It takes me by surprise every time I hear about “climate scientists are in the disadvantage compared to the skeptics”. It seems so out of touch with reality in which alarmists have almost a free podium in the mainstream media and employ tactics that wouldn’t be out of place in politics. With the same surprise I read the opinion piece of Simon Donner in the Vancouver Sun titled Scientists certain human activity causes climate change with the subtitle Pick and choose: Dealing with contrarians using dirty tactics is like a game of whack-a-mole.
At the heart of his statement is:
The majority of scientists follow the scientific method – a systematic approach to building knowledge. Starting in the 1820s, scientists began accumulating evidence, through the slow process of hypothesis testing and data collection, that adding carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere would warm the planet.
Now, after almost two centuries of research, scientists are as certain that human activity causes climate change as doctors are that cigarette smoking causes cancer.
On the other hand, many opponents of the scientific consensus on climate, like Tom Harris, author of the recent column Climate rhetoric undermines rational decision-making, and executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition, don’t need to play by the rules of science.
The whack-a-mole comparison was that rebutting one claim by “climate contrarians” gives rise to another, like a game of whack-a-mole. An ever repeating job and he got tired of it.
I heard these things before. More, it is something I myself believed before. In my believer years I thought that there was a invisible, powerful underground movement that employed dirty tactics against honest working scientists, making it difficult for them to make a dent with the public. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the debate was stifled by activists and political scientists who get almost exclusive attention in the mainstream media. By claiming consensus. By ad hominem attacks on skeptics. By making them look ridiculous/incompetant/unqualified. By not wanting to debate them on the science.
This opinion piece was specifically directed to Tom Harris. According to Donner, he made some ridiculous claims in an opinion piece “State of the Union climate rhetoric undermines rational decision making”, which are then demolished. No link to the article was provided, so I couldn’t check what Harris actually wrote. But Tom Harris himself had commented on the opinion piece of Donner and his arguments were well-thought and made sense. So this made me eager to find out who that Tom Harris was and why Donner had such a low regards of him.
Although I heard his name before, I could not recollect reading something from his hand. I became curious about what he really wrote in his article. I didn’t have to search long to find an article with the same title published beginning of February.
It confirmed my opinion on Harris. The article was about the use of rhetoric in the debate. Some terms in the debate can be misleading, for example “Carbon pollution” and “Greenhouse effect”. I heartfully agree with that. I also think that there are a lot of ambigue and misleading terms used in the climate debate, which make a genuine debate much more difficult. In the article Harris explained that “carbon” (a black, solid stuff) is not an accurate term when the real thing you want to describe is “carbon dioxide” (a transparent gas).
The reaction of Donner on this article was a bit weak. It focused on a couple sentences, ripping them out of context and then demolishing the “claim”.
The first rebuttal was the claim that Harris “suggests that carbon dioxide could not be a pollutant, because it is an invisible gas essential to plants”. That’s not even close to what Harris said. He did indeed say that carbon dioxide is an invisible gas essential to plants and he also said that it is a greenhouse gas and therefor has a (modest) influence on temperature. But he never said that is not a pollutant solely because it is essential to plants. Debunking an out-of-context claim is pretty easy.
Secondly, Harris claim that “Past ice ages demonstrate that climate change is normal” was countered by te statement that “the recent climate change is driven by human activity, and it is occurring at a rate not experienced in the history of human civilization”. While Harris was reacting on the Obama’s statement that “Climate change is a fact”. Of course it is. It has always been a fact and will always be a fact. The big question is how much our influence is within this change. In a situation were we only started with high quality measurements on the natural part a few decades ago, this could be more of a challenge than what Donner admits.
The last one was “global warming has been virtually non-existent during the past 17 years”. Donner claims that “the planet has not stopped warming” and that “during the past decade, more of that heat has gone into the deep ocean, due to natural cycles, so the atmosphere has not steadily broken global surface temperature records”. Well, that can be true, but this is still a hypothesis and not really supported by the observations, because there are not much observations of the deep ocean in the first place. And yes, there are some climate models that try to fill in the missing data. But model outputs are not observations, these are hypotheses that still have to be falsified. Nature is way more complex than the black/white vision of Donner.
Sigh. Dealing with these alarmist stories told with absolute certainty is as well like a game of whack-a-mole. 😉
But the conclusion was the most telling:
I agree. I’m tired of this game of whack-a-mole. We need to stop publishing the deliberately deceptive claims of contrarians like Harris, and get on with addressing the challenge of climate change.
Basically, we know everything we need to know, let’s shut down those who disagree with us and do the things we think we have to do. That is not a really a scientific way of thinking, but more an activist approach.
So not everybody plays by the same rules. That’s perfectly clear here, but now it is also clear which side doesn’t want to play by the rules and desperately want to stifle debate in order to do their own thing.