JOHNATHAN GREEN recently wrote an article about the media’s inability to report effectively on climate change on ABC Drum (6/12/2012), which has attracted comments from a broad range of climate change denialists. It provides a good opportunity for us to analyse where these people are currently with their arguments countering climate change.
There are 249 comments, about a third are from denialists. My favourite, which sums up the basic denialist position is: “I am more worried about fruitcakes like this [previous writer] than a few degrees in temperature change.”
I’ve grouped their main arguments below:
1. Abuse. It’s claimed that those who argue that climate change is a reality are basically religious “nutters”, “fanatical, self-righteous, bent on evangelisation”. Or, “psycho left wing Green groups”, “Only socialists and cockroaches will survive, although the socialists will expect the cockroaches to support them of course.” “Does the ABC need a radical clean-out and maybe privatisation before this spruiking ends?” And so on.
2. It’s all due to Nature. For example, the Ice Ages. “Unless you think you are King Canute, then there is nothing mankind can do that would have any effect on the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere”. “Climate change; the climate is always changing regardless of humans”.
3. There is no scientific evidence that global temperatures are rising. The latest quote is ostensibly from the British MET: “the fact that the UK Met Office data found no discernible rise in global temperatures from 1996 to 2012 despite a 54% rise in CO2”. This argument that there has been no rise in global temperatures for the last 16 years was proffered by a number of denialists, who were quoting from an article in the British paper, Mail on Sunday. The fact that British MET came out and countered the article from the Mail on Sunday is conveniently ignored, along with this graph published to show the global temperature rise across decades:
4. We can’t do anything about it, so let’s adapt. “You global warming nutters put in the Carbon Tax in July of this year and CO2 levels around the world are still rising”.
5. Scare-mongering and past wild predictions are wrong. It’s referred to as the Chicken Little syndrome. Gore, Flannery, etc. are seen as the main culprits. “The climate change lobby has shot itself in the foot by allowing the lunatic fringe to dominate the airwaves with predictions that are debunked by events.” “History will not look kindly on the proponents of this worldwide scare campaign.””No doubt within the next 100 years we will be hit by a meteor – this will be a calaminity.”
6. Scientists (and ABC) are corrupted. “Scare mongering by climate change campaigners who it is increasingly obvious are making their careers out of The Cause”. “Jonathon Green is unable to identify scientific observation from vested interest.” “There are plenty of scientists who have looked at the data, and not needed to fabricate models and data to support their funding claims”.
7. It’s population, not carbon, that’s causing climate change. “Population change is the biggest threat to civilization and the environment.”
8. The carbon tax is destroying the economy. This argument is that the cure is worse than the disease and acting on it – carbon tax, ETS, renewable energy, etc – will create economic havoc, people will lose their jobs (coal miners), and its unfair to developing countries that are trying to lift their populations out of poverty.
9. So what? “If Melbourne was to increase it temp by 4 degrees how would that be the end of the world if they were enjoying average temps that QLD enjoys today”. So rather than a 40 degree summer day, so what if it’s 45 degrees? Just turn up the air conditioning! This perspective, of course, is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how a global rise in temperature will impact on climate, ice and permafrost, oceans and fresh water, etc. not to mention biodiversity, agriculture and food supplies, etc.
10. It’s God’s way (Christian). “If mankind can’t come to a consensus on how to deal with the possible end then maybe it is meant to be that way. ”
11. China / India not doing anything about it so why should we. “OK climate change is being caused by CO2. What are we going to do about it? Go to thermonuclear war with China and India?”
Fundamentally, the populist denialist argument has shifted away from any real scientific attempt to challenge the science of climate change to a tactic to undermine, ridicule and denigrate those people, whether scientists, journalists or ordinary people, who articulate publicly their concerns over climate change and what to do about it. Or they accept it as a given (nature, God, China, so what?) and we just have to live with it.
What’s most disappointing is the poor level of debate that Green’s article generated. In this respect, perhaps it is representative of the way politics is played out at a national level – abusive, personal, and devoid of any logical or rational substance.
Of the 249 comments, very few actually engage with the thrust of Jonathan Green’s article, to wit: that because the media tends to make climate change ‘just another news item’, perhaps social media will be the only way that real engagement with the climate issues will occur.
But the online ‘debate’ does provide clues to how those with a genuine interest in publicly discussing how society should deal with the challenge of climate change.
1. Always use civil language, and respect opposing points of view. Otherwise, you alienate the middle ground who see the issue as two opposing belligerent camps.
2. Show with evidence the concern is about speed of change of the global climate and its relationship to concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere. Refer to an excellent article: Here’s always the sun: solar forcing and climate change.
4. Accept that adaption is important, and we need to consider this seriously in engineering, architecture, town planning, transport, agriculture and industry. But, this is not an excuse not to do anything about mitigation.
5. We should be careful to stay within the parameters of the science, and not in any way exaggerate the impacts of climate change. If future scenarios are developed, they need to be carefully attached to specific timelines.
6. Independent scientific research is vital, and all scientists and public commentators should reveal who they work for, and what interests they may be protecting.
7. Arguments about population, whilst important, should not distract the core issue: ever increasing economic growth currently reliant on fossil fuel energy sources is the main contributor to anthropogenic climate change. See for instance, George Monbiot.
8. We need to be open to all schemes, ideas, plans, innovations and proposals that may contribute to lessening carbon pollution. Their implementation will be economically costly in its initial phases, but this needs to be measured against the economic disruption that unmitigated climate change will cause, and the increasing costs of mitigation and adaption the longer we delay.
9. A clear understanding of what a global temperature increase means needs to be publicised.
10. Climate change is clearly the consequence of human behaviour. James Hansen gives a very personal appraisal of this in a TED video talk.
11. Developing countries need to be convinced of the need to control their carbon pollution, but developed countries need to show a lead in this, as their per capita pollution is the greatest and has been in the past.