Thursday, 10 December 2009

A good idea?

Yesterday saw the publication of a "statement from the UK science community" orchestrated by the Met Office in support of the scientific consensus on climate change.
We, members of the UK science community, have the utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming and the scientific basis for concluding that it is due primarily to human activities. The evidence and the science are deep and extensive. They come from decades of painstaking and meticulous research, by many thousands of scientists across the world who adhere to the highest levels of professional integrity. That research has been subject to peer review and publication, providing traceability of the evidence and support for the scientific method. The science of climate change draws on fundamental research from an increasing number of disciplines, many of which are represented here. As professional scientists, from students to senior professors, we uphold the findings of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, which concludes that "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and that "Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations".
Although I am one of the almost 2000 signatories, I did think twice about signing up, and communicated this in my response to the initial request for support. Not, I should add, because I in any way disagree with or have qualms about the statement, but because it's not clear to me what the best course of action is when dealing with the toxic morass created by so-called climate skeptics [*].

This, of course, has reached something of a head with the carefully timed, and carefully selective, publication of e-mails and computer files (most likely) stolen from the Climate Research Unit at UEA. While they contain little that surprises me, and at worst paint certain scientists as rude and unhelpful towards other scientists, the publication of this material seems to have greatly elevated the shrillness of so-called skeptics to new highs (or lows, depending on one's perspective).

Even some scientists have been hand-wringing about portions of the content published to the internet. Seeing how the so-called climate skeptics have operated over the years, and having noted the parallels between their strategies and those of similarly misguided creationists, anti-environmentalists and tobacco interests, I can't say that I'm particularly offended or dismayed by the material that I've seen. It seems a fairly inevitable response to the crass stupidity, goalpost-shifting, disingenuity and outright lying that largely passes for so-called skepticism in such circles.

This is probably because I've exasperated myself dealing with such people in Usenet and at Wikipedia over the years. I've realised from repeated encounters that while a minority of (almost always) hostile opponents can be swayed by a straightforward laying out of "the facts", the majority of such "discussions" don't go anywhere useful. Sometimes one is faced with a continually moving target, where responses to one false statement merely result in its replacement with another. Other times, an opponent will just disappear from a discussion, often to reappear later or elsewhere making similar or even identical false statements. While it's often a pleasure to deal with the eager-to-learn minority, these latter types now quickly fray patience after years of dealing with them.

Anyway, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the foregoing, I decided to sign up to a statement which I knew would just get thrown back at us as further evidence of some vast left-wing conspiracy to enslave the "freedom-loving" moral majority (or something ...). But in the end, I still think, or perhaps hope, that the long game is the one we should play. Keep confronting the so-called climate skeptics whenever they pop up, and hopefully slowly contain their particular, and peculiar, brand of "individualism". We'll see.

[*] I preface "climate skeptic" with "so-called" deliberately since they don't merit the term "skeptic". With some notable exceptions, whose views are a lot more mushy under questioning, the baying mob are denialists plain and simple. Nothing will change their view, and when climate change becomes undeniable, they'll find some way of worming out of the mess that they've partially helped create. It would be nice to think that there'd be a satisfying "I-told-you-so" somewhere down the line, but I expect material circumstances to change sufficiently that a future comeuppance will offer no pleasure.

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