Tonight, the Australian TV channel ABC will air the documentary I Can Change Your Mind about Climate. The show features climate activist Anna Rose and retired Liberal senator Nick Minchin attempting to change each others' minds about climate change, by introducing each other to a number of leading voices on climate change. Some have argued, with a fair amount of justification, that its unwise to give the small minority of those who reject climate science an equal voice with the overwhelming majority of climate scientists who agree that humans are causing global warming. However, in an article published today at ABC Environment, I argue (in a valiant effort to take a glass-half-full approach) that this documentary can instruct us on the how and why of climate denial. Here's an excerpt:
What do you do if all the world's experts disagree with you? A decades old technique perfected by the tobacco industry is to manufacture the appearance of a continued debate through fake experts. Climate change is a complicated, multi-disciplinary science and yet many of the leading voices who purport to know better than the experts have never published a single piece of climate research. Of Nick's four voices against the scientific consensus, we have a blogger, an engineer and a political lobbyist. Nick turns to only one actual climate scientist, whose research has been thoroughly refuted in the peer-reviewed literature.
Alternatively, when the world's leading experts disagree with you, another popular approach is to don a tinfoil hat and cry conspiracy. A small minority seem to believe that tens of thousands of climate scientists across the globe are all engaged in a conspiracy. Of course there is no evidence for this (which to the paranoid is further proof of a conspiracy), even when scientists' emails are stolen and pored over with a fine-tooth comb. Fortunately very little tin-foil-hattery is in evidence throughout the documentary, apart from a throwaway line from David Evans that scientists are 'concealing the evidence'.
How does one deny the consensus of evidence? One straightforward approach is to simply ignore it! Jo Nova ignores satellite observations that directly measure an increased greenhouse effect when she claims the warming effect from carbon dioxide (CO2) is immeasurable. Richard Lindzen claims negative feedbacks will cancel out CO2 warming, citing the Earth's past. But it's precisely the Earth's past that provides many independent lines of evidence for reinforcing feedbacks that are an integral part of our climate system.
Marc Morano delivers a breathtaking torrent of misinformation (although I'm not sure he did take a breath) that ignores entire swathes of evidence. He overlooks the fact that Arctic sea ice has dramatically thinned with the total amount of ice hitting record low levels in 2011. He ignores that global warming is still happening, with our planet currently absorbing heat at a rate of two Hiroshima bombs per second. Genuine scepticism requires considering the full body of evidence in order to properly understand what's happening to our climate. What we witness from Nick Minchin's witnesses is not genuine scepticism but rejection of any inconvenient evidence.