Every day that Nevadans see another high-temperature record shattered, they wonder: Is this global warming? But for most scientists who study the world's climate, there’s no question anymore.
Shahir Masri is a UC Irvine Air Pollution Scientist whose new book debunks 50 common misconceptions about climate change. While he was in Las Vegas last week to speak to the Citizens Climate Lobby, he talked with Nevada Public Radio about common local climate myths and how to address them.
The most obvious misconception, Masri said, is that there’s any debate at all.
“In fact, when you talk to the scientific community,” he said, “you find that overwhelmingly, scientists agree that climate change is occurring, and it’s predominantly occurring as a result of human activity.”
Nevada received some rain this year, in line with its normal monsoon season. Could this cause some people to point out that weather patterns — such as drier and wetter years — are cyclical? Maybe, Shahir said, but a better indicator of climate change is extreme weather such as the bigger, more intense wildfires currently burning across the Western U.S., including Nevada.
“Despite things like monsoon season still occurring, you can expect to expect events like the more intense wildfire season to continue occurring due to record warming temperatures,” Masri said.
He discussed other common misconceptions with local relevance, such as the ideas that species will adapt to global warming and CO2 is good for plants. But the most important myth to debunk, in Masri’s opinion, is that there’s nothing individuals can do now to change the ultimate outcome of climate change.
“There is a variety of things that we can do to affect the climate,” he said. “It’s not a guaranteed path in one direction. That direction depends on how we act today.”
He said his work is not meant to convert climate deniers, which only represent 10 percent of the population. Although this minority is vocal, contributing to the illusion of dissent, Masri said, “There’s a silent majority that accepts the notion of climate change. Those who are quiet are the ones we’re trying to reach, wake up, and mobilize.”
The way to do this, he believes, is through conversations about what’s going on, and people’s concerns.
“Silence is the worst thing we can do,” Masri said. “When people aren’t talking about climate change, they’re not looking at it at the polls, looking at what candidates’ perspectives on it are.”
He’d also like people to know about the opportunities to be positive. The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy will create jobs, improve air quality, and generally increase humans’ quality of life, he noted.
Shahir Masri, Air Pollution Scientist, UC Irvine