I have been interested in ‘anthropogenic global warming’ for several years, and one aspect of it that fascinates me, if only because I am a writer, is the verbal jousting that goes on in public arguments, and in particular on the blogs. Those who support the orthodoxy have the upper hand, as the orthodox generally do. They see sceptics and dissenters not simply as the enemy, but as rather less intelligent than themselves, and to be put down for both reasons.
They do so by dismissing any objection or alternative offered by the dissenter, not by showing that it is wrong, for good reasons that are displayed, but by undermining the ground on which the dissenter stands. None of this is peculiar to ‘climate change’ – you can see its equivalent in any debate or dispute where the orthodox confront dissenters, like economics, or religion, or foreign affairs.
But since I am a sort of sceptic in this field, and have seen a lot of the debate, I thought it might be fun to set out the dismissals, and how a dissenter might respond to each of them. Here we go.
(1) ‘You’re not a climate scientist (so what would you know?) …’ There are two possible retorts here. The first makes the point that climate science is a new field, and those with any seniority in it have come from another discipline. In the second, you agree that you are not a climate scientist, but point out that neither is Ms Gillard, nor any other member of the present Federal Government or Parliament. Yet both Government and Parliament are obliged to come to a decision on ‘climate change’, and to do that MPs and Senators have to read, think and ask questions. And we the citizens have to be able to judge whether or not they have done so well, so we too have to read, think, ask questions and make our own minds up. Was the carbon tax necessary? Will it have any effect on global emissions? We have to be able to decide on such questions at election time.
(2) ‘Don’t you realise that 97 per cent of all climate scientists agree about AGW?’ This challenge has a number of siblings, like the ‘thousands of scientists’ who are said to have worked on the various IPCC reports, or other large numbers or proportions of those published in the field who agree about AGW. If you follow the references up, these numbers and proportions just evaporate. The 97 per cent figure turns out to be 75 of 77 people, while the thousands writing the IPCC reports turn out to be a modest score or so (yes, there are thousands of references in the IPCC reports, but that is a different matter).
(3) ‘But all the scientific bodies agree about AGW!’ It is true that the executives of many scientific organisations around the world have issued statements warning of the rise of AGW and calling for action, but it is also true that none of these statements has been endorsed by the membership, and that in some cases these statements have caused unrest within the organisations and resignations by prominent members. I would add that these statements seem political to me, rather than scientific. But you would need to read them yourself, and come to a view.
(4) ‘We must observe the Precautionary Principle!’ The Precautionary Principle is a version of Pascal’s Wager, and has no more force. It states that being unsure is no reason for not acting. ‘Better safe than sorry’ is a proverbial version, while ‘first do no harm’ is the medical one. But it cuts both ways: since it is clear that the science surrounding AGW is not certain (and when is science ever ‘certain’?) are we right to reduce our own standard of living, and condemn poor societies to further decades of poverty? There’s a considerable degree of harm there, and that’s what a global carbon tax would achieve.
(5) ”I care a great deal about the future for my grandchildren! (and you, by contrast, are a selfish slob)’. If this argument is produced you are doing well. The person offering it is not able to argue with you, but has gone to the high moral ground for safety. Even weaker versions of this dismissal are to claim that you must also be a ‘creationist’, or someone who doesn’t think that smoking causes lung cancer. Incidentally, never buy into either argument, even though you know that many smokers do not die of lung cancer or related diseases. It’s a side-track, and you can’t win.
(6) ‘Have you seen So-and-So’s paper that debunks/disproves/throws cold water on (whatever point you were making)?’ The orthodox usually rest on the last IPCC Assessment Report, but from time to time a new paper will come out that appears to buttress it. If you don’t know the new paper the safest course is to say so. If you have read in the area, you could summon up the papers that point the other way. Usually you will be told that those papers are not taken seriously, or were dismissed by the IPCC last time, or were published in inferior journals. Your best course is to nod, but express caution – the last word on this subject has not been said…
Global warming and climate change are subjects made for argument. I hope that by reading the above you will be better prepared for next occasion one arises.