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Salisbury University professors give perspective on climate change

Barack Obama described climate change as “one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.”

Yet, in a sampling of 17 political debates between the Senate and congressional races this year, there was only one question on the topic of climate change.

And in a recent study done by YouGov in February of last year, an average of 54 percent of people across all age groups believed that climate change is caused by humans, meaning that 46 percent of people doubt that people are responsible for the changing temperatures and the problems that ensue because of the change.

Climate change is one of the most polarizing issues in the modern era and has caused much disagreement in the last ten years, with politics interfering with the distribution of accurate information.

Disagreement has been made apparent in an annual study done by Gallup, which asked Americans from March 1 to March 8 of 2018: "Do you believe global warming will pose a serious threat in your lifetime?"

According to the study, 82 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Independents responded that they don’t believe it will pose a serious threat in their lifetime, while 67 percent of Democrats believe that it will.

With such different views and misaligned opinions, some believe that media and politics could be to blame in their interference with the spread of information.

With such disparity, I wanted to investigate the opinions of people who are deemed experts in their respective disciplines: doctors in fields of research like economics, toxicology and media studies. The investigation was aimed to see how the people who have been trained to critically evaluate and research at the highest level think on such a globally important issue.

Dr. Brian Hill, an economics professor in the Perdue School of Business, believes that climate change is a serious issue, and he revealed his opinion that the news tends to mislead people on the facts of the issue.

However, he admits that he doesn't see the issue directly relating to his area of study.

“Broadly defined in the area of economics, yes, not necessarily in my specific area of expertise, but for environmental economists it is,” Hill said.

Dr. James Burton, a media studies professor in the Fulton School of Liberal Arts, is a firm believer in the existence of climate change and reveals that he doesn't "see any grey area" in that fact.

While Burton admits that he has not read any scholarly articles directly stemming from the scientific community, he highlights that interpretations of scientific research apply to his area of expertise — media studies.

Burton does not think about climate change daily, but there are times when Burton fears for the future of our world.

"I have two daughters that are two [years old] and nine [years old], and every time I pay my mortgage, there's the thought that it may be underwater by the time I pay it off,” Burton said.

On the subject of the media and politics and their impact on public opinion, Burton found the topic too broad to pinpoint just one impact, but he accredits a large amount of the issue to the way the media and politicians weave doubt into their conversations.

Burton's specific area of study does not initially focus on climate change in action, but rather on the conversation.

"I think that my area focuses on the different ways media covers the issue," Burton said. "And there’s a stat where in the last three presidential debates, there wasn't one question on climate change, so it’s there in its absence.”

Dr. Jennifer Nyland, a toxicology professor in the Henson School of Science, gave the perspective that climate change is a real and proven fact.

“I don’t think it’s a question of belief or not belief. I believe in the science, I trust the science, so it's a fact," Nyland said.

Given that Nyland is intrigued by the science behind the issue, she revealed that she has read articles on the subject and beyond the reading, she has written a synopsis on the effects of climate change on mercury releases and impacts on wildlife and human health.

Nyland believes that climate change impacts her daily life on a small scale.

"I try to minimize my carbon footprint," Nyland said. "On the small scale, I try to do what I can, like buying yarn from sheep farms where they sequester carbon in the soil as part of the ranching process.”

Nyland does not directly blame the media or government officials for persuading the public on these issues, for she believes people need to seek out information.

“I think it’s important that people are as informed and educated as possible and for people to make their own decisions," Nyland said. "But I think that the lazy way out is to just watch one news channel or one news source and take that as the gospel truth. And the yellow press is alive and well, and we’re being manipulated as a society, not just in America, but across the world.”



Staff writer

Featured photo: Amy Wojtowicz image.

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