Journalists need to resume skepticism of climate science databy Mark B. Evans on Aug. 02, 2013, under Politics
Scientists and journalists are supposed to be skeptics – withholding judgment until all the facts are in (or at least the preponderance of them). But like most humans, even those who are expected to be professional agnostics can’t help suspending their incredulity at times, especially when some bit of information closely hews to their worldview.
American liberalism over the past century has primarily concerned itself with social and economic inequality, but in the past few decades environmentalism has become the second floor of the liberal edifice.
When climate scientists began reporting in the 1970s that the world was warming and atmospheric carbon dioxide increases from the burning of fossil fuels appeared to be the cause, environmentalists sang hallelujahs.
Global warming became the club they used to beat up politicians. Environmentalism was no longer about saving the planet from the ravages of humanity but also about saving humanity from the ravages of the planet.
In response, propagandists for the coal and oil industry embarked on an expensive PR campaign of deny, deny, deny.
During the last two decades of the 20th century, climate scientists became more alarmed at the rapidity of the heating and the anecdotal evidence of its effects – melting glaciers, shrinking polar ice caps, rising seas.
And then they did a bad thing. They agreed to participate in a politicized organization, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was supposed to collate all the global warming research data and suggest to world governments what they should do about it.
At the behest of politicians, they politicized the science. They allowed politicians, environmentalists and gullible journalists to argue that there was “consensus” among climate scientists that human-caused atmospheric loading of carbon dioxide was warming the planet at a dangerous rate.
Next month, the IPCC is expected to release its latest predictions but a few leaks of the report have revealed that there may be a few skunks in the consensus science party.
Temperatures in the 2000s didn’t come in as hot as the 1990s computer climate models predicted and IPCC scientists are scrambling to figure out why.
One of the answers might be that the world’s climate is not as sensitive to increases in carbon dioxide as believed. If that’s the case, then many of the policies enacted by many of the world’s industrial powers might be for naught.
Should world nations abandon their carbon reduction policies? Well, what if anthropogenic warming is real? Abandoning those efforts could be disastrous. But what if it isn’t? Or what if it turns out CO2 loading is only a small exacerbation of a natural warming event similar to previous warming events that occurred without atmospheric carbon dioxide loading? Then the enormous costs of CO2 reduction will have been a colossal waste.
Politicians use the perfect tense, not the conditional. The scientists said human activity is likely the cause of recent warming. American and European liberals only heard the is, not the likely. Rabid deniers didn’t see either, they doubled down on deny.
The unfortunate politicization of the issue has made it almost impossible to have a rational discussion on the topic.
Anyone who doubts anthropogenic warming is tarred as a lackey for the coal and oil industries. Conversely, anyone who insists there is anthropogenic warming is cast as a commissar of the central planning office.
The science of climate change is far from settled. The world is old and climate science new. Most of the predictions of hockey stick warming are based on only a few decades of accurate temperature readings. That’s only a few milliseconds, geologically speaking, hardly enough time to definitively say how humans are affecting the climate. But it’s hard to craft public policy on maybes and could bes.
The new IPCC report is likely to be loaded with qualifications and equivocations. Liberals will down play them and conservatives will make too much of them.
Too many journalists have swallowed the “consensus” story whole, judging before all the facts are in. They need to resume their skeptical ways, lackey or commissar labels be damned, and report all the maybes in the report and not just the ises.