I often wonder what people, in the future, will make of the overall coverage of global warming and climate change today. We’ve just released the first chapters of the IPCC’s Assessment Report 5, written by 100s of climate scientists. It makes it very clear that climate scientists are almost certain that humans are the cause of global warming and that if we don’t cut emissions, global warming will continue and could have damaging impacts. We have evidence that the agreement in the scientific literature, with respect to global warming, is extremely strong (Cook et al. 2013 for example). Also, anyone who works in a physical science environment will probably agree that there is virtually no dispute about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in such environments. So, we currently have an overwhelming agreement amongst experts in the field and a similar level of agreement amongst those who are most likely to understand the fundamentals.
So, is this reflected in the general media coverage? Last night we had Nigel Lawson – an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer and Oxford PPE graduate – on BBC’s Question Time, talking about climate science. I’ve just listened to this and he wasn’t talking about the economics of climate change, or policies associated with climate change; he was discussing climate science itself. I was equally perturbed by the fact that Ed Davey too discussed climate science. In light of this, Martin Robbins has started a petition encouraging the BBC to give scientists proper representation on Question Time.
In the UK we also have various other people, such as James Delingpole, Matt Ridley, and David Rose, who write regularly about climate change. The BBC also recently included Andrew Montford in a news report about climate science (today Andrew Montford reports that the recent Cowtan & Way paper is Climate magic and also appears to be defending Christopher Monckton). It’s not just that these people have a voice, it’s that some policymakers seem to regard their views as more credible than those of actual experts. Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) seems to have remarkable influence despite it typically presenting views that are not consistent with the mainstream scientific evidence.
So, I just sometimes wonder what people will think of this when they look back on this era. A time when there was a remarkable level of agreement within the scientific community. A time when these scientists were producing synthesis reports that presented the evidence and discussed the likely implications. A time when we’re starting to see direct evidence of climate change. And yet, we have policymakers who take the views of non-experts ahead of the views of the actual experts. When some would rather believe that the vast majority of experts are either benefiting from promoting AGW, or are too blinkered by groupthink to recognise the truth; rather than recognising that it’s much more likely that this is true of the minority of non-experts who promote these views than of the scientists themselves.
I imagine that they will look back in wonder at how this could possibly have happened. How could we have ignored the views of the experts while accepting those of people who are not only non-experts but who are, in many cases, people without any obvious scientific training? You would like to think that many will be embarrassed by this. That they will look back themselves and wonder how it wasn’t obvious who’s views should have been taken seriously and who should have been ignored. Of course, what I suspect will happen is that certain parts of the media will rewrite history to make it appear that the Nigel Lawson’s of this world were simply keeping scientists honest (by questioning and probing their research) and that the fault lies with scientists who acted inappropriately and/or didn’t provide sufficiently convincing evidence. Obviously I don’t really know what will happen, but I doubt that we will look back with pride at how we’ve behaved today.