This is NO debate – rather science against the smooth talk

Imagine sitting at the table of your future in-laws, meeting the family for the first time and before retiring for the evening (due to the following being the wedding day of your future sister-in-law), you find yourself in a fairly heated discussion over climate change. This was my previous Friday night – which spilled into my Saturday afternoon and evening, over candle light and sparkly.

I know it seems absurd to do so when meeting the family for the first time and on the fringe of a wedding, however, reading my related entries and comics thus far, no reader can overlook my desire to make a clear point in the fog of a pointless debate (pointless as in it shouldn’t be happening in the first place – not in the context that has been entertained up until this point).

My main inspiration for taking up this debate at that time followed the, “so what do you do for a job?” question. Answering this in detail, I was met with an interesting response of disbelief and then a number of blatant lies and misinformation propagated from the unjustifiable “skeptics” camp. As is obvious with me to all that know me, hearing this response, I quickly became quite irritated.

The views I found myself up against were based on a certain board-game co-creator and ex-political adviser (a fact I would’ve thought that he would like to distance himself from due to certain… issues… regarding that era – yet, not the focus of this piece and countless folk have complained for decades over that little snippet of history) who as far as I can tell is due no respect as far as climate science is concerned (yet, unfortunately he is a good public speaker, so many excellent scientists are inclined into public debate – which is largely shifted by this individual, away from the science and is turned into an attack on the scientists themselves – cheap trick really).
When put up to peer-review (which is never really done by this individual), he’s “science” is quickly discredited (one good example of such a situation is the rebuttal on the attack of Dr. Andrew Glikson’s original response to a series of questions, which can be found here). The man should not be entertained in this arena and it is very upsetting that he is allowed to confuse and distort the truth in a public arena.

The point I tried to make in “A Warm Fuzzy Forecast: Both Sides of the Climate debate” is a simple one, however it is one that I feel compelled to elaborate on in the light of my recent discussions and on learning that recent polls in both the US and UK show that the business-as-usual ideology is gaining momentum and ultimately leading us to unknowable future climatic conditions.

I will focus my views here in response to the general conversation I had over the weekend.

As stated above; regardless of the individual’s “credentials”, if they do not have a background in climate science (and in many cases these people have no science in their background whatsoever), they should not be given the soapbox to rant about things that they make obvious that they know nothing about (refer again to the rebuttal link above). Another example of this; successful tycoons should keep to their tentacle empires and not shoot their mouth off about climate science when they experience a little weather. Climate and weather are two different things (hence why weather presenters are followed by fluff pieces while we eat dinner and climate scientists print their work in respectable journals).

(As a small side step – Snowmageddon; a reference to Armageddon.. an excellent ploy to make the climate change science look a little silly – clever attack whoever coined it.)

At the table, another bonus stated was that, “That least he (and I suppose climate “skeptics” in general) opens climate change to debate”.

Hold on, doesn’t that imply that a scientist collects data, analyze it and makes some assumptions and then writes an article and that’s that – it’s done and dusted? It is not like that in the slightest! It doesn’t take these “brave” individuals (again – often not their field of knowledge even if they have any scientific understanding at all) to come along to sit by the fire place with a red pen marking the self-important work by hidden mad-scientists.

These unscientific skeptics are not required for debate and certainly do not help good science. Like all fields of science, data is collected, analyzed and interpreted and conclusions made (often with a number of collaborators involved). This is then put up to a peer-review before it is published and suggestions made (which many can tell you is a very painful process). Once the report is finally published, it is read by a wider scientific audience, who critically review the article, the science behind the assumptions and in many cases it is re-tested by others. Many people from many different groups across the globe critically assess the work of others.

Any mistakes these “skeptics” gloat on their various pop-media outlets were originally discovered by scientists within the recognised science community and are a natural part (albeit sometimes embarrassing to the original writing scientist/s) of understanding the universe better. In stating these mistakes, the sceptical gang only further prove that there simply cannot be a worldwide conspiracy within the science community to scare the general public with climate change fears. Any such attempts would not be noticed (as all scientists are in on it) or would quickly discredit the guilty individuals when the wider scientific community find absolute rubbish trying to be published.

That, or such work would be privately published away from peer-review, of which there are various examples (such as the original attack on Dr. Glikson for example), which are largely ignored within recognised scientific establishments.

As for the wealth to be made from climate change fear, it is certainly not the scientists profiting from promoting what is really occurring to our atmosphere. As I see it, the various green-energy industries, ridiculous carbon trading/off-set promoters and potentially scientific measurement equipment suppliers are the people who profit. Environmental science is not the road to the flash life, trust me. I know that if I wished to prosper by climate science, I wouldn’t be a scientific / tech officer, I’d be a salesman or a politician (especially if I was American; look here and here).

As for the emails stolen from the University of East Anglia; I’ll just ask for someone to show me an example of an unedited, complete (thus not taking out of context) email in which any of these scientists demonstrated wrong doing. Sure, there is frustration – largely frustration due to dealing with unscientific “skeptics” in the limelight, who would likely misrepresent their findings (one cannot fault a human for getting frustrated when dealing with irrational individuals – think of Alice dealing with the Hatter).

It is true that many scientists tend not to be so good at explaining their understanding to the general public in a very successful way. They are excellent at their research and analysis as opposed to their public speaking (the opposite of which can be stated to many business-as-usual soapbox individuals doing the rounds).

That said, I’ll make point as simply as I can.

Now, it seems irrelevant to me of the reader’s belief regarding our beginning and of our potential importance. The fact remains that where you have a limited resource (relative or absolute), it doesn’t make sense to go racing through like Pac man, chomping it all up before you get caught!

When you find a new fertile landscape, it doesn’t make sense to eat all the tastier fruit and animals as quickly as possible. Sustainability requires a replacement – you need to plant seeds and replace nutrients and water, keep breeding individuals etc. We’re only just learning just how bad a number of livestock suppress natural landscape and ultimately degrade the land to an impossible condition here in Australia. Climbing a tower, threatening to starve oneself is certainly not going to improve out-dated farming measures either.

As for the climate, the best way I can put it is to think of a man in a large jar, with enough plant-life to keep the air in a chemical balance. This bloke decides to cut down a couple trees to build a fire. It keeps him warm for a bit, but he still requires a jacket – he could always be warmer. Hence he cuts down more for a bigger fire… eventually he finds a deposit of coal and realized just how warm he can be.

How long does this go on before the oxygen levels fall dangerously low?

Obviously this is an exaggeration, but it highlights concentration shifts. Sure they have shifted a lot over a long time, as has the average global temperature – but this has been over long periods and it also saw a shift in the species existing at that point (that is to say extinction, habitat shifting closer or further from the poles, displacement etc). We know that we are increasing the emissions of greenhouse gases. We know that we are changing landscapes which reduces the collection of these gases. We also know that we are seeing an increase in global temperature. I am not going to bother referencing this; it’s well observed and if you haven’t yet come across this evidence, I pity you for living in a very quiet corner.

As an appeal to common-sense – disregard the predictive modelling (I personally prefer observed data over predictive techniques – no offence to modellers, I’m just a stick in the mud like that), when we know these basic observed facts, it seems trivial to argue over the amount of change likely to occur, or what has occurred historically, or if snowstorms in the middle of winter prove anything (other than the fact that it is the middle of winter). It stands that things are changing and that we are very likely to have caused at least some (if not most/all) of this change.

With current changes to land usage and evidence of changing weather patterns (increased severity and occurrence of events), it seems logical to assume that this will further impact biodiversity and potentially make the world a more boring place (a bit like the suits of the soapbox “sceptics”).

It is absurd to allow such debates with ill-informed sceptic to occur. I can’t help but scoff when tycoons, politicians and former advisors, with little to not scientific background, jump on the nearest soapbox, as if they had any authority to debate with more than a century of learning, testing, scientific debate and analysis and the sheer bulk of knowledge that builds across the globe. Sure debate (and especially arguments from “outside the square” so to speak), help to build our understanding and increase our knowledge, however, this debate must be based on evidence (data and analysis), which is the foundation of modern science, it must be transparent  and it most definitely must be testable. It cannot be the whim of some individual who has nothing of a scientific basis (as the above link demonstrates).

I understand that the veins of society run rich with fossil fuel and the heart pumps on dirty turbines, but the simple fact is; we know that our actions are having a negative effect on landscapes and biodiversity, on fresh and saltwater ecosystems and to the atmosphere.

I am the last to wear a cardboard sign warning of an impending dooms day (again, I’ll leave the biblical references to the pop-media), in fact I every strongly believe that life will find a way.  I believe the world could be a fair amount warming and life will persist, but not as we know it, and personally, I don’t want to find out.

If asked which side of the debate I stand, I feel that there is only one answer – I must stand with the science community who debate within their various fields, who base their arguments on a strong background of scientific study and who give the most honest response based on their current understanding. It is simply unethical to assume business-as-usual with the various public speakers, self-appointed experts, tycoons and politicians who have money to lose, loud-mouth weather presenters and scientists who speak outside their field, but present themselves as experts.

For the reader, I suggest you read the science rather than the debate. Get the facts as best you can (preferably text books and other highly rated publications) and choose to avoid the stupidity in the various pop-media outlets (how often a journalist has been proven to take references out of context!).

The more informed we are as a whole, the less smooth talk has on impacting our decisions.

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4 thoughts on “This is NO debate – rather science against the smooth talk

  1. It is frustrating to see how soaked the media is with anti-science on climate change at the moment in Australia. I flick through various newspapers over lunch and there are depressingly large numbers of opinion pieces spouting the same fact-free information. The puzzling thing for me is, why has it suddenly become intellectually fashionable to be a ‘skeptic’?

    Until recently, ‘skeptics’ were generally the kinds of people who went around debunking paranormal claims or magical medicine peddlers – not that exciting, but performing what could be described as a useful service. This rational skepticism has been replaced by a ‘skepticism’ which pays lip service to scientific freedom and evidence, but fails to drive any meaningful research or enquiry into the area they’re complaining about.

    I’m in the process of moving my career direction; I’m not sure if I should enter the fray as a science communicator, or just cutting to the chase and doing environmental management in anticipation of impacts getting more frequent and severe!

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    1. It is disappointing that this, i’m sorry but it must be called denial of the facts, has proven to be so successful. It’s also amazing that the leaders of this stupidity are less qualified to make their statements than I – with my humble environmental degree.
      I can understand why you would like to get into science communication – I feel the same. I’d recommend doing a environmental science degree and go from there. That way you can help with the mess as well as provide yet another voice of reason. There are a number of excellent outlets, but as we’re seeing with this current climate ‘debate’, we need to be louder.

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      1. Yes, it’s damning that the majority of the skeptics are outside of the field (and even those who are closer to the field – qualified scientists, at least – aren’t actively researching). I’ve already done a BSc in environmental science, that’s part of why I’m so riled up about this!

        The other frustrating thing is talking to people who’ve been listening to the skeptics. The arguments for AGW – like those for, say, evolution – aren’t simple and are sometimes counterintuitive. So it’s easy to buy into an appealing soundbite which reassures you that there’s nothing to worry about!

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      2. Exactly – hence the initial image of this piece! 🙂 It’s certainly easy to jump on the “everything is fine”, and at the same time the scientific side also end up with the “Armageddon” crowd – which is also counterproductive.
        Good to hear that you have a similar background! Yes, it’s the cause of my current need to appeal to commonsense, even if I only get a few hits for my effort (it’s better than nothing).
        I guess it’s all we can do…

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