I often contribute to other blogs, in particular, those in The Guardian and on the BBC website, generally when they feature the topic of climate change, especially when related to policy and economic issues. It isn’t part of my job description, but I feel that it is part of my role as someone involved in academic research, particularly when I recognise the importance of engaging with people from outside academia on some of the latest research findings, as well as discussing and receiving feedback on a range of topics related to climate change theories and strategies, which most certainly make me a more effective researcher.
Both the Guardian and the BBC promote discussion by commissioning an article by an expert (including 4CMR’s Terry Barker) or personality of some kind (or both, in the case of George Monbiot’s Guardian blog). Having such an article as the basis of a discussion has often enabled me to have a focused dialogue with a range of interesting people, testing the logic and coherence of my argument, learning about other ideas and filling in some of the gaps in my knowledge.
There is, though, a darker side to climate change blogs; there are a group of people who call themselves sceptics but they are not sceptical at all. These are not people who are just not sure that the evidence is sufficient to reach a conclusion.
These are people who have made up their minds and don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change in the same way that other people don’t believe in the moon landings, or believe in angels and alien abduction or think that The Beatles didn’t write any good songs. In this regard it doesn’t matter which term is used to describe their collective views (deniers, anti-climate change propagandists, climate action saboteurs) as long as it doesn’t include the word “sceptic” or imply an uncertainty or open mindedness in their conceptions.
Why is this a dark side – isn’t it good to debate with people who hold views different from your own? Isn’t this the way we learn. For those of us who have read through enough comments on such blogs, there is obviously no intention to engage in evaluating the evidence nor in discussing the issues raised in the article that the comments purport to respond by a large proportion of such self proclaimed skeptics (or even, incongruously, “climate realists”) but they have ulterior motives for “contributing” to climate change blogs. In reality they are not a homogenous group and here is a typology I’m still working on – (they are not necessarily mutually exclusive):
• Conspiracy Theorists: those who conclude that climate change is a hoax by governments who want an excuse to tax us,
• Trolls: those who find it hilarious to elicit annoyed responses from other contributors by making outrageous comments,
• Website Experts: those who know enough from reading websites or newspapers to question the basic concepts, but don’t know enough to engage in the nuanced science debates, but stick to their opinions dogmatically.
• Self Educated Experts: people who have studied enough to apply a precision to question the orthodox science, that they would never apply to their own flimsy “evidence” base – a confirmation bias more akin to religion than science.
• Reward Motivated Experts: people who are articulate and a voice for hire, motivated by attention, status, hits to their website, funds from interested parties.
• Ideological Opponents: climate change isn’t part of their ideology, climate change concern being for the “yoghurt eating, public transport-using, bike riding, vegan, tree hugging fascist loony-leftie hippies”
In a more sinister way, there are those who seem to be coordinated, in a way that resembles a Karl Rove-type campaign:
• Talking Point Promoters: those who raise concerns about climate change action off topic, such as “the head of the IPCC has a conflict of interests/lied about X/ is incompetent”
• Talking Point Followers: those who stick to the topic raised by the Talking Point Promoters and apply the concepts to the author of the article on which they are commenting, attempting to shift the topic to the talking points (similar to “meat puppets”)
• Ad Hominem Critics: constantly questioning the author using ad hominem criticisms in order to undermine their credibility, or accusing the author of not responding to one point or another
• Blog Blockers: people who make lots of comments which adds little to the debate, but take time to dismiss – they may indeed change identity or have multiple identities (“sock puppets”)
• The Misinformation Lobby: people who, paid or not, represent the interests of specific organisations or sectors, for whom climate science pose a threat
I have learnt very little through my contact with members of any of these groups. There is one final group:
• Sceptics: people who have thought about the issue in detail and raise a new objection on the basis of knowledge or theory in order to assess if the weight of evidence suggests an alternative opinion than that held by the orthodox approaches. This is, of course a temporary state. It is also a very very exclusive group on climate change blogs.
In the end as George Monbiot reminds us from his blog in 2006, those who refuse to be engaged with are an inconvenience, but if the biosphere is ruined it will be done by people who know that emissions must be cut - but refuse to alter the way they live.
If I have missed any examples, you can always contribute to my blog, just don’t describe yourself as a “climate realist” without saying why.