Guest essay by Matt Manos
Skepticism has had an amazing impact on climate science given its size and persecution. Yet it still languishes as a social pariah in the green room of society. To grow, skeptics need to find a group of people that can be influenced.
Skeptics have benefited greatly through their association with Conservatives. Unfortunately, skepticism among the Conservative population has been maximized. Future growth has to come from the political middle.
According to 2014 survey by Pew, 61% of Americans believe
“…there is solid evidence that Earth’s average temperature has been getting warmer over the past few decades.”
What’s amazing is that 35% are willing to admit that they don’t believe the Earth has been warming in the past few decades (the remaining 4% don’t take a position). That 35% has resisted more than a decade of bellwether pushing and government campaigns. Skeptics have been out-grouped and Othered by their friends and even family members. And yet they still don’t accept CAGW or possibly even AGW. These are some stubborn people.
Are most of the 35% scientifically literate? Have they researched AGW and come to a contrary conclusion? Many scientists have reluctantly followed a lonely path to skepticism. Others in the 35% have detected a disconnect between the rhetoric of climate change and the reality on the ground. When the sky doesn’t fall for years, skepticism grows all by itself. Still, a majority of the 35% are probably skeptical because of the culture war.
Conservative leaders rally support against climate change not because they’ve done a survey of the scientific literature but because they find the policy outcomes of climate change undesirable. The association is so strong that skepticism has become linked to the Conservative movement by the general public. This linkage drives away many moderate and independent minded people before a discussion about CAGW can ever occur.
I’m not suggesting Conservative leaders temper their views and I am not trying to blame them. What I’m suggesting is that the way to grow skepticism is to engage other segments of the political sphere. Libertarians in the US are a good example. They often partner with Conservatives on policy issues but not so much on climate change. Libertarians have Othered skeptics. One way to change that is through direct lobbying by skeptic experts. Not just with Libertarians but any civic group that will host a debate. Scientific, non-partisan, debate.
That is a good message for all skeptics to have. My first post on WUWT led to some interesting rabbit holes in the comments. When I wrote about rational ignorance, I didn’t expect discussions from Truthers and anti-vaxxers. I’m not trying to pick a fight with those groups. What I am humbling suggesting is that for CAGW to become accepted by moderates and independents, skeptics need to appear above reproach on all other controversial topics. Skeptics are being lumped into a guilt by association with groups that are even more out of the mainstream than they are. Skeptics need to become single issue communicators untarnished by other controversial topics.
Skeptics need to know what they stand for and what they don’t. Skeptics get painted as deniers and conspiracy theorists and changing that perception won’t happen overnight. But it won’t happen at all if it’s not communicated. What skeptics need is a strong spokesperson. Preferably a young, charismatic, non-partisan scientist to go on daytime TV, YouTube and TV news shows. This would be a true skeptic of CAGW who could point to their belief that CO2 is a greenhouse gas as a defense against being labelled a denier. The skeptic spokesperson would be trying to reach low information viewers. The types of viewers that are most prone to rational ignorance on climate change.
I’m not calling out Conservatives or the other groups I mentioned. I’m addressing the specific topic of how I think skepticism can grow. I don’t claim these are the only ways to grow skepticism or that they’re even original. It’s easy to see what needs to happen and a lot harder to get things done. Personally, I think skepticism could grow if skeptics could get the science presented to more people. The pause is amazing stuff. To effectively communicate the pause requires different skills then influencing the scientific debate. To grow, skepticism needs a playbook and a face.