From Frank Wattenberg:
This was a great webinar, both content and execution. Thanks very much.
My overarching comment, that may in part reflect my particular students, is that cognitive misconceptions are not the issue. The real issue is that opponents of the actions that might be taken to mitigate climate change have spread a lot of misinformation or cherry-picked information. Most of the skepticism I encounter is based on repetition of this misinformation. Students don't say "carbon dioxide is good for plants and, hence, for us" because they have a fundamental cognitive misconception. They are repeating something they read or heard. The response can't be carbon dioxide is not good. Rather it should be increased atmospheric carbon dioxide operates through multiple mechanisms and has multiple consequences, one of which is an enhanced greenhouse effect. The problem is less cognitive misconceptions or misinformation and more cherry picked information and cherry-picked conceptions.
There are many well-credentialed scientists who provide support for the skeptics/deniers. Freeman Dyson is a very well-known physicist and Richard Lindzen is a very well-known climate scientist, or at least meteorologist (the distinction is hard to make in a politicized arena). Ed Wegman is a well-known statistician who raises non-frivolous questions about Mann's Hockey Stick graph. They are only three examples. I have a very bright and articulate colleague who is extremely well-credentialed and is able to discuss the models in some detail and with a lot of knowledge and who disputes their usefulness for making predictions. Models are essential to the argument, whether they are detailed science-based mathematical models or more conceptual mental models, because they are the basis for predictions and what-ifing.
Unfortunately, events like the East Anglia CRU email release, and even the recent financial near-collapse contribute to a general (and not always unhealthy) distrust of "experts."
So how do we respond? I think the first rule is that we cannot make this an ad hominem argument. Saying that folks like "Dyson, Wegman, and Lindzen" aren't real working climatologists won't work and, in fact, probably should not work. We should help our students develop a healthy amount of skepticism including Fox "News," coal companies, Michael Crichton, and, yes, even experts, drug companies, doctors, and scientists. We should help our students understand that scare tactics may not lead to the best public policy decisions. I don't think it is any accident that the folks who admire Crichton's "State of Fear" are so well-practiced in using this tactic themselves. So we must confront these questions seriously and directly. Is the concern about the effects of climate change justified and why? We must stress that multiple perspectives and lines of study lead to the same conclusions. Models are important and we have many models that do give different and, yes, often contradictory predictions but the general conclusions are clear. The Earth system is sensitive to what we are doing now and paleoclimatology makes clear that small external forcings can have dramatic effects. Tipping points exist and momentum can mask change and make it much harder to stop. We need to build students' confidence that they can choose between conflicting claims and analyses and we need to give them the tools and perspectives they need to make good choices. We need to help them function with uncertainty, a cacophony of contradictory claims, and to understand the differences between the consequences of false positives and false negatives. The IPCC models are consensus models and are as likely to underestimate climate change as to overestimate it.
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