The Climate Change National Forum has a new Fact Checker section. I think the idea is to post news articles about climate change and allow the scientists involved in the Climate Change National Forum to comment. It sounds like a good idea, but I know that some (myself included) have some reservations. One issue is that there are some articles that should probably just be ignored, so giving them exposure on a credible climate science site may well do more harm than good. Another problem I can see is that the typically vocal pseudo-skeptics will probably insist that the scientists criticise any article that is remotely alarmist (in their view at least) while finding reasons to excuse mistakes in articles they support. Although I don’t have much respect for the vocal, online, pseudo-skeptics, I can’t fault their enthusiasm and commitment.
One of the first articles they’ve included is one by David Roberts called If you aren’t alarmed about climate, you aren’t paying attention. David Roberts is, I think, having a years break from writing and I can see why he would want such a sabbatical. I hope he’s having a relaxing time. Andreas Schmittner comments to say
Here is the first problem: “We know that 2 degrees C is where most scientists predict catastrophic and irreversible impacts.”
This is an assertion and it is wrong. Climate scientists don’t predict catastrophic impacts. They project impacts.
Of course, I suspect he’s completely correct that scientists simply predict impacts. Whether or not these are catastrophic is a judgement and not some kind of scientific fact. However, journalistically, it seems fine to ascribe an adjective to these impacts. Partly, that’s the point of journalism. Journalists are meant to interpret what’s being said. Maybe he could have made it clearer that it’s his judgement that the impacts are likely to be catastrophic (although, I suspect he wouldn’t be alone in this judgement). Also, does Andreas Schmitter mean that he’s wrong that they will be catastrophic, or does he simply mean that he’s wrong to suggest that scientists have specifically predicted catastrophic impacts. I suspect the latter, but it’s not completely clear.
Andreas Schmittner then goes on to comment further and acknowledges that there is scientifically valid information in this article and finishes this comment with
There is reason for concern, but not for panic. I think we can still resolve the issue and avoid the worst impacts.
This is actually the reason I wanted to write this post. There seems to be quite a lot of this type of rhetoric going around at the moment : “don’t worry, everything will be fine”. Matt Ridley and Bjorn Lomborg are another pair who are presenting this type of message (in addition to incorrectly claiming that adapting will be cheaper than mitigating).
Here’s my issue with this rhetoric. What do such people think others are alarmed about? Do they think that people are alarmed because they’re worried that the climate will magically change in a way that’s catastrophic. No, the alarm is about the possibility that we will continue to change our climate in a way that produces catastrophic impacts. How is “don’t worry, everything will be fine” in any way a suitable argument against being alarmed. If anything, it makes it worse. I’m not concerned about climate change per se, I’m concerned that we will continue to increase our emissions and follow a pathway that leads to catastrophic impacts. People saying “don’t worry, everything will be fine” while we continue to increase our emissions, just makes me think they’re burying their heads in the sand and hoping for the best. I’d also have much more confidence in these views if they were typically accompanied by suggestions as to what we should do, rather than suggestions that we shouldn’t really do anything now.
So, essentially, I’m concerned that our policy makers will listen to those (like Lomborg and Ridley) who’s basic argument is (paraphrasing) “don’t do anything now, and don’t worry because our future selves will find a way to solve any problems they face in the future”. Yes, I’m sure our future selves will find ways to solve the problems they face, but it’s going to be a damn site harder if we don’t bother starting to think about it today. We are an incredibly resourceful and innovative species and we’ve solved many complex problems in the past. However, typically we’ve solved them by actually doing something, rather than simply hoping that someone will come along in the future with some kind of brainwave. If I’m alarmed it’s not specifically about climate change, it’s about the possibility that there are people out there who think that “don’t worry, everything will be fine” is a sensible policy option. It might make a fun song, though.