We at Cliscep like The Conversation, the news and analysis blog for University types. Their mixture of “academic rigour and journalistic flair” results in a product much like the Guardian, but the moderation is more humane and you get a better class of troll.
Their articles are written by experts in their fields, and, as their name suggests, they encourage interaction. It doesn’t always work out like that, however. Witness this conversation with marine geologist James Scourse.
His thesis, that the proposal to create a brand new geological epoch called “the Anthropocene” is a “misleading … redundant, manufactured debate… a fad, a bandwagon, a way of marketing research…” has my wholehearted approval, but he spoilt the effect for me by ending his article with: “…other scientists are getting on with the business of trying to understand, and do something, about the crisis we face.”
So I asked him: “what’s the crisis we face?” And he replied: “I suggest you go and read the IPCC…”
Me: What, all 3000 pages? I’ve got AR5 SPM open in front of me, and there’s not one mention of crisis. You’ll have to be a little more explicit, or people might think you’re making it up.
Professor Scourse: Yes, all 3000 pages.
I came back the next day: Done. No mention of crisis. You are making it up. Another one.
Professor Scourse: Gosh, that was fast…
Me: I didn’t read it all last night. We know what’s in it. What’s not in it is a persuasive case for doing something very expensive now to ward off hypothesised dangerous warming in the future, given that 70+ years of CO2 emissions have resulted in little man-made warming so far. Graphs of temperature, sea level rise etc will have to make extraordinary leaps to morph into something worrying. Meanwhile, money that could be used for infrastructure in poor countries will be diverted into subsidising useless windmills. I know this has nothing to do with geology, but it’s wrong.
Professor Scourse: Once the Titanic had struck the iceberg, Captain Smith had at least three choices: 1. he could deny the fact that anything was wrong and stare at the horizon; 2. he could accept that the ship had hit an iceberg, but nevertheless mull things over and decide, perhaps, to give the iceberg a name; or 3. he could try and save as many lives as possible by prompt action. So, even though you think 2 is the wrong option, like me, you’re clearly in camp no.1 whereas I’m in camp no.3.
Me: What iceberg? There is no iceberg. Your parable implies that the world is comparable to the Titanic after it had hit the iceberg. But it isn’t and it hasn’t. I’m not asking for allegories, but science. You’re a scientist. Please give me some.
Mel Tisdale then turned up to support the idea of the Anthropocene and another thread began:
Mel: Anything that highlights the mess we are in gets my vote. We can argue about the niceties later when we have got a grip on the problems Old Mother Nature is currently throwing at us for being naughty.
Caroline Smith: Totally agree Mel. When I’ve used the idea with students it’s like a shock to the system and a huge wake up call.
Professor Scourse: I find presenting the evidence is the best wake up call.
I intervened to point out that Professor Scourse hadn’t presented any evidence.
Caroline Smith: By the way, what sort of evidence should Prof Scourse be presenting in your view? Looking at his credentials he’d seem to know what he’s talking about.
Me: No doubt Professor Scourse knows what he’s talking about, but he’s not talking, at least not to us here. He says: read the IPCC reports. But the IPCC doesn’t talk about crisis. How can it? Its remit is to discuss the science. There is no climate crisis. Will there be? Interpretation of some model results suggest there will, but the models have been falsified by events. We’re left with the message that scientists (some of them) are worried. That’s not science, and it’s not convincing. The whole climate crisis discourse resembles the old Irish joke: You can’t get there from here.
Professor Scourse came back to Caroline Smith to clarify his objection to the term “Anthropocene”:
Professor Scourse: I think the fundamental point here is that I don’t think using the Anthropocene description would make any difference when trying to convince the unconvinced. That too, like the scientific evidence itself, would be a polarising influence.
Me: (barging in uninvited): Could you please explain what you mean by saying that the scientific evidence would be a polarising influence? Scientific evidence, objectively presented, should surely only be a polarising influence in distinguishing those capable of rational thought from the rest. Though not a scientist, I’m an ardent believer in rational discussion, and always keen to listen to scientific evidence.
And that was the last I heard from Professor Scourse, though I did have a polite and interesting discussion with a sclerochronologist colleague of Professor Scourse. The point seems to be that if a professor of marine biology says there’s a crisis, then there is, and that’s it.
We’ve started another conversation with one of Professor Scourse’s colleagues at Bangor University – a lecturer in law, about whether delivering heating oil is like sending Jews to the death camps. But only among ourselves.