Tag Archives: Don Aitken

A Balanced View

In broad terms, it would probably not be unreasonable to say that the debate over climate change can be described as fractious. In many cases, entrenched position meets entrenched position, and the result can become ugly. I have just read a very balanced view on the debate at Judith Curry’s excellent blog Climate Etc.., in which she seeks civilised debate on climate change. Don Aitken, a former President and Vice-chancellor of the University of Canberra, presents a very good essay on the state of the debate as it currently stands.

Of particular interest is that he accepts the uncertainties in the science, and recognises that the decline in interest in the global warming thesis is in part due to overblown claims, including problems in the IPCC (such as using advocacy groups as sources, instead of using peer-reviewed papers). He also presents a good characterisation of positions on the debate, including those positions that seem to derive from religious convictions, rather than positions that rely on science.

Having said this, as a skeptic, I found that I did not neatly fit his categories, which I will list below:

4 Agnostic dissenters The orthodox arguments rely heavily on models and conjectures. AGW is plausible and possible, but we need real evidence before we do anything. In particular, we need to be able to distinguish AGW from natural variability. A little warming may be good for humanity, as it seems to have been over the past thirty years.

5 Sceptical dissenters Many sceptics are well informed about one or other aspect of the central AGW proposition, and can show difficulties with it; they tend to argue that the failure of the orthodox to satisfy them in these domains means that the whole AGW proposition is void.

6 Opponents AGW theory is just a scam, a sign that the Marxists have taken over the green movement, an attempt by some to construct world government, a conspiracy, a sign of lazy journalists, the effort of bankrupt governments to stay in power, etc. There is nothing to it.

From my perspective, it is possible to take elements of all three positions, and still not be at the extreme of the spectrum. For example, I do think that journalists have been lazy, and that environment correspondents have seen their profile raised by the anthropogenic global warming issue. As such, they do have an interest in supporting the story. Also, there are people engaging in the debate who are anti-capitalist, and who seem to be a new reincarnation of Marxism.

Notwithstanding these kinds of quibbles, I think that the essay would be an excellent introduction to those who have just read the scare stories promulgated by advocacy groups and ‘lazy journalists’, but who have not yet heard the other side of the debate. In particular, the moderate tone lends credibility to the point that those who raise doubts about the global warming thesis are not ‘climate denier’ crazies, but people with valid points of view that deserve attention.

I also think that the essay is a signal of a change in the approach to the anthropogenic global warming controversy. It seems that there is a growing acceptance that there are real and compelling questions about the evidence given to support the global warming thesis. In other words, it is a signal that the tide is starting to turn.

Overall, a really excellent essay, and one that I would strongly recommend.

Note: Don Aitken offers an interesting discussion of terminology as per below:

As you see, I am using the phrase ‘anthropogenic global warming’ to denote our subject, but you can also think of it as ‘human-induced climate change’, ‘climate change disruption’, or ‘catastrophic anthropogenic global warming’. They all mean the same. I’m using AGW, the original term, because it focuses attention on the core of the issue, while the phrase ‘climate change’ is ambiguous, since climates have changed over time for reasons of natural variability, and will continue to do so.

I often struggle with the question of the best terminology, so it is interesting to see that I am not alone in this. I also note that he spells ‘sceptic’ rather than skeptic. I suspect that my spelling is U.S. English, and is resultant from working in international organisations with U.S. English as the preferred usage.