Saturday 22nd October 2016                 Change text size:

Are we the zealots of a new religion; an environmental Taliban that is silencing dissent? Not really

Photo: jinxmcc via Flickr

In three years of publishing Blue & Green Tomorrow and seven looking into the economic, environmental and investment potential of clean technology, the language of those who deny human-caused climate change has morphed into something more aggressive; and their effort to spread disinformation and doubt more desperate, elaborate and pernicious.

It is vital in a functioning democracy that those with power or in positions of influence, especially those with a platform to inform and advise the public, should use their status responsibly. They should choose words carefully, focus on the evidence and avoid inflaming the debate.

Instead, there is a small group of politicians, newspaper columnists, business leaders and others who use non-peer reviewed myths, spread disinformation and launch personal attacks on scientists and those of us who accept the scientific consensus. They mislead, throw the first stones but then scream murder if they themselves are even mildly criticised.

Science is the “intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural”.  A consensus is “general agreement”.

Therefore, a scientific consensus is “the general agreement, collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists in a particular field of systematic study.”

Can 97% of climate scientists really be wrong?

Independent research on the peer-reviewed literature has shown that 97.1% of scientists agree that humans are, in part, causing and certainly accelerating climate change through carbon emissions specifically and other activities such as deforestation more generally.

Science arrives at a consensus through peer-review of other scientists’ work. The process actively encourages open dissent by peers. Scientific understanding of complexity improves incrementally in this gradual process.

“Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence to the producers of the work (peers). It constitutes a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Peer review methods are employed to maintain standards of quality, improve performance, and provide credibility. In academia peer review is often used to determine an academic paper’s suitability for publication.”

The scientific consensus is that humans are, in part, causing and certainly accelerating climate change through carbon emissions specifically and other activities such as deforestation more generally.

Accepting this is not being a zealot: “a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals.”

We do not know any gravity zealots, so why are those who accept climate science called zealots?

Nor is it belonging to a religion: “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.”

We don’t know of a Church of Gravity, so we’re not sure why climate science has to have one.

It cannot be called a Taliban – “a fundamentalist movement” – unless you take the etymological root of the word, which is the Arabic talib or student. If George Osborne, who coined the ‘environmental Taliban’ insult, is calling us environmental students, he is right. Those who accept the consensus have climate professors too, whom we respect and learn from.

It is called science, Mr Osborne. It’s how science works.

Those who side with the science cannot be accused of ‘silencing dissent’. As environmental scientist Dana Nuccitelli told Al Jazeera“There is a false balance of media coverage where 2-3% of sceptics get close to 50% of the media coverage because the media feels that they have to show a balance where they are showing both sides of the issue.

But in the process, they are giving that 2-3% 50% of the coverage and actually creating a false balance and false perception that there is a big divide among climate experts about the cause of global warming.”

We have written ourselves, “Far from silenced, they [the sceptics] are given equal billing in the broadcast media and are overwhelmingly disseminated in the climate sceptic press. If this is silenced, we can’t imagine how cacophonous they would be if they were given free rein.”

We should all be uncomfortable with this equal or more prominent billing given to the opinion of non-scientists and non-climate scientists. You can judge for yourselves if they are qualified to comment on the complexities of climate science.

James Delingpole

Climate science credentials: BA English literature, Oxford: the study of a challenging and diverse range of literature written in English, including poems, fiction, plays and essays.

Censured by the Australian Press Council, Delingpole admitted he had not read any climate science literature in an interview with Nobel Prize winner and Royal Society president Sir Paul Nurse. You can watch the exchange here, and see more of his contributions to the debate here.

Christopher Monckton

Climate science credentials: BA classics, Cambridge: the study of the ancient Greek and Roman cultures in their broadest sense; Greek and Latin language, literature, philosophy, ancient history, art and archaeology.

The House of Lords authorities unusually issued Monckton with a cease and desist order for persistently claiming he was a member of that place. You can find more economies with the truth here.

Nigel Lawson

Climate science credentials: BA politics, philosophy, economics, Oxford: the study of some of the most important approaches to understanding the social and human world around us.

Nigel Lawson founded and chairs the thinktank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, but is coy about its funding. Here’s his DeSmogBlog profile.

George Osborne

Climate science credentials: BA modern history, Oxford: the study of British, European and world history in the present day.

Chancellor of the exchequer who in October 2012 described parliamentary climate change campaigners as an “environmental Taliban.

Matt Ridley

Climate science credentials: PhD Zoology,Oxford: research centred on the four themes of behaviour, disease, ecology and evolution.

Ridley compared climate scientists to eugenicists: a verbal sleight-of-hand associating climate scientists with Nazis, who famously used eugenics to justify the extermination of large groups of people. He has also called climate science a cult: “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.” By using that word, he not only insults his scientific peers but associates them with more famous and discredited cults. Clever. More here at DeSmogBlog.

This motley crew of climate sceptics does not include a single climate scientist, nor can they call upon any peer-reviewed science to support their claims.We should hold their views in contempt – but still the mainstream and irresponsible media gives them a platform.

Michael Mann, director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Centre, i.e. a climate scientist, gives us cause for hope.

“The disinformation campaign can only survive for so long. We saw, as in the case of tobacco, there was a similar disinformation campaign decades ago to obscure the science and the scientific link between the use of tobacco products and lung cancer.

But eventually the truth of what the science had to say became accepted. There are some positive signs that we are moving in that direction; the rest of the world is moving increasingly towards renewable energy […]We [the US] are lagging behind but we are slowly making progress ourselves.”

Sceptics or deniers spread disinformation and throw wild accusations at those who accept the consensus. While the mainstream media gives them equal billing and the public repeat the myths, we must remain vigilant and point out the weaknesses and lack of evidence in the sceptics and deniers’ arguments.

Further reading:

How denial works: from geocentrism to tobacco to climate change

Pick-and-mix dogma is unethical and intellectually dishonest

The four horsemen of the climate apocalypse

Honesty, subtlety and complexity in science reporting

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