Dr Jarrod Gilbert: Climate change deniers dangerously wrong

The term climate sceptic is now interchangeable with the term mindless fool. Photo / Getty Images
The term climate sceptic is now interchangeable with the term mindless fool. Photo / Getty Images

Dr Jarrod Gilbert is a sociologist at the University of Canterbury and the lead researcher at Independent Research Solutions. He is an award-winning writer who specialises in research with practical applications.

There is no greater crime being perpetuated on future generations than that committed by those who deny climate change. The scientific consensus is so overwhelming that to argue against it is to perpetuate a dangerous fraud. Denial has become a yardstick by which intelligence can be tested. The term climate sceptic is now interchangeable with the term mindless fool.

Since the 1960s, it has been known that heat-trapping gasses were increasing in the earth's atmosphere, but no one knew to what effect. In 1979, a study found "no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible". Since then scientists have been seeking to prove it, and the results are in.

Meta studies show that 97 per cent of published climate scientists agree that global warming is occurring and that it is caused by human activities. The American Association for the Advancement of Science compared it to the consensus linking smoking to cancer. The debate is over, yet doubt continues.

For decades, arguments denying the harms caused by smoking were made. A tobacco executive once said: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy."

Such doubts can be highly effective, particularly if they allow people to support agendas that are politically or economically useful to them.

One person who has managed to successfully merge expert and popular opinions is English physicist Professor Brian Cox, whose books and television programmes explain complex scientific phenomena in highly accessible ways. He recently said that ignoring best evidence and turning against experts is "the road back to the cave".

Modern civilisation, he says, has grown not because of gut instinct and guesswork but because of scientific understanding and thinking. "Being an expert does not mean that you are someone with a vested interest; it means you spend your life studying something. You're not necessarily right - but you're more likely to be right than someone who's not spent their life studying it."

If 100 of the best-qualified engineers were asked to assess the structural integrity of a house and 97 of them said it was unsafe, who would listen to the other three engineers and buy the house? Yet that is the foolishness of climate change denial. Furthermore, the basis for these decisions is often arbitrary and variable.

We all believe in the expertise at Nasa when it launches a rocket into earth's orbit then flicks it into space and lands it on a rock, but so many people conveniently ignore the organisation's knowledge and expertise when it confirms humans created climate change.

All of this might be a strange curiosity if the ramifications weren't so serious. Whether it is the erosion of coastal properties, an influx of climate refugees from the Pacific, or the economic impacts on our primary industries from severe weather events, New Zealand must prepare for some significant realities.

The worst of these problems will impact more greatly on generations to come, but to ignore them now is as unconscionable as it is selfish. It ought be seen as a crime.

One way in which everyday crime can be discouraged is to ensure that "capable guardians" are around to deter criminal activity. When it comes to climate change, the capable guardians are educated members of the public who counteract the deniers.

There may be differing opinions on what policies to pursue, but those who deny that climate change exists ought be shouted down like the charlatans that they are. Or better yet, looked upon with pitiful contempt and completely ignored.

There is no room to sit on the fence and say, "I don't know if it's true". Ignorance of the law excuses no one - and so it is with the laws of science.

- NZ Herald

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