when self-serving politics hijack good science

Responding to climate change denialism and conspiracy theories with apocalyptic hyperbole is turning away the people who need to be persuaded that global warming is a real problem.

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Today, even mentioning global warming seems to invite ire in the comment sections of any blog or news site as environmentalists and those who deny climate change duke it out with wild abandon. The actual science which found evidence of rapidly increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and a warming trend of one degree over the last century or so, is being left in the dust as research is being hijacked for nothing more than politics from both camps. Yes, at the risk of drawing ire from both sides, I’m going to point out that no one is pure and innocent in the political debacle over climate change and scientists are stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they have overzealous environmentalists trumpeting gloom and doom to get the changes they want. On the other, those who vehemently want to keep the status quo, fearing some kind of grand conspiracy involving international groups, taxes and a whole lot of scary words ending with an -ism.

From the status quo side, we have constant attempts to poke holes in the credibility of climate modeling and research into global warming past and present. Listen to the deniers and you’ll be told that NOAA has no clue about collecting temperature data, that countless weather stations could never record accurate temperatures, and that any effort to point out that climate scientists have an evil conspiracy to scam everyone into wasting a whole lot of money is met with resistance from some grand establishment which represses good studies into the phenomenon. Good studies are of course a code word for papers that agree with the conclusions of those who deny climate change and fervently embrace any counter-claim, even if it’s based on anecdotes or cherry- picking data to craft whatever trend they want by manipulating sources, timelines and statistics. Combine the partisan fury and a fervent desire to find any reason not to accept that maybe, just maybe, polluting the planet isn’t a good idea and we should be looking for new ways of energy generation, and it’s pretty hard to imagine anything good coming out of the resulting mess.

But environmentalists shouldn’t exactly be proud of everything they’re doing either. Sure, they’re trying to save a planet here and it’s a noble goal. However, environmental groups take top quality climate research, combine it with reports and studies which may not be all that accurate, add a huge scoop of scaremongering on top, and use this homunculus of fact, conjecture and fear as a battering ram to force nearly instant changes in energy policies. Invest billions into wind, wave and new biofuels now or global warming will come to your house and rip your face off. There’s no time to consider the solutions or find ways to partner up with today’s polluters and create real, tangible incentives for them to change their business model to become more green. The world is in crisis and if we wait one more year, all will be lost. Cities will flood, millions will die and societies descend into utter chaos. Really, it’s one thing to strive for clean power and a major reduction in pollution which we can all agree are important priorities, since toxins leeching into the air and the soil eventually make their way back to us. But scaremongering and using legislative tools to beat others into submission? When has this strategy ever worked without creating waves of pushback and reflexive resentment?

Considering that even some of the most dire predictions call for slow temperature increases over a period of some 100 years, we have time for incremental change and become more and more environment-friendly as we update our energy infrastructures for the future. Rather than just dictate change by virtue of being green or invoking global warming in the direst of terms, environmentalists could let people convince companies that a green infrastructure will save them money and fatten their profits in the long run. Without a constant klaxon of alarmism, scientific studies detailing the changes to our planet and its climate could be conducted with more care, reach a broader audience and deliver just the facts. Good, careful studies aren’t being suppressed by a nefarious scientific cabal in league with the UN. They’re out there and they show gradual warming working its way throughout our planet’s climate cycles. But when green groups use them for scaring millions of people, then deflect any criticism of their tactics by throwing scientists under the bus, they’re demonstrating why trying to combine science and politics is a terrible idea. Instead of helping to shape reasonable policy to deal with a long term concern, scientific studies become weapons for bickering pundits and scientists assume the roles of their rhetorical punching bags.

# science // climate change / environmentalism / global warming

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