Nothing is more certain about who will win a war than if only one side turns up, armed to the teeth, while the other sits at home, enjoying a cup of tea and chatting among themselves of how much more superior they are to their opponents. Welcome to the climate wars.
This war is about winning hearts and minds (in that order)—something that the climate change wonks haven’t latched onto yet. Feeling somewhat superior that their science and policies are soundly based, they seem content to let their arguments speak for themselves. Unfortunately, inning hearts and minds doesn’t work that way.
Looking forward to a fight, professional skeptics employed an extensive armory to deploy in the war. Their tactics owe very little to Lord Queensberry and his old-fashioned ideas of gentlemanly conflict. Before launching their first arguments, they disarm the other side by labeling them as “alarmists” whose science is shoddy or simply a hoax to trick everyone into bending down before a false god.
This is only the beginning of their sloganeering. For example, “cap-and-trade” quickly became “cap-and-tax.” They accuse climate scientists of using peer review to keep out contrary opinions; the more aggressive skeptics call it a “conspiracy.” And they set up a preposterous proposition that until the science is “certain,” no action can be taken. In modelling future risks to the climate, predictions can only be couched in probabilities, so uncertainties can never be eliminated. In this instance, the evidence is so overwhelming, action is well and truly justified.
Skeptics are supported by a large segment of media outlets, particularly those owned by Rupert Murdoch, which promote opinions as equal (if not above) scientific research. Moreover, articles by professional skeptics crowd the op-ed pages, and, as polished media performers, they run rings around scientists, who are cautious with their statements, adding qualification upon qualification as good science demands.
Even in countries where action is taken on climate change, it is usually a political fix, with politicians genuflecting before cashed-up lobbyists to provide concessions and engineer loopholes. Politicians will get away with such obfuscation and steer clear of a good policy—unless they are faced with heart-felt public support for climate change. Sadly, there appears to be no one out there trying to win hearts and minds.
I often receive many ill-informed emails (some just crazy) that are being circulated by the professional sceptics, yet have seen no responses from the other side. Skeptics have made the blogosphere their own. And for ordinary folk, with little scientific training or no access to the facts, these bloggers sometimes sound frighteningly credible.
It is good that we have clever policy wonks and scientists beavering away, but unless they are willing to spend some time in the frontlines, engaging the professional skeptics, their time will be wasted and the war will be lost.