I’ve been doing what I do quite a lot these days, which is contemplating the whole online climate science debate. It’s very clear that any kind of dialogue with those who strongly disagree with mainstream climate science is virtually impossible. I know that some British climate scientists are trying, but either they don’t read contrarian blogs or, if they do, they do so with blinkers on or are much more forgiving than most.
Given this, I’ve been wondering about what is the best way to engage. One could be dismissive and rude about contrarians and impugn their character, but that just means turning into Anthony Watts and I’m certainly not willing to go that route. One could mock the contrarian views, but there are others who are more capable of that than I am. My current thoughts are that it would be good to be able to present a more positive picture, but I’m having some trouble seeing how that is actually possible.
One way to appear positive is to adopt the lukewarmer position, which is essentially that climate sensitivity will be low and that everything will be fine. The problem with this is that although it could end up being correct, it might not. Additionally, the evidence actually suggests that this is more likely to be wrong than right. It’s one thing to be optimistic and positive, but doing so by ignoring swathes of evidence that suggests that you’ll probably be wrong seems naive.
An alternative is what I think is the Pielke/Lomborg/Breakthrough Institute position. This seems to be that the priority is to simply continue to grow our economies and become wealthier and wealthier. If we do so, we’ll eventually have sufficient wealth to solve whatever problems we might face. There are – in my opinion – numerous problems with this strategy. My personal problems with this is partly that it seems to be relying on us magically finding a solution without ever actually trying to do so, and partly that it largely ignores the inertia in the climate system. Our emissions today don’t warm us immediately, but warm us over the coming decades. Therefore if we wait until it becomes obvious that we need to find solutions, we’re largely guaranteeing that things will continue to worsen over future decades.
Given that we’re an intelligent species that has the ability to understand what the future might hold, it seems rather odd to ignore that avoiding certain outcomes requires, ideally, acting sooner, rather than later. An additional issue I have with the Pielke/Lomborg/Breakthrough Institute type message is that it seems to be accompanied by claims that nothing we do will ever work. If we get more energy efficient, people will just use more. All climate treaties have achieved nothing, therefore they’ll never work. It’s hard to see how a message that nothing we do will ever actually work is particularly positive.
My preferred position is that we are in fact an innovative, intelligent, adaptable species that has the ability to make sensible decisions so as to avoid unnecessary risks. We have all this scientific evidence that tells us something of what might happen if we continue to increase our emissions. We have various possible alternative energy sources. We have all this information that we can use to make, ideally, sensible decisions about how best to proceed. My issue is that we appear to not be doing this. If anything, we seem to be doing the opposite. Our emissions seem to be following the high emission pathway and various governments have either reduced their commitment to address climate change, or are considering doing so.
So, does anyone have any better ideas? Is there a way to present a positive message that is both consistent with the scientific evidence and potentially effective, or are we simply in a position where that isn’t really possible? I certainly don’t know the answer. I’d certainly much prefer to be presenting things positively, than negatively, but I’m rather failing to see how this is possible without either sticking my head in the sand, or becoming a rampant libertarian, neither of which I’m really willing to do.