The best is enemy of the good.
The profoundest truths are paradoxical.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
The Guardian: John Oliver's Viral Video Is The Best Climate Debate You'll Ever See
Alan: Here is the deal... 97.1% of climate scientists agree that global warming is real. 2.9% believe it is not real, or, more commonly, admit its arguable existence but against a backdrop of "confounding variables." How does television treat this lopsided "Dolly Parton" debate? Every time television reports on "this difference of opinion," the discussion takes place between one climate scientist who has actually considered the preponderance of evidence, and one naysayer -- almost always a lay person -- who expresses her belief or a point of view so contrarian that it is only supported by 2.9 scientists out of every 100. In science, there is rarely absolute consensus. I, for example, happen to believe in human levitation - even though I do not fault The Law of Gravity. See St. Joseph of Cupertino: http://paxonbothhouses.blogspot.com/2013/09/st-joseph-of-cupertino-gotta-love-gaper.html
"I feel like they said in 4 minutes something I've been saying for 10 years with like tens or hundreds of thousands of words; what they said was that there's no debate over global warming, so to have these 'balanced' 1-on-1 TV debates is just preposterous."
Citing the 97% expert consensus result from a paper my colleagues and I published last year, John Oliver illustrated what a statistically representative climate change debate would look like, to great comic effect. A video of the show has gone viral, with over 2.8 million views. You can view it below (warning: the video includes some profane language).
In the show, Oliver made several key points:
Humanity's response to global warming has so far been a massive risk-management failure, or as Oliver put it, "we've all proven that we cannot be trusted with the future tense."
Public skepticism about global warming is irrelevant. As Neil deGrasse Tyson says, "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
The body of scientific evidence supports human-caused global warming: 97% of peer-reviewed scientific papers taking a position on the subject over the past 20 years are in agreement about this.
The media nevertheless continues to treat the subject as a 'debate', often with 1 person representing the 97% consensus and 1 person representing the less than 3% fringe minority.
"The stridency, and the intense comfort with a lack of scientific information, is ludicrous—it's objectively ludicrous. So I'm attracted to going to wherever the biggest hypocrisy is, and there feels like there's some good mining to be done regarding environmental issues…This world will be a complete ball of fire before it stops being funny."
Oliver's program hit the nail on the head. A recent paper published in the journal Earth's Future by Maibach, Myers, and Leiserowitz discussed the importance of public awareness of the expert consensus on human-caused global warming.
"Those who do not understand the scientific consensus about human-caused climate change are, in turn, less likely to believe that climate change is happening, human-caused, will have serious consequences, and is solvable (i.e., can be mitigated through concerted action). In addition, not understanding this scientific consensus undermines Americans' support for a broad societal response to the threat. As a result, knowledge of the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change can be considered a “gateway” cognition; as members of the general public come to understand the consensus, they more likely come to the conclusion that human-caused climate change is happening and harmful."
The 'consensus gap', as we call it, is one of the key roadblocks preventing us from taking serious action to mitigate the risk associated with human-caused climate change. False balance in media coverage of climate change, giving the fringe contrarian view disproportionate coverage, is one of the main causes of the consensus gap, but changing this poor journalistic practice is a challenge.