Scott Pruitt, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, has proposed that the best way to decide whether climate change is a threat or not is to have a debate on television. There will be a red team (against?) and a blue team (for?). Or vice versa.
Red team blue team? OK, so why not debate climate change like a topic for a school debating team ? It will be an ‘objective’ discussion, says Scott Pruit, “It’s what the American people want”.
It’s been done before, it’s true. There was a famous debate in Oxford, England, in 1860 after Darwin published The Origin of the Species. Could we really be descended from apes? Impossible said the Bishop of Oxford. But look at the evidence said the scientists—Joseph Hooker and Thomas Huxley. It’s instructive because once again this was a fundamental clash of ideas where scientific evidence was simply disregarded as inauthentic and untrue. Not because the evidence wasn’t there. But because for the Church of England the evidence was irrelevant. The truth for the Church, the evidence, comes from a different source. The word of God is at a different level—altogether more authoritative. It’s an important point. If you believe something is true—because of your faith and your beliefs, then what science tells us and shows us is irrelevant. It literally has no meaning.
Debating teams discuss policy, culture, and history—anything can be debated where there are genuinely two different points of view. The question can even be a scientific one: one could imagine a debate on whether life exists elsewhere in the universe. Scientists debating the interpretation, the validity, and the meaning of the data—it would be an interesting discussion.
So do scientists disagree about climate change? No they don’t. Even Scott Pruit acknowledges that the climate is changing. On this point he agrees with the climate scientists. The question is what is causing these changes and what can be done about it. Scott Pruit denies than humankind have had much to do with it. For him, it’s all just a natural occurrence: one of those long cycles of global warming and cooling that just go up and down. Wait long enough and everything comes back to normal.
This where it gets surreal. There are thousands of scientists around the world working on climate science. These are men and women who have been trained to the highest levels in meteorology, oceanography, physics , atmospheric chemistry, hydrology, biology, and geophysics. In the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia; across Europe, and in every country that has Universities of Science and Technology. All these thousands of the best scientists on the planet agree that the climate is changing because of global warming, that this is because of the emissions of greenhouse gases, and that these gases originate predominantly from the economies of industrialized countries.
Except for one or two that strongly disagree.
Who are these people ? Do they have access to data that no-one else has access to? No.
Are they so brilliant, like Einstein, that they have proposed an entirely new way of interpreting the data, a way that provides fresh insights and reconciles mathematical inconsistencies that have confounded their peers? No.
Are they linked to the fossil fuel industry and have a huge self-interest in working to deny the scientific consensus? Yep, full marks.
Scott Pruitt is a lawyer. He probably doesn’t know a kilowatt-hour from a hole in the ground. But he was an inspired choice to head up the EPA.
A person who is actually trained as a scientist, even if skeptical about global warming, would find it difficult if not impossible to ignore the accumulating evidence. A good scientist cannot ignore solid evidence and peer-reviewed data. It’s part of their DNA. He or she has to take a look at the numbers, consider them, analyze them, decide if they are valid or not. A lawyer doesn’t have this problem. Evidence is simply a point of view. For lawyers, evidence is there to be challenged, undermined, disputed and rejected. It’s irrelevant if it’s true or not. What does ‘true’ mean anyway? If the court rejects the evidence, it obviously wasn’t true. The court decides what’s true. Just like the Church of England.
The red team blue team show will make great television. It’s the ultimate reality show. Viewers could of course vote for their favorite team of scientists and decide which team won the debate. Participatory democracy at work. All you need is the remote. I’m guessing the climate deniers are going to win, because they have so much more experience working with the media. Good scientists tend to be a bit camera shy and are not that persuasive in front of a live audience. And they like graphs. Guys, believe me, it’s not going to work.
I assume the Twitterer in Chief will be master of ceremonies? He’s good in this role.
So scientific debate about what is an existential threat to many small island states, and a massive environmental threat to the US, is reduced to reality TV. Well what did you expect? Just look at who’s in charge.