How to convince global warming skeptics

Hint: A little civility never hurts

The results are in, and scientists are convinced: Global warming is real, and it's our fault.

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its fifth report this morning, and it did not mince words. Global warming is "unequivocal": Each of the past three decades has been warmer than the last, and each was hotter than any ten-year period since 1850. Scientists are more confident than ever that "human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming" for over sixty years, the IPCC said.

If we don't act now, the report added, runaway climate change will cause parts of the planet to heat up by over 10 degrees Celsius. Sweltering, prolonged heat waves will become commonplace, along with severe rainstorms — ensuring widespread forest fires and flooding. The Arctic Ocean will shed almost all of its ice during the summer, causing sea levels to rise by as much as three feet by the end of the century.

Although it might seem like a new climate change report comes along every month, this is actually the first report released by the IPCC since 2007; the last one won the Nobel Peace Prize. And it's not just the work of a bunch of faceless U.N. bureaucrats; the panel is made up of the world's pre-eminent scientists in the field of climatology.

This particular bunch is worth listening to, says Eric Holthaus at Quartz:

What makes the IPCC so important is simple: They are required to agree. Last night, the group pulled an all-nighter to ensure that representatives from all 195 member countries agreed on every single word of the 36-page "summary for policymakers" (pdf). That instantly makes the report the world's scientific and political authority on what is happening to the climate, what will happen in the future, and what needs to be done to avoid the worst impacts. [Quartz]

Sounds pretty conclusive, right? But just as melting icebergs crash into each other in the tepid Antarctic, the IPCC's rigid analysis will butt up against hidebound skepticism. "Belief in global warming has taken on the trappings of traditional religion," scoffs Michael Barone at National Review.

Alarmists like to say the science is settled — which is nonsense, since science is a series of theories that can be tested by observations. When Einstein presented his theory of relativity, he showed how it could be tested during astronomical events in the next decade. The theory passed. Saying the science is settled is like demanding what religions demand — that you have faith. [National Review]

What the skeptics say is this: The rate at which global temperatures have increased hasn't accrlerated over the past decade and a half, despite the dire warnings of the climate change crowd. So why should we believe anything they say?

Well, climatologists counter that while surface warming has apparently slowed down, it's because the heat is disappearing beneath the surface. "About 30 percent of the heat is going deeper into the ocean," said Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research at Mother Jones.

Still skeptical? That's ok! Scientists love skepticism — it's what makes them extra careful to ensure their results can withstand the mere whisper of a doubt. "Good science inherently involves skepticism," Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society, wrote at CNN. But if that skepticism comes as reflexively as a knee jerk — and shrugs off the weight of scientific consensus — it's fair to ask "is it skepticism, or bias?"

Science requires time to sort out the truth from fiction, for theories to be tested or challenged. It is not well suited for tweets and blogs, which allow "zombie theories" — ideas that have been debunked but continue to live on. [CNN]

Perhaps advocates for global warming can help by keeping things civil. Too often, the facts of the climate change debate are delivered along with paternalistic name-calling. Skeptics are no stranger to petty insults either — see the comment section beneath every article on global warming ever written — but those who believe the facts speak for themselves should let them do so. "Deep-six the term 'denier' and abandon 'alarmist.' Let's get 'warmist' out of the way, too," says Jason Samenow at The Washington Post.

I completely understand that some people use these terms to cast light on individuals they feel are close-minded, unwilling to learn, and/or completely blind to data and facts. But, in my view, it would be far more productive to simply point out those who perpetuate bad ideas, flawed arguments, and outright falsehoods through example(s), rather than call them names. [Washington Post]


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