Deniers are doing all conservatives a disservice

Deep Climate has uncovered some good climate reporting in the steaming pile that is the National Post. The article, written by Jonathan Kay, examines the claim that there exists a growing number of scientists who question the scientific consensus on global warming, and concludes that it is nonsense:

Have you heard about the “growing number” of eminent scientists who reject the theory that man-made greenhouse gases are increasing the earth’s temperature? It’s one of those factoids that, for years, has been casually dropped into the opening paragraphs of conservative manifestos against climate-change treaties and legislation.

Fine-sounding rhetoric — but all of it nonsense. In a new article published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, a group of scholars from Stanford University, the University of Toronto and elsewhere provide a statistical breakdown of the opinions of the world’s most prominent climate experts. Their conclusion: The group that is skeptical of the evidence of man-made global warming “comprises only 2% of the top 50 climate researchers as ranked by expertise (number of climate publications), 3% of researchers in the top 100, and 2.5% of the top 200, excluding researchers present in both groups … This result closely agrees with expert surveys, indicating that [about] 97% of self-identified actively publishing climate scientists agree with the tenets of [man-made global warming].”

I covered the PNAS study here. Kay then convincingly argues that this denialism (which is most prominent on the right) threatens to de-legitimize conservatives:

This is a phenomenon that should worry not only environmentalists, but also conservatives themselves: The conviction that global warming is some sort of giant intellectual fraud now has become a leading bullet point within mainstream North American conservatism; and so has come to bathe the whole movement in its increasingly crankish, conspiratorial glow…

In support of this paranoid approach, the denialists typically will rely on stray bits of discordant information — an incorrect reference in a UN report, a suspicious-seeming “climategate” email, some hypocrisy or other from a bien-pensant NGO type — to argue that the whole theory is an intellectual house of cards. In these cases, one can’t help but be reminded of the folks who point out the fluttering American flag in the moon-landing photos, or the “umbrella man” from the Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination…

Rants and slogans may help conservatives deal with the emotional problem of cognitive dissonance. But they aren’t the building blocks of a serious ideological movement. And the impulse toward denialism must be fought if conservatism is to prosper in a century when environmental issues will assume an ever greater profile on this increasingly hot, parched, crowded planet. Otherwise, the movement will come to be defined — and discredited — by its noisiest cranks and conspiracists.

I have argued as much in the past, but it is nice to see this written by conservative commentator in a newspaper that leans to the right. Kay places much of the blame for the current state of affairs on an internet culture which thinks that personal views on highly complex subjects are equal to those of real experts. It should be obvious that the two are not equal, but to many (and this includes much of the mainstream media as well) this inequality is not perceived. That is, in essence the key, of the problem we face.

Kay does also blame ideology, and the fact that “generally speaking, persons who subscribe to individualistic values tend to dismiss claims of environmental risks, because acceptance of such claims implies the need to regulate markets, commerce and other outlets for individual strivings.” But this would not be a large issue if the media did not promote demonstrably false facts as alternatives to established science.

I do however disagree with Deep Climate’s assessment that this might signal a change in the way the National Post reports on climate related issues. I don’t read what Jonathan Kay writes often, but when I do I am usually pleasantly surprised. This article may be unusual for the National Post, but not for Kay.

I don’t expect any changes at the National Post any time soon, but would be delighted to be proven wrong.

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