Anyone who frequents Twitter is aware of the anti-establishment culture of science rejection that often spills into the mentions of high profile news accounts, celebrities, and popular hashtags. The spillover in recent years has been exacerbated by a man named Steve Goddard, contributor to realclimatescience.com. His following has produced unscientific gems like this:
I’m not arguing that Twitter is expected to be a bastion of intellectualism, but this does not even scratch the surface of the fallacious arguments on climate change that get retweeted and liked on by masses of people Twitter. This is a problem no matter the method of communication being used. I dare anyone to search ‘climate change’, go to real time tweets and watch the misinformation flood in. It’s an unsettling experience. Of the many claims against climate change are charges of ‘doctored data’, corruption in grants received for climate research, an apparent culture of deceit within the community of climatologists and other baseless assumptions. I don’t have time to address these falsehoods, especially as no evidence has been presented to prove them.
Scrolling through the ignorance for any period of time will prompt the thought- how did this happen? How did a sizable portion of the internet population flock to the religion of anti-establishment science denial? Originally I speculated that these were the same edgy people who had always maintained a distrust of the federal government. Given the average political affiliation of those who deny anthropogenic climate change’s influences, one could surmise that the conservative small government ideology predisposes a person to harbor distrust of all things pushed by the federal government.Not all ideological conservatives are anti-science (I am a conservative in many respects), but the combination of religious fundamentalism and a desire for a small federal government increases the chance of rejecting … an entire scientific discipline.
Given the predisposition to reject both establishment politics and establishment science, it comes as no surprise that large portions of our population are self radicalizing with anti-establishment science. As those on the left accept peer reviewed science at face value — the lack of skepticism appears fallacious to those on the right. Not questioning the ‘system’ is inherently flawed by this perspective. The intellectualism and integrity that still exists in fundamentalist conservatives has been retooled to combat the so called ‘naivety’ of the progressive movement.
No one is innocent here, however. The well meaning progressive movement frequently gives both anti-science individuals on the far right AND scientists headaches. As a meteorologist, I’ve had to shake my head at some of the sensationalist headlines that pour out of left leaning news media desperate for clicks. Following a severe weather episode, which happens frequently in the summer due to natural variability, any old journalist finds it convenient to get into the field of meteorology and drop a rain bomb …
It’s articles like these that make the pejorative ‘alarmist’ seem warranted in some cases. Despite no evidence of an increase in severe weather in any portion of the country this year, the increased exposure due to social media is making every individual severe weather event appear to be part of climate change’s wrath. Those on the left, minutes after a severe weather event, and without any respect to the cost of disasters caused by natural variability, attribute climate change to every water droplet falling, or even not falling from the sky.
Despite droughts of equal or greater magnitude being recorded in Massachusetts in the past, this Twitter user scorns a news article for not speculating that an ongoing drought was due to climate change. No mention of a possible mechanism was made in their tweet, just disdain. Doing a little research, I found a drought emergency had been declared in Massachusetts 5 times between 1865 and 2012. The current drought in Massachusetts is NOT unprecedented, despite the pleas of people who are subscribing to sound science but are desperate to relate it to everything in their lives.
Additionally, a single funnel cloud being reported in South Africa (which is in the middle latitudes) is not evidence of climate change unless over a period of time, the prevalence of this feature is changing. Favorable environmental conditions for a tornado given a strong enough trigger are very strong speed and directional shear, very fast updrafts, and vorticity at the surface. High CAPE and high SRH may be rare, but one instance of these environmental factors combined with a strong enough trigger to produce a supercell is hardly evidence of climate change unless one can prove that the environment that fed into the updraft of the thunderstorm was altered due to climate change. It would be reaching to say that climate change certainly made that updraft more warm and moist. This is especially doubtful with only 2011 being a recent peak year in tornado count and with no clear trend in the intensity of tornadoes.
This idea starts at the top, with scientific communicators like Bill Nye who post fallacious tweets like this:
Bill Nye presents an attribution of an event to climate change without seriously examining the issue past his idea of heat ‘supercharging’ our atmosphere. He ignores the non-linear dynamics and interactions of global climate and takes the easy way out, assuming a linear atmospheric response of heat energy –> energy for supercell tornadoes. However, you can see his reach: 3.6K retweets and 8.4K likes. Additionally, he makes the claim that weather disasters are becoming more expensive. He conveniently is ignoring the increase in land area used for development, and the increase in investments in real estate.
The only opposition Bill Nye received to this tweet was by far right posters who took the other extreme unscientific position and claimed climate change was a hoax- because a mechanical engineer non-climatologist was exaggerating its impacts and effects. As much of a fallacy as that argument was, it resonates with like minded individuals who are crusading against the idea of climate change. Furthermore, it polarizes those on the left and sees those who oppose these extreme statements as extreme themselves. The battle line are drawn and the echochambers are established.
In future encounters, the tone that science communicators use towards climate deniers shapes their relationship moving forward.
The most common response to what appears to be radical, far reaching ideologies is incredulity or sarcasm, both including elements of outright dismissal. Our outright dismissal of the ideas that contrast mainstream ideas of science contributes to the continued polarization of American political climate, although it is up for debate to what extent. The polarization might have began with the moral superiority of the left in espousing their support for climate change, for we are well meaning and can come off as condescending ‘educators’. It will only be made worse by access to highly polarizing material from the other side, from the radical anti-science climate blogs that condemn peer reviewed work with non peer reviewed MS Paint graphs. As ISIS propaganda draws young men to the Islamic State, fringe climate blogs are winning the hearts and minds of stubborn right wing ideologues. Without understanding the perspective of those who have self radicalized with respect to climate, we leave ourselves unable to defeat them on an ideological level and susceptible to our climate change 9/11.
What could the climate change 9/11 be? Forgive my shock tactics, but the reality is that the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States and the outright refusal to abide by Paris’s climate promises could be a blow on similar proportions.
No one deserves the pejorative ‘climate alarmist’, but if some will blame the United States for the rise of ISIS, it’s not a stretch for the left (and the internet) to share some of the blame for the rise of the adamant radicalized climate denier.
This was the first of a series of posts. In a future post I will discuss the State of the Climate 2015, an objective measure for how climate change is shaping our world and the dangerous consequences that climate change. I will go into more detail on specific events and how climate change, based on current theory, could be shaping their impacts.