Is climate change being politicized?



Interior Secretary-designate, Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (AP PHOTO COURTESY)

Climate change is a hot topic of discussion. You hear about it in the news, on the internet, even in politics. However, it is sometimes true that people often repeat what is in the news without really knowing what exactly the topic is. Climate change? What is it? Is it something we have control of? Is it a natural process? Is it a fairy tale concocted by who knows who for an unknown purpose?

According to The Washington Post, President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke to serve as secretary of the Department of the Interior. Zinke, who studied geology as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon and served as a Navy Seal (1986 to 2008), sits on the House Natural Resources Committee as well as the Armed Services Committee.

Outdoors activities such as mountain biking and skiing are a major economic driver in Montana, where roughly 200,000 residents have big-game hunting licenses and 300,000 have fishing licenses. Although Zinke has been endorsed by the Outdoor Industry Association and has embraced that sector of the state’s economy and defended public access to federal lands, he has frequently voted against environmentalists on issues ranging from coal extraction to oil and gas drilling.

Here on the College of the Desert (COD) campus, 50 students and faculty were surveyed and asked what they thought about climate and how it differs from weather, including what they thought about climate change.

Everyone surveyed was familiar with climate change as an important issue, even if they were only vaguely familiar with the term, and not the phenomenon. Four people admitted they had no idea climate and weather were different but believed that climate change was real. One person knew the difference between climate and weather, however thought climate change was made up for financial gain by private organizations. Of the 50 people surveyed, 17 people did not know the difference between climate and weather but believed climate change was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Professor Place, who teaches Horticulture and Landscape Planning and Design at COD, explains that climate is produced by “the position and rotation of the Earth, and distance from the sun. Our local weather patterns are being dictated by offshore flow over Los Angeles and Riverside County areas, the metropolitan areas. We get a lot of air pressure built up in that area trying to then push through the Banning Pass, allowing that air to pick up speed, then we have our spring winds.”

Professor Kurt Leuschner, who teaches Conservation of Natural Resources and Entomology said this about the recent rainfall, “that’s just the weather. It’s a nice weather event. We love the rain, we’ll take it, but it really means nothing in terms of changing the drought in Southern California.”

Professor Candice Weber, who also teaches Conservation of Natural Resources, agrees that climate change is being politicized. “Look at the time scale and how it’s happening. There’s different things occurring. Past climate change would occur because the Earth’s rotation would wobble or distance from the sun would alter. Where the Earth is sitting right now in terms of the Milankovitch cycles, the Earth is not in a position for climate to be changing this quickly.” Professor Weber also says that those who discredit climate change are ignoring critical facts. “Look at the time-table. In the past when the climate changed, it took a lot longer for a climate shift to occur. Today it’s occurring more rapidly. The difference between the past and today is the population and the activity we are doing on the Earth.”

So, is the climate changing? Professor Place says, the climate has always changed. “I think the big argument is whether we are the evil, bad guys? There’s a lot of argument there and I think what taints that argument is people making a whole lot of money off that argument instead of coming up with what we would call a real solution or conclusion. Go on the internet. There’s as many scientists saying no as there are saying yes. So, who do you believe? I was around when scientists were saying we were entering another ice age back in the 1980’s. I mean, whatever happened to that?”

According to experts, there are things we can do to educate ourselves on climate and weather patterns as well as other natural phenomenon. Professor Leuschner suggests that students take Conservation of Natural Resources, which satisfies a general education requirement for all majors. Professor Weber suggests reading as much material from varying sources as you can and watching several news networks to gain a full understanding.

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