Tuesday, 7 April 2015

In defence of Tol, or not

This morning's exchange with Richard Tol at the Guardian allowed me the opportunity to raise a point which I think needs to be clear to people engaged in climate science discussions online: Tol is not a hardcore denialist.

Below is what has appeared so far. The point is Richard's central comment, divided into four parts: 

off topic, and in the public record
- climate is changing
- greenhouse gas emissions are a major cause
- climate change is, in the long-term, net harmful
- polarization a la Nuccitelli hampers climate policy

No problem with points one and two, and all those who love or hate RSJT on the basis that he is a denial monkey should read and digest.

Point three is of course a key matter and IMO worth engaging in discussions about. Where Tol sometimes seems to miss the point is that climate change is, ipso facto, a long-term problem (it may also be a short-term problem, but this is open to discussion, too). The point is that his qualifier 'in the long term' is redundant. There is a tendency for people to extrapolate from this idea that it is not a 'problem' in the short term, therefore it is not necessary to create mitigation policy now. To reach this conclusion is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the risks and problems which science has highlighted.

Which brings us to point four. Richard accuses Dana of polarising the issues and thereby obstructing policy. Anyone familiar with his track record will find this a most peculiar claim, since Tol has allowed those who wish to obstruct policy, notably the GWPF, a number of Tory MPs and people such as Matt Ridley to persistently misrepresent his work without correction, whilst at the same time offering self as critic to those, such as Cook and Nuccitelli, who are clear advocates of policy action.

I believe that Richard Tol believes himself to be a rational, impartial observer, but you have to judge a person (insofar as judgment is required) on what they do, not just on what they say. By this parameter, Tol has by default placed himself in the 'denial' camp. if this sits uncomfortably with him he must respond to it. By distancing himself from the people who misrepresent him to obstruct climate policy he can undo some of the harm already caused by these people. Should he feel no obligation or responsibility to so do, one feels inclined to presume that he is satisfied with this state of affairs, and by implication supportive of it. In which case he should stop whinging about the whole thing and accept that to many people he is a 'bad guy' and his actions (or inactions) prove him so.

Come on Richard, show your capacity for decency. There is a very important discussion of policy to be had and it could benefit from your input, but before that you need to detach yourself from your current reputation. Will you do that?

12
I particularly like the bit where Mr Nuccitelli tells Dr Spencer what Dr Spencer really thinks.
  • This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn't abide by our community standards. Replies may also be deleted. For more detail see our FAQs.
  • 12
    I for one would be interested to hear from RSJT what RSJT actually thinks about whether the climate is changing and whether this represents a social risk.
    Well, Richard?
  • 01
    off topic, and in the public record
    - climate is changing
    - greenhouse gas emissions are a major cause
    - climate change is, in the long-term, net harmful
    - polarization a la Nuccitelli hampers climate policy
  • 01
    Polarization as in the anti-science promoted by the GWPF? Maybe the GWPF needs a scientific advisor.
  • 12
    Kudos due for paying attention and bothering to respond. TY. I sort of know this anyway, really, because I've read your (available) papers. But people often misunderstand you - probably because you are as guilty as Dana of stirring things up, so I think the polarisation comment is a bit rich.
    I know many 'denial' commenters such as Ridley etc depend heavily on your work, especially as distorted by Lomborg via Copenhagen, but you never seem to spend time correcting their misunderstandings or inaccuracies. As a result, there's a tendency to place you one one side of 'the divide'. This may be unfair in your eyes, but it is perfectly understandable in mine.
    Polarization? Isn't that the bread and butter of journalism? I agree it can be frustrating, but via friends in the USA it is clear that there the discussions are not just polarised, they are politicised.