A while ago I was chastised by a reader of the NZ Skeptic for making the following statement in the magazine.
“I believe there is more than enough evidence to accept that human actions are playing a significant role in climate change.”
In using the word “believe” I was told that this was “faith not science.”
My critic is probably right, but not in the way he thinks.
Most of us like to think we are rational, using facts to make sense of the world. However, the complexity of climate change science means that very few of us are capable of fully understanding it, let alone assessing the raw data. Instead we rely on secondary and tertiary sources of information – the interpretations and reinterpretations of others.
In effect, our opinions on climate change are largely dependent on who we choose to believe.
And who and what we tend to believe will be guided by our underlying values and (political) ideologies.
In an ideal world we could rely solely on scientific facts to decide one way or the other, but the complexity of climate change means each fact only contributes a small piece to the puzzle, and there are now so many contradictory “facts” in circulation, particularly on the internet, it is easy to pick and choose those which fit your argument.
What (facts) we choose to believe depends on who we believe.
Of course we can apply (what we believe is) a rational approach to assessing the data. As someone with liberal values, a scientific background and trust in the scientific community as a whole, I have more confidence in peer reviewed scientific articles. I also put my “faith” in the fact that the vast majority of climate change scientists are convinced that climate change is occurring and is largely the result of human action.
I rely on science to inform my view, but when it comes down to it my opinion on climate change relies on who I choose to believe.