Twelve scientists and sceptics have met privately to discuss how to suck the venom out of the climate change debate.
It was one of science’s strangest social events to date.
Some of the best known names in the climate debate – including Mail on Sunday journalist David Rose, blogger Anthony Watts, and Met Office scientist Richard Betts – shared salmon and civilities at a dinner party last month.
Hosted by the sceptical scientist Nicholas Lewis at his house in Bath in September, the group discussed their similarities, differences, and how they might calm the debate that rages across the pathologically provocative medium of Twitter.
“Both sides are really fed up with the outrageous alarmists who are not representing science properly. Both don’t like those who shout about it and call people names and take a polarised point of view,” says David Whitehouse from the sceptic think-tank The Global Warming Policy Foundation.
The idea that there is some wiggle room when it comes to the facts of climate science is not always a popular one. The scientific consensus has already spelled out the catastrophic implications of delaying action on climate change, so fussing around uncertainties can be perceived as unhelpful.
Yet, when it comes to details, the scientists are as willing to admit it as the sceptics: the science is not settled – not fully – and the insults slung around online only hinder the process of rational scientific debate.
“When people say the science is settled, they mean there is such as thing as anthropogenic climate change. Where it’s not settled is the rate of change, how much it’s going to warm, how fast it’ll warm under different levels of CO2 and exactly how it will affect different regions,” says Ted Shepherd, a climate scientist at Reading University and Grantham Chair in Climate Science.
“It’s not like climate scientists agree on everything by any means, so there’s no reason sceptics can’t come into that discussion.”
Front row from left to right: Prof. Paul Valdes, of Bristol University, Prof. David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, David Holland independent climate and FOIA researcher, Dr Ed Hawkins researcher at Reading University, Anthony Watts blogger, Prof. Ted Shepherd of Reading University, Dr Tamsin Edwards, researcher at Bristol University. Top row from left to right: Prof. Richard Betts of the Met Office, Marcel Crok, Dutch freelance science writer and initiator of climatedialogue.org, David Rose of the Mail on Sunday newspaper, Prof. Michael Kelly of Technology at Cambridge University, and Nicholas Lewis independent climate scientist (Pic: Nicholas Lewis/Anthony Watts)