CC-01-01 Does Climate Change Exist?
Healthy Skepticism? Debating the Truth, Evidence, and Certainty of Climate Change
August 4, 2009
This is lesson one of six on climate change.
Here are links to the other five:
Does consensus equal truth? Is climate change real?
Al Gore states in An Inconvenient Truth that the world's scientists are overwhelmingly in agreement that human activity causes global warming. But many people debate the consensus and defend contradictory research and opinions. Further clouding the picture, newspapers often give equal ink to expert scientists and uncredentialed skeptics alike.
Could the skeptics be right? Or do most of them present red-herring rhetoric at the behest of special-interest sponsors?
INSTRUCTOR PREPARATION NEEDED
Familiarity with assigned readings (below), especially the "Top 10" common arguments against climate change and how they are usually refuted. Familiarity with the practices of objective journalism.
A. In-Class Activities
Do: Discussion (20 minutes)
James Hansen posits that climate change is an extremely urgent problem. Has the international response been adequate? Should climate change be given top priority?
Do: Presentation (20 minutes)
Students present the newspaper articles they found featuring climate skeptics, and discuss whether that person should be believed and if the media's level of balance was appropriate.
Do: Assignment (20 minutes)
Comparative analysis of climate change skeptics and arguments against climate change.
B. Assignments to Be Completed in Advance (0-2+ hours)
James Hansen, "Timeline for Irreversible Climate Change," YaleGlobal Online (April 16, 2008)
James Hansen argues that the energy industry keeps the world hooked on fossil fuels by artificially manipulating scarcity. A move toward zero emissions is necessary to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide for centuries to come.
Climate Skepticism: The Top 10, BBC News (November 12, 2007)
This report documents ten of the arguments most often made against the consensus of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and some of the counter-arguments made by scientists who agree with the IPCC.
Science: The Skeptics, David Suzuki Foundation
This environmental foundation discusses four phases of climate change denial.
Brent Cunningham, Jeffrey Dvorkin, and Jeff Jarvis, "Balance vs. Bias in Journalism," Talk of the Nation, National Public Radio (April 17, 2006)
Does the ideal of balance distort the news? What if there are more than two sides to the story, or the sides aren't equal? How is a reader supposed to wade through all the "he said, she said?"
Find five newspapers or magazine articles (from different sources) that have attempted to achieve "balance" in their coverage of climate change. Are skeptics quoted? What arguments do they make? Do those arguments conform to the patterns of the "Top 10"?
Select three prominent climate change skeptics. Do a two- to three-page analysis of their views. Why should they be believed, or why should their opinions or research be discounted?
RELATED ETHICS QUESTIONS
A. Does consensus equal truth?
B. Should the media give equal weight to skeptics who are not scientists or who have a viewpoint that is not widely shared?
C. What level of certainty do people and governments need to act?
D. Should corporations, nongovernmental organizations, or educational institutions that have disseminated misinformation be prosecuted?
IPCC Reports, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The periodic reports and overview of the IPCC methodology are available online, documenting the findings and predictions of the Nobel Prize-winning panel of international scientists.
Bjorn Lomborg, Global Crises, Global Solutions, Carnegie Council Public Affairs talk (January 19, 2005)
Self-declared "skeptical environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg discusses why he believes development initiatives should receive a much higher priority than fighting global warming.
William O'Keefe, "Climate Change Skepticism: A Virtue or Vice?" (PDF), The Marshall Institute Policy Outlook (October 2003)
Climate policy critic William O'Keefe outlines his objections to global warming orthodoxy.
Global Warming Skeptics, SourceWatch, Center for Media and Democracy (accessed February 11, 2009)
Online media watchdog encyclopedia SourceWatch lists some of the prime public voices of public climate change skepticism and links to various articles and resources on the topic.
An Inconvenient Truth (study guide), Ethics On Film, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
This Carnegie Council study guide outlines the ethical questions raised by Al Gore's award-winning film An Inconvenient Truth, reactions to the film, and links to other resources on the global warming debate.