Herald shows what to avoid in climate debateGuest author | September 20, 2012
Here’s an agreeably restrained response to Brian Rudman’s repellent, unsophisticated bluster against the Coalition. The Herald declined to publish this, but we’re delighted to present it in their stead. If Rudman has the sense I think he has, or the slightest genuine interest in climate change, he’ll pay close attention to Tom’s analysis. – Richard Treadgold
Columnist sets bad example in attack on Climate Science Coalition
The September 12th column by Brian Rudman of the New Zealand Herald, “One small word, one giant setback for denial”, exemplifies how much of the climate debate has descended into a sort of murky underworld where logical fallacies, personal attacks and made up “facts” all too often replace rational discourse. While Herald editors are to be congratulated for allowing the publication of my letter to the editor correcting some of Rudman’s more obvious mistakes, his piece is worth analyzing as a sample of what other journalists must avoid if a civilized discussion about this vitally important topic is to be possible.
Rudman’s repeated references to “climate change deniers” is a particularly nasty and nonsensical phrase frequently employed by those who want to silence debate about the causes of climate change.
No rational scientist denies that climate changes. As former Chairman of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC) earth sciences professor Dr. Tim Patterson of Carleton University in Ottawa told Canada’s House of Commons Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, “Based on the paleoclimatic data I and others have collected, it’s obvious that climate is and always has been variable. In fact, the only constant about climate is change; it changes continually. We certainly have no chance of stopping this natural phenomenon.”
Patterson, as well as current ICSC Chief Science Advisor Professor Bob Carter of James Cook University and their scientist peers deny that they deny climate change—they are denial deniers. The “deniers” label is simply an attempt to equate those who question political correctness on climate change to Holocaust deniers. It is a rather nasty logical fallacy referred to as ad hominem—against the man, instead of the idea.
If anyone could be labeled climate change deniers, it is activists who hold the absurd view that our climate was tranquil until industrialization, at which point it started to change rapidly. They seem not to know that there have been periods as recently as 10,000 years ago when temperatures both rose and fell almost 100 times faster than what occurred in the 20th century. Climate changes, at times dramatically so, all by itself. That what climates do on planet with significant atmospheres.
Sceptics DO publish
Rudman and many others are also wrong to assert that those who do not support the politically correct view of climate change have not published their arguments in reputable scientific journals. Besides Patterson and Carter’s extensive lists of publications, one need only visit the website of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change to view listings and summaries of thousands of peer reviewed science papers which, either directly or indirectly, contest the views that Rudman and Al Gore apparently hold dear. And, no, the scientist skeptics are not “flat-earthers”, as Rudman demeans them; they are among the world’s top science leaders trying to understand the causes and impacts of climate change.
Rudman also errs when he claims that the Heartland Institute “erected billboards across Chicago with huge mugshots of notorious criminals, the Unabomber and cult leader and murderer Charles Manson”. In fact, Heartland put up one billboard with an image of the Unabomber (only) on it and took it down immediately when people objected. Contrary to being “wackos”, as Rudman and many others glibly label them, Heartland will be seen someday as one of the few groups that had the courage to stand up to alarmist bullies and promote climate realism, an understanding that, although climate always changes and we must prepare for such changes, humanity can not stop this phenomenon.
Finally, I can assure Rudman that his speculation that the reputations of Terry Dunleavy and Carter as leaders in the ICSC will be damaged by the NIWA legal setback is completely without merit. Both have shown themselves to be exemplary leaders of our coalition and we are privileged to have the opportunity to work with such fine spokesmen.
We don’t have control of the climate
Real climate researchers understand that climate science is in its infancy. We cannot forecast climate in 50 years any better than we can forecast weather two weeks ahead. The system is too complex and our understanding of the basic science too primitive.
Trying to unravel the causes and consequences of climate change is arguably the most complex science ever tackled. Professors Chris Essex (ICSC science advisor at University of Western Ontario, Canada) and Ross McKitrick (University of Guelph, Canada) write in their award winning book Taken by Storm, “Climate is one of the most challenging open problems in modern science. Some knowledgeable scientists believe that the climate problem can never be solved.”
That may not be a comforting thought for Rudman and others who believe that we understand the science well enough to know how to control global climate. But science is often like that. While it is our best tool for trying to understand the natural world, it is not magic—it can only give us what is possible.
Rudman’s piece does have some use, however—it is a good example of how not to write about climate change.
Tom Harris is Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition.