I fail to see it as a coincidence that many on the right of the political spectrum in the UK and USA, and elsewhere I’m sure, fail to acknowledge the mountain of evidence in support of the argument that climate change is happening, and it’s happening right now, and that humans are to blame. They call themselves ‘climate sceptics’ but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Scientists are the real sceptics here, as the scientific method essentially requires scepticism and objectivity of all theories and hypotheses. It requires rigorous testing of these assumptions, examination of the methodology, data analysis and conclusions and it requires these tests to be repeated again and again, until the either the hypothesis can be effectively rejected or the theory is accepted by the wider scientific community, not as fact, but as theory. A framework in which further work can be carried out, details examined and improved and further testing implemented. Climate change is now at this stage. It is a theory, yes, only a theory, but one that has been tested over and over, analysed and scrutinised from all angles by erudite scientists, with no vested interests except for the hope that we can avert the dangers that we are about to unleash on our only home. These are men and women who have dedicated their lives, careers and reputations to objective, scientific truth, or at least to get as close to the truth as it’s possible to be, not conspiracy theorists who have researched the topic on some obscure website for 20 minutes. They are people who are not prone to being alarmist, and in fact make every attempt to the contrary. The details may require work, but to continue to deny the basic fact that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and that the combustion of hydrocarbons by our industrialised society is releasing CO2 into the atmosphere at unprecedented levels is not sceptical, it’s frankly stupid.
There is no scepticism shown by the climate deniers, as I shall now refer to them. The evidence is there for them to analyse to their heart’s content. If they conduct the science properly they will come to the same conclusion as many before them have done. Instead, they tend to resort to argumentum ad hominem, as keenly demonstrated by the fiasco that resulted in the malicious publication of irrelevant, stolen personal emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at my old haunt, the University of East Anglia. If you can’t win the argument because the facts are just not on your side, why not resort to some good old-fashioned character assassination? In my mind, the whole debacle was not handled particularly well however. The CRU went on the defensive, refusing to release their climate data to just any old crazy person. At worst, this made them look like they had something to hide, or that they were aloof and indignant of those outside of the scientific community.
There are many and varied reasons that I can think of for why an individual or organisation would choose to ignore the veritable enormity of the evidence for anthropogenic climate change, the main one being, and in this respect I agree, that it’s bloody frightening. Humans base response to news of this gravitas, i.e. that the world may end and that it’s almost certainly our fault, is to go into a state of indignant denial, followed by anger directed at the messenger of said news, in this case the scientists. The unthinkable consequences of our uncontrolled climate tinkering will most likely result in the deaths of many, many people, mainly in the poorest countries on Earth, either from flooding, or droughts or displacement due to wars being fought over meagre resources such as water, fuel and food. Another reason that a sensible, if unwilling, person may want to continue to deny hard evidence to the contrary, is that is requires a rather drastic response from us, the members of the developed world, that would almost certainly alter the basic dynamics of our lovely, quaint way of life. We would have to make tough financial and societal compromises via an increased cost of living or taxation. We would have to abandon, or at least drastically alter our predisposition to all things hydrocarbon, be it our motor-friendly cities, or our polluting coal power plants. These are all things that would drastically and permanently alter the ‘status-quo’, that old conservative rhetorical mainstay, and this is enough to significantly upset a good proportion of the population.
The main point I’m trying to make is that this whole argument is essentially a one-sided political disagreement, if you can entertain such an idea. Those on the right have never been considered to respond rationally to most decisions, a fact that is often by their own admission considered as a strength. Science and academia in general are often considered to be broadly ‘liberal’ in their outlook, mainly due to the fact that science is often carried out in progressive, rational and forward-thinking way using novel technologies in an attempt to push the boundaries of human understanding. Needless to say, this is incompatible with conservatism and tradition. The climate change ‘debate’ is not an attempt by liberal scientists to turn our lovely planet into a green dystopia of carbon taxing and expensive airfares, despite being perceived as such. All that climate scientists are doing is reporting the facts, as they have always done and will always do in the future. Perhaps the facts should be provided to all that request them, regardless of their agenda, and I agree that this is the main failure of this entire scientific paradigm to date. It is obvious that there is nothing to hide, save the uncomfortable truth that we are inexorably altering the basic atmospheric chemistry of our planet, and this is a fact that should be available for all to witness first hand, given they have the training to carry out the analysis of data on this scale.
Let’s take a step back. Is it really such a bad idea to wean ourselves off our oil and coal habit? To breathe cleaner air and drink less-polluted water? No one can really say that coal and oil combustion is a pleasant activity that they would be happy to carry out in their own back yard. I admit that the transition will be difficult and expensive, but surely it will be worth it in the end? Besides, we’ll run out of those resources soon, perhaps even in this century. Even if there was only a tiny scrap of evidence, forgetting the huge repository of journal articles and papers available, I would still want to take the opportunity to avoid the catastrophic possibility that that evidence may be correct, especially if, in the process we provided a safer, cleaner world for generations to come.