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March 2010

"Climategate" - and its discontents

The recent hysteria in the UK media over "climategate" has resulted in giving air time to a range of highly distasteful views about the role of science. Just as disturbing is the tendency to mis-report the facts. The  RealClimate network has analysed what really happened at UEA, and finds the picture painted across much of the UK media to be a less than accurate version of reality.

For an extraordinary resource that reveals just how long these battles over the truth of climate change science have been fought, see the website of Spencer Weart (Director of the Centre for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics) on the Discovery of Global Warming.

Weart's materials are particularly revealing because they demonstrate just hSnowow politically biased the reaction to climate science is. Scientists discovered anthropogenic global warming by the 1960s, and yet forty years later, their findings are still being vociferously opposed by a minority who simply cannot believe that they are true. This runs in almost total opposition to the acceptance of most broad scientific consensus. Opposition to the evidence for the combined destructive effects of the burning of fossil fuels and degradation of habitats is not based on any form of scientific analysis at all, and therefore cannot be seen as a serious attempt to challenge a paradigm. It is simply denial about the order of the changes the world faces - whether we attempt to mitigate or simply adapt to the profound changes underway in the world's eco-system. (photo: Huhu Uet)

Chris Keene has argued that sceptics would like us to believe nobody has done anything at all to mitigate. Yet "Not only has the global renewables industry expanded enormously but many countries have adopted laws, rules and regulations for increased energy efficiency or cleaner less polluting vehicles. For school children in a country like the UK climate change has become a topic that crops up throughout their curriculum, the IT, ICT and automotive industries, even the chemicals, aviation and shipping industry are investing huge amounts of time, money and effort in moving towards ‘zero carbon’."

It's as if we're still being dictated to by a lobby that "doesn't want to believe" in order to hold on to projected values about particular, materially-based lifestyle choices that favour the rich and repeatedly rob the poor. This is a wilful abandonment of the precautionary principle and exposes a contempt for science when it does not deliver political "goodies" like clean water or cheap pharmaceuticals.

In Keene's words: "Sceptics do not use science to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, mainly because there really isn’t any but use framing, spin and media debate, often pegged to polls."

But climate change is with us on a permanent basis. Reducing carbon emissions as far and as fast as possible, and creating a low and renewable-energy future, is still the only thing that matters.