Saturday, September 22, 2007
Responding to Global Warming Skepticism
A recent comment on my global warming post linked to an article which claims that "hundreds of scientists have published evidence countering man-made global warming fears". The article is a perfect example of skeptical arguments that are easily answered. Let me take this point by point:

1) The article claims to find hundreds of scientific studies to establish that "a natural moderate 1,500-year climate cycle has produced more than a dozen global warmings similar to ours since the last Ice Age". This is absolutely true and almost all global warming scientists would agree that there is a natural cycle of warmings and coolings. But the danger of the current warming is that it is so much greater than these natural cycles have ever been. Current warming is already 10 times greater than ever before seen in the geologic record. Given this, the scientific odds that this warming is part of the natural cycle is less than 10%. But of course this article doesn't mention that.

2) The article also claims that "our Modern Warming is linked strongly to variations in the sun's irradiance." Again, global warming scientists would also agree that the sun does affect global warming. However, they also point out that the tiny change in the sun's output in the past 50 years is far too small to explain the current warming. Again, the article doesn't mention this.

3) Another bit of contrary evidence put forth is that "sea levels are failing to rise importantly", to which I'd simply say "not yet". The ice caps have not yet melted, and the Greenland glaciers are only just showing signs of instability... but we are rapidly reaching a tipping point. One of the implications of global warming science is that something needs to be done soon before sea levels rise significantly.

4) Some of the other points, like less severe storms and droughts and examples of flora and fauna adapting well to the changes, seem to be the kind of data that could prove true in a limited geographical region, but hard to establish on a global scale. More on this in a bit.

5) I'd also highlight this ridiculous argument: "that human deaths will be reduced with warming because cold kills twice as many people as heat". So because cold is worse than heat, we shouldn't worry about the people harmed by warming? Extremes of either are bad. Just because you'd rather not freeze in a glacier doesn't mean you'd therefore go live in the Sahara.

And that's just a refutation of the arguments themselves. You also need to take a close look at the sources. For instance, the article claims to find "more than 500 scientists have published evidence refuting at least one element of current man-made global warming". But out of how many total articles? A few years ago a study was done of nearly 1000 articles on climate change to see how many were skeptical of the consensus opinion about global warming. None were found. 0% out of 1000. However, these 1000 articles were only a fraction of the total articles out there, I think maybe 10% at the time. So let's say that out of 10,000 articles on global warming you have 500 that are skeptical of it or some element of it. Let's see... that's 5%. Which is exactly what we've been saying: 95% of scientific articles confirm or support the consensus opinion. For a scientific theory, that is overwhelming support.

Also, even this article points out that "Not all of these researchers would describe themselves as global warming skeptics", and that often these articles only refute "one element". But global warming is a comprehensive theory that attempts to explain a wide diversity of environmental data. Refuting one isolated element does not undermine the entire theory. And, as an environmental scientist friend explained to me, typically these contrary articles focus on a very narrow and often geographically isolated set of environmental data. For example, just because some limited data in the Pacific Northwest seems to run counter to global warming expectations doesn't mean that the predictions do not prove true on the global scale.

And let's look even more closely at sources. This isn't exactly a regular news piece. This is a PR release by the Hudson Institute to promote a book co-authored by a Senior Fellow of the Institute, and financially backed by a Hudson board member. Of course, this explains why the article was entirely one sided and didn't mention any of the responses to their arguments that I listed above.

Not to mention that the other co-author of this book is the notorious S. Fred Singer, a well-known industry hack whose conservative think-tank, the Science & Environmental Policy Project, has as its sole purpose to refute global warming theory - not exactly an objective research goal (since you generally aren't supposed to start with your conclusion already pre-supposed).

At any rate, the flaws in this article are a perfect example of why I am skeptical of global warming denial and why I prefer to trust the 95% of scientists who continue to agree that man-made global warming is real and needs to be dealt with.


posted by Mike Clawson at 11:35 AM | Permalink |


At 9/22/2007 11:55:00 AM, Anonymous Ron Kling

When talking about global warming, there are a few questions that must be dealt with.

First, is climate warming? The answer, though not definitive yet, is probably yes. We can readily see some evidence of that happening.

The Earth is a dynamic system, which means it is constantly in flux. Average temperatures are continually moving up or down. Equilibrium would mean that the system was dead. In spite of what Al Gore says, there never has been a time of equilibrium in the system, and that's a good thing.

Second, if temps are going up, what is the cause? Is it Man's contribution of greenhouse gases? Conventional wisdom (as portrayed in most of the media, anyway) says 'yes'. But the truth is that that is a hypothesis, not even a full-fledged theory yet, and certainly not an established scientific fact. Let me explain:

Obviously we can't put the Earth into a laboratory and experiment on it. Experiments must be done on climate models. Scientists formulate a hypothesis, plug their assumptions into the model, and then see if the model can predict reality.

Even the best climate models don't predict reality very well. Heck, the Old Farmer's Almanac does a better job of predicting weather patterns and climate trends.

So what's going on? Is it worse than even the scientists have predicted?

That's one explanation offered by the manmade global warming enthusiasts, but a simpler, scientific, and less hysterical explanation is simply that one or more of the assumptions programmed into the model are incorrect. That just means the hypothesis is flawed. It does not prove or disprove the scientists opinions. Garbage in, garbage out, as the saying goes.

So how do we get from a flawed hypothesis to a sound scientific theory? The short answer is: we don't. The hysteria is due to politics and propaganda.

How do we get from politics and propaganda to an established scientific fact? Again, we don't, obviously. What we get is more politics and perhaps public policy.

Why? In two words: money and power.

More taxes. Higher prices on energy. Control of energy sources. Sales of books, 'carbon offsets', and myriad 'green' merchandise.

Does it bother the True Believer that Al Gore has 200 million dollars in the bank from selling carbon offsets? That his prediction of a 10-foot rise in sea level is echoed by not one scientist anywhere? No, of course not. Some people want to be scared.

Does it bother the True Believer that the grandfather of global warming politics is a man named Maurice Strong, a big UN muckety-muck who happens to be a eugenicist and de-populationist? No, of course not. Those same people craving catastrophe probably don't understand the implications of those words.

But politics and global evil aside, should we be concerned about climate change? The answer to that is an unqualified 'maybe'. So wouldn't it be nice to just let the scientists work without all the propaganda and hysteria?

Despite the claims of 'consensus', the science is very, very far from being settled. Do you realize there are still scientists studying gravity? And you thought that had been 'settled' long ago, didn't you?

Bottom line: Don't let anybody take your money or freedom based on a hypothesis. And real science is not done by a show of hands. Recognize the doomsayers, propagandists, and slanted journalists (and bloggers) for who they are and get on with life.

But don't necessarily abandon your 'green' practices. They'll save you money in the long run and conservation is always a good thing.


At 9/22/2007 12:21:00 PM, Blogger Derek Berner

Don't let anybody take your money or freedom based on a hypothesis.

Like the hypothesis that Iraq had access to WMDs and was planning a strike on U.S. soil?


At 9/22/2007 12:23:00 PM, Anonymous Miko

First off: nice science writing. It's always nice to see nonscientists doing a good job of it.

Current warming is already 10 times greater than ever before seen in the geologic record. Given this, the scientific odds that this warming is part of the natural cycle is less than 10%. But of course this article doesn't mention that.

Er... how do you get 10% out of that?

Another bit of contrary evidence put forth is that "sea levels are failing to rise importantly", to which I'd simply say "not yet".

Honestly, I think the sea level claims might be overstated. Most of the calculations I've seen assume that all ice is floating above the surface of water while in reality most of it isn't. Melting will still cause the water levels to rise due to differences in density between water and ice, but it won't be quite as dramatic as it's typically portrayed. Although I still wouldn't want to live on the coast when/if it happens.

Ron Kling:
Despite the claims of 'consensus', the science is very, very far from being settled. Do you realize there are still scientists studying gravity?

Well, there are scientists working on the effects of gravity on subatmoic particles. But there aren't scientists working on general relativistic gravitational equations on a relativistic scale. Not to mention: who cares? Are you suggesting that we doubt the existence of gravity in the time being?


At 9/22/2007 12:23:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks for stopping by Ron. However, I have to wonder, did you actually read anything I wrote, or is this just a canned comment that you post on any blog that your search engines tell you have mentioned global warming? It sort of has that feel to me.

There are dozens of claims I could respond to in your comments, but I'm not going to waste my time until I know that I'm not dealing with a spam-bot here.


At 9/22/2007 12:27:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"Er... how do you get 10% out of that?"

Sorry Miko, I should have been more clear. These were two separate bits of data that I took from the Newsweek article, not a direct calculation that I did myself. I don't know how exactly they arrived at 10%


At 9/22/2007 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Derek Berner

Do you realize there are still scientists studying gravity?

Ron, no scientist disputes that gravity happens, even if we still haven't worked out how gravity fits in a quantum mechanical model. That doesn't mean we should immediately start embracing claims of Intelligent Falling.

The fact of the matter is, while you're right, good science is not done by a show of hands, scientific consensus is essential and almost always indicative of laborious, extensive study, and is never a case of, oh, this feels right.


At 9/23/2007 01:47:00 PM, Blogger jazzycat

Ron, good job. There are of course no liberal political hacks like Gore and Kennedy promoting and exploiting a socialistic agenda through the myth of humans causing global warming....

BTW, Jazzycat farms is selling carbon offsets to guilty feeling liberals........ Come on over and buy some at my blog.


At 9/23/2007 03:11:00 PM, Blogger rick

Mike - thanks. Hey I hope you didn't take my comment on your other post as trying to be a smart-aleck. I'm just not sure I see the evidence but I'm the first to admit that I carry a lot of baggage into this conversation.

Anyway, keep sharing the data in a positive way. I've changed my mind on some other things in the past that I never thought I would.


At 9/23/2007 03:33:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Rick, I didn't take your comment as smart-aleck. I hope you didn't take my reply as the same. I honestly am curious as to what you think it would take to change your mind on this issue. What else do you need that isn't already there?


At 9/23/2007 03:47:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

To speak to Jazzy's (and Ron's) comment...

Global warming skeptics need to get off the Gore-bashing kick. He is entirely irrelevant to this issue. He could be the biggest hypocrite in the world and it wouldn't change the facts of the issue one bit. He is just a messenger. If you don't like him, then go straight to the scientists themselves and hear it from them.

What you are doing is called an ad hominem argument, and it's considered a logical fallacy.


At 9/25/2007 04:06:00 AM, Blogger BHUVAN CHAND

Global warming controversy take new picture when a writer say that temperature increase is actually a good thing as in the past sudden cool periods have killed twice as many people as warm spells. He accepted global warming issues is big but he said not our fault.


At 10/08/2007 07:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

This column ( seems even more convicting in light of the fact that the Church's center of gravity has shifted to the global South.


At 11/13/2009 05:29:00 AM, Blogger Lochlomondo

Most people think it is up to the governments to stop the progress of climate change and global warming. In one hand they are correct but on the other hand it is up to ourselves to help the planet and our civilization. If we don't do it singly then we will fail our future children and grandchildren who will have the unknown forced upon them. Governments and energy companies have started the ball rolling. We are seeing a large increase in renewable energy sources here in the UK. My local energy supplier has been taken over by a larger firm - SSE - who specialize in supplying cheap gas and electricity" through hydro projects, cheaper cleaner and greener. If we all work as one we will be able to make a difference. The question is how much of a difference can we make.


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