Some thoughts on “Climate Change is Real, and Important”

Post by Tim Hunter (@Badgerbod on twitter)

denialYears ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.
Elwood P. Dowd, adapted from the film “Harvey”

My name is Tim Hunter.  I am not a blogger, I am not a scientist, but I do have an interest in various areas of science, including climate science, and I care greatly about the environment.  As a younger man I was convinced we were headed for disaster and I was genuinely fearful that we were en route to wreak havoc in the world by blindly altering our climatic system. I was evangelical in spouting off to anyone who would listen that we were responsible for the disaster of our climate and that the world’s politicians had to do SOMETHING! I even remember taking my one-year-old firstborn out to the hills beyond Stoke so she could see and feel snow, in some idealistic belief that she may never see snow in her lifetime again. Twenty-four years later my understanding of climate science and of science in general has grown a great deal, whilst my knowledge, my “knowing”, has exponentially decreased.

I spend a lot of my time on Twitter (too much) as @badgerbod following and trying to engage with scientists and sceptics (why is there a distinction?) alike. I read blogs, papers, editorials, etc., in an attempt to find answers and generally I find more questions. However, I was startled and frankly appalled to read a piece called: “Climate Change is Real, and Important”. It was authored by a number of bloggers, some of whom are qualified in science, and only one seems to be so in climate science (that I could find). It was virulent in its response to an article by David Siegel on why he has become sceptical of the orthodox view on climate change, from a position of a “believer”. I recommend you read both of these quite long articles, but then draw your own conclusions (as David has recommended), but I want to address some things that disturbed me. Why did they? Both articles are directed at me. Not me personally, but me, the public, the unqualified, part of the teeming masses whose taxes are to pay for whatever folly or world-saving policy that is decided. I do not represent anyone but myself, and I’ve no idea whether any of my fellow unqualified-layman-but-I still-have-a-brain-and-learnt-to-read members of that great institution “the public” will agree. I will not discuss the science in any detail, since I do not have sufficient background to do so, but I may point you to those that do.

In reading the over long riposte “Climate Change is Real” to David Siegel’s article I was shocked at the tone and I really want to address three main points that vexed me.

1. In the “Climate Change is Real” article the authors start with an opinion that is an absolute position, thus excluding any opinion (or indeed evidence) that may not be so absolute. It is an opinion and nothing to do with science.

2. The authors claim the “consensus” (which I presume David Seigel and indeed I were party to) is challenged by those who have financial and other interests in the continued use of fossil fuels. So immediately they tar any scientist or open-minded layperson with the brush of supporting or being supported by the fossil fuel industry. Who are these people that are leading the public astray by doing science funded by the fossil fuel industry? I want to know, but they don’t tell me. Is it Judith Curry? Ronan Connolly? Clive Best? Or is it the popular bloggers: Anthony Watts? Tony Heller? Roger Tattersall? As far as I know all of them are still waiting for their cheque and I hope they feel predisposed to share it around when they get it. I find such statements, regarding scientists and sceptical thinkers, a typical response from the Climate Change is “real and dangerous” community but I’ve no idea who is raking in the dirty money from Exxon et al. So this is a political smear and nothing to do with science.

3. That word: Denial. The words: “Denial”, “Deny”, “Denialist” occur a dozen times within a dozen paragraphs in “Climate Change is Real”. This is propaganda, it is not science and it reads as politically motivated to sway the public not to investigate or accept any other evidence but the authors’ and to certainly not question their position lest you too be labelled. This is an abhorrent use of distasteful language in any respected profession. Science is continuously challenging the accepted and this continues in all areas of science: anthropology, physics, psychology, astrophysics, archaeology, you name it. But not by those advocates of Climate Science who have dug themselves a pit of their own making by “settling” the science at a point where we knew a fraction even of what we know today. And that ain’t much!

So what of the tone of David Siegel’s article? It is best summed up in his own words “hold strong opinions loosely”. He comes from a position of acceptance to a position of questioning to a realisation that something is maybe amiss. I’m not sure that this is a fair portrayal but read his article and draw your own conclusions.

For the riposters (it’s a made up word, but then, so is “denialist”) the tone, in my opinion, is accusatory, denigrating and intransigent. And it continues in the “twittersphere”.

What of the science? After all it is all about the science, everything above and below is semantics and opinion. As I’ve said, I’m not a scientist but to claim science is not about opinion is a fallacy. All science tries to be objective but any interpretation of a result is subjective. This is Sociology 101. This is partly why science continues to find past findings wrong. It is a journey. I had thought to write a critique of the science presented but really, that’s not my place. I’m a layman, non-scientist member of the public. What I am concerned about is the tone of the debate. And no matter what protestations to the contrary, there is a debate. To attack someone’s integrity because they dare to form an alternate view to your own after long and careful consideration, is unprofessional and unnecessary. So I’ll leave the science to those more qualified but what I do is check, I don’t take anyone’s single piece of evidence, and I question all statements, whoever has made them on whatever blog. Reading scientific papers is difficult, but I do try, and I do engage with the scientists, they are generally quite amenable to us “public” and willing to discuss. Twitter is an excellent place to start as it gives opportunities to explore links and read in more depth.

People generally prefer you not to hide behind anonymity, a problem I’ve encountered by not going under my real name. Anthony Watts, for example, has never engaged with me, as a consequence. My name is on my profile now, so hopefully that will be sufficient.

To stop myself waffling on as I am wont to do, I will finish with this: Science is sceptical. The minute it stops being sceptical it literally stops. Galileo was right (sort of, depends where you start from) about Copernican theory, but we know he was wrong. Where would we be if the universe still revolved around the sun? Is the science of the universe now settled? Of course not. Does our understanding of the universe constantly change? Yes it does. Nothing is set, question everything and be sceptical. Yet there is an increasing movement in “orthodox” climate science that dissenters must all have vested interests, that they are a danger to the public, should be banned, ignored and/or prosecuted. This is not a universal view, and I’m grateful for distinguished climate scientists such as Richard Betts and others.

If you’re like me and exploring what it’s all about, by all means get in touch, but I recommend you look for yourself at all the available data from sources such as Met Office, NOAA, NASA, DMI as well as some of the information, presentation and interpretation of the science by this site and others such as Judith Curry, Ronan Connolly, Clive Best, Ken Rice, Anthony Watts, Tony Heller, Roger Tattersall, Skeptical Science, etc. Some of the tone is confrontational and accusatory but drill through the data and draw your own conclusions. My conclusions so far are simply that no one denies climate change, no one denies the greenhouse effect, no one denies CO2 is essential to maintain that greenhouse effect, as well as all life on earth, and that no one has all the answers. But by following the money we may yet understand motive. In all things, remember the wise words of Mr Dowd.

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