Climate change – opening up to dissenting views of scientists, letting a hundred flowers bloom

I have long felt that in the discussion of climate change, the notion that the ‘Science is settled’ makes little sense – beyond the fact of the Greenhouse Effect. We see in an actual greenhouse how high levels of CO2 promote plant growth and the temperature in a man-made greenhouse is increased. But the real world is not a man-made greenhouse and climate is a complex system, with positive and negative feedbacks. There is consensus, expressed through the IPCC, that the planet has warmed by less than a degree since the 1880s but beyond that – for example on the extent to which CO2 is responsible – the consensus starts to break down.

The IPCC, as the representative of scientific consensus, should allow for minority reports alongside the final report and these should be available on-line and in summarised form, like the main ‘Summary for Policy Makers’.

Like democracy, Science must be based on informed and qualified debate if understanding is to grow and society to progress. The notion that ‘the Science is settled’, when applied to climate change beyond the Greenhouse Effect, has resulted in vilification of dissenting scientific viewpoints. The term ‘denialism’, with all its ugly moral connotations pertaining to Holocaust denialism, is a case in point.

Jennifer Marohasy, a biologist and adjunct research fellow in the Centre for Plant and Water Science at Central Queensland University, has written to Bob Baldwin MP, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, concerning the need for him to urgently establish a public forum to enable dissident views to be heard concerning what she claims, with strong supporting evidence, is the bastardization of Australia’s official temperature record by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

I like the spirit of her letter, as it seeks to allow the expression of dissident qualified views, and I like the analogy she uses with the Catholic Church. She says that leaving things entirely to the established and dominant view is “like expecting George Pell to admit pedophilia during a Sunday sermon”. Her letter can be read here.

I am not qualified to say who is right or wrong but a healthy democracy allows the clash of ideas in which the dominant viewpoint and conclusions may be challenged. Back in the late 1960s, such debate was common on university campuses and it was those of us on the Left who organised teach-ins, inviting opponents such as Frank Knopfelmacher and Jim Cairns to debate. It was through such open debate that we were able to build a broad mass movement in solidarity with the Vietnamese people.

Today, people who regard themselves as left-wing often oppose debate and are the ones saying things are ‘settled’. Indeed, this pseudo-left also throws around the epithets such as ‘denialism’. I say they do not represent a genuine left outlook and we need to revive the rebellious spirit of 1968.

‘Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend’ in Science as well as politics, lest the scientific establishment becomes ‘religious’.

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