Climate Change Sceptic or Denier?

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Quote from an article by Michael Shermer in “New Scientist”, 15/5/10, on p. 36.

What is the difference between a sceptic and a denier? When I call myself a sceptic, I mean that I take a scientific approach to the evaluation of claims. A climate sceptic, for example, examines specific claims one by one, carefully considers the evidence for each, and is willing to follow the facts wherever they lead.

A climate denier has a position staked out in advance, and sorts through the data employing “confirmation bias” – the tendency to look for and find confirmatory evidence for pre-existing beliefs and ignore or dismiss the rest.

Scepticism is integral to the scientific process, because most claims turn out to be false. Weeding out the few kernels of wheat from the large pile of chaff requires extensive observation, careful experimentation and cautious inference. Science is scepticism and good scientists are sceptical.

Denial is different. It is the automatic gainsaying of a claim regardless of the evidence for it – sometimes even in the teeth of evidence. Denialism is typically driven by ideology or religious belief, where the commitment to the belief takes precedence over the evidence. Belief comes first, reasons for belief follow, and those reasons are winnowed to ensure that the belief survives intact.

Denial is today most often associated with climate science, but it is also encountered elsewhere. For example, there are those who do not believe that HIV causes AIDS. Others say that the Holocaust did not happen, or reject the overwhelming evidence for evolution. All merit the moniker “denier”, because no matter how much evidence is laid out before them they continue to deny the claim.

Is the Projected Population Growth for Australia Sustainable?

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I  mentioned some points from the excellent SMH article of April 10-11,2010 and then I facilitated a discussion with the fellowship as to their views.  The discussion was quite lively, with most people having a point of view which they expressed, and mostly believing it was not sustainable.

The points I made from the article were:

“For more than two decades Bob Carr has been warning Australians against unchecked population growth, cautioning that the fragile soils and erratic rivers of the world’s oldest continent make it highly vulnerable to the pressures imposed by every extra resident.”

“According to the Monash University sociologist and long-term advocate for low levels of immigration, Bob Birrell, the increase is overwhelming due to immigration policy, not natural increases.”

“As the debate over the 36million figure rolled on, comments from the Greens began to echo those of the opposition.  ‘We don’t have the infrastructure to deal with 21 million people at the moment… let alone the estimated 36 million people by mid century,’ the Greens leader, Bob Brown, said.  What I don’t think he (Rudd) understood was the concern about population policy that’s out there in the electorate.  It’s the single most unprovoked question I get, speaking at public forums around Australia.  In this rapidly warming political environment, no political leader has been game to publicly support an immigration policy that will see Australia grow to 36 million.”

“A Victorian Labor MP, Kelvin Thomson, is one of the few serving politicians campaigning for  a population cap and says the mood is swinging against the big business view that population growth is critical for a healthy economy.  ‘I dispute the view population growth is necessary for our prosperity.  8 out of 10 of the countries with highest GDP per person have populations of less than 10 million.  They show there’s no need to have population growth to drive prosperity.’  Thomson has produced his own plan on how Australia’s population should be stabilised and wants big cuts to the area employers say is vital in overcoming specialist labour shortages.  ‘The particular element that needs to change is the skilled migration.  There were 24,000 in this category in 1995-1996 and it went to up over 100,000.  I think it should come back to where it was.’

“The Anglican Church wants Australians to have fewer children and has urged the federal government to scrap the baby bonus and cut immigration levels.  The General Synod of the Anglican Church has issued a warning that current rates of population growth are unsustainable and potentially out of step with church doctrine – including the eighth commandment that ‘thou shall not steal.’  ‘Out of care for the whole Creation, particularly for the poorest of humanity and the life forms who cannot speak for themselves…it is not responsible to stand by and remain silent,’ a discussion paper by the commission warns.

While personally agreeing with the points raised and those of our fellowship, I would also like to see a far more concerted effort to develop the regional and rural areas of Australia, for the great minds in our midst to work out how we can best do that, to relieve some of the congestion in the east coast cities.

Geoff Matthews