A recent article by Bryan Appleyard in The TimesOnline is a good example of why people who don’t understand science should beware of having strong opinions about it, in either direction. Going from one form of opinionated ignorance to another form of opinionated ignorance is not progress it is intellectual laziness. To Mr. Appleyard, impressions are equal to facts and the last pundit to bend your ear must be right. Especially when you don’t understand the subject yourself.
There are so many good reasons not to believe in global warming: summers lately have been cool and wet; since 1998 global temperatures have actually fallen; dissident scientists say it’s not happening; green believers are irritating — they wear Tibetan hats that only look good on Tibetans, and are so often wrong that they’re probably wrong about the Big One; large parts of the punditocracy say it’s all nonsense, usually that it’s a left-wing plot against capitalism; the rainforest is growing back faster than it’s being cut down and polar bears are, apparently, doing quite well. Global warming? Yeah, right!But here’s the best reason of all not to believe, to sit back and relax. Global warming is just the latest apocalyptic story. There is always someone, somewhere predicting the end of the world.
That is a nutshell is Mr. Appleyards former thesis on the subject; I didn’t believe in Global Warming because I found it unappealing emotionally on several levels. Not a word about actual study and evaluation of the science involved for himself.
He may be a man with a sandwich board in Oxford Street or an American Christianist who expects the Book of Revelation to happen tomorrow. But he’s equally likely to be a scientist warning about asteroid impacts, super-eruptions, molecule-sized robots turning everything into grey goo or, not so long ago, the descent of Earth into a new ice age. Taking all these possibilities into account, Sir Martin Rees, the great cosmologist, says humans only have a 50/50 chance of making it into the next century. Yeah, right!
Stated like no one but the truly ignorant can! Poor Bryan cannot tell the difference between a scientist talking about a possibility (which all of the above most certainly are, when you understand the science) and a media outlet turning that into “warnings of impending doom by scientists” or an author trying to make money with a sensationalist book!
No wonder opinion polls show a majority of the population are sceptical about global warming. Just scanning the papers, the internet or watching TV is enough to convince anyone it’s just the usual apocalyptic hype. And, if they want to dig deeper into their own disbelief, there are shelfloads of books to give them a hand. There’s Nigel Lawson, ex-chancellor of the exchequer, with An Appeal to Reason. There’s Scared to Death by Christopher Booker and Richard North. There’s Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg. There was even a very serious documentary on Channel 4 called The Great Global Warming Swindle with some serious-looking science guys pouring cold water on the warming atmosphere. …That was me, once. I thought global warming was all bog-standard, apocalyptic nonsense when it first emerged in the 1980s. People, I knew, like nothing better than an End-of-the-World story to give their lives meaning. I also knew that science is dynamic. Big ideas rise and fall. Once the Earth was the centre of the universe. Then it wasn’t. Once Isaac Newton had completed physics. Then he hadn’t. Once there was going to be a new ice age. Then there wasn’t.Armed with such historic reversals, I poured scorn on under-educated warmists.
So, without actually STUDYING the subject, the claims, the facts and forming an opinion Bryn reached into his emotions and hauled out the answer that GW had to be bollocks. Ok fine.
… And then I made a terrible mistake. I started questioning my instinct, which was to disbelieve every scare story on principle.
This is a terrible mistake for the black and white minded to make. If they admit any possibility of error they believe it HAS to mean that the only real truth is completely opposite to their first emotional reaction. So they jump on the second emotional reaction and believe everything the other camp says. At no time do they contemplate actual attempts at understanding.
I exposed myself to any journalist’s worst nightmare — very thoughtful, intelligent people.
And even worse, to people good at fooling the ignorant into thinking they are thoughtful and intelligent instead of being out for all the traffic will bear. The Global Warming mafia must have taken lessons in propaganda from the Creationists, so similar are their “it SOUNDS reasonable right? So it MUST be true!” patter with the general public.
I talked to some brilliant scientists and thinkers, some mainstream Greens, some truly tough-minded scientists. There was James Lovelock, the man whose Gaia hypothesis sees the world as a single, gigantic organism. There was Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University in New York. There was Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum and former head of the British Antarctic Survey. There was Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics Group at Oxford. There was Sir David King, once chief scientific adviser to the British government. There were many others.
When did Mr. Appleyard talk to the brilliant thinkers and scientists, dissenting Greens and truly tough minded scientists who oppose the movement? Instead he went from an ignorant opinion to a propagandized opinion without taking a breath.
There is, I saw, a fine line between the hard-head and the bone-head. The denialist hard-head swaggers his way through life hearing only what he wants to hear, that warmism is either a hoax, a gross error or just another End-of-the-World scare story. But if you suspend your prejudices and your vanity for a moment, everything changes. You find out that the following statements are true beyond argument.
Between the hard-head and the bone-head is the soft-headed fool who can’t tell facts from hot air due to sheer laziness preventing them from doing their own evaluation on both sides logic. This leads to accepting as “true beyond argument” things that are highly arguable. Like:
The climate is warming.
For the climate itself to warm, and not just the atmosphere in places, the oceans have to first warm. This takes HUNDREDS of years to occur and for the effects to be felt on the atmosphere. This fact ALONE makes the whole idea of Human caused global warming silly at first glance. There simply hasn’t been time for the effects they claim to have occurred since the 1850’s!
It is almost certain this is caused by emissions of greenhouse gases caused by human activity.
Given that it is not certain that the warming is happening at all, it definitely is not certain what caused it! The effect is so short term, if it exists, that it could be caused by a number of factors, the most likely being changes in the output of the Sun.
Nobody has come up with an alternative explanation that stands up.
Really? Who did you ask? What ideas failed in your mind to fit the bill? Why? Or did you just succumb to snake oil from the GW crew in lieu of actual information?
If the present warming trend continues…
Which we haven’t even established is happening, given the “cooked” nature of the data from the GW bunch.
…, nasty things will probably start happening to humans within the next century, possibly the next decade.
Nasty things? Such as? Hasn’t anyone pointed out to Mr. Appleyard that for every inch of coastline that might be lost to rising oceans vast areas of interior will go from arid to arable? Is Mr. Appleyard totally unaware that the BEST times for plant and animal life that this planet has EVER seen occurred at times when the CO2 and temp were significantly higher than they are today? I assume not, since Bryan is adamant that…
Something must be done. If nothing is done, then the benign climatic conditions that have sustained human civilisation for 10,000 years are in danger of collapse to be replaced by… well, write your own disaster movie.
More ignorance pretending to be profound. Those 10,000 years are hardly representative of any kind of average for Earthly conditions! And the best years for humanity of those 10,000 years were the WARMER ones!!!!
…You will note that there is some wiggle room in these statements. It is “almost certain” that humans are responsible; nasty things will “probably” happen. That is because all science can ever be is the best guess of the best minds. Also, the climate is a complex system, meaning it can behave in ways that are opaque beyond our most sophisticated calculations. But, as I have often been told, those statements are as true as any scientific statements can be, and nobody — I repeat, nobody — has been able to refute this. In short, to deny any of these statements is to put yourself beyond the bounds of rational discourse.
Funny, I think that maybe you need to talk to the ones doing the refuting instead of the ones afraid of being refuted! Then maybe you can learn something from them and stop letting yourself be “often told” things that you could understand for yourself are nonsense!
The article goes on to demonstrate Bryan’s ignorance of several new subjects, amongst them predictions and computer modeling. I might analyze the rest at a later time, but for now I think Bryan has shown us fairly clearly that his early opinions have been replaced by nothing more than new beliefs with no more basis in fact than his original prejudices.