Lv 7
Trevor asked in EnvironmentGlobal Warming · 9 years ago

Do people know enough about climate change to pass judgement on the issue?

I had a read through some of the recent questions and answers and it’s very obvious that many people who comment on the issue of climate change really don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. There are a great many errors that are made, often these are basic scientific errors – the sort of stuff that really should be learned at school.

If a person has such a poor comprehension of the science of climate change, and science in general, what qualifies them to pass judgement on the issue? Further, why do some people present statements in a factual manner when in reality they have such little comprehension of the subject in hand (and invariably get it wrong)?

I have refrained from citing examples but they’re not hard to find.


TO CLARIFY: The question isn’t about people expressing opinions it’s about the statements some people make which they pass of as fact, when the reality is that they don’t know enough to determine the accuracy of their own statements. It’s not about the genuine mistakes that people make either.

Thanks for the very interesting answers so far, I might add some comments a bit later.

Update 2:

TO SAGEBRUSH: When was the last time you were caught out telling the truth? Here’s what I said about glacial ice-loss on Kilimanjaro “the biggest single cause of glacial ice loss is farming and agriculture. On the lower slopes large areas of land have been deforested and turned over to farming, this has reduced rates of evapotranspiration leading to less snowfall on the summits”.

Update 3:

TO CHEM: Sagebrush is making up his usual nonsense. He says there’s less snow on Kilimanjaro due to decreased precipitation. I said there’s less snow on Kilimanjaro due to decreased precipitation. The difference is that when I say it it’s wrong.

Update 4:

TO SAGEBRUSH (2): I wasn’t asking for a practical demonstration but thank you for providing one all the same. You’re stating as fact that the natural cycles have changed and the snow is coming back. Do tell, which natural cycles would these be, imaginary ones don’t count.

If you even knew the basics of climatology you’d know how farming and agricultural practices affect the meso and microclimates. You would also know that the amount of snow and ice on Kilimanjaro has steadily declined since it was first accurately monitored nearly 100 years ago. Another thing you’d be aware of is the affects on precipitation patterns of oceanic oscillations and the jet streams. You’d also know that a very short term increase in snow levels is meaningless.

PS – You might want to tell Watts, Goddard, Piekle and the other established ‘skeptics’ that they’re also wrong. Guess what they attribute the diminishing snow and ice to.

TO EVERYONE: I appreciate the time taken in providing so many excell

Update 5:

TO EVERYONE: I appreciate the time taken in providing so many excellent answers. I’ll leave the question open a little longer in case there’s any late arrivals.

19 Answers

  • JC
    Lv 5
    9 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    The average guy on the street sure doesn't, at least not in the absolute terms that are so often used. It's kind of a sad statement that 'common sense' is so often cited as the rationale behind absolute judgments rendered when logic contradicts the common sense so proudly offered.

    Sometimes I'm even embarrassed for people, which is strange when you consider this is essentially an anonymous forum.

    I don't make any secret of the fact that I am a layman and don't pretend that I have answers that science doesn't-and climate science doesn't pretend to know all the answers. Although some scientists are certainly pretty well convinced that the evidence is clear and unequivocal, I'm not aware of any scientific organization that makes the absolute predictions that some claim.

    Part of it is probably in the grasp of statistics and probability. I recall some years ago one of the hot button issues was polling and statistical probabilty. It was amazing to me how many people were unable to grasp margins of error, what straw polls were and demonstrated and so on. It's pretty much the same when it comes to climate science.

    Nonetheless, the issue is clearly tainted by politics and the media...there you have sound bytes and headlines, which says something to me about reading comprehension. Or at least patience. I see the oddest conclusions reached that are linked to articles that do not support the conclusions that are drawn by the very people who quote them.

    I come here for information and the latest updates. I answer questions such as these when I feel I have a perspective to offer, but I really make few judgments about the science itself. I'm pretty neutral in that regard-I don't have a dog in the AGW fight, I am not a qualified scientist...I'm just an interested individual with a vested interest in the most accurate short and long term predictions of which way the weather will go and climate will follow.

    Now when it comes to individuals, I don't have any doubt that there are people out there who are trying to profit from climate change and AGW. That to me is a separate issue from the science, and I have never heard any kind of convincing argument that explains the long term weather trends that I believe signal climate change other than 'it's a conspiracy.' My outlook is great, but how exactly are these conspirators actually changing the climate in the areas that I am operating in? Whether it is natural or influenced by mankind, conspiracy theories just don't cut it from my point of view. Further, I'm actually fine with the idea it is just a natural process, but those who say it is don't explain the science that warrants such a claim.

    To me the debate is more or less a competition, with those who say the measurable climate change I have observed-shifting hardiness zones, warmer winters, longer growing seasons, etc. etc. in my own neck of the woods-is simply weather don't back it up with objective scientific research based on history, activity/cycles of the sun and so on as well as those who provide data and research that support the theory of AGW. I don't see any way of simplifying my outlook any more than that.

    People here who are anti-AGW don't like that outlook, and they don't like it when they are called on it. But they're not offering the evidence that they need to-they call it logic when they claim that it's all a conspiracy to take away our freedom-and I am concerned about that too-but a conspiracy doesn't explain why the weather is changing, and why climate seems to be changing...and neither do natural processes. How many times, I wonder, does this need to be pointed out?

    Quite a few, apparently, and people smarter than me have also pointed out that arguing logically with the illogical is a waste of time.

    So for what it is worth-and I sense a growing frustration on your part-the information you provide in your answers is clear, concise and informative. I would also credit Pegminer and several others in this regard. From the standpoint of a layman who is looking for answers, you provide them. You and several others are good communicators-and educators. I'd also note several others who I believe ask insightful questions that draw out valuable information and perspectives-Chem Flunky is one, and Ottawa Mike is another. A lot of times the questions that are asked are not even things that someone like me would think of asking. And quite often, the anti-science brigade brings up questions or comments that are so off the wall and uniformed it puts their failure to grasp basic concepts in sharp relief.

    So despite the frustration, name-calling and personal attacks and affronts, this is a pretty useful place to visit to keep up to date. But are the bulk of the participants here qualified to pass judgment on climate change?





  • 9 years ago

    I probably only have adequate knowledge to pass judgement on computer network security being my profession (as far as complex subjects go). And even then, I'd sure want other input depending on exactly what I was judging.

    So your question is actually a philosophical one which spans all complex issues and bodies of knowledge. I can almost guarantee that practically nobody has adequate knowledge of economics for example to know if raising or lowing a tax or setting up a particular program or not is a good idea. And like climate science, in economics there are many examples of a majority (i.e. some sort of consensus) for one particular course of action with a few proposing an alternative. And sometimes it's the more rich and powerful who get to decide and their motives are not always pure (I'm sure you can think of a few examples of that). This would be but one flaw in an appeal to authority.

    So you are basically correct that most can't pass judgement on the climate change issue due to a lack of knowledge, myself included. I can however observe the actions and opinions of others that have more knowledge in this area. And that can be difficult because I don't think there is any one scientist who "knows it all" so there needs to be a pooling of knowledge and a balancing act (The IPCC reports are a written record of such a balancing act). And given the infancy of this particular branch of science, I'm not sure this has been done cohesively yet.

    I will tell you one thing though. I have found that those who are less knowledgeable, and especially with less life experience, tend to believe more readily than those who are older. So I think there is an age factor in the climate issue. As I have gotten older, there has been a continual realization that the more I learn, the less I actually know. The reason for this is the "unknown unknowns". In other words, I have been discovering more unknowns than knocking off unknowns (did that make sense?). When I was young, I thought I knew a lot more than I actually did. Now, while I do know more, I realize how much I don't know.

    Finally, you know what's odd? In the 60's, young adults were generally refusing to believe authorities while today I am finding that the exact opposite is happening, young adults are relying on and looking to authorities for answers. And my opinion is that both approaches, even being opposite, have their flaws inn many circumstances.

  • 9 years ago

    Hey, Trevor, I had a long answer about my qualifications and lacks thereof, and I dumped it to sum it up this way: I fall somewhere between SkepticalScience and RealClimate in my abilities. I have no math anymore. I do have a bachelor's in chemistry from Manhattan College some 4 decades ago. But I didn't use it professionally, at least not directly. Indirectly was an entirely different matter. I also did models and simulations for my job, and as a hobby which I'm trying to turn into a game design & production business, so understand them at a level comparable to the rest of my knowledge. That's me.

    What do "ordinary" people really need to know to be able to make competent judgments, and how do we get them there? People need to learn enough about science and how science is done, with actual experience, so they can "feel it in their gut" [oddly] enough to have a "trust" in science and how it is self-correcting, rather than a "belief" in science which equates science with magic done by wizards, essentially. The recent US educational system has allowed students to dodge science classes, and avoid learning what scientific thinking actually is. This leaves most people with only one more chance to really understand climate change and what is currently happening.

    Barring adequate scientific knowledge and thought patterns, we're left only with logic, and the ability to understand what credible and non-credible sources are. I asked a question here back a year or two ago about why all the obvious signs of global warming are not enough to prove it is occurring. No science denier could answer. Therefore, an uneducated but intelligent and logical person could see from the evidence that climate change is real. Because the migrations of animals, plants, insects, anything that can fly, walk, wriggle or stretch is on the move trying to get to a better climate. Because the tundra is greening, the sea is rising, and the glaciers are shrinking - in aggregate. When the evidence is looked at clearly, we are either causing increasing [& increasingly fast] warming or we all live in the Matrix.

    Any intelligent, logical person of good will, trained or not, is capable, with some necessary work, of making a competent judgement on what is actually going on. This will require different levels of proof for different people. SkepticalScience uses that approach nicely.


    EDIT: There is a somewhat related conversation about teaching science and how to do it effectively, over at RealClimate:

    But I don't think they all get the idea. From training roughly 3000 people in various aspects of postal automation, I know you have to grab people fast [within a few - very few - seconds] and in some way, where they live. You have to connect, and keep that connection. And if you personally are not paying them, you better be entertaining. I point out this 3 minute video

    Youtube thumbnail

    &feature=related has well over 100,000 views [134,397 and counting]. And the audience cheered at the end.

  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    A related question is "What do we need to know?"

    We do need to have a realistic reason to believe that we could influence climate and how we could influence climate. We do indeed have a reason to believe that we can influence climate through the enhanced greenhouse effect. As you know from quantum mechanics, certain gases with bond dipoles allow the short wavelengths from the Sun to pass through to Earth, but block longer wavelengths from the Earth from escaping into space and thermodynamics says that this must cause heating. The most important such gas which can be and is added to the atmosphere by human activity is carbon dioxide.

    We know that adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere has an effect on Earth's temperature, and we know how to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide which we are adding to the atmosphere; by doing exactly what we will need to do when hydrocarbons run out; use zero emission energy sources.

    Do we know enough about how much our carbon dioxide will heat Earth and about whether the effects are good or bad? These things are details. Let's suppose the amount of heating which humans could cause and whether the effects are good or bad are poorly understood. Then, we should know better than to take foolish risks that the effects of AGW could be bad.

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  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    Of course they don't, but they can't help it. It’s basic human psychology. The human mind cannot tolerate ambiguity, it causes paralysis. When information is incomplete we fill in the gaps. Doesn’t matter what we fill it with so long as something is there. The greater the gap in knowledge the more fanciful the filler becomes. One of the qualities of the major league players, as dx refers to, is the capacity to hold multiple competing concepts in the mind at once, and keep them in play until one overpowers the others. And even then, those concepts of lesser weight orbit around in the background. Even the concept of a supreme being and predetermined destiny is out there, like way out in the Oort cloud, because it cannot be proven there is no god. I’m a lay person with no formal scientific training beyond some college courses and some reading. But I’ve always had the discipline to hold competing ideas a bay until enough information was available to make a decision; and to toss out ideas that become obsolete when new information becomes available. At this point I have no ambiguity about climate change because the information is quite clear. Paleo-climatologists have shown that carbon dioxide is the primary climate modulator. Humans are taking geologically stored carbon and releasing it into the atmosphere at, as far as we can tell, an unprecedented rate. Therefore, there is going to be an impact on the climate and common sense dictates caution. Until the competing theory comes along that displaces the theory of carbon dioxide as primary, I will hold this view. Caution in this case, however, means upending the existing paradigm of civilization for billions of people, especially for well off westerners who currently have the benefit of a cushy lifestyle. Fearful minds, because they cannot deal with this fact, become anti-science demagogues. They block out this information from their mind and fill the gaps with all sorts of fanciful nonsense. The interesting thing about the deniers is how they cling to their old ideas, yet never produce the superior theory. It makes them look quite foolish, in fact exactly like creationists. That is why there is a certain subset of people who will never, ever be convinced because their objections are not rational. We need to marginalize these people and move beyond them, and into the realm of solutions, into policy, for instance, as the Britons have done. Unfortunately for us in the US the scientific literacy of the populace seems to be at a low ebb, and thus the literacy of the legislature is as well, as Dook points out. At some point you have to make a leap of faith and trust somebody, something. Even accomplished scientists have to trust other people because you can only master so much information. I choose to trust the scientific method, the institution of science, and scientists for a very good reason. They’ve been proven correct over and over again and given us everything that constitutes our modern lives. How could they be so correct as to change everything, as they have done, yet be so wrong in one area? It defies common sense. You would have to selectively accept so much and then reject just the parts that don’t fit your paradigm. Hmm, sound familiar? My paradigm is brutal objectivity and empiricism. CO2 is primary. Humans are releasing geologic quantities of carbon in an infinitesimally small geologic time frame. There will be consequences. Due to our limited knowledge of chaotic earth systems, the outcome is largely unpredictable. Caution is indicated.

  • 9 years ago

    First to say to someone that you so not know enough to judge or comment risks acting VERY arrogant.

    You do NOT have to have a doctorate in physics or climate science or similar to be capable of providing viable input.

    Point in fact if the scientists are unable to properly explain the issue enough for "normal" people to understand and make judgment then the scientists are not communicating properly. If as a scientist you do not know enough about the issue nor are certain enough to take this issue down to layman's terms then you probably do not know enough about said issue to bring it to prime time.

    On these board we often find people who leap to assumptions. Assuming that an answer or questioner has knowledge or "secret" agendas. If you are concerned about people getting things wrong, well I believe it is safe to say the only people who do not make mistakes are those who do nothing. Lord knows that is what I tell people who work for me.

    "If you are not making any mistakes, then you are not doing any work."

    The trick of course is to be able to catch many of your own mistakes before they go out of your office or to learn from and not repeat the mistakes you have made in he past.

  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    Well first ...ajriding You have asked 6 questions in 5 1/2 years. They have all been answered and none of the them had a scientific basis. So why waste our time embarrassing yourself in this forum.

    Scientific error are a result of no scientific knowledge or the inability to understand what is written. Honestly Trev we all make mistakes but the born to be deny club makes many, and tons if you count the outright lies as mistakes.

    Yo and behold because they are mostly deniers and I don't think they have any business here giving BS answers which mislead questioners seeking real knowledge. Deny what you will but misleading truth seekers makes them lower on the evolutionary food chain than the mud pie (oops that isn't a living thing in and of itself) nuf said

  • 9 years ago

    While many will argue a simple "appeal to authority" for my stance, the reality is I don't feel qualified to adequately disseminate the evidence for the climate change theory and therefore I defer to the experts in the field, whom work daily with the data, to draw the proper conclusions.

    It is only political ideology that would drive one to do the opposite.

    EDIT re: d/dx and meritocracy: that was a well reasoned response. The basal level of scientific knowledge in the hyper-divided and ultra-specialized fields that exist today preclude the ability of the "common man" to follow along without an abundance of foundational and background information. If cutting edge science could be explained simply to the layman, then there would be nothing special about it. It requires groups of scientists, who have devoted their careers to, what many would call, esoterica to advance scientific knowledge at this point.

    Catering to the lowest common denominator is not a goal or obligation of science. However, increasing scientific knowledge is, the rest is filtered through education, and seeing as most college level physics/chemistry classes end their semesters with 10-20% of their original enrollment still in-tow, apparently even basic/foundational science is difficult to relay effectively.

    EDIT 2: I'm so glad Quill was nice enough to grace this question with his mindless cut and paste. What a philosopher...

  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    Trevor :

    Do people know enough about climate change to pass judgement on the issue?

    Do people know enough about evolution to pass judgement on the issue?

    Do people know enough about astrology to pass judgement on the issue?

    Do people know enough about homeopathy to pass judgement on the issue?

    Do people know enough about Islam to pass judgement on the issue?

    Do people know enough about economics to pass judgement on the issue?

    Do people know enough about climate change to pass judgement on the issue?

    Do people know enough about the age of the earth to pass judgement on the issue?

    Do people know enough about big bang theory to pass judgement on the issue?

    Do people know enough about 9/11 to pass judgement on the issue?

    (and I am not equating homeopathy with 9/11 etc)

    We have never had such a democratisation of knowledge and information yet the same mechanisms that provide that allow confirmation of any position any person chooses to adopt.

    This book is as relevant today as when written ca 150 years ago

    Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

  • Rio
    Lv 6
    9 years ago

    Big deal, I have the same access to the net as you. No student that is concerned about passing any sort of curriculum is going to cite YA. Then there's always the alarmist argument concerning humanistic values and how they don't matter. "Jeez! I loved that one".

    But yeah, I'll agree the comprehension skills suck, especially from those who promote only their view points with unwavering absolution. Which takes me directly back to the question.

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