I stumbled upon this editorial a couple days ago. It is called Scientist communicators and it is an editorial of Nature.com. It is about miscommunication of the climate change meme in the past.
It starts with following observation, I couldn’t say it much better than this:
Man-made climate change has been in the news for many years. Previously the message presented to the public was clear: climate change is global warming and that means the temperatures are going to rise unless we do something. This claim seemed to be supported by measurements of continuous increases of atmospheric CO2 – at a rate not seen before in the historical record – and associated temperature increases. Additionally, projections from climate models seemed to confirm that this was the new normal.
The media reporting of a ‘hiatus’ came as a surprise to the public. Prior to this, the message had been of continuous warming – to be suddenly told that this was not true led to confusion. Questions started to arise as to whether the previous message had been incorrect – was global warming not happening? […]
I agree, the message was really simple and very clear and the problem started to arise when suddenly a different message was being told.
That is also the reason why I started to get confused about five years ago. When the observations didn’t match that what had been told with an almost absolute certainty. It gave rise to many questions and my quest for answers began. Although I was conditioned by the media to look for those answers in the same spot, I quickly found out that there were no real answers been given there, only a regurgitation of the dogma.
To my surprise I found the answers that I was looking for in the place I didn’t expect it to be: in the skeptic camp.
This was not an easy time. In all those years I learned from the media that those skeptics were deniers, had a hidden agenda, were in the minority and their arguments were certainly wrong. At that time I found it strange to notice that the skeptics were the ones searching, while the alarmists already made up their mind and just repeated the story line.
Now I ask myself how alarmists can overlook all the flaws and uncertainties? There are many. But for my own experience I know that it is a very difficult thing to change a believe. But it is possible, I have done it.
The explanation of the author of the computer models seem to be objective. I could live with his explanation, but when it comes to the results he doesn’t account for the chaotic nature of our environment and the intrinsic limits on the models. Therefor coming to a higher degree of certainty than warranted.
That being said, I think there is one fundamental flaw in his reasoning. His premises are:
- The climate models are only correct on the long term
- The standstill in temperatures is only temporary and the previous temperatures increase will resume later.
None of the two he can be sure about. These are both assumptions that could be true or false. We only know that for sure somewhere in the future. Almost a century from now for point 1. Decades or years for point 2.
The climate models could be right, but could be wrong also. There is no single way we can check this, unless we wait for a century. At that time most of us will already pushing daisies.
The standstill is temporary, I could agree with that. In a chaotic world with many cycles it is bound to change sooner or later. But we don’t know in what direction. It could very likely go up, but it also could go down. The Medieval Optimum came eventually to an end, as did the Little Ice Age. If our current climate is a recovery from the Little Ice Age, increasing temperatures would not be a surprise. My take is that it will go up again, but that doesn’t necessary means that it is catastrophic.
Another weak spots is the avoidance of the “WHY” question. Why were the scientists surprised to see the standstill after so many years? The public will definitely be curious about this and a solution could be found.
- Did those climate communicators intentionally distorted the message? This could be for various understandable reasons like the catastrophic message being stronger than the truth, more grants for catastrophic messages, maybe even political advantages, “honor and fame” for saving the world or just going with the flow. In that case the message should be changed so it is more in line with reality or what we know.
- Did those scientists not know, so assumed that it would stay gradually warming in the future, but were caught by surprise? In that case, they should go to the drawing board again and come back to the media when they know more.
- Or a combination of the above.
My take is that the catastrophic messages from scientist in the media fall in the last category. I think scientists were genuinely surprised when some things turned out differently than what was assumed, but didn’t want to weaken the message. Even when I was a believer I assumed that the messages of the scientists in the media, although true, were exaggerated.
What is the solution of this mess according to the author?
Researchers should have reiterated that the science on long-term climate change is solid and widely agreed on – 97% of scientists working in the subject support the principle of anthropogenic climate change (W. R. L. Anderegg, J. W. Prall, J. Harold and S. H. Schneider, Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 12107-12109; 2010). Then, the questions about why the timing of the hiatus had not been predicted should have been addressed.
Again the 97% story. Is that really true? Is the science really solid on the long term? My question is what exactly those scientists widely agreed on?
He explained that the scientist communicators should communicate the warming since the 1850s, greenhouse gases concentration went up, that oceans warmed, that amounts of snow and ice diminished and that sea levels has risen. Sure, but this is cherry picking what suits the case and ignoring that what doesn’t. In the long run this could raise questions by the public again (as they learn that the Arctic ice is almost 1.5 years within 2 standard deviations or that sea level rise is a very local thing). The confidence on science of the public could get beaten again when they realize these facts were hidden, just as the standstill in temperatures is now.
This is not the solution, this was what those scientist communicators brought into problems in the first place.