On NPR today, caught your interview of an Anthony Leiserowitz, a “Research Scientist, Lecturer, and Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication”. If you want to know why there are still ‘deniers’ out there, you could turn on that critical thinking function of yours and, you know, USE it on the stuff you and professor Leiserowitz were saying. Because despite you having no specialized training and in fact evidencing in this interview no grasp whatsoever of the scientific method, you declare yourself convinced – by the Science! – and start right in cajoling us little people with barely controlled panic about the end of the world. The money quote:
What should really be scaring the daylights out of us, the crisis that could make all the others irrelevant: Global Warming. Get this one wrong, and it’s over, not just for the USA, but for planet earth.
Psst – Bill: no one, not even the wildest climate change fanatic, has made any case that Global Warming will destroy the planet. That’s simply not on the table. In the last few hundred million years – a small fraction of the earth’s existence – it has been both much colder and much warmer than it is now. Worse case, CO2 makes it much warmer. Ice melts, ocean rises, crops fail, huge swathes of inhabited land is flooded, lots of people die.
But it’s highly likely some people and many plants and animals won’t die. And – here’s the kicker – planet earth won’t even notice. Balls of rock are like that. Planet earth dies in about a billion years once the sun has consumed most of its fusion-ready hydrogen and goes red giant, which will blow off the atmosphere and boil off the oceans and just might vaporize the planet itself. But until then, baring something on the scale of a planet-size collision, earth is good to go. Just FYI.
Dr. Leiserowitz, in turn, is clearly of the Carl Sagan School of Hey, I’m Wearing a Lab Coat Here, You Peons Just Settle Down and Do What I Say. In other words, using that reasoning capacity for which you and Dr. Leiserowitz are by reputation endowed, you could see that what he was doing on your show had less to do with science than with shoveling bull droppings. And then maybe you could have remembered you are supposed to be a journalist, not a rec league slow-pitch softball player. Here, let me give you a few examples:
On a number of occasions, Leiserowitz used survey data to bolster his points, most notably in the claim that professional climate scientists who make their money studying climate change are overwhelmingly agreed that climate change is taking place and is caused by humans, and in saying that surveys show most Americans agree that focusing on protecting the environment has a neutral or positive effect on the economy. You never questioned him about either of these claims, but instead let them go as if established, and lobbed him more fat pitches.
Psst – Bill: 80% of people believe they are above average; most astrologers who make their living via astrology agreed that astrology is absolutely valid; 112% of Americans are abysmally ignorant of science and economics, and 42% believe Big Foot had a love child by Elvis.
What I’m getting at is that survey data ain’t science and ain’t proof. We skeptical educated laymen take issue with being presented survey data as if it proves anything beside ‘these people, under these circumstances answered such and so to these questions’ – because that’s all survey data proves. You and Dr. Leiserowitz insult our intelligence. You both are either contemptuously disingenuous or utter and embarrassing ignoramuses to even propose survey data as an argument about anything other than survey data.
Dr. Leiserowitz further claims that the source of climate change denial is a disinformation campaign funded by oil interests. That seems a rather key point, especially since I haven’t gotten a check from the oil industry yet. I suppose it’s in the mail. Being that as it may, you could have maybe pushed back on this a little? Instead, the proper boogeyman was invoked, and, well, that settles that.
Allow me to propose a counter-explanation: If someone were arguing that vegetarianism were the way to go over an enormous prime rib dinner, wouldn’t that look funny? I mean, if the guy is chomping down on big bleeding chunks of beef while talking about the evil of slaughterhouses and the beef industry, wouldn’t you question his sincerity a little? And if the best he could come up with when challenged is: hey, it was just one cow, my eating him has no effect on the big issue of millions of cows getting slaughtered by the big bad beef cartels! – wouldn’t you find that a little weak? Well, when 17,000+ climate change enthusiasts fly halfway around the world to attend a conference at luxury hotels in a God-forsaken desert hell hole into which ALL supplies except air and (desalinated!) water must be shipped, burning vast quantities of fossil fuels to attend an event they could have Skyped – it’s kind of like that. And let’s not even talk about Al Evil Mr Rogers Gore and his multiple mansions.
And this is before we examine the merits of the arguments and evidence itself – there seems to be a little problem with the world failing to conform to the models’ predictions. That is what we call a basic science issue, the kind that, under the rules of real science, calls for a reevaluation of the theory. Which is what we are doing here, ultimately.
In conclusions, Mr. Moyers, if the goal was to spook the cattle in the direction of drastic climate change mitigation efforts, your little excursion into the shallow end of science did more harm than good, at least with those with enough wits about them to understand the basic issues. But maybe we are not your target audience. Maybe you are counting on influencing the unwashed millions who have been trained not to use their minds, but to instead do what their betters tell them to do. It must be disconcerting to see that the many are not falling into line on this.
I blame the schools.