Climate Change: How Can I Be Sure?
One of the most difficult problems communicating science to the public is how to convince someone who does not have a scientific background and cannot take the time to look at the science itself. For someone who is legitimately uncertain and wants to know the truth regardless of what it is, what can one offer?
From WallMart greeters to Orthodontists, probably 99% of the public is getting along by putting their faith in some group or other (just as we all do for most things in our life; how many really understand electricity? or how a computer works?).
Some accept the word of the scientific community, some side with the climate change Denier “scientists”, some with a particular suite of media, and so on. Regardless of which, they are taking the word of one group over the next pretty much on faith.
I believe that I have what may be a contribution which will help those who are uncertain and really want to know. Before getting into what I have to offer let’s look at some of the other attempts to address this problem.
This problem eats at most people concerned with climate change and there are several approaches that people have tried. The first is to demonstrate that the climate change Denier claims are all misrepresentations, hoaxes and lies, for eg:
- Skeptic Arguments and What the Science Says
- How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic: Responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming
- Climate Denial Crock of the Week
The problem with this approach is that it still relies on faith. The Deniers say that water is the most important Green House Gas (GHG) because … . The scientists say that while strictly true, that is not relevant because … . There is no way to even understand the relative claims without getting into the science, and no way to know which side is correct without really getting into it.
Another approach is to ask people to rely on their own experience. No one who has some intimacy with the out of doors, be it as a gardener, skier or farmer, has failed to notice the changes. Unfortunately this does not tell anyone why it is changing. Is it natural as the Deniers claim? or human caused as the science shows?
Dr Peter Gleik has wrestled with this question and come up with two responses. The first is to note that “The best argument against global warming” is … well, there isn’t one. There is no counter hypothesis, no explanation for the scientific facts other other than human caused climate change. Unfortunately, again, even thought it is true, it is still a claim the average person would have to take on faith.
His other approach, “Climate-change deniers versus the scientific societies of the world: Who should we listen to?” (which others use as well) is an appeal to common sense, but again the average person does not realize that we are talking about millions of scientists vs a few dozen cranks and industry PR flacks. After all, some media keep reporting about supposed large numbers of scientists rejecting climate science.
Even if the Deniers are only a handful, how does one tell that they are not modern Galileos refuting the scientific orthodoxy? … they certainly claim to be. Maybe the minority are right about this; after all “science has been wrong before.”
The fact is that unless you know how science is funded, how it is carried out etc, there is no way you can know that these claims are idiotic drivel. Scientists are not paid to come up with pre-determined results, and the comparisons to Galileo etc are ridiculous, but you have to take my word on that … Catch 22.
Then there is the appeal to the Precautionary Principle. Again fairly sensible in suggesting that if there is doubt we should choose the course that is going to have the best outcome for humanity. This video is a popular resource that uses this approach.
Unfortunately it is another Catch 22 though, since if climate change is not real or not something we can affect, then the best outcome is achieved by not trying to do anything about it. Even if one is uncertain it is difficult not to fall back to that conundrum.
Well I would like to make an appeal to your own logic and common sense. This is hardly a proof, and indeed is even irrelevant to the science in a way, but it has the advantage that you do not have to trust my or anyone else’s word on anything.
To begin I want to describe a hypothetical situation. Suppose someone wants to miss work or school and they assure you that they have a Dr’s certificate confirming that they are sick. What they actually give you is a crude, crayon scribbled, obvious forgery.
You know that they are lying when they say this is a legitimate Dr’s certificate, even though they may actually have a real one somewhere else. That this one is a fraud does not prove that they don’t have a real one, or that they are not sick, just that they are lying about this one.
Do you believe them? How about after the second forgery? the third? At some point you decide that they are simply lying about everything because you know that someone who has a real certificate would not waste your time with obvious forgeries.
So let’s have a look at a few of the climate change Denier’s crude, crayon scribbled lies. For all of these please do check them on any/all of the premier Denier sites such as Climate Depot, Climate Dispatch, wattsuwiththat, joannenova.com, thisresilienterath, Heartland Institute, SPPI, etc
Historically CO2 levels have lagged temperature changes by 700 to 800 years. A Denier claim is that science either does not admit to this fact, or cannot explain it (eg here). Actually the lag was predicted by Lorius et al before it was discovered, and is well understood and explained in the science (see links provided here or simply google it).
Whether the scientists’ explanation is true or not need not concern us here. The point is that the Deniers are lying when they claim that science has no explanation, and this is something you can verify yourself. You can click on any or all of those links and see scientists do have an explanation, even though you may not have the background to tell if it makes any sense or not.
Science acknowledges the lag and there is an explanation for it, so why are the Deniers lying about it? Why the crayon scribbles if they’ve got the real thing?
The Deniers claim (eg here) that:
- the IPCC said that current temperatures are unprecedented;
- the IPCC leaves out the Medieval Warm Period;
- past climates were hotter than now, which the IPCC and science can’t explain.
- the IPCC said “the rate and duration of warming of the Northern Hemisphere in the 20th century appears to have been unprecedented during the millennium.” (rate, not absolute temperature);
- the IPCC discusses the Medieval Warm Period right here;
- IPCC Chapter 6 (pgs 433-498) is devoted to discussing those past climates, even the ones hotter than the present.
The point here is that the Deniers are lying. You don’t need to know any science at all to see that. You don’t need to know whether the science is correct or the explanations make any sense at all because the Denier claim is that they don’t even exist, and that is a lie.
So we’re back to the hypothetical example and its’ question. If the Deniers have “the real thing”, if they have “actual scientific evidence”, why do they keep lying? Why the crude, crayon scribbled frauds if they actually have anything real?
None of what I have said proves that the science is accurate or that the Denier’s are wrong.
All I am asking is that you listen to your own common sense in deciding whether you are going to believe people who keep handing you crayon scribbled lies while claiming that they have “the real thing.”
What does your common sense tell you?