Scepticism, on the face of it, is all about not taking claims at face value. Sceptics are expected to dig deeper, to ask questions and challenge assertions. What then should we say about one of the great questions of the current times, namely whether the burning of fossil fuels is causing an alarming increase in world temperatures and incidences of severe weather; trends that may lead to catastrophic changes around the world if we do nothing about it?
A large section of society has taken the view that global warming is not happening, or if it is, it’s a result of natural cycles only, or if there is a human influence, it’s only for the good – the warming we will see will be a good thing for us all. These people describe themselves as global warming sceptics. They hear people making alarming claims and they react by demanding cast-iron evidence. If such evidence is not forthcoming, they take the view that the claims are bunk and that global warming is a myth.
But are they correct in their assertions? Is this true scepticism or a warped version of it?
There is a phenomenon known as hyper-scepticism or denialism, whereby no matter how much evidence is presented to support a claim, it is never enough. Denialism is apparent in the claims by some people that men never went to the Moon or that evolution doesn’t exist. It is apparent whenever evidence collides with ideology, in somewhat the same way as smokers might refute negative stories as a way of persisting with their habit.
The trouble with global warming scepticism is that the claims have been validated by the vast majority of scientists whose job it is to research these claims and understand their impacts. Solid links were made between atmospheric carbon dioxide and warming in the 19th Century. Over the past century and through thousands of peer-reviewed studies, the evidence has kept building up. Atmospheric CO2 is at its highest level in 3 million years. Temperatures have been rising and not in a way that can be explained by natural phenomena, such as sunspots and volcanic activity. Direct links have been established between atmospheric carbon and fossil fuels. The data for these conclusions come from multiple sources including temperature records, atmospheric readings, tree-rings, ice-cores and deep sea sediments. The net effect is an overwhelming consensus among relevant scientists that global warming is real, that it is man-made and that it bodes badly for the future, if we continue to leave CO2 unchecked.
Yet thousands of self-proclaimed “experts” (who are nothing of the sort) deny all this. Seemingly, they know better. To them, the climate researchers are either badly deluded or part of some huge conspiracy to twist the evidence to their position. It’s a bizarre line-up of science versus ideology, spurred on by vested interests who believe they have a lot to lose if the worldwide demand for fossil fuels is reduced. While getting short shrift from the scientific community at large, the deniers have been successful in swaying public opinion. Many right wing political parties have made climate change denial a core part of their election platforms as they seek to attract and retain voters who parrot these views.
In the end, the deniers have launched a war against science, rife with misinformation and media strategies similar to those used by tobacco companies to deny any links to cancer. Every day, climate scientists are faced with having to address the same canards no matter how many times they have been knocked down in the past. Attempts have been made to sabotage and misrepresent their work. Publicly available climate change data is selectively misused in order to counteract the accepted science.
On the face of it, many of the big oil companies such as BP, Shell and even Exxon accept man-made climate change and its implications. However, they are not doing enough to counteract those voices who would prefer to think that the whole issue is a barefaced lie. Ironically, climate change denial and its attendant war on scientists goes against the better interests of energy companies, who badly need to foster science education and attract the best scientific minds into their organisations to meet the challenges of the future.
Just as uncritical acceptance of a claim is a bad thing, being sceptical does not mean that you must be hyper-sceptical when overwhelming evidence exists to support the conclusions. This is, in fact, an irrational position, based more on faith than reality. Climate deniers have set up a damaging war against science that is in nobody’s interest. The science, in terms of its broad conclusions, is in. Now sensible political strategies need to be put in place to limit CO2 and wean the world over to alternative sources of energy.
September 26, 2013 at 6:41 pm
My sceptical answer to this is too long to put in a comment, but I have posted it here: http://www.jeremybowman.com/wordpress/?p=1658
October 9, 2013 at 12:52 pm
your last statement shows a distinct lack of scientific knowledge. if climate change is happening wind farms wont fix it. here is an article Im trying to get published but as Orwell said “unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban”
“Replacing one orthodoxy with another is not necessarily an advance” – George Orwell. We are at a stage where we are now trying to replace the old accepted method of creating energy by fossil fuels with that of new supposedly sustainable methods such as wind energy. Like politicians, the advocators for wind energy can afford to be magnificent in their promises, it costs nothing. If we look at a few of the promises made by the wind industry only a few years ago, we can judge ourselves how these promises bore out :
• Wind energy will bring the cost of energy down – electricity prices for households have risen every year in the last few years. Ireland has one of the highest energy prices in Europe. Denmark has the highest energy prices, the highest energy taxes loaded on bills, and the largest installation of wind farms.
• The wind is always blowing somewhere – anybody can look on Eirgrids system data website and disprove this theory very quickly. July of this year proves that when you have a calm day in Leitrim, you also have a calm day in Kerry. Being a small island, cyclonic conditions usually cover most of Ireland.
• Wind energy will reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports – there is no real evidence for this, no fossil fuel plant has been shut down and the energy companies aren’t complaining of reduced demand for gas , oil or coal. In Germany, when EoN was closing down an old heavily polluting coal plant , the grid operator instructed them to leave it running as it was crucial to the stabilisation of the grid.
• There is hardly any noise from a wind turbine – The Federal Environment Agency in Germany have very recently published a report which states that for a range of dB emitting from a wind turbine ( 8Hz to 20 Hz) , 68.5% – 100% of people living close to these turbines are annoyed with the noise. Bear in mind the noise regulations in Germany are also a lot tighter than here.
• Wind energy is free – nothing is free in this world as most people know. We are borrowing billions from the EIB to pay for investment in renewables. No independent cost benefit analysis has been done to support such a major investment. As in Plato’s Ship of State , qualified people like engineers have not been consulted.
October 9, 2013 at 2:27 pm
In my article I didn’t mention wind energy even once. The point was, very simply, that most scientists are now in agreement that global warming is happening. How it is dealt with is beyond the scope of the article. It doesn’t have to wind. It could be nuclear, or bio, or more efficient technologies – whatever. It could be a whole combination of energy sources that include fossil fuels. The point was not how we solve it, merely that it’s happening.