Like many others, I delved deeper into the climate debate after 16-year-old Greta Thunberg’s impactful speech at the UN, in which she told the audience that her childhood had been “stolen” due to “fantasies of endless economic growth.”
It was at this point I wondered, what can we do about climate change? And how can people still not believe in it? Don’t all scientists agree that mankind is affecting the climate to a catastrophic degree?
And so, into the rabbit hole, I went…
Is Climate Science Settled?
This is a hefty one, so strap in, folks.
Despite having watched ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ throughout primary school, and being reminded of my environmental impact at almost every turn, I was surprised there was an enormous amount I didn’t know when it came to climate change.
I was unaware that nine of the claims made by Gore in his Inconvenient Truth were ruled “alarmist and exaggerated” by a judge.
I didn’t know of co2’s fertilizer effect or the diminishing impact/logarithmic effect of added co2 into the environment.
Upon further examination, I also found that the infamous picture of a starving polar bear had nothing to do with climate change, despite David Attenborough stating otherwise.
And yet, we’ve all heard the claim that climate science is settled science, often coupled with the statistic, or calling cry of climate advocates that “97% of climate scientists agree.”
And so I wondered if climate science is settled, why were advocates using underhanded methods to convince people?
And so, I dug into the consensus.
The primary 97% figure stems from Cook et al. who examined 11,944 abstracts from the peer-reviewed scientific literature from 1991–2011 that matched the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming.’
How Cook chose those 12,000 shy abstracts out of the presumably larger pool of papers is unknown.
Cook found that while 66.4% of them expressed no position on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), of those that did, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are contributing to global warming. They also invited authors to rate their own papers and found that, while 35.5% rated their paper as expressing no position on AGW, 97.2% of the rest endorsed the consensus.
This means that of nearly 12,000 (ostensibly randomly chosen) climate papers, only 5255 (35%) mentioned anthropogenic global warming, and of that group, a further 35% said their papers had no position on the matter.
This leaves roughly 3,415 scientists supporting (to some degree in their abstracts) that climate change is impacted by mankind's behavior.
The statistic works out to be roughly 24% of scientists who wrote on climate change that acknowledge that mankind plays a role.
Though what kind of role? The issue yet again gets murkier. There’s no mention of the gradient of damage caused by mankind — is it catastrophic? Or is it mild?
And yet, when regurgitating this statistic, as President Obama and others have done, they frequently will stretch the consensus to say “97% of climate scientists agree mankind is causing catastrophic climate change.”
In reality, it seems more like 1/4 scientists agree that we play some role in changing the climate, though we aren’t sure precisely how large that role is.
Now I’m not suggesting mankind doesn’t play a role on the environment, or that we aren’t contributing to the current warming. However, it appears that scientists aren’t sure precisely what kind of role we play, and how large it might be.
And then, there was ClimateGate.
For those who haven’t heard of ClimateGate, I urge you to do some research on it. ClimateGate is a series of leaked emails between highly influential climate scientists, showing that things aren’t as peachy inside the walls of the climate club. I won’t go too in-depth, as you can access the emails here — but I'll add some of the more concerning emails below.
From: Phil Jones. To: Many. Nov 16, 1999
“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature [the science journal] trick…to hide the decline.”
From: Kevin Trenberth (US National Center for Atmospheric Research). To: Michael Mann. Oct 12, 2009
“The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t… Our observing system is inadequate”
Adam Markham from the WWF (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) to University of East Anglia climate scientists Mike Hulme and Nicola Sheard:
“Hi Mike, [WWF] are worried that this may present a slightly more conservative approach to the risks than they are hearing from Australian scientists. In particular, they would like to see the section on variability and extreme events beefed up if possible.”
The Hockey Stick Controversy
Within the ClimateGate emails, an especially eye-opening series of disagreements were released regarding the infamous hockey stick graph.
The graph, made by Michael Mann and others, served as the centerpiece for many of the IPCC’s reports and continues to be shown as a window into the damage mankind has laid upon the environment.
One email shown in the ClimateGate scandal was from Keith Briffa, a climatologist, deputy director of the Climatic Research Unit, and the author/co-author of over 130 scholarly articles.
Briffa and others had constructed their own version of the hockey stick, which was much less alarming than Manns, and so the two teams argued about which graph was correct. Briffa said the following:
“It should not be taken as read that Mike’s series is THE CORRECT ONE,” he warned. I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story, but in reality, the situation is not quite so simple… For the record, I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1000 years ago… and that there is strong evidence for major changes in climate over the Holocene that require explanation and that could represent part of the current or future background variability of our climate.”
Not only this, but in April 1999, even Ray Bradley, a co-author with Mann on the hockey stick, eventually distanced himself from Mann’s stance.
“I would like to dissociate myself from Mike Mann’s view [expressed in a complaint Mann had made the previous summer to the journal Science]… I find this notion quite absurd. I have worked with the UEA group for 20+ years and have great respect for them.”
“Of course, I don’t agree with everything they write, and we often have long (but cordial) arguments about what they think versus my views, but that is life… As for thinking that is it ‘better that nothing appear than something unacceptable to us’… as though we are the gatekeepers of all that is acceptable in the world of paleoclimatology seems amazingly arrogant.”
And yet, we cannot question the mainstream narrative, even though the very scientists advocating for it aren’t certain themselves.
Not only are there internal, often hidden agreements among climate scientists, but there are also very public predictions that go awry, casting further doubt upon established organizations which focus upon climate change.
For example, in 2001, the IPCC predicted there would be more fires, and yet the global area of land burned each year declined by 24 percent between 1998 and 2015, according to NASA scientists and their colleagues.
Then in 2010 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted that “the U.S. Southeast and the Bahamas will be pounded by more very intense hurricanes in the coming decades due to global warming.”
And yet, the NOAA U.S. Landfalling Tropical System index shows no increase, and in fact, reports an 11-year drought in strong hurricane US landfalls between 2005–2016.
And the list goes on.
There is a seemingly endless list of failed predictions made by the IPCC which you can access here, and yet, we are supposed to unquestioningly accept even the most apocalyptic projections that emerge from these same organizations.
Replacing Sensationalism with Sensibility
Now I understand science is an evolving process, and that mistakes will, and should be made in order for us to learn. I don’t even think they necessarily undermine the potential impacts of climate change.
However, the mistake laden past of the climate movement does prove that climate scientists' grasp on fortune-telling is tenuous at best, and that the consensus on climate change isn’t as clear-cut as the media would like it to be.
Ultimately, when it comes to “denialism,” I think those who use the term to silence others would have been the very same people throwing witches off of cliffs to see if they could fly. Those who use the term “climate denier” are often those who adhere to scientism — the replacement of religion with science.
Any dissent is seen as blasphemous, and the orthodoxy is infallible — despite evidence to the contrary.
In Australia, we’ve recently seen this scientism brought to life in the case of Professor Peter Ridd from James Cook University. Professor Ridd was fired for the simple crime of daring to question the established view on the Great Barrier Reef, suggesting that the damages caused to the reef were over-exaggerated.
Professor Ridd promptly lost his job, despite only asking for a further examination of the evidence, to which he eventually was granted an “unfair dismissal” by the courts, and was paid out $1.2m by the university.
This kind of politicization of climate science has put a stranglehold on any opposing viewpoint, and appeals to authority have suddenly become a valid source of argument for the scientific community, despite being a fallacy in all other cases.
And if you want to go down the route of appealing to authority, then two can play at that game.
Elon Musk has said the earth could probably use more co2, due to its fertilizer effect.
His PayPal co-founder, Peter Thiel also had this to say:
“[Climate Science] is very often pseudoscience. Whenever you can’t have a debate, that’s evidence that there’s a problem. When people use the word “Science” it’s often a tell, as if you’re bluffing. For example, we have political science and social science, and yet we don’t call it physical science, or chemical science — we can them physics and chemistry, because we know they’re right. You can debate the periodic table, and nobody will get upset if you ask questions about it.”
You then have reputable individuals like Fred Singer, a decorated scientist with a background in atmospheric physics, coming out with statements like “there is no convincing evidence that the global climate is actually warming,” among a host of others which can be seen on the 50 to 1 docuseries.
Put simply, appealing to authority is a poor method of convincing opponents.
You can call someone a denier all you’d like, while citing Bill Nye or Neil Degrasse Dyson or whichever pop-culture scientific figure next emerges, and attempt to shame people into submission. However, if your goal is to convince people that climate change is of large concern, this isn’t the best method.
Look to the 2016 U.S. elections as an example, where public support of Donald Trump was considered tantamount to voting for the KKK. And yet, behind closed doors, to the shock of pollsters, people expressed their true feelings and Trump won.
So if your goal is to truly convince people that climate change is occurring and that we must take some kind of action, then the solution should be something like this:
- Be willing to discuss and prove the precise impact mankind is having on the environment, as well as the effects that will result from those impacts.
- Provide a viable solution that is both practical and implementable, without the necessity of a total government takeover of energy production.
As the debate has become so one-sided, we now have phenomena like “flight shame” and “climate anxiety” emerging, with children afraid they won’t have futures, and adults opting out of having children, for fear that they’ll be born into an inferno of environmental destruction.
We have people like extinction rebellion being arrested by the bucketload, all in the name of fighting the supposed impending ecological doom.
And what is their solution? Renewable energy by 2030.
How do we get there? Don’t ask, or you’ll be slapped with the denier label. Just smile and agree to everything they say.
Though such drastic renewable targets can only be met by severely halting economic growth. Now, I do understand the argument that Greta makes, that there’s no point developing economically if the world’s on fire.
However, it is this very same growth — due largely to fossil fuels — that has given us prosperity, not only in our standard of living but also in protecting ourselves against natural disasters, to the point that natural disaster deaths are a mere fraction of what they were in the 1920s and 30s.
I’m not saying we need to simply ignore the problem, but rather the opposite. We need to examine the problem more closely, without the chokehold of emotionality and alarmism stifling any nuance in the debate.
We should acknowledge that there are benefits to fossil fuels, just as there are negatives to using solar and wind — namely that they are unreliable, expensive and can lead to energy poverty.
We need to acknowledge that climate science is a constantly evolving frontier, which unfortunately has been largely politicized.
We need a true understanding of the problem at hand, not one drummed up by the media and environmentalists to make a buck. We then need to grasp precisely what can be done about it, and whether or not there’s a free-market innovation based solution on the horizon.