A new Australian site, claiming more than 200,000 readers monthly, combines scientific and journalistic principles to improve public understanding of science, including climate science. This is the first Yale Forum re-posting from The Conversation, which strives for ‘academic rigour, journalistic flair.’
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts” — Senator Daniel Moynihan
Science is a systematic, evidence-based, testable and self-correcting way of investigating the world. This is done through empirical observation, by experimentation and mathematics.
Ideologically dominated or totalitarian societies — such as George Orwell’s famous “1984” Ingsoc — are marked by:
- attempts to alter reality (“2 + 2 = 5 if the party says so”)
- elimination of history (“He who controls the past, controls the future”)
- rewriting collective memory (“Oceania is at war with Eurasia; therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia”)
- The corruption of logic through aleration and elimination of language “Newspeak”
- mind control (“thought crime”).
But even science fiction writers such as George Orwell, Aldous Huxley or Doris Lessing did not envisage a civilisation that would knowingly, against the best scientific evidence, devastate its own atmosphere and ocean system as comprehensively as has been and continues to be done through anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change.
The bulk of the peer-reviewed science, premier research organisations and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are in agreement: carbon emissions are causing a shift in the state of the atmosphere-ocean system.
But as a spate of extreme weather events around the world, related to rising temperatures, is intensifying, so has a chorus of pro-carbon advocacy. Advocates will tell you “it is the sun”, or “the Earth is cooling”, or “coal is clean”. It must be true if the conservative think tanks say so!
Other tactics aimed at “altering reality” include:
3) Negating empirical scientific measurements by misciting the literature and propagating unreferenced plots from unknown sources. An example is the exaggeration of the Medieval Warm Period, which reached less than 25% of 21st century warming.
4) Avoiding, misrepresenting or attacking the bulk of the peer-reviewed literature (only a very small minority of papers question anthropogenic global warming).
5) Claiming scientists are working together in some imagined climate change conspiracy.
According to Vaclav Klaus, former president of the Czech Republic: “Today’s debate about global warming is essentially a debate about freedom. The environmentalists would like to mastermind each and every possible (and impossible) aspect of our lives.”
6) Employing a plethora of websites containing recycled, long-discarded arguments.
The debate would have remained academic in nature had the issue not concerned the future of the atmosphere and ocean system — the lungs of the planet — and its inhabitants, including us.
Given the daunting consequences of current climate trajectories, climate scientists wish they were wrong and that the spectre of climate change would go away.
By contrast, pro-carbon lobbyists do not appear to express too many doubts, nor appear to understand the consequences should their version of reality prove wrong.
In Australia those elected under the banner of “the greatest moral challenge of our generation” state “the coal industry is safe“. Governments fail to directly inform the population of the realities and consequences of dangerous climate change.
Here is a summary of some of these realities:
1) Global temperature has already exceeded the upper target of a +2°C relative to pre-industrial levels set by the international community at both Copenhagen and Cancun.
Thus, atmospheric greenhouse gas-forced energy rise (solar heat trapped in the atmosphere) has now reached levels equivalent of +2.3°C.
This figure is masked only by a short-lived -1.1°C cooling effect, caused mainly by industrially emitted sulphur dioxide stratospheric aerosols — particles, which partly block sunlight from reaching the surface and warming the earth.
2) The connection between the spate of extreme weather events around the globe and climate change (see figure below) is still largely ignored by governments and most of the media, which either overlook extreme weather events, or dismiss such events as once-in-a-century event.
Arguably people would only be motivated to seriously tackle climate change if and when they understand the connection between the rising spate of cyclones, floods, heat waves and fires and the rise in temperatures over continents and ocean.
3) Despite political pre-election promises, development continues on infrastructure for extracting economic carbon from coal, oil (including from the Arctic Sea), coal seam gas, oil shale and tar sands.
These developments can only lead to the further release of hundreds of gigatons of carbon into an atmosphere already at 393 parts-per-million of CO₂.
As established by multiple studies of the history of the atmosphere, a concentration of 500+/-50 parts-per-million CO₂ in the atmosphere leads to the breakup of the Antarctic ice sheet.
But paradoxically, as the evidence for dangerous climate change has been strengthening, those who do not accept the scientific evidence appear to exert increasing influence over public opinion.
Inertia prevails. The current success of pro-carbon lobby is, at least in part, attributable to the “good news”, even though false, they and their media mouthpieces appear to project, using alternate “reality”, language and terms increasingly akin to Orwellian “Newspeak”.