Saturday, 24 October 2009

Climate scientists don't have time to talk with every person with questions about climate change and global warming. Like politicians, they rely on a dedicated service provider - the media - to convey messages that are based on their study. But it may not always be enough. The weather is a special case. Every TV news broadcast contains a daily update at the end of the main programming just for weather information. The most powerful computers in the world work 24 hours a day trying to predict what will happen in the skies.

It's easier for scientists to label those who are not yet convinced 'deniers'. The label can certainly make the scientists feel better. It casts a moral shadow over the questioner, like a voodoo curse. For some, however, it merely serves to cement their ideas and feelings more firmly in place.

But do scientists need to talk to every person in the world individually? Perhaps social media can help.

In July 2007 I posted here about my misgivings on climate change. The post includes a link to a letter that I got published in the right-wing Australian journal Quadrant. At the time, and since, my misgivings about the truth of climate change always went unanswered. If you're interested, you might like to read these items.

So here I am in October 2009 happily browsing my Twitter feed and there's a tweet with a link to an audio podcast by a Canberra scientist specialising in paleoclimate studies. I listen, then ask for contact details, then email a question (couched in my politest language), then receive a reply.

It contains a number of attachments as well as a personal email from the scientist, Dr Andrew Glickson. The papers are dense and challenging. While they contain abundant information about normative deviation, orbital forcing, glacial terminations, isotpoic values of oxygen and the albedo, it's difficult to understand. Scientists and science journalists have failed to convince a large number of people because the tenor of debate is too shrill and the information has not been assembled in the right way.

It's difficult to understand, of course, because it is complex. But this is the first time that anyone in a position to do so has taken the time to supply exactly the information I needed to make a more informed decision. Dr Glickson even pointed to precisely the right graph in the IPCC report he linked to.

A quick glance at the graph convinced me that scientists had taken my concerns into account when coming to decisions about the reality of climate change. This was all I needed to be sure that the tons of verbiage so far produced around climate change was not just another attempt to bully me into acquiescence. It happens so often.

So what's the answer? Amendments proposed by the Australian Liberal party - which holds the balance of power in the Senate - aim to weaken the already weak - by Dr Glickson's standards - climate bill of the Labor party. Clearly there's a lack of consensus in the community, particularly among the silent members of the conservative tribe. Farmers and capitalists say little, but the Liberals know what they think because they talk to them constantly.

Science journalists still have a lot of work to do before they can say their task is complete. And instead of treating each sceptic as merely stubborn or a moron, scientists must take the time to look at why that person is unconvinced. High-handed dismissal will fail in the short and long term.

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