Confronting a Global Warming Skeptic

My New Year’s resolutions are to Imagine Life Differently … Imagine it Better … and Fight for that Better Life.  A key part of that is a vow to challenge, to take on those who threaten a better future for me, for you, for my children, for yours, for us (and, as well, US).  Global Warming Deniers — whatever their cause of action — are a key element of that threat to a better future.  They foster doubt and skepticism, inhibiting our ability to move toward a better future, to Energize America for a sustainable and prosperous future.

Some of these confrontations and discussions have gone well.  Some not so well … the past two days had one which went horribly … but perhaps not entirely.  Each encounter provides me a path toward strenthening my capacities for the next discussion …

On an energy discussion group of over 500 people, including many from the US government and various think tanks in the DC area, yesterday’s traffic include a brand new member fowarding Walter E. Williams’ climate-denier OPED Fearmongering [NOT RECOMMENDED READING] with the subject line: “My opinion and belief on mankind-caused global warming”.  To give a feel for this ‘thoughtful’ OPED, it included this thoughtful and restrained paragraph …

The environmental extremists’ true agenda has little or nothing to do with climate change. Their true agenda is to find a means to control our lives. The kind of repressive human control, not to mention government-sanctioned mass murder, seen under communism has lost any measure of intellectual respectability. So people who want that kind of control must come up with a new name, and that new name is environmentalism.

Fascism … Stalinism … Communism … Environmentalism …

Remember, I have vowed to challenge.  To not leave unresponded the spouting of dangerous falsehoods.  To strive, for my part, to push the Overton Window on Global Warming to enable action to mitigate from the worst of potential futures.  This note, amid this discussion group, was like waving a red flag in front of a bull …

My response to receiving this:

Simply put, I am tired of the shallow Global Warming skeptic material being passed around and find it atrocious that there are members of this discussion group that so easily buy into this mediocrity and shallow mendacity.  Below, Williams, represents about the worst of the worst.  He writes eloquently and passionately but with a political and philosophical imperative that over rides attachment to reality-based and fact-based discussion.  

Let us look at just a few reasons for rejecting this “missive” and its points.

Wow … “60 prominent scientists” signed a letter.  Do we want to balance that against the judgment of the US National Academy of Science’s (and other nations’ equivalent), the overwhelming (near unanimity) agreement in the peer-reviewed literature, and the thousands of scientists of the IPCC who all agree that there is unprecedented (in the period of human existence) global warming / accelerated global climate change going on and that mankind is contributing to this change? (The “debate” is over the extent of humanity’s contributions, the paths for future change, the nature/implications of feedback loops, etc — NOT ON THE FUNDAMENTAL POINT.) (A reasonable discussion of this remains Oreskes PEER-REVIEWED study)
[NOTE: Most of this was drawn from Grist: How to talk to a climate skeptic -- scientific consensus. -- E.g., use the tools out there.]

Specifically, the “consensus” about anthropogenic climate change entails the following:

  • the climate is undergoing a pronounced warming trend beyond the range of natural variability;
  • the major cause of most of the observed warming is rising levels of the greenhouse gas CO2;
  • the rise in CO2 is the result of burning fossil fuels;
  • if CO2 continues to rise over the next century, the warming will continue; and
  • a climate change of the projected magnitude over this time frame represents potential danger to human welfare and the environment.

RealClimate: Just what is this conensus anyway?

The Third IPCC assessment report, 2001, was endorsed by, for example:

  • Academia Brasiliera de Ciências (Bazil)
  • Royal Society of Canada
  • Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • Academié des Sciences (France)
  • Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (Germany)
  • Indian National Science Academy
  • Accademia dei Lincei (Italy)
  • Science Council of Japan
  • Russian Academy of Sciences
  • Royal Society (United Kingdom)
  • National Academy of Sciences (United States of America)
  • Australian Academy of Sciences
  • Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts
  • Caribbean Academy of Sciences
  • Indonesian Academy of Sciences
  • Royal Irish Academy
  • Academy of Sciences Malaysia
  • Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand
  • Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

In addition to these national academies, the following institutions specializing in climate, atmosphere, ocean, and/or earth sciences have endorsed or published the same conclusions as presented in the TAR report:

  • NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS)
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • National Academy of Sciences (NAS)
  • State of the Canadian Cryosphere (SOCC)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Royal Society of the United Kingdom (RS)
  • American Geophysical Union (AGU)
  • American Institute of Physics (AIP)
  • National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
  • American Meteorological Society (AMS)
  • Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS)

Let us figure out what we mean by consensus.  How should we value the “judgment” of 60 academics, almost none of whom are experts on climate, against the above?  And, by the way, many of the 60 receive funding from those with strong financial interests in fostering doubt re Global Warming. (See the recent report: Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to “Manufacture Uncertainty” on Climate Change for example.)

Williams: It was only 30 years ago that many of today’s global-warming alarmists were telling us that the world was in the midst of a global-cooling catastrophe.

RE GLOBAL COOLING:  The canard ‘oh, those scary scientists, they predicted global cooling 30 years ago, now its global warming.  They’re just loony environmentalists who want to scare us and do bad things to us.’  Well, today there is a widespread consensus (which will be, again, demonstrated with the coming IPCC report) as above, about Global Warming.  In the 1970s, there was a popular science book on Global Cooling (The Cooling) that fostered some reaction in the popular press. There were magazine articles (includingNewsweek ), and some scientific speculation due to developing knowledge of glacial cycles combined with noted cooling trend from air pollution particles blocking sunlight.  On the other hand, there was no IPCC, not 1000s of peer-reviewed studies, no … Now, to understand just how strong the agreement was in the scientific community on Global Cooling, we have to go no further than the Professor Reid Bryson’s (not the book’s author) introduction to The Cooling:

The Cooling will be controversial, because among scientists, most of the matters it deals with are hotly debated. There is no agreement on whether the earth is cooling. There is not unanimous agreement on whether is has cooled, or one hemisphere has cooled and the other warmed. One would think that there might be consensus about what data there is – but there is not. There is no agreement on the causes of climatic change, or even why it should not change amongst those who so maintain. There is certainly no agreement about what the climate will do in the next century, though there is a majority opinion that it will change, more or less, one way or the other. Of that majority, a majority believe that the longer trend will be downward. Nevertheless, it is an important question, as this book points out, and it is time for some of the questions to be settled. Lowell Ponte has summarized the data and theories very well, and has reasonably concluded that a rapid change in Earths climate is possible, perhaps even likely, within the next few decades, and that this would have serious consequences for mankind.

The introduction to Ponte’s book raises many questions and doubts about Ponte’s work but says that this is interesting work, an interesting theory, and that this merits examination. Hmmm … a scientist who is saying “interesting theory presented here, let’s figure out if he’s right and what it means”.  Isn’t that how science is supposed to work with hypothesis / theory and testing?  Well, Global Warming/Global Climate Change is far advanced beyond this test a theory/concept stage. And, pointing to one book and Newsweek article to discredit the Global Warming work is shallow efforts to create doubt rather than serious examination of issues that should be taken seriously.

“But the science continued to evolve, and still does, even though so many choose to ignore it when it does not fit with predetermined political agendas.”

The most truthful thing in this OPED is bolded above.  Marc Morano (Inhofe’s Global Warming Denier staffer) and Williams are politically motivated to foster skepticism about Global Warming — accepting the facts related to Global Climate Change / Global Warming, humanity’s contributions to these changes, and necessary steps to mitigate (if not reverse) the damage would force them to question basic political tenets and philosophies.  

I do not have the time to dissect every piece of Climate Change skeptic trash but I reject the concept of this being freely distributed in this discussion group without challenge.

If you want to bring an issue to discussion here, do so with facts and in a desire to seek truth and develop understanding.  The below does not meet those criteria.

—–END——–

That is, to say the least, was a restrained response.  To tell a secret, as the group admin I have ban authority and, well, this was the first time I had been tempted to use it, but I didn’t — even though the figure hovered over that zap button.

This group probably averages well over two graduate degrees per person in it.  There are some amazing people with whom I feel privilieged to be able to interact with. While the vast majority of this group believes humanity’s action is a root cause of Global Warming (unlike most Americans), there are some skeptics and there has been a rather hot discussion in the past several weeks (sparked by my discussion of the WashPost’s publishing a skeptic’s letter). Other skeptics have been feeding back statistics (even if off topic), references to studies, querying at margins with wondering what it says about core issues.  They force me (and others) to think rather simply reject shallow arguments. For some reason, I expected this new user to take up the challenge and try to counter my points.

Sometimes our expectiations remain unfulfilled. The response that came in …

Simply put, I am already tired of the crap that you are spouting. I joined this group to share  ideas. You obviously want to beat everyone into submission to your mindset.

For anyone to call Dr. Walter Williams shallow is to prove oneself to be an absolute idiot.

Simply put, you are wrong about so-called global  warming. May God help us if you are in a  position of power in the US Government. Don’t ever run for office. I’ll be the first to campaign against you.

Sign me off this absurd (lack of) discussion group.

With that, I sent off one more message …

You chose to respond to a discussion that was filled with quotations from and linkages to sources, sources that have quite a bit of pedigree behind them, with invective.  You did not respond to or with a single item of substance.  

I am glad that you have such certainty about anything in life that you can write — in the face of mass scientific evidence to the contrary — that I (and the nearly every climate expert in the world) am simply “wrong on Global Warming” without providing a shred of evidence or fact-based discussion to back your invective.  And, might I suggest that being open to, examining, responding to opinions other than your own is key to the ability to learn and evolve intellectually.  

I, among many others, hope that you are proven right in the end. The lives of my — and our — children will be far better if that is the case.  Sadly, I see basically no legitimate case for acting as if your evidently rosy scenario is correct.

And, well, that person — at their request — is no longer part of this 500 person discussion group and no longer heard in these circles.

Now, from within the 500, a good number have contacted me privately to see if this interaction distressed me, including several who have been raising ‘academic-based’ skeptic material.  

Perhaps my favorite interaction:

me: guess I know one Texan who wouldn’t vote for me …

Senior (40+ career) prominent scientist: That should be a compliment.

At the end of the day, who had more influence? While one remained unconvinced (and unconvincable), 499 others who care about science, policy, intellectual interchange between someone firmly and calmly ground in reality, on the one hand, and, on the other, a lunatic.

Sometimes it pays to remain calm?

One response to “Confronting a Global Warming Skeptic

  1. Pingback: Judging Effectiveness of the Black Hole of Denial … « Energy Smart

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