More heat than light

Climate sense

Paul Monk, writing in The Australian Literary Review, skillfully sums up the current parlous state of the climate debate, with reference to a number of recently published books from both sides of the debate. It is a long read, but very well worth it, and the conclusion is spot on:

Collectively we need to do better than this. Not only is that so because the stakes in climatic and economic terms, as everyone agrees, are about as high as they can get, whether the AGW hypothesis is correct or not; but because we need to cultivate better habits of debating matters of moment, as regards both what is so and what is to be done.

And it is for precisely this reason that the recent disclosures about the IPCC’s sloppy handling of evidence and the scandalously anti-scientific behaviour of the “hockey stick” team led by Americna climatologist Michael Mann and the East Anglia Climate Research Centre are so disturbing. These people have been supposedly conducting the AGW Solvay conference for about 20 years. What we are beginning to see is that they have not been following the Solvay rules at all. In fact, they have been seeking for some considerable time to prevent or discredit any attempt to refute their hypothesis and have manipulated evidence in an effort not merely to confirm it, as bona fide evidence might be taken to do, but to appear to confirm it, when they knew that there were all kinds of uncertainties in the data. This is, quite simply, inadmissible.

Georges Monbiot has lamented recently, in the wake of the Copenhagen conference, that “climate scepticism” is “spreading like an infectious disease”. He may or may not be right, but his attitude is dead wrong. The AGW hypothesis is, in the nature of the case contestable, a claim based on highly complex data. Where inferences from the data or the reliability of the data itself seem unclear or tendentious, scepticism is completely natural.

But more importantly, scepticism is the life blood of science and democracy. Those who sincerely believe AGW is threatening civilisation should themselves be as rigorously sceptical as possible. They should be soliciting challenges to their data and inferences. That’s what the scientific method is and it doesn’t end because someone, scientist or otherwise, feels certain of their ground. It goes on and we need it to do so.

It is the same with the proposal for an ETS as public policy. Let’s have an end of denunciation, vituperation and exasperation.

For the sake of science, civilisation and democratic governance, we need clarity in this matter. And clarity comes through making one’s arguments explicit and then trying to find where one could be in error. That’s the gold standard for all parties to all serious debates.

Read it here.

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