It is an unhappy fact that climate change remains a confusing subject for many. This confusion has had the unfortunate effect of making many people sceptical of the very existence of climate change so it’s of fundamental importance, if we want to arrest scepticism in its bed, to find out the source of the confusion. Where does it come from, the confusion? What’s the confusion’s provenance? What’s making people so confusedly sceptical and not unconfusedly accepting of the science?
The answer is that a lot of people’s beliefs and judgements are made confused by a variety of competing confusion-promoting, anti-science sources: religious upbringing, political leaning, ideologies and self-interests, what news channels are watched, what newspapers are read, what blogs are visited, some of which, inevitably, are more confusion-promoting and anti-science than others. So what can we do about this?
The first practical thing we can do is provide a guide for the confused, a list of reads-if-you-have-the-times and avoids-even-if-you-do-have-the-times. If science – and its confusion-lowering effects – is to be affirmed, a list of what people should be reading, viewing and attending to to lower their confusion (and remember only scientific insight can lower confusion) ought to include:
- Australia’s ABC
- UK’s BBC & Guardian
- USA’s New York Times
- Real Climate Blog
- Skeptical Science website
- IPCC report
- The international COP meetings
- Michael Mann’s twitter feed and facebook page
- Anything by the UK’s Royal Society and Sir Paul Nurse
- NGO websites (Greenpeace, FoE, 10:10, us)
- Anything by Stephan Lewandowsky and COIN
- Anything by Lily Cole
Conversely, a list of sources people ought to avoid to keep confusion to a minimum should include:
- Steve McIntyre of the Climate Audit blog
- Anthony Watts of the Watts Up With That blog
- Andrew Montford of the Bishop Hill blog
- Anything by Lords Monckton and Lawson
- The GWPF website
- The UK’s Daily Mail & Telegraph, the USA’s Wall Street Journal, Australia’s The Australian
- The Jo Nova blog
- Anything by Judith Curry, Roger Pielke Jr, Richard Tol, Donna Laframboise, Fritz Vahrenholt, Andrew Bolt, James Delingpole, Christopher Booker, Tim Worstall, Bjorn Lomborg, Matt Ridley, Lucia Liljegren, Benny Pieser, Ben Pile, Barry Woods, Geoff Chambers, Willis Eschenbach and Matt Briggs.
- The Register website
- Conferences and literature by the Heartland Institute
- Anything by Johnny Ball
How do we know this? The answer is twofold. Firstly by not examining the stuff that pours from the second-list sources in order to avoid risking exposure to confusion ourselves; and secondly by logically deducing, based on the prior-identification or self-identification of these characters and their associations as climate change sceptics, that they either deny, or are ignorant of, the climate science ‘fact-roll’ agreed by 97% of climate scientists, namely:
- • The earth’s climate is changing
- • CO2 is a greenhouse gas that contributes to this
- • humans contribute to atmospheric CO2 through industrial activity
- • therefore we need to change our profligate, over-consumptive lifestyles
So that’s the first practical step we can take. The second step we can take to minimise science-starved confusion is expose the motives of the science-dismissing confusion maximisers. What’s in it for them? Why do they do it?
The answer to this is that it profits them to spread confusion. Sceptical bloggers, science-denying journalists, sceptical thinktanks, foundations, institutes and groupuscules – all in some way profit, either directly or indirectly, from dirty industry. If they weren’t in the pay of dirty industry they wouldn’t say the (almost laughably simplistic and un-nuanced) things we can deduce they do say. This observation is given further credence by considering the embarrassment factor: if there wasn’t such material advantage to be gained in being so unsophistcatedly outside the 97% consensus it’s unlikely anyone would have the front to situate themselves there.
Finally, the third, and possibly most important thing we can do is… improve communication! Keep on keeping on about all of the above. So we need to:
- • keep highlighting that if it rewards the confusion merchants to stick to the same message irrespective of scientific development, irrespective of new insight and research, irrespective of evidence, then this simply wrong message – climate isn’t changing, man doesn’t contribute, business as usual – will remain their shabby, constant mainstay;
- • keep banging on that if it remunerates them financially to keep repeating the same discredited message over and over then this endless repetition, this never-ending recital, rather than one day crystallising the message into dazzling sense, rather than suddenly revealing it to be the honest and true account of nature it purports to be, reveals it instead to be the ineffably droning, cyclical mantra, the series of wretched gurgles and phonemes that it actually is;
- • keep pointing out, tirelessly and ceaselessly, year after year, decade after decade, that if there’s money to be made by endlessly covering the same old discredited ground, if the coffers are constantly replenished by repeating ad nauseum the same arguments and words over and over, over and over and over again, if endlessly banging on, decade after decade, year after year in this fashion fills your trouser pockets then why would you tire of doing it? Why would you stop writing the columns? Why would you give up filling the blogosphere? Stop appearing on television? Stop accepting the speech fees? Why would you pause, even for a moment, to think about the climatic depredations suffered by the developing countries? That if there’s money to be gained your likely reaction to this would be, so what? What pressing concern is that when there are squawk spots to fill on tv news channels, columns to fashion in the endless, oily spill of newsink (see the second list above) when there are international conferences to attend, films to make, and books to sell (see the second list above – the second list is the one below the first list);
- • and keep pointing out that actually if it makes you a profit to keep rehearsing this same message, far from the suffering of poorer countries and generations unborn, what becomes your most pressing concern is the comforting warm, sloppy sound of your own verbal, glossolalic incontinence; the florid flourishes of your keyboard rhetoric as you rat-ta-ta-tap your laptop into self-induced oblivion, drifting, soaring, plunging through helical word strands down into the DNA of your own seminal, lexical fluid, which should get boring for readers after a while but somehow, miraculously, doesn’t because the graphomaniacal authors of this nauseating ocean of FUD are always, always careful to finish, Big Brother style, with the hint of an emerging tactical breakthrough if only readers will stick by them.
To summarise, then, what we need to do is (a) identify the confusion merchants, (b) expose their motives, and (c) keep re-exposing their motives – but is that it? Well, possibly not because there is now emerging a fourth possible avenue of action. Over on The Conversation, Rochester Institute of Technology Professor of philosophy Lawrence Torcello has suggested making it an offence of criminal negligence to wilfully spread confusion and misinformation. Now, whether these powerful levers are necessary just yet is debatable, but certainly we might start the ball rolling with something akin in spirit: the regulation of scientific output on the internet.
Next week, then, LFG – proudly funded by clean money from the public purse which, crucially, is guaranteed to flow so that we can maintain financial independence from commercial pressure and keep on sticking up for the health of the public and planet – will be launching a new campaign, PLAIN PAGES, to stem the flood of handsomely-funded anti-science nonsense on the internet and stop the confusion-merchants in their tracks.
Much, much more to follow. Masses of it.