Since some years I have grown a thicker skin when it comes to reading climate communications. That is certainly needed at this side of the debate. I thought I had seen it all. That was until I saw this video: Crossing the 2014 Climate Divide: Scientists, Skeptics & the Media, starring Suzanne Goldenberg (U.S. Environment Correspondent, The Guardian) and Dr. Naomi Oreskes, (Professor of History of Science, Harvard University). One mispresentations after the other and I only just listened to the first part were Goldenberg explains about her stance on skeptics.
Basically it went like this: the debate is over, science is settled. Now we have to go on and work out solutions in stead of devoting time to the skeptics that are already far behind the issue.
How on earth does she know all those things for sure? I have read some articles she wrote and, beside some quotes of experts, they didn’t really deal with the science. Yet she shows no shred of doubt when saying that the science is settled and action is needed. It looks like an unconditional trust in (climate) science, at least in the alarmist part of it. The interesting part of it is that her trust in the debate being settled is rooted into something else than science.
But we have been there many times before. It shows my age, but I lived in a time where stomach ulcers were still caused by stress, population on earth was too large already and we would have problem feeding ourselves before the end of the 20th century, in our generation we would freeze to death by an imminent ice age, we would develop skin cancers because of exposure by UV rays coming through the ozone hole, in Northern Europe there wouldn’t be much forests left at the end of the 1990s and Finnish lakes would be without fish, and so on and so on. Although in retrospect they were wrong, sometimes spectacularly wrong, yet science was considered trustworthy also back then. We seemed to have learned nothing from our history.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to say that science is useless of invalid. Knowledge is an continuous process, we learn more about earth, nature, ourself when we go along. But it is a bit ridiculous to declare absolute knowledge about complex research areas like the climate when we have only limited data.
Is that unconditional trust in the media warranted? Maybe, maybe not. From my personal experience I really doubt it. Just a few non-scientific things that show me it is probably not:
- When looking at what gets into the mainstream media, it is sometimes much different than what the scientific paper says. Sometimes even the contrary!
- Scientists in the media seem to talk more like politicians. Other motives than science could be involved here.
- The climategate emails learned that high profile climate scientists expressed their doubts towards each other, but to the press they said they were absolutely sure about the science.
- The unequivocal proof that Global Warming is caused by our CO2 emissions is not showed yet. And, given the complexity of the research area, that proof will not easy to give.
- That elusive 95% certainty that is repeated often, is only the opinion of a subset of the climate scientists, it is not a calculated value.
- Predictions of how global warming is affecting our lives is ever changing and the theory has to be adjusted every time something unexpected happens. This shows me that there are still large gaps in the science.
- Reliable data of for example global temperature, ice area,… is only being gathered since a couple decades ago (sometimes even a decade ago like ocean temperature). That is just a tiny blip on climate scale. The data gathered before that time is sparse and is “convenience sampling” data. Not much trust can be given to results coming out of that.
- The alarm isn’t caused by the empirical data, but by the climate models that suggest doom and gloom in the far future.
- It is not surprising that scientists thought we might be responsible for the warming of the 1980s-1990s. If CO2, being a greenhouse gas, causes warming, more of it should surely cause more warming. But it is surprising to hear scientists say in the media that they are sure that additional anthropogenic CO2 will cause disasters, even though there is little empirical data that supports this.
None of this prove that the absolute truths of the climate scientists in the media are not trustworthy, but it shows me that other motives than scientific could be at stake here.
When hearing Goldenberg talk about the divide it is clear the “settled science” and “the consensus” is really important. Not for the science, it doesn’t advance via consensus. But for the public it is: that settled science makes it easier for those who want to silence their opponents and facilitate climate policies.
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