Opinion Opinion1

Published on November 15th, 2012


The Moral Issue of Man Made Global Warming

By Joachim Vogt Isaksen

The global warming debate is loaded with rhetoric, political polemics, and has become the defining moral cause of our time. It is not framed as a scientific question, but rather as one of being either morally right or morally wrong.

If you are a person who find the evidence of man made global warming compelling, you are lucky to be on “the morally right side”.  If you on the other hand find that the theory may be subjected to some scientific doubt, you may expect to be characterized as an “irresponsible person with low moral standards who does not care for the future of the earth”. For most people it is easy to pick a choice among these two alternatives.

Yesterday Popular Social Science published an article pertaining to the theory of man made global warming. There seems to be wide agreement that global warming is taking place; what has been up to the debate is whether it is caused by human activity or not. We live in an age where science and reason is considered among societies highest values. Yet, within this issue there is no room for debate or discussion.

Criticism of the theory of man made global warming is not tolerated, even if it is based on research of the highest scientific standards. The critics have become scientific dissidents and are considered dangerous and even morally irresponsible. How is it possible that this may take place in an age where we often consider rationality to be at its historical peak?

To make it clear at once, the point of this opinion is not to criticize the theory of man made global warming itself. The main argument is to point out that this question involves serious scientific dispute and disagreement, and that this should be communicated to the public in a free and open debate.

In the public debate the theory is often presented as a scientific truth, even when researchers claim that there are considerable doubts. Many scientists, especially within the natural science community, claim that there is no direct evidence that links human activities and global warming. Some of the claims are that the earths´ climate has always been changing and that the temperatures are not mainly driven by carbon dioxide, whether it is man made or not.

Further, they claim that there is nothing unusual about the temperatures today, and it has for example been pointed out that lions existed in northern Germany during the Middle Ages. Some of the sceptics include MIT professors, University of Virginia professors, in addition to experts that are in the forefront when it comes to science of climatology. Even if these people deserve the highest ranking credits and credibility their views are not only silenced or denigrated as irrelevant by politicians, media and other scientists, but they are also subjected to shameful labelling and name calling.

Several scientists have for a long time disputed the scientific consensus regarding man made global warming. It has also been demonstrated that it is easier get funding on projects that pose research questions that support the theory of man made global warming, rather than the opposite.

Max Weber´s ideal of the value free science is probably hard to follow strictly, but is still a vital principal that at least should be taken seriously. Even so, the scientific question on whether global warming is man made or not, has become packed with bias. In the mainstream media and among a lot of the researchers it is often presented as a scientific fact without any doubt. Any dissenting voice is not to be tolerated, and as a result a lot of scientists do not dare to express their scepticism. This does not lead to a healthy climate for performing scientific activity.

We in Popular Social Science are concerned with environmental issues. But we are also concerned about the stifling of the scientific debate, and do not think that this will contribute to a better environmental future in the longer perspective. The debate should be held as open as possible regardless of whether you support the theory of man made global warming, or whether you find the contra evidence more convincing. The question of whether global warming is man made should not be objected to moral or political bias, but rather to scientific evidence.

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3 Responses to The Moral Issue of Man Made Global Warming

  1. Joakim Gusland says:

    I like the idea of a popular science blog, but, just a friendly advice, if you have pretensions of presenting a serious popular science blog, you should put some effort into doing proper research on the issues you raise, as well as trying not to commit logical fallacies.
    Your article is problematic in many ways:
    1) You present a problem that is not true. There is no “stifling of the scientific debate” on global warming. Rather, there is a surprisingly hefty debate on an issue that has exceptionally much evidence in place. Within the climate scientific community there is no scientific debate on whether or not global warming exists, whether or not it is caused by CO2 emissions or whether or not this is man made. There is widespread agreement on these topics. The critique comes from outside, mostly from industry funded so-called “think tanks” and from scientists from other fields. These are very vocal, and get a lot of attention in what you call “mainstream media” (which, by the way, is a so-called “Straw man” logical fallacy) and other media outlets.
    2) By framing the article as an analysis of the “moral issues” and labeling this phenomenon as a case of poor scientific practice, you (inadvertently?) run the errand of the so-called “climate skeptics,” whose main rhetorical tool is to (falsely) present the issue as undecided or “just a theory”. The strategy is mainly the same as that used by creationists, who try to spread misconceptions about science and how scientific knowledge is produced by calling evolution “just a theory”, and subsequently claiming that any other theory is just as good. Step two is to cry wolf and conspiracy, and claim that this information is suppressed by “the Ivory Tower”, “mainstream media” or some other supposedly powerful, monolithic entity. A parallel method used has been threats and harassment against climate scientists.
    3) Is this “popular social science”? I think not. If you want to popularize science you should beware of the hazards of the information overflow that encounters anyone who seeks knowledge on the internet. A sound skepticism towards your sources and a thorough research into the original scientific literature should be a minimum requirement if you want to be taken seriously. If you want to conduct a discussion on epistemology, you should put some thought into what constitutes “the highest scientific standards” and how scientific knowledge is produced. Right now, what you are doing is, at best, popularization removed from science in the 4th or 5th degree, but more likely just badly researched noise. Which there is more that enough of already.
    And 4) a very basic one: Where are your sources? I’ll give you one for free, top of the list from googling “climate skeptics” and with a good record of sound research: http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

    Good luck!

  2. joachim says:

    Dear Joakim,
    Thanks for showing an interest in our journal, and for your kind words. You have written a very thorough and thoughtful comment to this opinion, something we appreciate. Actually, I agree on some parts of your comments, and disagree on others. What I approach here is really twofold. First, there is the case of the use of language and marking of opponents employed by one side in this scientific debate. Second, there is the case that one school-of-thought can more easily get access to funds, news coverage etc. than the other one. We will actually soon publish a story on the latter point.

  3. Steinar Jakobsen says:

    Joakim Gusland repeats the onesided propaganda we always have heard from the scaremongers.

    Here is a list of seven recent papers showing that the scientific debate continues. The science is not settled!

    1 Lindzen and Choi –The Earth has a safety release valve

    2 Spencer and Braswell – Cloud feedback is net negative

    3 R.S. Knox and D.H. Douglass – The missing heat is not in the ocean.

    4 Miskolczi – The optical depth of the atmosphere hasn’t changed

    5 McShane and Wyner24 – The Hockeystick is broken

    6 McKitrick, McIntyre, Herman26 – The hot spot is really missing

    7 Anagnostopoulos, G. G., Koutsoyiannis, D., Christofides, A., Efstratiadis, A. & Mamassis, N.: The only thing certain is the models are wrong.

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