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Deconstructing former Australian Prime Minister John Howard's 'gut feeling' on climate change

Posted on 13 November 2013 by John Cook

This article was reposted from

Last week, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard gave a speech on climate change for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a conservative think-tank opposed to policies that mitigate climate change. Howard characterised scientists who accept the evidence that humans are disrupting climate as religious zealots. Consequently, he is not so convinced of the scientific evidence. On what does he base his views? Howard states that “…I instinctively feel that some of the claims are exaggerated.”

Howard is guided by gut feeling rather than empirical evidence and physics. At the same time, he accuses scientists, who arrived at their position through methodical consideration of the full body of evidence, of ideological bias. How does one make sense of this? An appropriate starting place is the scientific research into the biasing influence of ideology.

There are many factors that influence our climate change knowledge and attitudes, including education, scientific literacy and personal experience. Political ideology has a significant influence on climate change beliefs. A striking demonstration of the powerful effect of ideology is the finding that as education levels increased, Democrats became more concerned about climate change while Republicans became less concerned. Ideology rather than education is the hand at the wheel driving climate attitudes.

Does this mean ideological bias is symmetrical, with liberals exaggerating the effects of climate change while conservatives downplay climate impacts? Again, we can consult empirical research for the answer.

Scientific consensus is a good place to start. Over the years, a number of studies have found that among publishing climate scientists, 97% agree that humans are causing global warming. I was part of a team that performed the most comprehensive analysis of global warming research to date, examining 21 years worth of peer-reviewed papers studying climate change. We found that among papers stating a position on human-caused global warming, 97.1% endorsed the consensus on human-caused global warming.

Given the robust evidence for overwhelming scientific agreement, you might find public perception of consensus a little surprising. A 2012 Pew survey of Americans found that only 58% of Democrats believe scientists agree on global warming, while even fewer Republicans (30%) think there’s scientific agreement. Among Democrats, whom John Howard believes are biased towards climate alarmism, there’s a significant gap between public perception and the 97% consensus. However, the result that jumps out from this research is one simple fact. The more politically conservative a group is, the further its perception of consensus diverges from reality.

The human contribution to global warming is a key climate metric. The latest IPCC report estimated that of the 0.6°C of global warming since 1950, the best estimate for the human contribution is approximately 100%. If anything, it’s likely to be slightly over 100% with natural influences such as internal variability or the cooling sun offsetting some of our greenhouse warming.

What do the general public think on this key question? In a survey of representative Americans conducted earlier this year, I asked participants to estimate the human contribution to global warming. People on the left side of politics estimated the human contribution at 56% while those on the conservative right thought humans only contributed 32%. This further demonstrates that liberals are underestimating the human influence on global warming. Moreover, when it comes to climate science, conservative ideology is associated with greater departure from reality.

Australia’s current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, continues to display the same evidence-free, gut-feeling bias against climate science as his predecessor. He dismisses the disruptive effects of carbon dioxide because it’s an invisible gas. The irony of this position is that carbon dioxide’s invisibility is a key feature of the greenhouse effect. He also dismisses the link between climate change and bushfires, arguing that bushfires have happened throughout Australia’s past. This logical fallacy is equivalent to arguing that smoking doesn’t cause cancer because people contracted cancer before cigarettes were invented.

When John Howard invokes his gut feeling against climate science, he reveals his own ideological bias. His accusation of liberal bias on the climate issue is an inversion of the true state of affairs. In the case of climate change, conservatism has an unreality bias.

UPDATE 14 Nov: Some comments were made about whether John Howard used the term "religious zealots" in his speech. His exact words were:

"I've deliberately chosen the title for the lecture One Religion is Enough to highlight my belief that part of the problem with this debate is that to some of the zealots in the debate, their cause has become a substitute religion."

Consequently, I've removed the quotations from around the term "religious zealot", which otherwise are a pretty fair characterisation of what Howard was seeking to communicate.

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Comments 1 to 36:

  1. Howard characterised scientists who accept the evidence that humans are disrupting climate as “religious zealots”. Consequently, he is not so convinced of the scientific evidence.

    Could you show your source for where Howard specifically used the phrase "religious zealots" applied to scientists? I ask because it is not seen in the speech you link to.

    On what does he base his views? Howard states that “…I instinctively feel that some of the claims are exaggerated.”

    Also, could you show your source for this partial quote from Howard? It too is not included in the speech you link to.


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  2. The second quote is from media interviews prior to his speech:

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  3. @SCM

    Thanks for that link. I see the full quote and context now :

    "I've always been agnostic about it (climate change)," Mr Howard told reporters in London before his address.

    "I don't completely dismiss the more dire warnings but I instinctively feel that some of the claims are exaggerated.

    "I don't accept all of the alarmist conclusions."

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  4. John Howard supported an emmissions trading scheme in 2006 for the following reason:

    "... late in 2006 my Government hit a 'perfect storm' on the issue. Drought had lingered for several years in many parts of Eastern Australia, leading to severe restrictions on the daily use of water; not for the first or last time the bushfire season started early; the report by Sir Nicholas Stern hit the shelves, with the author himself visiting Australia, and lastly the former US Vice President Al Gore released his movie An Inconvenient Truth. To put it bluntly 'doing something' about global warming gathered strong political momentum in Australia"

    He is now rejecting action on climate change for the following reason:

    "In the past five years, the dynamic of the global warming debate has shifted away from exaggerated acceptance of the worst possible implications of what a majority of climate scientists tell us, towards a more balanced, and questioning approach"

    In other words, political expediency.

    (plagiarised from here:

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  5. Howard's remarks put me in mind of a saying of the great statistician and management consultant W.E. Deming.

    "In God we trust; all others must bring data.“

    Abbott and Howard (more like Abbott and Costello) are saying "Trust me; I know better than the data"

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  6. tlitb1,

    Google is your friend. Try "john howard religious zealots". Lots of links. This one explains his ignorance:

    "Mr Howard revealed before the speech that the only book he had read on climate change was Lawson's An Appeal to Reason: a Cool Look at Global Warming, published in 2008.
    Mr Howard said he read it twice, once when he was writing his autobiography, when he used it to counter advice for stronger action on climate change given to him by government departments when he had been prime minister."

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  7. tlitb1 @1, I am not aware of John Howard calling climate scientists "religious zealots".  In the lecture, he does say:

    "I chose the lecture’s title ["One religion is enough"] largely in reaction to the sanctimonious tone employed by so many of those who advocate quite substantial, and costly, responses to what they see as irrefutable evidence that the world’s climate faces catastrophe, against people who do share their view. To them the cause has become a substitute religion."

    He does not call anybody a "zealot" in the lecture, but refers to "public support for over-zealous action", and refers to "the more zealous advocates of action on global warming".  Neither term implies directly that anybody are zealots as such.  There is widespread reporting of the contents of the lecture as indicating that Howard had called the "climate change spruikers religious zealots" to quote a headline from The Australian.  Note, however, that "religious zealots" does not appear in quotes, and so is not a direct quotation, but rather a paraphrase or interpretation of Howard's claims.

    Absent evidence of a direct quotation, it appears that John Cook has mistakenly taken an indirect quotation to be a direct quotation.  It is not clear whether he was original in doing so, or accepted, without due diligence, the mistake of another.  In any event, the phrase "religious zealot" in the OP should not be in quotation marks. 

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    [John Cook] Howard does actually use the term zealot - but you have to watch the YouTube video of the speech where he opens with some off-the-cuff remarks. I've updated my blog post an excerpt of his exact words. Thanks for the comments, Tom.

  8. @BillyJoe

    Google is your friend. Try "john howard religious zealots".

    Thanks but I’m afraid Google isn't my constructor. I've tried Google and not found any examples of Howard literally describing scientists as "religious zealots".

    In the above linked speech I *do* see he talks about

    "...zealous advocates of action on global warming..."

    "...public support for over-zealous action on global warming has passed."

    But I have found nothing that remotely supports this statement:

    Howard characterised scientists who accept the evidence that humans are disrupting climate as “religious zealots”.

    This preceding statement implies it is derived from specific source statements emanating from Howard himself, not interpretations found in the media.

    This piece is supposed to be "deconstructing Howard" not the media.

    I think any reasonable person would think a more direct quote or reference can easily be offered up to justify the claim that Howard has described any scientists as “religious zealots".

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You are on the verge of skating on the thin ice excessive repitition which is prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy. Pleae read the Comments Policy and adhere to it. Thank you.

  9. Easy fix, remove the quotes from around "religious zealots".

    There's no doubt that Howard calls climate activism a religion, and more than once. And, from the text of this speech, I see Howard drawing no meaningful distinction between climate activism and climate science. In fact, Howard conflates activism and science on page 4 of his speech, by invoking the specter of the "Climategate" East Anglia e-mail theft, and repeating the old "redistributing the world's wealth" quote mine to accuse the IPCC of advancing political agendas.

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  10. JH @ 8:

    tlitb1 has three posts.  In the first he asked for sources for two statements by Howard; the second was a thank-you for a source for one of them; in the third he said that he hadn't received a source as yet for the other statement.  In what way is this excessive repetition?

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Upon further review, I made a mistake. I have therefore struck through the comment.

  11. I second Synapsid @10's comment.

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  12. The splitting of hairs is par for the course;  Howard suggests and implies that people who demand that the emissions and climate connection be taken seriously are motivated by irrational ideology, not by the real existence of  a real problem. The "religious zealotry" motivation behind climate action's proponents is clearly implied.

    It's politically necessary for climate obstructionists to impugn the motives of climate scientists and proponents of climate action, otherwise people might think scientists are basically honest and the public might trust them! An undesired consequence of trust in science would be expecting politicians to incorporate that knowledge into government decision making. Howard makes it clear that politics isn't about trusting experts, it's about trusting gut feelings. But it's dirty and dubious politics to make unsubstantiated suggestions of dubious or dangerous ideological motivations of untrustworthy climate 
    "zealots" to justify politics not responding to valid science.

    As for the new Prime Minister of Australia, it looks to me that, like John Howard, Prime MinisterTony Abbott is assiduous in avoiding telling the Australian public what he really thinks; he continues being persistently contradictory and ambiguous, rather than candid and clear.

    Every statement that the climate problem is real by Abbott or his team seems to be followed by statements that it's not. I can't help but view this a deliberate political tactic; by avoiding any signs of sincerity the climate science obstructors that are his core constituency are reassured that he is not and he does not have to spell out how deep his convictions - his gut feelings - are on this really are. 

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  13. Ken in Oz @12, expecting only words actually spoken or written by the person being "quoted" to be included inside quotation marks is not hair splitting.  It is, at the minimum, an expectation of honest reporting.  As such incorrect quotation can be a technique used to make people appear more extreme than they actually are, it can also be a means of libel.

    In this case, the misquotation does not make Howard seem more extreme or ridiculous than he is.  The news reports should, quite frankly, be focussed on his admission that, as Prime Minister of Australia for thirteen years, during which time he steadfastly refused to take any action to mitigate global warming, his only investigation of the science was read a single book, by a well known denier two years after leaving office.  Such fact free policy setting is a national disgrace; and the admission should tarnish Howard's record beyond redemption.

    An even greater disgrace is that this fact free approach to policy setting continues to dominate in Australia, with Australia's newly elected PM, Tony Abbot being no better informed than Howard.

    It is a shame that the misquotation has detracted from these issues.  It the distraction should be ended, however, by John Cook correcting the text of his article, noting the update and the reason and (ideally), apologizing for, and explaining the source of the error, whether that be carelessness (if he is the source of the misquote), or lack of due dilligence (if he assumed from misquotation by others without checking for the original quote).  Even better if he could in fact show the quotation is correct by citing the original, but that currently looks dubious.

    The distraction should not, however, be ended simply by ignoring proper standards of quotation any more than distraction from inconvenient facts should be ended by simply fudging the data.

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  14. Easy fix, remove the quotes from around "religious zealots".

    I thought the original phrase was meant to have inverted commas.  It makes sense as 'religious zealots', although I suspect that the grammatic subtlety would be easily lost.


    Whatever the distraction over grammar and the natural of the attribution, the point is that John Howard refers to the mainstream professional understanding of the danger of human-caused climate change as being both over zealous and having the appearance of a religion.  He is incorrect on both points.


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  15. While on the topic of corrections I would like to see, the final sentence of the OP is too strong.  Many conservatives do have an "unreality bias".  Indeed, currently this is possibly true of most conservatives, and is certainly true of the most politically influential conservatives in Australia when it comes to global warming.  However, there are many political conservatives who do not have that bias (including at least one very great contributor to SkS). Further, there is little doubt that there are mitigation responses to global warming that fit well with conservative philosophy, of which the most obvious is cap and trade (although others exist).  We will not win the fight to achieve effective mitigation by simply alienating half of the political spectrum.  Rather we should encourage conservatives to be true to both their philosophy and the facts.  Even when we disagree with conservative philosophies (there are more than one), we should make that a seperate issue rather than hampering the effort to combat global warming by trying to bury conservatism based on the fact free bias of some conservatives.

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  16. Picking up on John's idea of deconstructing the former prime minister's words, I find it interesting that in his comments to reporters Howard said this:

    "I don't completely dismiss the more dire warnings, but I instinctively feel that some of the claims are exaggerated." [Due to my grammatical instinctiveness, I inserted a comma between the two independent clauses.]

    By leaving out any actual examples of what he means by "dire warnings" or exaggerated claims, and by not identifying who has said or made them, Howard probably comes across as being quite rational to those who are sitting on the fence. His words, after all, suggest that he in fact accepts some of the "more dire warnings," or at least some parts of them. And in doing this, while we may roll our eyes at Howard's ability to tell instinctively whether claims are valid or not, he basically touches base with many non-scientist fence sitters who presumable have heard some of these "most dire warnings" and potentially exaggerated claims in the blogosphere. I'd guess that many of them reacted with similar gut-level responses to "dire" claims. After all, "dire" is a word associated with situations we really don't want to experience first hand. And along comes former Prime Minister Howard, an authority figure by definition to some, who is telling people who don't want anything "dire" to happen to them that they really don't need to worry.

    With that in mind, I note that Matt@9 makes an excellent point in noting that Howard draws "no meaningful distinction between climate activism and climate science." I guess I'd add that this is understandable, given that the denier camp really doesn't have much actual science to use as ammunition or to build their arguments on, and thus they tend to wage their campaign by cherrypicking data, or seeking to attack narrow and often out-of-context passages found in scientific papers or in simplified postings about those papers found on sites like Skeptical Science. It is very much a kind of asymmetric warfare where they are reduced to wielding stone knives and spears against the other side. Indeed, with Matt's comment in mind, I suspect it is even possible to conclude that Howard is actually thinking of on-line comment threads on newspaper web sites when he thinks of those dire warning and exaggerated claims. He certainly doesn't provide any evidence to rule that conclusion out.

    Then too, even if we assume Howard is referring only to warnings from scientists working in the field, there is definitely nothing in his words to make me think he is speaking of published scientific arguments. Instead, I suspect Howard could point to the kinds of things even scientists sometimes say or post off the cuff.

    For example, whenever an otherwise measured and rational scientist writes or speaks more or less off the cuff about the likelihood of an ice-free Arctic somewhere in the not too distant future, I "instinctively" understand that the scientist is thinking about the Arctic seas near or at the end of the melt season, and is using "ice-free" in the sense of "effectively ice-free" or "nearly ice-free." Deniers have differenct instinctive responses and thus exhibit a distinct lack of ability to grasp this kind of difference, and that is why Mr. Howard can say what he says and have people agree with him.

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  17. I couldn't find a quote to match either, just the ones mentioned above. It would be good to amend the comment in the OP with a note on the misattribution.

    When I first read about Howard's speech, the admission of political expediency driving policy struck me as much as the familiarity with contrarian talking points and hollow understanding of the science. For him, global warming is a minor issue except on political grounds.

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  18. Tom, you are right to expect what's to be in the quotation marks to be an actual quote; that should be corrected. But I have a big problem with what these 'leaders' say being (IMO deliberately) disingenuous and contradictory - and too often diametrically opposed to what their actions 'say'. Howard is certainly encouraging people to think climate science and climate action is the province of zealots -  it takes hair splitting to claim there was no such implication in what he said. And implying and suggesting things without saying them directly is a distinguishing hallmark of climate politics as practiced by Howard's student, Tony Abbott.

    Not arguing the validity of the science looks like a deliberate tactic for making it easier to push through an agenda  based on  the science being wrong.

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  19. Ken from Oz @18, I share your concern.

    One of my biggest problems with the nature of political debate in Australia at the moment is Tony Abbot's invocation of his "mandate" as a reason for the Australian Labor Party and other minor parties to support his repeal of the carbon tax.  In 2007, the ALP very conspicously campaigned on a policy of introducing a emissions trading scheme.  Less conspicuously, so also did Tony Abbot's Liberal Party.  Despite this, Abbot seized the leadership of the Liberal Party on a promise to oppose the emissions trading scheme, which he then did.  Now, if a party gaining victory in an election has a mandate to impliment its platform such that other parties ought not to vote against that platform, then Tony Abbot ignored the mandate of the ALP from the 2007 election.  Not only that, if parties have a obligation to support in parliament the policies they take to the electorate, he also had an obligation to support an ETS.

    So, either Tony Abbot believes his mandate theory, and he was an unprincipled political opportunist when he seized control of the Liberal party; or he does not believe it and he is a blatant and deliberate liar when he calls on the opposition to honour his mandate.

    I do not see any other possibilities here.

    This is so obvious a point of hypocrissy that it is incredible that it is not commented on by journalists.  The press of Australia show, however, that they are not bastions of democracy and rational debate by simply ignoring Abbots hypocritical distortions.

    How can we expect any honesty from politicians when they are not called on even these most blatant of lies? 

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  20. Tom,

    There's no doubt in my mind that Abbott sees climate policy the same way Howard does, and takes whatever position is most politically expedient. Malcolm Turnbull, one of Abbott's own party said, "There is not a position on the ETS Tony has not held."

    Charging Abbott with hypocrisy gives him too much credit, as if he's ever held a position with any spine in it. He's no more than a flip-flopper on this issue, washed about by the tides of public opinion and opportunities for political gain, like undermining Turnbull's leadership.

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  21. With 40% of Americans being literal creationists who are convinced the earth is 6000 years or less old and Ausies probably not far behind, it is asking a lot for them to try to understand the mounting evidence for climate change.  The mind set of these folks is for a simple answer that then doesn't require any further thinking and from which all answers flow.  However, these same folks are prone to flipping 180 degrees if the push is great enough.  (read Battle for the mind by WW Sergent for an explanation of this phenomenon).  I suspect the only sufficient push will be some real disasters such as a complete crop failure in the Northern Hemisphere but by then the damage will be horrendous.  Unfortunately we have the boiling frog phenomenon so far.  Each year storms are more serious, floods more devestating, droughts longer and harsher so our fellow travelers on planet earth who demand simple unexamined explanations are getting used to the new paradigm.  Sad to think we need a real disaster to shake them out of their present mind set.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Please provide a citation for your assertion that 40% of Americans are literal creationists.

  22. Mod:

    Please provide a citation for your assertion that 40% of Americans are literal creationists.

    It was 40% in 2011, last year it was 46%:

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  23. Unfortunately, Americans (and other countries also) have a lot of paranormal beliefs. summary of american beliefs of paranormal.  Belief in God-guided evolution is about the same as belief in ghosts.  Belief in evolution without the hand of God is much lower.  Science in general is poorly understood.

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  24. @Mal Adapted:

    Thank you for the citation.

    I'm not all that impressed by the way Gallup framed the question. I personally question whether the results haven't been skewed by the three choices presented to survey responders. I would paste the question here, but the Gallup website does not allow it to be copied.   


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  25. John, another question asked in a survey in 2005 is easilly quotable:

    "Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings -- [ROTATED: human beings have evolved over millions of years from other forms of life and God guided this process, human beings have evolved over millions of years from other forms of life, but God had no part in this process, or God created human beings in their present form exactly the way the Bible describes it]?

    Evolved, God guided 31%
    Evolved, God had no part 12%
    God created man exactly how Bible describes it 53%
    Other (vol.) 1%
    No opinion 3%
    2005 Sep 8-11"

    The main difference between the questions is that the one cited by Mal Adapted uses as the third choice, that "God created human beings in pretty much their present form at one time in the last 10,000 years or so"  Interestingly, that question gained 45 and 46% percent of respondents in 2004 and 2006 respectively.  In contrast, "Humans evolved, with God guiding" attracted 38 and 36% in those years, and no opinion attracted 4 and 5%.  The approximately 6% rise in "Evolution, but God guided" in the second form of the questionaire relative to the form quoted above probably represents a shift of those whose interpretation of "exactly as the Bible describes" allows them to consider creation prior to 10,000 years ago as consistent with the Biblical creation accounts.  

    Given this, the 40% (2011; 46% in 2012) result almost certainly represent full blooded young earth creationists.  I doubt phrasing of the question has inflated the figure.  Rather, the phrasing may have inflated the figures of "theistic evolutionists" with a significant number of respondents (around 5%) who allow their theology to override their understanding of science.

    Going back to Williams original point.  He as definitely mistated the age factor.  The figures do not support the claim that 40% of US citizens are Ussherites, only that they are young earth creationists.  That, however, is a quibble that does not detract from his main point.  I definitely doubt, however, his claims regarding Australians, who are far less prone to overt religion than are US citizens.  Indeed, based on a 2009 poll:

    "Nearly a quarter of us believe the biblical account of human origins over the Darwinian account. Forty-two per cent of people believe in a wholly scientific explanation for the origins of life and 32 per cent believe in an evolutionary process ''guided by God''."

    Interestingly, a 2010 poll showed that only 10% of Australians did not believe in evolution, suggesting that a significant portion of those Australians who accept a Biblical account of the origin of humans accept a somewhat more scientific account for the origin of other species - or that they are very confused.

    Finally, while I find this interesting, I'm not sure how it is on topic. 

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  26. John Cook, thank you for the ammendment, update and clarrification.  Based on the quote, Howard definitely called people such as you, me, Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann etc religious zealots; although not concenating the words.

    Given that, it represents a substantial hypocrissy when he then goes on to complain that:

    "Increasingly offensive language is used. The most  egregious example has been the term “denier”.  We are all aware of the particular meaning that word has acquired in contemporary parlance.  It has been employed in this debate with some malice aforethought."

    Leaving aside the completely false claim about the meaning of the term (one he will not find supported in any modern dictionary) and about the malice in its use (another offensive claim by Howard); the lack of concern exhibited for the truly offensive language in the debate - the widespread charges of conspiracy, fraud, criminality and of genocidal intent made by deniers against climate scientists and those who defend them is breathtaking. 

    It is, however, unsurprising.  In my view, Howard has never troubled his politics with a factual view of the world.


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  27. @Tom Curtis #25:

    I cannot help but wonder what the results would have been if a fourth option, "Not sure", had been offered to survey respondents.

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  28. The leader of the Liberal opposition party in Australia prior to the election of John Howard as Prime Minister, was Dr John Hewson, an economist.

    Just a few days ago I heard John Hewson expressing his views on anthropogenic climate change, on an ABC program called The Drum.

    What fascinated me is that his reasons for believing that our CO2 emissions are putting us at great risk of calamity, are the same reasons that cause me to be skeptical about the issue.

    Dr Hewson claimed that on most matters involving complex research, scientists are always in some disagreement, expressing different opinions and interpretations of the evidence and the data. However, on the subject of Anthropogenic Global Warming, all the scientists working in the various fields related to climate change are in agreement.

    Since this agreement, or consensus, is almost unprecedented in the world of science, or at least in the sphere of new research, it therefore follows that the climate scientists must be right, was his line of reasoning.

    However, my line of reasoning, if it is indeed true that there is a genuine consensus among climate scientists, is that something other than science must be going on here, considering the enormous complexity of the numerous forcings or influences on climate, and their interactions.

    In other words, if the subject being investigated is relatively straightforward, there might be no good reason to doubt a consensus of opinion among scientists working in the field. To do so might reasonably fit the description of denial.

    However, as I understand, the field of climate science involves 20 or 30 different disciplines. There are elements of chaos that have to be dealt with, a lack of reliable historical data relating to climate change in the past and a lack of meteorological data on extreme weather events in the past.

    Furthermore, because of the long time-spans involved, theories and predictions cannot be verified using practical, physical models of the earth's climate. It would therefore seem to me that the situation is ripe for continual differences of opinion among scientists working in the various disciplines.

    Since there doesn't appear to be much difference of opinion, despite the enormous complexity of the subject, I think alarm bells should be ringing. Setting aside conspiracy theories, could there be some rational explanation for this apparent consensus of opinion, or this lack of the usual disputation among scientists.

    For example, is the subject so complex that no single person can grasp the whole of it, just as no single person, however brilliant, could prove the theory of AGW fallacious? Perhaps the options are basically, either continual squabbling and differences of opinion at taxpayers' expense (because the climate research centres are usually government funded), or a tacitly understood agreement that a consensus of opinion is the best approach in order to maintain funding for the research centres and to provide effective advice to governments that at least gives the governments a chance of initiating effective action to reduce CO2 emissions.

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  29. Vincentrj, I appreciate your reasonable tone.

    It seems odd to me that the basis of trust should be the degree of debate.  That seems a sure-fire way to end up never agreeng with a proposition.  No debate?  Don't trust it.  Lots of debate?  Too much uncertainty.

    There is an overwhelming consensus on heliocentrism, therefore . . .

    The greenhouse effect has been instrumentally measured from surface, inferred from satellite instrument, lab tested bajillions of times, etc. . . . so there's no debate, therefore . . .

    The strength of CO2 as a greenhouse gas is established.  There's no debate because no one is interested in debating.  In feedbacks, there's plenty of debate.  I suggest you make some distinctions and point out just where you think there's no debate and to the detriment of trust in science.

    As for the complexity, it's not true to say that no one person can grasp it.  It is true to say that no one person can grasp it all at once.  So what?  The same can be said of the human body.  If we don't trust science when it addresses complex systems, science dies as a way of understanding things.  Are you down with that?  Or do you have a replacement -- something simpler?

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  30. DSL @29, Vincentrj's "tone" is not reasonable just because he uses no pejoratives while suggesting, in effect, that climate scientists are involved in a tacit conspiracy to misrepresent research findings so as to defraud the public.  The slander involved still makes his post obnoxious.  Further, given that his argument is, in effect, that AGW must be doubtfull because the scientists who study it overwhelmingly report evidence that confirms it, I doubt sincerely he is capable of rational conversation on the topic.

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  31. Vincentrj:

    Just because you are only recently interested in climate change does not mean that it is a new scientific endeavor.  The theoretical basis of AGW was mature in 1896 (that's 117 years ago) when Arhennius published his predictions for temperature increase worldwide from increase in CO2.  Arhennius correctly predicted approximately how much the temperature would go up, greater increase in winter than summer, greater increase at night, greater increase in the Northern Hemisphere (especially the Arctic) and greater increase over land than water.  These points were dismissed at the time but were confirmed experimentally in the 1980's and 90's as temperatures finally increased enough to go above the noise.  Your objection to long time periods having to pass to confirm predictions have been met by waiting long enough.  Exactly how long do you need to trust these validated predictions?  Obviously furthur increases in temperature will have greater effect.  That cannot be measured until we wait for them to occur.  Scientists did not come to a consensus until the 1960's that AGW would be a problem and it was the 90's before the data was confirmed to be above the noise. The reason so many disciplines are in agreement is that they have had over a century to review the data.  We are now 20 years past what any resonable person would call confirmed data and you want to delay because scientists are all in agreement?  Do you also think the world is flat since that is no longer debated?  

    Many scientits understand AGW well.  The reason scientists agree is that the data is overwhelming in support of AGW theory.  Only those who are unwilling to objectively look at the data are outside the consensus.  The scientific debate now concerns how bad the problem will be, what can be done to lessen the damage and how long we have before the damage is irreparable. 

    It strikes me that you are making an argument from ignorance.   Since you do not know what the data is you claim no one else does.  In fact, others have put in more time and effort and understand the data.  Do you intend to perform your own brain surgery when you need it or will you obtain expert help on such a specialty subject?

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  32. All:

    Vincentrj's most recent comment was off-topic and was therefore deleted. DSL's response to it was also deleted.

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  33. Vincentrj:

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right. This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it. Thank you for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

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  34. I just want to make a note how valuable is a contribution to this discussion by Tom Curtis. To those who know Tom, my remark may sound trivial, however in this case Tom's posts made a particularly big, positive difference. His training in in ethics, logic and epistemology really paid off: we now have the factual standard of the article lifted and the reality of Howard's double standard & hypocrisy explained. (Not that I disregard other commenters but Tom realy stands out here).

    Now compare the logical standard above with that of Vincentrj, who is trying to make Argument from ignorance in order to confuse us, and he didn't even explain how his troll relates to the topic at hand. The difference in standard of discussion is so enormous that there simply cannot be any rational discussion, as Tom rightly asserts @30.

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  35. Vincentrj writes that because of the complexity... "the situation is ripe for continual differences of opinion among scientists working in the various disciplines."  Seeing the consensus he therefore thinks... "alarm bells should be ringing". Although he then writes, "setting aside conspiracy theories..." , the remainder of his comment is one big conspiracy theory!

    He is fundamentaly wrong. As someone who reads extensively on the subject of climate change I often come across a willingness to disagree between published climate scientists which is every bit as common as it is amongst all branches of science. But any differences in opinion are invariably with regard to minor details. This is because—as others have already mentioned—the basics of climate science are very well established. Indeed, even many 'contrarian' scientists whose work is mined for 'nuggets' by those in climate denial are, generally speaking, in agreement over the basics of climate change. Vincentrj's theory lacks supporting evidence.

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  36. Vincentrj #28 you are unclear re the division of your opinions/inferences between the 3 basic sub-topics (1) heat is entering the oceans due to radiative imbalance due to humans burning carbon fuels (2) the heat rate coupled with its estimated duration (based on its cause) will make it within a few decades become unprecedented during the last several thousand years and same for the surface temperature rise that will be required to stop it (3) the effects on flora & fauna will be highly negative even within this century and more so for centuries and millenia thereafter, in particular the human species which has softened much and expects much more since the days when a mammoth tusk through the groin was met with "well Og's had it, press on". Do you strongly disgaree with the basic science of (1) based on the (suspicious?) lack of contradictory expert opinion, strongly disgaree with the science & projective simulation modelling of (2) based on the mysterious (to you) mechanics of modelling, the natural scientists' assessment of (3), or all three ?

    I can discuss (1) a bit because I've heard several lecture videos on the cryosphere & crunched a few numbers. It all makes sense as near as one might reasonably care.

    I can discuss (2) a little bit because I've written simulation modelling software and I understand its benefits when some chaos is involved in the system.

    I can't discuss (3) at all, I know nothing about it.

    The subject (except (3)) is not so complex to prevent a person with high school science & math (me) grasping the essence of it to the extent that matters. If the "whole" of it you mention includes each detail that fine-tunes conclusions then I expect it will be decades to wring out all the trivia.

    Please deconstruct your grab-bag skepticism between the sub-topics so that others might debate and perhaps learn from your thoughts.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Unnecessary white space deleted.

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