David Victor, in a presentation in January at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography as part of a seminar series titled “Global Warming Denialism: What science has to say”, fairly recently highlighted here at Andy Revkin’s Dot Earth blog in the online International New York Times, made several very important points that I think that maybe we can, and should, all agree on, as a starting point to all of our subsequent discussions on “global warming/climate change”.
First, let it be said that David Victor, in his speech, self-describes himself as follows: ”I consider myself part of the mainstream scientific community on climate change, and I do all the things that the mainstream does. I teach about climate science and policy; I participate actively in the IPCC; I publish in all the normal journals.” He is a dyed-in-the-wool, self-proclaimed, practicing, Global Warming believer. He uses the term “believer” in his speech to describe adherents to the IPCC consensus. In any case, he cannot be mistaken for any kind of a climate change skeptic.
Each of the five following points of agreement is quoted directly from his speech, though not in sequential order, with some with emphasis added, each quote is followed by some comments by myself, in italics like this, to clearly differentiate them from Victor’s quoted words:
1. “First, I’d like to suggest that calling people who disagree “denialists” is clouding our judgment. If you really want to understand what motivates these people and what motivates the captains of industry and voters who listen to them, stop calling them denialists.”
The word “denialists” is offensive in its connotation, intended or not, of Holocaust denialism, and is, in any case, incorrect, no one (“nutters” excepted), denies “climate” or that climate changes. Later in his speech, he uses a better word which I will suggest here for all of us, if we must separate people with a binary system denoting disagreement with IPCC climate change science consensus: climate change consensus DISSENT and DISSENTERS.
I will add that though Victor seems comfortable referring to climate change consensus supporters as “Believers”, if I were a professional scientist, I would find this very distasteful. It sounds way to much like something skeptics often accuse them of. I would propose they settle for consensus SUPPORTERS, which doesn’t imply slavish following of every line of a doctrine-like set of beliefs.
2. “We in the scientific community need to acknowledge that the science is softer than we like to portray. The science is not “in” on climate change because we are dealing with a complex system whose full properties are, with current methods, unknowable.”
Dr. Judith Curry , who hosts the Climate Etc. blog, is the goto expert on the issue of climate change uncertainty, and has written extensively on the subject; and its known unknowns and unknown unknowns.
3. “The science is “in” on the first steps in the analysis—historical emissions, concentrations, and brute force radiative balance—but not for the steps that actually matter for policy. Those include impacts, ease of adaptation, mitigation of emissions and such—are surrounded by error and uncertainty.” … “We all agree, you say, on some basic facts—that CO2 concentrations are approaching a mean of 400ppm, a value far above the 280 or 290ppm of the pre-industrial value. We agree that the climate will warm in equilibrium when net radiative forcing is added to the atmosphere, that humans are all but certainly responsible for at least half of the observed warming since the preindustrial era, etc. etc. That zone of agreement is impressive, but we must face the reality that those aren’t the questions that really matter for policy.”
Nearly all believers and skeptics alike agree on these basic points of the science (I place emphasis on the percentage of human contribution, many serious scientists still hold this bit in question, but in the end most agree that the exact percentage probably doesn’t really matter that much for policy). Before quibbling about radiative balance, note he says brute force radiative balance – not the nitty gritty picky details…we agree that this is not yet settled and is still a moving target for many.
4. “but [the science is] not [“in”] for the steps that actually matter for policy. Those include impacts, ease of adaptation, mitigation of emissions and such—are surrounded by error and uncertainty. I can understand why a politician says the science is settled—as Barack Obama did last night in the State of the Union Address, where he said the “debate is over”—because if your mission is to create a political momentum then it helps to brand the other side as a “Flat Earth Society” (as he did last June). But in the scientific community we can’t pretend that things are more certain than they are.“
This simply has to be acknowledged on both sides of the climate divide – and not over-emphasized by skeptics. Some things are fairly well understood and some are still basically mysteries – surrounded by error and uncertainty — and some are in-between and require more study – clouds, ocean currents and overturn, effects of cosmic rays on cloud formation – there is quite a known list – and then there are the as-yet unknowns.
5. “…in the scientific world, there are no bright lines and the whole idea of “consensus” is deeply troubling. There is a consensus that 2+2=4. After that, we are in shades of grey. “ …“The instinctual unease with consensus helps to explain why some of the world’s greatest scientists have been climate skeptics and why the public has such a hard time understanding why these people are so disagreeable. They are disagreeable because the selection mechanisms in science demand it. If you want to find people who agree then hire an accountant. Nobody has caused bigger trouble than Freeman Dyson whose skeptical views on climate first came into focus through a 2009 New York Times Magazine profile. How do you dismiss perhaps the most accomplished physicist of his generation as an uninformed imposter? You can’t.”
This applies to many other world class Climate Scientists, Physicists, Meteorologists, and other professionals (and serious citizen scientists as well) who are regularly trashed, thrashed, dismissed as frauds, Big Oil shills, and uniformed imposters by those who should know better on the Support’s side of the Climate Divide and in a far too-cooperative mainstream media. Likewise, some skeptics label some serious climate scientists as crooks, criminals, and frauds because they produce mainstream climate science which they find disagreeable.
Let’s agree to agree with David Victor: How do you dismiss these people? “You can’t.”
(Has there been misbehavior and are there some bad apples? Yes, maybe so—but if so, then let’s honesty admit, in both apple barrels. )
If you go on to read David Victor’s full January speech, understand that he does not follow his own admonition not to call dissenters “denialists.” It gets grating very quickly. He uses other disagreeable words as well. There are interesting things in Victor’s speech about where climate fight money comes from and whom it goes, admissions you won’t see elsewhere. I’m sure you will find things to agree with and many other things that David Victor says to disagree with as strongly as I do. Truthfully, it doesn’t seem to me that he agrees with himself much of the time: he’d do better if he stuck to the basic points above and worked from these. But, as I have said so many times it annoys even me, “Opinions Vary.”
I do agree with David Victor on these five simple points. Maybe we can at least all try to agree on #1, and let’s refer, if and when we must, to those who don’t agree with the IPCC Consensus as “Climate Change” or “Global Warming” Consensus DISSENTERS and to the subject as Climate Change Consensus DISSENT, and encourage others to do so. I think it’s a pretty good alternative though I’d be glad to hear your suggestions. I’m sure none of us like being called deniers or denialists.
# # # #
Authors Replies Policy: I will be glad to discuss why I agree with these five points made by David Victor.
I cannot, of course, speak for David Victor as to why he made these statements in the first instance. If you wish to understand his position better, read his original speech and place it, and David Victor, in their original contexts (see the first few paragraph of this essay). I have not listened to his latest , May 15th, presentation.
This is not a technical thread and I am not prepared (or able) to discuss, defend, or even generally talk about technical points such as brute force radiative balance or percentage of human contribution to CO2 concentrations or observed warming.