Climate alarmists’ tactics — exaggeration, misrepresentation, smear and scorn — have hurt the movement more than helped it. No surprise there. Cultist are always the last to recognise the folly of their ways
When the idea of dangerous anthropogenic global warming (AGW) from fossil fuel emissions arose it found strong resonance across a variety of important interests. For researchers it meant funding and recognition. With the media it was attention-grabbing drama. To activists it was the mother of all eco-threats. Business saw huge profits to be made, while bureaucrats recognised the potential for massive increases in power and control.
For politicians it was a no-brainer, with strong popularity on one side and only denigration on the other.
An impressive AGW bandwagon soon assembled and fired-up a luxurious hundred billion dollar gravy train. In late 2009 everything was on track for a glorious triumph by AGW forces at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, which was to have been the gateway to the clean, green new world promised by the eco-prophets.
Then came Climategate and the wheels started to come off.
In reality the whole vast AGW structure was built on a flimsy foundation of highly dubious prophesies by a small coterie of third-rate academics whose reputations and careers have been based almost entirely on dramatic claims about climate change which have proved to be either wrong, doubtful, or at best, yet to be verified. The description of their being “third rate” is used with due consideration. The attention-grabbing claims concerning AGW have been both fraught with uncertainty and subject to diverse unrefuted criticism. Well-founded credentials and reputations in research are not based on iffy speculation and un-verified predictions. Competent scientists avoid such speculation and take care to clearly qualify the limits and uncertainties involved in any opinions or predictions they may offer.
With rare exception, all of the leading scientific proponents of catastrophic AGW have been unknown academics until they climbed onto the climate change bandwagon and began to make dramatic predictions of imminent catastrophe. The few exceptions with established reputations outside of climate catastrophism seem to have been already committed to a catastrophist view of other environmental threats for which AGW is only the latest, greatest and most popular. It also has boasted the added attraction of being by far the most rewarding.
In addition, climatology was a little known, highly interdisciplinary area of study in which researchers from almost any field could participate and call themselves climatologists. Doing so and offering some dramatic claim about AGW virtually assured widespread news coverage with anointment by the media of status as an “expert”. Generous grants were sure to follow.
For an academic with only a meagre reputation to risk, the temptation would have been hard to resist — especially so for those suffering from that common academic malady, an inflated opinion of one’s own importance and intellectual ability. The opening of a shortcut to fame and fortune while bypassing the normal and tedious slog to recognised expertise was surely too right to have been just luck. It must have been meant to be and has accordingly been defended with all the ferocity of true believers.
In climate alarmism the perceived righteousness of the cause has led to a wholesale abandonment of what had previously been considered to be proper scientific practice. In climate research it has become widespread and accepted practice to refuse to reveal methods and materials, ignore opposing evidence, misrepresent findings, exaggerate confidence, suppress publication of conflicting findings and use personal denigration to discredit anyone who dares to raise questions about the latest and endless streams of claims and assertions. While such malpractice has become pervasive, it will usually involve just complex technical matter at a time, requiring a considerable level of background knowledge if arguments are to be fully understand.
However, the fundamental ethical issues are something everyone can understand and it is here where the alarmists have done the most to discredit themselves. Whenever clear evidence of dishonest behaviour by AGW proponents has been exposed, instead of simply condemning it they have followed a pattern of first trying to deny it then, when that fails, attempting to justify it. Finally, when mis-information has been thoroughly exposed, they seek to trivialise “mistakes” as being of no importance in any case. In doing this they have make it clear that any regard for truth is subordinate to the righteousness of their cause.
Before widespread systematic scientific misconduct began to be exposed in climate research, science enjoyed a high level of public trust. In abusing this trust, climate alarmists gained a short-lived advantage. However, the inevitable exposures have inflicted serious and long lived damage to both their own cause and to the reputation of science itself. This will be difficult to repair.
Now, it seems that all of the dire predictions about warming temperatures, species extinctions, extreme weather, melting glaciers, accelerating sea levels, epidemics, crop failures and sundry other climate catastrophes are starting to be seen as having failed. Having denied any possibility of natural variability in the modest rise in global temperature observed in the latter part of the 20th century, the alarmists are now finding it difficult to explain why their most certain hopes have not materialised. That they might have been wrong all along is, of course, unthinkable.
In the face of an ever increasing departure from unfolding reality their response has been to simply ratchet up the level of alarm and claim more certainty than ever. This seems a bizarre strategy, especially from a group which purports to be composed of scientists of the highest calibre. They must deem reality itself to be subordinate to a dubious theory ratified only by group consensus.
From the outside it looks like a retreat to the bunkers for a last stand by fanatical adherents of an extremist cult preparing for martyrdom in a final paroxysm of righteousness. Perhaps it’s the prophesied battle of Armageddon featuring the righteous hosts of postmodernism vs. the Satanic idea of an objective reality independent of anything one might choose to believe. Or could it just be that the constant misrepresentation of reality that is now the norm in climate research has become so ingrained that adherents have difficulty differentiating reality from fantasy, not unlike the condition psychiatrists used to call Pseudologia Fantastica?
However it is characterised, the current tactics of climate alarmists in public debate are doing nothing to restore their credibility, serving only to make themselves look ever more foolish and untrustworthy.
If they are really as certain as they profess to be, the best thing they could do at this point would be to shut up. If they are right, reality should prove them so soon enough. And if the science is settled, as they claim, there is no need for more research anyway. Of course they won’t do anything of the sort. Shutting up would mean giving surrendering all that flattering attention and funding they have come to accept as their just due.
So, in all probability the show will continue, not as a debate but as a farce, with the lead characters making ever-bigger fools of themselves until the public tires of paying the bills and finds something better to do with its tax money.