Chris Mooney: Politics vs. Physics

By Alexa Binkowitz

Co-News Editor

On Monday, Oct. 17, author and journalist Chris Mooney gave a presentation on the growing issues circulating around climate change and why there is a dire need for action.

Mooney, a reporter for the Washington Post and a 1999 graduate of Yale University, has been interested in science and the way that people understand scientific information for much of his life.

“I am not a scientist. I am not a social scientist. I am journalist that writes about science, and deep down I’m a writer,” said Mooney in his presentation. “My grandfather, the late Gerald Cole, inspired me to start thinking about climate change. He was quite intolerant of nonsense, so I grew up thinking in this way.”

In the past few weeks, he has written articles about the melting of Greenland’s ice sheets, the recent world-agreement to start using less fluorocarbon and how to decrease human beings’ carbon footprints.

“What really strikes me is the fact that the last few years have been an utter transformation,” said Mooney. “It’s mainly because in the last couple years, more than ever before, the world itself has begun to give us this incredible sense of a scale of the climate changes that are happening right now.”

Around the world, climate change is making issues regarding melting of polar ice caps, warmer winters and shifting of the poles to be much more prevalent.

“Right now, countries of the world have really taken on an increased sense of urgency,” said Mooney. “The result is a race between the political leaders trying to catch up and the changing planet that is starting to change quite fast. It’s a race between politics and physics.”

Mooney explained climate change as the earth’s average temperature is gradually increasing due to the release of greenhouse gases and the burning of fossil fuels.

“Not only is this increase happening, but this is not good news,” said Mooney. “It will raise sea levels, it will affect patterns of rainfall, increase wildfires and create various types of storms, and deeply affect agriculture and our preparedness for natural disasters.”

Global warming has become a significant issue and has impacted the way the earth rotates in space, as well as the location of the north and south poles.

“The pole, an imaginary line, is not fixed in place. However, it is changing and speeding up a bit because there has been so much loss of ice in Greenland and Antarctica, and the mass of the continents is being redistributed,” said Mooney. “The researchers found that the pole used to be moving towards Canada, but now it’s heading towards Europe.”

According to Mooney, climate change is going to create a new dynamic for the earth as a whole, affecting many forms of life and how human beings live as well.

“The indicators are things that are really hard to miss.There was this moment in 2014 where two different scientific papers came out and said there is a sector of West Antarctica that has been destabilized,” said Mooney. “There are oceanfront glaciers, bigger than Pennsylvania, that are rapidly melting, and an ocean that is rising due to this increase in sea level.”

Mooney also discussed that climate change is a very unpredictable force, and it is difficult for journalists and scientists to tell how fast things could turn dangerous.

“Maybe the way it works on earth is that if you turn this hypothetical knob, then the temperature increases one degree and we see damage to the Great Barrier Reef and possible destabilization of West Antarctica,” said Mooney. “Changes are already happening.”

Mooney also referenced the Paris Climate Agreement, which was negotiated last year and will become legal around the same time as the 2018 Presidential Election.

This agreement depicted that countries of the world need to work towards keeping the climate change temperature increase around only 1.5 degrees, or the consequences could be detrimental.

“We then have to see if the countries of the world will keep their promises and acknowledge the rapid changes in climate,” said Mooney.

Because climate change is incredibly unpredictable, Mooney argues that there are going to have to be increased use of wind power, solar power and other technological innovations to decrease the pressure on the planet.

“We humans have become a geophysical force. It is up to us to see the bigger picture, and understand that the story has deepened and enlarged quite a bit,” said Mooney. “It’s time to go.”

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