Every day during the Coronavirus epidemic there has been at least one state or national leader holding a news conference outlining the situation and their plans to keep us all safe. Every one of them was flanked by a senior medical expert to lend scientific credibility to their statements. During this crisis, Australians have trusted scientists, yet when it comes to the climate crisis politicians scoff at the scientific evidence.
Scientific research is a messy process but ultimately an enlightening one. Researchers pose questions and design real world experiments to find answers. Their research is reviewed by other scientists who try to find flaws in the processes or the line of reasoning. Other scientists conduct the same experiment to see whether repeating the process gives different results.
The role of science is to show cause and effect, to determine mathematical models for past actions and provide predictions about future events. Scientists have looked at many lines of reasoning to determine whether it is really carbon-dioxide pollution by humans that is causing climate change:
- Glaciers retreating around the globe.
- Antarctic ice cores that show the concentration of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere tens of thousands or even millions of years ago.
- The acidity of oceans.
All those things and many more are used to build a better understanding of what is happening to our planet’s atmosphere.
The climate cynics point to one or two pieces of evidence that seem to contradict climate models. For example they’ll say that 1934 was the hottest year ever, even though that was only for part of the earth, not all of it. There’s a famous graph that compares the per capita cheese consumption in the USA between 2000 and 2009 with the number of people who die by becoming entangled in their bedsheets. The graph appears to show a strong correlation but it doesn’t say why that could happen.
Science is the method by which we understand how viruses spread in the community, how the forces of nature act on buildings and bridges and how pollution effects global temperature. It would be great to see a much greater role for scientists in the public pronouncements on government policy that affect global climate change. However, it is impossible to mount a rational argument to increase fossil fuel burning and protecting the atmosphere into the future. That’s why scientists aren’t on that platform.