If you’re like me and have to talk about climate science in public forums a lot, you struggle with the denier community and how to talk about the issue. Personally, I find the denial world so outrageously out of touch that I mostly hit the science head on and then blow the deniers out of the water with facts if they challenge me. But straight science isn’t always the best approach for all audiences, especially very conservative ones. You need to skirt the question sometimes.
Over the years, there have been a number of ways to dodge the issue. One is Amory Lovins’ angle, which is to say: “Never mind the science, all the stuff we’d do to respond to climate change makes economic sense.” That’s mostly true, and a good angle, but it’s too complete a dodge for me. The other conventional escape is to talk about energy security and getting off foreign oil. That works to a point, except that the bulk of the climate problem — electricity generation — is made with U.S. coal and natural gas, and has nothing to do with oil so it’s a bit disingenuous and opens you up to criticism from an informed audience.
So a third way is in order. After years of thinking about this, talking about it, and getting alternately annihilated or accepted by audiences, here’s one way fool-proof way to approach the climate science conversation. Here goes:
Let’s all agree on some things. First: we know the planet is warming. Nobody is doubting that, anywhere at all. Second, we know that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are warming agents; again, that’s not being debated in any circles and is two hundred year old science. Third, we know that warming of 2-4 degrees C is much more likely to be catastrophic than good for the world. (It’s very easy to debunk the argument that warming will be bad some places but good other places, the idea that Greenland will be nice and we’ll move there. All that methane filled permafrost melting, plus all the sea level rise easily negates the argument. Not to mention floods, droughts, fires, etc. ) Fourth, we know that humans have the ability to radically cut greenhouse-gas emissions, and that doing so will prevent catastrophic warming. So it makes sense to do so, especially since the consquences of inaction will be much more costly.
You’ll note that this line of argument avoids the only real bone of contention, no matter how ill informed it may be — the question of whether warming is anthropogenic or not. And so it gets you to action without a big debate. Which is what we all really want to talk about anyway. That said, I know this dodge will rub some people the wrong way, because it rubs ME the wrong way. Most of the time, we should talk science. But sometimes, you need more than one arrow in your quiver.