The key to cutting through climate confusion

Dr Klaus Bosselman is right when he suggests in a New Zealand Herald article today that opinion polls carried out by the media are fickle things and that Government policies in relation to climate change should be based on sound science not public opinion.

But there’s no denying the fact that the public is becoming increasingly sceptical about the scientific claims made in support of anthropogenic global warming and that this has serious implications for us all unless the scientific community moves to counter it. As I was quoted as saying in the same Herald article today:

“If the overwhelming majority of the public isn’t satisfied that the science indicates a need to act … the political will dissipates too.”

Virtually all of the world’s governments are on the same page on climate change – they agree in principle that the science suggests a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So in effect, they are basing their policies on science rather than fickle public opinion – but the reality is obviously a lot more complicated than that. Turning up at Copenhagen alongside other world leaders costs nothing, nor does adding your signature to a list of undertakings that are not legally binding. Getting the support to pass an Emissions Trading Scheme is much more difficult, as our Government found out last year.

Actually pushing through the policy and legislation that will lead to change requires broad, genuine support and it is here that the measures of public opinion come into play in a big way. There is nothing new in this, politics has always been about the weight of numbers and in many respects, timing.

Take for instance, the polarising debate about gay marriage going on in the US at the moment. As this interesting New Yorker piece points out, a major Supreme Court case underway in San Francisco could help decide whether same-sex marriage becomes legal across the US rather than in the five states where it is currently legally recognised.

You would expect gay people and those who support same-sex marriage to be supportive of the Supreme Court bid to make gay marriage legal. But that isn’t the case – a lot of activists in this area are worried the legal fight is too soon, that a defeat could sway public opinion against gay marriage when it is gradually creeping further in favour of it. While 29 states in the US have passed legislation prohibiting gay marriage since 1993, polls suggest that around forty per cent of Americans support marriage for gay couples, and more than fifty per cent support civil unions. Political scientists quoted in the New Yorker piece suggest that “in five years a majority of Americans will favor same-sex marriage–the result of generational replacement and …’attitude adjustment’.’

As the New Yorker sums up: “Why push the Court far ahead of public opinion if public opinion is moving in that direction anyway?”

Now, gay marriage is unlike climate change in that arguments for or against it aren’t based on science as is the case with climate change. But it is an issue that goes to the centre of people’s belief systems and our judgements on how we should live our lives. In that respect, it shares many of the characteristics of the issue of climate change, which is equally as polarising in the US as the gay marriage issue is. The difference is the time factor. Whether same sex marriage becomes legal in the US next year or in five years, is immaterial as far as the world is concerned. Whether governments are given the mandate to act on climate change now or in five years will determine our effectiveness in combating global warming, scientists tell us. If the trend in public opinion is accurate, it may also be much more difficult for governments to secure a mandate from their citizens to act. As such, a slide in public opinion going the other way – towards scepticism rather than acceptance of the scientific consensus on the issue, is disturbing.

Science needs a new approach

It is only a matter of time before opinion polls translate into inaction on climate change, policies shelved, plans deferred – Copenhagen hinted at the inertia. Politicians will use any excuse to put off spending money or undertaking great efforts that detract from short-term goals that improve the public’s perception of them. So the scientific community really has very little time to repair the dents in the credibility of climate science – and get the public back on board.

It would be too late to wait until the next IPCC report is published. What those in the world of climate science need to undertake is a comprehensive and credible recap of what is known about climate change and more transparent examination and commentary on the areas that are causing most dispute. This needs to be communicated in a way the public can understand. That is easier said than done. It is also exasperating for scientists who resent having to spend increasing amounts of time explaining the science, rather than working on the science itself. That’s too bad. Increasing scrutiny is being placed not only on the research results of climate science but the funding of climate science programmes and organisations.

A more informed discussion on climate change with more input from scientists also needs to happen in the mainstream media – not the blogosphere. A good example of what we need to see more of is this Q&A piece published on the Herald website today, where NIWA climate scientist Dr Jim Renwick is asked to answer questions submitted by Herald readers. In some short answers he is quickly able to cut through some of the misconceptions about climate change. We need more of this type of thing.

I ask nearly everyone I meet what they think about climate change and the majority of them are sceptical of the human component of it. But when you probe a bit further and ask them to explain why, the usual sceptic arguments that have played out extensively in the media are usually referenced. Meanwhile, global warming predictions often appear hysterical in contrast to what the sceptics have to say. As Dr Renwick explains:

We’ve already discovered that the deficit model of science communication is ineffective. As this essay points out
In modern societies – particularly given the power and pervasiveness of today’s communications technologies – trust and respect need to be generated; they cannot be taken for granted or imposed from above, whether in science or any other type of social activity.

That implies the need for an openness to dialogue, and a willingness to come out from behind closed walls, whether these belong to the ivory towers in which scientific knowledge has traditionally been produced, or the boardrooms and corridors of power in which key decisions about the production and application of this knowledge are taken.

This is something that those involved in climate science still need to get their heads around. If it wasn’t important before it is now fundamental to everything people in the field do. As Zim Sherman writing in the letters page of today’s Otago Daily Times (see below) sums up:
All the knowledge in the world is meaningless unless you let it out of the box
From the Otago Daily Times, Jan 25, 2010
From the Otago Daily Times, Jan 25, 2010


  1. neilcraig

    Uh huh.

    Would that explain why you made no attempt to introduce any facts or rationality into the preceeding post & stuck purely to ad hominum attacks@?

    I recognise your claims that I have acalled the Apollo landings & the rest frauds to represent the pinnacle of honesty to which lying, thieving eco-fascist parasites like the climate alarmists are capable., equally truthful with the claims you have made about the IPCC results being “measured & conservative”.

    I note you are still claiming the IPCC’s “Summary for Policymakers” doesn’t exist & assume, despite implying that nobody who hasn’t read the 3000 pages has any right to comment that you haven’t even seen it. The entire alarmist case, & the subsidies you extract from the taxpayer, depends entirely on such lies, bluster, snake oil & a total contempt for any form of honesty.

    Or perhaps you have some actual fact to bring to the discussion?

  2. Ken Perrott

    “Lying,” “eco-fascists,” “lying parasites,” “Janet & John Summary,” “censored,” “parasites of the environmental movement,” “scare story.”

    All heavy emotional stuff, neilcraig. But not rational.

    I guess no factual or logical discussion is going to break through the extreme confirmation bias denier firewall.

    Perhaps we could move the discussion on to you opinions of the Apollo moon landings, the inside job done on the New York Twin Towers, evolutionary science, etc (or any other science)?

    Or do you reserve such strong bias only for climate scientists.

  3. neilcraig

    Ken if YOU had actuially read any of the IPCC report you would know it was not intended for policymakers. What the policymakers were supposed to read was the Janet & John “Summary for Policynakers” (hence its title geddit?) which is the stuff from the main report with all the qualifications & doubts censored.

    You are, of course, lying about the certainty you claim is shown in the main report. There is no such certainty. But this is yet another example of the highest standard of honesty to which the lying parasites of the eco-fascist movement aspire.

    I have already explained how this “tiny error” about half the world’s population facing the loss of their water supply crept in. The IPCC took an off the cuf “speculation” buy a scientist on the phone to a journalist & called it proven & perer reviewed science. This is yet another example of the highest standard to which the lying parasites of the “environmentla” movement apsire.

    Aimee you are saying that part 2 contains any scare story they could find but that part 1 has validity. You are thereby saying that when Ken claimed all their stuff was “understated, balanced, conservative and careful” the IPCC that it was all “peer reviewed” they were all showing the very highest degree of honesty to be expected form the eco-fascists – ie that they were lying. I regret you have not found it possible to say you wish to dissociate yourself from Ken’s claims.

  4. Aimee Whitcroft

    It’s worth pointing something out, here:

    The report was split into several sections, including working group (WG) 1, 2 and 3, each of which looked into different aspects of climate science/climate change.

    WG 1 is the section which contains only peer-reviewed science as it’s the collation and summary of climate science until the cut-off date. Thus far, no one has found any errors therein (well, not that I’ve seen in the media).

    WG 2 is an entirely different kettle of fish. It looks into the potential impacts of climate change, and as a result includes both peer-reviewed information and information from other sources (and always has!). The reasoning behind this is obvious, of course – since it’s looking into potential impacts, there isn’t always hard-and-fast data; sometimes local knowledge and informed opinion must also be allowed. THIS is the section in which the Himalayan glacier error (and others) popped up. But to say that these errors invalidate the whole document because they came from non-peer-reviewed data is to miss the point: the WG 2 document doesn’t necessarily require that.

    Further, there have recently been articles in which the scientists involved actually explained how those errors crept in, and really, it was a case of one or two small situations of human error – given the size and complexity of the document, it’s hardly surprising, although it is certainly regrettable.

  5. Ken Perrott

    So neilcraig. I guess the answer is no? You haven’t read, or attempted to read the IPCC reports or summaries, have you?

    Mind you, 3000 pages – hardly accessible. It’s meant for policy makers, not the general public.

    However I can recommend a good climate change book, Andy Reisinger’s Climate Change 101. It’s based on the last IPCC report and is written in the same objective, even-handed and conservative style. It will give you a flavour for the IPCC approach, plus a lot of the science involved.

    Really, the IPCC conclusions have got nothing to do with Himalayan glacier mistakes (that didn’t even make it into the policy makers’ synthesis). They are basically:

    1: The global temperature is currently increasing. That is now established as unequivocal.
    2: This current temperature increase, or at least a large component of it, is most probably (90%) caused by human activity.

    These basic conclusions have implications for political and economic policies, and therefore for governments and policy makers. On the whole they take this seriously (most of them have at least read the IPCC synthesis summary for policy makers).

    As these conclusions are based on thorough and transparent reviews and summary of published scientific literature governments are right to take them seriously. They represent the best information possible – although inevitably dated (That is why many climate scientists think more current finding indicate that the situation is worse than the IPCC has concluded).

    Now, given all this, it it silly to place your hands over your ears, ignore these findings and shout “liar, liar.” More sensible to get stuck in and debate the political and ethical questions involved in humanity’s response to this common problem.

  6. neilcraig

    Lying again Ken like almost all alarmists.
    Or can you name a single alarmist or eco-fascist, with evidence, who is remotely honest?

    I say that the IPPC’s claim that all the glaciers in the Himalatas will disappear over the next 25 years is clearly false ae is the claim that this is perr reviewed research.

    We have your word, by the very highe4st standard of honesty to which you & clearly the entire movement ever aspire, that it is not false & is peer reviewed.

    The IPCC have now acknowledged that it is false & that it was not peer reviewed but taken from an off the cuff & “speculative” journalist’s conversation.

    Anybody else want to say that Ken or the entire alarmist movement at least as represented here, are in any way truthful & the IPCC lying to make themselves look bad?

  7. Ken Perrott

    Being silly again, neilcraig.

    The whole IPCC process is one of literature summary and review. How can you say that is “clearly false?” Well I suppose you can say it, but it is silly.

    “Lying propagandist” ??? I think we should reserve that for those who deserve it. The people who think one small mistake like 2035 discredits the whole review process. Or those people who have taken Phil Jones recent comments and distorted them completely to provide evidence of no global warming.

    We could go on. And on.

    Just dig through the hysterical comments currently being made in the social media with the #climategate tag. You will see some shockers.

    Neilcraig – have you attempted to read any of the IPCC reports or summaries?

  8. neilcraig

    Personal attacks, Ken, merely imply you know you have no factual arguments.

    Your claims about the IPCC being peer reviewed, while also made by the IPCC, are clrealy false. They have not merely made one tiny mistake (saying the glaciers which provide the water supply to half the coninent of Asia are going to disappear in 25 years is actually rather more important than getting your name wrong. However the IPCC have been caught in dozens of major similar invented & ludicrous stories. I grant the IPCC do indeed represent the very best in alarmist “science” worldwide but they are still nothing but lying propagandists.

    I note that even now you haven’t apologised for saying IPCC’s allegation that all the Himalayan glaciers will be gone by 2035 is “understated, conservative, balanced & careful”.nor have any fellow travellers disputed it even though the IPCC have said it is untrue & a claim made with no evidence for political reasons.

    Nor, of course, have you even attempted to produce a single independent scientist who is part of your “consensus” nor acknowledged that without thousnads of them it is impossible to, honestly, call it a consensus.

  9. Ken Perrott

    neilcraig – you are being silly, but in the process revealing an obvious tactic being used massively at the moment to try and discredit science.

    One referencing mistake is found in 3000 pages! An incredibly low number. And while the 2035 date is obviously silly, noone doubts the general conclusion that glaciers are retreating as a result of global warming, do they?

    Have a look at my article I thought the award for mistakes was mine! where I describe several referencing mistakes I made in 1 paper! (I spelt my name wrong). It didn’t invalidate my paper, or its science.

    But of course you want to use that one paragraph, an acknowledged mistake, to characterise the whole 3000 pages! Hardly honest.

    I repeat my assertoon. The IPCC reports are understated, conservative, balanced and careful. That one mistake doesn’t change anything.

    I think the reports suffer from their mode of preparation, committee work and many reviews. It inevitably makes them conservative. And of course they just cannot include the new research which is highlighting problems that couldn’t evaluate. So some of their conclusions have to be seen as underestimates.

  10. neilcraig

    So Ken is not retracting his claim that the IPCC’s allegation that all the Himalayan glaciers will be gone by 2035 is “understatyed, conservative, balanced & careful”.nor have any fellow travellers disputed it even though the IPCC have said it is untrue & a claim made with no evidence for political reasons.

    Are there any circumstances whatsoever undervwhich we can trust a single word said by ay “environmentalist” when they have such chutzpah about saying black is white.

  11. neilcraig

    “If you read the IPCC reports you will find then understated, balanced, conservative and careful. There are no alarmist comments being made.”

    While accepting that as the highest standard of accuracy & argument to be expected from anybody in the alarmist community Ken may wish to retract it, or other alarmists to publicly disown it, at least every single alarmist who is remotely honest certainly will, on the grounds that every word is a lie.

    The IPCC has recently retracted its claim that all the Himalayan glaciers will have melted by 2035 “or earlier” on the ground that it is totally untrue, it could not possibl become true, the current laws of physics being what they are & that they had no scientific evidence whatsoever for it when they made it. Further apolghies to come.

  12. Ken Perrott

    neilcraig – I think your picture of consensus just doesn’t apply in science. The reality of nature is not determined by something like an “Oregon petition.”

    What the IPCC has done (or more correctly many, many specialist scientists throughout the world) is to review the existing scientific literature relevant to climate change. This review was used to write the reports which again have been reviewed. So the conclusions that come from this review have a consensus nature – having gone thorough this rigorous process.

    If you read the IPCC reports you will find then understated, balanced, conservative and careful. There are no alarmist comments being made.

    The two basic conclusions are currently:

    1: Global temperatures have increased over the last 50 years. This they now judge as unequivocal.

    2: Human activity has most probably (90%) contributed to this increase.

    Many people judge, partly as a result of research published subsequently, that this understates the real situation.

    Now – who would you trust to give you the best advice when it comes to repairing your car? A number of qualified mechanics who got together, considered the symptoms, and then drew a consensus conclusion.


    a host of people you interviewed walking down the main street who didn’t look at the evidence and had no expertise in mechanics (but were aged at least 21). Would you accept their advice as credible even if they were prepared to sign a petition saying – ignore the experts. Your car is quite safe?

  13. neilcraig

    “If that doesn’t represent a scientific consensus, I don’t know what does”

    Well i have explained DrMike what does. A consensus would have to cover the vast majority of scientists overall which would certainly mean a large majority of those not funded by government. I have asked for 2 such & you & more importantly EVERYBODY else out of probably 10s of thousands now, have been unable to do so.

    Saying that institutions which are government funded follow the line or that the vast majority of scientists have expressed no opinion so they must agree with you is worthless. Saying that people employed pushing alarmism agree it is genuine is precisely as valid as saying astology is a science because those making their living selling it say it works.

  14. drmike


    Virtually every scientific organisation in the world has backed the claim the global warming has an anthropogenic contribution. If that doesn’t represent a scientific consensus, I don’t know what does.

    The Oregon petition has been carefully checked and the definition of “scientist” is quite broad (i.e. includes degrees in electronics, veterinary medicine, medicine etc ). Using this same definition there were approximately 2,654,000 scientists in the USA who have not signed the Oregon petition, i.e. about 99% of US scientists did not sign the petition.
    Here’s another point to think about. The majority of scientists do not work on climate change. If those working outside of the climate change field thought that all this money was being spent on irrelevant research there would be an outcry. Funding is so hard to get for science, scientists wouldn’t tolerate it being wasted in this way.
    Someone once told me that get academics to move in the same direction, is like herding cats 🙂 Given that the majority of “cats” are heading in the same direction regarding climate change, I think the issue needs to be taken seriously.

  15. Bruce Hamilton


    Given the climate debate has been going 15 years, if somebody is an expert in the field, they are likely to have been funded by, or involved with, one of your protagonists, so your conditions probably wouldn’t be met. If they are outside their discipline, like many of us here, we are merely offering opinions. Our opinions have no more credence than yours.

    Whilst good conspiracy theories can be entertaining, given the freely available data, I doubt global warming is one. Experts should always qualify the uncertainty in predictions, so you find somebody who doesn’t, be afraid.

    Frankly, I wouldn’t follow a scientist claiming that “catastrophic degree of warming is bunk” out of a burning building, especially if they are outside their discipline. Would you allow your plumber to operate on your brain, just because he comments coherently on brain surgery in the pub?. His tools would probably open the skull OK, but then… :-).

    We often have to make decisions with partial information, and then we either trust generally-accepted experts, or we don’t. For predicted climate change, the future may not be a rehearsal than can be corrected and repeated.

    As I’ve noted before, the IPCC started this supporter numbers game, but it’s totally irrelevant to the merits of either position. Because of the multi-discipline nature of climate science prediction, short term and long term, there will always be some contrary experts, but that’s no excuse for the current inertia.

    I also doubt politicians like the current situation ( apart from photo-opportunities with major leaders ), as developed countries are going to have to modify their carbon-based economies, and voters may be pretty annoyed – hence their inertia, and making China the Copenhagen scapegoat.

  16. Bruce Hamilton

    Sorry, I wasn’t clear. Those examples were often initiated on the basis of tenuous/debatable science, but the scientists worked with the willing polluters ( eg Du Pont with CFCs, utility companies for acid rain). I’m afraid I don’t understand the cancer analogy, we prohibit or restrict carcinogens as we find them – except for smoking – which remains a political decision, not disputed science decision – we aren’t addicted to carbon fuels, farm farts, etc..

    Climate change scientists don’t have similar linkages – possibly because the polluters couldn’t provide useful support – such as atmospheric information or historical emissions data, as it wasn’t part of their business. For many of the above cases the researchers interacted with scientists in the polluting industries – because they had specialist resources and historical data. Those company scientists became the corporate champions of change.

    The IPCC suffers from the UN complaint of trying to obtain global consensus, which requires altruism from some member states. The handling of ozone layer depletion and transnational acid rain shows that it’s possible with goodwill, but that’s apparently long gone in the climate debate.

    Consumer companies will change in the face of tenuous science – provided the alternatives don’t affect competitiveness – and manufacturers will also change, or die. When the whole industry agrees to change then a mechanism can be produced that is politically-acceptable and nationally-driven ( eg Montreal Protocol ). There are examples of companies that didn’t partner ( Johns Manville with asbestos, Associated Octel with lead ), but once competitors ate into their market share, they switched.

    In some cases, the actual harm has only been quantified after mitigation, because nobody measured harm initially, eg halogenated organics, lead pollution. Certainly the tenuous nature of the science also decreased as science monitored change progress.

    Examples I’ve been involved in NZ include:- replacement of clutch and brake asbestos in early 1970s by auto companies, replacement of CFCs by refrigeration companies, replacement of lead by the mixture of auto and oil companies – admittedly driven by different motives, in NZ/UK because of lead pollution from vehicles, in USA because of adverse effect on vehicle emissions systems designed for smog mitigation.

    We have allowed the politicians to suggest irrational strategies ( ETS ) because the issue has been apocalyptic, rather than addressing component parts. It’s like trying to solve all pollution ( heavy metals, halogenated organics, pesticides, smog, acid rain, endocrime disruptors etc.) by one fell swoop.

    My perception remains that NZ should start implementing effective options now, and let the climate scientists debate separately. The IPCC will never carve commandments on stone tablets, but we don’t need them to start down the road.

  17. neilcraig

    I would like to take issue with the idea that there ever was a “scientific consensus” on global warming. I have asked journalists, politicians & alarmist lobbyists now totalling in the thousands to name 2 prominent scientists, not funded by government or an alarmist lobby who have said that we are seeing a catastrophic degree of warming & none of them have yet been able to do so. I extend this same invitation here.

    There is not & never was a genuine scientific consensus on this, though scientists seeking government funds have been understandably reluctant to speak. If there were anything approaching a consensus it would, with over 31,000 scientists having signed the Oregon petition saying it is bunk, it would be easy to find a similar number of independent scientists saying it was true, let alone 2. The whole thing depends on a very small number of people & a massive government publicity machine, both very well funded by the innocent taxpayer.

  18. Shaun Hendy

    Bruce – at least to me, the examples you give seem much more straightforward. They operate on much shorter time frames, and their effects can be glimpsed in everyday life.

    With global warming, however, I think we are in similar territory to the medics e.g. “study shows causes/cures cancer.” In medicine, it’s often only once these individual studies are aggregated in a meta-study that it’s really possible to draw any conclusions. To do this, the medics have developed an independent body called the Cochrane Collaboration that conducts such meta-reviews.

    In the same way, individual pieces of climate research seem to me to be insufficient to make a water-tight case for global warming (at least for the timebeing afaik). It’s only once we pull all the individual pieces of evidence together that the case becomes overwhelming. This is the job of the IPCC – it should be climate science’s Cochrane Collaboration, but for many of the skeptics its independence is compromised by the fact that it is composed of the many of the scientists who are doing the research.

    Whether we proceed with bodies like the IPCC or establish something else, scientists are going to have to get used to new levels of openness and communication in the future, and to having their work scrutinised independently, above and beyond the current peer review system.

  19. Bruce Hamilton

    Shaun… “There is no doubt we have a big job ahead in explaining the complexities of global warming to the public. That is not to say we can’t try harder or do better, but in many ways I think the challenge for scientists is unprecedented.”

    As I’ve posted elsewhere, I don’t think it’s unprecedented – consider acid rain, Smog, CFCs, Asbestos, halogenated organic ( Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring ), lead in paint and petrol. All were consequences of major industrial success, however breaking down the problem, and ensuring “buy in ” from affected parties, along with various financial incentives facilitated structural change over decades, if necessary. Incentivise the worst polluters first, and knowledge gained will make subsequent smaller changes cost-effective.

    Unfortunately, what makes Climate Change so different is that we created IPCC – which has taken on a life of it’s own, rather than obtain “buy in” from affected industries, they’ve become the “enemy”. We’ve also created an Emissions Trading Scheme that will benefit traders and possibly politicians – if they gather more taxes. As a global solution it obviously sucks – reducing emissions is a superior option.
    Politicians don’t want to start down the path, perhaps because they don’t truly believe immediate change is required.

    We have lost 15 years, and will lose at least another 5. Better for scientists/technologists to provide NZ industries and individuals with “solutions” that have IRRs that keep bean counters happy. In NZ, CRIs should be very active, but many have lost the people who understood industrial priorities, so they need to offer rational, economic, solutions that a corporate champion can push. Certainly we need to give agriculture a huge push, especially the greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and pollution, and soil fertility issues.

    If CRIs can’t offer the service, then incentivise some innovative companies to lead. The entities that adopt will soon begin to have lower costs, and others will follow. Start small, and forget the IPCC, it’s now part of the problem.

  20. Peter Griffin

    Bruce: “Over the last month or so I’ve participated in parts of sciblogs that interest me. I’ve been rather saddened by the staid and entrenched attitudes.”

    What I know is that the Scibloggers are all pro-science and are concerned when they see policy proceeding in a direction or public opinion trending in a way that diverges from what the scientific evidence suggests. They don’t have all the answers, but at least now there’s some place where scientists and those interested in science can discuss these things.

    Discussion of science in this country has for some time actually been dominated by newspaper columnists, many of whom don’t know much about science and are deeply suspicious of scientists – witness recent columns by Garth George, Jim Hopkins and John Roughan – all writing for the New Zealand Herald. It is no wonder that people, who as you say have other priorities, listen to these opinion leaders and have their scepticism reinforced.

    As I said in the post, scientists, especially climate scientists, can no longer afford to follow that deficit model of science communication, releasing their findings after years of work and expecting the media to lap it all up. There needs to be an ongoing dialogue, greater transparency, full explanations when the scientific picture changes as more research is undertaken.

    That needs to be a bigger part of the scientific process and that is simply the way technology and communication is going anyway.

    I agree with you, a shift needs to take place where scientists talk more about short-term, tangible solutions to climate change, rather than the distant doomsday predictions. It’s actually an easier sell anyway, people like stories about electric cars and solar panels!

  21. Shaun Hendy

    Great post Peter. I would like to add that one of the challenges in explaining global warming is the complexity of climate change. The science that demonstrates anthropogenic global warming relies on the statistical aggregation of many lines of evidence – the public can’t rely on their own observations of their weather or local climate, even over periods as long as decades. Furthermore, the projections of the danger ahead lean heavily on complex computer modelling.

    In contrast, the theory of evolution relies on a few ideas that are relatively straightforward to explain and a good deal of the evidence for it is relatively accessible. Yet despite the monumental effort of many scientists, the debate about evolution has continued in some constituencies well into its second century.

    There is no doubt we have a big job ahead in explaining the complexities of global warming to the public. That is not to say we can’t try harder or do better, but in many ways I think the challenge for scientists is unprecedented.

  22. Bruce Hamilton

    In the mid 1990s, I participated in the Usenet sci.environment groups, and many of the same climate changes protagonists are now in the blogosphere. 15 years on, and the same arguments are expounded – that’s lost time for action, with blame on both sides.

    Even the IPCC realised that scientist aren’t policymakers, hence the WG outputs are not supposed to contain policy, and the Summary for Policymakers is supposed to help policymakers interpret the latest WG data..Unfortunately, it only takes a couple of minor mis-steps for public credibility to be lost. Policymakers are beholden to those who appoint them, and they don’t like to confront those voters with unpalatable options.. .

    All the evidence was, and probably still is, that scientists make poor policy advisors, especially on subjects where uncertainty is a large part of the language. Scientists believe they can lecture the public and change attitudes purely by the force of good science. Sadly, people have other priorities.

    Even the best communicators struggle when science is not absolute. Gareth Morgan’s balanced review of climate science ( Poles Apart ) was smothered by Ian Wishart’s Air Con. There will alway be people who distrust imperatives from politicians and scientists. If they are vocal, they can prevent rational action.

    I believe that we should forget the longer-term disaster scenarios, and work on the common sense of minimising each person’s footprint on the planet, whilst at the same time demonstrating that choosing energy minimisation can save money..

    The cost of many alternatives is decreasing as scale increases and technology improves – eg capital cost of wind power is now cheaper than most alternatives, provided the location is appropriate. Smaller cars are a temporary solution until the EV battery problem is solved.

    However, assuming no additional funds, that approach would transfer research funds from some researchers and give it to researchers helping introduce zero or low carbon technologies and similar changes..

    Over the last month or so I’ve participated in parts of sciblogs that interest me. I’ve been rather saddened by the staid and entrenched attitudes ” I understand the science, and so know what’s good for NZers”..Most people thought they had escaped from school prefects..

    It’s not surprising that Kiwiblog threads and related sites are so scornful of science-based policies designed to modify a vague, predicted future.climate. Altruism is considered a discretionary luxury by most people today.

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