In my very first Green Earth News post some sixteen months ago, I covered the preliminary findings of Dr. Richard Muller’s Berkley Earth Surface Temperature project, and used it to highlight the crucial difference between scientific skepticism and trenchant denial. Dr. Muller began his study on the hypothesis that dominant climate science was riddled with failings and deliberate distortions, but a year ago, the first two percent of Muller’s analysis indicated that the data was trending towards similar conclusions to those ordinarily cited in support of claims about anthropogenic climate change.
Now, Muller’s study is complete and the University of California physicist who had been a hero to the global warming denial movement is being widely referred to as a climate convert. Indeed, “converted skeptic” was Muller’s term for himself in his op-ed piece in the New York Times, where he also asserts that “humans are almost entirely the cause” of global warming.
Muller still holds up his own methodology as entirely superior to the climate science that he expected to refute, and he takes issue with some specific claims from that camp, but the essential facts about climate change could not be undercut by reasonably objective skeptical observations focused on sound science.
Even in my response last year to the preliminary findings, I praised Muller’s skepticism for being in earnest, in contrast to the ideological denial of his cheerleaders. I thought it arrogant that Muller seemed to be suggesting that the entire field of climate science was incapable of accurate scientific assessment, but it is to his great credit that he proved willing to change his views in accordance with his understanding of the facts, just as any scientist, and any rational human being, ought to do.
Muller’s Times piece states that his findings should not bring an end to skepticism, and he’s absolutely right. Healthy skepticism is the lynchpin to intelligent discourse. But it doesn’t excuse stubborn refusal to act in accordance with the likeliest and most well-supported observations about the world. If legitimate skeptics can walk and talk at the same time, then let them debate the rate of warming and the levels of carbon dioxide that are acceptable while each taking action to mitigate those things at least a little bit, knowing that anthropogenic climate change is indeed ongoing.
Muller believes that certain weather events are wrongly attributed to global warming, and that some alarmists have cherry-picked data and presented a distorted picture. He thinks it possible that current heat levels were matched by the medieval warming period. That’s all fine. We can have those debates. But if after the scientific conversion of this latest prominent skeptic, you still can’t acknowledge that what’s happening is happening, then you are hopelessly lost in the maze of your own arrogant paranoia.
What’s the opposite of preaching to the choir? I suppose we can’t possibly expect the global warming deniers who had gotten such traction out of him to follow Muller into reality. My only hope is that with a lack of representation in the scientific community, those deniers will stop being afforded such a disproportionately prominent voice in the public discourse. I have the same hope now that I did last year, which is that we can move forward and stop pretending that both sides of this debate have sufficient strength to carry it on.
That’s the best we can do, because the other side isn’t going away, and they’re not going to help build a greener future. So those who accepted scientific consensus long ago or who have recently come down off the fence must recognize that they need to invest a little more in clean technology and carbon offsets and sustainables like bamboo, because it is up to the rational majority to make up for the committed non-action of those who will never pull their fingers out of their ears.
Despite his continued encouragement of dissent, Dr. Richard Muller seems to agree. He praises persistent skepticism and calls out those climate claims that he believes are still in error, but he concludes his op-ed with two very important lines that anyone, whether a rational climate change skeptic or a rational climate change believer ought to take note of: “I hope that the Berkley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.”
That debate should replace the old, conspiracy-centered debate in every corner that it’s still going on, whether the deniers accept it or not. Reality is always objective, but unfortunately it’s rarely unanimous.