Posts Tagged ‘Stephan Lewandowsky’

The role of scientific consensus in moving the public debate forward

February 7, 2014

Mike Hulme had an interesting essay at The Conversation, the main message of which was

In the end, the only question that matters [for the public debate about climate change] is, what are we going to do about it?

Hulme correctly argues that the basic science is clear enough so that for society the important issues to discuss are not science related, but policy related. I argued much the same here. He writes:

What matters is not whether the climate is changing (it is); nor whether human actions are to blame (they are, at the very least partly and, quite likely, largely); nor whether future climate change brings additional risks to human or non-human interests (it does).

Let’s leave the minor quibble aside that AR5 puts the anthropogenic contribution at ‘extremely likely’ having caused more than half of the recent global warming.

The part where I disagree with Hulme is where he argues that showing the existence of a scientific consensus on the above (it is warming; it’s due to us; it’s bad news) somehow stands in the way of  getting society to discuss that most important question. I think the opposite is true. It is the continuous doubt about the science, sowed by those who oppose a serious discussion about what to do, that is a stumbleblock. Showing that a consensus amongst experts exists would enable society to more swiftly move on to the important conversation on what to do about it. I agree with Hulme that on this deeply ethical question there is, and ought to be, a multitude of opinions.

As Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook write in a response to Mike Hulme:

The public’s perception of that scientific consensus is necessary to stimulate political debate about solutions.

Another element that’s missing from this discussion is that scientific and ideological arguments  should be clearly distinguished from each other (“is” vs “ought”).

Unfortunately, ideological arguments are often dressed in a sciency-looking cloak. From that perspective, I appreciate the honesty in Lindzen stating blunty “we’ll all be dead by then”, the obvious implication being: so why care. That’s indeed what a lot comes down to: How do you value the future compared the present?


Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now

June 14, 2011

A thundering open letter from the Australian scientific community has been published on “The Conversation”, as the start of a two-week series on climate science and “skeptics”:

The overwhelming scientific evidence tells us that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes.

Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now.

Like it or not, humanity is facing a problem that is unparalleled in its scale and complexity. The magnitude of the problem was given a chilling focus in the most recent report of the International Energy Agency, which their chief economist characterised as the “worst news on emissions.”

Limiting global warming to 2°C is now beginning to look like a nearly insurmountable challenge.

Like all great challenges, climate change has brought out the best and the worst in people.

A vast number of scientists, engineers, and visionary businessmen are boldly designing a future that is based on low-impact energy pathways and living within safe planetary boundaries; a future in which substantial health gains can be achieved by eliminating fossil-fuel pollution; and a future in which we strive to hand over a liveable planet to posterity.

At the other extreme, understandable economic insecurity and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and vested interests to whip up ill-informed, populist rage, and climate scientists have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes.

Aided by a pervasive media culture that often considers peer-reviewed scientific evidence to be in need of “balance” by internet bloggers, this has enabled so-called “sceptics” to find a captive audience while largely escaping scrutiny.

Australians have been exposed to a phony public debate which is not remotely reflected in the scientific literature and community of experts.

Beginning today, The Conversation will bring much-needed and long-overdue accountability to the climate “sceptics.”

For the next two weeks, our series of daily analyses will show how they can side-step the scientific literature and how they subvert normal peer review. They invariably ignore clear refutations of their arguments and continue to promote demonstrably false critiques.

We will show that “sceptics” often show little regard for truth and the critical procedures of the ethical conduct of science on which real skepticism is based.

The individuals who deny the balance of scientific evidence on climate change will impose a heavy future burden on Australians if their unsupported opinions are given undue credence.

And don’t miss this excellent article by Karl Braganza who describes in as few words as realistically possible how we know that we are warming up the earth:

fundamental understanding of the physics of radiation, combined with our understanding of climate change from the geological record, clearly demonstrates that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations will inevitably drive global warming. (…)

It’s now practically certain that increasing greenhouse gases have already warmed the climate system.

That continued rapid increases in greenhouse gases will cause rapid future warming is irrefutable.

Randy Olson on lemmings and leaders

August 20, 2010

Great article by Randy Olson at the Benshi, contemplating two polarized options of dealing with the climate crisis: like lemmings or like leaders.

Lemmings would tend to wait for the problem to become so massive that there’s just no other option than to deal with it, as in ‘we need a catastrophy before we start taking this problem seriously’.


leadership is what ought to be expected of a species of primates whose birth canals have had to widen over the ages to make space for enlarged crania.

He also discusses the following important point, based on the following suggestion he received from a friend:

“Accept arguments on the basis of evidence alone (not on the basis of who presents them).”

to which he counters:

That sounds great and admirable, at least in principle. But it’s not realistic in the complicated world of science-based issues. (…)

This is why we have leaders. It’s called civilization. At some point we put our trust in those with that stuff called “knowledge.” Like the IPCC. It’s not perfect, but it’s our best shot at avoiding the lemmings scenario.

For the complicated world of science-based issues, the lay person needs shortcuts to evaluate the trustworthiness of the information. One of my older posts that I like most deals with exactly that question. For health issues, it’s not much different.

And to plug another, unrelated but also very good article, Stephan Lewandowsky wrote a guest post over at Skeptical Science on short term uncertainty in the weather versus long term certainty in the climate, with the price winning quote:

There is uncertainty [about climate change], but only in the way that there is uncertainty about what happens when you drive into a brick wall at 80 km/h. You might just get away with a few bruises and a concussion, but it is far more likely that you would break a leg or worse.

No one in their right mind would drive into a brick wall because the outcome is “uncertain.”

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