Our “Core” Beliefs

Humans are undoubtedly changing the world environment, and among its effects are those that are obvious to us now—extreme weather events and great transformation of the natural environment. However, these seemingly drastic changes are but invisible in the stratiographical record, which begs the question: how do we know if we have entered a new epoch? Of course, the record for today has not been formed yet, but we can predict what it will contain. The most apparent indicator of our presence will be the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, along with the mass extinction that began around 10,000 years ago (Kolbert). That is (from a human perspective) a significant span of time somewhere in which the Anthropocene could have begun. Arguments range from the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution to decades in the future. However, I think that an appropriate beginning is around 1950, the start of which Steffen, Crutzen and McNeil term the “Great Acceleration.” Graphs of human population, paper consumption, motor vehicle transport, and water use (etc.) all have a similar shape: right after World War II, the numbers explode. In 1950 the atmospheric CO2 concentration was 311ppm; today it is 405ppm. The increase we saw in 70 years had previously taken thousands, and that level is still rising. The concentration right now is well above the average of the last 250,000 years (Table 1, Steppen et. all)—enough to make a mark in the stratiographical record. “To future geologists,” says Jan Zalasiewicz, a British stratigrapher, “our impact may look as sudden and profound as that of an asteroid” (Kolbert).

Science deniers are often motivated to their viewpoints by a desire to fit in with their social group—a desire that overwhelms their capacity to review the evidence with impartiality. To them, their decision is rational. This makes it hard to convince certain people of the scientific facts, Kahan explains. Instead, the best way to counteract this doubt may be to use emotional and other “non-data” forms of persuasion. Dr. Cathy Whitlock and her team employed this strategy while working on the Montana Climate Assessment; they travelled around to various communities and asked people what changes they had observed in their own lifetime. Making the subject personal and anecdotal allows people to connect with the idea of climate change. Rather that it being an insurmountable, worldwide issue, climate change is brought into the context of people’s own lives, asking them to reflect on their memories and desires for the future. This is an emotional rationalization, and is often the most effective way to bring conflicting viewpoints into agreement.