The current outrage of the week, or maybe it was last week, things move so fast here abouts, is what do you call the folks who deny the truth of scientific results. Deniers, denialists, whatever. There has been considerable posting and commenting on this, but there has been always been a constant undercurrent even back into the days of USENET.
Matt Ridley and David Rose touched this flare up off. ATTP has been a willing participant with Richard Betts as guest blogger. Of course, Mother Kloor had his say and today Justin Gillis at the NY Times has a piece up which will appear in dead trees next week
..the fight about what to call the various factions has been going on for a long time. Recently, though, the issue has taken a new turn, with a public appeal that has garnered 22,000 signatures and counting.
The petition asks the news media to abandon the most frequently used term for people who question climate science, “skeptic,” and call them “climate deniers” instead.The petition was organized by Mark Boslough, a physicist at Sandia National Labs and Forecast the Facts. Gillis points out that while climate scientists may have fist fights about the details there is essential unanimity that climate change is an extraordinary risky thing.
As a first step, it helps to understand why they so vigorously denounce the science. The opposition is coming from a certain faction of the political right. Many of these conservatives understand that since greenhouse emissions are caused by virtually every economic activity of modern society, they are likely to be reduced only by extensive government intervention in the market.and goes on to describe how the tree tries to distinguish itself from the nuts to maintain some credibility
So casting doubt on the science is a way to ward off such regulation. This movement is mainly rooted in ideology, but much of the money to disseminate its writings comes from companies that profit from fossil fuels.
Some make scientifically ludicrous claims, such as denying that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas or rejecting the idea that humans are responsible for its increase in the atmosphere. Others deny that Earth is actually warming, despite overwhelming evidence that it is, including the rapid melting of billions of tons of land ice all over the planet.
Yet the critics of established climate science also include a handful of people with credentials in atmospheric physics, and track records of publishing in the field. They acknowledge the heat-trapping powers of greenhouse gases, and they distance themselves from people who deny such basic points.
“For God’s sake, I can’t be lumped in with that crowd,” said Patrick J. Michaels, a former University of Virginia scientist employed by the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington.
Contrarian scientists like Dr. Michaels tend to argue that the warming will be limited, or will occur so gradually that people will cope with it successfully, or that technology will come along to save the day – or all of the above.Eli has agreed in the interests of comity to call those who deny climate science, rejectionists. OTOH, how to describe those fiendishly trying to define climate sensitivity down?
No one ever did a better job of this than the Idiot Tracker, using the then current term of art, lukewarmers and describing their tactic as jimmying the Overton window by minimizing climate sensitivity while acknowledging the greenhouse effect.
The real contrast here is not between "activists" and "skeptics" but between deniers and everybody else – between the science and the right-wing lunacy. But lukewarmers are exploiting the shift in the Overton window brought about by voluble climate deniers to position their radical views as a sane middle ground.In part two, the Tracker points out the incoherence of the lukewarmer position because, if they want to play scientist, they simply cannot pick a value for climate sensitivity, or future warming, or whatever, but need to assign a range, in Baysean language a prior, in frequentist terms a distribution, but then you would need a few dozen Earths, so let Eli stick with the Rev. Bayes and his alter boys James Annan and Andrew Gelman.
So the critical question then becomes: what is the lukewarmers' range? Consensus scientists estimate climate sensitivity at about 3C, but concede that it might be 1.5C, 4.5C or even higher (and very unlikely to be much lower). What range do lukewarmers think is plausible?When that is done the argument becomes not one about certainty or uncertainty but about risk. What is your attitude towards risk, how much risk are the lukewarmers willing to take? And there are serious risks from climate change out there, sea level rise, crop failures, heat waves and the like.
So far, to my knowledge, no self-identified lukewarmer has been persuaded to answer this question. They will find it difficult. Because they have positioned themselves as participants in the scientific debate, they can hardly claim 100% confidence in X climate sensitivity, no error bars. If they are reasonable, they have to accept they they are as fallible as the rest of the scientific community, and although they think the climate sensitivity is 1.5C (say) it might be 1.0C, or 2.0C, or even (gasp!) 3.0C (where the consensus puts it).
Once you've acknowledged the greenhouse warming caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases, even a ludicrously low estimate of climate sensitivity will not save you from the iron logic of risk assessment: "maybe not" and even "probably not" are unacceptable for the kind of impacts we're talking about. Even 1% is too high. But, absent a new data set allowing a much, much more exactly calculation of climate sensitivity than we have been able to provide to date, there is no way even the most Pollyanna estimates of climate sensitivity and future emissions can provide any acceptable level of assurance that "business as usual" is anything but a road to ruin.So how to describe this position? Eli suggests that the proper description of this luckwarmers. They feel lucky and are betting the house on it. Unfortunately it is our house.