Do You BELIEVE in Climate Change ?

“The warning about global warming has been extremely clear for a long time. We are facing a global climate crisis. It is deepening. We are entering a period of consequences.” – AL GORE

“The problem is we are pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere much faster than the land and seas can absorb it, the accumulating gas is trapping heat and upsetting the world’s climate” – LEONARDO DICAPRIO

Should we listen to Al and Leo ?

Should we ‘believe’ in climate change ?

‘No’ and ‘sort of’.

Dramatic pause.

Climate change has become a massively loaded and divisive issue. For some it’s almost become an article of faith.

As I now sound like a climate change denier (which I’m not), I should probably explain myself. . .

 

Should we listen to the views of celebrities when considering the science of climate change ?

I’ve a lot of respect for both Al and Leo, they make good use of their celebrity status in support of many worthy causes, and they’ve both been important advocates for climate change, but neither of them are climate scientists.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased they champion the issue and raise awareness, but just as I wouldn’t want to have to rely on Al’s or Leo’s advice on gene therapy or haematology, I’ll continue to treat any of their pronouncements on climate science with caution.

I suggest we’d generally all do better listening to the opinions of qualified climate scientists themselves, rather than celebrities, public figures or anyone else (myself included) when considering climate science, and then make up our own mind.

The problem is, of course, that for most of us life’s too short to wade through the enormous volume of information, papers and data. Instead we rely on others, especially the media, to review and summarise on our behalf. Needless to say this makes us vulnerable to opinion, bias and even outright lies. We need to tread carefully.

Last year the Mail On Sunday published the article The Mini Ice Age Starts Here suggesting that the previous cold winter debunked the idea of global warming. It attracted a significant response, not least from one of the scientists quoted in the article. Interestingly several recent stories in the Daily Mail have had a different tone. Don’t believe everything you read in the press!

 

So should we believe in climate change ?

My problem is with the word believe.

We don’t normally use the word belief when talking about robustly verifiable ‘facts’ - do you believe in apples or that that milk comes from cows ? Instead we tend to reserve it for situations where there is significant disagreement. either about the ‘facts’, such as believing in ghosts or UFOs, or about a particular policy or action, such as believing in capital punishment or fair trade.

Climate change is a scientific theory, like relativity, evolution or plate tectonics. Scientists form their view on theories by evaluating the currently available evidence, and then either supporting or opposing to whatever degree they see fit. It’s more accurate to consider proponents and skeptics, than believers and unbelievers.

But how do we decide what to believe ?

When considering essentially scientific matters it would be nice to think we carefully examine the available evidence and then rationally consider our view. Unfortunately psychologists tell us we tend to form our beliefs on an emotional basis, and then rationalise them afterwards to ourselves.

We are often more influenced by our friends and families, or our upbringing, than the merits of an issue itself. We cannot help but apply all our personal preconceptions and prejudices and collectively all these factors are referred to by psychologists as our cognitive biases. Interestingly they are considered to still apply, even if we are aware of them – so if you think you’re more objective than everyone else, you’re probably mistaken!

Once we’ve formed our beliefs it’s hard for us to change them.  How many times have you been successful in arguing someone into a different point of view ? Even though we kid ourselves otherwise, changing our mind usually requires as much of an emotional journey as an intellectual one. In order to change our opinions, we first need to change how we feel.

So do I believe in climate change ?

Based on everything I’ve read, seen and heard, I am of the opinion that the evidence clearly shows the world to be warming, and that this is due to the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. I consider the evidence to be equally clear that this is due to our burning of fossil fuels, and that temperatures look set to continue rising.

It is my subjective opinion that this is a bad thing, and we should try and do something about it.

This isn’t some kind of statement of faith, no doubt if the scientific consensus changes, my views will change too.

Recent polls indicate that 48% of Americans now believe that news coverage of global warming generally exaggerates its seriousness.

Those of us concerned about the prospect of climate change should be alarmed by this. We need to better educate ourselves, and more clearly separate the science from our opinions when discussing climate change if we are to turn this around. After all, what we should do to prevent and respond to climate change IS a legitimate topic of debate. To quote American Senator Daniel Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts”.

As somewhere to start I highly recommend an excellent series of short videos by ‘Potholer54’, the science journalist and writer Peter Hadfield. They are probably best watched in sequence.

1 – Climate change – the scientific debate

2 – Climate change – the objections

3 – Climate change – anatomy of a myth

4 – Climate change – Gore vs Durkin

5 – Climate change – isn’t it natural ?

6 – Climate change – those hacked emails

7 – Climate change – science censorship

8 – Climate change – has the earth been cooling ?

8a – Climate change – no global warming for 15 years ?

9 – Climate change – meet the scientists

10 – Climate change – imminent ice age debunked

11 – Climate change – hurricanes, atolls and coral

RELATED ARTICLES - Climate Through the Data Smog

Photo by Tom Harding

Comments

  1. Dodgy Geezer says:

    “…science works on consensus…”

    No! It does NOT!

    Humans work on consensus a lot of the time but science explicitly rejects this.

    Science works by making hypotheses and testing them against facts. If ONE fact shows the hypothesis to be wrong it is rejected, no matter how many people believe it. If you do not understand this then much of what you believe is in danger of being severely mistaken….

    • Dodgy – As your quoted phrase is taken from one of the comments, and not from my article I’ll leave it for the comment’s author to respond directly, but I do take on board your key point.

      You’re of course right about how science works – a point that was made very clearly by the lecturing staff on my physics degree. However, you’ll be aware that in many areas of science observational (or experimental) evidence can be hard to come by, or is insufficiently unambiguous to be accepted by all, without question or debate.

      Climate science falls into this category; as we don’t have enough data, don’t have control or repeat experiments, and are dealing with a complex system with multiple feedbacks. What we are forced to do, on our journey towards evidential proof (that will occur when the Earth does, or does not warm as predicted) is consider multiple lines of evidence, weighing them all accordingly before taking a view on what is ‘likely’ to be occurring.

      My mention of the phrase ‘scientific consensus’ refers to the majority opinion of those scientists working in the field – and this ‘consensus’ hypothesis clearly remains that anthropogenic global warming is occurring.

  2. Ian Forrest says:

    I’ve watched all of your videos in the hope of a rational, non-hysterical explanation of the science. There are some strawmen like the odious Rush Limburgh set up and knocked down, and (amusingly) Al Gore is thrown to the wolves, but concerning the actual science we learn that:
    1. CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
    2. The world has been warming recently.
    3. Positive feedback will amplify this.

    Point 1 and 2 are not disputed (except possibly by Limburgh and his ilk). Point 3 is highly contentious – since a degree or so of warming has never before led to a spiral into oblivion, I would really like to hear why this should be the case now.
    Oh, and the argument that most climate scientists agree is, on its own, pretty unimpressive.

    • Hi Ian – welcome to Next Starfish.

      I’m afraid I’m going to struggle to provide 100% convincing answers to your perfectly reasonable questions.

      This is because, as I’ve said, I’m not a climate scientist, and overall I feel more confusion than clarity has been caused by enthusiastic amateurs giving their opinion. You only have to trawl to various ‘climate’ blogs to see the full range of unimpressive and very badly informed opinion being paraded as ‘fact’. So you’ll get no such dogma from me on this site.

      Most of us most of the time accept the general consensus scientific position on a range of issues, even when we can’t directly observe it – from the working of the atom, to the understanding of electromagnetism. Most people simply don’t get to worked-up about it because it doesn’t affect them until they need an x-ray or want to buy a new mobile phone, and then the science is self-evidently correct because it’s being demonstrably utilised.

      Clearly climate science is different – there’s no control experiment to compare against, no possibility to repeat the experiment or change the starting conditions etc, so it’s observational, rather than experimental. Just because its observational doesn’t mean its less rigorous or reliable, but it does mean it takes longer to gather sufficient data to confidently support or refute a theory. Astronomers are still searching for evidence supporting the big-bang and black holes, just as earth scientists use examples of earthquakes and volcanoes when considering plate tectonics.

      No reputable scientist I’m aware of is saying that anthroprogenic global warming is definately occurring at an increasing rate due to positive feedback mechanisms. Many seem to be saying there is plenty of evidence that this is likely to be occurring.

      We’re not going to get certainty anytime soon, so the question we all face is do we act on the basis of the evidence before us. Many would argue, myself included, that it is sensible to do so – because the evidence is strong, the stakes are high and the window of opportunity to act is short.

      I’ve written another piece on climate, linking to the published opinions of various scientific groups – http://nextstarfish.com/?p=4520 – though obviously I attach rather more weight to the widespread consensus of opinion than you do.

      • Ian Forrest says:

        Thanks for your polite answer. I agree with much of what you say in your videos about how the whole subject of AGW has been sensationalised and distorted by non-scientists. Perhaps you could dedicate a video to the subject of feedback and why some climatologists are so confident that these are strongly positive. Surely the whole argument hinges on this.

        • Ah Ian – sorry – the videos are not mine.

          They’re by the journalist Peter Hadfield – I simply had them recommended to me, and thought them a useful tool to help respond to some of the unfounded criticisms or distortions levelled at the science.

          The best I can do is direct you to the book 6 Degrees by Mark Lynas (there’s a link in my sidebar), a writer who has, in my opinion, done a good job of unpacking much of what the latest scientific opinion is indicating, and presenting it in a digestible, narrative form.

          The truth is we won’t know exactly how the feedback mechanisms might or might not work, until we get there – but by then it’s too late to ‘wind it back’. I’m personally inclined to adopt the precautionary principle, and support reasonable action to try to avoid exacerbating global warming.

          Of course what is ‘reasonable’ is a whole other debate :)

  3. It is time that we spent time in doing something. We are wasting this prescious time and the clock is ticking. Terrie and I we travelled the world and this for talking to the local people. We have put the scientific figures next and just listened to them. It is amazing and terrible. Please some reaction

  4. Gareth Richards says:

    My clip was this http://youtu.be/0wmuhKzYp4s

    Embedding it as a frame does not work.

    Can I also add that if what you believe requires a conspiracy then it’s probably wrong. The nice message from all this is don’t be paranoid.

    • I think your conspiracy point is a good one.

      My concern, of course, is that sufficient numbers of people start to distrust the science, with the result of increased opposition to carbon reduction policies by government.

      Public opinion in the UK seems more aligned with the science than the US and Australia for some reason, probably due to a mix of greater distrust of government generally, the presence of skeptical media channels, and more divisive party politics with the result the issue becomes politicised.

      I was prompted to write this article by a recent debate on a blog I follow: Make Wealth History. Scroll through the (lengthy) comments to get the flavour of it – http://bit.ly/k0UgWv.

      I’m sure I’ll return to climate change again soon.

  5. Gareth Richards says:

    Al and Leo are definitely the good guys, science works on consensus, without question the scientific consensus is humans are changing the composition of the atmosphere, adding CO2, SO2 and dust, if anyone disagrees with this part they are in conflict with the data and that this change is causing the planet to warm. For this part there is lots of evidence tree rings, retreating glaciers and vanishing sea ice to list a few.

    Denying this facts is good business, it sells books, makes good copy for news papers and television. It’s a comforting message, do nothing and everything will be alright. Contrast that to the green message, do something, but we’re not quite sure what.

    Here’s a clip from a James Dengpole, he’s a good writer, he writes for the daily telegraph, unfortunately your probably going to violently disagree with everything he says:

    Of course committed climate change deniers like Dengpole are usually big believers in conspiracy theory’s, it’s all a conspiracy to weaken the west so the people making windmills can make money or other such rubbish. Here’s a short mantra: There is no conspiracy, conspiracies are very exceptional, anyone who claims there is a conspiracy is almost certainly wrong. Anyone relying on two or more conspiracies is definitely wrong.

Speak Your Mind

*