Perceptions of the science of climate change

A new opinion pole by SIFO has found that a quarter of Swedes think that scientists’ descriptions of climate change and its’ threat are over stated, reports SVT. Men are more sceptical than women although 18% of all questioned thought the threat was understated. SVT has published the figures on their website. I should point out that the first question conjoined the issues of balance in scientists’ decsriptiona and whether the threat of climate change was over stated. We climate scientists would prefer the two questions to be seperate as one address the process and degree of climate change and the other its’ impact. On the positive side a full 70% of those interviewed were willing to pay to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, though 42% were willing to pay 200 kr or less per month.

We could infer from these data that public confidence in science is limited. Some might even invoke the oft heard climate-sceptics’ arguement that scientists have a vested interest in overstating climate change (and this is reflected in the SIFO numbers). I disagree. I suspect SIFOs findings represent two very different perspectives. Firstly, there will always be a minority, some purely contrary others philosphically or rationally, opposed to the idea of climate change. These people are likely to argue both the occurrance and threat of climate change are overstated. Secondly, we can expect a (larger) group of people who are disturbed or even confused by the lack of a simple concensus from the scientific community on the exact extent of climate change, present and future, and its’ likely impact on the weather and other natural systems.

Trying to identify or impose consensus on scientists is like herding cats: an exercise in futility. The term scientist, or even climate scientist, is an attempt to identify common cause. Do not assume we are a homogenous group. The closest we come to consensus is the IPCC, which actually reports a diffuse multi-plural consensus. Whilst disagreement amongst scientists about the exact numbers of climate change is undoubtedly sowing confusion and has helped sceptics promote their arguements, debate in the science community promotes transparency, challenges orthodoxy and drives progress and innovation.

As Monty Python noted, we are all individuals. Differences amongst scientists should be valued, even if it sometimes causes confusion and frustration. Most Swedes apparently accept climate change as reality and it is that we should value.

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