Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Fashionable dogma. Religious zealotry. We're bigger than that. (This blog is written by Candian journalist Donna Laframboise)

The Silent Treatment

It takes a special kind of arrogance to believe that one’s opinions are so correct that acknowledging other perspectives grants those perspectives more air time than they deserve.

Yet such attitudes are disturbingly common in the climate change debate. And they are one of the reasons reasonable people have begun to take a closer look at the party line.

Recently, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) coordinating lead author Kevin Trenberth released an advance copy of a controversial speech he intends to deliver to the American Meteorological Society later this month. In a section subtitled “The Deniers” he writes:

Scientific facts are not open to debate and opinion because they are evidence and/or physically based. Moreover a debate actually gives alternative views credibility. [bold added]

It seems to me it wasn’t long ago that the entire world considered Pluto a planet. This incontrovertible scientific fact was taught to generations of school children. And then, one day, it got tossed into the dustbin.

Trenberth is a smart man. Surely he recognizes that science is done by people. When deciding what is – or is not – compelling evidence people make judgment calls. In the climate debate the public now thinks the judgment of scientists is suspect. We think this because, rather than presenting their point-of-view soberly and professionally, prominent climate scientists such as Trenberth deliver speeches in which they link those with whom they disagree to Holocaust deniers.

I’ve encountered this same “let’s pretend our critics don’t exist” theme in comments that were submitted last year to a committee investigating the IPCC (see here and here). Asked for his/her views on how the IPCC communicates with the media and the general public, an unidentified IPCC bureau member (a select group of 31 administrative personnel) replied:

On the issue of reacting to allegations of mistakes or improper procedure…There has been deep divisions within the IPCC…on the question if IPCC needs to respond publicly. There has been a strong constituency in the past in favour of not reacting publicly at all. [page numbered 259, p. 76 of PDF, bold added]

Does that sound like a good idea on the part of an organization producing reports that are routinely used to justify dramatic lifestyle changes and fewer personal freedoms? Does this sound sustainable over the long term? Should the IPCC just block its ears and hum loudly?

Here’s yet another example. When British broadcaster Ian Dale invited Greenpeace to take part in a televised debate in 2007, he received an e-mail from Ben Stewart which read, in part:

We have a policy at Greenpeace that we no longer debate people who don’t accept the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change. It’s similar to the policy undertaken by cancer specialists who used to debate the tobacco industry but discontinued doing so. [bold added]

Greenpeace is a political machine. It succeeds financially by fanning people’s fears, by exaggerating, by blaming forest fires on global warming when they’ve really been started by countercultural individuals who believe “modern lifestyles…are unhealthy and out of harmony with the natural systems of planet Earth.”

Greenpeace doesn’t actually do anything – like, say, clean up the island of plastic trash bobbing out there in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Yet these professional lobbyists think its appropriate to compare themselves to cancer researchers.

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