I was prompted to address this issue following the “hottest 50 years in a millennium” story earlier today (see here). A little Googling from regular commenter Baldrick showed that the lead researcher on that story, Joelle Gergis, had posted on her blog in November 2007 about being pleased that Kevin Rudd had been voted in as PM, because now she might finally “see real action on climate”.
As a climate scientist, I am hopeful that we will finally see real action on climate change. According to COSMOS, Rudd is expected to receive a “rock star’s welcome” to the world stage at crucial U.N. climate change talks in Bali next month. He will be hailed for agreeing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement aimed at curbing global greenhouse gas emissions.
Up to 140 world environment ministers will attend the conference. It is hoped the meeting will bring vital breakthroughs in the effort to achieve a new climate agreement. It is expected to deliver a road map to show how to keep the planet’s temperature from rising more than two degrees. The agreement must be in place before the Kyoto Protocol’s first phase ends in 2012.
Clearly this person had formed the view, at some time prior to the post in November 2007, that there was a climate crisis of some kind that required action. We can safely assume, I think, that she believed that anthropogenic emissions were causing dangerous climate change, and therefore such emissions must be reduced to “save the planet”. In other words, she’s a true believer. Her biography would tend to confirm this conclusion.
Today in the news, we read that Gergis’ latest paper shows that the last 50 years warming are unprecedented in the last 1000, which, naturally, tends to support the notion of dangerous AGW which requires urgent action, thereby supporting the position she herself expressed back in 2007.
And it made me think: why is no-one complaining about this? Why is it OK for climate activists to be climate scientists? Why is it that association with an environmental advocacy group such as WWF or Greenpeace is perfectly acceptable for certain climate scientists currently working towards IPCC AR5, but association with an oil or energy company isn’t? The hypocrisy and double standards are obvious, aren’t they? Why is Big Green any better than Big Oil?
So the key question, which I do not pretend to have an answer to, is this:
Is the present cohort of emerging climate scientists a self-selecting set based on a pre-existing belief in the seriousness of man-made climate change?
Or in other words, do those with a prior concern about AGW naturally gravitate towards careers in climate science or environmental studies, therefore leading to an unbalanced representation of the genuine spectrum of scientific perspectives on climate change? To put it another way, would a student without such a passion for “environmental causes” choose to enter that area of science? Would anyone other than such a person ever choose to become an environmental or climate scientist?
I’m sure the answer is ‘no’. Why would you choose any branch of environmental science unless you wanted, even in some small way, to save the planet?
The majority of climate scientists are funded by governments which are committed (to different degrees) to taking “action” on climate change. At no point do I allege that people are changing their views because of the funding they receive (something that I do not believe happens on either side of the debate), merely that they are a self-selecting group based on prior beliefs. Which would explain why environmental and climate science departments are full of AGW believers.
And it would also explain why environmental journalists are AGW believers too. If you weren’t, why would you become an environmental journalist in the first place?
It’s the final extrapolation of confirmation bias – you choose your entire career based on your beliefs.
Many teenagers get into the whole “green” thing at some point, whether at school or through friends – for some it’s a passing fad, for others it becomes a passion, and eventually a career. But for those who never had that environmental passion, or for whom it faded, would they still choose to make it their career? I doubt it.
And the same would be true of the other side of the debate. For the vast majority of teenagers who do not have that passion, their careers will take them in a multitude of differing paths, other areas of science, commerce, law, you name it.
And it is only when some of those others, who, much later in life perhaps, have their curiosity piqued by some piece of crazy climate legislation, like Gillard’s carbon tax or Kevin Rudd’s proposed Emissions Trading Scheme, and decide to take a look over the fence in to the world of environmental and climate science in academia, or the machiavellian shenanigans of the IPCC or the CSIRO, or the hopelessly political statements of formerly respected academic institutions, like the Royal Society, and are utterly shocked by what they see. And they start voicing those concerns about the lack of proper scientific integrity or the politicisation of the climate debate on blogs, written in their spare time. Like this one.
Is there a solution? Probably not. It would be along the lines of “funding the defence” in the climate debate, so that those with a prior belief that there was no climate crisis would be equally motivated to pursue a career in environmental or climate science. But that’s not going to happen, is it?