Why global warming has left me dumbfounded

I’ve watched the global warming story unfold throughout my 30-year career in science journalism. For decades, scientists tried to be careful and conservative about this issue. Too careful and too conservative, I see now.

I found the image above by looking for the word “dumbfounded” on Flickr. The global warming discussion of the past few months has left me feeling a bit like this image, which is by TheZillaOphyShrew.

It has been a surprising couple of months in the world of science reporting – at least on the Internet – from the time of the February 2007 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announcement until the most recent announcement, today.

I knew not everyone believed global warming was real. I knew that. But, in the past months, while reading comments on this website and others, I have felt dumbfounded – astonished, amazed – by the strength of public reaction in the U.S. against the idea that global warming is real and caused by humans.

A year ago, it seemed that global warming naysayers – in the media, among the public, in science itself – were denying that there _was_ a scientific consensus on global warming. And of course some are still denying this.

But, now, some of the same people who claimed there was no consensus speak with disdain because a consensus exists. Now global warming naysayers speak of brave “pioneers” who “refuse to jump on the global warming bandwagon.” We hear claims of a global warming “conspiracy” or “swindle” or “hoax.” We hear that scientists who speak of human-caused global warming have an ulterior motive: they are “trying to get grant money.” Those who are skeptical are “like Galileo, who also went against the scientific establishment of his day.” We also hear that the United Nations is a socialist organization, bent on world domination. And we hear that Al Gore is evil incarnate.

It’s the strength of these assertions that is so surprising. How can the global warming naysayers feel so confident that they are right? After all, the stakes are very high.

And, as I take the time to follow link after link provided by the naysayers, it’s the weakness of their arguments – and the lack of understanding about science – and the refusal to look at the “about” pages of websites that make outrageous, unsubstantiated claims (many are clearly put together by non-scientists) – that cause me to shake my head, in sadness, again and again.

I’ve watched the global warming story unfold throughout my 30-year career in science journalism. For decades, scientists tried to be careful and conservative about this issue. Too careful and too conservative, I see now.

One useful thing we did this week was look at the subject of climate change on Wikipedia. It was useful because the editors at Wikipedia work very hard to maintain what they call NPOV: a neutral point of view. Here are two excellent sources from Wikipedia, for anyone wishing to understand the global warming controversy:

Scientific opinion on climate change

Scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming

The titles of those articles suggest what I’ve observed, as a person whose job it is to watch science: that the scientific majority believes that global warming is both real and, at least in part, caused by humans.

It’s very interesting to go to the “discussion” pages on either of these Wikipedia articles and read the back-and-forth talk between editors about all facets of what is being presented. If you do that, you’ll see that Wikipedia’s editors are struggling as hard as the rest of us (well, most of the rest of us) to present the climate change story fairly, yet accurately, from a scientific perspective.

At EarthSky, we are trying to stay open. We’re listening to you all. It’s just that there is overwhelming evidence, at this point, for the reality of human-caused global warming.

One of Wikipedia’s editors, Stephan Schulz, was kind enough to share a link with me to an excellent summing up of the scientific consensus on climate change, by Naomi Oreskes, from 2004. See: Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.

I hope you’ll look over these links.

What else is there to say? Only that I wish those who do not believe in human-caused global warming would stop to consider one thing.

It might be true.

It might be that we humans are playing a role in changing Earth’s climate.

And, if so, there might – still – be something we can do about it.

Deborah Byrd