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Climate change: why bother? (Answer supplied)

December 5, 2010

In yet another turgid and rather depressing thread in the Guardian, this time about Cancun, a ‘sceptical’ poster called rufus007 asked me a simple enough question, which I quote here in full:

gpwayne… Why persist with this scientific debate? The question of AGW has been settled politically from a practical perspective. AGW YES or AGW NO does not matter now because there is no money available to do anything about it. There will be no Cap and Trade bills passed in America. And if America does nothing neither will China or India. Japan has already declared Kyoto dead. Much of Europe is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. So why bother pushing the scientific debate when it matters not whether you are right or wrong?? This party is over. THE END!

First of all, democracy and the freedoms enshrined in its principles cannot ever be taken for granted. Every right we have was wrested from those who would otherwise simply control us for their own ends. To take for granted that such hard-won rights are now sealed in some civil compact is to fall for the same complacency that climate change deniers indulge in when they claim to be so certain about the same science they tell us isn’t settled (and indeed it isn’t, which makes their faith in their own opinions – unsupported by any science – all the more baffling).

I have watched vested interest gradually gain the ascendancy over politics, over democracy and over freedom during my lifetime. This, and the concomitant erosion of our civil liberties is worth fighting, for our freedoms are transient and subject always to incursions by those who would profit from our servitude. (How many new ‘laws’ did nu-Labour pass to restrict and monitor our activities? Last count was over 200 legislative acts in a decade, I believe). I wrote about this in a Guardian article some time ago: Consumerism: The real threat to our liberties

What’s this to do with the scientific debate? Well, the attacks on science, on scientists, on those who report the science in an unbiased way (which I try to do, not always succeeding admittedly) mirrors the overall influence of the rich and powerful and they way they corrupt and devalue the public discourse in favour of their own, usually short-term, interests. One cannot fight on all fronts, so I have chosen one arena and make my stand there. I chose the environment and climate change, and because my position is not political nor ideological, I fight simply to protect science from scumbags who call for scientists to be flogged (that’s really going to encourage free and fearless enquiry, isn’t it? – no chance in a climate of fear that the only message the demagogues will hear will be the one they like then).

…it matters not whether you are right or wrong…

I cannot be right or wrong. I write about science, what it knows, what it thinks, what it projects. I don’t have many opinions about science, because opinions are a bloody waste of time. There is simply data, and the way we analyse it, derived from experiments and tested by the holy grail of the hypothesis: repeatability. I defend the scientific method because it will, given time, eliminate every duff theory, every specious bit of reasoning, every stupid attempt to bend science to some political or economic objective.

So to me it matters very much indeed whether science is right or wrong, and it also matters how we go about discovering this, because you cannot improve science by hand-waving, by smears, by innuendo, by unproven assertions of corruption and fraud for which there is no evidence; science can only be improved by better science. Better science is what deniers don’t have – any science come to that – which is why they indulge in so much deceit and sophistry.

This party is over. THE END!

Climate change isn’t going anywhere. Science isn’t going to stop investigating the natural world. The planet is still heating up. The ice is melting faster than ever. The seas are rising, seasonal periodicity changing along with migration patterns and plant growth cycles. The empirical evidence – as detailed for example in the NOAA State of the Climate 2009 report – is compelling and every year the evidence grows for AGW, and no evidence or even theories emerge that lower the probability that we are causing the problem, and heading rapidly toward a monumental crash of catastrophic proportions.

So when you say this party is over and it’s the end, you’re simply wrong. This party – stuffed rather full of people I don’t want to party with, truth be known – is just getting going. Remember all those dopey idiots partying on top of a skyscraper right underneath the alien spacecraft in Independence Day? That’s what the celebrations of denialists look like to me.

To them, and to you, I say this: This matter is far from settled, so enjoy your Pyrrhic victory over nature while you can.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2010 12:33 pm

    Or to put it another way: Rufus is using the politics to inform the science, later Rufus will be hitching up his cart in front of his horse after he has walked his dog that gets wagged by it’s tail.

  2. adelady permalink
    December 5, 2010 4:08 pm

    This is depressingly common. The idea that it’s about the debate rather than the science.

    I realise that in formal debate you just pick and choose the evidence you use to support the argument you’ve been stuck with, but that doesn’t translate to real world questions rather than artificially constructed contests. In those, as in many legal systems, what matters is how persuasive you can be. For science, the truth is the truth.

    In many instances, most of us can’t even understand the language that’s used, let alone the concepts in cell biology or astrophysics or fractal maths. The fact that an expert in such a field can’t “persuade” people outside the field doesn’t alter the truth or otherwise of their results. It just means they’re better scientists than they are communicators.

    And it really doesn’t affect scientific truth if Graham or I or anyone else succeed in convincing someone else about something. What’s convincing is the science. We might just have struck it lucky using a form of words that struck a chord with someone who happened to be receptive to that message at that time.

  3. Graham Wayne permalink*
    December 5, 2010 4:27 pm

    Adelady – indeed, it’s mistaking science for a component of an adversarial system that also imbues it – falsely – with an ideology it doesn’t have. It’s part of the projection where some people define themselves by their enemies.

    Hengist: I think the dog will have walked Rufus…

  4. December 6, 2010 6:12 pm

    “I cannot be right or wrong.”

    I have used a similar response to sceptics in the past. I can never be wrong because I accept the science. Whatever the thrust of the body of science agrees is what I accept. If all the worlds national academies of science were to conclude that climate change isn’t a serious problem that is what I would accept. Belief has nothing to do with it.

  5. Graham Wayne permalink*
    December 6, 2010 7:00 pm

    Hey Lazarus – thanks for that. Spot on too – but you and I don’t try to attach an agenda to the science, so it doesn’t matter to us which way it goes (except I’d be much happier if climate change would just bugger off, but no chance of that I’m afraid).

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