Why I Hope The Climate Change Deniers Are Right
I am a climate change believer, but I hope that the deniers are right.
I’m far from a zealot, but I try to minimise my carbon footprint. I’ve installed solar PV, a solar water heater, buy green electricity, catch the bus to the office and offset the emissions from the natural gas I use, but I hope the climate change deniers are right.
I’ve campaigned politically on climate change, as both a campaign manager and candidate for The Greens. It was the issue of climate change that spurred me into political action, but I hope the deniers are right.
Despite the significant investment of time, money and emotional energy in my belief that human-induced climate change is not only real, but both evident and gathering pace, I would love to pick up the newspaper one morning and see a huge headline proclaiming “We Were Wrong On Climate”. It would fill me with relief to read that the IPCC had studied all the available evidence, concluded that the warming we are currently experiencing is due to short-term natural events, and that normal climate conditions will be resumed as soon as possible.
Why? Because I would much prefer to suffer the embarrassment of being wrong about global warming than to witness the impending climate disaster unfold.
In so many ways it would be easier to put my faith in the deniers. Frankly, it’s a pain having one’s climate conscience questioning even small, day to day decisions. But there is a good reason why I am convinced that, climatically, things are far more likely to get worse rather than better. And it isn’t so much about the science of climate change, but about the practice of science itself.
Contrary to the belief of some climate deniers, scientists are not driven by some conspiracy to fleece governments of research funds. Altruism plays a role, but scientists are more driven by the sheer curiosity of wanting to know how things work. Even when egos get involved, which they do, what stokes those egos is being the first to uncover new and important knowledge and of being right. And it does any ego good to know that you may be saving a few million lives and alleviating great suffering along the way.
There have been occasions when lone scientists have overturned scientific orthodoxy, sometimes in the face of intense opposition. And quite often initial scientific “findings” are wrong. It’s an inevitable consequence of working at the very edge of knowledge. When you shine a torch into the darkness that lies beyond the knowledge horizon, you don’t always interpret the glimpses you see correctly.
But the IPCC has been a huge endeavour, the largest collaborative effort to probe the science and hold the new knowledge up to the light. Of course there are uncertainties. We are dealing with a massively complex system. But as events unfold the large majority of climate scientists are, far beyond reasonable doubt, being proven to be right.
So I believe the science. I trust in the process because I’ve witnessed it from the inside, albeit in a field unrelated to climate studies. Far and away, science is the best way of knowing.
But still I hope that the climate change deniers are right.
Image: adapted from NASA /Earth Observatory/Robert Simmon