"Then it is dark; a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains." - John Cheever

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

How to Talk to a Global Warming Sceptic

Useful link. Not that the sceptics are likely to be terribly concerned with factual refutation of their arguments.

11 comments:

Tom said...

Yes, excellent site which tries to be as informative and patient as possible. One of the problems with the green house effect is that although it is certainly happening, the models, evidence and theories are sufficiently complex for people to make seemingly credible objections for decades to come.

The case of public health debates around smoking is instructive. Although the causal link between smoking and cancer is far, far more obvious than that between CO2 emissions and global warming, it was possible for the tobacco industry and maverick (i.e. bribed) scientists to publicly deny it for at least three decades after the evidence had been established. I can remember watching a doctor on Channel 4 News (representing some tobacco trade association) denying that smoking caused lung cancer just 5-6 years ago. I suspect that they'll be scientists doing the same thing for global warming for at least another 50 years. By which time, of course, we'll all be doomed.

john said...

Causation is a bit tricky at the best of times :-)

Less abstrusely, I think the major thing I take away from what I read on anthropogenic global warming is that we just don't know what is going to happen - too many variables and insufficiently understood processes in there - but it might be Really Bad.

Colin said...

This story was on the front page of Metro this morning. I almost started hyper-ventilating. At this rate CO2 levels could be 400ppm in 8-10 years - that's the point which some scientists regard as an irreversible tipping point (although admittedly all hypothesis).

If you meet a global warming sceptic, take their name and address. Then if our worst fears are realised in a decade's time, we can go round with an angry mob and remind them. Clarkson should be first on the list.

john said...

don't hyperventilate, you'll add to the CO2

Tom said...

I guess that part of the problem is more than just the complexity of the problem, but also widespread ignorance, confusion and distrust about how science works. The blog John mentions is good on this. Scientific proof doesn't really exist in the way that many people think it does, and so, in a way, there will never be the "absolute proof" that CO2 causes global warming - there will always be scope for Hume style scepticism, even if the evidence is robust enough for us to be sure that it is happening, and certain that something has to be done to stop it.

This can be incredibly frustrating. I was at a party the other week in which a girl said that global warming still hadn't been proved. Although she knew nothing about the science of it, she actually thought that she was being scientifically rigorous. The greenhouse effect may never be proved to the level of certainty that she thinks is necessary, and in the meantime the likelihood is that we will have destroyed the entire planet.

Tom said...

For instance, the US government today announced (in response to a review by Unesco into world heritage sites getting wrecked by global warming) that "climate change is an unproven theory". At this rate, it's going to take decades of hurricane Katrinas and God knows what other disasters, before they acknowledge that it's a reality.

john said...

just out of interest, the girl at the party - what level of proof was she after?

of course, the whole worrying about global warming thing splits the population nicely into the neurotic worriers and the sunny optimists. I bet if we'd been blogging a few decades ago we'd all be shitscared about the coming nuclear apocolypse...

john said...

we'd all be being shitscared about the coming nuclear apocolypse I mean

Colin said...

I know what you mean - I've wondered about that myself. Perhaps societies have an inherent need of a bogeyman (or bogeyevent) to be scared off. I certainly would have been terrified of nuclear apocalypse. In fact, as a small child I was. And it could still happen. But I still believe there's a high chance we're in the process of completely f**king up our planet - and that we shouldn't be.

john said...

there was a good quote from the editor of nature about f**king up the planet. we're not - life on earth has survived comet impacts, LIP formation and millenia of glaciation. It's civilisation that's liable to get totalled.

Colin said...

True enough. F**king up much of what's currently on our planet, then, including most of us.