Climate Change: a pre-Q&A rant

Since tonight’s guests on Q&A include Tim Flannery and Jennifer Marohasy, I suspect there will at some point be questions about climate change. Since political discussions of climate change almost always bring out the scientist rage, I’ve decided to vent now rather than have to try and fit it all into 140 character bits once #qanda gets started later tonight. For the record, I would classify myself as an acceptor of the anthropogenic climate change hypothesis, but I don’t intend to discuss the specifics of climate change directly: I’m not a climate scientist, and climate science is discussed with great enthusiasm elsewhere anyhow.

The first thing I’d like to mention is that climate science is extremely complex. There’s no single observation or experiment that will confirm or deny the hypothesis that global warming is happening and is man-made. There are little bits of evidence that will support one side of the argument, and other bits of evidence that will support the opposing view. It is therefore necessary to examine the weight of evidence as a whole, which is where bodies such as the IPCC come in. I wrote the other day about Morton’s Demon, which is basically just an analogy for confirmation bias: paying attention to information that justifies your preexisting beliefs while ignoring information that doesn’t. In the case of a field as complex as climate science, being on the lookout for Morton’s demon is especially important. Repeating myself: there’s no single observation or experiment that will confirm or deny the hypothesis that global warming is happening and is man-made, and it is therefore necessary to examine the weight of evidence as a whole.

The second thing I’d like to mention is that science is not a democracy. Jason (@detly) has written about this before, but I feel it’s worth saying again. Even if 99% of the general population believe that climate change isn’t happening, this has no bearing on whether or not it actually happens. Obtaining the support of the voting public for the action necessary for climate change is a political problem, and quite separate from the science. Obviously, scientists can play a role in education here, but it must be accompanied by political leadership. Putting this another way: since the weight of scientific evidence is strongly behind climate change occurring, and CO2 reductions being necessary to prevent sea level rises and so on, I think it’s time our politicians moved on from debating the existence of climate change to the action needed to stop the problem getting worse.

That’ll do for now. There’s a fair chance I’ll have more to say post #qanda, since I can never remember everything at once.

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One Response to Climate Change: a pre-Q&A rant

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