Despite the apparent science view consensus among scientists, NGOs, international organizations, policy makers and the media, there are respected scientists who remain “climate skeptics,” that is, who doubt that the overall theory of human induced global climate change is correct, or that the observed phenomena demonstrate conclusively that it is, or that the observed phenomena are anything out of the ordinary (viewed in the time frame of “earth history”).
It is important to separate these scientists from ‘skeptics’ who have a financial interest in denying climate change. These people have been important in framing the climate change debate in the United States and the position of the United States government on the issue of climate change. Their success has little to do with alternative science, however, and everything to do with the permeability of the US political process to the influence of such actors.
It is also important to separate these scientists from the ignorant and people who do not understand evidence-based science. Such people are simply uninformed or misinformed, make such ignorant statements as “it’s just a theory” or cite isolated facts as if they mattered. Their numbers have made this group politically powerful in the US, but their ignorance sidelines them in the global debate.
Climate skeptics fall into three camps: those like Freeman Dyson, Bjorn Lomborg and Kiminori Itoh who acknowledge climate change, but think that carbon-based theory and current models are too simplistic to capture such a complex process; those like Ivar Giaever who think that the data is too thin to support such bold claims; and those like Will Happer who contend that the nice analogy of a greenhouse does not apply and that CO2 is too insignificant to be the culprit.
An article prepared to accompany a petition urging the US not to sign global climate accords reviews each of the main contentions of climate change scientists view and presents data suggesting that each is wrong.
Building on fifteen years of work by historians and paleoclimatologist, in 2009, environmental scientist Michael Mann and colleagues published an article that identified a “Medieval Warming Period” (corresponding roughly to 950 – 1250 AD) during which at different times temperature across the planet rose to uncommon highs. Mann et al. noted, however, that this was not a “global warming” nor did temperatures ever rise to today’s levels. In Australia, for example, cave date suggests a rise of just 0.75º C.
In a similar vein, they cite data to suggest that glacier shortening began in the early 19th century, 25 years before the start of intensive fossil fuel use. For a more recent web piece by a well-informed, non-scientist skeptic, see David Siegel’s “scientists view on global warming”
What has been the result of disagreement among scientists?
Science does not exist in a vacuum.
Scientists have strong beliefs about the world they live in and personal agendas. The people who manage the funding agencies, companies, political action groups, political parties and NGOs that pay for their research also have ideological and organizational agendas.
When talking about disagreements among scientists view, it is therefore important to distinguish between scientific contests between different theories, models and data sets, and the shouting matches among nonscientists who use science for their own purposes.
The key result of disagreements among scientists view has been more science.
Where climate-skeptics have challenged climate scientists’ time frames, data and theories, the climate change scientists have re-tested the climate-skeptics’ data and claims, re-tested and improved their own data and reworked their models and theories.
Every time they return with improved results, the climate-skeptics do the same thing. To date, the ongoing research suggests that the climate change models are better and improving rapidly, but the continued contest demonstrates the living nature of the scientific process.
Outside of the scientific view world, however, ignorance of the facts and of science itself have created a free-for-all. Fringe environmental groups, right-wing internet blogs, politicians of all stripes have spread falsehoods far and wide or distorted the truth to serve their own ends. Beware three particular versions of “science” abuse:
- At the start of “My cause is so critically important that a little exaggeration/a few lies are no sin”: This is the most common version indulged in equally by left and right. Environmentalists feel that “life on earth” or whatever is worth any price; the hard right believes that the “climate myth” is simply another internationalist plot to impose government control on free people – whose freedom must be protected at all costs. In both cases, attention to the truth takes a back seat.
- “The sky is falling” – “Oh, give me a break”: Here the divide is between the doomsayers (“Climate Change Impacts Could Collapse Civilization by 2040” report) and the perpetually disengaged (“Americans don’t worry much about climate”). The doomsayers will find any excuse to believe the worst; the “whatever’s” see no reason for concern about anything. To put these contending positions in context and observe the misuse of science in action, remember, first, the 1970s and the gloom that surrounded the impending exhaustion of world oil resources that led to a policy of “pump America dry first” and then, second, the “oh, give me a break” reaction to the efforts that ultimately led to the 1970 Clean Air and Water Act.
- “They only believe in/deny climate change because they are [dumb, insane, evil, deluded, godless, terrorists…]”: This is such a common type of “argument” that it must be mentioned, although it is so illogical an “explanation” that it is hard to consider. Most people learned in primary school that such ad hominem attacks do not constitute compelling refutations, but such assertions form such an essential part of what passes for global “public discourse” today that it bears repeating that any such contention only bears tossing out.