CLIMATE DENIALISM PART 1 – CONSENSUS, PAST CLIMATE CHANGE & SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY
One of the most clear dividing lines between Democrats and Republicans is the belief in global warming, or anthropogenic climate change. This refers to the human-role in the observed rise in average global temperatures, and related changes in the climate system, within the last century. One poll conducted by Pew Research found that 50 percent of conservatives do not believe the Earth is warming, much less that humans are the primary cause. Other polls (including a more recent one by Pew Research) show a larger percentage of conservative Republicans who do not believe in human-caused climate change. Meanwhile, the more recent Pew poll found that 71 percent of Democrats believe that humans are driving climate change.
Climate skeptics (what they call climate deniers nowadays) have many reasons as to why they don’t accept anthropogenic climate change. They might say that there’s no consensus, the climate has always changed, that the climate scientists are given money by the government to spread lies, etc.
The purpose of this article is to address some of the common charges against climate science.
In my experience, the most common charge made against climate change is that ‘there is no consensus’. The following article posted on Louder with Crowder is a perfect example of this. The author, Courtney Kirchoff, delicately writes that “Whenever you hear “a consensus of scientists agree” on anything, raise your hand and call them out on their pungent bovine feces.” Later on in the article, she proceeds to share a ‘debunking’ of the 97 percent consensus and quarrels with the fact that climate deniers are called out for being climate deniers. In her words, this is a “dangerous ideology”.
But the only “pungent bovine feces” around here is Louder with Crowder’s fallacious article, not the climate consensus. The ‘no consensus’ argument needs to be addressed in two ways: 1. what is consensus and 2. whether there is or isn’t a scientific consensus on man-made climate change.
WHAT IS CONSENSUS?
Science is determined by evidence. Scientific theories (which are not the same as theories in philosophy!) that make their way into our educational curriculum are taught not because of a democratic vote among scientists, but because there is overwhelming evidence in favor of said theories. To put this into perspective, let’s look at an example. Most people are taught plate tectonics in 9th or 10th grade. The evidence for plate tectonics is overwhelming. There are places in the world where you can even see fault lines, such as this one in China:
Piqiang fault in China
But most people would be surprised to learn that it is the theory of plate tectonics. Yet, if you ask any geologist whether the theory of plate tectonics is valid, the answer will of course, be yes. They would say yes, because the evidence is overwhelming.
Consensus refers to the position that is generally held by scientists who are experts in a given field. For example, there is a consensus among seismologists (a geologist who specializes in studying earthquakes and related natural characteristics) that plate tectonics is a valid theory. Here’s what consensus doesn’t mean: unanimity, and unchangeable. In other words, scientific consensus does not mean that every single scientist out there holds the same view, and it does not mean that as new developments in scientific knowledge arise, that adjustments to the existing consensus can’t occur.
So, to sum this all up, scientific consensus in the modern age represents what the overwhelming evidence supports. Furthermore, if one has a problem with the overwhelming evidence/consensus, then the burden of the proof is on them to disprove it.
SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS ON MAN-MADE CLIMATE CHANGE?
There is overwhelming evidence in support of the theory of anthropogenic climate change. Therefore, the consensus among climate scientists is that the climate is changing, and that human activity is the primary cause. I will paste the first sentence of the paper’s abstract here, which says “The consensus that humans are causing recent global warming is shared by 90%–100% of publishing climate scientists according to six independent studies by co-authors of this paper.” A key point in the paper is that the higher level of expertise in climate science, the higher the level of agreement that there is that the evidence strongly supports the case for human-caused climate change.
Here is a list of scientific organizations that affirm the evidence for man-made climate change:
“The following scientific organizations endorse the consensus position that “most of the global warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities”:
The evidence for man-made climate change that these organizations affirm is found here, here, here, and here. There is of course, plenty more, but this should be a good start.
Already broke the climate skeptics
For skeptics, let me put it this way. Hypothetically, let’s say I concede there’s not a 97% consensus. Focusing on whether the numbers are exactly 97% or not is missing the point. Consensus may be 90-99%. In either case, it still reflects the overwhelming scientific opinion, which is backed up by mountains of peer-reviewed evidence; that humans are warming the planet at a very fast, unnatural rate due to our contribution of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and that our activity is harming the environment in various other ways. You can keep playing semantics over whether it’s really 91% or 96%, but what you can’t do is ignore the science.
In military operations, generals can never say with 100% certainty that any given scenario will occur as planned, you can say there’s always a small chance they’d be wrong. But if generals sat around mulling over whether they’re actually 91% or 96% certain, they’re going to cause everyone harm by inaction. When it comes to climate change, there is more than enough certainty to justify the need for action. It not only makes it necessary, but the only responsible thing to do. Otherwise, our inaction is going to cause us all harm.
HASN’T THE CLIMATE ALWAYS CHANGED?
Next, is the argument used by climate skeptics that the climate has always changed. Climate change, they say, is natural. And they’re absolutely right. Climate change is a natural process. According to Wikipedia: “Climate change is a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns when that change lasts for an extended period of time (i.e., decades to millions of years). Climate change may refer to a change in average weather conditions, or in the time variation of weather around longer-term average conditions (i.e., more or fewer extreme weather events).”
Looking at the geologic timescale, there has been epochs throughout our geologic history where climatic conditions were a lot different than today.
The Earth’s climate has varied dramatically, going from the Huronian glaciation and other ice ages, as well as periods of extended warmth, where even the Arctic had tropical weather, such as during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). A closer look at the PETM reveals something interesting though. According to a Nature article, “We estimate CO2 concentrations of more than 2,000 p.p.m. for the late Palaeocene and earliest Eocene periods (from about 60 to 52 Myr ago)…” By contrast, today’s CO2 levels are 0.04 percent of the atmosphere, or 400 ppm.
One important factor in the PETM era that led to such an increase in global warming, is positive feedback loops. High levels of carbon dioxide were able to warm the Earth so much, that methane hydrate deposits embedded in ocean floor sediment were released, which resulted in an even higher increase in global temperatures. Methane, is of course, another powerful greenhouse gas. Unlike other periods with extremely high levels of CO2, this one was thriving with life. The reason for this can be explained by the fact that an increase in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere did not occur overnight. They occurred over millions of years, allowing for “life, ocean chemistry and atmospheric gasses” enough time to adjust.
Let’s look at a period in Earth’s geologic history that appears to contradict the theory of global warming.
During the late Ordovician glaciation period, there was a period of very high CO2. Some estimates indicate levels of CO2 as high as 4,000 ppm. But there are several reasons why there wasn’t a runaway greenhouse effect. For one thing, ocean temperatures are estimated to have been conducive to support an expansion of marine biodiversity. This results in the storing of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere deep into the ocean in a process called carbon sequestration. Another factor was the Taconic orogeny, which was a mountain building period that created major mountain chains in North America. This allowed for carbon dioxide to be sucked out of the atmosphere over time (since the Ordovician lasted millions of years) in a vast chemical weathering occurrence. This process is when CO2 and water combine into a compound called carbonic acid, which then goes through other reactions to eventually form limestone or other rock types. The other crucial factor is the output of the sun. Nuclear models of main sequence stars indicate that the sun would have been dimmer during this period. The decrease in solar output would’ve been enough to change the CO2 threshold for glaciation to 3,000 ppm. In other words, if the sun is dimmer, more CO2 is needed to stop our planet from freezing over.
But historically, rapid and sudden changes in CO2 levels have resulted in destruction toward life on Earth. One extreme example is the Permian-Triassic extinction event, which occurred about 252 million years ago. It is the most severe mass extinction event in the Earth’s history. 80-96% of all marine life and 70% of all terrestrial vertebrate species was wiped out. The cause? An article at MIT says that “the carbon deposits show that something caused a significant uptick in the amount of carbon containing gases – carbon dioxide or methane – produced at the time of the mass extinction“. The burst of methane, they add “would have increased carbon dioxide levels in the oceans, resulting in ocean acidification — similar to the acidification predicted from human-induced climate change.” This leading hypothesis points to a runaway greenhouse effect that led to the destruction of almost all life on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago. The difference between this event and the Ordovician period, is that this event came about from a sudden increase in methane or carbon dioxide. Needless to say, we shouldn’t worry about another Permian-Triassic extinction event, but the parallels with today’s global warming and this event, including others like it, is impossible to ignore.
All in all, yes, the climate has changed naturally – but the difference between the past and today’s climate change is that human activity is now causing sudden changes in the climate due to our heavy output of greenhouse gases.
ARE CLIMATE SCIENTISTS LYING?
No. This is another tactic used by climate deniers, I mean skeptics. When the empirical evidence is overwhelming and difficult to ignore, they’ll cast doubt on the validity of peer-reviewed science. They do this a number in a number of ways, either by questioning their financial motive, or accusing climate researches of some kind of global conspiracy to maintain the global warming hoax (usually both).
In reality however, none of these claims hold up to close scrutiny. Take for example the financial motive. The average salary for a climate scientist is around $72K a year, which is a healthy salary to be sure, but hardly rolling in dough. The work for these scientists is mainly with government agencies or colleges and universities. Like most scientists, they rely heavily on governments grants and money for their original research. And unsurprisingly, there is little work for them in the private sector. But there is no indication the granting process for government-funded research is biased, in fact it is set-up in such a way so as to preserve scientific integrity.
Ed Caruthers – Retired physicist and technology developer, age 70 on how the process works:
If funding comes from a federal agency, like the National Science Foundation, or a national lab, like the Naval Research Lab, then the scientists submit a research proposal. This is a fairly detailed document that describes not only the question to be answered but the importance of the problem, the method that will be tried, the PI’s (Principle Investigator’s) relevant previous experience, and how the grant money will be spent (travel, equipment, student salaries, …). The agency employs scientists with experience in the areas where they accept applications. The proposal is sent to reviewers with established expertise in the field. The agency scientists generally know the people working in their field and try not to send an application to someone who is clearly a friend or enemy of the applicant’s.”
“I assume the OP is worried about bias by the reviewers. After all, it’s generally reported that 99% of researchers in the field believe that global warming is real and that human generation of CO2 is a significant cause of global warming. How would a denier get funding? The answer is, you’d have to propose doing something new. And what you propose has to have two possible outcomes – supporting previous theories or not, depending on actual results.
If the reviewers think the the proposal has a good and original idea, and that the PI is likely to be successful, then the agency does its own ranking of the importance of the various proposals…”
Nor is government funding for climate research extravagant in the first place. The following article writes:
For the US government, spending on climate research across 13 different agencies (from the Department of State to NASA) is tracked by the US Climate Change Science Program. The group has tracked the research budget since 1989, but not everything was brought under its umbrella until 1991. That year, according to CCSP figures, about $1.45 billion was spent on climate research (all figures are in 2007 dollars). Funding peaked back in 1995 at $2.4 billion, then bottomed out in 2006 at only $1.7 billion.
Funding has gone up a bit over the last couple of years, but it’s at best brought us back to somewhere around the 1995 pea (not adjusting for inflation). It’s clearly not a growth field, and it’s not even one that’s especially well funded to start with—the NIH alone has a $31 billion budget.
So, despite sporadic accusations otherwise, climate researchers are scrambling for a piece of a smaller piece of the government-funded pie, and the resources of the private sector are far, far more likely to go to groups that oppose their conclusions.
Correct – which means that if there is any questioning of financial motive, it’s clear that it needs to be directed toward the ‘scientists’ in the private sector who engage in pay-for-play with the fossil fuel industry. Willie Soon, an expert in the field of astrophysics, went outside of his field to publish academic work that was riddled with scientific errors and espoused the claim that climate change is caused by the sun, not fossil fuels. Needless to say, it was found that Soon received over $1.5M in private funding from the Koch brothers and Exxon Mobil (the quantity varies slightly depending on the source), prompting a conflict of interest investigation. What’s more? Prominent organizations that espouse global warming skepticism all have ties to the fossil fuel industry. These are vested interests who want to preserve the unquestionable use of fossil fuels due to a strong financial motive, and that bias is clear and undeniable. They are not giving money to organizations or individuals so that they can come out and say “yes fossil fuels are harming the planet and we need to do something about it”.
Meanwhile, the interest of actual scientific organizations is in advancing scientific knowledge. Respected scientific journals are in the business of publishing evidence-backed, sound research. Virtually every library, scientific organization and researcher pays high subscription fees for respected journals in order to access the latest information in the scientific body of knowledge. It therefore makes no sense, that any individual would want to pay money for a journal subscription that fails at delivering those high quality standards. The purpose of science is to expand our knowledge, which consequently may overturn some of our assumptions. If an important advancement in science is proposed by a groundbreaking study, it will be published in a respected journal – as long as it can back up its claims with empirical evidence and pass peer-review. Scientists have their own personal beliefs and convictions like anyone else, but the rules and ethics of scientific research make them separate their personal convictions from objective research. If scientific organizations were only interested in maintaining some kind of status quo, or global conspiracy, then we would never see advancements of any kind. The theory of plate tectonics, the theory of evolution, relativity etc. would have never seen the light of day if scientists were only concerned with publishing research that fits the narrative of the day and age.
If a climate skeptic can prove that global warming isn’t happening, or that greenhouse gases aren’t the cause of it, with a methodologically sound project that supports its conclusion with empirical evidence, it will get published. The problem is climate skeptics have failed at doing so, and then they get mad at the ‘global conspiracy’ for ‘censorship’. Can you imagine using this logic for literally anything else?
Examples of junk climate skeptic papers or statements:
- The paper: “Proxy climatic and environmental changes of the past 1000 years“. The skeptics: Willie Soon, Sallie Baliunas.
-Willie and Sallie ties to fossil fuel industry.
-“[Sallie Baliunas] Wrote, with Willie Soon, a paper which collated data from a number of scientific papers which came to the conclusion that the climate hasn’t changed in the last 2000 years. The American Petrolem Institute partially funded the paper. The paper was later refuted by a panel of 13 scientists, the authors of the papers Baliunas and Soon cited. Several editors of “Climate Research”, the journal which published the paper, later resigned in protest at a flawed peer review process which allowed the publication.”
2. The statements: “I can say that there certainly hasn’t been a warming of temperatures since .”, “The climate always warms and cools”, “We are finding that the climate is not very sensitive to CO2 and those kind of gases” et. al. The skeptic: John Christy.
-Ties to fossil-fuel funded Heartland Institute
-Study refuting new proposal by John Christy and fellow skeptic Roy Spencer.
-John Christy claim about bad climate models debunked on the Guardian. John Christy temperature estimates debunked again on the Guardian.
-All of John Christy’s contrarian claims debunked.
3. The paper: “On the Observational Determination of Climate Sensitivity and Its Implications“. The skeptics: Richard Lindzen, Yong-Sai Choi.
-Richard Lindzen has Ties to pro-fossil fuel Koch-brothers Cato Institute.
-Lindzen & Choi’s paper refuted.
-Lindzen tries to defend
fossil fuel industry shill climate skeptic Willie Soon, uses PRATT (points refuted a thousand times).
-All of Richard Lindzen’s contrarian claims debunked.
4. The statements: “I’m willing to wager two things …I’ll take even money that the 10 years ending on December 31, 2007, will show a statistically significant global cooling trend in temperatures measured by satellite. [this was in 1999]”, “”it’s a pretty good bet that we are going to go nearly a quarter of a century without warming.[this was in 2013]” et. al. The skeptic: Patrick J. Michaels
-Has admitted on CNN that 40% of his funding comes from the fossil fuel industry. Strong ties to Koch-brothers Cato Institute. Really strong ties: “Michaels is listed as a recipient of at least $100,000 from IREA to combat global warming “alarmists.” The IREA memo outlines a coordinated strategy by Koch Industries, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Michaels, and other key groups. “We have met with Koch, CEI and Dr. Michaels, and they meet among themselves periodically to discuss their activities…”
-Wrong. Again, again and again.
-Michael’s climate skeptic arguments debunked.
5. The statement: “I find no compelling reason to believe that the earth will necessarily experience any global warming as a consequence of the ongoing rise in the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration.” In a paper: “it is abundantly clear we have nothing to fear from increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 and global warming, i.e., the ‘twin evils’ of the extreme environmental movement. Indeed, these phenomena would appear to be our friends … and friends of the entire biosphere.” The skeptics: Sherwood Idso, Craig Idso and Keith Idso.
-The Idso family fully-loaded with fossil fuel interests. Craig Idso received payments from fossil-fuel funded Heartland Institute.
-No, more carbon dioxide will not be our friend.
-Yes, carbon dioxide does/will result in global warming.
It turns out that there is a trend among prominent climate skeptic scientists, most of them, if not all, are funded by the fossil fuel industry. I’m sure that doesn’t mean anything.
A healthy skepticism is not only good, it’s necessary for good science. People should realize, however, that bullshit is not conducive to good science.
END OF PART 1