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Climate Skepticism

by Steven Novella, Feb 08 2010

Climate science has turned from an obscure and forgotten discipline to the center of a raging world-wide controversy – something I don’t think climate scientists were prepared for. It has also become the third rail of skepticism – don’t touch it unless you want to get burned.

The reason for this is probably obvious – skeptics are divided politically (this is an oversimplification but largely true) between liberals and libertarians, both of which seem to have strong and opposite opinions on the topic of global warming. As a result I have been simultaneously criticized for being too soft and too hard on global warming dissidents. I hope this means that I am striking an objective balance – but then, of course, I get criticized for striking a “false balance.” I have been told that I am losing my skeptical street cred, and that I have faith in global warming as a secular religion. Many people also seem to think they can divine my political persuasion from my opinions on global warming, but then proceed to make very incorrect assumptions on that score.

There has also been intense fighting on what to call global warming dissidents – the term I have settled on as the most accurate and neutral. Part of the problem is that dissidents come in a broad range of opinions. At one end of the spectrum there are what can only be described as deniers – those who engage in all the tactics of denialism against any notion of climate change. At the other end are those who accept the core scientific consensus of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), but are skeptical of some of the dire predictions and proposed fixes. And there is every permutation in between – defying easy categorization or labeling. So I use “dissidents” as a neutral catch-all.

What is most disappointing about the AGW controversy is the degree to which self-identified members of the skeptical community engage in less-than-skeptical discourse on this topic. I am mainly referring to the many dozens of e-mails I have received on the topic (every time I talk about it) but also on blogs and articles.

I would like to share with you an e-mail exchange I had recently with a global warming dissident. He is responding mainly to my recent discussion of “climategate” – which has really increased the nastiness of the discussion on AGW.

My personal understanding of the current state of climate science is this – the evidence is very solid that average global temperatures are trending up over the last century and that human forcing through CO2 production is the best current answer to explain this trend. If this trend continues (a somewhat big “if”) then there will likely be significant unwanted consequences – not for the earth, but for human civilization. Shifting around agriculture and shorelines will be inconvenient, to say the least. But there is admitted uncertainty in this, and we don’t know all the ways in which the environment will respond to CO2 and temperature increases. But, as is often the case with applied sciences, we have to act prior to certainty if we want to affect the outcome.

Further, the current plans for fixes to rising CO2 and climate change are as much political as scientific. I think the best solutions to focus on are those things that we would benefit from anyway. Let’s accelerate research and development into alternative energy sources and increased energy efficiency. Even if AGW is a non-issue, these will be good things. It’s a win-win.

I must admit I have not been impressed with those who have e-mailed me to try to convince me that AGW is pseudoscience, and that dissidents are the real skeptics. It seems that the more someone tries to convince me of this position, the more they push me in the opposite direction. The following e-mail exchange really is representative of what I receive. (Forgive the length of the exchange.)

Steve, I was heartened to hear your softened position on Global Warming in the Year End SGU, even though Rebecca is still rabid. Eventually, all of you will come to realize who were the real skeptics on this issue, and who were the Denyers. A quote from below article – if the shoe fits:

“The secular religion of global warming has all the elements of a Religious Faith: original sin (we are polluting the planet), ritual (separate your waste for recycling), redemption (renounce economic growth) and the sale of indulgences (carbon offsets). We are told that we must have faith (all argument must end, as Al Gore likes to say) and must persecute heretics (global warming skeptics are like Holocaust deniers, we are told).

People in the grip of such a religious frenzy evidently feel justified in lying, concealing good evidence and plucking bad evidence from whatever flimsy source may be at hand. The rest of us, and judging from polls that includes most of the American people, are free to follow a more rational path.”

from: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/How-climate-change-fanatics-corrupted-science-83396362.html

I responded with the opinion I outlined above, concluding:

When you dig through all the nonsense and look at the actual data – in my opinion it supports the conclusion that the planet is warming and anthropogenic forcing is playing a significant role. Where this will lead and what to do about it are less clear. There is still uncertainty, but one thing is sure – if we wait until we are certain about AGW it will be too late to do anything about it. It’s like waiting to treat a patient with possible cancer until after you are sure it’s cancer, because it has spread and is now incurable.

Here is part of the e-mailer’s response:

Thanks for the considered reply. We of course agree on many of the issues – I have always been in favor of pollution control, energy efficiency, alternative energy, recycling when efficient. But not Cap and Trade or Carbon Credits or other political/economic disasters. Regarding your cancer analogy, you don’t treat for cancer without the biopsy showing the actual cancer. If you saw the Walter Williams / John Coleman information I sent yesterday, the “warming” itself is now questionable because CRU dropped the coldest temperature data from the mix used to show global temps. And the anthropogenic forcing effect is very tenuous – and where we truly disagree on Truth and Relevance.

OK – this is where I like to dig in. Whenever I get a specific claim I investigate it for myself and try to find out what the real story is. It seems that when it comes to the AGW controversy the claims of the dissidents do not hold up under investigation. So, did the CRU drop data in order to create the false impression of global warming? Here is what I found.

Your point about the CRU dropping the coldest temperature data is a good example of why I am not impressed with the criticisms of AGW dissidents. You seem to be accepting uncritically the claims of the extremists on one side. My approach is always to investigate the claims first, see what both sides are saying, and then come to a conclusion.

It did not take me long to find this: http://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2010/01/kusi-noaa-nasa/
A very reasoned and referenced analysis of this claim.

First, as far as I can tell the claim comes from here: http://www.climategate.com/climatologists-drop-806-cold-weather-stations-in-a-single-year

The claim of dropped data results from anomaly hunting followed by admitted speculations:

“Absent any public statement from climatolgists for such a strange act, I can only speculate that this a deliberate attempt to cause an artificial warming of the data set. I can think of no other valid scientific reason.”

Ah – an argument from ignorance. Well, he should have investigated first.

It turns out that stations are not being dropped from the data. It takes years and even decades to put together the hand-collected data from many stations around the world. So as you look back in time, those stations whose data has not been made available yet “drop off”. As the author above explains – if you look at the number of stations providing data 30 years from now you may see a spike around 2010 in the number of stations. In other words – stations are not being dropped, there is just a delay in getting data from them.

Second – you need to ask what should be an obvious question – is there any evidence that the stations which are currently missing from the data (for whatever reason) would skew the temperature results in favor of a warming trend. The answer to this is a clear no, from multiple independent lines of evidence. First – satellite temperature data would increasingly depart from ground station data if the ground stations were being biased in one direction. No such trend exists.

Second, when you compare stations with current data and those without current data, there is no pattern or bias toward warmer or cooler temperatures. So the core claim that cooler temperatures are being systematically dropped is false.

As a side note, the claim is about the GHCN, not the CRU.

This is representative of the entire climategate affair, as far as I can tell – although I am reserving judgment until all the facts are in. It does seem the CRU scientists were not following the rules of transparency and had developed a bunker mentality. It remains to be seen if they were engaged in “pious fraud.” What I reject are the premature conclusions of dissidents who were quick to assume that climategate confirmed all of their most extreme opinions.

So far, when you dig down to the real information it turns out that the anomalies in the data were just an innocent part of the scientific process – in this case the lag in data collection. This is true anomaly hunting and confirmation bias.

I am still waiting to hear a legitimate scientific argument from AGW dissidents why we should reject the claim that global warming is happening and is likely anthropogenic. I am not impressed by political arguments, calling my position a religion, or weaving liberal conspiracy theories.

I may be wrong – if you think I am then let’s discuss the science. My challenge to those who consider themselves global warming skeptics is, if you wish to truly earn that mantle, is to focus on scientific arguments. My opinions can be changed on this topic, I really have no stake in the debate at all – except the one that every human on the planet has, which is only served by knowing the truth, whatever it is. I hope global warming is not happening, it is nothing but a major inconvenience and crimp in civilization. I would love to just continue burning fossil fuels and not have to worry about the consequences.

So if you disagree with me, show me some science. And spare me the name-calling and conspiracy theories.

Recommended Reading

139 Responses to “Climate Skepticism”

  1. LovleAnjel says:

    Steven– a very reasoned article, thanks! A good, basic skeptical position: you have examined the evidence, drawn a measured conclusion based on it, and are happy to look at even more evidence, some of which might change your mind. Folks on both sides of politics should stop, take a breath, and do the same.

    I’m waiting for the floodgates to open in the comments.

  2. Finally, a voice of reason in the skeptic community on the subject of AGW. Nicely done.

  3. Somite says:

    It is heartbreaking to see the minds of people I usually admire broken over this issue. The most commonly afflicted are non-scientists with libertarian leanings like Penn Gillete and Michael Shermer. Dr. Shermer frequently tweets away his crediblity in this issue. Even the otherwise excellent Brian Dunning slips and produces weird opinion skeptoids where he argues SUVs and climate change are not so bad after all.

    The main point in this issue is that all published scientific articles, from independent data sources; tree rings, bore holes, glaciers, corals, you name it, all confirm independently recent warming with the clear and reasonable mechanism of atmospheric CO2 increase. There are no publications that argue or conclude, that there is no warming or that the warming is not due to CO2. The best in this regards are reasonable characterizations of other sources that might contribute to warming and inevitably AGW deniers conclude that therefore it could not be CO2.

    AGW does to libertarians what evolution does to creationism. It makes you have to re-evaluate something you deeply believe in because of the data. AGW deniers are no different from creationists or anti-vaxxers..

    • Kurt says:

      Somite said:

      AGW does to libertarians what evolution does to creationism. It makes you have to re-evaluate something you deeply believe in because of the data.

      As a libertarian who thinks AGW is probably true, I really hate this false dichotomy. It is presumed both by many liberals and many libertarians that if AGW is true, that the only rational response is one of centralized government control. This does not follow. The applicability of command economy methods to any particular social problem is not a question for the field of climate science. That’s a question for the field of economics.

      AGW in no way vindicates modern liberalism nor invalidates libertarianism. There’s a common fallacy that the size of a problem correlates with whether or not networked versus hierarchical organization will better solve it. If anything, the bigger a problem, the more colossal the fuck up a hierarchy can create by trying to fix it with a one-size-fits-all solution.

      • MadScientist says:

        ‘ETS’ – an epic screw-up advertised as a success. Cap-and-Swindle will be the same. That’s the sort of thing that happens when the economists are left to create solutions with no regard for what nature actually does. Unfortunately as far as many governments are concerned, if they can point a finger and blame someone else they’ve solved the problem. I think that is a problem inherent in all contemporary governments – there is no government on the planet which works with scientists on policy. Nor would I say it’s good to let scientists dictate policy either – I think in that case we could safely bet that the scientists do shut down economies.

      • tmac57 says:

        What is the false dichotomy that you are referring to? I see a questionable generalization about libertarians, but what are the two false choices that you object to?

      • Kurt says:

        The false dichotomy is either that AGW is true and thus strict carbon controls are required OR that since such
        measures are draconian, that AGW must be a scam to justify those measures. These are obviously not the only two possibilities, yet a great many liberals and libertarians act as if they are.

      • tmac57 says:

        But see, by your own phrasing “a great many liberals and libertarians act as if they are” you are basically setting up a straw man argument that this is a false dichotomy so that you can condemn it. First, I have no idea how many liberals and libertarians hold fast to those respective positions. Do you have good research to show your assertion? Second, since you stated that “These are obviously not the only two possibilities”, (which I agree with by the way), you seem to be making the assumption that only a small portion of people are willing to consider other alternatives, which I really doubt is true. If you just listen to the talking heads, or the biased media/new media, then you will probably get a distorted view of what the vast general population believes. I would guess, that the average person really doesn’t have a fixed position on any of this other that to want to know what the truth is, what the consequences are, and what is the best way to handle the problem.

    • “AGW deniers are no different from creationists or anti-vaxxers.”

      Very well said. So true.

  4. johnc says:

    @Somite, your second paragraph is wrong on about every point, making your third paragraph tragically ironic.

    @Steve, Nice article. As a rule of thumb, if you get criticised by both sides you’re probably close to the truth.

    I’m a complete skeptic, only because there’s a huge economic and political agenda that seems to have usurped the science and had a long-standing influence on the so-called ‘consensus’. There’s a big danger that ‘wolf’ is being cried and when we really do face a global threat then it will only be met with complacency and disbelief because of the co2 debacle.

    The best summary of the situation I’ve heard is Bjorn Lomborg’s TED talk where he examines the economic benefit of trying to prevent global warming, versus the benefits of tackling other major global problems. His results are worth noting even if you do believe in AGW:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/bjorn_lomborg_sets_global_priorities.html

    • MadScientist says:

      You forget that Lomborg has no need of reality. He creates a fantasy world with his numbers.

    • tmac57 says:

      “…there’s a huge economic and political agenda that seems to have usurped the science… ”
      Hmmm, ironically, I think that is exactly what is driving the global warming dissidents position.

  5. Somite says:

    @johnc care to point to a science reference (not a blog or newspaper)?

  6. Tom says:

    I agree with your thoughts on Alternative Energy Research. Whether or not coal cars are the moral equivalent of trains heading to Treblinka (as James Hansen believes), eventually we will run out of coal. It would be nice to have viable alternatives in place when that happens.

    So, it seems pretty reasonable to levy a modest tax on fossil fuels. The revenue could either fund research directly, or else be used for a series of prizes to be awarded for commercially viable developments. As you say, this is that rare creature, a win-win.

    As far as the AGW debate goes, it seems to be clear that the earth has warmed recently. It seems to be clear that this has happened in the past as well. It is abundantly clear that humans had nothing to do with those past episodes. It seems to be clear that humans have recently contributed to an increase in atmospheric carbon. Is that the reason for the recent warming, or is it a contributor? Maybe…maybe not. In my opinion, the case is not proven either way.

    • MadScientist says:

      Coal is the fossil fuel in greatest supply. Estimates of known reserves at current production rates range from 200 to 600 years. We’re likely to have coal long after oil and gas are no longer economically viable to extract. Still, it would be better to develop newer technologies sooner rather than later; leave the coal in the ground.

  7. Steven,

    That was really a very good post, one of the best I’ve read on the issue. I will be pointing people in this direction.

    johnc, on the other hand…..

    “I’m a complete skeptic, only because there’s a huge economic and political agenda”

    I can only assume that you didn’t bother to read Steve’s post properly. The section you are looking for is here:

    “My challenge to those who consider themselves global warming skeptics is, if you wish to truly earn that mantle, is to focus on scientific arguments.”

  8. Somite says:

    @tom just pointing out a couple of decision making pitfalls. 1. “My opinion”: unless you are a climate scientist a skeptic defers to the opinion of published experts. Even if they turn out to be wrong in the long term you are more likely to be right. 2.”The earth has warmed in the past” This is an illogical comparison climate may have been warm in the past but that is completely independent of current man made warming driven by atmospheric CO2. In historical times there has not been warming this fast or to this magnitude. The reasons for warming in the distant past are either well understood or being studied. The point is that warming is not expected, if anything there should be cooling.

  9. Nayr says:

    “I would love to just continue burning fossil fuels and not have to worry about the consequences.”

    Interesting. So the consequences of burning fossil fuels are not serious enough to justify immediate personal action and stop burning them yourself?

    I am mild climate dissident. I believe that the Earth is warming and that it is probably anthropogenic, but the fact that the believers don’t really seem to take AGW seriously makes me think that it is just all a lot of hype.

    But then again maybe they just feel that personal action can’t have any real impact. I think that is probably true. We, as a civilization, will not stop burning fossil fuels. It is just not going to happen so what other solutions do we have?

    • Alan says:

      This is a red herring sort of argument — it is hardly the case that unless someone lives a monk-like existence sans technology they are then a hyprocrite when it comes to believing in AGW. The only real fix is going to take collective action, not mostly ceremonial personal demonstrations of emission reduction.

      Besides, it’s also the sort of argument that allows “dissidents” to have it both ways. If someone doesn’t become an environmental fanatic then accuse them of hypocracy. If they do then state that the whole thing is obviously a “personal choice” anyway and that no one should be made to adhere to collective environmental attitudes.

      • Nayr says:

        I disagree, this is not a red herring but a legitimate argument. What we should do about AGW, if anything, depends on how serious the consequences of it are. One way to judge the potential seriousness of the consequences is to observe the behavior of the climate scientists and in fact anyone who accepts GW as fact.

        I do not believe that Steven is a hypocrite. His behavior is consistent with his stated position. He believes that the consequences of GW are unknown and accordingly he does not make any behavioral changes that would adversely affect his lifestyle. The behaviors that he is willing to change are those in which he would benefit anyway or in the case of a collective solution, those in which the cost to lifestyle can be shared with many others.

        BTW: What is a government of hypocrisy called?

        A: Hypocracy! I love that eggcorn.

        I actually agree with Steven on every point except one. I do not feel that we must act to solve this particular problem when the consequences of it are still unknown. But voluntarily lowering our own carbon emissions just in case certainly wouldn’t hurt anything.

    • tmac57 says:

      “We, as a civilization, will not stop burning fossil fuels. It is just not going to happen so what other solutions do we have?”
      This seems unnecessarily pessimistic to me.If there are sufficient technological advances in clean energy, and I believe that there will be, then the market forces will drive the prices down to compete favorably, and there will be a sea change away from burning fossil fuels, and they will be used for their other valuable purposes. Also, the best way for things to start changing, is for individuals to change their behavior, and the markets will follow, and drag the politicians along with them.

    • MadScientist says:

      Many of the scientists are only interested in their particular (usually highly specialized) work; some hate talking to the public, and most will only comment on work in their own area of expertise – that may leave the impression that no one individual involved is particularly keen on trying to convince the general public of anything. Unfortunately those who seem keen also seem overeager and in my opinion resort too much to scaremongering (which I consider an indicator that they don’t know what they’re talking about sufficiently well to explain things to others.)

      The primary means I see for climate scientists to contribute to solutions is to evaluate proposed policies – for example, pointing out that planting trees is not a viable solution despite the nice warm fuzzy feeling people get from having paid some invisible agent to plant trees. I don’t believe scientists in general are able to formulate policies nor are the climate scientists (for the most part) capable of suggesting solutions. The problem is fundamentally an economic one – how do governments encourage technological development and reduction of emissions without making their economy relatively uncompetitive. Any short-term stopgap measures are ultimately up to industry and other scientists and engineers. Any long-term measures depend largely on the willingness of governments to invest large sums of money on future technologies which may yield nothing substantial for decades yet. For example, look at where the world is with developing fusion reactors – not all that closer to building one now as compared to 60 years ago.

  10. Still Room for Skepticism says:

    Why do the work and opinions of John Christy, Roy Spencer, Fred Singer, Richard Linzen, Hendrik Tennekes, George Kukla, Robert Balling, Garth Paltridge, and others, not count as science? All of them are climate scientists with relevant credentials at major universities, some hold or have held emeritus or directorship positions, some have been involved with the writing of earlier IPCC reports, most have publications directly related to climate science… and all of them are skeptical of the AGW theory.

    What does it matter what *I* think about the matter? If there is a significant group of real scientists with directly relevant qualifications who are skeptical, even if they are a minority, … doesn’t that, by definition, leave room for skepticism?

    • Alan says:

      I don’t think anyone here is saying that “real” skepticism is inappropriate. However, what I see all the time is disingenuous “psuedo-skepticism” based not on the science, but on familiar unscientific arguments. For example, trying to shame people into “thinking for yourselves” rather than go with the data, casually dismissing the scientific consensus as if it was just some wild idea a few climate scientists came up with over a few drinks, cherry-picking a few questionable bits of data and ignoring the overall range of info confirming AGW, insinuating some form of conspiracy only to complain bitterly if someone accuses them of doing so, and so forth.

      Most of all, Deniers refuse to deal with the most fundamental part of their beliefs — namely explaining how an extensive system of scientific checks and balances could have completely failed when it comes to climate science. In this they are like Moon Hoaxers and 9/11 Truthers — always concentrating on the small picture to imply a conspiracy without ever tactling the large picture means of how such a conspiracy could actually work.

      Until “Dissidents” are willing to put aside the psuedo-science tactics and explain how the system of science could have failed so fundamentally as to produce a bogus consensus it’s hard not to think of them as Deniers.

      However, if they become willing to do so at least we could believe their skepticism is sincerenly scientific in nature rather than just ideological (which is all that makes sense now).

    • Max says:

      Same reason Michael Behe’s work on Intelligent Design counts as “at best fringe science”, as Judge Jones put it.

    • Drew says:

      What made you choose to put that list in that order? It doesn’t appear to be in alphabetical order. Do you feel that the people first in the list are the most compelling? I only ask because I looked up what I could find on only the first two.

      It appears John Christy believes that the Earth is warming and that it is due primarily to human causes, but he believes the effects may not be that bad. Estimating the effects of global warming seems to be the most uncertain aspect of climate change research (I usually just say we have no idea what will happen, but is it worth the gamble?) so I can’t really fault him for that. It’s worth noting that he is in the minority on this, however.

      Roy Spencer is a proponent of intelligent design. He wrote this article on it: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=080805I
      I guess hypothetically a guy might be a great climate scientist and still be an intelligent design proponent, but denying evolution seems to me to be a sign of such poor scientific thinking that I have to take everything he says with a grain of salt unless it’s backed up by lots of other, non-IDer, scientists.

      I didn’t look up the others.

      • Still Room for Skepticism says:

        I didn’t put them in any particular order. I was simply listing qualified scientists in the field that are skeptical of AGW. Steven asked for science, and I’ve provided the names of some of the leading climate scientists who are skeptical of AGW for one reason or another.

        John Christy, for example, was a lead author of a section of the 3rd IPCC report. In March, 2009, he gave a presentation to the planning committee for the upcoming 5th IPCC, in which he pointed out that there is reason to believe that the magnitude of the warming due to CO2 emissions is greatly overstated. His poster presented at the conference that summarizes the science behind his argument can be found here:

        http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B88iFXWgVKt-NTdkZjE5MDgtNGUxYS00NzlkLTlhNWEtYWViNGUxNmE2NGVk&hl=en

        Perhaps he’s wrong, but he is a recognized expert in the field, was a lead author of one of the prior IPCC reports, and is skeptical of the IPPC’s conclusions. The other climate scientists I’ve referenced have similar qualifications and experience.

        According to a U.S. Senate report, there are over 700 scientists with relevant backgrounds and experience who are skeptical of the AGW theory:

        http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Minority.Blogs&ContentRecord_id=2674e64f-802a-23ad-490b-bd9faf4dcdb7

        If this was just one or two wing-nuts with outlandish theories of aliens controlling the climate or something, I would agree that there was no room for skepticism. But, when there is a significant minority of legitimate scientists with legitimate scientific reasons to question the proffered theory, I think there’s room for skepticism by the average person.

  11. science-based humanist says:

    I’m sorry that Steve feels the need to defend his “skepcred” on AGW when he could be spending his energies on so much more! Like, for example, telling us about solutions to AWG-caused problems that scientists are exploring. Two words to those of us who are not climate scientists – scientific consensus. Read Daniel Loxton’s piece here – http://skepticblog.org/2009/12/22/what-if-anything-can-skeptics-say-about-science/ – and stop wasting everyone’s time.

  12. Nayr (#9),

    “I would love to just continue burning fossil fuels and not have to worry about the consequences.”

    Interesting. So the consequences of burning fossil fuels are not serious enough to justify immediate personal action and stop burning them yourself?

    I don’t think that’s fair. I read that as Steven saying that it would be nice if there were no consequences to worry about and we could carry on as before, but that unfortunately that isn’t the case.

    We, as a civilization, will not stop burning fossil fuels

    I tend to agree. Not only is there a lot of societal inertia to contend with, but it seems that there are people who seem determined to cling to whatever excuses they can muster for inaction, including denying the science on sometimes very dubious grounds.

  13. Nayr – you misinterpreted that point, which was to say that I would prefer that burning fossil fuels had no adverse consequences, because they are a cheap and convenient source of energy. But the evidence suggests that they do, and so we should seek to minimize our burning of fossil fuels.

    I do not recommend dismantling our civilization, nor for individuals that they must go to extreme measure to minimize their carbon footprint. In any case – I am realistic about the fact that most people are not going to do it.

    But let’s focus on win-win. I would like to lower my energy bill without a major inconvenience to my lifestyle. So make me a more fuel-efficient car and I will drive it. I invested in a storm door, and will make my house more energy efficient. Sell me a better light bulb. Etc. I will pay more attention to my tires and keep them well-inflated (a simple measure with a big impact).

    Individuals can do a lot, but the biggest impact will come from systematic changes that everyone will want to do because they are beneficial.

    • Problem with the assumption that market forces will naturally provide the best outcome for any possible AGW resolution:

      “…as a species we’re just really bad at understanding costs that come later on. Instead, we assign a disproportionate amount of importance to what’s immediate and tangible.”

      -Barbara Kiviat of Time.com writing about credit cards but applicable to far more

  14. JerryM says:

    Pretty much what my position has been, made more concrete since Randi posted his thoughts on ACC – I’m using Anthropogenic Climate Change instead of AGW, just feel it’s easier to distinguish it from The Weather. It’s really hard arguing with people about AGW when it’s the coldest winter in a decade and they’re joking they could use some.

  15. Brian M says:

    I try and stay pretty skeptical. I really don’t like the tactics of some like Al Gore (and I think the person emailing you made this point adequately). But those tactics don’t make the claim wrong, they just raise red flags. Those red flags are just the start of the investigation. And, of course, the investigation ends when we look at the evidence and come to the general conclusion that humans played at least some role. The “skeptic” that wrote to you seems to think that skepticism stops when you have superficial answer to the claims. It doesn’t. Skepticism stops when you look at the evidence. He is falsely equating global warming with religion. Sure, there are similarities, but those similarities don’t mean you can immediately draw a conclusion. A buggy has 4 wheels, transports people and goods. Does that make it a car? No.

  16. Somite says:

    If you use “I” or “my” in your argument and you are not an expert in the field under discussion you are probably wrong.

  17. peter naegele says:

    The real crime here, of course, is the complete bastardization of the scientific method by both camps. We have Phil Jones who happily uses an alpha level of .5, profiteering via cherry picking data from BOTH sides, “hiding” data, “deleted” data, on and on and on and on until the hard science becomes mixed with so much nonsense that it is viscus at best.

    In the end, we have no better understanding of how the climate works, how it is changing, or our influence on the change cycle. Even the title of this blog entry is bating reductionism to absurdity…”climate skepticism”? Are we skeptical of the existence of climate altogether?

    • Max says:

      “Are we skeptical of the existence of climate altogether?”

      No, you’re skeptical of climate science and the scientific consensus.

    • Alan says:

      The real crime here, of course, is the complete bastardization of the scientific method by both camps

      This is another classic “Dissident” tactic — at a minimum make everyone think that both sides are “just as bad” and thus win by default when nothing is done.

      There is simply no comparison between the two sides. While AGW believers are not perfect, at least their conclusions are based strongly on the actual science. By comparison, Denier positions are generally based on trying to get you to ignore the science — it’s not a “real” consensus, you can’t trust “those” scientists, this one fact I read somewhere “proves” AGW is a scam, climate models are “bogus”, etc.

      To put it another way, “Dissident” arguments tend to deal with everything outside the science to “win” the debate by use of tactics like: Implying wrong doing, questioning competence, cherry picking data out of context, or complaining over how they aren’t being shown “proper” respect. In terms of overall pattern their approach to the question is exactly like what we expect of psuedo-science — since the facts can’t prove your claims try to make the debate about other things.

      I agree that in many cases “dissidents” within the skeptical community don’t do this consciously, but that just proves how much we need to stick to the science in order to avoid wishful thinking. The fact that “dissidents” seem overall so determined to avoid doing so suggests they (without realizing it) aren’t really interested in science, but ideology.

      Let’s face it — if conservatives/libertarians hadn’t decided that AGW somehow offended their ideological beliefs there would be no “debate” over the science as a whole. Too bad that “dissidents” aren’t willing to admit that and just go with what the science actually says.

      • Don Kirkland says:

        You would not know real science if it bit you in the hind quarters. There is no science and no data that proves AGW. The earth has been either warming or cooling since it came into existence. The current warming trend has been going on much longer than the current increase in CO2. If CO2 was causing the current warming then it would be much warmer that it is. AGW is easily accepted by liberals because they want the government to take over everything anyway and AGW is as good of an excuse as any other. People that advocate the abandonment of fossil fuels do not understand the first thing about economics. The loss in efficiency will result in the deaths of millions of people. Far more than would be killed by the warming even if there was a connection. To take the steps advocated by the AGW politicians without absolute proof of their necessity will be murder on a scale not seen since Stalin.

  18. pcjohnson says:

    I am definitely skeptical of AGW, mostly of the long term predictions (ie. 100-200 years into the future) and the solutions presented by the main stream (Gore) not by the extremists. Whenever anyone says I must panic and give them my money, I must be skeptical.

    I am skeptical of the ability of science to accurately predict the future. What makes this sector of scientific research different? I am sure they can accurately measure the temps now, and less accurately in the past (the less accurate the further back). But we have never been able to predict the state of our world and civilization 50-100 years out with any reasonable accuracy, I am skeptical that climate scientists can now.

    And, it is an inescapably political issue. While unabashedly promoting AGW, Gore has founded companies that trade in carbon credits, this is a red flag. Kyoto was a thinly veiled attempt at income redistribution, it is completely unreasonable and not useful to compare the use of energy in Canada with the use of energy in Australia (+20c vs. -20c),…

    We need rational, responsible leadership so that we can continue to improve our already great world and civilization. Fear mongering and futurists that make a living off of end of the world predictions are not useful.

    We can’t just stop the world instantly and change course, but what we can do it make reasoned, rationale changes based on the best science available.

    Raise fuel economy standards, raise requirements in the building codes to favor higher efficiencies, invest in cleaner power production, cure AIDS, distribute vaccines world wide, teach every child to read, give every child access to clean water, ensure every human is free…

    and, my short life experience has taught me that I have to skeptical of any individual or group that states there is only one absolute truth and they have it,…

      • Karaktur says:

        Thanks for the link to analysis paralysis. That was interesting enough to inspire further investigation. Good name for a band too.

    • JerryM says:

      “Kyoto was a thinly veiled attempt at income redistribution, it is completely unreasonable and not useful to compare the use of energy in Canada with the use of energy in Australia (+20c vs. -20c),…”

      Are you comparing winter in Australia to winter in Canada?

      Don’t forget to compare summer as well (+40C vs. 20C) – air conditioning and all.

      What you’re really saying is you’re skeptical about the politics. Or perhaps cynical. Based on experience of course. At school you really believe in all that democracy crap. The older you get, the more clear it becomes that politics works in vastly different ways than the ideal.

    • tmac57 says:

      You just demonstrated what Steve Novella was addressing in this post. You talked about why you are skeptical for reasons that had absolutely no foundation in scientific research. It was all suspicion about political motives , and the idea that Al Gore might make money on AGW. Al Gore did not do the research, he only popularized it, and probably made some exaggerations, but the basic points that he made in his movie are rather sound. But even if they weren’t,that is completely beside the point. He did not invent AGW, it is a well founded scientific hypothesis supported by real research, done by real scientists, with no intentions other than to ferret out the truth. Why would hundreds of serious researchers risk their reputation and standing in the science community with fraudulent data? To what end? They might be mistaken, but the idea of some massive scam, is just not credible.

  19. Max says:

    “Skeptics are divided politically between liberals and libertarians, both of which seem to have strong and opposite opinions on the topic of global warming.”

    In other words, “skeptics” are as blinded by political bias as anybody.
    I’m no liberal, tree hugger, or fan of big government, but that has little bearing on the science. I was distressed by Climategate not as an environmentalist, but as someone who’s done modeling and used fudge factors, and normalized data, and made up data to test hypothetical scenarios, all perfectly legitimate steps that a denier could distort beyond recognition. The more I followed Climategate, the more it resembled the Creationist assault on evolutionary biology and the Big Tobacco campaign to deny the health hazards of smoking. Even some of the leading deniers are the same.

  20. oldebabe says:

    Novella, it says it all, whether scientist or not, when one says that the global climate is changing. It is always changing… it will continue to change… this is a very big `duh’ moment.

    The most discussion seems to be what is, specifically, impacting or causing the change at this time… nature or culture. Okay, but
    whatever explanations or selections are being presented, however, and if ,and whatever, is proposed, is causing extensive controversy. If it is found that a currently projected cause is something that can be humanly ameliorated, why not do so? If there is nothing to be done to make any changes inlimate, then other action will have to be taken. Instead, there’s an every increasing lot of picky comments and conjecture purporting to be discussion going on and on and on and gathering more and more controversy.

    I think your thoughts are right on. There may be a big problem looming, so let’s do the necessary scientific investigations to identify if anything can, or should, be done, and present those findings, or prepare options as needed. Too reasonable? Too simple?

  21. The debate over anthropogenic global warming—a theory propounded by the UN IPCC—is often portrayed as an argument between deniers and true believers. The deniers supposedly claim that there is no global warming, man made or otherwise, and that the whole theory is a plot by left-wing agitators and closet socialists bent on world domination. The true believers, conversely, accept every claim of pending future disaster uttered by scientists and activists alike. As with most controversies both extreme positions are wrong and the truth lies somewhere in-between. As a scientist, I have studied the evidence and find the case for imminent, dangerous, human caused global warming unconvincing—here is why I am an AGW skeptic.

    http://theresilientearth.com/?q=content/why-i-am-global-warming-skeptic

    • Max says:

      Are you saying that the scientific consensus is at one extreme, or in between the extremes?

    • Alan says:

      IMHO, the argument of the blog post you list is just yet another example of “I read a few facts and think the whole scientific system is wrong” sort of piece we’ve seen many times. Basically, someone presents a scientific argument in a few paragraphs that proports to show how the efforts of an entire field of science are all bogus.

      And, it does so by basically arguing (with a few bits of evidence thrown in to make the conclusion look better) that the science is fundamentally flawed. Going without saying but strongly implied (as it can’t work otherwise) is that the scientific establishment is some combination of incompetent or deceiving.

      After all, so many experts with so much time and money somehow managed to miss something you illustrate in just a few paragraphs. That must be the case or else the blog post doesn’t work. It amounts to saying “trust me on the science” (admittedly, hard not to do when you are just writing a single page on the Internet) while at the same time saying that you can’t trust all those experts in the field.

      In short, the post is based completely upon taking a number of supposed conclusions and judgment calls at face value. From that we are supposed to throw away an entire field of science and conclude that in this case the scientific method/system has failed utterly.

      This whole argument is one based in the end on applying a different standard of evidence to Denier claims than mainstream science claims. Do that and any idea ends up looking pretty good.

  22. miller says:

    I find that I usually avoid climate science, because it’s just so time consuming. The science isn’t even interesting to me, except by virtue of its practical implications. My instinct is to simply point out when people use poor reasoning to get around the science. For example, that analogy with religion is really over the top, and carries no weight whatsoever. Okay, but unless I decide to spend more time investigating, I got hardly anything better.

    I’d like to just defer to the experts. And I know that there are some experts with reasonable disagreements with AGW, but I am not one of those experts, so any disagreement I have would not be a reasonable one.

    I feel like there might be some general skeptical lesson to be learned here, a humbling one. Unless it’s an area where I am personally an expert, I typically apply heuristic skeptical rules rather than deep investigation, because I just don’t have the time or interest for that. But heuristic rules obviously have limitations. Maybe one of those limitations is that I can’t touch the issue of AGW.

    • Max says:

      Is it any different from other complex topics that have deniers, like Evolution, 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the benefits of vaccinations?

      • miller says:

        Actually, I avoid those topics too, except to the extent that I have some basic knowledge about them. For instance, I have no problem talking about evolution, because the basic myths and responses are widely known. But for 9/11, I might be better off deferring to other skeptics who actually know something about it.

    • tmac57 says:

      I believe that is a very reasonable approach, and I think most people probably fall into that category. The problem is that some of them are using rules of thumb that have a built in bias that they can’t see past unfortunately, and they are being led astray into what seems to them to be reasonable position.

  23. Sam Grove says:

    I’m skeptical of the idea that enough is known to say whether the anthropogenic contribution is significant or not.

    The speculation on positive feedback and “tipping points” seems particularly unsupported.

    • MadScientist says:

      The anthropogenic contribution is undeniable (and measurable); the details of the feedback are somewhat uncertain although we can measure the overall effect to date (the warming due to CO2 alone is far more certain and a minimum with no feedback can be established from fairly straightforward calculations). The “tipping points” (if you’re talking of a step change in temperatures as Lovelock writes about) although believable, hasn’t been decided one way or the other (as Bertrand Russell would say, we must suspend our judgment on that).

      • tmac57 says:

        We can suspend judgment on them as far as saying we don’t have enough data yet, but some take the position that because we don’t know for sure then possible tipping points should just be ignored. That is a very dangerous position, since there are credible reasons to believe that some of those events may happen (such as the Greenland ice sheet melting accelerating out of control), and they may happen even faster than predicted. They may also melt slower, or recover, but there exists a range of possibilities, and currently they seem to be melting faster than expected.

      • Jere Krischel says:

        There are costs associated with reacting to so called “tipping points” in an improper manner as well. The precautionary principle is often fraught with failure -> take Ancel Keys and the low-fat dogma propagated under the precautionary principle. Ancel Keys thought fat consumption could possibly be related heart disease, and went on a crusade that has now caused 30 years of increased obesity due to higher carbohydrate consumption. This side effect has caused more heart disease – the complete opposite of what Ancel Keys was hoping for by acting in response to a precautionary principle.

        What happens when by restricting CO2 emissions (if you believe that they have a great forcing effect), you drive us into an ice age that renders everything above 45 degrees north uninhabitable? You cannot simply say, “we must act”. The unintended consequences are often much worse than possibly imagined.

      • tmac57 says:

        “What happens when by restricting CO2 emissions (if you believe that they have a great forcing effect), you drive us into an ice age that renders everything above 45 degrees north uninhabitable?”
        By what mechanism would that occur? I understand how adding excess Co2 can raise atmospheric temps, but since Co2 lingers for long periods of time, why would temps drop dramatically?

  24. ts46064 says:

    The evidence is overwhelming and the consensus supports AGW. As a non-expert in the field of climatology I must side with the experts. The last time I checked the consensus was 95% of climatologists were convinced by the data that Climate Change was occurring and of that 95%, 96% were convinced by the data that the change was anthropogenic.

    “Even if AGW is a non-issue, these will be good things. It’s a win-win.”
    President Obama addressed this during his Q&A with the republican party 2 weeks ago. Essentially his position was “whoever controls industry that creates the new methods of producing energy(solar, wind, nuclear) will control the world economy, and China is taking the lead.”

    I suggest everyone no matter what your opinion of AGW is to watch this series of videos on youtube
    This is Video 1 of 9 in the series
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52KLGqDSAjo&feature=related

    The creator is a retired science journalist and his videos are reasoned and free of the overly emotional tones of the al gore movie, or the denier films.

    On a side note I noticed John Coleman’s named dropped several times, for some reason the deniers think dropping his name supports their argument because he started the Weather Channel. While it doesn’t make what he says false its important to keep in mind that he has never had a published scientific paper and is not even a trained meteorologists. So I again defer back to my position “what do they experts say” when I hear that name dropped.

  25. MadScientist says:

    It doesn’t help that there are people out there who are delusional and believe that some change must be achieved by any means including lying. So we have often heard the disingenuous claim that “warming = more extreme weather events, more numerous and more powerful storms”, a claim made by IPCC members. These days the IPCC has the duplicitous claim on its website that states something like “increasing frequency and strength of cyclones is difficult if not impossible to measure”. Well if they can’t measure it then what is the basis for the ridiculous claim of more numerous and powerful storms? The IPCC should admit that the claim has no scientific merit and it should purge itself of the liars for science. Thanks to the liars, people get the impression that the changing climate will result in the instant onset of monstrous cyclones rather than the realistic gradual increase in crop failures (among many other nasty but gradual changes). So as long as a year doesn’t suddenly have a large number of cyclones which threaten New York (just like in the movies), many people will not believe.

    One way or another, energy security will be a big thing in the future; as far as we know today oil will be gone in about 3 generations and gas will follow soon after, leaving coal as the sole economically available fossil fuel. Unfortunately we’re geared for short-term profit and governments seem unwilling to make the long-term commitments which previous generations have made to build for the future.

    • tmac57 says:

      Actually, as the oceans warm, that is the engine that drives the power of these storms, so that is the basis of their thinking. The short term prediction is what is uncertain, but longterm,if the atmosphere does continue to warm, so will the oceans, and thus will increase both frequency and power of those events.

      • Jere Krischel says:

        Please, define “short term” and “long term” in concrete numbers. In this game, picking the start and end points and durations often results in wildly different graphs.

      • tmac57 says:

        I would personally call short term year to year, and long term 10 years or more, but the general concern is the upward trend that smooths out short term ups and downs. Demanding to know exact time lines in a dynamic system is a distraction, when the data shows long term temperature increase. Its like saying look at all the snow this year, where is your global warming now Al Gore?

  26. Tuffgong says:

    Not to be rude or overstep my bounds but how does one email Steven? There are a few email addresses associated with different projects he’s involved in but what is his persona email. This comment for this post most likely will not give me an answer but for years I felt like I’ve been working on a reasonable analysis of this whole controversy that I want someone of higher academic merit to criticize.

    I have see and read many examples of rhetoric and severe arguments from both sides and as a result improved my viewpoints on the matter over the years. I can at least guarantee that I will be reasonable and I feel like a one-on-one thing with Steven is something I wish could happen.

    He made the invitation and I want to provide my view on the matter from the perspective (or at least the supposed side of) a climate skeptic or dissident or whatever. Any advice on the best way to email Steven though?

  27. For people who think that it’s a bad thing to reduce and eliminate pollution by whatever means possible, I always ask: “Do you use your refrigerator as a toilet? Because that is what we are doing as a species to our planet. If you don’t want to clean up our act at all, remind me never to accept a dinner invitation from you.”

  28. OJB says:

    Yes, thanks for that. I think you struck a good balance in that discussion. If people would just do two things the whole debate might disappear: first, look at the facts on both sides and reach a conclusion based on the balance of evidence; and second, check that the major facts are actually true and not just speculation or opinion.

    Anyone who follows this method will reach the conclusion that AGW is very likely real and sufficiently certain to act on.

    Its unfortunate that the issue has become so political that some scientists (who most likely followed the rules when GW was just about science) have acted unwisely and damaged the credibility of climate science with the public.

    • tmac57 says:

      I would agree with you in principle, but as I have pointed out on this blog before, the sources that one choses to believe is what determines what you end up believing. You can find a source to confirm any belief that you wish to have. The trick is in vetting those sources for reliability. Look at the credentials of the source. See what logical fallacies they present. Do consider that if a source is an outlier from mainstream science, then it must back up its observations with rigorous research that is consistent with all other observations.

      • Jere Krischel says:

        Shouldn’t all sources back up observations with rigorous research? surfacestations.org is a great resource that may not have been “mainstream” before climategate, but they certainly back up their observations with rigorous research data.

      • tmac57 says:

        Check out the Q and A on this NOAA PDF:
        http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/about/response-v2.pdf

        As stated above, you can find info to support your point of view, but we need to consider the source in order to evaluate how reliable it is.

  29. Joshua Hunt says:

    Thanks to Dr. Steven Novella for a reason-based article on this topic! It’s always a treat to read your words Dr. Novella! Keep up the good work! :)

  30. Alex says:

    Why do humans seem to be unable to say “I don’t know!”.

    The way I see it is that maybe there is some indication that the Earth’s slight warming over the past century is the result of human activity. Indication is not proof however. There is an equal amount, maybe more, evidence that about 1000 years ago Earth was much warmer than it is today and global cooling, the “mini-ice-age” between 700 and 150 years back, brought with it human misery. What caused global warming about 1000 years ago? What caused the medieval mini-ice-age? There may be some conjecture, but we just don’t know!

    There is much evidence to suggest that the Earth has been through all this many times before. 1000 years is an infinitely small amount of time in the history of the earth. If a scale was drawn 1 kilometer in length, representing the last 1 billion years of earth history, (less than a quarter of it’s age), no pencil is fine enough to reasonably mark a line representing 1000 years on that scale.

    We are still emerging from the medieval “mini-ice-age”, and a cyclical major ice age before that, thank heavens we are! After enduring New Zealand winters for 8 years, during the highest recorded global temperatures in history, I can only say bring on global warming!

    A problem that I have with the global warming argument is that opportunistic politicians, armed with angry Al Gore’s warnings that the entire polar ice caps will be gone within 5 to 7 years and his evangelical threats of disappearing glaciers and other rubbish, many scientifically ignorant politicians who have no background in science whatsoever, are too ready to play on public emotions with predictions of an approaching doomsday. All for their own gain.

    The Australian Prime Minister for example has publicly stated that he prefers to believe in a “creator” over evolution, his minister of science and minister of “climate change” are career politicians who have no scientific background at all, yet these individuals are ready to spend billions of tax payer money on something quite unproven.

    Australia’s Copenhagen delegation of 114 people cost half a billion US $ (over half Billion Aus$), what did it achieve? Half a Billion Dollars spent on the first meeting and enough Carbon Dioxide generated in the process to put a small city to shame!

    Al Gore, a Baptist and presumably a believer that virgins give birth and that dead men do come to life after 3 days, suddenly becomes an expert, making wild and silly predictions, about which, no respectable meteorologist could agree. Is it a fact that Mr Gore’s climate mongery business has increased his personal wealth by somewhere in the region of $100 Million? While he was generating up to 70 times or more Carbon Dioxide than the average citizens? (Before he was exposed by the media)

    If anyone uncertain of the “Doomsday” predictions, so much as utters a doubt about the subject they are ridiculed, called “deniers” – a word which has an emotionally upsetting meaning, a word whose meaning has changed since WW2, using it to describe people who are trying to come to a rational conclusion about the climate is a denigration of those millions of unfortunate souls who died in the unspeakable events of 1939-1945.

    Forgive me if I seem slow to understand, my degree in Chemistry and Physics may not equip me to understand “global warming/climate change” controversy as well as Al Gores Degrees in Divinity and Political Science, Law or whatever his major subject.
    And of course, being a CEO of a Chemical Manufacturing Company has tainted me for all time, even after my retirement! Mr. $100Million, purveyor of hot air, Al Gore’s word is taken as gospel, anyone who has been near a chemical manufacturing plant is an evil beast!

    I just don’t like the attitude, of both non-scientific politicians, and meteorologists, too slothful to say “dioxide” after the word “carbon” and who tout “global warming” as an unshakeable fact, not to be discussed, not to be questioned.

    This attitude is contrary to everything for which science stands.

    What would the chance be of any meteorologist getting a (quasi) governmental grant if it seemed likely that he/she would come up with a result differing from the current fashionable trend? Nil, unless it was funded by industry, and then the results would be “pooh-poohed”. Evil libertarians!

    By all means, encourage alternative fuels and reduce pumping oil out of the ground. Develop nuclear energy to a greater extent than used today. Get rid of that awful SUV, except for farmers, workmen and the like. I would be the first person to help planting trees in open spaces, over football fields for example. Turn football fields into oxygen producing parks where families can picnic and get some exercise rather than watch football players on TV chasing a ball around. Maybe it will also reduce the frequent reports about football players involved in rape and other drunken thuggery.

    Humans don’t know for sure the answer to the global warming controversy.

    Encourage by all means, but keep governments out of it. It is only later in life that some of us understand that anything, and everything, controlled by government is outrageously expensive and at best, has a mediocre function. If governments start trying to control carbon dioxide it will end up with the wrong people enriching themselves – with little or no desired effect.

    In Australia, “global-warming” is now called “climate change”, since global temperatures are lower now than they were 12 years ago.

    • ts46064 says:

      Wow
      Al Gore Mentioned 4 times
      Godwins Law put to use

      Stating that Temperatures are lower than 12 years ago while neglecting to mention a general upward rate of temps.

      Several signs that your opposition is not rooted in science but on a political ideology.
      “keep governments out of it” This is a bad argument on 2 counts. Fist is implies that the only solution is with government. Second it implies that anything the government takes control of or regulates is ruined or inefficient, again a position of ideology. Prior to decrying any government action you say “encourage alternative fuels” encourage would seem to mean the government taking action in the place of purely demand/profit driven development when it may not meet the time frame needed to develop the alternative fuels.

      Its probably not a stretch to say that there is more money in denying climate change than there is in embracing the data.

      The tactics and arguments used in this comment are from the creationists playbook.

    • Alan says:

      Why do humans seem to be unable to say “I don’t know!”.

      At least in the case of Climate Change we do know.

      What caused global warming about 1000 years ago? What caused the medieval mini-ice-age? There may be some conjecture, but we just don’t know!

      Wrong — http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-change-little-ice-age-medieval-warm-period.htm

      There is much evidence to suggest that the Earth has been through all this many times before.

      And, your point is? We have also had gigantic rocks hit the Earth many times before. Does that mean if we find another one on its way we should just sit back and not care? This argument is non-sensical.

      A problem that I have with the global warming argument is that opportunistic politicians, armed with angry Al Gore’s warnings that the entire polar ice caps will be gone within 5 to 7 years and his evangelical threats of disappearing glaciers and other rubbish, many scientifically ignorant politicians who have no background in science whatsoever, are too ready to play on public emotions with predictions of an approaching doomsday. All for their own gain.

      Ad hominen attacks mixed with strawmen. No one has suggested that the ice-packs everywhere will be gone within a decade. Otherwise, this is just paranoid ranting that has nothing to do with the science.

      I just don’t like the attitude, of both non-scientific politicians, and meteorologists, too slothful to say “dioxide” after the word “carbon” and who tout “global warming” as an unshakeable fact, not to be discussed, not to be questioned.

      More absurd strawmen. No one is suggesting you can’t doubt, but we are saying you have to do so in scientifically valid ways. That means offering data and evidence, not paragraphs of angry rants about how politicians are out to get us or how unfair it is that Deniers aren’t given full scientific validity by default.

      Your post is a tour de force of what is wrong with AGW Denier arguments — evidence that is easily disproven wrapped up with paranoid ranting that strongly implies a conspiracy. How is any of that supposed to be taken seriously? We don’t allow Creationists or 9/11 Truthers or Alt-Med believers to get away with such tactics.

      Why do so many AGW Deniers — and within the Skeptic community so they should know better! — think that somehow they are immune to the rules they otherwise apply to other such beliefs? Why are Deniers so incapable of using their skepticism on themselves?

    • Paul Fullerton says:

      Alex, the anti-AGW argument has absolutely nothing to do with the science and the evidence that supports it. It has everything to do with conservative politics and their unwillingness to accept the need to change the way we do things, and their willingness to nit-pick the evidence to discredit the science and scientists. The same is true of the anti-evolution argument. It has nothing to do with the science and the evidence that supports it – just the unshakeable and inflexible belief of conservative ideologues.

  31. Alex says:

    my apology – typo error in para 7 should read Million not Billion

  32. Paul Fullerton says:

    The sheer volume of climate data that has been collected to date and the mind-blowing complexity of the interacting systems that drive our climate are quite intimidating. Hence, I realise that I am simply not qualified to make definitive statements about the truth or otherwise of climate science. And, I suspect that most climate scientists feel pretty intimidated by the complexity of those systems as well.
    When faced with such a problem, I tend not to go down into the depths of the detail to find answers, but to look for what makes sense given my current (and ever changing) knowledge and understanding of the science involved.
    To me, the logic of anthropogenic greenhouse gas production causing global warming is compelling, particularly because of the many positive feedback cycles that are linked to increases in global temperatures; such as glaciers melting, sea level rises, methane emissions from melting tundra and so on. In the absence of a convincing alternative theory to explain current global warming I have no option but to side with the climate scientists. To do otherwise would be to condemn my children, grandchildren etc etc to a very uncertain and dangerous world with people fighting wars over land, food and potable water supplies.
    I sincerely hope there is a more benign explanation for the currently observed global warming, but I am simply not prepared to waste my time, or emotional energy, arguing with climate change deniers until they come up with solid, peer-reviewed scientific evidence that supports an alternative and plausible theory.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      “And, I suspect that most climate scientists feel pretty intimidated by the complexity of those systems as well.”

      If they don’t, they should. The climate is not merely complex, it is non-computable. That is, we don’t know what all the variables are, we don’t know precisely how they interact, and even if we did, the sensitivity to initial conditions renders the entire equation non-computable. This is a problem, because we also must rely on computational climate models to make strong predictions.

      But the overarching hypothesis about the greenhouse effect itself is well supported, as is the note that human civilization responds differently to feedback than prior natural systems. For example, our CO2 emissions increase under every feedback mechanism that alters the local temperature from a point that we find very comfortable. Think about that and compare it to the way that plants respond to extreme discomfort! So basic hypothesis is strong, but precise predictions–as Steven points out–are difficult if not impossible to produce.

      However, the current situation is that some important factors, such as rates of ice melt, were drastically underestimated when compared to the reality.

      http://climateprogress.org/2009/10/26/nature-dynamic-thinning-of-greenland-and-antarctic-ice-sheets-glacier/

      That’s a bad thing. It points to a problem that many Climate Science skeptics seem to miss: the fact that the system is impossible to predict well does not mean that the problem is not as bad as the models show. The problem could in fact be much worse. We don’t–and can’t–know which.

      Given that situation, it just makes sense to take reasonable steps to prepare for extreme scenarios and to try to lighten our climate footprint.

  33. Richard says:

    Thank you Steven for a very nice article. The discussion about fossil fuels reminds me of a possible discussion among the future generation: “So they had all these natural resources of oil, gas and coal and they just burned it? Yes, they burned it all….”

  34. Trimegistus says:

    It’s hilarious how all the defenders of the Global Warming (oops — “climate change”) scam keep repeating the words “real science” and “settled science.” Meanwhile the revelations about errors, exaggeration, and outright fraud keep coming.

    “Climate change” is Marxism in a white lab coat. It’s no coincidence that this global crisis appeared just a few months after the collapse of the Soviet Union — the wheels fell off the Marxist bus and the fanatics had to find a new ideology. How many millions will die in the name of protecting the planet?

    • tmac57 says:

      Paranoid rantings that deserve the label of ‘denier’ that Steve was trying to avoid. I’m sure that even some of the other people in the ‘dissident’ camp find your input disturbing, and would distance themselves from it.

    • Max says:

      It’s hilarious how industry shills use the terms “junk science” and “sound science” backwards over and over again to deny that tobacco, asbestos, pollution, and greenhouse gases have any negative consequences. So hilarious, you’ll die laughing.

      • Trimegistus says:

        Listen to yourselves! Anyone who disagrees is an “industry shill!”

        Meanwhile: forecasts about glacial melting in the IPCC report aren’t “settled science” they’re from a news magazine interview. Forecasts about deforestation aren’t “settled science” they’re from a WWF fundraising pamphlet. Data on tree rings (one of the keystones of the whole edifice) were “lost.” Data which “proved” the heat island effect was negligible were “lost.” Requests for public access to computer models and data were ignored.

        This is not science. Science doesn’t proceed by hiding data and making accusations against those who raise objections. This is a political movement borrowing scientific authority.

        Anyone who actually respects science should be extremely worried about this. First, it sets a horrible precedent for prostituting scientific analysis in the service of a political agenda. Second, it undermines public trust in the whole enterprise. I’ve spent my whole life accepting that if “science” says something it’s likely to be true. For the first time I find myself doubting — and if climate scientists are willing to lie, what about those in other fields?

        Instead of circling the wagons and hurling cut-and-paste insults at skeptics, you should be joining in demanding transparency and accountability. After all, if the “science is settled” there should be nothing to worry about.

        …right?

      • Max says:

        When I say industry shills, I mean industry shills, as in PR firms, lawyers, consultants, think tanks, front groups, and astroturf groups funded by industry to promote the industry’s agenda and deny the science that threatens it.

        http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/ExxonMobil-GlobalWarming-tobacco.html

        “A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists offers the most comprehensive documentation to date of how ExxonMobil has adopted the tobacco industry’s disinformation tactics, as well as some of the same organizations and personnel, to cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue. According to the report, ExxonMobil has funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science.”

  35. Cash says:

    Maybe you can help me with this one. I’ve heard from several sources that man contributes about 3% of CO2 emissions with the remainder coming from natural causes. CO2, while a more active greenhouse gas, is only about 4% of Greenhouse gases, with water making up most of the rest. This makes human contributed CO2 much less than 1% of all greenhouse gases.

    I’m not saying I’ve concluded that this hasn’t tipped the scale, but I haven’t seen anything explicitly describe how human contributions on this scale explain why AGW is occurring. This doesn’t seem reasonable to me. This non-scientific intuitive sense is what makes me want to look at specific scientific treatment of this question. Can you point me to something specific?

    • Paul Fullerton says:

      Cash, check out the article in Wikipedia an “carbon cycle” which contains some interesting statistics on the movements of CO2 in the biosphere. Here are some quick calculations based on those figures. Firstly, just 2.5% (or 5.5/(121+90+5.5)) of CO2 entering the atmosphere each year is anthropogenic, because the amounts being exchanged between the atmosphere and vegetation/oceans are so large. I have assumed that the 3% figure you mention is based on that sort of calculation. Secondly, unless that anthropogenic CO2 is completely removed into vegetation or the oceans, it actually represents a 0.7% increase (i.e., 5.5/750) per year in atmospheric CO2 concentration. That would raise the CO2 concentration from current levels of 0.0385% to 0.055% by 2060 and to 0.077% by 2110. This is a very crude calculation but is shows that the 2.5% (or 3%) figure you mention understates the significance of anthropogenic CO2 emissions – a classic AGW sceptic tactic!

      • Trimegistus says:

        “A classic AGW skeptic tactic!”

        …And we all know that skepticism is BAD!

        DON’T ASK QUESTIONS. OBEY.

      • Max says:

        A classic AGW denier tactic. Better?

        Another classic denier tactic is to ignore the answers and try to derail the discussion.

      • Paul Fullerton says:

        Trimegistus, don’t be a bloody idiot!!! Maybe you will eventually learn that true skepticism is based on knowledge and understanding of how the real world works so you can spot the scams that simply don’t make sense. For example, Steve is an excellent skeptic because he knows and understands a hell of a lot about science and medicine, not because he challenges everything he was taught in med school. If you fail to learn anything from people who know more than you, your skepticism will be entirely misplaced, and people like me will treat you with the disdain you rightly deserve.

      • Trimegistus says:

        Steve knows about medicine. That doesn’t make him a climate expert. Would you want a climatologist to remove your appendix?

        Argument from authority. Basic logical fallacy. Go back to school and learn something, or people will treat you with disdain.

      • Paul Fullerton says:

        Trimegistus, this is not an ‘argument from authority’, it is an ‘argument from knowledge and understanding’. If you refuse to learn from others simply because you think they represent ‘authority’ and base your skepticism on ‘rebellion against authority’, you will have a very sad, frustrating and unproductive life.
        And don’t be so bloody impertinent. You have not make one sensible comment yet on this thread – you just continue to demonstrate you are a complete idiot!

      • Cash says:

        This implies that the Anthropogenic effect to Global Warming is caused because the 2.5% contribution by man will always be above the natural uptake and therefore 100% of man made emissions will add to the long term atmospheric CO2 concentration.

        Did I understand you correctly? Is this a fundamental assumption of AGW?

      • Paul Fullerton says:

        Cash, the calculation I made was a very crude one that doesn’t take into account the movement of anthropogenic CO2 into vegetation and oceans, which obviously does occur. But I have no knowledge of the capacity of either ‘carbon sink’ to soak up extra anthropogenic CO2 emissions. You’d have to look in IPCC reports or papers to find figures to make better calculations.
        But the 0.7% per annum increase is interesting because it is in the ‘ball park’ of observed recent rates of atmospheric CO2 increases. If the calculation had come up with a wildly different figure it would have suggested either the carbon cycle figures are wrong, or the relationship between anthropogenic CO2 emissions and increases in atmospheric CO2 levels is much more complicated than shown in the carbon cycle diagram.
        But the main reason for my calculation was to counter the common AGW skeptic/denier argument that the 2.5% (or 3%) figure means that attempts to reduce CO2 emissions will have an insignificant effect on atmospheric CO2 levels and is therefore not worth the effort or cost. My crude calculation shows that the 2.5% figure ignores the fact that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are swamped by CO2 moving in/out of vegetation and oceans each year. The 0.7% per annum figure is a much better figure to use to estimate the effect of anthropogenic CO2 emissions and attempts to reduce them.
        The oceans are obviously very important, because CO2 is less soluble in warmer water, so if we have warming of the upper levels of the oceans, the oceans may release more CO2 into the atmosphere thereby accelerating global warming. Apart from that, sea levels will rise by 1.6 cm for each 1C rise in the temperature of just the top 100 metres of the ocean due to the thermal expansion of water.

    • tmac57 says:

      Also keep in mind that Co2 in the atmosphere, is not the only problem with increased releases by humans. The oceans absorb Co2, which is causing acidification , and in turn can cause coral bleaching, and destruction of the reefs, which act not only as a home for fish to breed, but also as barriers to protect shorelines. Acidification also kills off plankton, which is a critical source of food for many marine species.

      • Jere Krischel says:

        How then to explain the great recovery recently of the Great Barrier Reef bleaching? And how did plankton survive during historical periods when CO2 concentrations were 500% higher?

        No offense, but those seem like fairly extreme assertions that aren’t backed up with rigorous evidence.

      • Max says:

        “How then to explain the great recovery recently of the Great Barrier Reef bleaching?”

        It’s right there in the article.
        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090423100817.htm
        “A lucky combination of rare circumstances” and “in the context of a well-protected marine area and moderately good water quality”

        Does that answer your question?

      • Max says:

        It’s kind of like asking, “If cancer is deadly, then how do some people recover with treatment?”

      • tmac57 says:

        Jere, could you point me to the source of the 500% figure? If this is fairly accurate, do we know if there is any evidence that plankton was able to survive during that period? I certainly would not assume that without empirical evidence.Would You? It might be like saying “Don’t worry about a large object colliding with Earth wiping out most of humanity. After all, we know that it happened in the past, and look at all the life around us”.

  36. donjoe says:

    1. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc? There have been higher concentrations of CO2 in the past when the climate was downright glacial. So whence the inference of causation from CO2 to temperature increases? What of the historical lag between the two, showing – if anything – a _reversed_ causal connection?

    2. How do you get from a century of observed +1C of warming to alarmist predictions of +4C or more? Is there an acceleration curve on the graph? I can’t see it.

    3. Anti-CO2 measures are anti-plant-life, too expensive and overly-specific (even if they’re addressing the right problem). We should be focussing on making the human habitat more impervious to _all_ kinds of climate change. Let’s not forget the next ice age is way overdue already. I’d be much more worried about what will happen when that baby finally hits than about a little cozy warmth.

    • Paul Fullerton says:

      Apart from the fact that you don’t know exactly what caused pre-historic CO2 or temperature increases – (someone destroyed the video tapes!!) – you simply can’t assume that because CO2/temperature increased in the past without human intervention, that current CO2/temperature increases are unlikely to be anthropogenic. You have to have a plausible theory why CO2 levels and temperatures are currently rising together. AGW is such a theory. Unfortunately, scientists can’t put a duplicate Earth in a lab to prove the AGW theory experimentally. They have to develop plausible theories and adjust them as necessary to fit the observed climate data.
      The “Anti-CO2 measures are anti-plant-life” arguments are pure garbage by people who are desperate to defend their ideological beliefs.

      • donjoe says:

        Why does the current warming require any more explanation than any other historical warming curve that coincided with a CO2 increase when there was no human industry? (To put it otherwise: are you familiar with the principle of parsimony? What does it say?)

        I notice that you have no scientific answers to #2 or #3 and you only see fit to serve me emotional language (“garbage”) and a psychogenetic fallacy (“people who are desperate” etc.). To this, all I can reply with are the words of a wise man, written not too long ago on this very page: “if you disagree with me, show me some science. And spare me the name-calling”.

        Thanks.

      • Max says:

        “Why does the current warming require any more explanation than any other historical warming curve that coincided with a CO2 increase when there was no human industry?”

        Because the “natural cycle” model fits historic curves, but fails to account for current warming.
        The “anthropogenic only” model fits current warming better, and the “natural plus anthropogenic” model fits the best.
        Here are the graphs:
        http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/images/figts-15.gif

        Does this answer your question?

      • donjoe says:

        Max:
        Milankovitch cycles are only perfect on paper. The actual measured temperatures show noisy variation. How have you determined that whatever departure from an idealized cycle is happening now is not simply natural noise as has been seen in the past.

        (Nice touch, always showing graphs leading up only to 2000-2001, to hide the decline/stagnation in temperature that is very very visible from then on, which would ruin your alleged “best fit”.)

      • Paul Fullerton says:

        Donjoe, read my response to post #36, and although it is a very crude calculation it illustrates that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission could actually have a geometric effect on temperatures, particularly if the capacity of vegetation and oceans to soak up extra anthropogenic CO2 is exceeded. So if nothing is done about greenhouse gas emissions, how do you know that a 0.7% increase in CO2 per annum won’t eventually cause a +4C temperature change? Do you have a plausible and maybe testable scientific theory (rather than an ideological theory) that says it won’t?
        And if you don’t know why the statement that “anti-CO2 measures are anti-plant-life” is garbage, then I’m not going to waste my time explaining it to you. Go read the Wikipedia articles on ‘global warming’ and ‘carbon cycles’ instead.
        As for point 1, Max provides a very satisfactory reply.

      • donjoe says:

        “a very crude calculation [...] illustrates that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission could actually have a geometric effect”

        Could, should, would, if only your pet theory were correct. This is not proof, this is mere speculation. Look at the facts: is the temperature increase following a geometric curve? No. Does it reflect the CO2-sensitivity “estimated” by the IPCC? Hell no.

        “Do you have a [...] scientific theory (rather than an ideological theory) that says it won’t?”

        This is argumentum ad ignorantiam. You should learn some logic before entering public debates like this, you’re embarrassing yourself.
        (Also, I dare you to show the tiniest piece of “ideology” in anything I’ve posted. Or to shut up about it once and for all. I’ll have you know I consider myself a leftist, in case this kind of thing is what you’re getting at with accusations of “ideology”.)

        “if you don’t know why the statement [...] is garbage, then I’m not going to waste my time explaining it to you”

        I don’t need your personal explanations, I could do fine with links to someone else’s. You know how it goes: “put up or shut up”.

        “As for point 1, Max provides a very satisfactory reply.”

        Yes, very satisfactory for those who think they already know everything they need to know and that no further investigation is necessry. Preaching is always satisfactory for the choir, by definition.

      • tmac57 says:

        The carbon based fuels that we are burning at an ever increasing rate, took millions of years to accumulate, and we have been spewing them into our atmosphere as Co2 for about 150 years now, (most of it in the last 50 years). That is a distinctly unnatural circumstance (anthropogenic). We know that Co2 traps a portion of infrared radiation that is trying to return into space, thus warming of the atmosphere occurs. The more Co2 molecules, the more infrared radiation trapped, the more warming results. We have been measuring the level of Co2, and it is rising.What part of this is hard to understand?

      • donjoe says:

        It’s not hard to understand, the problem with it is it’s mere theoretical speculation based on what we know about certain types of matter and energy. You’re supposed to be proving it’s really happening in reality (you know, with actual measured evidence), not just listing theoretical reasons why it “should” be happening.

  37. Mal Adapted says:

    “So the consequences of burning fossil fuels are not serious enough to justify immediate personal action and stop burning them yourself?”

    The short answer is that AGW is a tragedy of the commons. Please read up on it:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

    for a good discussion of the idea, and

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/05/the-tragedy-of-climate-commons/

    for how it specifically relates to AGW.

  38. It seems to me that the reason people get so hot under the collar on this topic is that they’re afraid of someone “forcing” them to *gasp* reduce their overall energy usage and/or increase the percentage of energy produced through methods other than fossil fuels. I mean, if that concern wasn’t out there, why would people care that much other than as a scientific curiousity?

    Now, one could make an argument that having the potential for islands to disappear, coastlines to change, extremes to become more so (which is what I’d expect from a system that had more energy in it), water sources to dry up in areas that affect billions of people would also be a concern, but, since most of those are decades in the future (except for countries that are mostly contributing next to nothing to the problem and therefore “don’t matter”), it’s so easy to leave it to someone else to worry about. Why worry about it now?

    So, what’s really freaking people out is the notion that they’ll be asked to improve energy efficiency for cars and homes – which saves them money in the long run. Or use renewable energy sources which are expensive but can be expected to drop in prices as they are embraced – or when China kicks in with their massive production capabilities which they are clearly in the process of doing. Cheap power with only an initial investment and little/no effort afterwards. Oh, the horror! I know I’d much rather be tied to oil with no alternatives when oil climbs above $100, and then $200 dollars a barrel. Think it won’t happen? I live in oil central here. Experts here aren’t even expecting a decade for that.

    I guess I’m floored by all the rigor and skepticism AGW critics bring forward when investigating the science of AGW, despite the tangible and readily apparent signs of melt and change, but seem to accept blindly that economic disaster is an inevitable side effect of weaning ourselves from oil; ironic because it is true only as we put it off, making it self-fulfilling. I have saved thousands of dollars by tiny changes to my home, modest changes to my driving, and with my choice of energy provider (100% renewable).

    We *will* have to wean ourselve off of oil, after only a century or so of use. Question is, how painful are we willing to make it for our children?

    I don’t even understand why we’re having this argument. But then, I can’t understand the health argument on inhaling smoke – someone thought smoke inhalation wasn’t a health risk? Seriously?

    I think, sometimes, that this issue is going to define whether or not the US is going to decline in power. If we insist on consumption with no thought of the consequences, if we fail to pursue other options in righteous defense of our rights to burn fuels indiscriminately, while the rest of the world learns and acts, we’ll go the way of Ancient Rome, for the same reason and just as deservedly.

    I’m not going to defend AGW or attack it; plenty of data out there for those interested in reality. Fossil fuels are finite, particularly oil. AGW is a nail in the coffin, but the coffin is already there. The question isn’t if we’re going to wean ourselves from oil; it’s when and how painful it’s going to be. AGW just points out that putting it off can have worse consequences than we’d imagined before.

    • Max says:

      Now you’re getting into the peak oil predictions. Is there a scientific consensus on that? Won’t supply-demand take care of that problem?

      • Stephanie B says:

        Really? Using what alternative? As we drag our feet finding viable alternatives, the consumers are already paying twice or more for gas and oil than they did ten years ago. What will it be in ten more years? Note, it isn’t twice because it has to be – oil companies made record profits – it’s because oil companies can get us to pay because there aren’t enough cars that use alternatives and utility companies that have alternative options.

        If everyone has to have an item because they’ve been fooled into thinking it will always be there and always be affordable, that’s not an honest supply in demand. The best damn thing (for the oil companies) we can do is play into the anti-AGW hysteria (and, yes, that’s where I see the hysteria) so that nothing else is pursued as prices continue to creep up. Even when they’re astronomical, what choice will most consumers have when they’re over a barrel? With alternatives still out of reach because of no research? None.

        I, for one, refuse to be played.

        Note, ironically, the rest of the world is not so short-sighted. US know-how is going into solar cell production world-wide, everywhere but here because we are unwilling to produce it here. So, when oil does peeter out, where will we get our alternative? Not homegrown – and that is our own doing – but there will be alternatives after all.

      • Nestor says:

        “Note, ironically, the rest of the world is not so short-sighted. US know-how is going into solar cell production”

        Yes, by way of Govt Spending they are not viable in any market place where competition exists

        Look at what happened to Spanish solar projects and the failures of big loans to US solar companies.

        Solar is a nice idea and may some day be a viable, but the scale issue is at this time insurmountable in that yes you can power a home (at great cost) but to power say an Aluminum Plant that is needed to make the solar cells etc… not so much. I know reality is a harsh mistress.

    • tmac57 says:

      Stephanie, I really like this response,It pretty much mirrors how I view the problem.
      Max, supply and demand will definitely cause a shift to alternatives, but with huge supplies of cheap coal available, we will be tempted to continue using it until it is too late to turn back.

      • Stephanie B says:

        China is jumping into alternative energy big time, knowing the world is a huge market, even though they have some of the largest coal reserves. It doesn’t mean coal mining is going away any time soon – but progress is being made.

      • tmac57 says:

        Given the current political climate, and the ramping up of the climate change skeptical movement, what do you think the odds are that we won’t continue full bore using coal in it’s ‘dirty’ form? I am not a fatalist, but I am frustrated that even common sense measures are being actively opposed by formidable forces that are manipulating the debate for ideological and monetary reasons without regard for the consequences.

      • Stephanie B says:

        The gearing up of methods for alternative energy in many other venues is quite impressive. Some European countries have widespread solar power in place (and,despite a higher latitude) that generates a large percentage of their power. And, of course, their public transportation is far better than ours. As is Japan’s.

        Canada, less dense and larger, has better public transportation than we do. China is gearing up their public transportation system, too and building several large capacity solar array manufacturing facilities. Others are springing up in Europe and the Middle East.

        If solar becomes reasonably priced (as it might with so many interests pursuing it outside our borders), I have no doubt Americans will purchase it. Ditto other methods. If home electricity becomes far less costly, electric cars will make their way in. Someone will realize the benefits.

        I think we will move to the good inevitably, just because it’s the smart thing to do. Unfortunately, I don’t know that we’ll do so before causing irreparable harm to the planet (that many in other nations that contributed next to nothing to the problem may pay for more than we will). And, if we continue to drag our feet, the US will stand a good chance of irrevocably losing the edge in energy (and I firmly believe some people will make it work) – and will slide into relative inconsequence as a result. We’ve lost the technical edge in so many areas. Soon, we may only lead the world in movie making and other media. If that.

  39. Gerald Guild says:

    Wow, “third rail of skepticism” is right! I find the cognitions behind this debate to be extremely interesting. As is the case in the debate between evolutionists and creationists, there appears to be discordant “realities” (facts) used by the the antagonists. Underlying, these cognitions are tendencies toward error and bias that affect every one of us. We have to work hard to overcome these default mechanisms and come to terms on some rules of thought. I recently posted an article at
    http://geraldguild.com/blog/2010/02/12/rules-of-thought/
    on just such rules. If the ways of thought evidenced in the above exchange intrigues you, you may want to check it out.

    As for my perspective on AGW, the evidence, particularly that which is not ideologically driven is pretty clear. I fear that we as a species are disinclined to change our behavior, despite an understanding of the risk, until the consequences are grave.

    • Max says:

      tmac57 linked to this NOAA document about weather station bias.
      http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/about/response-v2.pdf

      NOAA analyzed the data from all 1218 USHCN stations, and compared that to the analysis of 70 stations that surfacestations.org classified as good or best. The results look almost identical and show an upward trend since 1970. Look at the graph on page 3. Some years have big temperature drops, and some periods stay level like the last decade, but it still goes up.

  40. Shawne says:

    What about the Cosmic Ray hypothesis? The idea that these rays cause clouds to form, which are the biggest contributors to the greenhouse effect. I’m not the best at this, but apparently the Sun’s magnetic activity either shields or allows more cosmic rays to penetrate the Earth which causes climate cycles.

    I’m a fence sitter. I just came across these (low quality, sorry) videos that discuss the notion with the scientist that discovered it. Of course, correlation is not causation so just because it’s a beautiful match, doesn’t mean EVERYTHING–however, it is compelling.

    Please take a look and comment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1qGOUIRac0

    Thank you so much. I really appreciate your work in the Skeptic community, and your attempt to take a reasoned stance on the issue. I’m one of many who think Plait’s “denierism” is appalling, which is a shame because I’m a fan of his too… Name calling is the worst argument!

  41. Shawne says:

    Thank you tmac, I am looking at these links.

    First one is merely a press release with absolutely no information, just assertions that the theory is bunk.

    Second one, I hate to do this, but it’s from realclimate which is directly implicated in the Climategate emails. Also, the piece is from 2006, which is well before any theoretical reforms (if any) could have occurred into the EXTREME bias of the site. Until a reliable verdict is cast on climategate, I refuse to trust any information on that site. You might as well send me a WWF magazine.

    For example, the authors bias is immediately apparent by this line:

    “I should first apologise for the third solar related posting in as many weeks. I realise that most people are not that interested and so after this one, I promise a moratorium for a month or so!”

    He’s apologizing for considering the other view? To me, this seems a subtle form of brainwashing, it gives the casual reader the impression that not only is it silly to consider this hypothesis, it’s so annoying it warrants an apology.

    I want a scientist to explain this to me, not an activist.

  42. Shawne says:

    Dr Svensmark himself was unimpressed by the findings.

    “Terry Sloan has simply failed to understand how cosmic rays work on clouds,” he told BBC News.

    “He predicts much bigger effects than we would do, as between the equator and the poles, and after solar eruptions; then, because he doesn’t see those big effects, he says our story is wrong, when in fact we have plenty of evidence to support it.”

    From a BBC article that also smells of bias. I fear they straw-manned or misunderstood Svensmark and disproved the wrong thing. Like, it’s mentioned that cosmic rays could account for a quarter of cloud cover, perhaps that’s enough? I don’t remember Svensmark saying clouds ONLY form from Cosmic Rays..

  43. Shawne says:

    One last thing for now.. I also detect a false dichotomy in that realclimate post you linked me to, starting with “But let’s look carefully at what is required in this logic”… What is required? Although they do seem like perfectly reasonable points, it’s sloppy science to assume that this is the ONLY test that will prove/disprove the theory.

    Check out page 10 of this very recent paper on the subject: http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1002/1002.0597.pdf

  44. Craig Green says:

    My name is Craig Green, and I am an AGW (anthropogenic global warming) skeptic.

    I did not say “global warming” skeptic, since global warming – and cooling – have been occurring since before the Earth’s atmosphere formed. Although the evidence and scientific opinions for warming or cooling for any time period are not “settled,” the primary issue in contention is whether current warming was, and will continue to be, caused by Man’s emissions of CO2, as stated in the IPCC’s 2007 (AR4) “Summary for Policymakers.” All other issues pale beside this, as it is the premise behind virtually all legislative proposals on climate change.

    I appreciate Steven Novell calling people like me “dissidents” instead of “deniers.” But, both terms are ad hominem, moving the debate backwards, not forward. To label both sides of the AGW debate, I prefer the terms “AGW skeptic” (me) and “AGW advocate” (Steven). Neither of these reflects the arrogant chauvinism or ad hominem attacks all too common to both sides.

    “Dissidents” as used by Steve appears to mean those in the minority, or who refuse to see the wisdom of “scientific consensus,” both of which show the fallacy of Appeal to Authority. Steven spent more than half his article discussing the failure of “dissidents” to convince him there is any science on their side. He must not have looked very far.

    In this, my first post to this discussion, I will briefly discuss two examples from Alan Cheetham’s global warming website, which presents a variety of scientific evidence to support the AGW skeptic’s point of view. The links below show, respectively, Alan’s main page and his “Simplified Nutshell” summary of the issues.

    Main Page:
    http://www.appinsys.com/GlobalWarming/

    Simplified Nutshell:
    http://www.appinsys.com/GlobalWarming/GW_SimplifiedNutshell.htm

    Within Alan’s Simplified Nutshell, I have chosen two (of ten) examples that directly contradict the most common (and popular) claims of all IPCC reports.

    Although I’m sure your good skeptics here understand the logical fallacy of “Correlation is not Causation,” I will fight fire with fire, as this seems to be the most pervasive and effective marketing tool of IPCC-affiliated scientists and the politicians (“policymakers”) who claim to speak for them.

    The second example on Alan’s “Simplified Nutshell” page (“Solar Magnetic Flux Explains The Warming”) is a graph that shows excellent correlation between temperature and solar activity.

    The seventh example (“Models Indicate Warming Not Due to CO2″) compares James Hansen’s (NASA) projections presented to Congress in 1988, compared to Hansen’s own data since then, which show actual global temperatures declining below his “reduced CO2″ example (lowest curve), rather than his higher projections.

    I have only scratched the surface of AGW skeptic science, so let the games begin.

    • Max says:

      Some AGW deniers who say they don’t deny global warming, nevertheless celebrate all reports of local or temporary cooling or heavy snowfall (which has more to do with high moisture than cold temperature), sort of like Creationists who replaced the word “Creation” with “Intelligent Design” and disingenuously argued that they’re not promoting religion.

      If you split debates into “skeptics” vs. “advocates”, as in “Moon landing skeptics” vs. “Moon landing advocates”, you’re reducing the meaning of “skeptic” to the general definition of “One who doubts something”, as opposed to “One who applies critical thinking.”
      How about calling it “doubters” vs. “advocates”?

  45. Robo Sapien says:

    Daniel, here’s a link to an interesting read that I found. The author, Gary Thompson, presents a case which he claims to be proof that AGW is bunk. It seems solid, but requires the attention of a more skilled skeptic than I. Check it out.

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/02/the_agw_smoking_gun.html

  46. Robo Sapien says:

    Oops, I meant Steven, not Daniel. I was originally going to post it on one of Daniel’s articles, but I felt here was more appropriate.

  47. Mike says:

    Steve, you have written one of the best descriptions of the AGW debate I have seen. Thank you.

    Craig suggests that the use of dissident equates to the Appeal to Authority fallacy. However, as the majority of scientist believe AGW is occurring it seems to me that it is a good and accurate choice.
    Although I would class myself as an AGW advocate I find the aggressive terminology, poor use of science and irrelevant arguments coming from “both sides” of the debate distructive and incompatible with my definition of science.

  48. GoneWithTheWind says:

    The bottom line is there is zero evidence that man has caused global warming. There is a theory but no evidence. This is the 33rd global warming since the last ice age and man didn’t cause the previous 32 of them either. This particular global warming was expected and is occurring on schedule. It is not as hot as the last global warming in the 11th century but it was caused by the same things. The 33rd global cooling will follow this the 33rd global warming and it will be the gloal cooling that will cause serious harm. It will be impossible to grow enough food to feed our present 6.5 billion world population in a global cooling. Don’t fear global warming it is in fact pretty benign and has allowed humans to flourish. Beware the minimum.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      Who expected the current warming? Can you point us to the literature that backs up that claim, that is, a paper or set of papers containing that prediction? What was the mechanism that caused the warming in the 11th century? Where can I find the peer reviewed literature on that?

  49. Craig Green says:

    I am delighted with the mostly reasoned, respectful debate going on here. Though we may have some factual and philosophical differences, it is refreshing to see them presented in an adult and constructive manner.

    Thanks to all for your contributions and comments on my previous post.

  50. Oh boy, I love The President . Anyone see his latest approval ratings?

  51. danake says:

    co2 from humans is causing Global Warming? How could that be if it has been warmer in the past? And co2 is very low by historical standards? It doesn’t make sense. Unless you want to get rich from tax & carbon trading schemes. “Heaven & Earth” is a recent good book to read for some info. There are many others.

  52. Nestor says:

    Solar forcing is at least as good a plausibility and has a better record of being in track with the provable records.

  53. mary k kelley says:

    If one studies the evidence of climate change in prehistory, one realizes that the earth’s climate has changed from hotter to colder and back many,many times. Often these changes have happened fairly rapidly.Since this has happened many times over without human influence, why is it necessary to posit humans as the cause now? This seems to me to be where the “religion” aspect of AGW comes in: guilt and punishment.