Blog Archive

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Debating climate science is the "moral and scientific equivalent of debating gravity," Paul Douglas, Republican meteorologist.

by Scott Mandia, "Global Warming -- Man or Myth?" February 18, 2014

A few weeks ago, a journalist contacted the Climate Science Rapid Response Team to get various opinions about whether climate scientists should take a public position or in some sense a political position on the issue and get involved in the debate/discussion over climate change in public venues and through media coverage. After sending the request to several climate experts, I also asked Paul Douglas, a meteorologist, registered Republican, and entrepreneur, for his thoughts. With permission, I have posted his response below:

My name is Paul Douglas. Scott Mandia suggested I drop you a quick note in response to your recent CSRRT inquiry. I’m not a climate scientist; I’m a Penn State meteorologist and an entrepreneur who has launched a series of weather/technology companies over the years. I’ve been talking about weather trends; how what I’ve been witnessing on the weather maps since the 1990s dovetails with what climate models have been predicting all along. I began talking about these trends on WCCO-TV and The Star Tribune in the Twin Cities back in the late 90s, and immediately got push-back from a minority of viewers and readers who felt somehow threatened by the science. I still write a daily weather and climate science blog, and produce a daily 2:30 video segment on meteorology and climate science for our new national weather channel, WeatherNation TV.

I talk to 50+ organizations about weather and climate trends during a typical year across the Upper Midwest, and still hear a fair amount of skepticism, cynicism and outright science denial. As a meteorologist I have an obligation to be scientifically accurate, to explain the trends and most likely triggers as competently as possible. 
Communication, especially of complex scientific issues, is always challenging, but I believe we have an obligation to translate the implications of science, not only what it is – but what it means. The implications. It would be like a heart surgeon telling a patient he has an irregular heartbeat, and then leaving out the part of an implantable stent and going on a statin. I’m a meteorologist, but I haven’t renounced my citizenship. As such I speak out about issues, trying to highlight the signal amidst the noise. And there’s an awful lot of noise, confusion, obfuscation and (deliberate, well-funded and orchestrated) denial out there today, because of policy implications, and the sheer amount of money in the energy sector that’s in play. Trillions of dollars of carbon potentially at risk.

As an entrepreneur if I don’t respect the data and see the business world as it really is, not as I’d like it to be, I become road kill. My venture quickly goes out of business and I have to lay off good people. So it is with science, which, like nature, never moves in a straight line. But I tell people the truth as I perceive it to be. The data is the data. If we don’t react to facts on the ground and listen to professional scientists, including climate scientists, and base policy decisions on a careful and deliberate attempt to document observed changes/causes using the scientific method, we’re setting ourselves up for failure on a planetary scale.

To the heart of your question, why don’t more climate scientists enter into the public debate? Because the debate is over. It’s the moral and scientific equivalent of debating gravity. The experts have spoken, and because a very small minority of stakeholders and shareholders don’t care for the implications there is vociferous push-back from certain special interests. I worked in television news for 35 years. Mainstream media likes a good on-air food-fight, a protagonist and antagonist, shouting at each other about their worldviews. It attracts curiosity and eyeballs – it’s ultimately good for ratings. But it’s a false equivalent, and it’s a terrible way to conduct science. We put a handful of (paid) climate skeptics and industry lobbyists on a stage with thousands of the world’s leading climate PhD’s, and think this is somehow serving the public interest? It’s not. It’s creating more confusion, more delay and more denial, as viewers and readers pick and choose their reality as easily as reading changing channels on their TV or grazing over their morning horoscope. I can absolutely understand why more professionals don’t want to subject themselves to inane banter with science-deniers.

When I talk to groups and individuals I tell them the truth: it’s good to be skeptical. In a day and age of hackers, scams, media spin and political lobbyists people should be skeptical – it’s a necessary self-defense mechanism these days. And then I remind them that the most skeptical people on the planet are scientists. Science is organized skepticism. The fact that thousands of experts agree on not only climate trends, but the triggers (burning of fossil fuels) is extremely significant.

Schopenhauer once said that all truth goes through 3 stages: first it is ridiculed, then violently opposed, then finally accepted as self-evident. We are at the end of Stage 2. Manufactured doubt and industry push-back is preventing us from taking the planetary actions necessary to avoid even more disastrous climate volatility. When sea walls go up around Manhattan and Miami, when a large western city runs out of water or goes up in flames, when crops fail year after year across the Midwest and cruise ships packed with curious gawkers routinely sail across the North Pole, maybe the professional denialists will move on to their next target.

Not sure if that answers your question – just wanted to offer up my opinion. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help.

Paul Douglas
Founder, President
Media Logic Group LLC

No comments: