Three years after Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman wrote, “Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), its seminal 2007 report and the University of East Anglia all have come under attack for mistakes ranging from erroneous projections of when the Himalayan glaciers will melt to hiding and destroying contradictory data.
The opening in the ranks of the environmental movement has reinvigorated the debate over global warming and highlights the growing role of “skeptics” in a world previously dichotomized into two always-warring camps: alarmist or denier.
“I think at least in the British press the breakthrough has been made that there are deep flaws with the climate science process, and that real debate is necessary to see if this implies deep flaws with climate science itself,” Warren Meyer, author of www.climate-skeptic.com, wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Caller.
Meyer calls the perceived increase in skepticism — as suggested by a February BBC poll — “the most important outcome from some of the recent news stories.” He also thinks that a swelling in the ranks has its drawbacks. Mainly, new voices in the skeptic camp ocassionally drown those of people who have done the research.
“My guess is that many of these new skeptics have a fairly unsophisticated understanding of the science,” Meyer said, and “some are using this latter fact to try to discredit the growing skepticism.”
“You have to ask yourself what you mean by skepticism,” Ted Nordhaus, a former consultant for the Sierra Club and chairman of the Breakthrough Institute, told The Daily Caller. Skepticism can mean believing none of the science behind global warming, or accepting some or all of the science, but challenging “the claims that global warming is driving rising disaster losses in the present.”
He added, “There is in fact great uncertainty about exactly what that contribution is in relation to other natural and anthropogenic factors (e.g. land use changes, etc.)” and, “we should be skeptical of claims, by scientists and non-scientists alike, that we can predict with certainty what is going to happen.”
But Nordhaus doubts that Brits — or Americans — have actually changed their minds about global warming, or that the number of skeptics has grown as a result of recent news stories.
“The public has always actually understood that there was a lot of uncertainty in climate science and the way that pollsters try to reduce that to, ‘Do you believe in climate change?’ or not or various variations on that question does the public and our understanding of public opinion on the subject a great disservice.”
Instead, Nordhaus chalked up declining support to economic pressures.
“The declines in acceptance of climate science among Americans predate the current controversy and probably have a lot more to do with economic fears and the rising unpopularity of cap and trade than with any close reading that most Americans are doing of climate science.”
Nordhaus even points to radical environmentalists as one possible influence behind waning public for support for climate change science. “A lot of the craziness about the science has actually come from greens attempting tar anyone who questions cap and trade or similar regulatory strategies to mandate reductions of emissions as anti-science deniers. But there are many reasons to question those policies that have nothing to do with one’s assessment of climate science.”
Regardless of where someone on stands on an issue, “the Holocaust denier charges are not helpful,” Nordhaus said. “There’s a pretty big qualitative difference between asserting that 6 million Jews were not exterminated in the Holocaust and saying that you don’t think CO2 causes global temperatures to increase.”
Meyer agrees. “I obviously have a point of view,” he told The Daily Caller, “but I just want to be able to debate the science without being lumped in with Holocaust and evolution deniers or subject to, as Joe Kennedy once called for, climate Nuremberg trials.”