Here’s a situation you might be familiar with: you are doing something at work that you are particularly good at, having gained those skills through study, experience, and learning from your mistakes. Along comes a person who you know of by reputation to be a bit of a seen-it-all, done-it-all, bought the t-shirt type; they always insist they can do everyone’s job better than the specialist can. Most of the time the specialists politely decline his “help”, after which he insists that he could have still done it better and brays whenever the specialist makes a mistake.
This person rudely interrupts you while you are in the middle of a particularly difficult piece of work and, true to form, tells you to let him have a go - he is bound to make a better fist of it than you can. Instead of politely declining you tell him to go ahead - take on the whole job - but on one condition: if they make a mistake then they have to take the blame; all of it.
What do you think they would do?
What would Viscount Monckton of Brenchley do? What about Timothy Ball, Ian Plimer or Fred Singer? How would Patrick Michaels or Stephen McIntyre deal with this situation?
If you recognise some of these names, then you will also know that they are currently some of the most vocal, yet also most ill-informed people involved in whatever climate debate remains, and they all revel in their playing the climate change denial circuit. So come on guys, put yourselves on the line and tell us what you will do as the climate keeps changing?
Hang on a minute! What do I mean the climate is still changing? It’s been a cold, cold winter where I live, and 2009 wasn’t the global heatwave some meteorological organisations were warning against - surely the warming has stopped. Now, this is where it gets complicated, because among the list of people above, and quite a few more besides, there is a mixture of those who say the climate is not changing, those that agree that the climate is changing but humanity is not responsible, and those that agree the climate is changing and humanity is responsible for a very small bit of it. Ignoring that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows civilized human activity to be responsible for at least 90% of the observed change, you have to wonder what motivates the deniers across such a range of opinions: is it money, fame, notoriety, ideology or perhaps just a bloody-minded desire to hang onto traditional views? Actually, it’s all of these and more; but again, this isn’t what really matters as far as this article is concerned.
What will they do?
Let’s accept that the climate is changing: there is even more certainty of this than the link with human activity, through the observations of a vast network of atmospheric physicists, meteorologists, botanists, marine chemists, naturalists and even people like you and me who notice the small but subtle and progressive changes taking place in our gardens, parks and countryside. This certainty is, to all intents and purposes, unequivocal - you would have to be an extremely deluded person to deny it is happening at all. Quite how much it will change and what effects it will have are still open to debate, which is why climate science lies at a critical point in guiding future policy and, more importantly, human behaviour in general. But it’s changing, and it’s fair to assume it will keep changing: the first decade of the twenty-first century was the warmest decade since empirical measurements began in the mid nineteenth century; 2009 was, surprisingly for many, the joint second warmest year in recorded history, and 2010 may be hotter than even 1998.
As the climate changes, then the natural biological and chemical processes that regulate all life on Earth will undergo changes, some of them will be damped by negative feedback, but a significant number - particularly those affected by rainfall, ground cover and ice - will be drawn into positive feedback loops, such as those I described in a recent article. These types of changes rarely settle down until a significant, new plateau has been reached: it might be no rainforest in the Amazon, no ice in the Arctic, or it might be a sixth great extinction of life. We honestly don’t know.
But the climate change deniers seem to have it sorted. They keep telling those that are prepared to listen that it’s not our fault, and we don’t have to do anything that might damage the economy, our consumer culture or their reputations. Keep denying and everything will be ok. Meanwhile, the climate is still changing, we remain in thrall of their comforting message and…
Sorry to be so bleak, but you can deny as much as you like that something is your fault; you can walk into the road, safe in the knowledge that when the car hits you it will not have been your fault; you can be carried to your grave, replete with the inscription, “It wasn’t your fault!”
But it still happened.
So come on Christopher, Tim, Ian, Fred, Phil and Steve; you think you know best. What are you going to do!
Keith Farnish is the author of “Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis”, which is published by Chelsea Green in the USA, and Green Books in the UK. He is also the founder of The Earth Blog and The Unsuitablog. He lives in Essex, UK, with his wife, two children and a much-loved garden.