Marcel Currin: Always start with the evidence

By Marcel Currin

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Climate change is too big for most of us so it sits in the too-hard basket.
Climate change is too big for most of us so it sits in the too-hard basket.

I choose to believe the scientists trying to give us bad news about climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Fifth Assessment Report last week; we know it's an important report because it's spelt with capital letters.

This latest report hammers home more evidence, with more certainty, that humans are messing with the planet.

There are a few possible reactions to this. The easiest option is to park it in the too-hard basket.

What can I do about it, Mr Ordinary, driving to Brookfield to buy imported bananas?

A more cynical option is to question the accuracy of the science, simply because I don't like the results.

This is a common response to global warming. "Oh, but it's just a natural cycle.

Temperatures fluctuate all the time. It's a conspiracy. They're over-reacting."

The main problem with science is that it is so full of science. That seems a bit obvious, but it makes life difficult for those of us who can't be bothered with boring stuff like actual data.

Credible scientific studies are a chore to read, even if we know where to find them.

Those of us who spend most of our time in the entertainment aisle need our science interpreted and relayed to us through intermediaries like science writers, reporters and bloggers.

This is where it gets tricky. Who to trust? Every writer has their own bias.

Not all of them have a PhD in being an expert. I have plenty of bias and no PhD. Don't trust me, whatever you do. (You might trust some of my favourites though: Amy Harmon, Bad Astronomy, Myles Power and It's Okay To Be Smart. Look them up, they're all excellent.)

As for my own bias, I've grown to be pretty trustful of the scientific method.

If credible studies consistently find no link between vaccines and autism then I'll start there. My favourite sentence in any debate includes the word "evidence".

Unfortunately, evidence usually gets drowned out by those memorable anecdotes. "The doctors couldn't do anything for Jimmy so he went to his naturopath and finally got some real answers."

This will get me in trouble with some of my friends, but I think most alternative medicine is a little bit rubbish.

Hey, I grew up sucking on homeopathic remedies. When I was busy suffering a long-term illness, I became an alternative therapy experiment for friends and family.

At one point, I took myself off to a dusty clinic to get Vega tested for metal poisoning. A certificate on the wall celebrated the doctor as a member of a Quack Association. He was exactly that.

Why do we trust the diagnoses of unproven and debunked methods?

Irrational worship of the word "natural" can lead us down some dodgy and expensive paths.

Alternative medicine is alternative because it hasn't been adequately tested. As the comedian Tim Minchin says: "Do you know what they call alternative medicine that's been proven to work? Medicine."

I totally appreciate people's mistrust of scientific research.

There have been some real clunkers. Science gave us margarine. That's a crime against humanity in my book.

Scientific advance is also responsible for super viruses, the threat of nuclear holocaust and the ability for people to broadcast Miley Cyrus' new video. Yes, there's a lot to answer for.

I maintain that you can champion the environment and healthy living without disregarding evidence that has been comprehensively tested and verified.

That's the space climate scientists need us to be in.

Climate change is too big for me and I don't know what to do about it right now. It's sitting in the too-hard basket with my imported bananas.

Step one, at the very least, is to accept the analysis that it's a serious issue and move forward from there.

Marcel Currin is a Tauranga writer and poet.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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