Writing in New Scientist this week, James Hansen tells us that the scientific community (you know, those ‘thousands’ of specialised scientists at the IPCC) are wrong, and have massively underestimated the extent of polar ice melting as a consequence of anthropogenic global warming.
I find it almost inconceivable that “business as usual” climate change will not result in a rise in sea level measured in metres within a century. Am I the only scientist who thinks so?
Apparently he is. And the reason? All the other scientists are being too cautious.
I believe there is pressure on scientists to be conservative. Caveats are essential to science. They are born in scepticism, and scepticism is at the heart of the scientific method and discovery. However, in a case such as ice sheet instability and sea level rise, excessive caution also holds dangers. “Scientific reticence” can hinder communication with the public about the dangers of global warming. We may rue reticence if it means no action is taken until it is too late to prevent future disasters.
Scientists, in other words, should adhere to the scientific method except when it’s politically inconvenient. (And only, presumably, when it’s Hansen’s politics that are inconvenienced.)
Most scientists who go against ‘the consensus’ get labelled as mavericks, sceptics or denialists. New Scientist covers their work only to show it up as scientifically flawed, politically motivated, the result of industry-funded misinformation and bad moral fibre, just as they did when they reported on Willie Soon’s paper challenging received wisdom that climate change is imperiling polar bears. Or just as Michael Le Page did in May this year when he wrote:
Indeed, those campaigning for action to prevent further warming have had to battle against huge vested interests, including the fossil-fuel industry and its many political allies. Many of the individuals and organisations challenging the idea of global warming have received funding from companies such as ExxonMobil.
Hansen, however, gets a 3000-word feature all to himself. Even though it doesn’t take much digging around to find that Hansen himself has more than his fair share of dodgy financial interests.
The consensus, it seems, may only be challenged from one direction.