On Wednesday the 25th of January I attended the talk Åpent møte: Svakheter og styrker i klimadebatten (Open Meeting: Weaknesses and Strengths in the Climate Debate) given at the Humanismens Hus by Pål Prestrud, director of CICERO, the Centre for Climate Research at the University of Oslo.
It was my first time at a Human-Etisk Forbund (HEF) open meeting and I had no idea what to expect. My plan was just to turn up, hopefully make some friends, learn a little more about climate change given that I am woefully uninformed, and practice my Norwegian a little, too.
The talk was attended by about fifty people, most of them of that age or older. By my reckoning, it's no exaggeration to say that I was the youngest there by about fifteen, twenty years. Age was absolutely not a barrier though, and after a few furtive glances I was making small talk with a couple of people and settling into my new 'spiritual' home.
I have done my very best to make sure that my write-up of the talk is accurate, but my note-taking was pushed to the limit by my less than fluent Norwegian. I really wish I could have taken better notes, especially so I could post things like links to the sources cited, but it was already too much to follow the talk in Norwegian as it was – sorry folks! Any corrections and feedback are, of course, very welcome!
The talk started with some general background information and references to Royal Society, AAAS and G8 reports stressing the strength, validity and consensus of research showing the contribution of human activities to global warming and climate change. Pål avoided preaching to the converted, however, by quickly moving on to how and why the idea that it's a 'debate' even arises.
It was refreshing that Pål was not afraid to discuss academic papers in depth or show and dissect some pretty complicated graphs displaying various tren
lobal temperatures and the like.
Access to raw, unfiltered data is a privilege that few members of the general public get to have (or might even want), but you can find lots of climate science data at places like the excellent
. The graph on the left, for example, is a superimposed plot of five global monthly temperature estimates.
Visualising raw data helps make the problem more tangible; a picture is worth a thousand words and all that. The importance of seeing raw data was emphasised by Pål through discussion of a graph, presented earlier this year at a climate science meeting in Oslo, that reported to show a negative correlation between
and global temperature (contrary to the scientific consensus of a positive relationship), but that on closer inspection, and taking into account inherent noise in the data, showed nothing of the sort (again, I'm really sorry I don't have a link to it – I'll try to hunt it down and post it up if I can). The data is what it is, but the point is that our general understanding of climate change is made more complicated than it already is by people who should know better muddying the waters with spurious interpretations.
Coincidentally, I was catching up on a backlog of
podcasts and happened to listen to
of the National Center for Science Education (
) talk about the NCSE recently having to expand their interests to include climate science (their principal focus used to be defending the teaching of evolution) given the dire consequences of man-made
on public understanding and practices. You can download the whole podcast
, where Eugenie is on from around 37 minutes. The parallels that are drawn between the tactics used to oppose the teaching of evolution and that of climate change science in the States makes for a thought-provoking, and not a little frightening, listen.
Pål, like Eugenie, summarised three well-recognised ideological barriers that lead people to deny the role of human activity in global warming: economic barriers, national politics and fear of Big Government (which is something that both Eugenie and Pål stressed was a major problem in the States, where any regulation by the state is taken a direct impingement on individual freedoms). Also touched on was the power of academic 'scandals' to completely overshadow scientific consensus in the public consciousness. The media furor over '
' was mentioned as an example of how public confidence in climate science was affected, leading to things like reports of
This excellent cartoon summarising the situation is from
Given that the talk was in Norwegian, some of the witty asides were lost on me (and he must have been witty as their were quite a few chuckles), but Pål deserves a great deal of credit for giving a fascinating, complicated talk in such a an uncomplicated way that a non-native Norwegian speaker could not only follow but also learn a lot from.
I'm gutted that I won't be able to make the next talk at the Humanismens Hus on
(conspiracy theories), but I will definitely be going to as many of these talks as possible.