Also obvious is the fact that Trump is uneducated on the subject, as he is clearly unaware of the difference between climate and weather.

This can be a tricky distinction to make for regular folk, but Trump has more than enough advisors and resources to be properly informed. Stated simply, weather is to climate what a single data point is to a trend.

For example, the weather in Ottawa can be hot or cold; it depends on the time of year. Other conditions such as humidity can also vary, ranging from very dry to very humid. Thus, the climate classification for Ottawa will account for all these different weather conditions—the climate in Ottawa can be said to consist of hot and humid summers, and cold and dry winters.

Additionally, there is an important temporal difference between weather and climate. Weather describes the short-term atmospheric conditions with regards to temperature, precipitation, humidity, and other variables. Instead, climate includes the weather patterns observed over extended periods of time. That is, the numerous weather episodes that take place over many years are averaged to determine a region’s climate.

This climate trend can then be used to make predictions on future occurrences, as well as to monitor long-term fluctuations in global temperatures. Climate science is hence rich in trends and ranges of variability.

What this translates into is that there is no correlation between a series of bitterly cold winter days and global warming. The existence of cold weather does not make global warming any less real, deeming the arguments of climate deniers invalid.

Nowadays, it is common to see our elected leaders making legislative decisions with little to no scientific rigour, even if careful scientific consideration is needed.

As a result, their policies are ignorant and inadequate, which can ultimately harm the general public, the integrity of our planet, and the way we perceive science and its place in society. These decisions affect us all. It leads to misinformation and mistrust towards the scientific community. Making people believe that scientific research is second rate is destructive and results in the obstruction of progress.

Discrediting scientists propels a society deep into ignorance. For this reason, it is vital that the next generation of leaders have a basic and correct understanding of the science underlying the policies they propose.

Going forward, this cannot be an unreasonable expectation.