My new column at Forbes is a post I have been thinking about and working on for quite a while, trying to refine over time a simple explanation of what is and is not understood in climate science. This is how it begins, but I hope you will read it all
Likely you have heard the sound bite that “97% of climate scientists” accept the global warming “consensus”. Which is what gives global warming advocates the confidence to call climate skeptics “deniers,” hoping to evoke a parallel with “Holocaust Deniers,” a case where most of us would agree that a small group are denying a well-accepted reality. So why do these “deniers” stand athwart of the 97%? Is it just politics? Oil money? Perversity? Ignorance?
We are going to cover a lot of ground, but let me start with a hint.
In the early 1980′s I saw Ayn Rand speak at Northeastern University. In the Q&A period afterwards, a woman asked Ms. Rand, “Why don’t you believe in housewives?” And Ms. Rand responded, “I did not know housewives were a matter of belief.” In this snarky way, Ms. Rand was telling the questioner that she had not been given a valid proposition to which she could agree or disagree. What the questioner likely should have asked was, “Do you believe that being a housewife is a morally valid pursuit for a woman.” That would have been an interesting question (and one that Rand wrote about a number of times).
In a similar way, we need to ask ourselves what actual proposition do the 97% of climate scientists agree with. And, we need to understand what it is, exactly, that the deniers are denying. (I personally have fun echoing Ms. Rand’s answer every time someone calls me a climate denier — is the climate really a matter of belief?)
It turns out that the propositions that are “settled” and the propositions to which some like me are skeptical are NOT the same propositions. Understanding that mismatch will help explain a lot of the climate debate.