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Why I care about climate change

Posted on 3 August 2010 by John Cook

There was a recent comment posted on Skeptical Science that questioned my motives, accused me of being politically leftist and wondered where my funding came from. The comment broke several rules in our Comments Policy so was deleted. However, I emailed the commenter, and answered all his questions. Through subsequent discussion, I think we came to understand each other a little better. So while I always try to keep the discussion focussed on science, I'm going to make a brief exception here and share my own personal reasons why I spend so much time reading and writing about climate science. I will note in advance that my motives are personal ones - I'm sure many of you come at this from completely different directions. This is just for the sake of anyone wondering what drives Skeptical Science.

Let me first say what doesn't drive Skeptical Science. For starters, it's not for this reason:

Ironically as I worked on this post approaching 1am, my wife woke up and came into the room, wondering what I was doing still up.

Secondly, it's not about money. There's no organisation or group sending me money. The sum of Skeptical Science's funding is a couple of Paypal donations per week. So I can assure you financial reward or even earning a basic livelihood is not a motivating factor. On the contrary, Skeptical Science comes at a personal financial cost as every hour spent on climate is an hour less to spend on paid work (flexibility of work hours is the blessing and curse of the self-employed). The realities of providing an income to support my family puts some limit on the time I can spend on Skeptical Science, but I always make some time.

It's not about politics. I'm not affiliated with any group or organisation, nor am I a member of a political party. I don't hold any particular political ideology (I'd categorise myself as a swing voter, voting both sides in the last two elections). I've never actually considered myself an environmentalist. I have to confess I don't send sleepless nights fretting about the plight of the spotted owl. I do think we should look after our environment like any concerned citizen but I just don't have a fire in the belly about it.

So what does give me that fire in the belly? I care about climate change for two reasons. One reason is my ten year old daughter, Gaby. She's the fiery kind of personality that never lets me get away with anything. So I have no trouble visualising a conversation we might have 50 years down the track (if I make it that far). At that point, surveying the rising sea levels, collapsed ice sheets, disappearing glaciers, increased drought, etc, I imagine her asking, "what the hell was your generation thinking? All your climate experts told you what was going on, why didn't your generation act?!" At the least, I want to be able to look her in the eye when she asks that question and say I did my best to communicate the scientific reality to people.

The second reason is my faith. I'm a Christian and find myself strongly challenged by passages in the Bible like Amos 5 and Matthew 25. I believe in a God who has a heart for the poor and expects Christians to feel the same way. And as I read the peer-reviewed science, I see more and more evidence that the poorest, most vulnerable countries will be (and currently are) those hardest hit by global warming. Drought will devastate low-latitude countries. Rising sea levels will create havoc on low lying countries like Bangladesh.

Extreme weather events are happening now. Thousands died in record heat waves in Pakistan and India in recent months. Over a thousand died in floods in Pakistan this week. I know its difficult to blame specific extreme weather events on climate change. But as the NOAA's Deke Arndt puts it, "Climate trains the boxer but weather throws the punches". We're training our climate to throw harder and harder punches at these defenceless countries. The irony is the countries hit hardest are those least equipped to adapt.

So that's why I care about climate change. I care about the world my daughter grows up in. I care about the same things that the God I believe in cares about - the plight of the poor and vulnerable. To me, personally, it's not an environmental issue - it's a social justice issue. It's about how climate change affects people. I'm not explaining this because I expect anyone to share my motivations - my faith and my situation are my own. But hopefully for those curious, you understand more clearly the driving force behind Skeptical Science.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 150:

  1. I didn't know there was anyone WRONG on the internet John? Who? Where? What?
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  2. And in doing so you are also standing up for science. You go about this in the best way - using the scientific literature to support your arguments. People can look up the information themselves.
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  3. Here, here, agreed.

    If you have faith does not that faith require stewardship?

    So much of the climate change argument is about averages, put weather back into those averages and it gets scary. What will the extremes be like?
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  4. Eloquent, thoughtful post. Kudos.

    I share the same sentiment as your first reason. I depart from you on your second. As a humanist, I simply look at the world as a place where we all have to live, and therefore all are its stewards. This requires a certain level of responsibility on the part of all of us, regardless of the status of any higher authority.

    As you also said, we will all draw our own reasons. I have found, much to my dismay, that I can far too easily get drawn into an XKCD-approved SIWOTI defense, for example. I would therefore only add one more critical reason as I interpret: the defense of truth for the sake of its value as truth. Striving to not be wrong is its own reward, if done with integrity and humility.
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  5. Pretty much the same here, except I'm not a Christian, and I am a scientist working in the area.

    Have to admit though, I really love driving the brand new top-of-the-line BMW 5 year old Yaris that I bought on all that grant money hire-purchase.
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  6. A great site John.

    I'm still having great difficulty coming to terms that its supposedly man's production of CO2 that is causing the increase in global temperature. The CO2 we produce is only 0.28 of one percent of greenhouse gases. Such a tiny amount.

    There has to be some other cause, but I'm at a loss to see it.
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    Response: The CO2 we're emitting has actually raised atmospheric CO2 to its highest levels in over 15 million years. How do we know whether this has any effect? We directly measure the increased greenhouse effect, using both satellites that measure heat escaping to space and surface measurements that measure the heat returning back to Earth. These both obtain consistent results - more heat is being trapped at CO2 wavelengths.

    It's not based on models or political ideology or environmentalism. It's based on direct empirical evidence - multiple lines of evidence. All this heat is being trapped by CO2. To try to blame it on some other cause, you also need to account for what's happening to the CO2 heat.
  7. Me, I don't like vandalism. Not of personal reputations or the planet. Tagging people and the world with graffiti gibberish and ineradicable messes really gets my goat.
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  8. @6 miekol,
    Skeptic argument #29. Refuted here.
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  9. For me, it's a combination of scientific curiosity, and John's reason of wanting to leave the world a better place (and not be blamed for the mess!).

    But the XKCD reason has an element of truth, too - I hate seeing things that are just plain *wrong*, it irks me no end... :-P

    Oh, and miekol: yes, it's a (relatively) tiny amount, but don't think of it as a small force pushing a whole planet. Think of it as a small weight added to a finely balanced set of scales, with the two sides being energy in (mostly from the sun) and energy out (mostly via radiation to space). That will change your perspective as to how much forcing is required to effect significant change.
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  10. I very much enjoy this blog and all its contents, delighted by the scientific line of thinking which cares not about politics, status or ancient scriptures, but about the truth (or pursuit thereof) through proven and peer reviewed research. I wish more people and communities would share that same philosophy, which is also why I am a complete a-theist. I mean, if you really think in a scientific way, how could anyone believe in a supernatural being? So it surprised me that the man behind the pushing of a scientific philosophy is doing it, besides common, social sense, because of religion. But I'm happy you're doing it anyway :-) and applaud you for this one-time personal openness.

    I'll also scrap my request to you to set up something similar to show the scientific evidence (or lack thereof) for any supernatural being and the true, scientific history of all religous books. I'm guessing you're a skeptic / denialist at that subject ;-).

    Meanwhile the government in my country (Holland) is shaping a right wing, conservative, xenophobic and islamophobic government that thinks immigration is one of the biggest problems (even though the science indicates that from the discussed islam-countries there are more people leaving than coming) and that funding to windmills and solar panels should be stopped but nuclear power stations should prevail (even though the science there also indicates investing in wind and solar is a much more effective, safere and more durable solution). Why is science so ignored?

    Thanks for caring, here's to hoping the site gets more and more momentum. The iPhone app has helped me a lot already to switch people's thoughts about the subject. Thanks again!
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  11. Thank you for all that you do here at SkSc.
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  12. Thank you for sharing. As a fellow Christian, I wholeheartedly agree with you. And I find it sad that so many of our faith don't feel the same call to care for the poor and downtrodden.

    I can assure you that each of us who reads and participates on this blog appreciates what you do. Each of us has our own, and often very different, reasons or logic, but that's part of the beauty of it, isn't it?
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  13. Miekol, the path of information leading to our recognition of the C02 problem is mostly not about anthropogenic warming at all, in fact AGW can fairly be described as a predictable outcome that's more or less incidental to a whole pile of other research. "There has to be some other cause..." for AGW is a bit like being the victim of a high fall and thinking to one's self on the way down, "It -can't- be gravity, there must be some other reason..." The various fundamental underpinnings of the conclusion were in place before we even knew we were falling.
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  14. Thank you for that.

    My children are almost twenty years older than yours. I'm looking at the prospect of grandchildren in the next few years - and the possibility that some of them might have grandchildren.

    In my family it's not uncommon to live 90+ years. When we talk about all these effects being a long time coming, it isn't so very long when we think that it will affect people you'd like to leave the family heirlooms to. One of the heirlooms could be a better, calmer world if we get our act together.
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  15. How you can be so scientific, so aware of what the hard scientific research says, and still believe in God? I find that almost paradoxical. You always talk about empirical evidence; have you looked through the peer-reviewed literature and found empirical evidence for God, or Intelligent Design? There is a scientific consensus on these things aswell, you know.

    An as atheist I find it impossible to simultaneously hold reconcile science and religion in my mind; surely one would have to choose between one or the other.
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    Response: Questions about the natural world, like what's causing climate change, are purely scientific questions and are answered by empirical evidence. Similarly, there are multiple lines of empirical evidence that the Earth is 4 billion years old and that humans evolved from lower lifeforms.

    However my faith in God, that He created space and time, is, well, a leap of faith. For someone with a scientific background and skeptical by nature, I completely understand how difficult and unintuitive that leap is.
  16. Nice post. How does that quote go, "....is for good men to do nothing". Well, keep up the good work.
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  17. Thanks for sharing John, and for making me reconcider my opinion of Christians and climate change.

    As an Atheist it was easy to look around and notice what seemed a high correlation between those who believe in God and those who believe the Earth is unbreakable.

    The key issue is not belief, as we humans have a vast capacity to believe almost anything, but for us to strive for better scientific understanding - and to act on it!
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  18. Tom @15

    Just because science can show that things can occur independently of God, doesn't actually disprove God.

    Science will never be able to disprove the existence of God, simply because God is not defined by what can be empirically observed.

    I choose to be an Atheist, not because of my understanding of science, but because I believe God is unnecessary. Arguments can be made either way, but there will never be proof.
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  19. When I read this post John, my first reaction was, 'Why am I not surprised?'

    I don't always agree with you as you well know. However, I share your faith and appreciate your efforts to give it a living expression through your work on this blog. All of us of course fall short in all too many ways.

    God has given us the gift of life and the responsibility to care for one another through caring for our planet.

    Matthew 25 speaks very loudly to me - we chose this passage for my father's funeral last October. A nominal Catholic but for many years an atheist, he remained nevertheless a man of practical faith who had a deep love for nature. He cared for the environment though some of his solutions wouldn't have been to everyone's tastes on this blog - he firmly believed we needed to grasp the nettle and take the nuclear option.

    However we may view the climate change challenges ahead of us, we won't solve them without looking humbly to God for help and guidance. To do this, we all have to be prepared to put aside our pride admitting when we're wrong.
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  20. jfrank, #12

    These you mention who ignore the coming plight of the less fortunate are exactly those who will have to cry out to the mountains, "fall on us to hide us from the wrath of the Lamb".

    But they are so stubborn in their delusion, they just don't see it that way. Nor will they until it is too late for them and for us.
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  21. Good work John. I feel similarly motivated.

    10, 15, I think John's respect for science is evident throughout his posts, and I don't see that his faith compromises his respect for science, but rather that his faith motivates him to move from theory to practice.

    And I'll bite quickly on how can someone who respects science believe in God. Science deals exclusively with the study of nature, and I tend to think that the origins of nature itself is not a scientific question.

    Also, I would find it surprising if there was lots of devoted material on the subject in the peer review literature, or even if most scientists believed that the existence of God is a scientific question.
    There may be a [perhaps slight] majority of scientists who disbelieve in God, but I don't think this is the same as a scientific consensus, particularly if the subject is not a scientific one.

    I do think sound science has a role in influencing theology, and I don't think science and faith should be in opposition.

    I think the word 'supernatural' should be clarified. In some sense, I think distant universes with different laws of nature are in a sense supernatural. It also wouldn't be too hard to define the creator of the universe as being a natural mind.

    The idea that the origins of the universe are a product of intention, is one option to consider, and there are others as well. I think we all try to make the best sense of the universe we live in. I can't personally fathom how anything but nothingness exists (and yes that exclude God as well). However, nothingness doesn't seem to be an option I can sanely consider.
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  22. Probably this post will be considered OT but here goes nevertheless.

    We need god to explain the time before the big bang, and
    the space outside of the universe.


    PS Thanks for the great effort keeping this blog going.
    PPS @piloot Good to see the Dutch have finally woken from their slumber :)
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    Response: As is my understanding, there is no time before the big bang and no space outside the universe - time and space require matter to exist.
  23. Regarding the comments about John's apparent faith / science conflict:

    My answer would be "why does there need to be a conflict?"

    Seriously. The only conflict science has is with the 'bedtime story' version of religion, where everything was magically made by a supreme being, in the form that it exists today.

    In my opinion, that's a seriously limiting approach to faith. Which God is more impressive to you? The one that can create a universe a few thousand years ago just as it is today? Or the one that can give the pre-big-bang universe a nudge in just the right way so that, 15 billion years later, it will give rise to intelligent life that can hold a conversation about the nature of God?

    It's been a long time since I've read Genesis, but I seem to recall there's some stuff in there about going out and learning about the world (actually, a quick Google reveals Genesis 2:19 "Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them" - surely that's the beginning of taxonomy, a foundational part of the theory of evolution? ). To me, science (and learning about how the universe works) is a challenge put in front of us, that we may make use of our capacity for thought. Not a challenge to our beliefs. Religion is no house of cards to come tumbling down should one card be revealed to be have a picture of a Galapagos finch instead of a jack.

    So, to my mind, there's no reason for disconnect or conflict between science and religion. One is about what you know and can learn, the other about what you believe in. The problems arise when human-written expressions of those beliefs are taken to be literal truths.
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  24. It's arguable that pragmatically speaking the Golden Rule transcends whatever may divide us in terms of spiritual or religious feelings. In general we prefer to be treated well to the extent we help to make that possible and should extend the same consideration to others as much as we can. For my part, either my spirituality genes don't function or I was not inculcated with religion or I'm a godless heathen/infidel/whatever and am consigned to a lake of fire or something like that but I still don't believe in creating an Unholy Mess and leaving it for others to deal with, at least to the best of my ability to avoid doing so.

    Can we agree on the Golden Rule as it pertains to the subject of this blog, or should we argue endlessly and pointlessly instead over whether we place our stock in heat death of the universe, heaven or something else?
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  25. miekol at 10:08 AM , firstly I want to thank John for sharing his thoughts with us, irrespective of where any of us stand on the issue of AGW, there is always more common ground than disputed when things are put into the right order of importance.

    Miekol, I too wonder about the tiny amount of CO2. In particular about how the AGW theory decrees that the amplifying effect of water vapour, in fact all forms of atmospheric H2O, means that the majority of heat should be trapped at H2O wavelengths, and the properties of H2O, the points at which it changes state, determining the range at which our climate oscillates over time.
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    Moderator Response: The most recent discussion at Skeptical Science of water vapor's role in global warming may be found here: Evaporating the water vapor argument. An older discussion is here.
  26. Great post. As a Christian myself, I've often wondered how so many of us can ignore the command to be stewards of God's earth. Every day in church, pastors tell us that nothing is our own, everything belongs to God... and then we go and muck it all up anyway.

    I wrote my senior thesis on how conservative Christians reconcile their Christianity with their politics, and the subject of the environment was one that came up over and over. People essentially say this: "We should care for the earth, but we're put here to work it and use its resources for our benefit, and rule over the earth. We should do it responsibly, but we shouldn't just let resources sit around and be idle."

    In other words, this issue is ripe for reframing and building religious support for stopping climate change. This is an issue of responsible stewardship of God's earth. You just have to emphasize the "responsibility" part of stewardship, not just the "uses the master's resources" part. (Unless you want to point out that opponents of cap-and-trade are preventing us from using our vast wind and solar resources).
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  27. Thanks, John, for sharing! A long-overdue topic.

    Like John, I obtain no material benefit from speaking out on what I know. My day job keeps me comfortably employed and sustains my family's needs. We're not rich by any means, but have what we need.

    I don't do this to pass the time. Indeed, I have to struggle constantly to create the time for this work. My job takes about 70 hours a week for 35 hours pay. Family and sleep fill the rest. So this mission comes at the expense of sleep.

    Neither do I do this for politics. I have mainly conservative values, but don't feel the overarching need to conform to conservative thinking when an "out of the box" solution is needed. Original thinking is called for when you get your cheese moved. So I have always valued platforms that mirror mine, politically. Sometimes, then, I have voted Democrat, sometimes Republican.

    While I'm all for saving as much as possible of the Great Outdoors for the enjoyment of future generations, people still have to live. And natural resource utilization, when done in a sustainable manner, is to be admired. And if push came to shove, then "drill, baby, drill".

    But the main reason I reach out like this is for my faith. Like John, I am a Christian (I did not know that about John when I began reading Skeptical Science; I just learned that fact about him today).

    Since I was a little boy, I've always loved science. By the age of 11, I had exhausted the children's science book section in the library. By 16, the adult science book section.

    In college, I majored in Earth Science and Computerized Cartography/Remote Sensing in the early 80's. My strong interest in Climatology changed course when my science advisor told me that:
    1. It was a dead-end field (daunting, but not the last straw)
    2. Therefore there was no money in it (the last straw; a man's gotta eat)

    After many years of working for the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C. making mapping products for the military, I tired of the summer heat & the rude people. Tossup which was worse. Returning home to Michigan, I got into sales and then into pharmaceutical sales. The endless studying of medical articles, journals and clinical studies in the various disease states renewed my interests in science and climatology, so I added that to my neverending medical studies. That was a real wakeup call.

    As I delved into the depths of the literature, a disturbing vista emerged from the new material the matured science had developed since I'd left it. Mankind, in its reaching for technology and the stars, had found that the world was hollow, and in touching the sky, had changed it.

    But it's one thing to have knowledge; the real test comes in it's application. For when I sit at home with my family and look into the eyes of my children, I see their chances at a happy and normal life diminishing in light of what lies before us. It would be easy to sit back and enjoy the time left to me. But to do so would be to consign my children and the future generations of mankind to a living hell. For the changes ahead, should our course not change, indeed lead down that path.

    So my faith and my conscience demand that I toil at long hours into the night, searching for a way forward. Science has communicated its consensus to the world on the changing climate, and the world has rejected it. The only answer I have at the moment lies in not giving up.

    My faith, and the haunting knowledge of what I know, demands no less. John Brookes @ 16 above referenced Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." An idle steward I will not be.

    Thanks for your time,

    The Yooper
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  28. Re: johnd at 14:02 PM on 3 August, 2010

    Look here for a more in-depth answer to your question re: CO2 vs water vapor.

    A short answer is that water vapor is for the most part confined to the lower troposphere, while CO2 (being a well-mixed greenhouse gas) extends all the way to the tropopause.

    The radiative physics of CO2 are what drives global warming and climate change.

    If you wish a more in-depth look into that, ask. Textbooks and website references abound beyond number.

    The Yooper
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  29. Who knew you where a god botherer? I'd like to see the empirical evidence for that one ;)

    Firmly anti-religious, humanist, left-wing with a strong sense of social justice leads me to take the complete opposite position on the politics of climate change. It's funny world, but well worth exploring!
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  30. I was raised a Quaker, and though I can hardly be considered a practising one I still hold strongly to many of the values learned. One is that a person should bear witness honestly, openly and with humility. In the Quaker tradition this means one is compelled to accept what one observes about the world, because the world is the face of god. Another is that the scientific study creation is one of the highest spiritual callings. Many Friends go into science for this reason, and with the aim of helping others. Due to this background, I have always found the belief that a dichotomy exists between science and religion a bit mystifying.

    BTW...My wife is an absolute atheist. She was horrified when she first found out about my background...had to check with her mother that I wasn't some cultist wacko looking for a hitch on a UFO ! Luckily she didn't succumb to her worst fears and trusted her instincts.

    I think one of the most pernicious undercurrents of this climate debate is the notion that people take positions based solely on some underlying unspoken political agenda or affiliation to which they bend all facts. If this thread has done anything I think it highlights how people from a wide range of backgrounds can reach roughly the same conclusion simply through an honest effort at following the evidence. There's not much really linking us at all but the science and a concern for what it means for our families, friends and species.
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  31. @ HR...You make my point perfectly! Simple stereotypes need not apply!

    One question...You refer to the politics of climate change. What about the science of climate change? Does your background affect your opinion about that?
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  32. @HR "humanist, left-wing with a strong sense of social justice"

    Amazing. Almost a match for me, but I'm atheist rather than anti-religious.

    I half get it when I see union officials with an obvious commitment to social justice - for their members - arguing for certain industries or practices to continue despite being socially destructive. But a general commitment to social justice takes me to John's view. That we have to look out for the poor, weak and vulnerable, whether we're likely ever to know them or not.

    As Stephen said, presuming you can predict another's position on the science by labels like left, right, religious or anything else is futile.

    I suppose anyone can have a general distrust of academia regardless of political orientation. But this one perplexes me.
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  33. Interesting post. It prompts me to reflect on my own motivations.

    Like many other commenters, I’m an atheist, so it’s not religion that motivates me. And although I do have a political view on the issue, I wouldn’t exactly say that it’s what motivates me either. It’s more the other way round: I developed firmer political views from looking into the science.

    My main motivation is to counter denialism (or contrarianism, or whatever you want to call it). I’m against denialist movements of all stripes, and am incensed when I see anti-science and pseudoscience wielding so much influence in the world, especially on an issue as important as global warming. I think it is vital that the public, media, and politicians understand the issue so that policies can be based on evidence, not ideology.

    Also, I can’t help pointing out the obvious link between creationism (particularly young Earth creationism) and climate change denial. If you already believe that the scientific community can be so wrong, yet so certain, on one issue, it’s not too much of a stretch to extend that to others. And if you believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old, then you’ve already discarded most of the paleoclimate record in one swoop!

    On a more optimistic note, I have to agree with Stephen Baines @30:
    “If this thread has done anything I think it highlights how people from a wide range of backgrounds can reach roughly the same conclusion simply through an honest effort at following the evidence.”
    This is how it should be. Science relies on empirical evidence and so should transcend ideological boundaries. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen in the public sphere, but this site demonstrates that it can. I think this is largely thanks to John’s politically neutral, fact-based approach.
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  34. John Cook, thanks for the post. I have no religion, respect yours, and feel just the same way you do re social justice. Having no children, I sort of adopt everyone else's in my mind and I am concerned for what we leave the following generations.
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  35. miekol, if the composition of the molecules in the atmosphere is proportional to the effects of global warming, that means all molecules behave similarly. When I put a dash of salt (unlike dried basil) on my steak, it tastes so much better even though it's only 0.003% of the mass. @ 0.005%, maybe a tad salty :)

    I grew up in an a-political, a-religious environment, raised under immigrants; so the only real "value" that were installed in me, were to work hard and be nice to others. I'm also young, so I feel that I may take the fruits of intense capitalism too lightly. At the same time, I've been exposed to its side effects from childhood (mental health, environment). "Happiness" is only a saturating function wrt wealth, and a sustainable lifestyle is truly appealing (1 steak / yr not withstanding). Global warming is a top-dog issue, and it's very hard not to get involved with it.
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  36. Dear John,

    As you know, I blog in Spanish exactly for the same reasons. Well, just a (little?) difference. I’m an agnostic, but I’m proud to hold deep ethical values and I’m happy to know that I’m embracing Matthew 25 as you and many readers of your blog are.

    I discovered the seriousness of the climate change issue almost by chance in 2005. It was in the USA, when I was there in ‘technical’ vacation with my daughter, then 12 years old. I could not conceive to keep my job and do nothing for the world I was leaving to her. Then I saw the deep injustice for the poor people of the world to be directly harnessed by our daily ‘normal’ actions. I was frustrated to see people acting the same way as if nothing was happening, and being really influenced by the denial machine. I felt the instinct to investigate and make it public in Spanish language, where nobody was doing anything at the time. Somebody helped me: I was fired from my job (publisher of an automatic control business magazine) when I wrote an editorial on global warming and the responsibility of the engineering community to deal with.

    And finally, being trained in system dynamics (I’m an electronic engineer), I understood what the destabilization of the climate system could mean: runaway, a different planet, much less comfortable. Lovelock foresees some 1 billion people leaving at the poles by 2100. How do you reduce 8 billion people in 100 years?

    I still wonder why the climate system is, with some exceptions, not studied from this point of view. It’s like an engineer analysing a structure by starting with the quantum mechanics equations of every particular material in a bridge. “That’s because climatologists are atmospheric physicists”, I’ve been told by a renowned British researcher. They don’t know control theory? What is the stability threshold of the climate system? Why anybody talks about it? Is it 2 degrees? No, I think it is too much. Do people understand what does it mean if we had already gone through?

    John, please be careful. I deeply resonate with your cartoon. I admire your productivity - mine was higher some months ago. Two couples left me because of what they consider an excessive involvement (with zero income), and “you’re not going to save the world”. None of them was the mother of my lovely daughter, but if yours is, remember that anything better for a child than to have both parents at home.

    But it would also be difficult to find anything better for all of us than your independent and clever blogging.
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  37. Hi John,

    I was surprised by your remarks about faith, but I do find your views reflect the best of Christianity and what I've always thought it was about - right thoughts, right actions, care for others - differentiated responsibility, as I would name it.

    The hard question - that others have tacitly raised - is how one fits a religious (belief) based world view with a scientific one, and I wrote an essay about this a while back. My main thought was that we need mystery as well as the hard bright light of science:

    "At the heart of belief lies mystery; that which our consciousness requires faith to address because all other methods are inadequate. Science would, if it could, eliminate all mystery from our existence, because to do so would not only be the attainment of science's ultimate goal – the theory of everything – but also invalidate belief and faith as tools (which science despises), in favour of hypotheses and rigorous proofs (which science adores). A mystery, tacitly left unsolved, is not seen as an asset to the human condition, but a weakness of mind, a vacuity of intellect or a failure of method. The unknown has no intrinsic value to science; it is merely that for which the appropriate mathematics has not yet been formulated. It is therefore all the more interesting to me that the place where science gets in trouble is the very same junction of the known and unknown that humans find so provocative, and from which we are rewarded so generously – and mysteriously – from time to time...I speak of the small epiphanies, the wonder of it all."

    A Mysterious Reduction

    Small epiphanies - the title of the book in which this essay appeared, and also of my blog, where the essays can be downloaded (free). The balance between the mystery of being aware and the sensible deployment of the rational tools that awareness affords us is one of the most interesting and challenging subjects I write about.
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  38. Belief affords us all manner of ideology and it allows us to act as we see fit without having to scrutinise every last detail ourselves. Of course it has value to society!

    How many people would be advocates of AGW if it was a prerequisite to learn all that there is about climate science?

    Thankfully belief has its place alongside science, without it many would not act at all.

    Belief is a placeholder for both what science cannot explain, and for what science can explain - but is difficult to understand. Others will argue that belief offers even more, but that is OT...
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  39. If there is a Christian God, who is both benevolent and omnipotent, we should stop worrying about the climate altogether. He can certainly fix the climate if we mess it up a little, and if he really is good, he will do so before anything serious happens. Thus we can continue to live on earth in peace and happiness, burning oil and coal that was given to us to burn.
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  40. God is love, love to spare, love enough to care for others. Is that sufficiently vague as to be nonthreatening to everybody?

    I took a moment to look at the scriptural citations John mentioned. I don't think it takes a genius to get the point.
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  41. Ha, I was reading through all the comments here with optimism then came to number 39 and Argus, who seems on the surface to be confused.

    My interest in science is due to the fact that I want to know how things work. I guess it is an engineers view but it is also one that is fascinating and empowers the mind. I think the fact that climate science is linked to quantum physics and other sciences makes it compelling.

    You only have to spend some time contemplating the nature of matter and the forces that bind it and then quickly look at the objects around, to see the beauty of science and the world around. Out of the strange alleged chaos of the atom and particles, comes the greenhouse effect, cars and computers. But for me it isn't strange or chaotic, it does make sense.

    On the issue of this left/right thing. I think most politics of the old variety focuses to much on satisfying human needs and that conflicts with the observation that humans are causing the problems we have, be it climate change specifically or other environmental problems.

    The difficult thing is and will be to say to people that they need to do without. I don't think any socialist or capitalist has the guts to say that.

    So although I think 'social justice' is noble and it helps today's populations I think ultimately socialists are going to have to accept that to solve the problems, some people are going to have to suffer. I think it is to late now to protect jobs or wealth because of 'rights'.
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  42. The Ville. "some people are going to have to suffer"?

    People are already suffering. Needlessly, which is the thing that breaks my heart.

    I do not see exactly what people in OECD countries will have to do without. Many people don't like change, but that's too bad because there is always change. Getting power from a solar/tidal/geo/wind source is still getting power. Better public transport run by that same power source is still better public transport. More efficient cars and trucks are better cars and trucks.

    My great regret is that the distortion of development of power technologies means that the poverty stricken regions of the world didn't have access 30 years ago to local power generated by wind or solar. It wouldn't have been wonderful by our standards, but it would have made an enormous difference to people who still have nothing.
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  43. The fundamentalist comments seem to be from aetheists.

    We should all be greatful for whatever motivates individuals to become better people be that books like the bible, children or peyote.

    Extreme aetheism seems to lend itself to hedonism and irresponsable consumption. Not to say aetheists go knocking other people hats off for fun but social darwinism means that we look after our own above all. Beleif systems are tools we have evolved to help us extend the network of who we consider our own.

    I am agnostic and whatever I choose to beleive has no bearing on how it is I have come to be conscious.

    No aetheist or religion I have ever encountered can explain consiousness.

    Deep down its selfless individuals like John that keep me topped up with inspiration to do the right thing on a daily basis.

    Most sincerly I wish you all the best John.
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  44. I agree with andrewcodd @43

    Except I wouldn't single out "Extreme Atheism", any extreme belief system is bad news for society.

    Atheists are no more likely to be extremists than others. Atheists are no more likely to be amoral either.

    Doug Bostram mentioned the "Golden Rule" earlier (go look it up in wiki if you're unfamiliar). The Golden Rule is the basis of all social morality that binds everyone together, and no religion can claim it as their own
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  45. As a fellow Christian, I would just say that it's not religion that may drive us, but teachings like "Love your neighbor as yourself." John's point fits in well with the followup question, "Who is my neighbor?"

    For non-Christians, we are not monolithic. Mainstream churches accept science as the way to learn about the physical world and take our role as mere stewards seriously. Many allies, same goal - to make sure there's something left for the next generation, and not mess up what is not ours.
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  46. The Ville:

    The difficult thing is and will be to say to people that they need to do without. I don't think any socialist or capitalist has the guts to say that.

    Perhaps I'm just weird (perhaps?) but the older I become the less I seem to want. I still have way more extra stuff than probably 90% of the people on the planet (comes automatically where I live) and I assume my failing inclination for acquiring material things has sharply defined limits.

    Do any other perhaps slightly 50+ people with creeping arthritis, ~12" optical depth of field, etc. have the same perception?
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  47. 32.adelady

    My form of social justice does not lead me to think we should look after the poor and weak but that they should be empowered to look after themselves. I don't feel sympathy for them but empathy toward them. I think at the very least we should be supporting the likes of India and China to industrialise their societies. Taking John's example of the flood effects on Pakistan, it has always slapped me firmly in the face that flooding (or other natural distasters) in developing countries lead to huge losses of life while in the industrial West this is generally not the case. This is not because of climate change but due to the lack of resourses and wealth. This lack of wealth is not because of climate change but because the free market demands these conditions to exist. The recent focus on climate change as the greatest problem facing the worlds poor ignores the real problems underlying the society we live in.

    (Just to be clear my anti-religion stance comes from being raised a catholic and having little time for the hypocracy of organised religion. I'm happy to tolerate the full range of human beliefs although I do think we can all show a little love to our neighbour without the need to resort to a god figure)

    31.Stephen Baines.
    I can't look at climate science without knowing there are political agendas at work as well. Only today this innocuous paper got me boiling because I see intention in the way the results are interpreted. I can't say what motivates the authors of this paper to draw the conclusions they do but I can't help thinking they are flawed. It should be a simple case of science showing one thing or another but it isn't.
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  48. The Ville:
    The difficult thing is and will be to say to people that they need to do without. I don't think any socialist or capitalist has the guts to say that.


    Interesting you should put it that way round - where ideologues are telling others 'they need to do without'. It is the heart of the problem as I see it - the perception that people are telling others what to do - and their motives are either noble and rational (science) or ignoble and manipulative.

    While we require others to remind us that money cannot buy happiness, despite the eternal quest to prove this adage wrong. We cannot evolve society while so many of us think our very value, our worth, our achievements and our legacies are all measured by what we own, what we throw away and what we bequeath after we are gone.

    We need reminding how unhappy we are when we measure ourselves using such a poor metric as consumerism,the current religion of the masses. While this is true and we subsist on the treadmill forever wanting more, we have to be 'told' what's good for us. It is about time we figured this out for ourselves.
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  49. John,

    For me, your site demonstrates the internet at its absolute best.

    Many thanks for your efforts.

    Christian
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  50. HR The poor should look after themselves? Well it would have been a whole heap easier for remote villages in African or South American forests or the mountain fastnesses of Pakistan if the technology had been routinely available for small scale power generation.

    I don't believe it's automatically the evil capitalists who deprived them. It's a combination of 19th century govt ideas about big and / or centralised being better and the aforementioned ECs lining up to make money out of that model. Now we have to make up for our own foolish shortsightedness. How many fewer wars might we have had in these last 30+ years if impoverished, ignorant people had been getting an education and making money with their own small businesses in peace and relative plenty.

    We can do the right thing now. Hopefully it won't be too little too late.
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