Climate, the end of doubt and the time for action

Posted on Sep 20, 2023


Dr. Augustin Fragnière

Directeur-adjoint du Centre de Compétences en Dur...

Climate, the end of doubt and the time for action

In the 23 August 2023 edition of 24 heures, four climate change deniers share their personal beliefs about climate change. This article is a reaction to their comments, signed by a group of CLIMACT researchers. It was also published in the 24 heures edition of 12 October 2023.

Scientific facts are not opinions. Decades of progress in understanding atmospheric and climatic processes, methodical measurement campaigns and scrupulous verification of all the factors that can influence the climate, have led since the 1990s to an extremely strong consensus within the climate science community on the existence of climate change, its human causes and the dangers it represents for societies and natural ecosystems.

This knowledge, which is now a certainty, is the product of lengthy processes of production and validation of scientific facts, in particular through peer review, i.e. procedures for constructive criticism and mutual control of results between specialists in the field, whose community now comprises thousands of scientists.

A 2021 study that reviewed more than 90,000 articles published in the scientific literature since 2012 showed that 99.9% of them confirmed the human origins of climate change.

In the edition of 24 heures published on 23 August 2023, four climate change deniers, self-proclaimed "climatists" in order to give a false impression of seriousness and pragmatism, share their personal beliefs about climate change, which contradict the scientific consensus. This interview contains rhetorical strategies typical of climate denialism and anti-science rhetoric in general.

These strategies, which have long been well documented in academic literature, are designed to create doubts about well-established scientific consensuses (climate change, but also the theory of evolution, the risks associated with passive smoking and many others). They often combine in the same discourse pure and simple untruths with disinformation techniques that make it impossible for anyone unfamiliar with the subject to disentangle the true from the false, with the ultimate aim of misleading the public.

Creating a false sense of expertise: the four interviewees are identified only by their affiliation with universities in French-speaking Switzerland. However, none of them has published any research in the scientific literature dealing directly with the existence and causes of climate change. They can therefore claim no specialised scientific expertise on the subject, nor any legitimacy to question the established consensus. Three of them are retired, two of them for more than 15 years.

Amplified minority strategy: in the interview, these people claim to draw on a "large body of work published by top scientists". What do "large corpus" and "high level" mean in this case? And what kind of scientists are we talking about? The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the consensus studies show exactly the opposite. Climate-negationist positions are in the extreme minority and are developing on the fringes of scientific publication channels.

The misleading appeal to common sense and the use of vague and simplistic statements, such as "we will be able to adapt", which is clearly denied in the latest IPCC report, or "the climate has always changed", which fails to point out that the causes, speed and extent of the current change have nothing to do with past changes. The IPCC's conclusions are diametrically opposite to these statements.

Such erroneous statements are extremely damaging to the fight against one of the most severe and well-documented crises of our time. They should therefore be taken for what they are: the personal opinion of a few non-specialists isolated within the academic community, which in no way reflects the scientific consensus.

The production of reliable knowledge is often the result of long collaborative processes, and science does not always have all the answers. But there are many issues on which it provides extremely solid facts (heliocentrism, the theory of evolution, plate tectonics, climate change, etc.). On these issues, personal differences of opinion count for little and are regrettable distractions given the urgent need to take action to rapidly limit climate change and its harmful effects. Climate change is a fact. Rather than going back over and over the facts, the public debate today would do well to focus on the important social choices we need to make today to meet this unprecedented challenge.

About the author and the signatories:

This article was written by Dr. Augustin Fragnière, Deputy Director of the Centre of Competence in Sustainability at the University of Lausanne, and signed by the following CLIMACT researchers:

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