8th November 2015

Climate change deniers -show us your models

How to changing the argument

Climate change is again moving up the agenda with the forthcoming Paris summit and news that the Exxon Mobil is being investigated for misleading the public and the volume of ice increasing in Antarctica. This later bit of news has been jumped on by climate change deniers as more proof of their argument but as usual it is a not as clear cut as the headlines would suggest. In a world where the principals of the science are pretty much agreed, if not the detail,the stubbornness of the wider population to accept the deniers argument remains remarkably strong. For most of those with any scientific training the case of cause and effect are compelling but for the wider population the claims that their actions can personally influence the climate seem to be so counter intuitive with their own daily experience of the weather that it could well be the a conspiracy theory of pious green groups. But climate change is not unique in a world where science routinely overturns 'common sense'. The earth not being flat is perhaps our first run in with counter intuitive argument but it is not the last. There are a whole host of technologies like flight and telecommunications that would not stand the 'common sense' test if one cared to think about them rather than just accept them as facts of life.

So why does a climate denier argument hold so much sway when a flat earther's doesn't? Partly because the consequences are not immediately apparent and anyway a 2 degree rise in global temperature does not sound to bad. Yet in itself these are just other justifications rather than the cause. The clue to this enigma comes from those who support it, generally those on the right of the political spectrum and creationists, with the most fervent usually being the two together as those running for Republican Party's presidential nomination illustrate. This is because climate change directly undermines their political and religious philosophy. In an age when capitalism seems to have triumphed along comes a problem that markets alone cannot solve. For the ultra-religious, science simply challenges their biblical view of the world. Combine these viewpoints with the vested interests of some of the world's largest corporations and they have powerful lobby to deny its existence. Without these vested interests climate change denial would be on a par with the Flat Earth Society.

Such a powerful alliance can demand the attention of the media, especially when put in the framework of balance. It follows that when placed in this context the two opinions would seem to have equal validity and then the 'common sense' view seems to prevail. The media savviness is not to be underestimated. I have to admit that even I have been drawn in by a well-made point but fortunately I have learnt not take such information at face value. One cannot expect more casual observers to be so diligent. However there is one chink in this media offensive. That is that their whole approach is to draw attention to the contradictions in the scientific discord, like that of the ice thickening in Antarctica or the rise in ocean surface temperature. Rarely do they try explaining events in their own terms. Where are the models1 that show the impact of solar flares or that global temperatures do not rise with increasing carbon dioxide or methane? I am sure that we would have heard of them if they had been undertaken. It could be argued that modelling is both imprecise and expensive and usually the preserves of government agencies like the Met office or academic institutions but the oil industry has deep pockets and one would expected them to have developed one especially if it gave validity to their business model. So the next time a climate change denier voices their view don't argue the specific point but ask them what model it fits into. Where was their prediction that this was to be the outcome. Even those members of the public that profess to swear by common sense are not totally immune to the argument of cause and effect.

1There is one exception that probably proves the rule. That of Piers Corbyn the Labour leader's brother who does undertake some modelling but whilst he has made some correct calls during particular times of the year the rest at best are no better than statistical average. Perhaps more damming are the methodology of the model are secret so the assumptions cannot be independently verified.

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