Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Climate Deniers Versus Reality, Once Again

In a major speech yesterday, President Barack Obama laid out a plan for dealing with climate change. It's not a perfect plan--it gives too much away to "clean coal," which doesn't exist, and to fracking, which causes more problems than it solves--but it's a start. It's good to see the president finally delivering on the promises he made throughout his first and second election campaigns.

When I posted on Facebook praising the president's speech, I received the anticipated response from a climate denier. With roughly 250 friends, I was bound to have a denier or two among them.

We're rapidly reaching the point where the voices of climate deniers, for all their sound and fury, are being drowned out by common sense. Within a decade, I anticipate, climate deniers will be seen pretty much the way people who claim to have been abducted by aliens are seen: as odd, sad, strange people who, for whatever reasons, refuse to live in the reality the rest of us live in.

Because you know, it is strange.  A recent study demonstrates that over 97% of climatologists--those are the experts who study climate--agree with the consensus on anthropogenic global warming. That's a significant percentage of experts. The proportion of experts who disagree, the study concludes, is "vanishingly small."

When I pointed this out to my climate denier friend, he objected that science isn't based on opinion polls. And I agree. But expert consensus is not the same as an opinion poll.

Experts are those who know a subject best. Opinion polls involve random samples of people who probably know very little about the subject under debate.

We base many of our decisions on expert consensus. When more than 97 percent of cardiologists tell us we have a heart problem, most of us decide to get heart surgery. When more than 97 percent of plumbers tell us we have a plumbing problem, most of us decide to get the pipes fixed. When more than 97 percent of ex-girlfriends tell us we have a bad breath problem, most of us decide to invest in some Tic Tacs.

Opinion, as I tell my students, isn't the same as informed opinion. And informed opinion isn't the same as expert opinion.

We're all entitled to our opinions. But only if we're informed--or better yet, experts--are we entitled to have our opinions count.

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