Climate Battles: Extreme Weather and Extreme Views

Disasters and Climate Change

There are now as many books about the politics and polemics of climate change as there are about the science itself. The majority of these cover a fairly wide range, but some are more specialized. Roger Pielke’s book “The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change” is one of the latter sort, and is specifically aimed at the issue of whether natural disasters have become more costly because of climate change. Pielke is a somewhat controversial figure, but is by no means a climate change sceptic. He argues, however, that the data indicate  – thus far at least –no conclusive evidence for an increase in frequency or intensity of events such as hurricanes and tornadoes. The cost – in both human and financial terms – of such event has, however, increased, but this is because as populations and economies expand, more people and assets are put in harms way. Pielke argues that by focusing on an increased risk from natural disasters, politicians and activists are actually doing the cause of alerting the public to global warming risks a disservice.

And certainly the issue of extreme weather events is often very much at the forefront of the debate. William McPherson’s book “Climate, Weather and Ideology: Climate Change Denial” is a case in point, with the author leading off his book about arguments used to counter the scientific consensus with two chapters solely about extreme weather events.

That there are opposing views about what would seem to be readily verifiable issues, such as whether hurricanes are becoming more frequent and/or more powerful, is likely to leave the layman somewhat confused. And this apparent uncertainty about the facts is one of the things that plays into what might be a dangerous inertia in action to counter climate change. The issue of why the world in general doesn’t take risks from climate change more seriously is explored from the point of view of human psychology in George Marshall’s new book “Don’t Even Think About it” , subtitled “Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change.” Marshall, who is the co-founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, explores the way in which people react to unpalatable facts and how there is a natural human disinclination to worry too much about things which are perceived as uncertain and whose impacts are mostly in the long-term.

Marshall explores these issues from the viewpoint of someone who is totally committed to the urgent need to step up action to reduce climate change – to the extent that he suggests that climate change campaigners should “be prepared to learn from religions” in how they spread their messages. Those who want to see the other side of what is now an amazingly polarized debate on climate change could do no better than read “Climate Change: The Facts” , which is a collection of essays published by the Institute of Public Affairs, and edited by Alan Moran. The contributors to this volume contain many of the most outspoken sceptics (or “deniers” if you prefer) on the issue of human-induced climate change, including Ian Plimer, Nigel Lawson, Donna Laframboise and others. The contributors to this volume have views which are diametrically opposed to those of George Marshall, of course. And diametrical opposition seems to be the nature of the climate debate: there is little in the way of a middle ground, and personal attacks seem to be common currency. In Moran’s collection, Nigel Lawson, a former British finance minister, author of the climate-change skeptical volume “An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming”   – and no stranger to public controversy – says that he never in his life “experienced the extremes of personal hostility, vituperation and vilification” which he received for his views on global warming. On the other side, Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist who became the centre of a storm of controversy over his publication of the notorious “hockey stick” graph of global temperature changes, describes in his book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” how he experienced a similar treatment, but from the opposing camp, to that which Nigel Lawson complains of. It seems that the climate change debate often tells us more about science of human behaviour than it does about the science of climate change.