Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Climate change has become a proxy subject for people who just want to sound off

By Hugo Rifkind  a writer for the Times
Can I have another go on climate change? I shan’t be too strident, I promise. I wrote about it here a fortnight ago (precis: man-made climate change probably exists, because scientists are probably right and bloggers probably aren’t) and the response was profoundly depressing. Not because it was hostile — I expected that — but because it was so uniform in criticism. One commentator referred to me as ‘the dumbest leftie out there’. Dumb I can handle. But leftie? Why should believing scientists put you on the left? Why should this be a political spectrum thing at all?

It has become one, plainly. But why, most crucially, doesn’t it bother people on both sides of this argument that their views are so suspiciously convenient? You’re a left-wing anti-capitalist and, for reasons I’ve never properly understood, you inherently disapprove of people building things and making money. And lo and behold, it turns out that this isn’t just amorphously wrong but killing the planet, too. Which is astonishingly helpful.
The right, though, are even worse. You’re a freedom-loving libertarian. You’ve an inherent dislike of the state coming along and stopping you from doing stuff, particularly when the state claims to have a moral case. If man-made climate change did exist, then, you’d be in a pickle, because that would mean that this moral, preaching, overbearing state was actually in the right. That would be tough, eh? But what a remarkable stroke of luck! It’s all nonsense! So everything is fine.
My new theory is that hardly anybody who talks about climate change is actually talking about climate change. It’s become a proxy subject for people who want to talk about all sorts of other things instead. So, realistically, the only voices to which one should pay any attention at all on the subject are either the experts (such as scientists) or those belonging to people who think one way, but might be expected, on the basis of the rest of their politics, to think the other. People, as it turns out, such as me. That’s also quite convenient, of course, but that’s OK because I’m right.

It is very enticing to pigeon-hole individuals with divergent views on AGW into the left or right of the political spectrum. Their concerns can then be safely dismissed as mere partisanship.

We must scrutinize why the Climategate scandal happened in the first place and who is culpable. It would appear to any lay person who cares to notice that because of Climategate the AGW juggernaut has stalled and for good reason. We have questions about limited sources of raw data, faulty and poorly written code for computer models, restrictions on who can review the data and the code, data that is deleted or missing and misleading conclusions based on manipulation of the climate record. Add to this the enticements of millions of research grant dollars and I think there is a legitimate reason for concern that is beyond the political divide.
An honest climate scientist would be clambering for transparency and desperately trying to prove that their method and supporting data were sound. Instead all we get from the AGW proponents is a business-as-usual attitude and vicious denunciations of anyone who dares to question their findings.
Good people with political views that span the moderate political gamut want to know the truth and they want it translated to them in a clear and verifiable statement. If there is a dispute they want to hear the argument with respect. There is too much at stake to proceed on faulty or misleading information – it is not fair to the people who are being asked to pay the bill. Please do not dismiss the valid reservations that many of us have by labelling our motives with political affiliations.

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