And I am thinking about having a hamburger for supper too.
When news about the WHO report linking processed meat, red meat and colorectal cancer came out this week I found myself doubting all scientists . . . and anyone associated with the government. What next? Will they will tell me not to eat eggs?
As I said in last week’s post, science in biological systems is REALLY hard. Those questioning the WHO report are looking at causation vs correlation and the issue of dose-response. Really tough questions to be answered. The only way to really figure this out would be to conduct a very large controlled study (like 1000 people or more) with humans – managing every aspect of their life for several years. Everyone breathing the same air, doing the same work, getting the same exercise, getting the same amount of rest, and eating the same food. The only difference between the study groups (control and treatment) would be the amount of red meat/processed meat they ate each day. That type of study just won’t happen! As such, we are stuck with trying to evaluate a compilation of 800 different observational studies.
Climate science has a different problem. There is not even an option to do a controlled study (control vs treatment) as there is only one earth-climate system (n=1). The good news is that many of the individual portions of the climate system can be studied in the lab.
Scientists can measure the energy absorption of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gasses in the lab. They can measure these same chemicals in the atmosphere. They can then apply some well understood principles of conservation of energy and mass transfer and project the results. These fundamental principles do not change – it is only the application to the complex climate system that gets tricky.
So as an individual living on planet earth and enjoying my meat – what should I be thinking? I think I need to become more knowledgeable about the issues. I need to study the WHO meat report – not just listen to pundit’s interpretation and spin. I need to have a better understanding of the climate system and climate science. I need to know the difference between ENSO and Milankovitch. I will never be a climate scientist but it is my responsibility to study the issue.
There are many places to learn climate science. We have some recorded lectures (part 1, part 2, part 3) from our online course. NOAA has a climate education website. There are countless other high quality sources and so many ways to learn that go beyond listening to your Uncle Gordy, your best friend, or your favorite radio personality discuss the issue.
And while you are at it – add some fruit to that breakfast plate!
Always Considering Climate– David
David Schmidt MS. PE is a researcher and educator in the Department of Bioproducts and Bioysystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota and regional project coordinator for the project Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate, a national project of the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center and funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.