Climate Change and the Knowledge Analysis
We’ve all heard the stories. In a few decades time U.S. coastal cities, such as Miami, FL, will be underwater and cease to exist. Drastic flooding that occurs now are just precursors for what is yet to come (Ruggeri 2017). And yet, despite a vast amount of scientific literature and consensus among the community, there is still great debate as to whether or not climate change is real and if humans are to blame. Scientists as early as 1827 were starting to discover the greenhouse effect and how burning fossil fuels could lead to more extreme greenhouse effects (Layzer 2016). Research today also has indicated that sea level rise is on track to increase 3 millimeters per year due to human’s contributions to global warming, which in turn has caused arctic glaciers to begin to melt (Miller 2018). However, conflicting evidence has suggested that sea ice has started to recover after El Niño years struck the globe (Peiser and Ridley 2018). With different emerging voices and conflicting evidence, it is difficult to sift out what is real, hard evidence and what is the biased opinion of corporations trying to gain support for their interests rather than the greater population.
By using a knowledge analysis, I aim to examine the Climate Change case in Judith Layzer’s book and determine how reliable conflicting data emerging at the time of the case is and how it has been used to effect and sway public opinion. In this paper, I will look at both arguments for and against human caused climate change and aim to determine whether or not any evidence that comes from this research, could truly be classified as “hard scientific data” within the means of Gieryn’s analysis. I will look at how the George H.W. Bush Administration first reacted to the problem and try and draw a line in determining when it is time to trust the research and accept what has been learned through research.
In the 1980s and 90s as new data was emerging and worry from countries all around the world grew, as humans were starting to see the impacts of their current practices and how it was affecting climate. However, the Bush Administration was hesitant to implement policies because of discrepancies in data. There is some validity in his reservation. Within Merton’s framework, science or research that is not purely objective can be difficult to trust. There needs to be a disinterest in the research and any interest in the outcomes in order for the data to be unbiased (Gieryn 1995). Bush’s skepticism came because of other research that emerged and countered the current claims of climate change, however, trusting the validity of this data could be called into question as well because it was produced by a conservative institute that held a stake within climate change policy (Layzer 2016). Nevertheless, the skepticism could be justified, especially if the data being used to convince the world of change was produced by environmental interest groups.
General public confusion about climate change also hindered lawmakers as they sought to create new climate legislation. Organizations started from the coal industry such as the Information Council on the Environment aimed to discredit scientific data and provide a narrative that only benefited those with a stake in these industries (Layzer 2016). Other organizations also emerged and quickly produced data that also criticized the current climate science. This leads into Popper’s falsifiability and how one must be skeptical of the information emerging. These organizations succeeded in confusing the public and helped to create doubt in the current narratives (Layzer 2016). Can all of the data be trusted and reproduced when there are predictions being done on numbers that could change based on outputs produced by coal industries. Even if a scientific community generally agrees upon data, there is still a lack of confidence that exists among theorists like Merton and Popper (Gieryn 1995).
Today, there is a general consensus of knowledge that believes in climate change and that it is human caused. This can be reflected in policies enacting by President Obama that help to pledge and reduce the United States’ impact on climate and burning of fossil fuels (Layzer 2016). Gieryn would argue, however, that we remain skeptical of these major findings and again keep in mind who is deciding what we should believe and who is trustworthy (Gieryn 1995). The general scientific community tends to be in agreement of climate change, it is occurring and it is due to human activity (Scientific consensus 2018). The general group of large scientific organizations that NASA cites in this article can be seen as trustworthy; however, skeptics still doubt, and Gieryn would even encourage continued skepticism of this general body of knowledge. And despite the scientific community being in general agreement, the Trump administration has also expressed doubt in the findings (Peiser and Ridley 2018).
Keeping in mind that the knowledge analysis calls for a great deal of doubt and a constant state of questioning, it can be hard to sort out what we should believe and what we shouldn’t. This doubt has been greatly utilized in the climate change debate since its origins and continues on throughout today. However, at a certain point and within reason, there are some decisions that can be counted on. By trusting research that does appear to be as unbiased as possible and by continuing to question, it could be easier to shift through the noise of doubt and hesitance within the scientific community. With proper self-motivated research and thorough work of the literature on both sides, we can find knowledge that is beneficial for the greater good and can help us to conserve our planet and protect it for future generations to come.
Gieryn, Thomas. 1995. “Boundaries of Science.” In Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Layzer, Judith. 2016. “Climate Change: The Challenges of International Policymaking.” In The Environmental Case: Translating Values Into Policy, Washington DC: CQ Press, 380–420.
Miller, Brandon. 2018. “Satellite Observations Show Sea Levels Rising, and Climate Change Is Accelerating It.” CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/12/world/sea-level-rise-accelerating/index.html (March 27, 2018).
Peiser, Benny, and Matt Ridley. 2018. “Bad Weather Is No Reason for Climate Alarm.” Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/bad-weather-is-no-reason-for-climate-alarm-1515779859 (March 27, 2018).
Ruggeri, Amanda. 2017. “Miami’s Fight against Rising Seas.” BBC News. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170403-miamis-fight-against-sea-level-rise (March 27, 2018).
“Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate Is Warming.” 2018. NASA. https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus (March 27, 2018).