Via the Cliscep post “Don’t call me an alarmist,” says alarmist, I landed on this livescience article: Treading the Fine Line Between Climate Talk and Alarmism. It is an op-ed written by Sarah E. Myhre about climate change communication and her wish not being called an alarmist.
One thing that caught my attention in the op-ed was this statement:
We would never fault an oncologist for informing patients about the cancer risks that come with smoking. Why would we expect Earth scientists to be any different, when we’re just as certain?
It is not clear from the text what we should expect from those Earth scientists. Luckily, the links goes to an article in Scientific American, titled “Climate Risks as Conclusive as Link between Smoking and Lung Cancer”. So apparently, she means that the Earth scientists know as much from climate risks as medical scientists about the link between smoking and lung cancer…
It is just another variation on the the doctor’s analogy. In most cases, it goes like this: “Do you go to a dentist when you have a heart condition”, with the implication that we should listen to climate scientists when it comes to the Earth’s climate. Not much difference here. It is based on the assumption that climate science is on par with medical science. Which is utterly ridiculous when comparing the history of both sciences. Also, the subject of study in climate sciences severely limits direct attributions.
From this article it is also not really clear why those Earth scientists are so certain. The only thing that comes close is this:
The evidence is overwhelming. Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Seas are rising. Rainfall and drought patterns are changing. Heat waves are getting worse, as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying.
Sure, but this doesn’t prove that there are “climate risks”. It is only evidence of increasing temperatures and a rising CO2 level.
“The science linking human activities to climate change is analogous to the science linking smoking to lung and cardiovascular diseases. Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health experts and others all agree smoking causes cancer,” the AAAS wrote in its report, “What We Know.” [pdf]
Two paragraphs later, the AAAS chief executive seemed to be so sure that he wants to move the debate to “exactly what we should do about it”.
No definition is given of what they mean with “consensus”. My guess from the second quote is that there is a consensus on the fact that humans emit greenhouse gases and these have an influence on the temperature of the Earth. Which I am very sure exists.
The only problem is that this consensus is rather trivial. It is a consensus among skeptics and alarmists alike. It surely doesn’t prove any “climate risks”. It is also not something that would requires moving the debate to “what we should do” about climate change. As far as I know, there is no consensus on the “climate risks” caused by our emissions.
That there is a consensus on rising temperatures by our emissions, doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a consensus on “climate risks” by our emissions. It looks that they inflated the consensus to something it isn’t.
Luckily, there is a link to that “What we know”-report. I assumed that more information would be given on exactly what is known in their “What is know”-report.
No such luck.
This is how the introduction ends:
It is not the purpose of this paper to explain why this disconnect between scientific knowledge and public perception has occurred. Nor are we seeking to provide yet another extensive review of the scientific evidence for climate change. Instead, we present three key messages for every American about climate change:
These are the three “key messages” that they explain in detail:
- Climate scientists agree: Climate change is happening here and now.
- We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.
- The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do.
Basically, this “What we know”-report isn’t about what we know, but about “what the authors want Americans to know”…
A lot could be said about those three key messages, but I was specifically interested in those “Climate Risks” that are as “Conclusive as the Link between Smoking and Lung Cancer” as the Scientific America article claims. What is said about that in the report?
That sentence was just copied from the report, followed by (some of these were also copied into the Scientific American article):
Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health experts, and others all agree smoking causes cancer. And this consensus among the health community has convinced most Americans that the health risks from smoking are real. A similar consensus now exists among climate scientists, a consensus that maintains that climate change is happening and that human activity is the cause. The National Academy of Sciences, for example, says that “the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”
That consensus is not on “climate riks” as was claimed in the Scientific American article, but on “climate change is happening and that human activity is the cause” or more specifically “the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.” as presented by the National Academy of Sciences. Which is not exactly the same as “Climate Risks”. I have no doubt that the National Academy of Sciences endorses this statement, but this could also be said of many/most of the skeptics.
So again, the question is what is it exactly what those scientists agree on? And is that the same as what they are trying to prove?
Reading that paragraph, I start to get the impression that the authors of the report are not claiming that the evidence is as strong as the link between smoking and cancer, but that their consensus is as strong (in number?) as that of the medical scientists on the link between smoking and cancer…