Sea level could rise more than a metre by 2100, say experts
The scientists, they have been saying it for a while, and we’ve been saying it in the media for a while… but I think the scientists have lost a little bit of patience almost. I mean one said to me here that we’re sick of having our carefully constructed messages lost in the political noise. You know this is the scientific community standing up and saying enough is enough, we’ve lost patience, get your act together.
Climate sceptics are recycled critics of controls on tobacco and acid rain. We must not be distracted from science’s urgent message: we are fuelling dangerous changes in Earth’s climate.
Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels.
Do climate change sceptics give scepticism a bad name? There is a crucial difference between scepticism and non-belief in the face of overwhelming evidence.
Sachs and Corner, like many alarmists, are continuing to hide behind the idea that the climate debate divides on a single point of difference: “Climate change is happening” versus “climate change isn’t happening”.
Even as shorthand, this is a clumsy, clumsy polarisation of the debate. There are many points of disagreement between perspectives within each putative ‘side’, and many points of agreement across them.
The implication is that people framing the debate in this way – as between people saying “climate change is happening”, and “climate change isn’t happening” reduce themselves to the level of their least sophisticated opposition. Very, very few commentators in the ‘sceptic’ camp in fact make such an argument.
The argument is really about how climate ‘science’ turns into ethical imperatives and politics. Our argument here is that ‘catastrophe’ is the premise of climate politics, not the conclusion of climate science. It is only if we presuppose certain things that we can see agreement between what “science says” and what climate alarmists say. But science is expected to do much of the ethical and political work for those investing their moral authority in the inevitability of looming catastrophe.
Since ‘Climategate’ we have seen problems emerge with the catastrophic storyline. Suddenly, the human cost of Himalayan glacial melt, and reduced rainfall in Africa have been substantially diminished, if not completely dissolved. And now sea level rise has been reconsidered. These first order effects of anthropogenic climate change have been challenged, and so, logically, the effects that they are understood to cause need to be reconsidered. Yet Sachs and Corner pretend that the debate is still about the principle cause of so many Nth-order effects. This has another curious implication.
It has for a while been the argument of such people that ‘the debate is over’, and the science is in’. We can see clearly now that the science is not in. Yet the debate that Sachs and Corner seem to want to have is the one that they have already had, and it is claimed has been won. Sachs and Corner do not want to move on.
And it is easy to see why.
Head to the profiles of the authors in question, and you will learn that
Adam Corner is a research associate at Cardiff University. His interests include the psychology of communicating climate change
Jeffrey Sachs is professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also a special adviser to United Nations secretary-general on the millennium development goals.
Take “the science” away from these two non-scientists, and what would they be left with? The prospect of climate catastrophe has been used to construct a ‘special’ perspective on economics and human psychology. It is this perspective – not “science”, and not “the planet” – which Corner and Sachs are protecting. Yet notice how they cannot do it on the terms of their own disciplines.
Sachs: Today’s campaigners against action on climate change are in many cases backed by the same lobbies, individuals, and organisations that sided with the tobacco industry to discredit the science linking smoking and lung cancer. Later, they fought the scientific evidence that sulphur oxides from coal-fired power plants were causing “acid rain.”
Corner: But embarrassingly for climate change sceptics, the people who have thought longest and hardest about what it means to be a truly sceptical thinker seem in a hurry to distance themselves from their fellow sceptics. Michael Marshall, from the Merseyside Skeptics group that organised the homeopathy overdose is clear about the legitimacy of climate change sceptics: “In our view, climate change sceptics are not sceptics. A sceptic looks at the available evidence and makes a decision, and for homeopathy the evidence is that it doesn’t work. But the sceptical position on climate change is that it is happening.”
Corner and the sceptics he chooses to qualify his opinion share the same tragic conceit. “where are the voices of the truly sceptical thinkers that the climate sceptics claim to represent?”, he asks, rhetorically, to imply that ‘true’ sceptics aren’t on the side of the climate sceptics. It turns out that they – the true sceptics – are busy organising protest-stunts against homeopathy – a die-in “homeopathy overdose”. It’s not even climate change – the “most important issue facing mankind” – which moves these “defenders of science”. They are too busy trying to save people who think that sugar pills might cure them of trivial maladies from themselves. Oh, what important work!
It would be easier to believe that Corner was a paid, academic, researcher of psychology and communication if his own communication didn’t communicate such an inane psychology all of his own, not to mention his desperately shallow research. Sachs too, makes a facile argument to defend the ground he stands on. We’ve covered the “tobacco” argument before, here and here. How can an academic in such a prestigious and privileged role make such a bullshit argument – the kind that you’d be disappointed to hear in a pub, never mind uttered in the academy?
With arguments like this emerging from academia, it is no surprise that people sense the snake oil, and head for the science as the object of the debate. We’ve said before that this is a mistake that sceptics make. They mirror their counterparts such as Sachs and Corner, who believe that the debate begins and ends in “the science”. As we point out, probably too often, the politics is prior. It is Sachs and Corner’s politics which stinks. “The science” is an afterthought.