I came across an article about media and the game of climate change denialism. The basic message is that the media should better reflect the nuances in the climate change debate and should avoid presenting it as a debate between two extremes.
One issue I have with this basic argument is that it comes across as a please stop criticising us type of suggestion. Well, that just seems a little pathetic. Another I have is that it often involves claims that they agree with the mainstream position, and that they’re simply discussing aspects about which there is still valid disagreement. Well, if this is true, and yet the criticisms continue, maybe they should consider that they’re not making this clear. If they think the criticisms are unfair, maybe they should find a better/clearer way to make their arguments. Alternatively, if they believe that they’re making their arguments as carefully and as clearly as possible, maybe just ignore the critics.
However, what really caught my eye about this article (which I didn’t find all that bad) was the comment below, which would seem to indicate that the author doesn’t really get the nuance quite as well as they claim to.
The IPCC shows four Representative Concentration Pathways, which yield temperature increases of 0.3 to 1.7 degrees C (RCP 2.6) to 2.6 to 4.8 (RCP 8.5) in the 2081 to 2100 period. Not only does this demonstrate the uncertainty, but the IPCC itself says “Many impacts [of climate change] can be reduced, delayed or avoided by mitigation.”
Yes, we can reduce, delay, or avoid the impacts by mitigation, but this is essentially the point. It’s really unlikely to just happen by chance; it’s what we should be discussing. I don’t think the IPCC is suggesting that it will simply happen; it’s suggesting that it could happen if we actually decide to do something.
The first part of the above comment, however, indicates a confusion about the Representation Concentration Pathways (RCPs), a mistake I’ve also seen Matt Ridley make. The uncertainty in our future emission pathways is not really the same as, for example, the uncertainty in climate sensitivity. The uncertainty in climate sensitivity indicates that we don’t know precisely how much we will warm for a given change in anthropogenic forcing or, equivalently, a given change in atmospheric CO2 concentration. Climate sensitivity is a property of the system and the uncertainty simply indicates that we don’t know what it actually is. Other than trying to better constrain our understanding there is nothing we can do to influence what it actually is.
The different RCPs (or emission pathways), however, illustrate different possible future pathways. We may not know what pathway we’ll actually follow, but we can certainly influence what it will be. In some sense we’ve already done so, as the lowest pathway is probably no longer possible, and we’re probably unlikely to follow the highest because it’s pretty clear that doing so would potentially lead to severe climate impacts.
The discussion that many think we should be having is about whether or not we should be doing something more to influence what future pathway we actually follow and, if we should, what that should be. We will, of course, only follow one pathway and we could choose to leave it entirely to chance and hope that the one we actually follow doesn’t lead to severe climate impacts. However, that is still something worth discussing.
So, it seems rather ironic that an argument that most of the namecalling is a consequence of ignoring the nuance in the climate debate, seems to then completely miss the nuance. I’m largely in favour of reducing the prevalence for name calling, but I don’t think that that includes avoiding criticising what others choose to say publicly and I do think that the onus is really on those who make public arguments to do so as carefully as possible. Rather than complaining about the tone of the debate, maybe people should simply try to improve their own arguments, stop their namecalling, and see if others follow suit?