When I decided to do my research project on climate change, I knew I was going to have to address that there are common misconceptions and a general lack of in-depth knowledge about it, but I’ve found learning about why those misconceptions exist to be very interesting. On top of that, I’ve also been able to learn some key facts about the mechanisms causing climate change that I actually never knew until now.
The most interesting source I’ve found pertaining to what other people think or know about climate change is this article, which focuses on similar 1992 and 2009 surveys of educated American adults on their thoughts on climate change. This study is what really made me realize that climate change has not always been and never will be perceived in the same way for too many years at a time. Specifically, the surveys did show that the average educated American adult became more informed of the risks of not addressing climate change and the ways they could combat those risks, but that they still often had a far from perfect understanding overall. Looking at this article in 2017, I can’t help but wonder what one of those surveys would look like now — I honestly don’t know if the average educated American adult would be more or less informed.
Even those who consider themselves “informed” of climate change is occurring may be missing major piece of important information. One of the most glaringly major facts of climate change that is not very well-known is the prevalence and importance of water vapor as a greenhouse gas. Most people think of water as being “cool,” but as the American Chemical Society explains, water vapor accounts for, on average, 60% of the warming resulting from the greenhouse effect, and in some locations even more of it. On top of that, the warmer the earth’s air is, the more water vapor can exist as a gas in it (think of cool nights making water condense out as dew on the ground). This results in a positive feedback loop where polluting water vapor into the air makes the air warmer, which allows more water vapor to exist in the air, which makes more surface air evaporate, which makes the air warmer … and so on. This feedback loop could be potentially catastrophic and spiral out of control over the next few decades, but is not very well known and therefore not extensively modeled in research.
I was only slightly aware of these two realities before starting my research project, and they’ve stood out to me as the most interesting and surprising information that I’ve learned in my research process so far.