In many ways, the climate debate has hardly changed since I got interested in it about ten years ago. Public opinion wobbles up and down with hardly any real change. The same tired arguments and claims come round again: every climate conference is the last chance to save the planet; the Arctic ice is always about to vanish in one or two years, or ten years; climate scientists continue to be accused of selecting data sets to create hockeysticks and manipulating data; and teams of climate scientists keep producing reports saying almost exactly the same thing as the previous reports, which then get misrepresented and hyped by the media.
So when something does appear to change it’s worth taking note of. I have a feeling that a split may be developing on the ‘warmist’ side, between what we might call the ‘extremists’ and the ‘moderates’. Here are three recent examples of this.
Some social scientists believe that telling people that there’s a consensus on climate change acts as a ‘gateway belief‘ leading to public action, even though their own data does not really support this claim. Others have questioned this, saying that consensus messaging is an unhelpful distraction, see Geoff’s recent post and also this paper that says that other factors such as scientific integrity are more important.
One of the most ridiculous recent alarmist articles was The Uninhabitable Earth, by a journalist for New Yorker magazine, full of doom, terror, alarm, starvation and plagues. Because of this, it got a lot of attention, which presumably was the intention, and it even has its own wikipedia page. While David Roberts at Vox said that trying to scare people in this way was fine, many mainstream climate scientists criticised the article. A team at Climate Feedback (usually used to attack sceptical articles in the media) said that its scientific credibility was low and it exaggerated the risks. New Scientist said that such doomsday scenarios were unlikely to happen, and even Michael Mann thought that the article overstated the evidence.
Al Gore has a new film out, called “An Inconvenient Sequel”. He’s currently in the UK promoting it, which started the recent Lawson kerfuffle. Apparently his film has been an inconvenient flop at the box office. It’s no surprise that Bjorn Lomborg in the Wall Street Journal says that the film misses a few inconvenient facts. But what is more inconvenient for Mr Gore is that the Guardian doesn’t like it either, describing it as “desultory and surprisingly vainglorious” and awarding it only two stars. Apparently it is “more a portrait of Gore than a call to arms”.
The left-leaning New Republic writes of The Troubling Return of Al Gore, saying “But not everyone on the left is celebrating Gore’s reemergence—and for reasons that sometimes contradict each other. Some worry he’s too polarizing a figure, and therefore could paralyze progress on climate change.” They also have a paragraph supporting the main hypothesis of this post: “This skepticism about Gore reveals a lot about the climate movement, which has fractured significantly since An Inconvenient Truth. Whereas a decade ago there was a relatively united focus on spreading awareness about climate change, today there is no clear consensus on how to fight it.”