Guardian journalist George Monbiot recently described some of the more blatant media attacks on the science of climate change as “blithering idiocy” (see The sceptics are skating on thin ice). He gave examples from the Telegraph claiming that the current weather in the UK supported the idea of a looming ice age rather than global warming (eg. Global warming: Al Gore’s convenient untruth freezes over). Monbiot asks: “Is there any other subject on which journalists can make such magnificent idiots of themselves and still keep their jobs?”
We have seen a bit of the same confusion of weather with climate amongst bloggers in New Zealand. Ian Wishart (TBR) and Poneke gloated over that lovely satellite picture of the UK covered in snow (see Here’s what British crow looks like… and Yet another Unfortunate Truth too delicious to ignore).
A new ice age!
Some of the reporting of climate change, and particularly comments and twitter messages, are just completely irrational – deserving of Monbiot’s description. And much of the other material just misrepresents the science. For example the UK Mail on Sunday claimed new scientific research showed global warming had paused, if not stopped altogether (see The mini ice age starts here). This was repeated by the Telegraph (Big freeze could signal global warming ‘pause’) and uncritically repeated here by Ian Wishart (Get ready for a decades long chill – top climatologist warns).
Fortunately the researcher quoted by these reports, Mojib Latif, a climate expert at the Leibniz Institute at Kiel University in Germany, protested at the misrepresentation. He pointed out that: “What we are experiencing now is a weather phenomenon” – not climate. His findings don’t contradict global warming at all (see Leading climate scientist challenges Mail on Sunday’s use of his research).
Atmospheric CO2 not increasing!!
Then we have the silly reporting of some new research by Wolfgang Knorr of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. This found that the proportion of emitted CO2 retained by the atmosphere had not changed significantly over 160 years (see Is the Airborne Fraction of Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Increasing?).
It’s well accepted that about 45% of added CO2 remains in the atmosphere while the rest is absorbed by oceans and into biomass. Of course, this doesn’t prevent the actual concentration of atmospheric CO2 increasing.
But you can see how the deniers interpreted this, can’t you? “No Rise of Airborne Fraction of Carbon Dioxide in Past 150 Years, New Research Finds” (marginally correct), “No rise of airborne carbon dioxide in past 150 years, new research finds” and “Study Shows No Increase of Airborne Carbon Dioxide in Past 150 Years” (outright distortions). Or what about this from the extremist British National Party – Climate Change Fanatics Shocked as New Scientific Paper Reveals Zero Atmospheric Carbon Increase!
Still waiting for New Zealand’s own Ian Wishart to pick up that story!
Denialism and creationism
So, while there is plenty of room for rational discussion with people who may be sceptical about various scientific assessments of climate change I think that George Monbiot is justified to call the statements of some of the deniers “blithering idiocy.” Their sort of distortion reminds me very much of the some of the behaviour of creationists. In fact the Daily Kos says “Denialism is essentially Creationism for otherwise smart people” in its post Climate Denial Sociopathology, Creationism: Hacked Emails, Piltdown. And “What they [the hacked emails] do show is that, like life scientists, climate scientists have to work in the shadow of a global program to discredit their efforts.”
Here’s an interesting comparison of global warming denialism and creationism taken from the daily Kos post:
|Virtually all world’s life scientists treat evolution as a fact||Virtually all world’s climate and related scientists treat AGW as fact|
|All world scientific bodies are evolutionist||All world scientific bodies hold to AGW|
|Few scientists not religiously committed support creationism||Few scientists not in pay of fossil fuel firms deny AGW|
|Satan is controlling the scientists in a giant global conspiracy||Environmentalists are controlling the scientists in a giant global conspiracy|
|No valid Creationist model to explain actual data from earth history||No valid Denialist model to explain current alarming warming trend|
|Large, well-funded, primarily right-wing network of bogus institutes and think tanks pushing Creationism||Large, well-funded, primarily right-wing network of bogus institutions and think tanks pushing Denialism|
|Real life scientists must operate in the shadow of ongoing program to discredit their work||Real climate scientists must operate in the shadow of ongoing program to discredit their work|
|We don’t want to face philosophical implications of being just damned dirty apes||We don’t want to face lifestyle changes because we’re roasting the world to death|
|Unremitting repetition of false and long-discredited “facts”: Dinosaur tracks and human tracks together, all known non-human skulls are just apes, the eye could not have evolved…||Unremitting repetition of false and long-discredited “facts”: global cooling since 1998, warming is due to urban island effects, global cooling was predicted in the 1970s….|
|Constant repetition of: New discoveries cast doubt on evolution!||Constant repetition of: New discoveries cast doubt on AGW!|
|Ver. 1.0 Creationism (Earth is under 10,000 years old) morphing to Ver. 2.0 (Intelligent Design)||Ver. 1.0 Denialism (global warming isn’t happening, is hoax) morphing to Ver. 2.0 (there is global warming but it is natural so go ahead and drill baby drill)|
|...and now we have the latest parallel, the Email Scandal.|
|Piltdown Man||Email Scandal|