Learning to Live with Denialism

Periodically, some readers accuse me of characterizing climate skepticism in an overly broad manner. There are various subspecies, they insist. So I should stop painting all climate skeptics as frothing conspiracy mongers.

My rejoinder is that I base my characterization on the loudest, most relentless climate skeptics, who have made themselves the representative voices of their movement.

In a nod to their different plumages, the climate analyst David Victor has in a recent talk identified three types of “denialism”: Paid shills, actual skeptics, and hobbyists, the latter constituting the majority.

Andy Revkin at his New York Times Dot Earth blog has excerpted highlights of the talk, including this passage that probably doesn’t still well with the missionary contingent in the climate-concerned sphere:

under pressure from denialists we in the scientific community have spent too much time talking about consensus. That approach leads us down a path that, at the end, is fundamentally unscientific and might even make us more vulnerable to attack, including attack from our own. The most interesting advances in climate science concern areas where there is no consensus but the consequences for humanity are grave, such as the possibility of extreme catastrophic impacts. We should talk less about consensus and more about the consequences of being wrong—about the lower probability (or low consensus) but high consequence outcomes.

As an aside, I wonder if there is a lesson here for the GMO debate, since biotech communicators are increasingly emphasizing the scientific consensus on the safety issue. Is this, too, a misstep?

But back to Victor’s talk on how to deal with climate skepticism. Here’s an important observation:

Various scholars have tried to identify the impact of denialist chatter and events like the climategate email scandal, and some seem to find some links. But in my view what is going on has nothing to do with denialism. Instead, what we are seeing is what psychologists call “motivated reasoning” —people hear about something they abhor and they find reasons to justify their dissent. Believing that the science is “uncertain” is one of those reasons.

I know it is convenient to ascribe denialism to powerful commercial forces—evil Oz’s who are pulling levers behind the curtain—but if you realize that much of denialism is a hobby then it becomes much clearer that denialism is here to stay. In fact, as the importance of the topic rises so will denialism.

In other words, we have to learn to live with denialism and, more importantly, try not to fuel it.

UPDATE: I’m reminded that Revkin has previously discussed being a (recovering) “denialist” of a different sort.

46 Responses to “Learning to Live with Denialism”

  1. dljvjbsl says:


  2. Richard_Arrett says:

    One way to stop fueling “it” would be to stop using the terms denier, denialist, denialism, etc.

    Using those words is really nothing but name calling and a gross insult.

    It is silly to apply this term to the gigantic proportion of people who actually agree that the Earth has warmed, but disagree that 100% of the warming is human caused.

    We just don’t know how much of the warming since 1950 is human caused versus naturally caused. The longer the pause or hiatus lasts, the more everybody’s nose is rubbed in this fact.

    The climate scientists who believe that the warming since 1950 is largely caused by humans have worked this assumption into their climate models – which have been shown to be grossly wrong.

    Talk about motivated reasoning. That is the pot calling the kettle black.

    Observations are way below modelled projections and therefore good science demands that we go back and review our assumptions and try to correct the models.

    An increase in the proportion of natural variability and a lessening of human caused warming since 1950 is inevitable – which again just goes to show how little we really know about how much of the warming since 1950 (or even 1750) is caused by humans and how much would have happened in the absence of humans.

    More and more – the motivated reasoning is easily seen on the side of consensus climate scientists and their advocates.

  3. Steve Crook says:

    “and, more importantly, try not to fuel it”

    Exactly. The efforts to publicise climate change and to get people to back ‘radical action’ have, at the least, been largely unsuccessful, and more likely, counter productive.

    The reaction is inevitably to suggest that we need more of what has already failed or, that those who remain unconvinced are dullards duped by Murdoch and the Kochs.

    There’s a Thatcherite call for sceptics, deniers or whatever you choose to call them to be ‘denied the oxygen of publicity’. Ironic when it comes from the liberalish, leftish types who would have opposed Thatcher on sight.

  4. mem_somerville says:

    I don’t think the situation with GMOs is the same. It seems to me that most of the general public weren’t aware of all of the worldwide public scientific academies’ positions on GMOs in the way they knew of the IPCC. So that foundation had to be explained. And I think it helped, because it made the deniers of those facts keep saying “we aren’t anti-science–really…” and it put them on the defensive.

    But I also don’t see that consensus and ongoing data are mutually exclusive. The foundational facts that there are no risks that are different from conventional tools and that the current crops are safe is important to convey, and that there is ongoing research, can completely co-exist.

    That said, I don’t disagree that there will continue to be a small and shouty group that are completely unreachable with any evidence, and they will always exist (see fluoride, vaccines, wifi, etc). All we can do is show people that the large circle of people who are mainstream science practitioners vs the small circle of fringy outliers is so disproportionate.

    But the humor value of their lists of fringy folks who sign petitions–that there’s no consensus or that scientists disagree on some point–is so high I’m not sure I’d want that to go away.

  5. JH says:

    The upside of Victor’s comments is that he acknowledges that consensus is meaningless.

  6. JH says:

    I’d love to ask Victor why “climate science” – ie, the leading action advocating scientists, esp The Team at RC – expended so much effort denying the pause? Any motivated reasoning there?

  7. JH says:

    I find the “hobbyist” label amusing. I guess it’s supposed to be a put-down to non-academics that work on the problem.

    It’s unfortunate for the “professionals” that the “hobbyists” have recognized/discovered several important factors overlooked by the “professionals”:

    1) Mann’s manufacture of the Hockeystick through cherry picking and, er, “mistakes”.

    2) The significant local impact of urban warming (eg, land use and development)

    3) The Pause

    4) numerous “errors” in AR4

    Beyond that, climate skeptics are THE drivers of the movement make data available and to improve methods reporting across all branches of the sciences.

    Those are significant accomplishments.

  8. David Skurnick says:

    “under pressure from denialists we in the scientific community have spent too much time talking about consensus.”
    Yes, there’s been too much talk about “consensus”, but wasn’t due to pressure from “denialists.” On the contrary, “consensus” was offered as a key evidence of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming back in the 1990’s, before skepticism had gained much of a foothold. IMHO the CAGW believers focused on (alleged) consensus because they didn’t have clear evidence of causality. They did know the earth had been warming and they did know that anthropogenic gases probably played a role, but their data didn’t show how big an impact anthropogenic gases had. (The data still doesn’t answer this question.) They used the claim of “consensus” to avoid addressing that weakness in their theories.

  9. J M says:

    The big difference is that GMO denialism matters for the outcome. The Greens organized anti-GMO movement in Europe by same tactics they are using in the US now. GMOs are in practice banned in Europe. No politician calls GMO deniers crackpots or Flat Earth Society there.

    Climate change denialism is accused of postponing the action on cutting emissions. However, the same politicians and governments who wax eloquently about the dangers of global warming have no problem building new coal power plants, exporting coal and oil and shutting down nuclear power.

    IMO, it is a form of denial to suggest that a lack of global deal on CO2 emissions is about the science. In reality, it is about money. Who should pay the bill.

  10. Tom Scharf says:

    As Revkin has stated, action on AGW is “mile wide and an inch deep”, meaning everyone supports action, but nobody wants to pay for it. It’s like being “for” cancer research. AGW action has been the lowest priority of the public for a decade or more.

    The push back against action on AGW is primarily based on economics, the trade off of mitigation against adaption, uncertainty in affects, and lack of an effective policy solution that addresses global emissions. Policy case in point is Keystone XL, where symbolism and building a movement is more important than being effective.

    As with most of quoters of social science claptrap, it is always the other side that is a victim of “motivated reasoning”. This is simply medicalization of dissent. Another convenient psychological shield against actual introspection.

    Here’s how this argument tends to play out:

    The temps have been rising. OK.
    Man has been emitting lots of CO2. OK.
    Some of this temp rise is due to CO2. OK.
    Clean energy R & D is a good idea. OK.

    Here’s where the wheels fall off:

    The climate sensitivity is not well defined. DENIER!
    Extreme events haven’t actually gotten worse yet. DENIER!
    Your suggested policy will only lower future global temperature increases by a fraction. DENIER!
    China, India, and the developing world is key to keeping a lid on future emissions. DENIER!
    Economics should be a high priority when designing a solution. DENIER!
    Fracking is a good thing, better than coal by half. DENIER!
    We should wait until the science is better defined and outcomes are more certain. DENIER!
    It might be wiser/cheaper to adapt instead of attempt to mitigate which looks hopeless on a global scale. DENIER!
    UN Global Climate Treaty looks unworkable. DENIER!
    If the US acts alone, it won’t be effective. DENIER!
    Nuclear power is the best solution we have now. DENIER!
    Putting expensive intermittent subsidized power into production is a bad idea. DENIER!
    The world simply isn’t going to give up cheap energy based on the uncertainty of outcomes in climate science. DENIER!
    The science actually says catastrophic outcomes are low probability. DENIER!
    I think estimates on large extinction rates are overstated. DENIER!
    We can’t get work done if we all drive a Prius. DENIER!
    Polar bears are…DENIER! DENIER! DENIER!

  11. Tom Scharf says:

    It’s really not bad in the science many times. The problem many times is what people (media) say the scientists say, not what they actually said.

    Here is a very curious case in point. After the SPM for AR5 was released the media went hog wild on the fact that the certainty of AGW change increased in confidence from 90% to 95% (in spite of the pause).

    It turns out this was a bit of specmanship and creative license in the SPM and press release. Confidence didn’t actually change.

    Watch the ball under the cups closely, they changed definitions from “anthropogenic greenhouse gases” to “human influence”. The confidence in just “anthropogenic greenhouse gases” remains unchanged.


    “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-­-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gases.”


    “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-­-20th century.”

    From AR5 Chapter10:

    “More than half of the observed increase in GMST from 1950-­-2010 is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic green house gases.”

    “It is extremely likely that human activities* caused more than half of the observed increase in GMST from 1951-­-2010”

    * GHG, aerosols, ozone, land use changes(increased confidence in these forcings)

    Don’t hold your breath for that to be corrected any time soon. I do fault the scientists for sitting on their hands while activists go wild with interpretations of their work. Everything is spin in the media now.

  12. Richard_Arrett says:

    Thanks Tom – that was very interesting. So the “extremely likely” refers not just to CO2 and methane – but also includes land use and I suppose black carbon etc. I was not aware of that nuance. Thanks again.

  13. nyscof says:

    Sometimes it’s the science writers who are in denial – especially about water fluoridation. Government reports and the scientific literature show that fluoridation has failed in the US and has never been safety tested, especially for its possible link to arthritis, brain damage and thyroid dysfunction. It seems science writers don’t do much digging beyond the news release.

    But a change has occurred because the Lancet, which all science writers are taught to respect and dutifully reprint their press releases oftentimes verbatim.

    This time a Lancey news release actually mentioned fluoride’s link to brain damage.

    Fluoride joins lead, arsenic, methylmercury, toluene, tetrachloroethylene, and other
    chemicals known to cause harm to brains.Fluoride is newly classified as a developmental neurotoxin by medical authorities in the March 2014 journal Lancet Neurology. The authors are Dr. Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Philip
    Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine.

    The authors write “A meta-analysis of 27 cross-sectional studies of children exposed to fluoride in drinking water,
    mainly from China, suggests an average IQ
    decrement of about seven points in children exposed to raised fluoride
    concentrations.” The majority of these 27 studies had water fluoride levels which the US Environmental Protection Agency currently allows in the US – less than 4 milligrams per liter.

    Developmental neurotoxins are
    capable of causing widespread brain disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, and other cognitive impairments. The harm is often untreatable and permanent.

    The authors say it’s crucial to control the use of all harmful chemicals to protect children’s brain development. They propose mandatory testing of these chemicals and the urgent formation of a new international clearinghouse to evaluate them for potential

    “Fluoride seems to fit in with lead, mercury, and other
    poisons that cause chemical brain drain,” Grandjean
    says. “The effect of each toxicant may seem small, but the combined damage on a population scale can be serious, especially because the brain power of the next generation is crucial to
    all of us.”

  14. JonFrum says:

    Funny how only the opposition suffers from the irrational ‘motivated reasoning.’ I’m sure that the ‘solutions’ to climate change just happen to be the same proposed by the Green left before climate change was ever considered is totally irrelevant.

  15. Stu says:

    Thanks Tom!
    Actual introspection. Who knew?

  16. Tom Scharf says:

    Another thing I find amusing about all these recent clinical dissections of how deniers think is that I always come away wondering “who are these supposed scholars talking about?”.

    It just never rings as true what they believe skeptics actually believe. You get the impression that all these social scientists do everything in their power except actually go interview skeptics. They seem to only talk to each other.

    All these studies start with the presupposition that science has spoken and the deniers are wrong, why are they brain damaged? Now it is possible that since the social sciences are one of the most liberally leaning (I read it was 87%) of all majors, that this is just a natural result.

    Look at the agenda of all these communication conferences, such as in Keith’s update or Victor’s one linked to here. It’s all about “communication” but nary a skeptic within 100 miles of the place. Just seems really odd to me. You want to understand them, talk to them.

  17. Joshua says:

    2) The significant local impact of urban warming (eg, land use and development)

    I think that this is the sort of argument that might encourage the “hobbyist” labeling (personally, I’m not in favor of labeling of pretty much any sort – as the proclivity for labeling is, ironically, a manifestation of identity-protective and identity-aggressive behaviors that are driven by cultural cognition and the associated motivated reasoning).

    The impact of UHI was certainly not “overlooked” by professionals, and if look at the results of BEST, you will understand that “skeptics” have as a group, failed to understand the significance (or lack thereof) of UHI on land temp records.

  18. Joshua says:

    If you are interested in the subject of how motivated reasoning helps to understand what’s happening in the climate debate, you might consider that it is entirely understandable to consider the prevalence of view among experts on highly technical issues, where only but a tiny handful of people are incapable of fully evaluating the science, as information that is useful for evaluating probabilities.

    In fact, the arguments from “skeptic” that the prevalence of view among “experts” is somehow irrelevant to the issue of climate change are an indication of motivated reasoning, because everyone one of them turn around and accept the science on any other variety of issues based on an assumption that the prevalence of view among “experts” is an important indication of probabilities.

    A prevalence of view among experts on complex topics is something that in not polarized issues, people view as evidence all the time.

    The existence of a “consensus” in climate change has become a rhetorical device on both sides in the climate debate wars, with “realists” sometimes arguing as if it is more than just evidence, but should be considered as dispositive, and “skeptics” arguing that it is irrelevant. Both arguments are fallacious.

    As to “who started it,” in the clash of fallacious arguments, I would say that the question is just as unanswerable (except to tribalists seeking to confirm biases) as it is irrelevant (except to tribalists seeking to confirm biases).

  19. RogerSweeny says:

    Why don’t people automatically believe scientists any more?

    One cause has to be the academic study of science–Thomas Kuhn and other historians of science, sociologists of science, maybe postmodernism in general. The idea that science is a human, imperfect enterprise has seeped out of the academy.

    On a related note, respectable lefties are quick to say that corporate money distorts research results. It is hardly surprising that righties find nothing wrong with thinking government (or non-profit) money does the same thing.

  20. Joshua says:

    Why don’t people automatically believe scientists any more?

    Are you familiar with the data on trends in the public’s trust in scientists?

    If you were, I think that you’d be far less likely to attribute the causality that you described. First, because I doubt that you have any evidence that people in general are more likely now than they were previously to think of science as fallible by virtue of being the product of imperfect humans.

    Second, because what the data actually show is that the drop in trust in scientists, while not terribly significant, is greatest in a particular sub-section of the public and thus not likely attributable to some perspective on the work of Kuhn or other historians.

    More like, IMO, it is attributable to a host of issues where science and religious beliefs have come into conflict – such as evolution, stem cell research, concurrent with the: (1) growth of the religious right and, (2) a more pervasive drop in trust among “conservatives” in societal institutions more generally.

    The drop in trust in scientists has proven to be limited to one group – conservatives. Not liberals and not moderates. It has been happening over a period of decades.

  21. Joshua says:

    One way to stop fueling “it” would be to stop using the terms denier, denialist, denialism, etc.

    Consider that for many, “concern” about the term “denier” is mostly a convenient excuse for confirming their biases about climate change – biases that are rooted in motivated reasoning.

    People who are offended by the term “denier” are likely responding out of a group identity-protective mechanism – of the sort described in the literature on motivated reasoning. Since you seem to accept that motivated reasoning is a real phenomenon, then maybe you should study about how it describes the identity protective mechanisms involved?

    Also, if you did study motivated reasoning, you would understand that arguing that there is some kind of disproportionate manifestation of that phenomenon on the different sides of the climate debate is not consistent with the theory, as the theory describes universal cognitive and psychological attributes that result in motivated reasoning. In fact, you’d realize that arguing that there is some disproportionate manifestation of the phenomenon, reflecting a signal of perspective on climate change, is, ironically, a sign of motivated reasoning.

  22. RogerSweeny says:

    That’s why I said “seeped out.” I don’t think most of the people who deny anthropogenic global warming or GMO safety have read Kuhn or any similar academic but the ideas are in the air.

    I’m not sure what to make of the data. Lots of people have somewhat sophisticated denial, “Of course, I have trust in science. But scientists who disagree with me aren’t doing real science. They have been corrupted so, of course, I don’t trust them. And, of course, I don’t trust their results. But I trust real science. Of course.”

  23. Joshua says:

    “Of course, I have trust in science. But scientists who disagree with
    me aren’t doing real science. They have been corrupted so, of course, I
    don’t trust them. And, of course, I don’t trust their results. But I
    trust real science. Of course.”


    That kind of attitude is completely consistent with the data on motivated reasoning – as those data suggest that people evaluate the validity of scientific “expertise” on the basis of first identifying the source of that expertise within a group-identity framework.

    Good point about the “seeped out,” distinction – but still, I see that explanation and the explanation supplied by motivated reasoning as being pretty much in conflict. Perhaps not completely mutually exclusive, but largely so. Trends in trust in scientists is not likely predicated on some larger philosophical orientation towards science or the fallibility of scientists as humans (whether it be directly informed by historians of the effects of their work seeping out) – but based on trends in group identifications.

  24. RogerSweeny says:

    Agreed. I think that just about everyone believes there is both “real science”–similar to how a high school science book desribes science–and messy, sloppy, imperfect, sometimes downright corrupt science.

    Motivated reasoning shows up in that people who agree with you tend to be put in the first category and people who disagree with you tend to be put into the second.

    If you fear GMOs, you know anyone having anything to do with Monsanto belongs in the second category. If you think anthropogenic climate change isn’t a big deal, you feel the same way about anyone involved with Michael Mann.

  25. Tom Scharf says:

    Just like the science on nuclear power, and GMO’s, right?

    The possibility that certain scientific areas have become filled with ideological rigid activists never crossed your mind, right?

    Have you ever seen the voting habits of those involved in environmental science? In academia? Once liberalism starts leaking into the science, it becomes politically polarized.

    There are really three worlds here, the hard sciences, the social sciences, and environmental science. The last two have allowed political activism to infect their ranks and drag down their credibility. Even 50% of Democrats think the dangers of global warming have been exaggerated.

    The hard sciences still maintain a fair amount of respectability, and I would be kind enough to include those working on the IPCC WG1 into this category (with some notable exceptions). WG2 and WG3 not so much.

    Do you find physicists and chemists becoming activists for their “cause”?

    And where exactly does religion enter this climate debate? This is a bit misguided.

  26. Tom Scharf says:

    The “No true Scotsman” works both ways, hence Joshua’s opinion on Curry.

    Your obsession with motivated reasoning makes it pretty easy to never listen to what people actually say, doesn’t it?

  27. Tom Scharf says:

    I think we can all agree at least that climate science has become politically polarized in the US. Looking back I think the seminal moment was Al Gore (who you can’t even bring up in a conversation anymore). He was already a politically polarizing figure, and his derision of people who disagreed with him (automatically assumed to be Republicans) built a wall that may never come down.

    I doubt Joshua and Keith would be as inclined to promote the science of GMO’s if Bush / Cheney made it their life cause and pushed hard for government money to be dumped into Monsanto and Halliburton to advance that cause.

    Moral of the story: Mixing politics and science is a bad idea.

  28. Tom Scharf says:

    You may never get this, but we may agree on most of the known facts, but make different decisions on how to proceed based on personal values. Decision making on policy with great levels of uncertainty is not a scientific endeavor, the science can only make estimates on probabilities.

    Many of the most divisive arguments in climate science are in the reading of these future tea leaves. This won’t be resolved for decades.

    And where are differences in personal values most clearly expressed? Politics.

    Because this is an impediment to pushing forward, there has been a conflagration of science disagreement and policy disagreement on the CAGW side, which is just pointless.

  29. Mars says:

    So, most agree the climate change is happening, and in general, in a warming period. The only questions at hand, are 1) how much, and how much more, 2) what percentage is from our activities, and 3) what if anything can and will we do about it, before 4) its too late. The worst that can happen is we become extinct by our own hand, and the best is that we survive longer than expected. Which option would you prefer?

  30. Tom Scharf says:

    Do you even read what you write yourself? I think you are in an infinite loop here.

    “(personally, I’m not in favor of labeling of pretty much any sort – as the proclivity for labeling is, ironically, a manifestation of identity-protective and identity-aggressive behaviors that are driven by cultural cognition and the associated motivated reasoning)”

    What a bunch of circular psycho-babble.

    Here is the third grade translation: You won’t get the votes you need to pass policy by calling the other side names.

  31. David Skurnick says:

    I agree that consensus among experts is significant. However, in the case of
    climate change, I don’t buy the consensus argument, for several reasons:

    1. The claimed consensus doesn’t exist. There has never been a straightforward poll of all climate experts to find out what they think. (There was a recent paper by Cook, et al, that claimed to find consensus. However, its methods were flawed and the only consensus it claimed to find was agreement that man’s activity has some non-zero impact on climate.)

    2. Claims vary about what climate scientists supposedly agree about. I’ve seen claims of consensus that man has non-zero impact on climate; that man’s activity caused over half of twentieth century global warming; that man’s activity will cause catastrophic climate change; and a claim of consensus on some undefined Theory of Climate Change.

    3. I don’t think that even the supposed experts are necessarily capable of fully evaluating the science. In particular, I think many of them don’t understand statistical analysis well enough. E.g., Michael Mann created an incorrect statistical formula that supposedly showed past temperatures had a hockey stick shape. It turned out that his formula would produce a hockey stick shape regardless of the underlying data. Clearly, Mann didn’t understand what he was doing. Furthermore, his colleagues didn’t understand statistics well enough to discover his error. The error was finally discovered by Steven McIntyre, someone outside of the climate science community.

    4. Conflict of interest. A survey of General Motors salesmen might show a consensus that we should all buy GM cars, but who would have confidence
    in it? Similarly, I don’t fully trust the opinion of scientists when belief in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is essential to their publications, their grants, their speaking fees, their prestige, their international travel, and their career advancement. Rajenda Pachauri, the head of the IPCC has an even more obvious conflict of interest. He heads an outside organization dependent on fear of climate change.

    5. Some skeptics are so prestigious that their doubts count for a lot. In particular, Freeman Dyson is widely considered to be the leading living physicist. He criticized the research methods use in the climate models. When the closest thing we have to a living Einstein questions climate science, I listen.

  32. Joshua says:

    David –

    I don’t really disagree with any of your points (although I do think that the situation with Mann is more two-sided than how you describe it) and I don’t buy the 97% consensus just because I find it hard to believe that 97% of any group could agree on perspective on such a complex issues.

    Nonetheless, I do think that there is a “consensus” of experts who agree that our climate is going to be affected by ACO2, and that the effect of ACO2 present a real risk for significantly troublesome outcomes in the medium to long range time horizons (a few decades hence and beyond). Note that I did not quantify that risk (it is uncertain), but that I don’t take lightly that there is prevalence of view among experts that some measure of risk exists.

    I find it interesting that many “skeptics” on the one hand argue that recognizing that there is a consensus logically fallacious and then on the other hand spending a great deal of time arguing about the precise magnitude of the consensus. If the fact of a consensus is irrelevant, then why do they care what the magnitude of the consensus is?

    IMO, the fact that there is a prevalence of opinion about the science among experts, of the type that I described, is sufficient reason to engage in discussions about the range of potential outcomes, the probabilities of particularly harmful outcomes, and the range of costs and benefits of policies that target mitigation. The existence of a prevalence in expert opinion as I described does not mean that there needs to be an particular outcome from those discussions.

    I read “skeptical” blogs quite a bit, and I see a great deal of “skeptics” who reject the notion of such discussions out of what seems to me to be ill-founded certainty that either there is no potential for harmful outcomes, that the potential for harmful outcomes is so small as to not be of any concern, or that the benefits of any mitigation policies will be outweighed by the costs.

  33. Tapasap says:

    You forgot to mention 5) climategate, the most significant accomplishment them all.

    (Facetious as 6) the fire in Hell)

  34. JH says:


    Human land use has a significant impact on the temperatures we feel on the ground, whether or not that impact shows up in land surface temp records.

    For my part, I’m not convinced that the BEST methodology is foolproof. I doubt there is a way to retrospectively eliminate all local upward bias from temp records. How much that bias is I can’t say.

  35. Joshua says:

    JH –

    The point is that an analysis like BEST controls for the influence of those factors. It isn’t like their conclusion is that those influences don’t exist – but that they don’t significantly distort the mean temperature records.

    Foolproof? I don’t think that any methodology is foolproof.

  36. Phillip Shurtleff says:

    In the past I would be on the list of a denier and perhaps still so. What convinced me wasn’t any remarks about consensus. Appeal to popularity is not convincing. Simply the statement that fossil carbon is higher than just about anytime in history and natural sources such as volcanoes, naturally burning coal deposits, and others did not account for the quantity that’s being measured. Burning fossil fuels does account for it. That’s all I needed to hear from a reliable source. The “hockey stick” graph was based only on thermometer readings over a 400 year period which smacked of selective reasoning and overrating a momentary (relatively speaking) spike. Global temperature changes are naturally occurring events and the Earth is not static. While that didn’t mean that global warming wasn’t a serious problem, the Permian Extinction is believed to be due to extreme volcanic activity causing a 10 degree rise in the global average, how you address it is affected by how much it is caused by man. I still don’t agree that it is 100 percent caused by man but I do recognize that the warming leading to the Permian Extinction took 60 to 100 thousand years and we may accomplish the same in less than 500. Way too rapid for life to adapt.

    So I’m no longer a denier and agree that action needs to be taken focused on the burning of fossil fuels and sequestering man-made carbon. Along with other ideas like bringing back large wandering herds of herbivores that create large grasslands, reversing desertification to create a larger, natural carbon sink.

  37. Ken Oaks says:

    …ok, so even those ppl who, intentionally or not, apply the “denialist” lable to themselves agree that the climate is changing. Even that it is warming. Now who CARES if we caused it or not?
    GHGs have been shown to be the cause of a climate warming trend. Industrialized human acitivities produce significant levels of GHGs. Humans have the capability to reduce the emissions of industrial GHGs. Continued increases in global temperatures will lead to drastic sea level rise through glacial/ice cap melting. Most of the world’s human population lives at or near sea level (including the richest and most populous cities). Flooding of these cities would be absolutely catastrophic.
    Whether or not humans caused the current warming trend, it is clear that we are capable influencing it to either accelerate or maybe even decelerate. In the process we would make ourselves more energy independent. Given the options, I do not see how inaction can be viewed as acceptable. And before the “economy” card is played, countries and COMPANIES who make a comitted effort to opperating in a sustainable fashion have repeatedly shown that the up front investment is small compared to the cost saving and even profitability that follow. So, live green, save green, MAKE green… The only reason to fight it is if u make money fighting it…. How’s that for “conspiracy”?

  38. Buddy199 says:

    Here’s the observational data since 1975 vs. what the climate models predicted:
    Is it “denialism” to acknowledge the major discrepancy?

  39. Timothy James Rogers says:

    The only difference between my denial and your denial is that you blog about yours.

  40. Tom Scharf says:

    The amount that GHG have warmed the climate versus natural variability is quite uncertain. These is no GHG thermometer readings (cannot be directly measured). IPCC expert judgement says >50%, but this a guess based on poorly performing climate models.

    Drastic sea level rise in the near term is an extraordinarily low probability event. The science says a quick melting of the Greenland ice sheet is extremely unlikely, and the Antarctic is pretty much the same but being studied. At the current rate it will take on the order of 5000 years for these ice sheets to melt completely. They have been melting since the end of the last ice age.

    Take a huge ice cube out the freezer, time the melting at 25C, do the same at 27C, There’s not that big of a difference.

    Most people support action, a shift to clean energy as the technology and economics allows. What isn’t supported are carbon taxes, global treaties that are unfair to US, and building a huge number of intermittent and expensive energy sources.

    The rate and cost of how we proceed are the main points of debate.

    If the problem can be solved without taxpayer involvement, we are all for it. If unsubsidized green energy is so profitable (it’s not), I advise you to invest heavily in green energy.

  41. JH says:

    The way I read BEST, it controls for local siting variations, not UHI or LULC.

  42. JH says:

    “A prevalence of view among experts on complex topics is something that
    in non-politically polarized issues, people consider as evidence all the

    Indeed. The problem is that expert opinion is often wrong.

    Expert opinion is meaningless in the absence of experimental demonstration.

  43. There you go again, Keith. It’s perfectly possible for a person to be a
    sceptic about Anthropogenic Global Warming and a proponent of GMO foods
    (or vice versa). But any AGW sceptic who is currently agnostic about
    GMOs is going to be suspicious of your arguments about them because you
    have linked the two. If AGW sceptics want to examine the GMO issue,
    they’re most probably not going to rely on you as a source of
    information because you’ve alienated them. Seems self-defeating to me if
    what you want to do is win friends and influence people in respect of

  44. NameNotGiven says:

    I don’t think it has to do with “liberal leaning.” Some of the most profound denialist movements are on the left. Anti GMO, anti vaccine and much of the gun control movement (Pew found that the great majority of gun control advocates believe gun murder and gun crime is up,when it is half of levels 20 years ago) are denialist or based on denialism

  45. NameNotGiven says:

    “Religious Right”

    NO Joshua, denialist movements are as common on the left. See anti GMO, anti vaccine, and even elements of the gun control debate.

    You posts merely illustrate your own anti-science views on the science of anti science.

    Indeed Tea Party members seem to be the most literate on Science of any political group, including liberals, according to findings at Yale.

    I am not tea party, nor right nor left, but an independent. I see denial of science and data, and rigidity (and group blame you yourself engaged in) on both extremes

  46. Peter Olins says:

    I have much more sympathy with climate- than GMO-denialists.

    There is no such “thing” as climate—it’s just a numerical model, based on limited data and advanced statistics. GMO technology is a METHOD that produces a physical object that can be thoroughly characterized and tested as least as well as any crop based on alternative technology.

    Most people will be unable to grasp climate modeling, and will need to trust the experts. Although there’s also a learning curve for GMO technology, I do think that it is explainable. The problem is two-fold: explaining takes more time than just a simple slogan or sound-bite, and explaining only works if someone is willing to listen.

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