So, this last Monday – maybe you heard something about this – the path of a full solar eclipse passed over the mainland United States. Stretching from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina, the most impressive version of the celestial event wasn’t visible in Minnesota.
It was, however, visible in Missouri, to where I took off with my wife to gaze skyward, protected by glasses an Amazon merchant assured us would prevent vision damage. Unfortunately, due to press deadlines, this column was written in the pre-eclipse era — so I cannot (yet) share with you my experience.
I can, however, muse around the edges in anticipation.
A solar eclipse is a rare phenomenon to behold. It will only happen a smattering of times – especially whatsoever practically nearby – in one’s lifetime. That’s part of what propelled my wife and I south, eager to watch the sun be blotted out by something other than the very earth beneath us.
We knew, months ago when we booked a hotel, down to the minute when this shindig would begin and end. We found maps that showed the shadow’s path across the country and planned our adventure to both bring us into the optimal viewing zone, while avoiding metropolitan areas (such as they exist in Missouri).
It would take far too long to catalog all of the scientific advances that led me being able to access all of this information on the phone in my pocket. But, even just on the astronomy side, I want to point out that there is essentially no confusion, debate or guesswork with what’s going on here — I’ve not seen multiple times, estimates, maps or any other data regarding this eclipse, despite the fact that (as of this column being penned) it hadn’t happened yet.
This is (sometimes) the power of science. We certainly don’t have the power to predict or model everything, because we haven’t discovered how, the phenomenon/system in question is too complex, or both, but on some things, we have a firmer grasp than others.
That’s where the importance of consensus comes in. There is, aside from a few straggling flat-earthers, a consensus on when, where and why this eclipse is happening.
Millions of people are taking off work, purchasing special sunglasses and making a beeline for the path of totality — my, we’d look like fools if NASA bungled that one.
Pivot: NASA is every bit as unequivocal about climate change. Full stop.
Now, about what I said about phenomenon complexity, I will grant – not in an off-hand way, but as what I view as an important caveat – that climate change is far more complex than eclipses. Perhaps most importantly, it’s clear to just about anyone that the moon blocking the sun would cause exactly the symptoms of an eclipse. The explanation is simple and satisfying.
Climate change is harder. Even if we find that global temperatures are rising, on average, globally, year to year (each of those qualifiers is important), the causes aren’t as obvious as a huge hunk of rock blocking the light from a star.
But still, we depend on scientists for that knowledge. We depend on them to gather data, but also to interpret that data. Different scientists will gather different types of data, and draw the best conclusion they can.
The scientific consensus, on this or any other issue, is all of that put together. As you can well imagine, there’s a tremendous amount of data on this particular issue.
The more data we gather, the clearer it is that not only are global average temperatures rising, but that human activity is the cause. I’m not talking about the kind of consensus that gets things done in government — 50, 60 percent? No.
Seven separate studies, completed between 2004 and 2016, found 91 percent or greater consensus among the scientific community on that fact. I am going to list them (courtesy The Guardian), to stress, fervently, the consensus in these studies on the consensus within the scientific community on this topic.
• Oreskes, 2004: 100 percent.
• Doran, 2009: 97 percent.
• Anderegg, 2010: 97 percent.
• Cook, 2013: 97 percent.
• Verheggen, 2014: 91 percent.
• Stenhouse, 2014: 93 percent.
• Carlton, 2015: 97 percent.
I can tell you that I am one of the first to voice skepticism with regard to scientific findings. Pumping the brakes and making sure one study wasn’t skewed by unforeseen factors is incredibly important. It is crucial to build a body of evidence and avoid drawing conclusions too early.
There is a limit to how long that approach should be applied, however. I urge anyone with any doubt on this topic to visit climate.nasa.gov and read everything they can.
Lastly, I want to say one thing. I don’t have a horse in this game. I would love for climate change to be the hoax that some claim it to be. Coastal villages not disappearing into the ocean due to sea level rise? Great.
The sum of the great cacophony of signs, according to a veritable wall of scientists, linked by the arms and more importantly by their findings, suggest otherwise. We shouldn’t be listening to politicians, bloggers or talk radio hosts to inform us on this.
We should be listening to the scientists.