Let’s get the word out:
Not long ago Hollywood rediscovered the disaster genre, delivering to the movie viewers a spate of gloriously visualised, but implausible apocalyptic visions. As examples of the zeitgeist they’re fascinating examples of our existential fears made real.
In what lovers of the genre call “disaster porn” the CGI wizards of Hollywood treated us to a variety of end time scenarios: from giant meteorites in the execrable Armageddon (1998); global pandemics in Outbreak (1995) and I am Legend (2007); the Godzilla inspired monster of Cloverfield (2008); the New Age eschatology implied by ending of the Mayan Long Count calendar in the film 2012 (made in 2009); to the current most-favoured harbingers of the apocalypse, the zombies of The Walking Dead.
My favourite of this genre has to be The Day After Tomorrow (2004), a film which imagines the globe caught in the grip of a sudden ice age which descends over a series of days rather than the millennia it normally takes. The film chronicles a series of extreme weather events, precursors to the Northern Hemisphere being blanketed in ice.
The film treats us to a touching father-son reconciliation, a trite love story and lots of ice.
Pure bunk of course – however scientists have long resigned themselves to the fact that Hollywood will choose spectacle over fact. Most of us can discern fact from film fantasy. But sadly, not all of us can make such distinctions.
Point in case The Australian’s Environment Editor, Graham Lloyd, who recently published an article containing “facts” about as plausible as the script as The Day After Tomorrow.
According to Graham there is serious scientific debate about a coming ice age. No really, he argues such.
An ice age cometh: we’re about to enter a 30 year cooling period?
In an article titled Emissions debate heats up while experts warn of a coming ice age (May 4 2013), Lloyd rips his facts straight from the big screen and pages of fringe science blogs to suggest there is some debate over an imminent ice age:
In Russia, one of the world’s leading solar physicists, Habibullo Abdussamatov, says the planet is well on the way to another deep freeze. Abdussamatov is the head of space research at the Russian Academy of Sciences Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St Petersburg, and director of the Russian segment of the International Space Station.
In an interview with Principia Scientific International, Abdussamatov said results of research from the ISS had indicated a decline in total solar irradiance, which was having a dramatic effect on the global climate.
Data indicated the onset of a mini ice age.
If true, then all this fuss over global warming is actually distracting us from the actual (and in Graham’s view equally plausible) threat of an imminent ice age.
The impressively credentialed Habibullo Abdussamatov seems uniquely qualified to put forward such an argument. That is until one starts digging as Abdussamatov seems to hold some very strange views.
Abdussamatov: does not believe in any greenhouse effect
Abdussamatov is a vocal sceptic of global warming within the parallel universe the deniers inhabit, but as far as the science community is concerned he is relatively obscure.
He is not a leading solar physicist: this is merely another example of the old sceptic tactic of inflating the reputation and achievements of “experts” such as Abdussamatov. In fact, a quick search of the internet will find he has been making the same claims for several years.
His most unusual claim is that the greenhouse effect does not exist at all. In a 2007 article published on Canada.com (website of Canadian newspaper publisher Postmedia Network) Abdussamatov is quoted as saying:
Dr. Abdussamatov goes further, debunking the very notion of a greenhouse effect. “Ascribing ‘greenhouse’ effect properties to the Earth’s atmosphere is not scientifically substantiated,” he maintains. “Heated greenhouse gases, which become lighter as a result of expansion, ascend to the atmosphere only to give the absorbed heat away.”
Such a claim would be news to the scientific community to say the least.
Actually, it is almost impossible to convey just how absurd his proposition is – it is the scientific equivalent of arguing the sun still goes around the Earth. His view of the behaviour of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere is pure fantasy without a shred of evidence.
Even the most extreme sceptics – Jo Nova, Lord Monckton and Anthony Watts – don’t subscribe to this view.
They acknowledge the greenhouse effect: they argue a doubling of CO2 will have a negligible impact on global temperatures. According to them, the heat trapping potential of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been overstated by the scientific community.
Thus Abdussamatov would be considered fringe even by their standards – which is saying a lot. If that is not bad enough, things go from bad to worse in Lloyd’s article.
Graham Lloyd plagiarizing content: word for word his article mimics a 2007 article from Canada Free Press
The practice of using material word-for-word without attribution or acknowledging the source is generally frowned upon by journalists.
The more cynical call it plagiarism. Sadly, Lloyd appears to be engaged in this very activity.
Lloyd attributes the following quotes to Abdussamatov (italics mine):
Abdussamatov said there had been five deep cold periods in the past 1000 years – in 1030, 1315, 1500, 1680 and 1805.
He said another cool period was due and would come about regardless of whether industrialised countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions.
“Mars has global warming – but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” Abdussamatov said.
“These parallel global warmings – observed simultaneously on Mars and on the Earth – can only be a consequence of the effect of the same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”
Abdussamatov said a new “little ice age” would start this or next year and hit a low around 2040, with a deep freeze that would last for the rest of the century.
The quotes Lloyd use mimic word-for-word quotes in the aforementioned 2007 article (italics):
Mars has global warming, but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” he told me. “These parallel global warmings — observed simultaneously on Mars and on Earth — can only be a straightline consequence of the effect of the one same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”
Lloyd has merely broken the later paragraph up and substituted some words.
Perhaps Lloyd was sloppy, or merely forgot to correctly attribute his sources. We all make mistakes.
The more cynical of us would call it plagiarism.
False balance: Lloyd’s view from nowhere is really the view from the fringes
Lloyd is a practitioner of the journalistic style of “the view from nowhere”.
He tries to eschew any editorialising in order to present “both sides of the debate” so that the informed reader can make up their own mind.
In reality, Lloyd’s view from nowhere is the view from the fringes of the scientific community: more specifically the view of a crank, Abdussamatov.
Lloyd elevates Abdussamatov to the level of one the world’s “leading solar physicists” and a voice we should be paying attention too. Lloyd frames the article in such a way to imply there is some debate amongst the scientific community that an ice age may very well be immanent.
Let’s be clear: there’s no debate: there are no concerns about a mini-ice age.
What we have is the spectacle of The Australian plucking fringe beliefs from the sceptic blogosphere and given them credibility.
The real story that needs to be told is not that of scientists debating about scenarios reminiscent of The Day After Tomorrow.
The real story that needs to be told is just how partisan The Australian has become on the issue of climate change.
Lloyd’s article smells of desperation: it is the feeble clutching for facts in order to deny reality.
The planet is warming; climate change is real; humanity is the architect of this warming.
We all have a choice: one can accept reality or live in denial. Lloyd seems to have made his choice: he is a nowhere man living in an alternative reality of facts made to suit the opinions of Editor Chris Mitchell and owner Rupert Murdoch.
But what is cost of this?
Not only to Lloyd and the reputation of The Australian as a news source – but to us, the general public who needs to be informed? We may shake our heads at the antics of Lloyd, but ultimately it is a grossly misinformed public who suffers most.
At least Lloyd gets paid for his efforts: I guess I gain some satisfaction in correcting his falsehoods.
But again – at what cost?
All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.
Graham Lloyd and The Australian: rapidly fading credibility
It says a lot about the quality of a newspaper when their Environment Editor is either a) unable to distinguish fringe beliefs from actual science or b) happy to publish such tripe if it undermines the scientific consensus on global warming.
Over the years we’ve witnessed The Australian publish some appalling misinformation on climate change: this without doubt is the nadir of their reporting on climate change.
For a paper which likes to think of itself as the “voice of the nation” this is an appalling lapse in journalistic standards.
We – the reading public – have a right to expect better than this. This is the very impulse that motivated me to start this blog. We are all ill-served by the mainstream media if this is the best they have to offer.
Perhaps there is a circle in Hell for once good journalists who have turned away from the ethics of the profession: if so it must be full of News Limited journalists who felt compelled – or were coerced – to publish pieces such as Lloyd’s.
For good reason many of us are exhausted auditing the self-proclaimed auditors of science. We’ve been engaged in this activity for over thirty years when the “debate” first emerged.
I believe there is a more important question to address: the question of why. Of why elements of the media – who have the power to shape public opinion and debate – have granted themselves permission to distort the truth and mislead the public.
All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.
[Note: see also Graham Readfearn’s piece on the same topic – what can I say? Great minds think alike. Readfearn does some great detective work on finding all the sources Lloyd uses.]
[Disclaimer: This article contains both original research and some elements of satire. Every effort is made to ensure the validity of the claims made by the blog’s author. ]
Dear all, no post today but a recommendation: One Degree Matters on The Age TV. It presents the real world evidence for climate change. But in addition, the producers take a group of individuals on a journey across the globe and ask them how they’d respond to the challenge:
Presenting the latest science on climate change, this is an informative and inspirational documentary which offers realistic solutions and gives the reality of global warming a human face, showcasing amazing examples of individuals and communities tackling the world’s environmental problems. One Degree traces the impact of temperatures increases, measuring the slippages of the Greenland ice cap into the Arctic Ocean.
As the year comes to a close its time to reflect upon the previous year’s climate related news. I mean who doesn’t love a good end of year “The best of” list?
So what made headlines? What events mattered? And crucially what shaped the public’s understanding of climate change?
In order to address the above questions I’ve selected what I believe are the top six “breakthrough” climate stories of the year. These are the issues that had a strong influence on the public’s understanding of climate change.
I’m confident we’ve witnessed an important shift in the climate debate as (a) evidence of rapid global warming has manifested with a vengeance and (b) the majority of the public now accept the reality of global warming.
But what caused this shift? Ultimately the climate stepped in to adjudicate the debate.
In a year of record temperatures and super-storms, the physics of climate change demonstrated its reality.
And while the debate between sceptics and warmists will grind on for several more years it was the evidence presented in the form of drowned cities, withered crops and searing temperatures that shaped public perception.
1. It’s global warming stupid: Hurricane Sandy and the North American summer. And the drought. And the derecho storm. And killer tornadoes. And wildfires.
Perhaps it was the thousands of temperature records smashed, the devastating drought that gripped large sections of the United States, the rare derecho storm that lead to millions losing power or the hundreds of tornadoes that that ripped through the country that taught millions of Americans the climate was changing. Let’s not forget the wildfires either.
By the end of 2012 the belief the climate was not changing became untenable. An overwhelming majority of the American public now accept the reality of climate change (up to 70% according to Business Week).
And then there was Sandy. Who can forget the images of a devastated New York and East Coast?
Not only did Sandy influence the US Presidential election in painting Mitt Romney and the Republicans as the party in dangerous denial – they had a good chuckle about climate change at their convention – it also tangibly and tragically demonstrated what to expect from a climate spinning out of control.
2. Red alert: Greenland melt accelerates
There are troubling things happening up north, not least of all the record breaking seasonal melt for Greenland in August of this year. And while some claimed this news was insufficiently reported in the mainstream press (of which there is some truth) bloggers, tweeters and social media activists did the job for them.
While the fourth estate slept, denizens of what I’d like to call the fifth estate (social media content creators) stepped in to spread the word.
3. Going, going, gone: Arctic sea-ice reaches lowest minimum
If you want to know what the Arctic’s death spiral looks like merely cast your eyes over the above graph. George Monbiot said it best: “Stupidity, greed, passivity? Just as comparisons evaporate, so do these words. The ice, that solid platform on which, we now discover, so much rested, melts into air. Our pretensions to peace, prosperity and progress are likely to follow…”
And how did humanity react to this worrying trend? Giving fossil fuel companies license to rush in and explore for more oil.
4. Apocalypse averted: the Carbon Tax debate fizzles out
In the coming decades, future generations will puzzle over how the Australian political system almost imploded over the fight to introduce a price on carbon.
The Murdoch press ran an orchestrated campaign against the tax while right-wing radio shock jocks worked up the angry masses into even greater levels of well.. anger. The Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, ran a two year fear campaign against the tax claiming “We will be rooned, roooooned!”
Australian political debate reached a new low with nasty catch phrases such as “Juliar” (in reference to Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard) entering the popular lexicon and radio presenter Alan Jones claiming climate science was “witchcraft”.
The forces arrayed against the tax included private think tanks, News Ltd, the Liberal National Party, large segments of the resources sector and eccentric billionaires such as Gina Rinehart.
And yet the government managed to get the legislation through both houses of Parliament. In retrospect it is amazing the minority Gillard government didn’t collapse and still manage to introduce a price on carbon – something that had eluded previous governments for almost 20 years.
So did the world end? Did Australia become an improvised, backwards economic wasteland? Are we Aussies now all living in caves, desperately missing hot showers and street lighting?
Rest assured – the world didn’t end, the sun is still shining and industrial civilisation didn’t collapse as the sceptics warned us.
5. It’s worse than you think: PWC, World Bank reports and news of the permafrost melting
Imagine you’ve just been told by your doctor you have cancer: you’ve got maybe five years. But with treatment you could extend your life well beyond that.
You’d be alarmed and no doubt take positive steps to address the issue: you’d undergo medical treatment, change your diet, exercise and consider changing you life.
Who want’s to die prematurely? Or maybe you’d still be in denial.
Either way, you’re presented with this information and the opportunity to act.
But a month after being told the above, you return to see your doctor only to be told he was wrong. A new round of tests conclusively proves you’ve got a year – maybe two.
“So sorry…” states your doctor “…but the cancer is far more aggressive. Fortunately we’ve caught it early due to some new technology and diagnostic methods. But we need to start treatment right away.”
This is the situation humanity faces.
In the past six months a series of reports and a rash of new scientific evidence has been presented that makes for alarming reading:
It not just the IPCC or those radical socialists otherwise known as “climate scientists” saying the climate is changing more rapidly than anticipated. Some of the most conservative institutions and corporations have joined the chorus for urgent action by signalling their alarm.
Which means either one of two things: the need to act is increasingly urgent or that every scientific, political, media, business and professional association is part of the conspiracy.
6. No sympathy for the devil: Peter Gleick disembowels the Heartland Institute
I believe scientist Peter Gleick did humanity a favor, even if his methods were controversial.
Gleick obtained key strategy and planning documents from The Heartland Institute – the US libertarian think tank – by pretending to be one of its board members. He simply called up reception and asked for documents to be sent to an email account.
Was it worth it?
In retrospect, yes.
The documents revealed how Heartland and other think tanks manufacture doubt.
Once the story went viral and was picked up my mainstream media the reputation of Heartland suffered enormously – it lost millions in funding and was forced to cancel their annual conference for sceptics.
Gleick revealed the dark underbelly of the climate sceptic movement: the anonymous funding and the deliberate campaign to deceive.
Sceptics were furious of course – “How dare he, that criminal!” they fumed. Anthony Watts and others threatened to sue Gleick or bring in the authorities- but as suspected, nothing eventuated. Such actions would have brought a level of accountability bodies such as The Heartland Institute seek to avoid.
And that’s just what Gleick did: bring greater transparency and accountability to the climate debate.
The denial movement has been milking Climategate for years. To this day deniers continue to salaciously drool over the half dozen meaningless emails hacked form the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.
But the public twigged to the hypocrisy: the Gleick episode demonstrated the public has no sympathy for the devil.
Those of us attempting to communicate the risks associated with climate change often lament the lack of “serious” media coverage.
While climate change is frequently mentioned in the op-ed sections of Australia’s papers (and if a News Limited publication the stance is invariably skeptical) it is rare to see climate change make front page news.
Which is why I was impressed to see The Age today – the headline, At the edge of disaster, says it all:
THE world is on the cusp of a “tipping point” into dangerous climate change, according to new data gathered by scientists measuring methane leaking from the Arctic permafrost and a report presented to the United Nations on Tuesday.
Journalist Ben Cubby should be congratulated on his story, especially getting it onto page one at time when every other paper is pursuing the faux-scandal that is the Gillard-AWU affair.
The story is about one of the more worrying climate related tipping points; the release of the vast stores of methane under the Arctic permafrost.
Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon, and has been of concern for several years now as this 2009 New Scientist article alludes:
I AM shocked, truly shocked,” says Katey Walter, an ecologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. “I was in Siberia a few weeks ago, and I am now just back in from the field in Alaska. The permafrost is melting fast all over the Arctic, lakes are forming everywhere and methane is bubbling up out of them.”
Back in 2006, in a paper in Nature, Walter warned that as the permafrost in Siberia melted, growing methane emissions could accelerate climate change. But even she was not expecting such a rapid change. “Lakes in Siberia are five times bigger than when I measured them in 2006. It’s unprecedented. This is a global event now, and the inertia for more permafrost melt is increasing.”
What does this mean?
Simply put – it may imply warming is happening faster than anyone anticipated:
Now it appears that the assessment was too optimistic. The latest data from across the globe show that the planet is changing faster than expected. More sea ice around the Arctic Ocean is disappearing than had been forecast. Regions of permafrost across Alaska and Siberia are spewing out more methane, the potent greenhouse gas, than models had predicted.
Ice shelves in West Antarctica are breaking up more quickly than once thought possible, and the glaciers they held back on adjacent land are sliding faster into the sea.
Extreme weather events, such as floods and the heat wave that gripped much of the U.S. in the summer of 2012 are on the rise, too. The conclusion? “As scientists, we cannot say that if we stay below two degrees of warming everything will be fine,” says Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of physics of the oceans at the University of Potsdam in Germany.
In my mind this is one of the most worrying tipping points (search WtD blog for “clathrate gun hypothesis”).
For some time it has been one of the things that terrify – yes terrify – me:
So let me state this: it is now pointless wrangling over the question of whether or not to attribute individual events to climate change.
Reality makes that debate redundant.
We’re here: we’ve arrived at the point in history when our species has engineered a new climate. The point we knew was coming – that was inevitable – if we did nothing.
This looks like a must read and see:
Photographer James Balog has been capturing vanishing glaciers and ice sheets using time-lapse photography. Recently published a book titled Ice: portraits of vanishing glaciers. It contains some stunning images, including the above “before” shot of the Stein glacier and the below:
There is a an accompanying film showing “undeniable evidence” of global warming:
There is also this clip showing stunning evidence of warming:
For those you claim global warming is the product of flawed computer models, it is near impossible to dismiss the real world evidence.
Tamino’s Open Mind remains one of the “must read” climate blogs – a recent post on hurricanes and storm surges is well worth reading:
One of the difficulties studying changes in the frequency and intensity of cyclones is that the record of past storms is inhomogeneous, due to changes in observational capabilities and how storms have been measured and recorded. But a new paper by Grinsted et al. has found evidence of past cyclone occurrence in the western Atlantic which impacted the U.S. east coast, evidence which is homogenous over a period of nearly a century, by studying not storm records, but surges in sea level recorded at tide gauge stations.
The Grinsted paper is well worth noting, and includes the following graph:
Note the correlation between a) surge events b) frequency of surge events c) accumulated cyclone energy and d) annual average global mean surface temperature between the late 1920s and this century (in particular note the period post 2000).
Four separate pieces of data; four different, yet parallel stories; one fact.
The globe is warming, and the climate is changing. Signal from the noise.
Tamino once again proves to be a valuable guide to the science, noting:
In my opinion, Grinsted et al. have identified an important and reliable indicator of landfalling storms in the U.S. southeast, and have found clear (and statistically significant) evidence of increase in activity over time and association with warmer temperatures. As the world continues to warm, expect the trends to continue.
I concur: these trends will continue.
“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans… And heal the planet” – Mitt Romney
Sandy – and climate change – is having a profound impact on American politics and the Presidential election in surprising ways:
In a surprise announcement, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Thursday that Hurricane Sandy had reshaped his thinking about the presidential campaign and that as a result he was endorsing President Obama.
Mr. Bloomberg, a political independent in his third term leading New York City, has been sharply critical of both Mr. Obama, a Democrat, and Mitt Romney, the president’s Republican rival, saying that both men have failed to candidly confront the problems afflicting the nation. But he said he had decided over the past several days that Mr. Obama was the best candidate to tackle the global climate change that the mayor believes contributed to the violent storm, which took the lives of at least 38 New Yorkers and caused billions of dollars in damage.
“The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast — in lost lives, lost homes and lost business — brought the stakes of next Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief,” Mr. Bloomberg wrote in an editorial for Bloomberg View.
“Our climate is changing,” he wrote. “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”
Perhaps this is the break-through moment for climate politics in the US: when a respected, conservative leaning politician (Bloomberg is an independent with progressive views on a range of issues) helps dismantle the logjam stifling acknowledgement that climate change is central to the political discussion, and not a fringe concern.
The conservative politicians, think tanks, one particular global media corporation and journalists who have spent decades denying the reality are not merely looking out of touch with reality – it is now clear giving credence to their views was both foolish and dangerous.
The price of denial is writ large across Caribbean nations such as Haiti (60 dead) and the North East of the United States where the death toll has reached over 80.
The world has listened to these fanatics and merchants of unreality for too long.
But sadly it has taken two hurricanes in the United States – and far too many dead and billions in damage – to illustrate the folly of denial.
Twice climate extremes have destroyed the ambitions of conservatives in the US to hold or gain the Presidency. And twice they have chosen to ignore the lessons.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Presidency of George W. Bush, who was shown to be grossly incompetent. Recall it was Bush who sought to delay action on climate and ushered in the Republican war on science.
But denial among the GOP and conservatives only increased in intensity.
Now hurricane Sandy may have shifted the politics of climate change, most likely ensured a second term for Obama and discredited the sceptic movement in the eyes of most of the public.
The response of the millions who experienced the devastation of Sandy to the arguments of the sceptics will be personal and visceral:
“You’re a climate sceptic? Well I’m from New York – f*ck you”
Nor will the world forget the foolish utterances and names of those who denied climate change. The evidence of their stupidity and ideological zealotry is voluminous.
Romeny’s mocking of the issue of at the recent RNC will not merely haunt his failed bid for the Presidency: it will haunt conservatives in the US for decades.
It will haunt News Corporation for decades, who will be seen as one of the principle agents of denial.
And it will haunt conservative politicians in Australia, who fell under the siren song of the sceptic movement.
But it was bound to happen: reality was always going to catch up in the form of surging flood waters, withered crops and smashed and storm ravaged cities.
There will be an accounting and a reckoning, of that there can be little doubt.
Al Gore’s did much to raise awareness of climate change with his film An Inconvenient Truth –which obviously explains the relentless war on the film and attempts at character assassination.
In a scene that now seems eerily prescient he demonstrates how rising sea levels and storm surges would impact different parts of the globe.
At one point the film shows the flooding of the WTC memorial site (go to 2:20 of clip):
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York, water poured into the WTC memorial site:
Today NYC stand battered, flooded and reported deaths at around 39.
Video of National Guard searching for residents in New Jersey, note the scale of the devestation:
A house is destroyed by the force of the storm:
Raw video footage of flooding:
Today’s post is from fellow blogger Mothincarnate at New Anthropocene:
Today, in the latest publication of Nature, I stumbled upon the article, Climate Science: Time to raft up, by Chris Rapley.
We are naturally good at finding patterns – perhaps too much so – and I found it interesting that I stumbled upon this article just after reading Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape and at a point where I was ready to return to my online writing, but not knowing where to start.
I was drained from my previous efforts in science communication and welcomed all the activities that have, over the previous twelve months, kept me away (or, at best, mere status updates).
I have avoided the arena of climate change debate, for it seems in some ways doomed to the course of the evolution “debate”. So what was I to write about?
Both of the mentioned material are worth reading. However, I have to disagree with aspects of Rapley’s article.
On climate science advocacy, Rapley writes;
“There are dangers. To stray into policy-advocacy or activism is to step beyond the domain of science, and risks undermining legitimacy through the perception — or reality — of a loss of impartiality.
“However, as Sarewitz has pointed out, scientists carry authority “in advocating for one particular fact-based interpretation of the world over another”. So acting as a ‘science arbiter’ — explaining the evidence and contesting misinterpretations — is part of the day job.”
However, I feel this has been part of the problem with science communication on climate change and perhaps other topics such as evolution.
Later, Rapley goes on to write;
“The climate-dismissive think tanks and organizations have been effective because they have understood and put into practice the insights of social science. They deliver simple messages that are crafted to agree with specific value sets and world views. Their flow of commentary is persistent, consistent and backed up with material that provides deeper arguments.”
“Regarding the vast body of evidence on which all climate scientists agree, we need to offer a narrative that is persistent, consistent and underpinned by compelling background material.”
But previously, he wrote;
“We need to respond to questions that go beyond facts, such as ‘What does this mean for me?’ and ‘What are our options?’.”
The article is right in many ways in my view, but Rapley is too tentative and maybe, in light of the previous when compared to the others, contradictory.
In chapter three of The Moral Landscape, Harris talks about belief. Rapley does in fact (under the subheading, Why don’t we get it?) talk about very much the same thing.
Belief, that is, the acceptance of certain evidence to be true, is not so strongly based on rational verification as we would like to think it to be. We’re not calculators after all. Belief derives from shared values that in turn derive from different factors, such as social norms, genes etc. We are far more likely to accept evidence presented when it confirms our already held values / the social norms of our community than those that challenge those values.
Sam Harris, in a presentation on Death and present moment, puts it in no uncertain terms (about 13 mins in);
“When we’re arguing about teaching evolution in the schools, I would argue that we’re really arguing about death. It seems to me the only reason why any religious person cares about evolution, is because if their holy books are wrong about our origins, they are very likely wrong about our destiny after death.”
Evolution thus challenges more than one idea (ie. that we were divinely created in recent millennia in our current form), but rather an entire outlook on life and a total way of living, not simply for the individual, but also the social group with which they associate themselves with. The wealth of evidence supporting the theory of evolution is simply not enough to counter such a wide scope of personally held values which are also attached to what we often mistakenly take as one, individual and isolated premise.
Likewise, I suspect the potential reality of anthropogenic climate change, based on very strong evidence, challenges a much wider scope of values that remain unaffected by rational debate over that one point (ie. whether or not our contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrate affects potential heat storage). We fail to move the “committed sceptics” because the evidence we provide challenged just one point of a wider range of related personal values.
Perhaps, for instance, it challenges the idea that a god is the sole force shaping the world and that we are incapable to such radical modifications (or that an intervening god wouldn’t allow us to harm ourselves in such a way) for certain religious individuals. Perhaps the idea challenges values associated with neo-liberal markets that ought to make us and future generations rich. Perhaps it’s something else.
Rapley was right about the success of climate-dismissive think tanks applying value to their message. He is also correct to argue that we need to go beyond facts and address questions, such as ‘What does it mean for me?’ and ‘What are our options?’ which are at their core really questions regarding a network of wider social and personal values related to the problem of anthropogenic climate change.
Maybe we need to be clearer which hat we’re wearing – that of scientific investigation or of advocacy – or, as Dana Nuccitelli once mentioned in a comment thread (that, if I can locate, I will link to), we should apply a “Gish gallop” approach, the favourite approach, successfully applied by Christopher Monckton in debate, because, unlike with Monckton, when reviewed, the evidence will support the statements we’ve made.
I tend to agree with Dana’s idea as it allows more value based discussion intertwined with the evidence. You can say what the evidence supports and swiftly move into its personal and social ramifications. This latter arena does truly need debate.
We have done all that can be done to explain the science of climate change and there are many excellent reference sites to which people can venture if they so decide. What we need to talk about are the value question as it is the answers to these that will define who we will become and how our society will look and function.
It’s understandable that people would be uncomfortable with such unknowns. We need to be part of a community with shared values to feel content. In the “debate” over climate change, we hear predictions of how the future might look and how foolish “deniers” are for not understanding science proven over a 150 years ago.
This isn’t only counter-productive, it also dehumanises the issue completely. The global climate has changed many times before without human influence or consequence. This time it is personal. We need to make our debates and communications just as personal if we are to do the best we can for future generations.