Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Politicised Science of Climate Change

Every so often a commentator offers an article that both precise in its language and accurate in its observations. Garth Paltridge offers such a précis on the politicised science of climate change here.

For those who wonder how and why seemingly intelligent people can remain skeptical of the dominant global warming ecomyth, Paltridge presents a succinct explanation. He suggests that the two scientific groups within the IPCC process exist primarily "to lend gravitas and respectability to the essentially political deliberations" arising from the deliberations of the third working group of the IPCC. Moreover, as the IPCC process has evolved, each of its

...successive summaries has been phrased in such a way as to appear a little more certain than the last that greenhouse warming is a potential disaster for mankind. The increasing verbal certainty does not derive from any advances in the science. Rather, it is a function of how strongly a statement about global warming can be put without inviting a significant backlash from the general scientific community. Over the years, the opinion of that community has been manipulated into more-or-less passive support by a deliberate campaign to isolate - and indeed to denigrate - the scientific sceptics outside the central activity of the IPCC. The audience has been actively conditioned into being receptive. It has thereby become gradually easier to sell the proposition of greenhouse disaster.
This conditioning process requires that the audience (politicians, media, lay public) believe that IPCC announcements are:
...the consensus opinion of the vast majority of knowledgeable climate scientists. The belief is simply not true - at least not in the sense that the public understands it....What worries most scientists who know a little about the subject is that virtually the entire experimental support for the theory of global warming is based on the rough coincidence of the slight rise in Earth's temperature over the last 100 years with the rise in concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide during the same period. The coincidence needs to be viewed in the light of the fact that the world's temperature has always gone up and down like a yo-yo on all sorts of time scales. Presumably it will continue to do so.

The IPCC doesn't really need to worry. The difficulty for the sceptics is that credible argument against accepted wisdom requires, as did the development of the accepted wisdom itself, large-scale resources which can only be supplied by the research institutions. Without those resources, the sceptic is only an amateur who can easily be kept in outer darkness.
And what prompted Paltridge to reflect on this process and write his article? The personalized, shrill and condescending reactions he received for his temerity in questioning the veracity of the IPCC process at a public conference. One sign that the emperor may indeed not have any clothes on, is the zeal with which those who feed from his trough choose to smite those who dare to ask defining questions. Science has nothing to fear from transparency and accountability: indeed they are essential to scientific progress. Politics, and especially the selective exercise of power, however, is always the most fearful of openness, clarity and dissent.

In my experience, the first thing zealots lose is their sense of humour. Second, is their sense of perspective. From then on in, they become steadily more enveloped in their own sense of paranoia, the primacy of "their" mission and the certitude of their own infallibility. Sadly, they become even more authoritarian than the "problems" they mobilized to reject. And if this description seems to harsh for many climate scientists, it paints an accurate picture of many who suborn the science into their political advocacy, the official websites of many environmental groups and a burgeoning number of blogs.