Friday, March 19, 2010


Can we Take the Risk Climate Change Deniers are Wrong?

Like most people, I find the debate about climate change confusing. So I was very pleased to find a relatively straightforward explanation of the 'warmers' versus the 'deniers' in the august pages of the current edition of The Economist.

Inevitably, it is complex but it makes the case convincingly that just because a few elements in the case have proved dodgy that the whole 'pack of cards' is thereby demolished. It seems that certainty is not obtainable given current science- the future outcome could fall within a benign category- or it could be as catastrophic as depicted in Cormac McCarthy's bleakly dystopic book (and film), The Road. If the former comes to pass, maybe we have been worrying over rather little; but if the latter, we will have condemned our descendants, not to mention humanity as a whole, to a slow and very unpleasant death.

The Economist briefing concludes thus:

The fact that the uncertainties allow you to construct a relatively benign future does not allow you to ignore futures in which climate change is large, and in some of which it is very dangerous indeed. The doubters are right that uncertainties are rife in climate science. They are wrong when they present that as a reason for inaction.

To this conclusion I would like to add another concept: managing the risk. In a recent pub conversation some climate sceptic friends seemed unimpressed by the fact that nine out of ten climate scientists believe human agency is responsible for global warming. They focused on the those who have challenged the overall thesis and found lacunae in its structure such as the University East Anglia 'Cimategate' massaging of data and the mistaken predictions about those Himalayan glaciers. My concern, however, lies more with the nine who say 'yes' rather than the one who says 'no'.

Let me pose a hypothetical question. If nine out of ten firemen told you there was a pretty fair chance your house will burn down, would you believe the single expert who said it would not? Or would you set about solving the problem and upgrading your house insurance? Similarily, if nine doctors out of ten told you you needed an operation, would you believe the single dissenter? I don't think a sensible person would take the risk- the stakes are far too high. We have been told, by an array of very distinguished people that there is a fair risk the world will be destroyed unless we do something pretty sharpish about carbohn emissions. I simply cannot believe why the 'deniers', sceptics or whoever- Nigel Lawson, George Bush, Jeremy Clakson- have been unable to grasp this simple fact yet persist in braying forth the views of the minority who agree with Dr Pangloss.

What you do not appear to realise (and you are not alone) is the vast number of people that would like to see the risk of catastrophic climate change managed, yes, but in a reasonable and reasoned manner. Compared to what happened with the Montreal Protocol for example, it should be clear (but evidently, it is not) that many people are not "resisting action" per se, rather they don't want to see the kind of "panicked action" that is being proposed (such as for example the massive pollution of the ocean (with iron) or the stratosphere (with sulfur compounds), or the wholesale overhaul of society and the economy).

Why is it not obvious to all that if one asks a question and then the common answer by the average AGW believer is a torrent of abuse and a thousand "denialist!" labels, then AGW belief will appear as some kind of non-Islamic taleban frame of mind, or a secular version of the Spanish Inquisition? In both case, nothing that should remotely have a say about our future.

As long as the focus remains on dividing the world in skeptics vs non-skeptics, with plenty of circling of the wagons and no attention to any of the nuances, the AGW case for action can only keep losing.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment but is it not a little like fiddling while Rome burns to worry about whether AGW people arer divbisive or too grandiuose in their prescriptions for action? They are shouting 'Fire! fire!' when there is much smoke billowing forth and there seems every reason to conclude they are not wrong?
Actually 8-) they are yelling "wolf! wolf!" when there is a good possibility that there is a wolf coming indeed. But instead of trying to get as many people as possible take notice of that possibility and act accordingly, they are actively going around trying to (figuratively) flog anybody daring to make questions about the nature of the wolf, and/or the nature of the recommended actions.

Even people strongly believing a wolf is on its way, they should be able to understand that any divisiveness will only make things worse, with the added "malus" of convincing a lot of rejected people that there's no wolf worth talking about.

A little less activism and a little more humility would go a long way. But with the current state of US politics, I won't hold my breath: expect a lot more bile to come out, in Europe too.

On a more positive note, let's see what happens about black soot...
You'll hazve to excuse me omniclimate but what on earth is 'black soot'?
It's nasty stuff we should try to get rid of at once, especially in Africa and Asia. I believe it's the main reason for pollution and reduction of the Himalayan glaciers.

Here some info on black soot
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