I wrote last time about the need for more science and statistics background for journalists writing about science issues. I hold this stance firmly in light of the weight some people give to the news. Many think that all stories published by popular media are true. Would if it were so! But it’s not. The most insidious fall into the category of misleading.
Blurring the Lines
In the same way popular media blurs the line between causation and correlation, so too does the line between the facts of climate change and its consequences suffer. For example, there is no doubt that a changing climate will impact plant life.
After all, plants stand as remarkable examples of natural selection to fit an environment. Change the environment, and the plants will adapt. However, there is more to the story that science would help you understand.
As announced by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2013, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide topped a daily average of 400 parts per million (ppm). One of the talking points is that it was the highest recorded in human history, with mention of this timeline going back further to over three million years ago to the Pleistocene Epoch.
It’s in Our Genes
To put that in perspective, hominins, or modern humans, appeared in the fossil record about six million years ago. During human evolution, our ancestors lived in a different environment. Presumably, they also experienced high carbon dioxide levels. Now, let’s look at plants.
The first flowering plants were known to exist about 160 million years ago. They evolved, thrived, and diversified in a world that was warmer than today, along with a higher atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. That is part of their DNA, like it is with our own.
The point of this discussion is the dire consequences of climate change concern more the effects on economies and societies rather than direct harm to species. Flowering plants may not experience the same impact as other plants like corn or grasses. They’ll adapt because they have the genetic history. Likewise, humans have the genetic capability as well.
That’s not to say that the effects won’t hurt. Food crops like corn thrive better in lower carbon dioxide atmosphere. However, the physical effects won’t harm humans; humans will more likely effect humans. Climate change won’t hurt you, but how we react to it—or not—might.
When the popular media goes off about this or that change because of climate change, it is a prediction of how people will react, rather than high carbon dioxide levels suffocating all humans one day. They posit about how species may or may not adapt. It falls in the realm of correlation, rather than direct causation.
While it may seem like systematics, I think it’s important to realize that the control that humans have in their world and their responses to it. Likewise, there are things that we can’t control. After all, an asteroid wiped out the most successful group of animals in the history of the Earth.