I am writing this post in response to a couple of articles I have been reading this evening; articles that I came across through links on twitter. The first is from the Guardian and is regarding Nigel Lawson’s climate change sceptic (or as I prefer to see them, denier) group the ‘Global Warming Policy Foundation’ (GWPF). This can be found here. The second is an article by Harry Eyres of the Financial Times, available here.
The first question I wish to raise is this. Why is it that the media offers so much air time and journalistic space to climate change deniers when the vast majority of ‘the scientific community’ (a term I use loosely and dislike in many ways but here it seems to do the job) backs the idea that climate change is happening? I would agree that not to question the theories and evidence that support the ideas of climate change would be as serious an issue as denying climate change is happening. It would indeed still be some form of denial and denial isn’t a constructive paradigm. Scepticism is something that I wholeheartedly support. It is part of the essence of being a scientist. However, I would not give such ‘scientific respect’ to many of those who question climate change. Often deniers look at evidence in completely different ways to accepters. Crucially, they often come to their conclusions before they have even carried out their method and analysis. Their minds are set before they evaluate. That is not science. Economics and short term thinking are at the forefront of the denier’s mind. They do not question the evidence in the way that a true sceptic would.
Why then did the BBC give more time to GWPF’s man than the IPCC (Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change) in a recent episode of ‘the World at One’? (take a look). If you read my blog regularly you will know that often I am not a fan of automatically turning to ‘mainstream’ science to answer the issues of the day. My personal views on agricultural science are enough to see that. However, when it comes to the evidence from supporters who say Climate Change is happening, it would be, in my view, very difficult to accept a line of argument following a road other than that developed by the IPCC. At my family farm on the Essex coast my father has seen immense change in terms of sea level rise, with winter storms now regularly breaching the sea wall. I’d like to hear Lord Lawson’s response if he took the time to look in detail at how the lives of many ordinary people are being altered for reasons of climate (change).
Next, I wish to briefly examine the response Harry Eyres received from his acquaintance at the Edinburgh Conference he attended last week (article can be found here). The response revolved around the idea of concentrating responses upon ‘global change’, on food, water and energy, on the depletion of natural capital and sustenance of ecosystems rather than principally on climatic change. In many ways I agree with this attitude. As Eyres points out later in his article, one cannot deny environmental degradation. It is all around us for everyone to see. In many ways therefore focusing on ‘global change’ is a more concrete idea than a wholesome focus on ‘climatic change’ even though both are critically important. Indeed, a combination of both is important. However, global environmental change in terms of degradation is more difficult for those who place the economy and contemporary society above long term prosperity and sustainability for posterity to deny and put to the back of their minds. I would argue that the evidence for climate change is apparent and clear. However, it is not concrete. It is not tangible in the way that physical environmental degradation is observable.
We have made a mess of things. Personally I struggle to see why some people (and very intelligent people at that) continue to act as if they are in a balloon that cannot burst. However, those of us who accept the line that we have gone too far in degrading our planet, that the planet is changing, the atmosphere is changing, our marine systems, forest systems and soil systems are degrading, we will also have to accept that we are going to have to live with climate change and environmental change deniers. We can still be optimistic and can focus on the following questions:
- How can we best enhance biodiversity?
- How can we best manage habitats to encourage healthy and complex, multi-layered ecosystems?
- How can we reduce air pollution in our towns and cities to enhance the health of those human animals and non-human animals who live in our urban areas, and rural areas for that matter?
- How can we reduce our impact on marine environments?
- How can we act to reduce the human impact on the reduction in number, and ever closer move to extinction of non-human animal species, in all environments on the planet?
- How can we best plan to plant more trees and work forests and woodlands in a sustainable manner?
- How do we describe and explain ‘sustainable development’?
- How can we ensure unpolluted and adequate water supplies for posterity?
- How can we plan our food networks to ensure a ‘sustainable’ human and non-human animal population for the planet?
- How can we act to reconcile differences when it come to environmental debate and act positively to ensure environmental policy does not affect the social welfare of the poorest in the world?
- How can we ensure ethical land distribution and ownership?
- How can we wean ourselves off an unsustainable addiction to fossil fuels?
There are many questions above. Some I may dip into in future articles. However, what I am trying to get across is that there is little separation when it comes to concerns over the environment, social and economic welfare and the making of fair policy. In conclusion, scepticism is often good; outright denial or being set in ones ways is not (and I admit I sometimes sit in that camp). We need to find a way of involving all aspects of change, social, environmental, economic, cultural, political, in a conversation that involves all of us. Some may say the answer has come to us in the form of social networking, in blogging, on twitter and the rest of the internet. The internet is perhaps one of the only truly democratic institutions left, where conversation and thought are free (well most of the time) and ideas (big ideas at that) can be exchanged, shared, followed, debated and evaluated.
I apologise if this article has been a little confused in terms of structure but they are all ideas that create a conversation and I’d be very interested, as always, in hearing your responses, your ideas and your own reflections.