“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’.
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.
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