Thu, Feb 20, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Agreement or extinction ultimatum offered to climate skeptics

If climate change skeptics have an explanation for recent events, it is time they held an international conference and told everybody what it is they believe

By Henry Porter  /  The Observer

Say I were to ask you to prove that the dinosaurs were wiped out when an asteroid collided with the Earth 66 million years ago, in what is now snappily called the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event.

If you were as weirdly obsessed by these catastrophes as I am, you would maybe start by citing the worldwide layer of sediment known as K-Pg boundary, which was first discovered near Gubbio, Italy, and is thought to be the fallout from a massive explosion. You would mention the soot that is associated with this layer, the site of a huge impact in the Yucatan region of Mexico 66 million years ago and, finally, you would ask what else could have caused the dinosaurs to die out more or less overnight. A skeptic might respond that this is all supposition, evidence tenuously linked to fit a very recent theory: None of it constitutes proof and no one can ever know why the dinosaurs vanished to allow the rise of mammals and the eventual evolution of man.

So you would quote more evidence, such as the presence in the K-Pg layer of iridium, an element rare on Earth, but not in asteroids, as well as the altered state of quartz, which can only be made under extremely high pressure, such as is caused by a huge impact of a 10km asteroid. You would mention the long darkness when only ferns grew and the fact that the seas were emptied of all but the most tenacious species.

Ah, but this is still all very hypothetical, the skeptic would say, at which point you might give up and tell him, yes, a spacecraft might have visited Earth and exterminated 75 percent of the world’s species, but you’re going with the best available evidence. The skeptic would walk away, satisfied that he had achieved a draw, not from the merit of his argument, but simply because he had not let you convince him.

This is where it is with the climate change deniers. The absolute proof of man-made global warming is unlikely to arrive until it is too late and so the deniers are scrupulously indulged with equal time in the argument, where nothing is ever good enough for them.

They are always the sniping antagonists,who rarely, if ever, stand up to say: We believe in the following facts and here is our research.

MAKE A CASE

It is a risk-free strategy — at least for the moment — that comes almost exclusively from the political right and is, as often as not, incentivized by simple capitalist gain. Hearing Lord Lawson argue with the impeccably reasonable climate scientist Brian Hoskins on the BBC Today program, I finally boiled over.

It is surely now time for the deniers to make their case and hold an international conference, where they set out their scientific stall, which, while stating that the climate is fundamentally chaotic, provides positive, underlying evidence that man’s activity has had no impact on sea and atmosphere temperatures, diminishing icecaps and glaciers, rising sea levels and so on.

Until such a conference is held and people such as Lawson, Lord Monckton, Christopher Booker, Samuel Brittan and Viscount Ridley — names that begin to give you some idea of the demographic — are required to provide the proof of their case, rather than feeding off that of their opponents, they should be treated with mild disdain. I do not say deniers should be banned from media outlets, as the Web site Reddit has attempted to do, but just that there should be agreement that they must now qualify, with argument and facts, for the balanced coverage they receive in such places as the BBC.

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