© Earthly Gains Ltd 2017-2018

When it comes to climate change, we’re wasting the value of free

speech

By Martin Gibson (This blog article first appeared on the 2degrees network on June 6, 2013.) Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in free society. People have fought for it for centuries and many still continue to do so today. However, when it comes to the science of climate change, we seem to waste the value of free speech. We all tend to constrain ourselves in the language that we use. In business, we often do this through the use of jargon. In technical areas, we tend to use narrow definitions of words that have different meanings to their common use. Either way, when we then try to communicate with people who are unfamiliar with the constraints of our particular clique, we tend to fail. Instead of making things easy to understand, we confuse issues. I was having a discussion with my family the other day about the word significant. For most of us in everyday language, this means something important or large. However, in scientific and statistical use, it is rather different. If a technical article talks about a significant change or likelihood, I would immediately expect it to be backed up by statistical rigour. Significant from a technical viewpoint would usually mean that the likelihood of something occurring by chance is only 1 in 20. When an advertisement for hairspray says it is significantly better, the scientifically trained part of me wants to known the sample size, the standard deviation and the level of significance. Of course, most people wouldn’t be thinking that way; most people would just think it was saying that the hairspray was a lot better than its rivals. They might not, of course, believe the advertisement. For my part, I have very little interest in the whether the product works, having very little hair. So what has this got to do with climate change? Well, quite a lot, actually. The scientists doing research into climate change work within the constraints of accepted technical language, those who disagree do not. When you hear someone referring to likelihood in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, it has a narrow and clear meaning. When someone disputes information on climate change, they are free to use whatever language they want. Not surprisingly, most people arguing against climate change use normal language. Here are two examples: “Advances in climate change modelling now enable best estimates and likely assessed uncertainty ranges to be given for projected warming for different emission scenarios.” (From Climate Change 2007 The Physical Science basis, Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change) “The Great Green Con no. 1: The hard proof that finally shows global warming forecasts that are costing you billions were WRONG all along” (From the Daily Mail, March 16 March 2013) Which do you think the general public will understand? I think it is important that a potentially life changing issue like climate change is discussed and debated. Scientific finding must be able to withstand scrutiny, especially if major decisions hinge on them. At issue is whether the debate is being held on a ‘level playing field’. The IPCC is soon to publish its 5th report. Previously, the reports have been aimed at technocrats and policy makers who, it is assumed, understand the scientific use of words such as significant. Other audiences have been left to learn of the IPCC’s work through third parties, who will surely use language unconstrained by technical propriety. Just to make the point, I think few people would disagree with the statement qui non est hodie cras minus aptus erit if only it was written in language that they understood. Get in touch if you would like to know more about how climate change affects your business and what you can do about it.
© Martin Gibson, trading as Earthly Gains, 2017
This page contains recent blog articles written by members of the Earthly Gains team or its associates.

When it

comes to

climate

change, we’re

wasting the

value of free

speech

By Martin Gibson (This blog article first appeared on the 2degrees network on June 6, 2013.) Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in free society. People have fought for it for centuries and many still continue to do so today. However, when it comes to the science of climate change, we seem to waste the value of free speech. We all tend to constrain ourselves in the language that we use. In business, we often do this through the use of jargon. In technical areas, we tend to use narrow definitions of words that have different meanings to their common use. Either way, when we then try to communicate with people who are unfamiliar with the constraints of our particular clique, we tend to fail. Instead of making things easy to understand, we confuse issues. I was having a discussion with my family the other day about the word significant. For most of us in everyday language, this means something important or large. However, in scientific and statistical use, it is rather different. If a technical article talks about a significant change or likelihood, I would immediately expect it to be backed up by statistical rigour. Significant from a technical viewpoint would usually mean that the likelihood of something occurring by chance is only 1 in 20. When an advertisement for hairspray says it is significantly better, the scientifically trained part of me wants to known the sample size, the standard deviation and the level of significance. Of course, most people wouldn’t be thinking that way; most people would just think it was saying that the hairspray was a lot better than its rivals. They might not, of course, believe the advertisement. For my part, I have very little interest in the whether the product works, having very little hair. So what has this got to do with climate change? Well, quite a lot, actually. The scientists doing research into climate change work within the constraints of accepted technical language, those who disagree do not. When you hear someone referring to likelihood in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, it has a narrow and clear meaning. When someone disputes information on climate change, they are free to use whatever language they want. Not surprisingly, most people arguing against climate change use normal language. Here are two examples: “Advances in climate change modelling now enable best estimates and likely assessed uncertainty ranges to be given for projected warming for different emission scenarios.” (From Climate Change 2007 The Physical Science basis, Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change) “The Great Green Con no. 1: The hard proof that finally shows global warming forecasts that are costing you billions were WRONG all along” (From the Daily Mail, March 16 March 2013) Which do you think the general public will understand? I think it is important that a potentially life changing issue like climate change is discussed and debated. Scientific finding must be able to withstand scrutiny, especially if major decisions hinge on them. At issue is whether the debate is being held on a ‘level playing field’. The IPCC is soon to publish its 5th report. Previously, the reports have been aimed at technocrats and policy makers who, it is assumed, understand the scientific use of words such as significant. Other audiences have been left to learn of the IPCC’s work through third parties, who will surely use language unconstrained by technical propriety. Just to make the point, I think few people would disagree with the statement qui non est hodie cras minus aptus erit if only it was written in language that they understood. Get in touch if you would like to know more about how climate change affects your business and what you can do about it.