John Cook, his website Skeptical Science and his smartphone apps, that can provide instant answers anywhere to climate change questions, are providing useful tools to combat climate change denialists. Sandi Keane reports.
“When anyone in the future asks John Cook “What did you do in the war?” he will have an answer he can be proud of.” These thought-provoking words come from James Lawrence Powell, Professor of Economics, University of California, author of 2084 and The Inquisition of Climate Science in his review of Cook’s website Skeptical Science.
Professor Powell is one of many leading scientists or science organisations listed on Cook’s Skeptical Science website’s reviews who agree that there is hardly a science-based conference now in the USA where panelists or delegates are not citing the excellent work of Skeptical Science.
Australian-born Cook is, indeed, a hero of the war against reason: one of those rare individuals prepared to sacrifice the greater part of his life and the security of a lucrative career as a scientist for something he believes in.
In 2007, Cook, a physicist living in Queensland, started a website with the interesting name of “Skeptical Science”. Interesting because Cook believes the word “skeptic” has been misappropriated by those who deny the evidence of climate science. True skeptics seek the truth, according to Cook, but in this case, the so-called “skeptics” deny the truth: that being the overwhelming evidence from 97.5% of the world’s climate scientists and the world’s leading scientific institutes, including the 32 Academies of Science around the world. When scientists reach a consensus on any issue, the debate is over. A preponderance of opinion has been reached — as indeed is the case amongst the body of climate scientists on the question of anthropogenic global warming. The only “debate” is the phony one tricked up by the fossil fuel lobby and their hired guns. Like those who denied the damage to the planet and its people from DDT, acid rain, CFC’s and tobacco, the deniers have one goal: do whatever it takes to protect the bottom line. If denial doesn’t work, then aim for delay.
Cook grew weary of the repetitious litany of lies, the sort we still come across every day in Australia. His idea was simple: use his web-building skills to develop a site where all the skeptic arguments could be matched with easily understood quick fact-based rebuttals, backed up by the latest, peer-reviewed science — with a link so visitors could verify the credibility of the source.
When I spoke to John Cook last week, I was curious as to why someone would take on such a mammoth task voluntarily (apart from a few small donations — hardly enough to raise a family on). I asked about his motivation.
“I’m a father and a Christian,” he said.
Like so many of us, he is not only concerned about the future of the planet for his daughter’s sake but also the affect of climate change on the poor and disadvantaged. So, it’s not just an environmental issue for Cook, but a social justice one as well.
The way the website works is that it looks at the many climate skeptic arguments, exposes the flaws and puts them into context with real, peer-reviewed scientific facts. Professor Powell explains how Skeptical Science helped him write The Inquisition of Climate Science:
“Perhaps the most important thing about SkS is not the details but the way in which it shows that it takes only one short sentence to refute each denier argument, revealing that the deniers have constructed a house of cards that falls apart the moment it confronts the implacable facts of science.”
The arguments are listed by popularity or you can search for them under taxonomic categories. For example:
It’s not happening
- Temp record is unreliable
- Hockey stick is broken
- Tree-rings diverge from temperature after 1960
The list continues with over 100 examples under headings It’s not Us, It’s not Bad, It’s too Hard.
Cook’s status as an international hero was already enshrined in our psyche before savvy young Melburnian, Adam Kierce, Director of Shine Technologies, came up with the idea of converting the same information compiled by Cook onto iPhone and Android Apps. Speaking to Kierce recently, he clearly identifies with Cook:
“For him the science should have the primacy in this debate rather than the politics. Science is not getting enough credence or emphasis. I thought the app would be handy when and where you need it.”
Bravo boys! Just the thing to whip out at the fag end of a wedding, according to UK’s Guardian, you know, when that cranky, old dinosaur of an uncle starts quoting Monckton or Plimer The Guardian lists it as one of the Top 10 green apps.Skeptical Science’s popularity has seen it skyrocket off the charts. Its international reach boasts 20 different languages with hundreds of thousands of hits per month.
In the USA alone, Cook’s website has been called “the “essential” web resource, the one web site to be visited frequently by those wanting to be and stay informed.” (Bud Ward, Editor, the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media.)
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg , Director of the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, lauds Skeptical Science as “currently the most prominent knowledge-based website dealing with climate change in the world”.
Co-author of the history of the denial industry, Merchants of Doubt, Professor Naomi Oreskes, Professor of History & Science Studies, University of California gives it her academic thumbs up: “Skeptical Science has reached an international audience that stretches across the world, and which has come at a time when accurate information is critically important in terms of understanding and responding to climate change, and shockingly hard to find”.
Glaciologist. Mauri Pelto, Professor of Professor of Environmental Science, Science Program Chair, Director, North Cascade Glacier Climate Project, Nichols College, has “come to rely on Skeptical Science as the first blog to go to each day to keep up with climate change developments. It is like a daily briefing on current arguments confronting climate change science that support inaction”.
I urge you to read all the reviews on the website and think about the power and reach of just one individual – a caring father – caring for the planet, its people and above all, his daughter.
John Cook is on a roll. This week, I read his newly published book co-authored with environmental scientist, Dr. Haydn Washington, Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand. The foreword is written by the Professor Naomi Oreskes mentioned earlier. The book will be launched by former NSW Premier, Bob Carr, in Sydney on May 15 and in Canberra on May 16 by former Leader of the Federal Opposition, Dr. John Hewson, and will be distributed to all Australian Federal MPs. Details of the launch can be found on the website. I’m sure many of us would like to go along and shake Cook’s hand. A Joint Statement in the front signed by Bob Carr, John Hewson, Dick Smith and seven climate scientists says:
‘Climate change denial is a non-partisan issue that goes beyond politics. Human-caused climate change is confirmed by every Academy of Science in the world, and 97% of practicing climate scientists. There is no study that contradicts the fundamentals of climate change that has not been rebutted. Climate change will have major impacts on Australia in the future, both on our environment and our economy. For this reason we commend this book to you, so that you can consider the problem of denial within society.’
The book is a riveting read. Washington and Cook take no prisoners. Every trick, lie and deceitful attempt by vested interests to delay action on global warming is exposed, along with the tactics of their well-oiled propaganda machine, including the same unscrupulous scientists, handed down from Big Tobacco to Big Carbon. Flashes of a darkened car park and the image of two shadowy figures stir the movie buff in me….. “Follow the money” urges Deep Throat to Woodward. Profound advice indeed.
Drilling down to the heart of the epic scale of betrayal of our planet and its people, Cook and Washington explain the denial within governments, within ourselves and the social science behind denial. Climate change can be solved they say but only when we cease denying its existence. Independent Australia will be doing our bit in our regular column: “the Planet v. East Bumcrack”. The title of the column is a tribute to ABC journalist Annabel Crabb who, all dimples and curls, took a swipe at that blowhard Bolt with her now famous “Bumcrack” line.