Denial of the climate change consensus studies doesn’t prove there isn’t one
Yet again, the Guardian ran an article featuring arguments about the consensus between climate scientists on the cause of climate change. This time the dissent came from ex-journalist and TV presenter Andrew Neil, who demonstrated an understanding of climate change roughly as ignorant as that of Secretary of State for the Environment Owen Paterson. (In fairness, and by way of light relief, Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey did a good job putting Neil straight).
The debate is now being driven by the latest research, this time conducted under the auspices of Skeptical Science’s The Consensus Project, which found exactly the same level of agreement as every study before it: 97% of all climate scientists are in agreement about the anthropogenic cause of global warming. Needless to say, climate change deniers are bending over backwards to find fault in the study, as they have attempted (and failed) to do with all the others.
One of the most curious aspects of this entire debate about consensus is that invalidation of any of the research – Oreskes, Doran, Anderegg, Cook – doesn’t actually do what climate change deniers would like it to.
To make the point, let’s consider the hypothetical case where all the studies were found to be flawed. What would this prove? The answer is that it would prove the consensus had not been demonstrated by the research.
But what I find interesting, given the hypothetical ‘failure’ of these papers, is what it does not prove: A paper that fails to demonstrate a consensus does not therefore demonstrate a lack of one. All that such a ‘failure’ would demonstrate is that we don’t have empirical evidence in support of a consensus.
To prove there isn’t a consensus is an entirely different proposition. To do that, one requires evidence. To gain that evidence, it would be necessary to conduct a research project of the kind being discussed here, but where a substantial number of climate scientists explicitly stated that they did not support the theory of anthropogenic climate change; that they did not endorse the findings of the IPCC; they refuted the findings and endorsements of all the world’s major scientific institutions; and that they were not conducting research and experiments based on the accepted premise that human agency was the cause of global warming.
A survey that published those results would prove there was no consensual basis for on-going climate science. Yet somehow, I doubt very much if we’re ever going to see any legitimate survey revealing such a thing.
Climate change denial is based not on providing evidence, but disputing it. If deniers want to ‘prove’ there is no consensus, then perhaps it is time they found some evidence to support that assertion. Attacking previous studies that confirmed the 97% agreement would not prove there is no consensus, only that the consensus has not been demonstrated by the papers in question.
And finally, perhaps we should focus on the other ‘negative’, the missing research into non-anthropogenic causes for climate change. The opinions of scientists are one thing; what they research is a matter of credibility, of career progress, of citation and success. The most notable thing about The Consensus Project is what it could not find, what nobody can find: legitimate research into some other mechanism that could be causing global warming.
It is the most peculiar part of climate change denial, in my view. Not only are we asked to disregard numerous studies that confirm the consensus among professional climate scientists, and ignore the nearly complete absence of research based on a rejection of the consensual view; we are also asked to dismiss a consistent body of science, theory, evidence and probabilities reaching back over a century now, in favour of nothing at all.
That’s the most baffling bit of climate change denial. It is not that a credible alternative is being proposed by deniers. They propose nothing, have no science, offer no counter-theory. It would be rather more convincing if we were asked to choose between two competing theories, but we are not.
So, climate change deniers everywhere; you want to convince me that the theory of anthropogenic climate change is wrong? Then get a better theory, because a vacuum doesn’t get the job done, nor make the ice melt.