One of the, very few, benefits of the current lockdown in this country, is that one can spend time on activities which have been routinely assigned to the back burner in the past. In my case, one such activity has been to take issue with John Kane-Berman’s cynical views on the climate change issue. His recent piece titled “Preparing for the Wrong Emergency” gives me an opportunity to do so.
Firstly, a disclaimer. I am not a climate scientist. Yes, I did get an honours degree in physics many decades ago, but I was never employed as a professional scientist of any description. I am merely someone who gets very irritated at poorly written articles on important subjects.
Mr Kane-Berman starts by contrasting what he calls a “dubious” emergency – more on this later -with a “real” one. The spread of the corona virus is indeed real, important, and urgent. But what we are seeing here is the situation, common in management, of the important versus the urgent. People dying today is unquestionably far more urgent than predicted effects of a changing climate.
And until such time as the effects of climate change are agreed to be directly impacting world economies, the economy will always be more urgent than the climate. This is why we continue to see politicians prioritizing short term economic outcomes over longer term environmental issues. But the urgency of one issue in no way mitigates the importance of another. To imply that it does is at best woolly thinking, and at worst a deliberate attempt to cloud the issue.
He then goes on to criticise the actions of climate activists. Such activists are a widespread and varied bunch. Some rely on the cool voice of reason, whilst others resort to extreme claims and behaviours in order to get their opinions aired. It is, however, not valid to conflate the actions of activists, no matter how irritating and irrational, with the importance of the issue for which they are mobilizing. To do so is at best woolly ….. etc.
Mr Kane-Berman claims that the “climate apocalypse somehow recedes further and further into the future with each dire forecast”. Not according to the material I have been reading of late. (See, for one example, ref 1). He also derides claims that the advent of huge locust swarms in East Africa could be linked to climate change, saying that the “giveaway adjective” is “biblical”, although what is being given away by some reports comparing the current plague with events described in the bible is unclear.
From what I have read the cause of the swarms is unusual weather patterns in the insects breeding grounds, leading to ideal conditions for their proliferation. Weather conditions which could, indeed, have been the result of climate change.
He then goes on to question the “settled science” of climate change which he says has been “repeatedly challenged by numerous different kinds of scientists around the world”. Scientists come in many different flavours. I have, for example, a friend who is a very senior scientist, and who has strong views on climate change.
He would, however, never claim to be an authoritative voice on the subject, because his field of speciality is entomology. He is aware of the impacts of climate change on his beloved insects, but probably no more familiar with actual climate science than any other intelligent, well-informed citizen. Mr Kane-Berman does not name any of the “different kinds” of scientists he refers to, so we are unable to judge the value of his argument.
I do, however, agree with Mr Kane-Berman on his views on journalism around the climate change issue. Journalists, in my opinion, should report on “what is out there”, and if there are indeed serious voices being raised against mainstream climate science, then by all means report the fact. But such reporting should also reflect the weight of evidence for and against, and should, for such an important subject, be factual rather than sensationalist.
My view on journalism was summed up a number of years ago by Jerry Schuitema, who said words to the effect that the job of a journalist is not to tell you what to think, but what to think about. Journalists have been telling us to think about the issue of climate change for a few decades now. Scientific climate research is a vast, incredibly complex, multi-disciplinary undertaking.
So for anybody who wants to inform themselves about the issue, there is no viable alternative to referring to the science being carried out by specialists in the field, as reported by the scientists themselves or serious scientific journalists who understand the complexities involved. (Ref 2 is but one example).
Doing so leaves one in no doubt that the vast majority of the scientific world is, to all intents and purposes, in complete agreement that human activity is leading to a changing climate, and have similar views on where this is leading (see ref 3 and 4).
But scientific research is also a human activity, and therefore not perfect. I have read, increasingly seldom these days, well written articles criticising climate science. Mr Kane-Berman’s piece is not one of them. The references I have given include the names of scientific organizations such as NASA, the American National Academy of Sciences, and the British Royal Society, along with a couple of hundred others from across the globe, which support the position that climate change has been caused by human activity. Against this, Mr Kane-Berman cites an unknown number of unnamed scientists of “different kinds”. On such non-evidence, Mr Kane-Berman feels free to declare that the climate emergency is “dubious”.
In summary, I find Mr Kane-Berman’s article at best misleading. My own position is clear. I feel that I have no option, in the light of the scientific evidence, but to believe in the reality and dangers of anthropogenic climate change. But I welcome open debate on any subject, and look forward to future contributions from Mr Kane-Berman.