Winds of change

I spoke too soon. A certain populariser of the anti-global-warming movement has received more media attention than I’d hoped this week as he continues his speaking tour of Australia. The ABC’s 7:30 report carried a fairly careful story about the issue yesterday, which I was thinking about in the surf this morning. One comment in particular stuck in my head, by Penny Sackett, the Chief Scientist for Australia:

“I think that we’re seeing more and more a confusion between a political debate, a political debate that needs to happen, it’s important to happen, and the discussion of the science. I feel that these two things are being confused and it worries me, actually.

… [T]his is what I meant about polarising society. We’re beginning to describe people as sceptics or denialists or alarmist, warmist, all of these words that I’m beginning to hear. And I think that is very unhelpful, because when we’re doing that we’re actually playing the man and not ball. We should be discussing the science, not labelling people.”

Human nature seems to thrive on tribalism, so being able to identify with this or that group on any given issue can give a sense of belonging. There is a legitimate political debate about climate change, but the position of “no ETS” is becoming increasingly blurred with the position of “no global warming”. These positions should be almost entirely separate – the policy debate stems from the acceptance of climate change as an issue; it is not a debate about the scientific legitimacy of the issue.

However, the highly vocal anti-GW movement has managed to link the two positions. It’s smart campaigning: people will support policies on party lines, quite often, so if the “no ETS = no GW” equation can be successfully sold, then a large proportion of people in the community will hold that position simply because it aligns with their political or social viewpoint. I know that I, personally, don’t research and make an informed decision every (or even most) policy which I don’t have an active interest in, which is probably in common with just about everyone else in the population.

Formulating an opinion based on trends – this party/these parties tend to make policy I agree with, so I will agree with them again here – is simple and easy. While I’m sure a large majority of people haven’t gone through and read the IPCC reports and primary literature and made an informed decision about the veracity of climate change, they may have remained climate-agnostics: admitting that they don’t know enough. The “no ETS = no GW” seeks to turn “I don’t know” into “No” by default.

By deploying terms like ‘alarmist’ and ‘denialist’, artificial lines are drawn which are destructive to useful communication. These scornfully applied terms can be worn like badges of political or ideological identity; I’m a climate skeptic, and you can’t convince me otherwise, you alarmist!

This has nothing to do with the post, but it's a nice Whitsundays sunset to give your eyes a moment's rest from reading.

Stumbling home in the early hours of sunday morning, after a particularly large saturday, one of my friends stated that, after doing some reading up on the subject, he didn’t think there was sufficient evidence to link human activity to climate change. I bit my tongue (perhaps a little melodramatically), but sparking up would have been entirely counterproductive. Scorning someone for a statement like that isn’t going to make them understand or accept climate change. My friend isn’t a ‘denialist’ or a ‘skeptic’: he’s just a person who holds an opinion about an issue.

For those brave, hardy souls who have read all the way to this point (+10 points to all of you), you might be wondering where I’m going with this. It’s a minor epiphany I’ve been leading to: I’m going to avoid, wherever I can, applying labels and judging people based on their views on climate change. I reserve the right to make exceptions for the particularly objectionable (you know who…), but the next time I hear someone doesn’t believe in climate change, I might just ask them why, or point them to the excellent website Skeptical Science for some further reading. I will remember that, no matter where on the spectrum of belief that person falls, they are much more than just a ‘skeptic’ or a ‘warmist’.

Categories: environmentalism, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “Winds of change

  1. Klem

    “However, the highly vocal anti-GW movement has managed to link the two positions. ”

    ya like these guys; They actually think that water vapour has something to do with global warming when we all know it’s CO2 and only CO2.

    Read here;

    What a bunch of wackos!

    • Klem; you sound a bit sarcastic, but I’m not sure what your point is! The article you linked is actually pretty interesting – I think it’s good to see scientists collecting hard data to support their models.

      While some people make their minds up by reading about the issue etc, I’m most concerned that people will start to think climate change isn’t going on simply because they don’t want to see an ETS implemented. The ETS is a response to climate change, not a proof/disproof of it.

  2. rogerthesurf

    There might be global warming or cooling but the important issue is whether we, as a human race, can do anything about it.

    There are a host of porkies and not very much truth barraging us everyday so its difficult to know what to believe.

    I think I have simplified the issue in an entertaining way on my blog which includes some issues connected with climategate and “embarrassing” evidence.

    In the pipeline is an analysis of the economic effects of the proposed emission reductions. Watch this space or should I say Blog

    Please feel welcome to visit and leave a comment.



    PS The term “porky” is listed in the Australian Dictionary of Slang.( So I’m told.)

    • Hi Roger, thanks for your interest. I checked out your blog and it’s clear you’re not convinced in the trustworthiness of people promoting action on climate change. Personally, I find it quite easy to believe that scientists around the world are reporting their findings and building consensus in a genuine way.
      I work in a faculty with a number of people studying climate change, ranging from its effects on insects and fish to adaptation strategies for farmers in water-stressed areas. None of these people are fudging their data or conclusions to support a global government; they are genuinely interested in finding out what they can about the environment. I think that’s a big part of why I trust the IPCC, as a body of scientists, to be more or less correct in their summation of climate science.
      Further, I find it very hard to believe that a global government conspiracy is taking place. If it is, it’s a pretty crap effort, to be frank. Pretend for a moment you’re part of an immensely powerful group of world leaders and business interests committing a global fraud. Someone comes up with an idea: “I know! To support this fraud, let’s try to get tens of thousands of individual researchers, at a huge range of universities, research agencies and NGOs, to unwittingly fudge their data to support us, with the intention of taxing those very individuals and destroying their lifestyles!”
      Pretty good strategy, huh? I think not…

      • rogerthesurf

        Thanks for visting my site,

        However please take another more careful read:
        Apart from the satire which is simply designed to make people cautious about politicians, I dont recall denying anywhere that climate data is icorrect nor denying that there is global warming, although discussion on this may appear in some comments.
        I must say some of the IPCC reporting and sweeping conclusions etc make me uneasy though.

        If there is something in particular that you disagree with, please leave a comment. Of course I will prefer that you cite sources etc for any facts.



      • OK, fair enough – I certainly don’t trust politicians of any stripe on this issue, for the simple reason that the job of a politician depends on their ability to be voted back in to office, so long-term decision making isn’t their strong point (Tony Abbott said as much in an interview with AM this week).

        It’s also fair to say (as you suggest on your blog) that there will be vested interests on both sides of any climate change policy. Any time money or goods changes hands, there will be people out to pocket some!

  3. rogerthesurf

    My blog is at



  4. Ed

    you should have a read of Andrew Bolt’s blog. See what you make of it…

  5. I second David on Andrew Bolt. Saw him on ABC Australian Story on Ove Hoegh-Guldberg. Andrew said himself that he is a professional contrarian. He makes his living by objecting to things. I don’t think it matters much what it is, he will object. There’s a market out there for reading stories that ‘knock’ things and take an alternate view, no matter what that may be. Andrew Bolt is only interested in selling his work.

    A definite conflict of interest there.

    • In some ways having a ‘devil’s advocate’ is a good thing – after all, that’s what the peer review process is normally all about, and it always pays to have people question views and assumptions. Bolt, however, seems to be excessively negative in just about everything he does.

      Gets a lot of traffic on his site though, so by that measure he’s a success…

      • Whether or not he’s a success depends on the goals and to a greater extent on one’s perspective of what’s successful, i.e. for the goals sets or the greater good? As Richard Dawkins said to he Denton though, lets not waste time on defining ‘success’, there’s a perfectly good definition in the dictionary..(which in my opinon was Dawkins’ way of avoiding having to say what he considered to be ‘successful’)…and there’s one of those horrible possessive apostrophes for a singular word ending in an s… is it James’ or James’s?

      • I hate those apostrophes! I never know the appropriate rule. I meant successful in that he aims to make people pay attention to/talk about about his viewpoint. If he didn’t say things that made people feel strongly, I doubt he’d get as much of a response.

        In terms of greater good, well, I’m not sure if he’s contributing much there…

  6. David, I agree with your suggestion that people are taking sides in the GW debate simply based on political views. e.g. Red vs Blue vs Green. I think that the video I posted on my blog from the Walk Against Warming in Brisbane this year clearly demonstrated that. For you other readers I’ll post the link here

    James Webley

  7. Pingback: Get out of my head, Clive « David Robertson


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