Debating Climate Change

December 15th, 2009

Recently, what with Copen-Hopen-hagen and Climategate, there has been a renewed interest in the debate surrounding the environmental phenomenon currently called climate change.

I’d like to weigh in with a few points, as they were made on This Week in Science:

•    the greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon that warms the planet.
•    CO2 is small percentage of atmospheric gases, but has large impact due to longevity… on the order of century rather than hours or days like other gases.
•    all data shows CO2 increasing in the atmosphere
•    current increase strongly correlates to increases in fossil fuel use / emissions / deforestation
•    carbon isotope data links CO2 over the past 150 years to human fossil fuel use.
•    CO2 is currently higher than at any point in at least the past 500,000 – 650,000 years.
•    past CO2 increases were not due to human activity, but occurred at slower rate and didn’t reach current levels. present rate is concerning.
•    Several years within the past decade are among the top 10 warmest on record.
•    Recent warming is not linked to sunspot / solar activity as that has been low while temperatures and CO2 have risen.
•    Sea level rise has increased from 1.5 to over 3mm / year over the last 100 years.
•    There has been a global temperature increase of around 1 deg. F over the past 100 years.
•    the majority of temperature and CO2 data is available to the public. some datasets are not made available immediately due to contractual obligations, but the majority are public domain.

To summarize, there is no scientific debate that CO2 is currently involved in the warming process underway, and that human activities play a significant role in global CO2 levels. There is lots of scientific debate on all sorts of details, but not these main points. The point is that science is based on evidence, and the majority of evidence is pointing to us and CO2. Let’s move on to solutions.

I found a website (there are so many, it wasn’t really difficult) that argues several climate change points in an attempt to sow misunderstanding and mistrust. I’ve taken the time to respond to the so-called “facts” the website presents. My responses are in bold, whereas the “myths” and “facts” presented are from the website, and represent common arguements against climate change science.

From – Ten “Facts” About Climate Change
1.     Climate has always changed, and it always will. The assumption that prior to the industrial revolution the Earth had a “stable” climate is simply wrong. The only sensible thing to do about climate change is to prepare for it.
True, climate has always varied, but of current concern is the rate at which climate is changing. The increase in temperature over the past 100 years outpaces any period for at least the past 500,000. Yes, it is sensible to prepare for climate change, which is why governments and industry leaders are looking to move away from fossil fuels, and to improve water and energy technologies.

2.    Accurate temperature measurements made from weather balloons and satellites since the late 1950s show no atmospheric warming since 1958.  In contrast, averaged ground-based thermometers record a warming of about 0.40 C over the same time period. Many scientists believe that the thermometer record is biased by the Urban Heat Island effect and other artefacts.
False, the lower atmosphere (the troposphere) has warmed in line with the planet surface over the past 50 years. ( Also, the urban heat island effect has been shown to be largely an urban myth, and not a significant player in global temperatures.

3.    Despite the expenditure of more than US$50 billion dollars looking for it since 1990, no unambiguous anthropogenic (human) signal has been identified in the global temperature pattern.
True, the global temperature pattern has complex influences ranging from human emissions to solar activity to volcanism. However, the recent rapid overall increase in temperature can’t be tied to anything more convincingly than human activities.

4.    Without the greenhouse effect, the average surface temperature on Earth would be -180 C rather than the equable +150 C that has nurtured the development of life.
True, the greenhouse effect is responsible for the stability of temperature on our planet.

Carbon dioxide is a minor greenhouse gas, responsible for ~26% (80 C) of the total greenhouse effect (330C), of which in turn at most 25% (~20C) can be attributed to carbon dioxide contributed by human activity. Water vapour, contributing at least 70% of the effect, is by far the most important atmospheric greenhouse gas.
False, in that water vapor might make up the bulk of the greenhouse gases, but it is far less long-lived than CO2, which can persist for a century or more. Also, water vapor varies as a function of temperature. So, CO2 acts as a forcing agent, increasing temperature, which in turn increases H2O vapor, which can then amplify the CO2 initiated temperature increases even more.

5.    On both annual (1 year) and geological (up to 100,000 year) time scales, changes in atmospheric temperature PRECEDE changes in CO2. Carbon dioxide therefore cannot be the primary forcing agent for temperature increase (though increasing CO2 does cause a diminishingly mild positive temperature feedback).
True, temperature changes do often precede CO2, but not significantly. It’s thought that solar and orbital effects can kickstart climate change processes like increases in temperature, but once temperature starts increasing the oceans and other CO2 sinks begin to release CO2 and H2O into the atmosphere, leading to a feedback cycle that continues to increase temperature. What might start out temperature driven doesn’t necessarily end that way. Also, there are historical examples of greenhouse gas driven temperature increases, which resulted in mass extinctions and took over 100,000 years to return to the original state.

6.    The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has acted as the main scaremonger for the global warming lobby that led to the Kyoto Protocol. Fatally, the IPCC is a political, not scientific, body.
True. This is a benefit and a fault. It is a political body informed by science and scientists.

Hendrik Tennekes, a retired Director of Research at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, says that “the IPCC review process is fatally flawed” and that “the IPCC wilfully ignores the paradigm shift created by the foremost meteorologist of the twentieth century, Edward Lorenz”.
This comment is a red herring. The IPCC multi-model ensemble approach is ultimately based on Lorenz’ idea of the Butterfly effect. Using multiple models strengthens the overall predictive power of the models by minimizing uncertainties that are inherent in them.

7.    The Kyoto Protocol will cost many trillions of dollars and exercises a significant impost those countries that signed it, but will deliver no significant cooling (less than .020 C by 2050, assuming that all commitments are met).
The Russian Academy of Sciences says that Kyoto has no scientific basis; Andre Illarianov, senior advisor to Russian president Putin, calls Kyoto-ism “one of the most agressive, intrusive, destructive ideologies since the collapse of communism and fascism”. If Kyoto was a “first step” then it was in the same wrong direction as the later “Bali roadmap”.
The Kyoto protocol is a political agreement, not scientific. However, it and other international agreements are a beginning to changing our emission habits.

8.    Climate change is a non-linear (chaotic) process, some parts of which are only dimly or not at all understood. No deterministic computer model will ever be able to make an accurate prediction of climate 100 years into the future.
Climate models are constantly being improved, and with each bit of information we get, we are closer to more accurate predictive models. Current models may not be 100% accurate, but they do give a good idea of what kind of future global climate we are looking at for various scenarios.

9.    Not surprisingly, therefore, experts in computer modelling agree also that no current (or likely near-future) climate model is able to make accurate predictions of regional climate change.
regional climate change is a different beast altogether as local factors play into what is occurring on a global scale. We can gain a general idea of what might happen based on global climate changes, but the model is not going to be 100% accurate on a regional scale.

10.   The biggest untruth about human global warming is the assertion that nearly all scientists agree that it is occurring, and at a dangerous rate.
The reality is that almost every aspect of climate science is the subject of vigorous debate. Further, thousands of qualified scientists worldwide have signed declarations which (i) query the evidence for hypothetical human-caused warming and (ii) support a rational scientific (not emotional) approach to its study within the context of known natural climate change.
What scientists say or don’t say is not the issue. The scientific literature contains a preponderance of evidence suggesting that climate change is occurring, and that human activities are responsible for the extent of the change we are currently seeing. The minutiae of the mechanisms and processes are what are currently being debated within the scientific community, not the overall trends.

Myth 1     Average global temperature (AGT) has increased over the last few years.
Fact 1       Within error bounds, AGT has not increased since 1995 and has declined since 2002, despite an increase in atmospheric CO2 of 8% since 1995.
This is false, 10 of the warmest years on record have occurred over the past 15 years. 2005 was the warmest year on record.

Myth 2     During the late 20th Century, AGT increased at a dangerously fast rate and reached an unprecedented magnitude.
Facts 2      The late 20th Century AGT rise was at a rate of 1-20 C/century, which lies well within natural rates of climate change for the last 10,000 yr. AGT has been several degrees warmer than today many times in the recent geological past.
Red herring… what is meant by recent geological past? It has been warmer than current temperatures many times in the Earth’s history, but not within the last 500,000 years.

Myth 3     AGT was relatively unchanging in pre-industrial times, has sky-rocketed since 1900, and will increase by several degrees more over the next 100 years (the Mann, Bradley & Hughes “hockey stick” curve and its computer extrapolation).
Facts 3      The Mann et al. curve has been exposed as a statistical contrivance. There is no convincing evidence that past climate was unchanging, nor that 20th century changes in AGT were unusual, nor that dangerous human warming is underway.
The hockey stick has been held up as the foundation for all of climate science by the skeptics, but in reality there are many other studies using many different data sources that support the same conclusion as the hockey stick… the past 100 years have seen a rapid temperature increase that is expected to continue.

Myth 4     Computer models predict that AGT will increase by up to 60 C over the next 100 years.
Facts 4      Deterministic computer models do. Other equally valid (empirical) computer models predict cooling.
The majority of models looking at surface temperatures predict warming. there may be regional cooling, however.

Myth 5     Warming of more than 20 C will have catastrophic effects on ecosystems and mankind alike.
Facts 5      A 20 C change would be well within previous natural bounds. Ecosystems have been adapting to such changes since time immemorial. The result is the process that we call evolution. Mankind can and does adapt to all climate extremes.
True, adaptation will allow some organisms to survive, but based on the current rate of change, if temperatures increase too rapidly, many organisms will not be able to adapt, and we will likely see mass extinctions as temperatures increase and local climates change.

Myth 6     Further human addition of CO2 to the atmosphere will cause dangerous warming, and is generally harmful.
Facts 6      No human-caused warming can yet be detected that is distinct from natural system variation and noise. Any additional human-caused warming which occurs will probably amount to less than 10 C. Atmospheric CO2 is a beneficial fertilizer for plants, including especially cereal crops, and also aids efficient evapo-transpiration.
Human emissions will likely add to the predicted temperature increases. We are responsible for the current CO2 increases and to the linked climate changes. the plants will be able to deal to a certain degree, but that argument is another red herring as the atmosphere will likely contain too much CO2 for the different sinks to ameliorate the temperature increases in a reasonable amount of time.

Myth 7     Changes in solar activity cannot explain recent changes in AGT.
Facts 7      The sun’s output varies in several ways on many time scales (including the 11-, 22 and 80-year solar cycles), with concomitant effects on Earth’s climate. While changes in visible radiation are small, changes in particle flux and magnetic field are known to exercise a strong climatic effect. More than 50% of the 0.80 C rise in AGT observed during the 20th century can be attributed to solar change.
Solar flux in the first half of the 20th century is likely responsible for much of the observed temperature increases during that period, but more recently CO2 and temperature have been increasing while solar activity has waned.

Myth 8     Unprecedented melting of ice is taking place in both the north and south polar regions.
Facts 8      Both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are growing in thickness and cooling at their summit. Sea ice around Antarctica attained a record area in 2007. Temperatures in the Arctic region are just now achieving the levels of natural warmth experienced during the early 1940s, and the region was warmer still (sea-ice free) during earlier times.
Antarctic ice is thinning and resulting in calving of large areas of ice off of the continent. Arctic ice continues to decrease as temperatures rise. Greenland’s glaciers are melting.

Myth 9     Human-caused global warming is causing dangerous global sea-level (SL) rise.
Facts 9      SL change differs from time to time and place to place; between 1955 and 1996, for example, SL at Tuvalu fell by 105 mm (2.5 mm/yr). Global average SL is a statistical measure of no value for environmental planning purposes. A global average SL rise of 1-2 mm/yr occurred naturally over the last 150 years, and shows no sign of human-influenced increase.
There is always going to be some amount of local variability. However, measurements show a yearly rise on the order of 3 mm currently, and increase over the earlier measurements of 1.5mm / year.

Myth 10   The late 20th Century increase in AGT caused an increase in the number of severe storms (cyclones), or in storm intensity.
Facts 10    Meteorological experts are agreed that no increase in storms has occurred beyond that associated with natural variation of the climate system.
there has been a slight increase in storm severity in some regions. this area of data collections still needs more investigation as it is hard to separate weather effects from climatological effects over the short-term. what scientists are interested in are long-term trends

I will say it again. Let’s move on from repeating these “debates” to solutions.

32 Responses to “Debating Climate Change”

  1. Tom Strong on December 15, 2009 6:05 pm

    I find the arguments against “man-made global warming” skeptics to be either straw-man arguments or the equivalent of “trust us, we know what we’re doing.” Your #8 perfectly encapsulates both tactics.

    Sorry, scientists are the last group I would trust with trillions of dollars and the fate of the global economy.

  2. Daniel on December 15, 2009 6:32 pm

    Although I may not agree with all of your points I applaud you for saying them so clearly and passionately. Keep up the good work!

  3. Fria on December 15, 2009 10:51 pm

    These are the same points I’ve heard and read many times. The warming arguments are well documented. But the meat of the issue, whether it is natural or caused by man, is still vague. It’s not enough to say, “the preponderance of evidence shows,” when trying to convince the public. And it’s this evidence that I rarely get.

    Still, much of the evidence sited I am suspicious of. The temperature of the earth has changed very quickly in the past and it is well documented. The Little Ice Age is a great example of that. Also, the oceans levels have varied and have been much higher in historic times. What were once developed coastal areas set far from the sea today. And I know where I live in Ohio, along with several of the warmest summers, we have had some of the coldest and snowiest winters since meteorological data has been collected within the last 25 years.

    But does it really matter? Lets assume that the warming was natural. Would we feel compelled to do something about it? It’s the same warming and it would be having the same effect. But would we believe it proper to do something to alter it? I have a sneaking suspicion we would look at it differently and suffer the consequences or work around it because we wouldn’t want to mess with nature.

    The biggest problem with the Global Warming argument is that it’s so ethereal and hard to grasp. My opinion is that we should forget about GW and concentrate on pollution, which seems to have been forgotten about. We dump tons of raw sewage into our rivers, belch toxins into our air and scrape away soil to build shopping malls and expand our cities far into what was once countryside. These are problems we see and understand. These are things we can know how to fix and can do something about. Before we try to message our climate like it was a thermostat in our homes, we should take the small steps that will make a big improvement in the quality of our lives. And who knows, maybe our Global Warming problems might just go away.

  4. Dorian Taylor on December 15, 2009 11:13 pm

    It is undeniably a discipline to be able to consume and weigh a piece of information that may turn out to disrupt our belief structures. Those are costly to repair, especially if they become too sclerotic. Luckily, it is convenient to avoid such a risk by simply ceasing to listen to contentious information and hoping never to encounter it again. This works doubly well if information we agree with is located at the front of a message.

    Given that, statements that address a point with “true, but…” risk causing an impatient reader to stop, satisfied, at “true”.

    Those who have yet to adopt a continuum of confidence about their convictions use binary certitude instead. If there was a rhetorical method that gave this impression without compromising scientific integrity I would opt for it.


    On an unrelated note, the concern regarding the ostensible “trust us” scenario is a valid one, regardless of the actual position of scientists involved. Of course, if I understand, none of the data are secret, neither are the methods to compute them. The response then tends to be something in the order of “well if you just understood, you’d agree with us.” This is exactly a marketing issue with perhaps a hint of pedagogy. Know your customer so well that there is no need to do any selling.

    Perhaps watch Idiocracy a few more times?

  5. alloycowboy on December 16, 2009 6:26 am

    Hey Kirsten,

    It is not the interruption of the data that people are questioning. It’s the actual data it self. It seems or “sounds” like some of it may have been cooked to skew the numbers to make it look like that “rate of change” of global warming is increasing quicker then it actually is. It’s unfortunate but not all scientists are honest. They are just as tempted to cheat as the rest of us. This is the reason why the scientific method was invented to weed out the bad science and bad scientists. Left to it self science works, but you complicate it with politics, the media, and the general public, things starts to go a bad.

    Also everyone talks about the negatives of global warming but hardly any one talks about the positives such as a longer growing seasons and reduced winter heating costs.

  6. Kristjan Wager on December 16, 2009 6:44 am

    Sorry, scientists are the last group I would trust with trillions of dollars and the fate of the global economy.

    Then it’s lucky that no-one has suggested that scientists would in charge of this, isn’t it? The scientists report the science and the findings – the political and economic aspects are handled by the politicians and economists.

  7. Andrew on December 16, 2009 9:30 am

    In argument #3 you say ‘we can’t think of anything else to explain the warming so it must be human emissions’. This is a very weak argument. For example we have a poor understanding of factors affecting cloud formation. This could easily be am important factor in controling climate – although the IPCC dismiss it in their reports.

    In argument #4 you describe a positive feedback system where a small increase in CO2 causes more water vapour & more warming which causes more water vapour and so on. This is clearly not the case otherwise all the water would have evaporated long ago and life wouldn’t exist on the planet. Clearly the climate is dominated by negative feedbacks which keep the temperature relatively stable.

    #5 You describe the 800-1100 year delay from temperature rise to CO2 rise in ice core records as ‘insignificant’. 800 years is clearly a significant delay which proves CO2 has not triggered past warming periods. You go on to argue that subsequent CO2 rise drives further temperature rise – but the ice cores show the warming stops long BEFORE the CO2 rise stops. If CO2 was a dominant driver the temperature would just keep on rising. So your CO2 hypothesis is invalidated at both the start and the end of previous warming periods.

    I do not agree with your assertion that the ‘science is settled and we should move on to solutions’. The science is most definately NOT settled and claims to the contrary are likely to be met with increasing suspicion by the general public in the light of the ClimateGate scandal.

  8. some.random.physicist on December 16, 2009 11:11 am


  9. Stock Jones on December 16, 2009 11:27 am

    Why didn’t you reference any sources? Just stating something doesn’t make it fact.

  10. Kristjan Wager on December 16, 2009 1:57 pm

    Just stating something doesn’t make it fact.

    I’m sure that you won’t even be able to see the irony of that statement.

  11. Steve on December 16, 2009 3:13 pm

    Unfortunately the global warming scare is coming almost completely from the left and they have a credibility problem in terms of their motivation for environmental concerns. They have as much credibility on environmental issues as the right has with religious moral issues.

    Unfortunately even if most climate scientists agree on AGW you have to follow the money which mostly comes from government to educational institutions which also tend to be lean left. I think that there is a high possibility that an alternate agenda besides the health of our environment at play here.

    The last question I have is what specifically do we need to see in environmental changes while CO2 is still rising to decide that global warming is not a problem and we can move on to the next environmental rallying call.

  12. alloycowboy on December 16, 2009 9:31 pm

    Hey Kirsten, two very interestings articles off of CERC for you. I think they are different enough from the regular Scientific literture that you read that you will find them quite refreshing.

    1) “Science and the Demands of Virtue” by Gregory Jensen.

    2) “The Galileo Code” by Scott Walter

  13. AW on December 17, 2009 10:02 pm

    You seemed to gloss over one aspect of the solar myth: even though solar activity has been low (and *really really really low* over the last few years), this means that we’re getting more cosmic rays, which is linked to cloud formation… or so it is said. realclimate has some notes on this, as does the wikipedia article.

  14. alloycowboy on December 19, 2009 4:43 am

    Hey Kirsten, here is a great article by the Steven W. Mosher the President of the Population Research Institute called “Global Warming Science? Nope, Global Warming Scam.”
    Subtitled: “How do you create a Global Warming panic when the weather isn’t cooperating? Here are a few tricks of the trade.”

  15. Bruce Wilson on December 19, 2009 1:16 pm

    I just returned from the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, with global climate change as a major issue. As Kiki commented, the debate is how much change there will be and whether or not the positive feedbacks will dominate the negative ones.

    As an example. As the arctic warms, the ice and snow melt. Water and land absorb more solar radiation than snow and ice (which tend to reflect it back to space). That leads to more warming, which leads to more melting. As the permafrost melts, the carbon is available to more metabolic processes. If the area is wet, that metabolism will tend to be anaerobic, leading to methane release (a very potent greenhouse gas, albeit less long-lived than CO2). If the area is dry, the metabolism will tend to be aerobic, leading to CO2 release. Both generate more greenhouse gasses, leading to more warming.

    Those kinds of things are why, in previous geological epochs, the temperature rise has led the CO2 rise.

  16. Bruce Wilson on December 19, 2009 1:40 pm

    One more comment. As a child of a bit earlier “scientific debate”, the analogies between the climate science discussion of today and the cancer-smoking link discussions of 30 years ago are startling, educational, and frustrating. Back then, there were those who had too much intellectual, emotional, and/or financial interests in the status quo to want to accept the science, and the same is true now.

  17. DataJack on December 20, 2009 10:36 am

    Dr. Kirsten, you did a great job with this. In fact, you were too mild at times, in my opinion. Don’t let the the liars get you down – stick with the facts, as always.

  18. wagdog on December 20, 2009 10:50 am

    A valiant attempt, Kirsten, but ultimately doomed to fail. If there’s one thing that ClimateGate should have shown you is that most (if not all) of the AGW denialists have now descending fully into conspiracy theory territory. Explaining climate science to them is like explaining structural engineering to a 9/11 “truther”, or explaining ballistics to a JFK grassy-knoll nut, or explaining the physics of light to a moon landing hoaxer.

    Plus, there are many websites that already do as good a job as you have done here to debunk all these AGW-hoax myths. If the conspiracists were really interested in the truth instead of preserving their wild fantasies, they could easily have found them.

    The mouse over comment on this XKCD comic is food for thought.

  19. Bernie Roehl on December 21, 2009 10:44 am

    My concern in the entire climate debate is that there is a large and growing disconnect between what the general public believes, and what has in fact been scientifically proven.

    In talking to my friends about the issue of global warming, here is what many of them seem to believe:

    1) The earth is warmer now than it ever has been.
    2) Global warming is caused primarily by carbon dioxide.
    3) Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes entirely from human industrial activity.

    Now of course, none of those statements are actually true. I don’t know any reputable scientist on either side of the debate who would support them. And yet, the public perception holds. And it’s that perception which is shaping major political and economic decisions.

    The public has also been led to believe that there is a “consensus” in the scientific community on the theory of human-caused global warming, when in fact no such consensus exists. Indeed, if there actually were a consensus, there would have been no “climategate” scandal at all.

    The fact that scientists have been discussing the idea of boycotting journals in order to pressure them into excluding submissions that question global warming means that there clearly were such submissions, coming from reputable scientists.

    The fact that climate data has had to be “pre-filtered” in order to arrive at the desired conclusions clearly means that those conclusions are not supported by the data itself.

    And yet the beliefs persist.

    I’m old enough to remember the last climate scare, back in the 1970’s, when the consensus among the world’s leading climate experts was that we were entering another ice age. There were books being published, and documentaries being produced, and public lectures being given and so on. There was abundant government funding for research into solutions to the precipitous drop in the world’s temperature.

    Now it’s all happening again, but with global warming instead of global cooling. And there may be people reading this right now who will still be around when the pendulum swings back again.

    The problem in the 1970’s was the same as it is today. Our climate records only go back for a hundred or a hundred and fifty years, whereas the earth’s climate changes on a timescale of tens of thousands of years. The “leading climate experts” are not actually analyzing the data, they’re analyzing the noise in the data. From the 1940s to the 1970s, the earth’s temperature was going down, so they saw another ice age coming. Since then it’s returned to its previous levels, so they now predict global warming. However, on the timescale of even just 100 years, there’s been almost no change at all in the earth’s temperature. And on the timescale of actual climate change, all of those observations are meaningless.

    Truly understanding the earth’s climate means looking at a much longer timeframe, which requires examining the geological record for crucial data. When people do that, instead of just looking at recent temperature records and speculating about greenhouse gases and such, they come to very different conclusions than the “climate experts” do.

    When I read headlines like “the warmest summer on record” (for some particular locality) or “the earth is the hottest it’s been since before the last ice age”, it makes me want to cringe. The general public reads those headlines and comes to conclusions that are simply wrong.

    That second statement in particular is the one which I would think even a casual reader would see through — it clearly says that the earth has been this warm before. In fact, we know from the geological record that the temperature of the earth today has been reached and exceeded many times in the past. It clearly has never been caused by human industrial activity, because there *was* no such activity. And yet many people continue to believe the fallacies I cited up above.

    The “climate experts” are having a difficult time explaining why the record increases in industrial CO2 emissions from the mid 1800’s through to the present have not led to a significant global temperature rise (less than half of one degree celsius, and there’s even some debate about that figure), or why it was that from the 1940’s to the 1970’s (a time of particularly high CO2 emissions) the earth’s temperature was in fact dropping rapidly.

    There is no mystery there. They’re simply looking for correlations where none exist.

    The politics of all this is fascinating. I believe someone could write a really good paper on how beliefs about the worlds climate have changed between the 1970s and today, and how unrelated they are to any actual scientific data. It may also be interesting to examine the ratio of papers submitted to journals versus those actually published, and correlate that with what side of the debate the paper happens to be on.

    Perhaps the most telling change in recent years has been the shift in rhetoric. People who have spent the past decade talking about “global warming” are being forced to look at the data, and as a result have slowly started to down-play the use of that phrase. They’re not calling it “global warming” anymore, because there’s apparently a profound lack of evidence for any actual warming.

    Instead they’re using the phrase “climate change”, which puts them on much safer ground. After all, the earth’s climate is *constantly* changing, so they can never be proven wrong.

  20. Shane on December 22, 2009 5:14 am

    Bernie, Bernie, Bernie… you say this:

    “I’m old enough to remember the last climate scare, back in the 1970’s, when the consensus among the world’s leading climate experts was that we were entering another ice age.”

    While there was certainly a media hype, there was no consensus that we were entering an ice age. An article discussing the actual science is here:

    I highly recommend for all of your climate science needs. 🙂

    Basically, people bringing up the “fact” that “scientists claimed there was global cooling in the 1970’s” are conducting a somewhat elaborate ad hominem attack… basically saying “oh, those wacky scientists… what do they know??!”

    Which seems to be a common sentiment, given the very first comment ends with:

    “Sorry, scientists are the last group I would trust with trillions of dollars and the fate of the global economy.”

    Yet somehow we seem to trust scientists to create every part of our lives. The clothes you are wearing, the computer you are reading this on, the chemicals you brushed your teeth with this morning (I hope), the agri-industry that keeps you fed, the transportation that brought all of these to you – all of these were created in large part due to scientists!

    Of course we need engineers and accountants and yes, even lawyers, to make all of this work. And of course it is good to be skeptical – after all, scientists *do* have their own agendas (notice how every science report you read ends with “more study is needed?”). I’m glad we have actors and artists and radio science journalists doing their things too.

    Scientists definitely have an image problem, and my guess is that it is one that won’t ever be solved, because if scientists cared about their image, then they would be in marketing instead. This isn’t a new problem… scientists have always been nerdy:

    Thanks Dr. Kiki for bringing the topic up.

  21. Bernie Roehl on December 22, 2009 11:52 am

    Just to follow up on my previous posting, here’s the most recent peer-reviewed journal article that casts doubt on the supposed link between CO2 and climate change:

    And here’s a news release that gives a non-technical overview of the research:

    Relevant quotes from the article:

    “the total amount of CFCs, ozone-depleting molecules that are well-known greenhouse gases, has decreased around 2000,” Lu said. “Correspondingly, the global surface temperature has also dropped. In striking contrast, the CO2 level has kept rising since 1850 and now is at its largest growth rate.”

    “As well, there is no solid evidence that the global warming from 1950 to 2000 was due to CO2”

    “from 1850 to 1950, the recorded CO2 level increased significantly because of the industrial revolution, while the global temperature kept nearly constant or only rose by about 0.1 C”

    According to a news report I heard yesterday, the researcher has already become the subject of personal attacks for publishing his results.

    And so the politics continues…

  22. Bernie Roehl on December 22, 2009 4:48 pm

    Shane writes:

    “Basically, people bringing up the “fact” that “scientists claimed there was global cooling in the 1970’s” are conducting a somewhat elaborate ad hominem attack…

    That was (clearly, I think) not my intent.

    The point I was making is that a common mistake is to look at a small amount of very recent data and try to extrapolate from that. It was a mistake to do that in the 1970’s, and it was a mistake again in the 1990’s.

    I was not attacking anyone, simply pointing out a flaw in the approach being taken and the need to look at longer-term data.

  23. Lloyd Kilcrease on December 23, 2009 2:27 pm

    Many thanks for your point by point response to the “evidence” posed by the denier community. Unfortunately, while your effort is laudable, it is entirely misplaced. Nothing will change their minds. I would suggest that you concentrate your efforts advocating solutions that can be reasonably implemented in light of the time we have left. Kirsten, we are not going to become vegatarians, who ride bicycles and shiver in our dimly lit hovels for the sake of the greater climatic good. We have the technical capabilities now that would allow the developed world to become zero carbon emission countries by 2050. The key is a massive implementation of nuclear power. Your friends on the Left may scream, but at least the oceans may still be alive in 2100.

  24. Bernie Roehl on December 24, 2009 9:42 pm

    Another link worth following:

    Relevant quotes:

    “In an invited talk the week of December 14 at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting, Dr. Roy Spencer from The University of Alabama in Huntsville discussed the challenge of answering questions about cause and effect (also known as forcing and feedback) in the climate.”

    “Feedbacks will determine whether the manmade portion of global warming ends up being catastrophic or barely measurable,” Spencer said recently.

    “we don’t know what the feedbacks are, we are just guessing at how much impact humans will have on climate change.”

    “I’m trying to spread the word: Let’s go back to basics and look at what we can and cannot do with measurements of the real climate system to validate both climate models and their predictions.”

    Now, I’m not going to keep posting these references, since people who believe in the whole AGW theory are unlikely to listen to anything that doesn’t support their point of view.

    Note that Dr. Spencer is *not* arguing that AGW is a myth, simply that we don’t have evidence to support it. Nevertheless, I fully expect he’ll be shouted down the way other scientists have been who strayed from the AGW dogma.

    However, the fact that reputable scientists are now coming forward with research that does not support AGW is a very positive sign.

    In the wake of climategate, it appears the tide may very well be turning and we will start hearing from both sides of the climate debate instead of just the loudest and most fervent side.

    And that’s the way science is supposed to work.

  25. wagdog on December 28, 2009 6:16 pm

    @Bernie Roehl: “However, the fact that reputable scientists are now coming forward with research that does not support AGW is a very positive sign.”

    Except that Roy Spencer is not a reputable scientist as we can see from this debunking of his erroneous analysis.

    “And that’s the way science is supposed to work.”

    If the rest of science worked in the same way that you seem to be describing here, then we’d still be debating whether or not the Sun really orbits the Earth, if plate tectonics was a real phenomena, if forces of electricity and magnetism were linked, and whether or not heat was a form of energy, or magnetism has a fluid explanation, etc. We’ve moved on from these arguments because the wider public’s immediate way of life would have been impacted one way or the other. (A layman and contemporary of Faraday or Maxwell didn’t really worry about electro-magnetism effecting his everyday living.) Not so for AGW theory where we have long since passed the threshold of evidence that would convince the rational mind. The irrational rejection of climate science is not scientifically based, and shares much with the irrational rejection of the theory of evolution, in that the denialist belief that it is all a hoax seems to possess the same drive as a dogmatic religion.

    Dr. Kirsten Sanford, as a scientist it would be more productive if you instead looked into the psychological explanations for this phenomena of irrational subversion of one’s logical faculties — reasons why otherwise rational people would misapply their logical reasoning to believe the opposite of what the evidence is telling them, are well known in the psychological field: confirmation bias, attitude polarization, Wason’s rule discovery task, availability bias, simulation heuristic, selection bias, clustering illusions, correspondent inferences, Skinner’s pigeon experiments, Milgram’s experiment, social in-groups, cheating and deception, pareidolia, apophenia, inattention blindness, Simpsons paradox, recency effect, representativeness heuristic, etc. It would make great podcast material.

  26. Bernie Roehl on December 31, 2009 8:28 am

    I know I said I wouldn’t keep posting these, but here’s one last article to end the year on:

    Note that the researchers are from NOAA, and therefore they feel they have to defend the idea of AGW. They go to great lengths trying to do so, even though it is contradicted by their own data!

    Relevant quote:

    “A precipitous drop in North American temperature in 2008, commingled with a decade-long fall in global mean temperatures, are generating opinions contrary to the inferences drawn from the science of climate change.”

    Their own data tells them that the earth’s temperature has been dropping for more than a decade now, even as CO2 levels continue to rise, and yet they’re still trying to stay on the AGW bandwagon by saying “okay, fine the earth is actually getting cooler, but just wait — it’ll get warmer again eventually. Really, you’ll see, it will!”.


    Why so many scientists are choosing to ignore their own data, withhold their raw data from others, and treat the whole AGW debate as a political rather than scientific issue is beyond me.

  27. Carmine Cifaldi on January 2, 2010 5:29 pm

    Global Warming is NECESSARY as well as BENEFICIAL! The earth’s population has doubled from 1938 to 2008, (A 70 year period), from 3 Billion, to 6 Billion. ALL NEED WATER. 70% of the earth’s FRESH WATER is stored up in the Antarctica, as Ice & Snow! In another 70 year period, the earth’s population will soar to 12 Billion people, plus a commensurate increase of live-stock and agricultural needs, as well as other less important needs/uses, (unless there is some mitigating factor(s)! At the end of that period, oil, (if indeed oil was a contributing factor of increased heating), will be mostly depleted. The World would have learned (by then), to have used electricity, generated from renewable energy sources, to continue life. The electricity will enable man to desalinate water for his consumption, to move it for his use, from where there is too much, to where there is too little or none! Eons from then, the electricity will be used to create,(synthesize), water. MAN CAN NOT CONTROL GLOBAL WARMING/COOLING! For a 23-page analysis of the subject, go to, Clik on FILES. Clik on Beneficial 2 Global

  28. Shane on January 4, 2010 8:41 am

    Lloyd, you say:

    “The key is a massive implementation of nuclear power. Your friends on the Left may scream, but at least the oceans may still be alive in 2100.”

    I am far, far to the left, and I agree with you. Nuclear power is a good stop-gap measure until we manage large-scale solar power generation.

    One vision from a couple years ago:

  29. David Emel on January 9, 2010 2:02 pm

    Thank you Dr. Sanford. Your observations are keen to the way I feel about the issue. I cant help but not dismiss recent findings about the Solar system being adopted by the Milky Way and that we were part of the Sagitarian Galaxy. I am curious and have not had much success finding information on, How long have we been slotting into the galactic plane of the Milky Way? and within the context of the big bang 15 billion years theory. WISE is now mapping the remains of the Sagitarian galaxy and it seems there is alot that still is being consumed by the Milky Way… How long before the remnants are finaly ripped away or joined-up with the Milky Way? Is it likely this will continue to be outside th galactic plane right up to the merger with Andromeda?
    Thanks! Enjoy your show.
    Dave Emel

  30. David Emel on January 30, 2010 9:59 am

    …and yet “”. Whenever we are talking about topics this severe and less absolute like a Shoemaker-Levey 20 days from impact… there is always a debate, should always BE a debate. The architect of “Inconvenient Truth” was the Sierra Club VP when in the late 80’s -90’s petitioned to save Cedar groves that were the home of the spotted owl. Quite amazingly, also found in convenient to sell tracts of that same grove (at now increased market demand) just before Al’s push for presidency. I do not want to discourage you in anyway from doing your own research or even stating your own opinion but before you put away those test tubes and slides… consider the consequences. Controling CO2 may have just about as much benifit to controlling global temporature as sell umbrellas to global extinction impact site if there is any truth to Superwave theory or the relationship with the solar system and the Milky Way. Is there “absolute zero” outside the Milky Way’s influence between the vast distances between galaxies. Is it “Dark Matter” or “Dark Energy”? I still agree with your assertion that “if the data is true” and CO2 is rising rapidly caution and temperance is the wisest way to proceed but we need now more than ever people with degrees looking at this, unbiased to their “institutional or social communities”. When is someone “professional” going to present the human population factor? and global population control? Tribal humans instinctfully used to guarentee survival either through wars or overpopulation. This has got to stop for the whole specie. Both are Mass Extinction events now!!!!!!!!

  31. Mark on February 7, 2010 3:04 am

    A brave effort Dr.S, but ultimately a waste of time.
    The deniers have set their minds on doing whatever it takes to help out Red China, the Saudi’s and the oil oligarchs. Nothing as simple as reason and evidence will change them. They are beyond arguing with. We waste too much time countering their endlessly re-cycled fallacies. Lets get down to communicating the science- perhaps the public aren’t as dumb as the deniers think they are. Perhaps.

  32. Margery on May 7, 2011 7:04 pm

    And I thought I was the sensible one. Thanks for setting me strihgat.

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