Time to raft up – Part 2
This is the second half of my review of an article by Chris Rapley, a professor of climate science in the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London, in Nature magazine on 30 August 2012 (vol 488, pp 583-585 [behind paywall]). The first half or this review was published on yesterday.
The focus of Rapley’s article is upon the communication of climate science to the general public. Rapley is right on the money in my view – in both his criticism of the naive belief that we can just ignore the damage done by the Climategate pseudo-scandal; and in his appeal to scientists to develop effective working relationships with real opinion-formers. However, if our governments are indeed, as James Hansen suggests, lying to themselves and us (that we can have it both ways), Rapley’s call to scientists to smarten up their act is an even more urgent one. If people are not going to hear the truth from their governments, it is doubly important that their trust in scientists be restored. Unfortunately, in a post-modern world dominated by moral relativism and the fallacy of the market place of ideas, this is much easier said than done.
Rapley highlights the work of Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, and their book Merchants of Doubt; and discusses all the reasons why so many people fail to see that, just like the tobacco industry before it, the fossil fuel industry is – and has been for decades – involved in a false flag operation to dispute science and induce policy paralysis by means of perpetuating uncertainty.
This campaign has been so successful that even those who are facilitating it do not realise they are involved. It is almost incredible but, many of these scientists (who dispute the consensus view of climate science) think they are doing science and society a great service by discussing alternative explanations for the warming we are witnessing. Rapley cites the case of Roger Pielke Jr. who, in his book The Honest Broker popularises the myth that all mainstream climate scientists are “issue advocates” (i.e. that they are peddling an ‘environmental sustainability’ agenda). Pielke Jr. seems genuinely oblivious to the obvious possibility that he is equally likely – albeit unconsciously – peddling an ‘economically unsustainable’ agenda.
In the past, I would have not been so kind to people like Pielke Jr. This is because, I must now admit it, I had fallen into the trap of seeing all those who dismiss the reality of the scientific consensus as “agents of the enemy”. This is clearly not the case. But, you may well ask, why the change of heart? Well, as an example of why I have had to soften my view, Roger Pielke Sr. has posted a very enlightening response to Rapley’s article in which he discusses his son’s books (and much more besides). It is evident from this that Pielke Jr. feels that there is still room for uncertainty in the subject of climate forcings; in particular the role played by other forms of anthropogenic atmospheric pollution (such as aerosols). This is a real area of uncertainty, acknowledged and lamented by James Hansen. However, whereas Hansen points out that the net effect of this pollution is almost certainly a significant cooling one, Pielke Jr. appears to see it as a cause for optimism – that we may not have such a massive problem as mainstream climate scientists say we have. Unfortunately, he is almost certainly wrong about this and – the better we get at controlling all other forms of pollution – the more obvious the warming effect of our pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is going to become. Pielke Sr. therefore suggests that:
One reason that there has been little progress in effective climate policy is that the message on climate science that is presented to the public and policymakers is incorrectly too narrow.
Unfortunately, this is a complete red-herring: The only uncertainties remaining in climate science are how much ACD is being suppressed by the cooling effects of other atmospheric pollution; or how close we are to triggering increased positive feedbacks of methane hydrate release from the deep ocean. Neither of these uncertainties invalidates the consensus view; and neither is a good reason to delay effective changes in energy policy that could put human civilisation on a more sustainable path towards a post-carbon existence.
We must therefore hope that the public will soon get the real message, which is this:
The reason that there has been little progress in effective climate policy is that the fossil fuel lobby does not want it to happen!