To promote the campaign “Call out the Climate Change Deniers” of “Organizing For Action”, an email was sent to its supporters. In it there was this statement I recognized as a common repeated message: “In reality, the debate on the basics is over”. Not really surprising, we hear that in the media on an almost daily basis in different variations like “The debate is over”, “The science is settled”,…
As often in climate communication, there is a core of truth in it. As far as I know, there is not much difference between alarmist and skeptics when it comes to the basics of global warming.
Do humans put CO2 in the atmosphere?
They do, there is absolutely no doubt about that.
Is CO2 a greenhouse gas?
Sure, it is. Not exactly the most potent, not the most predominant either, but definitely a greenhouse gas.
Has CO2 a warming effect?
Being a greenhouse gas, everything else being equal, increasing CO2 levels will raise the temperature of the atmosphere.
Are temperatures now higher than 50 years ago or higher than those of 1850?
As far we can trust the sparse data until the end of the 1970s, the temperatures are now higher.
Are temperatures now highest in the last decades?
Although temperatures are rather stable for the last 18 years, we are at a high point, there is no doubt about that.
The basics are clear, for many years now, that is not the issue. The differences are going beyond that, where things are not so clear.
Whether for example a temperature increase is/will be necessarily catastrophic (and no, this was NOT investigated in those surveys of that illusive 97%). Or whether we believe we can predict/project in what state a complex, coupled, non-linear and chaotic system will be in, let’s say 100 years from now. Or whether 10 – 30 years of reliable data is enough to make solid conclusion in such a complex system. Or whether politicians can change the climate. Or whether the mathematical climate models simulate the observations well. Or whether it is scientific correct to claim current extremes are the result of anthropogenic global warming.
These are a matter of opinion, not of hard facts.
It surprises me every time that skeptics are seen as “deniers of science”, while what they don’t agree with are things beyond the basics and in the realm of uncertainties. I have been in both camps and my experience tells me that the big difference between the two states is: trust.
As a believer I trusted the scientist who came with one horror story after the other (we only hear that side). I believed they had it all settled. Although my impression was that they were exaggerating, I thought their (pessimistic) view on the world was basically correct and we, mea culpa, where the ones that caused it. The key word was indeed trust. Trust that someone with expertise looked into the matter and that they found a genuine problem.
Therefor it is no surprise that alarmists are constantly hammering on the consensus. When one unconditionally trusts, there is no need to acknowledge the (huge) uncertainties of dealing with a coupled, complex, non-linear and chaotic system. My assumption was that scientists left these uncertainties already behind and that the science was settled. At that point, no critical thinking would be required from my side, as this was already done by the “experts”. I thought they were altruistic, knowledgeable experts that had it all figured out, but were hindered by those pesky deniers.
This trust slowly melted away when I started to look into the matter and began to realize that our Earth was a coupled, complex, non-linear, chaotic system and that so unbelievable little reliable historical global data was gathered. It would be very difficult, maybe even impossible, to be so damn sure as the media tries to let us believe. Top that of with me realizing that this was highly politicized science
I think it is this trust that is the fundamental difference between both groups. From such a view point, for an alarmist it is very difficult to understand this lack of trust and it is then very easy to wrongly conclude that therefor the other side must “deny the science”.