by Judith Curry
Interesting article in The Atlantic, but I’m still trying to figure out what is being ‘denied.’
The Atlantic has an interesting article How the New Climate Denial is Like the Old Climate Denial. Subtitle: Both are excuses for inaction.
It seems that I am the scientific poster child for the new denialism:
There has been a subtle shift recently in the rhetoric of many conservative pundits and politicians around climate change. For decades, the common refrain has been flat-out denial—either that climate change is not happening, or that any change is not caused by human activity. Which is why viewers might have been surprised to see Tucker Carlson of Fox News nodding along thoughtfully on January 6 as climate scientist Judith Curry, a controversial figure in climate science, explained, “Yes it’s warming and yes humans contribute to it. Everybody agrees with that, and I’m in the 98 percent [of scientists who agree]. It’s when you get down to the details that there’s genuine disagreement.” Carlson immediately turns to the camera and moots a multi-part series: “What do we know? What don’t we know?”
This rhetorical stance—yes, climate change is real, and yes, human activity is implicated, but we don’t know how much human activity is to blame—is fast becoming the go-to position for conservatives. In confirmation hearings last week, Senator Ed Markey asked Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, if he agrees with Trump that global warming is a “hoax.” Pruitt replied that he does not. But later, under questioning by Senator Bernie Sanders, Pruitt refused to say how much change is caused by human activity. He would say only that the “climate is changing, and human activity contributes to that in some manner.” When pressed by Sanders on whether he agreed with 97 percent of scientists who have published in peer-reviewed journals that human activity is “the fundamental reason we are seeing climate change,” Pruitt equivocated. “I believe the ability to measure with precision the degree of human activity’s impact on the climate is subject to more debate.”
Well, I’m getting ready to declare victory here. What I have been trying to do for the last 7 years is to bring to ‘denying’ policy makers to a more rational position on the science of climate change. It seems like this has been accomplished (I’m humble enough not to take full credit :)
Uncertainty has proved a reliable tool to manipulate public perception of climate change and stall political action. In 2015, the Union of Concerned Scientists released The Climate Deception Dossiers, which describes a 1998 memo from the American Petroleum Institute that, according to the dossiers, “mapped out a multifaceted deception strategy for the fossil-fuel industry that continues to this day—outlining plans to reach the media, the public, and policy makers with a message emphasizing ‘uncertainties’ in climate science.” The UCS authors write that the memo (included in the report) states “victory” would be achieved “when ‘average citizens’ and the media were convinced of uncertainties in climate science despite overwhelming evidence of the impact of human-caused global warming and nearly unanimous agreement about it in the scientific community.”
Huh? Acknowledging uncertainties is ‘science denial’? Virtually no one denies that humans have an influence on climate. The key question is whether human causes have dominated the recent warming. Even the IPCC hedges on this one, with their highly confident ‘more than half.’
In his recent confirmation hearings, Rex Tillerson, ex-CEO of ExxonMobil and newly-minted U.S. Secretary of State, was asked to explain his “personal view” of climate change. Tillerson would say only that “after 20 years as an engineer and a scientist,” he had concluded “the risk of climate change does exist,” and “the consequences could be serious enough that action should be taken.” Senator Bob Corker then pointedly asked, “Do you believe that human activity, based on science, is contributing?” Tillerson dodged again, saying only, “The increase in greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.”
Our ability to predict the effect of increasing CO2 is very limited. The IPCC AR5 puts the value of equilibrium climate sensitivity between 1.5 -4.5 C, with ‘likely’ confidence, implying significant probabilities outside this range. Referring to this as very limited ability to predict the effect of additional CO2 on climate is not only defensible, but it is in accord with the IPCC’s own conclusion on this.
And now for the ‘logic’ of Gavin:
Tillerson can make statements like these because climate research is ongoing, and climate models are inherently imprecise. According to Schmidt, “To say that science isn’t settled on things people are still researching is totally irrelevant. There are lots of interesting things about climate change, and adaptation, and interactions between air pollution and clouds, but they’re just not relevant to the question, which is: Is what’s going on related to humans? And the answer is: Yes, it is.”
The Atlantic article concludes with this:
The recent shift in conservative rhetoric exploits legitimate scientific uncertainty that most scientists agree is irrelevant to crafting responsible climate policy. Despite overwhelming evidence, many conservatives are still willing to ignore scientific consensus and stall political action.
Scientists agree that legitimate scientific uncertainty is irrelevant to crafting responsible climate policy? What the heck do scientists know about crafting policy, let alone ‘responsible’ climate policy?
Back to my original question: exactly what is being ‘denied’? As far as I can tell, here is what is being ‘denied’: that the policies put in place under the Paris Agreement will on net be beneficial to global societies and ecosystems, and that they will have any kind of impact on the climate of the 21st century.
Climate denialism is no longer about science; its about action versus inaction – in particular, the UNFCCC’s preferred actions. It doesn’t seem to matter that the emissions targets are woefully inadequate for preventing what they expect to be ‘dangerous’ climate change; emissions targets are unlikely to be met; and the climate will show little change in the 21st century even if the targets are met.
Let me take this opportunity to redefine climate denialism: denial that the UNFCCC policies will accomplish significant improvement of the climate as defined by increasing human health, increasing human economic benefits, and improving the resilience of ecosystems.