After two decades as a school bus driver, Ted Baca says he has no doubt that climate change is real.
Not only are polar ice sheets melting, Baca said, but there are fewer winter days when he chains up for his Coeur d’Alene School District route.
“We’re getting less snow,” said Baca, 74. “It’s from all that stuff going into the atmosphere – coal emissions, pollution from cars.”
John Stach, 48, of Post Falls, agrees that global temperatures are heating up. But he’s not convinced that climate change is human-caused.
“I don’t have any scientific data or proof that it’s us causing it,” said the retired military man, who wonders if recent climate variations are part of the earth’s natural cycle.
While President Barack Obama laid out an ambitious plan for regulating carbon emissions and reducing greenhouse gases on Tuesday, many Americans remain unconvinced that humans are responsible for climate change, according to a recent Yale University study.
Sixty-three percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening, the study said. But only 41 percent believe that warming is mostly human caused.
In contrast, 97 percent of climate scientists believe that recent global warming is both real and mostly a result of human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases, the study said.
There are many reasons why Americans are skeptical, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Some don’t know enough about the issue, or they get conflicting information from family, friends or the media, he said in an email. Others think the science is unproven. And a few are conspiracy theorists.
“They think scientists are making up the data, that it’s a UN plot to take away American sovereignty, or a scheme by Al Gore to get rich, or other such claims,” Leiserowitz said.
Interviews with Inland Northwest residents on climate change produced a range of viewpoints. Amanda Slaughenhaupt, a 25-year-old employee at an assisted living center in Spokane, puts herself in the unsure camp.
“We are burning fossil fuels a lot more than in the past,” she said. But it’s also true that the earth has been warmer in the past due to natural greenhouse gas fluctuations, she said.
Mike Sorensen, a 60-year-old respiratory therapist from Wenatchee, said he’s “100 percent sure” that humans are responsible for climate change.
“We know global warming has been going on since the late 1960s,” said Sorensen, who was visiting Spokane this week. Only a handful of climate scientists dispute it, he said.
Amy Snover is director of the Climate Impacts Group, a network of climate scientists at the University of Washington. She gets lots of queries from people who irrigate crops, manage stormwater, operate dams and work in other areas affected by weather. They want to know how changes in long-term climate patterns will affect them.
“They’re not necessarily calling it ‘climate change,’ ” she said, but they’re acknowledging that the future will be.
While the science behind climate change is indisputable, global warming is a difficult topic to get people engaged in, Snover said. Her strategy is to focus on the local impacts – how a changing climate will affect Northwest communities.
“It has significant implications on everything from how we maintain our highways to what kinds of fish we can catch,” Snover said.
Climate change impacts are a topic that Megan Sausser, 17, and her classmates pondered in a recent government class at Post Falls High School. While humans are highly adaptable, the effects of global warming will challenge future generations, she said.
“It’s our earth, there’s only one, and we need to treat it right,” Sausser said.