Rising Ocean Levels and Mass Denial

I have had my stance on the rising of the ocean level challenged recently. My stance is relatively simple: yes, yes it is. However, this is not an altogether popular stance. Not because the ocean level is not rising, but rather for the general reason of it being inconvenient. This is a common problem people have with many of the current trends in our economy, climate, and energy sources. Call it media-induced ignorance; call it political maneuvering; call it mass denial; call it sticking your fingers in your ears and humming loudly. But whatever you call it, ultimately it boils down to a simple fact. While people are in fact grasping the realty of our situation, they simply deny the problem’s severity, immediacy, or existence. Its not that they do not understand how bad we are saying it is. They just do not see what they can do about it, and so find it easier to ignore it. That is one of the things this site is for: showing people what we can do. Another thing we can do is help provide the data scientists have been using for years to draw their, generally ignored, conclusions.

To start with, this is a graph of the change in average ocean level from 1992 to 2005. The scientists taking the measurements arbitrarily assigned a “zero” point in 1996. Basically, this means the scientists picked an ocean level and decided that it was typical. This does not really mean anything, just that all ocean levels are now being compared to this point. As odd as this may sound it is not an unusual practice. An easy example is Fahrenheit temperature. Zero degrees Fahrenheit does not actually mean anything. It is an arbitrary zero point someone picked centuries ago, but it has no meaning. But any temperature can now be measured compared to that zero point. Or you could pick another zero point, say the freezing point of water, and call it something really weird like Celsius. But then no one would know what you were talking about.
Ocean Level

– Benjamin Shender



  1. Ryan said,

    October 25, 2007 at 9:23 pm

    wondering what ya’ll thought about the CNN special “world in peril.” it seems to be fairly tame from my vantage (and very politicizing), but i’m not an expert in climate change possibilities….

  2. Aftermath said,

    October 30, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    I didn’t see it, and I don’t think Miranda did either. We don’t watch much in the way of TV. In fact, the only reason we have it at all is because it cost less to let them hook it up with the internet deal they were running at the time then it cost to refuse. Cest la vie. So, the only thing I can really offer is the general statement that popular new services would cease to be popular if they depressed Americans by exposing them excessively to facts. Polls show that Americans have very little interest in facts, by and large.

    Most TV programs about the kinds of things Aftermath generally assumes its readership is aware of go something like this:

    Some reputable scientists who work for Universities and NGOs say we’re in a lot of trouble.

    Then politicians and various people with fancy, although meaningless, titles who work for large corporations or the US government say the other guys just want to panic people and are jumping to conclusions.

    They show some footage of a couple of bad things, and end with a “green” message and put someone on who says recycling will solve everything so long as we vote for his candidate.

    Cue commercial for the new “high mileage” Ford truck that can’t be sold in China due to its high emissions and low mileage.

    The audience then drives the three blocks down the street to eat a meal at McDonalds that is 60 percent corn, costs an average of 15 calories for every calorie actually eaten, and doesn’t actually taste like the animal its reportedly from. Then they round up the night buying a hunk of plastic junk from Wal-Mart they neither need nor really want that’ll break in less than six months. At which point they’ll buy it again, despite the fact they still don’t need or want it. If they happen to remember the CNN special at this point, they may decide to recycle it, before discovering it isn’t recyclable and their town doesn’t have a recycling program anyway.

    Sorry, my belief in the ability of the news media to instigate change is fairly well dead. Change doesn’t come through a TV screen; change comes from people interacting with people. Change doesn’t happen when we elect the right politician (or the left politician for that matter). Change happens when a bunch of people say “I’m sick of all this. I’m done. I’m out of here.” If CNN really wanted to help a “world in peril” their broadcast would have been the anchor man saying, “It’s time. Turn off your TV and throw it away,” before going off the air for good.

    -Benjamin Shender

  3. David Jewell said,

    January 26, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Well I saw the show. and thought it really quite good.It presented 10 doomsday scenarios. the one I think we will presently be in is water troubles and take a look at Google Earth. There is no longer a North Pole,I wonder what new fairy tales we will have to tell our kids

  4. Aftermath said,

    January 28, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Well, it is possible that I was feeling somewhat disenchanted at the time.

    -Benjamin Shender

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