by Judith Curry
‘While climate change is occurring, the drivers of change are less clear.’
We have recently considered some reasons for skepticism from engineers, a physicist, and a weather forecaster.
Chemistry World, a publication of the (UK) Royal Society of Chemists, has an interesting article entitled Chemistry’s Climate of Scepticism. Excerpts:
It’s those pesky climate sceptics again, right? Well yes – but these ones read Chemistry & Industry, and are therefore likely to be chemists of some description. When the magazine ran a survey in 2007 on its readers’ attitudes to climate change, it felt compelled to admit that ‘there are still some readers who remain deeply sceptical of the role of carbon dioxide in global warming, or of the need to take action’.
The respondents who felt that ‘the industry should be doing more to help tackle climate change’ were in a clear majority of 72% – but that left 28% who didn’t. This is even more than the one in five members of the general population who, as the IPCC releases its fifth report on climate change, now seem to doubt that global warming is real.
If, as I suspect, a chemical training seems to confer no real insulation against the misapprehensions evident in the public, why should that be? One possible reason is that anyone who has spent a lifetime in the chemical industry (especially petrochemicals), assailed by the antipathy of some eco-campaigners to anything ‘chemical’, will be likely to develop an instinctive distrust of scare stories about environmental issues. That would be understandable, even if it were motivated more by heart than mind.
But I wonder if there’s another factor too. (Given that I’ve already dug a hole with some readers, I might as well jump in.) If I were asked to make gross generalisations about the character of different fields of science, I would suggest that physicists are idealistic, biologists are conservative, and chemists are best described by that useful rustic Americanism, ‘ornery’. This is part of what makes chemistry fun, but it is not without its complications.
In any event, it could be important for chemists to consider whether (and if so, why) there is an unusually high proportion of climate-change doubters in their ranks. Chemistry has a huge part to play in finding solutions to the daunting problems that the IPCC report documents. A vocal contingent of contrarians won’t alter that.
From the Comments:
Chemists (and physicists, cosmologists & mathematicians et al) are SCIENTISTS in the traditional, and true, sense of the word. They doubt everything until there is irrefutable evidence to prove the case. Then they set up a Null Hypothesis experiment to prove the evidence wrong. When they can’t do that, they accept the inevitable. That’s what differentiates scientists.
Eco-campaigners are not scientists. They have a history of making crude, gross assertions to promote their political careers (or pseudo-religious beliefs). They are known for ignoring or dismissing any evidence which counters their claims. In the case of the IPCC contributors, any researcher who had the temerity to question the base premiss was excluded from the survey(s). So 61,000 researchers were whittled down to 75 – of whom 97% supported the claim that climate change was due to Man (as other respondents have pointed out).
and the “97% consensus” stems from this study: Doran and Kendall Zimmerman, 2009: A poll performed by Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman at Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago received replies from 3,146 of the 10,257 polled Earth scientists. Results were analyzed globally and by specialization. 76 out of 79 climatologists who ”listed climate science as their area of expertise and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change” believe that mean global temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and 75 out of 77 believe that human activity is a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures. Among all respondents, 90% agreed that temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800 levels, and 82% agreed that humans significantly influence the global temperature. Economic geologists and meteorologists were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively, believing in significant human involvement.
Pretty ridiculous, is it not ? I am a “climate sceptic” myself, and would still have “agreed”.
It appears to me that Philip Ball and many others do not really understand what is the real issue – in short it is around claims of all kinds of catastrophic effects of carbon dioxide.
And of course many chemists work for the oil supermajors – BP, ExxonMobil and the rest. Those that don’t are likely to have friends or former colleagues that do.
A very good friend of mine – someone I studied chemistry with at university – now works for ‘big oil’. I find it very hard to reconcile my knowledge of climate change with his choice of employer. What will he tell his grandchildren about his working life? I wonder. I don’t doubt that our friendship would benefit considerably from a little more ‘fuzziness’ in my thinking in this area.
JC comments: Their survey in 2007 occurred at arguably the peak of the consensus. It would be very interesting to see what kind of response the same survey would receive in 2013.
I haven’t interacted that much with chemists on this issue, although a few years ago I did participate in the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Chemical Society. The ACS Division of Small Chemical Businesses ran two sequential sessions with invited talks, one called Global Climate Change: What Citizens of the World Need to Know, and the second entitled A Critical Look at Global Warming: An Examination of Driving Factors in the Wickedly Complex System Called Climate. The invitees for the second session were William Stewart, Nir Shaviv, Ross McKitrick, Richard Lindzen, myself, and Bob Carter. Climate Etc. hosted two threads about this session, including a guest post by Pete Bonk, who organized the ‘critical’ session:
For reference, the ACS Policy Statement on Global Climate Change can be found [here
My take away message was that despite their official stance, the ACS was open to the idea of multiple perspectives and the inclusion of an explicitly skeptical session. I cannot imagine the American Geophysical Union approving (or anyone even proposing) such a session. I can imagine such a session at the American Meteorological Society (maybe I should propose one). The American Physical Society is quite open to skeptical perspectives (note: I have an invited talk at the Annual Meeting of the APS next March), and seems to consider them as part of a continuum of the science under consideration.
S0, ‘Are chemists more prone to climate scepticism than other scientists?’