The current political climate is toxic. So toxic I notice my reactions fluctuate between anger and a feeling of downright futility and despair. Whether the issue be immigration, Islam, marriage equality, economy or welfare, opinions seem to be polarizing. I try to shift my attention between left and right media outlets equally, and attempt to divert most of my attention to the academics in the middle; most of whom I wish were in politics, and almost all of which aren’t narcissistic enough to actually play there. I am hanging out for the day we’ve actually got these middle of the road, logical thinkers in parliaments both here and abroad. But until then we’re left with most voters flocking to one of two polar sides. I’m hoping we can work through these issues and find solutions that are both moral and pragmatic. And I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of stumbling through mistakes to get there. But there’s one issue where we just don’t have the time to stumble. One issue that triggers my anger and frustration more than any other; to the point I have damaging arguments with friends and family because it is so important. I’m hoping this letter (coming from a place of calm) will do more positive than the arguments I often use in these scenarios. The ones where friends and family deny climate change during discussions.
Why You Should Trust Scientific Consensus
Science is a method of finding out what is true. Most scientists get into science purely for this reason. They find a field fascinating, and buzz at the thought of discovering something that’s currently unknown. The method for finding out a new “truth” or “fact” can differ immensely. And scientists often get things wrong. But what separates science from any other field is immense scrutiny that any new idea or finding is subject to. If you discover a new law in physics, you can bet that any physicist worth a dime will not take your word for it. This law will be put under a microscope and every physicist and his dog will be trying to prove it wrong. The new law will not enter consensus until it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This is why scientists trust consensus from fields outside of their own. A cosmologist may not necessarily be able to tell you why vaccines are safe, but he understands the scrutiny they would have come under by every scientist in immunology. Scientists trust scientific consensus because new findings rarely become new facts.
The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” It is regarded as fact by the vast majority of the scientific community. Evidence for its existence comes in the form of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, sea levels rising, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets and more. My younger sister is currently finishing a degree in Animal Science. One of her final subjects was Biological Adaptation to Climate Change (yeah, that’s right, we’re seeing the evidence of climate change in the mutation of animal DNA!). There’s a reason Universities want the next generation of animal scientists to be aware of the effect climate change has on the World’s species. And it isn’t for shits and giggles. In fact, it’s worth noting that current projections estimate about one in four species are at risk of extinction in the near future due climate change. With populations rising and fossil fuel power becoming available to more and more people in the developing World (which has huge short term benefits for those people), the rise in carbon emissions isn’t going to be slowing anytime soon. This means that if climate scientists are right – and the consensus is that they are – we face a serious existential threat.
The Dangers of a False Negative
Imagine you’re doing a rain forest walk through South East Asia, a natural habitat for tigers. You hear a rustle in the bushes not too far away and know you’re only 50m from your jeep. You guess the rustle might be a tiger, or it might not. Do you run back to the jeep or do you keep walking toward the bush to find out? The net loss of running to the jeep and finding out the rustle was a lizard (false positive) is about 10 calories. You’ve wasted some time and effort to realise you weren’t actually in danger. But what’s the net loss of a false negative? You’ve decided the rustle isn’t a tiger and you continue to walk on by, only to be torn to shreds by the tiger. Now what if we rewound the clock. Let’s say you’re faced with the same scenario but this time you have a panel of tiger experts arguing to determine whether the rustle is in fact tiger or not. After examining the evidence, the panel hands you their decision. The vast majority have come to the conclusion that the rustle is in fact a tiger. Do you turn around immediately and spend the 10 calories running back to the car and safety? Or do you remain skeptical of these so called “experts” and risk being torn to shreds by a tiger to prove them wrong?
Climate change is no different. Except the costs are much greater. The evidence is in and the climate scientists are in unequivocal agreement. You can choose to be skeptical, but what’s the trade off? Let’s say they’re all wrong. The cost is a global population making climate change a key priority and spending billions of dollars to stop something that doesn’t exist. We might still find some great new sources of energy, but there’s a chance we’ve wasted a lot of money for something that didn’t exist. But what if we do nothing and the experts are right? What if there really is a tiger in the bush? If the scientists are right, our great grandchildren will inherit a World with such an altered climate, that few regions will support the vast majority of life as we know it. And what if things are even worse than we predicted? Will they even have a World to inherit? This isn’t something we have the time to argue about. Regardless of what you’ve heard on radio, or seen on YouTube, this is not something the everyday man can be skeptical about. We need to trust the scientists who make this their life’s work. The danger of a false negative is just too great. If the tigers in the bush, and we take a few more steps, it might be too late to run away.