Very recently, Klaus Hasselmann wrote an excellent piece in Nature Geoscience; The Climate Change Game (2010. 3: 511-512, doi:10.1038/ngeo919).
It’s well worth a read, but I’ll sum it up here regardless.
In his piece, Hasselmann suggests that there are three major players, all with their own personal and professional objectives – climate scientists, the media and climate sceptics. Here, he comments on one of the major points that I often find myself arguing with “sceptics”; that it is exceedingly unlikely that scientists could successfully make claims that are false – with many others also analysing the data, soon these errors would soon be discovered ultimately, this would be vary damaging, professionally, to those scientists caught out, without potential benefit great enough to merit such an absurd risk.
However, with climate science a slow process, the sceptics have a wonderful window for providing gossip for the media that is both entertaining and useful for industries at risk from climate-related policies. This includes exploiting the few minor mistakes in the IPCC reports as well as the much hyped “Climategate” saga. Both, of course, prove to be non-events (only held onto, in my experience, by the most bizarre conspiracy theorists), but as we saw with Copenhagen, where damaging enough.
What I found most interesting, and by far the most important message in Klaus Hasselmann’s piece, is that, to date, much of the education and defence (in the face of scepticism) by the scientific community has been ineffective. For instance, Klaus argues that uncertainties should feature more prominently, as to counter the misunderstanding of scientific uncertainties, such as “the probability that most of the measured warming during the past 100 years was caused by human activities is so high (well above 90%), that politicians, whose job it is to make decisions in the face of uncertainty, should work on the premise that it is a fact.” It’s your everyday risk management approach.
Another point mentioned is that too much emphasis is based on problems and the predictions, but compatibly little attention is given to how affordable and obtainable a low-carbon future actually is. Arguably Barry Brook discusses this extensively and in great detail (I’ve also mentioned this in minor detail a number of time, especially in the Innovation series and in this recent post). All the doom-and-gloom talk actually assists the sceptics with inducing paralysis. Klaus argues (as I did in the recent piece linked above) that scientists have an unrealised opportunity for collaboration with private enterprise – where a number of business leaders can see great potential for growth and profit in reducing their dependency on fossil fuels. Where the media have different objectives as the scientists and thus drawn to sensationalism to sell their service, science can utilise private enterprise to demonstrate real industry leadership and potential for change – this obviously will also be beneficial to economy (something denial always runs back to in defence).
As like anyone who has entered this blogosphere, initially inspired by the hope of providing a scientific basis, I too grew to realise that almost all the resistance comes not from casual readers, hoping for clarity, but from a small group with strongly held views that are contrary to the vast majority of scientific evidence and observations of the real world. Soon, you find that such individuals employ the tricks discussed by Dr. Glikson in The art of denial. This eventually leads to either industry/political motivation or all-out lunacy. The latter being ignored, as Hasselmann also argues, science cannot really debate within a political frame, just as political views cannot argue with much scientific rigour. However, they can, and must, work together with all their cards exposed to find the best answers for future planning. This will include interest as well as science.
Hasselmann makes the point that science has so far failed to be much of an effective advisor, which is urgently required. I couldn’t agree more. I would also go on to say that if we are to successfully move through this next phase, the most significant change is going to be within our species rather than how we attempt to manage the world around us. Our energy supply is the most noticeable change ahead, however, I would expect that this is only one of many changes; such as how we’re distributed, how we exploit natural resources, how we move around the world and probably the most radical – how we communicate.
The rules of yesteryear are quickly becoming outdated as are the expectations of living space, resource availability and our perception of the impact that we have on the world. We need a fresh perspective in facing a world as we’ve never known it, which is on our door step.