Last night I attended the regular Merseyside Skeptics meeting. The speaker was Neil Gavin, Senior Lecturer in the School of Politics and Communication Studies at University of Liverpool. His talk was entitled: ‘Climate Scepticism in the media: gone but not forgotten’.
One of the issues raised in the talk was the view of so-called Climate Skeptics who believe that climate change is not man-made. But should they be called climate skeptics? Should they not, instead, be called climate denialists? Should they not be regarded in the same way as we regard holocaust denialists?
According to the Merseyside Skeptics website:
‘Skepticism is a method for discerning truth from fiction. When presented with a claim, a skeptic reserves his or her right to reject that claim until such time as the claimant produces sufficient evidence to back up that claim. If the skeptic finds the evidence is compelling, then we will provisionally accept the claim as true; provisionally because we may see more evidence tomorrow that proves the claim to be false.’
The fact is that the evidence for man-made climate change in the shape of global warming is compelling. The vast majority of scientists who work in the field of climate change believe that it is man-made and that if nothing is done the effects will be catastrophic.
As with all areas of science there are always scientists who disagree with mainstream thought. This is the way science is and should be.
Some of these scientists have genuine reservations, some have just got it wrong.
On the other hand, a number of scientists who don’t subscribe to man-made climate appear to have a connection with groups that have a vested interested in denying climate change as shown by the links on the Wikipedia article: ‘List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming‘
These groups and their associated scientists tend to be vociferous and get an over-representation in the media – a point made by Neil Gavin. The impression is then created that the climate change/global warming question is still very much open to debate – which is not the view of 95% of scientists who do the cutting edge science.
If man-made climate change is happening and we don’t do something about it then it is quite likely that millions, if not billions, will die. Certainly, more than died in any past holocaust. And doing something about climate change, because of the complicated nature of this problem, requires all of us to be on the same side.
I am wondering whether climate denialists should be thought about in the same context as holocaust denialists – only worse. The holocaust denialists believe that the Nazis did not kill millions of people or that Stalin did not kill even more millions than Hitler.
The climate denialists claim that climate change is not man-made and and/or that any effects of global warming will be negligable, if not beneficial. Either explicitly or implicitly they are claiming that millions will not die as result of unrestrained, man-made global warming.
Admittedly, this is a denial about future events. Holocaust denialists make statements about the past where we know what actually happened. Climate denialists are making statements about the future which, or course, we cannot ultimately know until we get there. The problem is, by the time we get there, it may be too late.
But perhaps we can change their minds. Perhaps we can get them to believe that man-made climate change is and its consequences are true. Perhaps we can get them to join in with the movement to prevent further man-made global warming and avoid its worst consequences.
But just how do we do this?
This kind of question was partially addressed by in an article by Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg that I talked about in ‘Why do some people resist science‘.
Bloom and Weisberg conclude their article by saying that ‘one way to combat resistance to science is to persuade children and adults that the institute of science is, for the most part, worthy of trust.’
So, in the spirit of friendly persuasion, should we use the non-provocative term ‘climate skeptic’ rather than ‘climate denialist’ even though the second phrase may be a more correct description of the people to whom the phrase refers?
But will this work with climate denialists?
Perhaps when people have very strong views on something then we cannot change their minds, no matter what is done.
Max Planck, one of the most respected scientists of his time, the man who ‘invented’ the planck constant ‘h’ and the man who quickly recognised the worth of Einstein when others didn’t, had this to say about scientific truths:
‘A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.’
Do we have the time to wait to see if this is a solution?
Do our children have the time?