Do climate-change sceptics have the same attitude to other pieces of expert advice? When their car develops a fault and the local mechanic says the brake pads are shot, do they seek a second opinion? And having been told by the second mechanic that, yes, the brake pads are shot, do they then trawl around town until on the 99th visit, they strike a mechanic who says “no, the brake pads are fine”? And then driving at high speed up the F3, do they entrust their lives to this last opinion?
No. Because it would be mental.
What happens when Maurice Newman, climate agnostic and ABC chairman, goes to the doctor? Does he storm from the office when they diagnose chickenpox and seek second, third and 99th opinions until he finds a doctor who will give him the all clear? And does he then decry thefirst 98 doctors as victims of “group-think”?
No. Because it would be mental.
As a non-scientist, I cannot directly evaluate the evidence for anthropomorphic global warming; I cannot clamber up a glacier and take readings, just as, when I visit the doctor, I can't check my own prostate (even though, according to some readers, I've spent a lifetime with my head stuck up there).
I can, however, evaluate the debating techniques used by both sides. And here, the global-warming sceptics are very, very annoying.
First, there's the obsession with 1998. Climate sceptics love that year. In their spare time, they must listen to Elton John and the Backstreet Boys. They love 1998 because it was so hot that if you use it as the starting point for a graph, the globe appears to be getting colder. Widen the frame of reference to a handful of years — or, better still, to a whole decade — and their graph falls apart.
Again, do they act like this in their day-to-day lives? If there's a particularly hot day in December, followed by a slightly cooler day, do they declare that summer is over, deflate the kids' swimming pool and unpack the winter woollies?
No. Because it would be mental.
They also love shifting the topic of debate. One minute, you are arguing about whether the world is becoming hotter — blah blah, 1998, blah blah Elton John — but if you happen to win that one, they suddenly say, “Well, yes, but is mankind to blame?”
Fair question and I understand the distinction but many of the sceptics don't seem to, bouncing randomly between the two debates as it suits them. An army that constantly shifts battlefields, I always think, must know it's on swampy ground.
Where was I? Oh yes. Annoying sceptics. Point three is the way they search out errors in very large documents and then claim one error renders the whole document false.
Back to the medical analogy: this is like getting a bad test result from your doctor then refusing any further treatment because he misspelt your name on the envelope. Certainly, he should have spelt your name properly. You might even want to get a second opinion, since it could indicate sloppiness. But it doesn't of itself disprove the test results.
Which brings us to the excessive love-in between the sceptics and the “shrinking Himalayan glaciers”.
True, they are not shrinking at anywhere near the rate suggested in one paragraph of a 938-page report from one of several working groups. But the sceptics have a contagion model of human knowledge: find one mistake and a whole branch of scienceis diseased. Theycan't see the forest for the occasional misshapen tree.
And so the Himalayan glaciers have become the Lara Bingle of climate science: they get more media attention than they really deserve. Whack the phrase “Himalayan glaciers” into Google and, on the latest count, you'll get 458,000 references. This is getting up there with Lara Bingle.
Then there's the glee with which the sceptics seized the leaked emails from East Anglia — and the amazing revelation that scientists suffer from hubris, bitchiness and other human attributes. That they received so much attention tells us something. People — some people — are so desperate to plug their ears, they will grab anything that's available. And so, in the absence of anything decent, it's a wet wad of 1998, Himalayan glaciers and some bitchy emails.
Remember that great poem by Adrian Mitchell about Vietnam? Maybe it's time for a rewrite.
So chain my tongue with whisky/ Stuff my nose with garlic/ Coat my eyes with butter/ Fill my ears with silver/ Stick my legs in plaster/ Tell me lies about climatechange.”