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Global warming denial rears its ugly head around the world, in English

Posted on 18 August 2014 by dana1981

As people’s understanding of climate science grows, among both experts and non-experts alike, we become more accepting of the fact that humans are the driving force behind global warming. That’s because the evidence supporting human-caused global warming is overwhelming; hence rejection of that reality is usually based on an incomplete understanding of the scientific evidence.

In Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s chief business adviser Maurice Newman offered a prime example of global warming denial last week. Writing in The Australian, Newman suggested that we’re headed for a period of global cooling due to declining solar activity and related influences from galactic cosmic rays, calling mainstream climate science “a religion.”

As Graham Readfearn showed in his fact check of The Australian opinion piece, Newman got the science badly wrong in almost every way imaginable. Scientific research has consistently shown that a grand solar minimum would barely make a dent in human-caused global warming, and that galactic cosmic rays do not exert a significant influence on the Earth’s climate. To argue otherwise, Newman relied on selective cherry picking of some research, and a misinterpretation of other studies.

Due to his lack of a scientific background, combined with his likely ideological biases, it’s understandable that Newman would get the science wrong on this issue. The problem is that Newman has the ear of Australia’s Prime Minister. Worse yet, the country’s biggest-selling national newspaper printed his error-riddled editorial, misinforming its readership in the process. As a result of this sort of thinking, the Australian government recently revoked its carbon tax without a replacement plan to meet its carbon pollution reduction targets.

The United States has been moving in the opposite direction, with the EPA drafting rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants as the centerpiece of a larger climate action plan. Some candidates are even beginning to make climate change a central focus of their campaigns. Many in the Republican Party have criticized the Obama Administration for enforcing the law (specifically the Clean Air Act) with these regulations, but all they need do is vote to pass a small government, free market, economy-growing alternative solution to replace them.

However, many Republican politicians are currently frozen with fear on the subject of global warming. Specifically, fear of the Tea Party.

In stark contrast to their party’s public stance on Capitol Hill, many Republicans privately acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is at least partially responsible for climate change and recognize the need to address the problem ... In Bloomberg BNA interviews with several dozen former senior congressional aides, nongovernmental organizations, lobbyists and others conducted over a period of several months, the sources cited fears of attracting an electoral primary challenger as one of the main reasons many Republicans choose not to speak out.

The subject of global warming is less politicized for America’s neighbors to the north, but their leadership seems not to have the least interest in doing anything about it. To the contrary, the Canadian government appears determined to exploit the Alberta tar sands to the fullest extent possible.

However, continuing to expand tar sands production will make it impossible for Canada to meet its promised carbon pollution cuts. The Harper government seems satisfied to pay lip service to the critical issue of climate change whilst muzzling its climate scientists and maximizing its dirty fossil fuel production.

In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron’s recently-sacked environment secretary Owen Paterson has since bragged about fighting against environmental groups, writing,

Like the nationalised industries and obstructive trade unions of the 1970s, the Green Blob has become a powerful self-serving caucus; it is the job of the elected politician to stand up to them. We must have the courage to tackle it head on, as Tony Abbott in Australia and Stephen Harper in Canada have done,

Patterson will now give the annual lecture at the anti-climate policy advocacy group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Like Maurice Newman, the GWPF has a tendency to cherry pick its preferred climate science research. Last year’s GWPF lecture was delivered by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who described advocates of tackling climate change as “alarmists” and “zealots.” Under Paterson, the money spent on preparing the UK for the impacts of global warming was almost halved, and he has suggested that we can simply adapt to the consequences of climate change.

There is a pattern among these examples of politicians rejecting the full body of available scientific evidence and the consensus among climate experts – each is in an English-speaking country. The UK-based market research firm Ipsos MORI recently conducted an international survey asking respondents if they agreed with the statement, “The climate change we are currently seeing is largely the result of human activity.”

Rejection of human-caused global warming was most prevalent in the USA, UK, and Australia, with Canada not far behind in 7th.

International survey results on human-caused global warming International survey results on human-caused global warming. Source: Ipsos MORI

These four countries also share the commonality of highly influential fossil fuel industries, and the wide reach of the Murdoch media empire, known for its global warming denial.

The rejection of inconvenient scientific evidence also originates from conservative political parties in each country. That needn’t be the case; as Barry Bickmore recently wrote, real conservatives are conservationists who value evidence.

Meanwhile, these countries are also being battered more frequently by extreme weather. Australia and the western North America have been hit by heat waves and harsh droughts, while cold winter temperatures have chilled the UK and central and eastern USA, and Canada has joined those regions in being flooded by intense deluges.

A new study has found that “blocking patterns,” where hot or wet weather remains stuck over a region for weeks causing heat waves or floods, are becoming more frequent, potentially as a result of human-caused global warming. Recent research has also found that global warming will intensify droughts.

Atmospheric waves causing blocking patterns and associated extreme weather are becoming more common. Atmospheric waves causing blocking patterns and associated extreme weather are becoming more common. Source: PNAS, Coumou et al. (2014)

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Comments 1 to 38:

  1. Unfortunately I think you'll find that almost always reports in the MSM (yes even the reviled MUrdoch papers) reach many, many more readers than does SkS, Real Climate. Open Mind etc.   Given that, it is unlikely this analysis will have much effect on the average citizen.  Getting a piece into a newspaper, other than The Guardian which is not a high circulation paper as it is regarded by many as a subversive, left wing publication (despite the brilliant Feicity Loake), will achieve much more than 10 pieces here.  And yes. I am aware of John Cook's 97% paper and the subsequent comments both for and against that paper.  Why not see if Fairfax or indeed News Ltd will publish this piece?

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  2. We know there is a scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change and the problem is one for social science, not the physical sciences. As this (free) article from Nature Climate Change back in 2009 shows, people's attitude to the problem is determined by the likely immediacy of its effects on them and the prevailing political and media environment they occupy. Deniers know that they don't have to prove an opposing case; they only have to sow sufficient doubt in order to continue with a Business As Usual programme. The biggest obstacle to the public understanding of climate science in the modern English-speaking world is the media, with Murdoch's empire leading the debacle but with even organisations like the BBC trying to hard to present a 'balanced' view by reaching for a denier for every article (although they've been warned about this recently). 

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  3. Phil Marston@2  Who warned the BBC and why?  Surely presenting both sides of the argument is in the best interests of all.  Isn't it?  Obviously if the denier is unable to logically discuss the issue at hand this will be to the benefit of the believers (not sure if that is the correct term but it seems suitably opposite to denier).

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  4. Phill Marston@2.  One analogy I like to put out to people is to think of the ocean as a trillion ton iron ball.  We've been pushing on that ball for 150 years and it has begun to roll.  Our scientists have recently noticed that it may roll over our children.  If we stop pushing on the ball will it stop rolling?  No.  It'll keep rolling for some time before friction finally stops it, because its so huge.  In fact, we have to stop pushing some 40 years before, to make it stop in time.  So, yes, the lack of immediacy works in Murdoch's favor, but by this analogy it's possible to make people understand that the same mechanism that allows that lack of immediacy also arrests the immediacy of any response once we do finally take this issue seriously.  I think its also helpful to remind people that one doesn't put on a seat belt in a car because one expects to get in a car accident.  We do it because its just the prudent thing to do.  So is action on Climate Change.  Hopefully the scientists are wrong, but if they are not, we need to put some distance between our children and that trillion ton rolling ball.

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  5. The problem with the media can also be put at the feet of the climate change proponents themselves. Rarely have I seen a breakup of the argument into the basic science, the evidence, the likely impacts and the political and economic solution. In the media, at one moment the media might be talking about the ice in Antarctica, then the next moment about why an ETS is needed, and then railing against some denier; rather than reminding the public of the basic science.  There never seems to be a consistent argument from climate change advocates, and there never appears to be any challenge for the deniers to actually prove what they are saying. Now, in Australia, the Murdoch press and the major polluters have colluded to misinform the public and brow beat climate scientists.  As a result, there is nowhere near the balanced reporting that the deniers demand. It is all in their favour. No wonder the Australian public is confused. But rather than stick to the basic science and assume that it is done deal, little effort is made by climate change advocates whenever they get the opportunity, to revert back to the basic science and challenge the deniers to actually prove their case. Deniers should be asked everytime they present an argument, to clearly explain exactly how can the planet cool, or how can the planet not warm up and remain the same if greenhouse gases have increased to the extent they have and continue to increase at the rate they are? Also, they should be asked to what level should we allow greenhouse gases to accumulate in the atmosphere before we do something about them? This is the basic science and very rarely does it rate a mention. Whenever a climate change advocate gets the rare chance nowadays to make an argument in the popular media, rather than bury the public in overwhelming evidence, it would be better to actually challenge climate change deniers everytime they make absurd statements. Ask them to prove that the basic consensus is wrong and ask them to prove that what they are saying is safe. Require them to prove that increasing greenhouse gases is safe and not change the climate rather than trying to use a shotgun of arguments to blast them out of the debate and in doing so confuse the public. Overall, in the popular media, there needs to be a more consistent approach based excusively on the basics clearly delineated between the science, the evidence, the impacts, and what we do.

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  6. Another problem is that the average man in the street nowadays has such limited education or interest in science (an I myself am a layman in this respect) that being told that the planet will warm by say two degrees evokes the response "so what? I like warmer weather".

    That there is a fundamental difference between temperature and heat passes him by. It's the same reasoning that will put two quick meals into the microwave instead of one, give them the recommended time and wonder why they are still cold when they come out.

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  7. "Rarely have I seen a breakup of the argument into the basic science, the evidence, the likely impacts and the political and economic solution."

    So what are the IPCC WG reports then? The political and economic solutions are harder because there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Scientists are not economists either. Use whatever sits with your political values that will results in less emissions is the basic response. The WG3 report certainly lays it out.

    The WG1 report does not fit into a media sound-bite and so it is inevitiable that discussion is fragmented. However, anyone actually wanting to be informed can always read the report. Shooting the messenger is more popular however.

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  8. scaddenp. The IPCC reports are not easily accessable to the wider public in an intellectual sense. Also, deniers have muddied the IPCC by misrepresenting what it actually is and what it says. John's Consensus Project goes a way towards alleviating the uncertainty question related to the arguments, however Maurice Newman's group think argument that he applies to Climate Scientists has some truth, not regarding Climate Scientists in general, but to the deniers themselves. Outsiders don't know what to make of it all. Increasingly, there is a tendency for deniers to just agree with each other about their arguments, and as result think it must be true and everyone else thinks as they do. The same is true for the Climate Science advocates themselves who discuss the issue amongst themselves and think that everything is quite reasonable and can't understand why everyone else doesn't believe it. The advantage Climate Scientists have however, is the basic science and common sense. The disadvantage the deniers have is that despite their every argument, none really makes sense if you go back to the basic science and the idea that increasing greenhouse gases will heat the planet, and that CO2 is clearly a greenhouse gas. This is what has to be argued, and deniers need to be challenged about this basic idea at every opportunity. Sensational statements by groups with a politcal agenda making wild predictions do not help. Of course to get proper measured coverage, you do need a sympathetic media.

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  9. mancan18,

    I believe the 'discussion' needs to focus on something more significant and fundamental than the 'basic science of the consequences of increased CO2 from burning dug up non-renewable hydrocarbons'.

    The real issue has to be the need to develop truly lasting ways for humans to live decent lives on this amazing planet. It is clear that:

    • the rapid climate disruption caused by rapid increase of CO2 is a problem not an improvement.
    • burning 'dug up non-renewable hydrocarbons' cannot last as a way of living.
    • there are other damaging consequences related to the burning of dug up hydrocarbons.
    • only a few can actually benefit the most from this activity. That has led to conflicts and oppression by powerful pursuers of the most profit they can get for themselves fighting to get the most of this limited and ultimately dwindling opportunity, causing harm to many others in the process.
    • the only viable future for humanity is developing ways of living as part of a robust diversity of life, the only thing proven to be sustainable on this amazing planet. And it can be argued that only an economy devoid of unsustainable damaging activity has any chance of being sustained, and is the only type of economy that can sustain growth.

    It is clear that there is no future for benefiting from dug up non-renerwable resources. Yet the developed economies are loaded with powerful wealthy people who got away with benefiting from unsustainable and damaging activities. And they want to maximize their profit.

    So it is clear that the solution is not for climate science messages to stick to the 'basic science'. The fundamental issue to be overcome is the desire of people to benefit in ways that tempt them to deliberately not want to have the basic science understood, even if it is clearly and repeatedly presented.

    The science is not that complicated. The incredible attempts to discredit it have been sustained by the popular desire to not care about the future when such caring would reduce the potential for personal benefit.

    So continuing to develop the best understanding of what is going on is more than just improving the science of climate science. It needs to include challenging the belief that everyone being free to do as they please is acceptable. That is a far greater challenge, but needs to be overcome to broaden the acceptance of the best understanding of climate science and so many other improved understandings that are contrary to be beleif that it is OK for everyone to do as they please, any way they can get away with.

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  10. mancan18, if someone can't follow the summary arguments in WG1 SPM, then frankly they have to trust the viewpoint of those who can. I dont think it is as simple as "CO2 is greenhouse gas, GHGs warm the planet". You have to also include the points that the increase is significant, it is man-made, that feedbacks will make something small a lot larger, and that natural forcings are neutral or negative. There are still huge no.s out there who dont accept that climate is changing.

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  11. One point about the "in English" is that if you look at "these islands" (aka the British Isles), how much public climate change denial correlates with British, in fact English, Conservative politics.

    The "Celtic Fringe" (Ireland, Scotland, and as far as I know Wales) is almost entirely climate-change-denier-free as regards politicians. While neither the Scottish Nationalists who are in government in Scotland, or the Centre-Left Coalition in office here in the Republic of Ireland, are paragons when it comes to carbon, at least they do not have full-on deniers in their cabinets or in powerful back bench factions.

    Nor has climate change denial or opposition to renewable energy any traction with the electorate, other than wind farms as an environmental-aesthetic issue.

    It highlights the alignment of climate-change-denial with a particular brand of "business-friendly" right-wing politics. At least politicians of the centre or left talk the talk, whatever about walking the walk.

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  12. scaddenp and One Planet Forever.

    I am not disagreeing with you and I am not saying forums like Sceptical Science  are not important, but I am saying that the argument is already lost if you cannot even get through to a denier/skeptic about the basic idea that increasing greenhouse gases and its significance, has warmed and will continue to warm the globe.

    In Australia,  the likes of Andrew Bolt, a prominent newspaper opinion writer for the Murdoch press and host of a "current" affairs show that has a wide following, gets away with the most outrageous comments regarding climate change, and influences a lot of people. He does this without challenge and he reaches a wider audience than anyone from the climate science community does. His tactic is to pick trite points irrelevant to the arguments being made and bury anyone who is trying to make a factual point. The problem is that he conducts a political interview rather than a scientific one. He needs to be challenged about his view of the science and to do this, you need to go back to the basics of the science and not try to argue about the significance as to why it's been hot, whether climategate was a scam or not, and what needs to be done; because he and his audience don't believe there is a problem anyway.

    Also, which is even worse, one needs wonder why someone as obiviously intelligent as Maurice Newman is a denier.  He's been Chair of the ABC, Chancellor of Macquarie University and a key Government business advisor for over a decade, so he obviously has a few brains. He is still steadfastly a denier and he influences many of his other business mates to the same way of thinking. Again, whenever he makes a denier argument, you need to make arguments and challenge him from the basics so he doesn't have room to move. Expecting ordinary people with little knowledge or interest to follow the debate in its entirety is a bit much to expect, and most are not going to read the IPCC report anyway. However, they are going to listen to the likes of Andrew Bolt and Maurice Newman. If Bolt and Newman are confronted with the basic tenets of the science of global warming, everytime they try to make an argument, then their ridiculous statements, like the one Bolt uses about CO2 being harmless, can be put to rest and he can be shown to be the fool that he is and, hopefully, leave people who are just trying to understand a little less confused.

    Hopefully, by going back to the basics of the science, will relegate the likes of Bolt and Newman and climate change denial to the realm of such myths as the "Earth being 6000 years old" and "we didn't land on the moon" fads. You need to remember the overwhelming majority of scientists are reasonable people whereas the politcal ideologues who argue against the science aren't and will use any political tactic in their arsenal to get their views across. Climate change advocates, despite their overwhelming arguments, will always lose against climate change deniers, because deniers by and large are never directly challenged to prove their stance, while the advocates always are.

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  13. scaddenp@10  You comment " if someone can't follow the summary arguments in WG1 SPM, then frankly they have to trust the viewpoint of those who can. I dont think it is as simple as "CO2 is greenhouse gas, GHGs warm the planet" is  extremely patonising

     They don't have to do anything.  You have to structure  the argument for your point of view so "they" can follow it.  If you can't or won't, do that then your cause is probably lost.  Good communicators are those that can get their message across to all not just to a select few.  That is perhaps why "denier" blogs have a bigger following than blogs run by proponents of climate change.  If that is  not the answer then pesumably it must be that more believe the deniers than believe the warmists

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  14. Ashton wrote "They don't have to do anything" they do if they want to make an informed contribution to the discussion.  If instead they just want to reduce the signal to noise ratio, then you are correct.

    The logic about the popularity of blogs is also rather shaky.  Unfortunately what the science says about climate change is something that nobody in their right mind will want to hear.  Providing comforting but specious arguments that suggest we don't need to do anything will always attract an audience.  It doesn't matter whether you are a good communicator or not, if you are dscussing science, you first need to get the science right (c.f. repeated discussions on skeptic [sic] blogs on whether the rise in CO2 is anthropogenic, e.g. Salby, which we know beyond reasonable doubt it is). 

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  15. No Dikran Marsupial it desn't matter how "right" the sciece is, if you are unable to communicate its rightness to others then your cause is probably lost.  I've been a university lecturer, in biochemistry, for many years and if, after a lecture on, say, the way steroids interact with cells, more than 50% of the students don't understand then it's my poor communication that is at fault.  Communication is essential when you're selling a message, whatever that message might be.  

    And your comment  "Unfortunately what the science says about climate change is something that nobody in their right mind will want to hear."  is rather insulting to the 43% or so who do accept that the science is correct.  Are they not in their right mind?  Your communication, at least on that point is hardly conducive to selling your message or to enhancing the convictions of those that do accept it.  If you can't get at least 60% to accept that somethig must be done then it probably don't happen.  In conclusion why is it that the conferences in Bali, Copenhagen and Doha have not found general support?  It would seem largely because those opposed to new measures have not been convinced why they should not oppose these measures. If the IPCC can't convince governemnts the science is right then who can?

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  16. Ashton wrote "No Dikran Marsupial it desn't matter how "right" the sciece is, if you are unable to communicate its rightness to others then your cause is probably lost."

    Nonsense.  The fact that the rise in CO2 is anthropogenic has been communicated perfectly well, the fact that many denizens of climate skeptic [sic] blogs still don't accept it is because they are unable to accept it, a-priori, no matter how well it is explained.  It is not something that is seriously questioned outside skeptic [sic] blogs.  Therefore if skeptic [sic] blogs is where you get your view of the public debate on climate, you are getting a rather biased and unrealistic view.

    What I wrote is not at all insulting to the 43% (or whatever, the MORI poll suggests it is more than 50% even in the US) who do accept that the science is correct.  Far from it, it is a complement to their rationality that they do accept something, even though it is not something the want to hear.   It seems to me that your grasp of idiomatic English is perhaps a bit of a problem.  If I said that somebody did want to hear that their fossil fuel use was going to cause hardship to others less fortunate than themselves, that would be an insult!  There is something deeply wrong with you if you want to hear you are indirectly harming others who have done you no harm.

    The British government accepts the IPCC reports, having held a committee to look into it.   If the government is incompetent, that is generally the fault of the electorate, and they should avail themselves of the next opportunity (election) to correct their mistake.

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  17. Dikran Marsupial and Ashton

    A reality of the debate is that you will not convince a dedicated denier. However, it is possible to marginalise the hard core deniers like Bolt and Newman with good arguments based on the basic science. What is more important is convincing the wider public. At the moment it seems to me that in the wider debate in the popular media, climate change advocates are always expected to justify their assertions while the deniers never seem to have too. Now in a scientific information forum like Sceptical Science, the debate is scientific, so there is little problem. However, in the wider media it isn't and climate change advocates are continually required to defend their position while the deniers can just take potshots using any cherry picked piece of information they want to support their argument without having to justify anything else they say. Good arguments based on the basics of the science are needed so that deniers are always constantly challenged. Also, good metaphors related to everyday life, like microwaves warming food to describe the interaction of CO2 and infrared radiation, or although interest rates are small you can end up with a large amount money, are also needed to convince the wider public in realtion to what you are saying. There is probably little you can do if you encounter a denier who does not even beiieve that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and having it increase in the atmosphere is not going to warm the planet. The only thing you can do is show the absurdity of their argument using basic science.

    For instance the latest effort by deniers to discredit increasing CO2 as an argument is that somehow it doesn't matter because CO2 reaches a certain saturation point in the atmosphere so no further warming will occur. However, all you need to do is to point Venus. While there is no suggestion that we will cause runaway greenhouse gas heating like Venus, even if we burn all known fossil fuels, it certainly shows that the so called CO2 saturation argument is not what the deniers say. 

    There is also an old saying "never argue with fools, because people mighten know the difference". What climate change advocates need to do is show that deniers are fools, particularly when they deny the basics of the science.

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  18. Dikran Marsupial.  It isn't those who frequent sceptical blogs you need to convince but the average person in the street who neither knows or cares about any blogs on Climate Science.

    The MSM puts its message out in short pithy soundbites or alliterative headlines that grab the attention. Here's a couple of, imaginary, examples.  

    PM in radio interview says "Incomes will fall by 40% unless gobal warming is stopped".  

    The Daily Gossip "Scientists say fossil fuel use to force pay freeze"

    Mancan 18 totally agree it is the wider public that needs convincing but disagree that climate change advocates have to defend their position while deniers can say what they like.  Deniers continulally point to the  current hiatus in global temperatures in the face of rising CO2 while the scientists say the missing heat is in the oceans although the evidence from the Argo system does not  seem tounequivocally support this contention  at the moment.   More isignificantly perhaps "deniers' get less media time than "advocates" on ABC (Australia)  and the BBC and less articles in the Fairfax press  but more articles in the Murdoch press.  As radio and TV have far wider coverage than print media advocates currently are ahead of deniers as far as exposure to the wider audience is concerned.  Whatever, my position like yours is that the MSM is central to and crucial for informing the "man in the street"

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  19. Ashton, it was you that pointed out "That is perhaps why "denier" blogs have a bigger following than blogs run by proponents of climate change.".  I pointed out that the reason that this is plausibly true is nothing to do with the effectiveness of the communication, but because they are providing an anodyne, comforting message that is appealing a-priori, even though it is not supported by the science.  You have evaded that point completely.  

    Try getting popular support for an action that will bring the greatest benefit to other people in the future, that will have a negative effect on individual prosperity now, and you will find support difficult to find whatever the question happens to be.  That is human nature, to expect otherwise is naive.  The MORI poll results suggest that the general public has been rather more receptive than I would have expected.

    As to soundbites, more baloney is not a good response to baloney, all you would be doing with the ones you suggest would be to open yourself up to accusations of ignoring the uncertainties and lack of unequivocal support for the economics. 

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  20. I fully agree that getting a message across clearly is important, but getting bad news across is extremely difficult because too many would rather read the anodyne instead. And its not just the "cause" that is lost, because nature doesnt care whether we understand what is happening or not.

    The climate change message is complex, and its made more complex by the amount of baloney out there produced by those who have idealogical or economic resistance to any solution proposed. 

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  21. scaddenp, Dikran Marsupial and Ashton

    The reason for thinking that in any argument with a denier, you need to reveal their core belief in order to get a baseline for debate (argument).

    A few months ago, I had a very heated argument with a denier. It took me half-an-hour for him to admit that CO2 levels had reached 400 ppm, was rising at 2ppm p.a., and another 15 minutes for him to admit that in his lifetime, levels had risen nearly 100 ppm from a situation that has existed for at least a million years. Amongst all this, I never got him to admit that CO2 was a greenhouse gas even using the simple examples of Venus compared to Mercury, and the Earth versus the Moon. Along the way I was called a socialist, Marxist, greenie, and other things and told in no uncertain terms that it was all crap and just some sort of conspiracy. Now this denier usually doesn't believe in conspiracy theories but in this case he does. I probably shouldn't have pushed the argument once I realised he just didn't believe the CO2 argument. I should have simply stated he was wrong and he needs to do more reading.

    However, the Bolts and Newmans of this world do need to be challenged because of their wide influence. At a site like Skeptical Science arguing using scientific evidence should win the debate, but in the wider media it won't. Evidence needs to be used selectively and sparingly otherwise it just overwhelmes the wider public. It is probably better to ask deniers the right questions to reveal the unscientific nature of their core beliefs than just arguing from polarised positions. In the non-scientific world, a bit of Socratic questioning is probably better than copious amounts of evidence. In a one-on-one debate with the likes of Bolt or Newman you will probably always lose unless you expose the weakeness of their arguments, which you can do by asking the right questions. In fact, proving the case beyond reasonable doubt in some sort of mock trial would be far more effective in convincing the wider public than just trying to overhwelm deniers with evidence.

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  22. Ashton,

    I provided a comment on the recent sks report about this year's potential El Nino (here), showing that the global temperature record shows that the warming has continued without getting into explanations of how La Nina conditions result in temporarily lower global average surface temperatures as more heat is taken into the ocean. Yet that simple and easy to present case will not 'convence anyone against their will'. So I would disagree with your comparison of convincing students, with convincing the general public. The method of appeal to the general public needs to be both emotional and rational, even though the rational approach has far less chance of success.

    Using the points in my earlier comment here, I have had some success delving into 'why a person is reluctant to accept the science'. And by bring up all the other unacceptable consequences and fundamantal unsustainability of benefiting from burning dug up non-renweable hydrocarbons the result is usually a realization by the person that they were deliberately not wanting to understand the science. Some then change their mind and want to learn more. Others dig in further in a fight to preserve their internal justification for something that is clearly unacceptable. Either way, a better understanding has been established.

    As for the media attention, does Australia have its equivalents of The Daily Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, the Colbert Report, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver like Canada has This Hour has 22 Minutes and the Rick Mercer Report? There would seem to be a potential market for providing public entertainment in Australia at the expense of all the 'deniers' including Australia's Government-of-the-Moment. And the show could target more than just Climate Change deniers. It could target all the people who deliberately are doing anything they think they can get away with to get more profit quicker for as long as they can get away with.

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  23. Ashton @ 13: "You have to structure the argument for your point of view so "they" can follow it."

    That sounds an awful lot like what my sister would call "Sesame Street Learning" - the student just has to sit back and watch/listen, and the teacher has to do all the work. Unfortunately, I've seen too many students with that attitude, even at the university level - they expect to get good marks for just showing up at lectures.

    Learning takes effort by the student. People that don't want to learn, won't - no matter how good the teacher is. If they don't want to learn, then their opinions will often be uninformed, as Dikran alludes to @14. If people refuse to learn, then their uninformed opinions are not a positive contribution to the discussion.

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  24. Bob Loblaw has it right. Unfortunately, large masses of people are so undereducated in general that they can't even have a concept of the significance of the stuff they don't know. After years of being nice to everybody and giving points for trying, we end up with countless people who believe that their opinions matter even when they are completely clueless. Isaac Asimov summarized that attitude very well: "my ignorance is just as good as your expertise."

    What kind of exchange can happen, in the thick fog of today's bullshit wars with those who live by this motto?

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  25. One Planet Only Forever

    Sadly, in Australia, the Murdoch press who Andrew Bolt and a number of other deniers write for reaches around 83% of Australia's literate population. Also, the Institute of Public Affairs, of which Maurice Newman and others are associated with, and whose closest American equivalent would be the Marshall Centre, wields a high proportion of business and economic policy influence with the Liberal Party, which currently holds Government. There is very little challenge to their climate change narrative, although the Government does profess to agree that climate change is happening, it then gives the green light to burning more coal as a method of counteracting it, and promotes a policy called Positive Action but then provides it with inadequate funding.

    There are a few fringe commentators and comedians who do make cynical and satirical statements regarding the situation in Australia, however, the only place where climate science is reported honestly in the media anywhere Is on the ABC program Catalyst with a few press releases by the CSIRO and the now private Climate Commission. There is very little to offset the bias in the Murdoch press.

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  26. Mancan18,

    It is unfortunte that Australia appears to have ended up with a similar situation Canada is currently in, hopefully returning to developing toward a sustainabe better future for all with earnest, if the impending 2015 election unseats a similar group of characters. Polls indicate that the general population in Canada is becoming more aware of the threat posed by such characters, and are not as easily tempted to be fooled by the made-up claims of these people who have 'made-up their minds to never chage their minds' no matter what information is provided that contradicts their interests.

    Al Gore's book "The Aussault on Reason" (2007), includes a fairly comprehensive presentation on the problem of consolidation of media power by the likes of Murdoch. And he has some recommendations for actions that might defeat the irrational influence of such arrangements.

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  27. As several have pointed out here it is usually a waste of time trying to convince a denier. What you have to do is expose them them to their audience.

    What I think you have to do is to expose their irrationality. You won't do that by attacking their arguments. What you have to do is get them to display their willful blindness. You have to get them into a position where they have a choice between accepting logic and holding on to their beliefs.

    And when they are obviously looking for reasons to keep on believing something try to get then to answer why.

    But to effectively do all this you have to actually understand their motives rather than attribute to them motives that are easy to denounce. And that means don't talk about greed. Other things are more important. Some are actually worse or at least more dangerous.

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  28. Lloyd Flack,

    Please share some examples of the motivations of people who resist better understanding the climate science that are not greed related.

    I agree that greed will not necessarily be the motivation for everyone who is reluctant to better understand what the constantly improving understanding of climate science is indicating about the acceptability of developed and developing human activity.

    However, greed is definitely the motivation behind almost every effort to create and disemminate misleading marekting regarding the issue and attempts to discredit climate science. And greed is also likely the root motivation for almost all the members of the 'audience of information providers' who prefer to believe misleading criticisms of climate science.

    What climate science, and so many other fields of scientific investigation, are developing is a better understanding that much of the developed and developing global economic and fiscal activity is fundamentally unsustainable and damaging. And the changes to the socioeconomic system that are needed to lead to have the system actually develop a sustainable better future for everyone are contrary to the interests of callous greedy people who have become powerful and wealthy by getting away with unsustainable and damgaing activity, and are contrary to the interests of people hoping to become wealthy and powerful through similar unacceptable pursuits.

    Admittedly there are fearful people and desperate people also easily impressed by the attempts to misinform and discredit climate science. Many fearful people are afraid that they will not be able to live without burning dug-up hydrocarbons. That fear is related to their greed. They want the lifestyle they are accustomed to and fear not having it. That is a valid fear. But the lifes being enjoyed by high-consumption people not paying the full costs of ensuring there is no damage done by their lifestyle are living an illigitimate damaging life. Those who do not care to better understand the sustainability of how they live their life, do not care about future generations also being able to continue the same lifestyle, not caring that others who want to try today to live the same way cannot all be allowed to (only the winners of the dog-eat-dog competition to win to the detriment of others benefit, rather than having everyone compete to live sustainably better which would allow all people to live decently with competition finding even better ways for everyone to live decently) , would fear losing some of their benefits which are also illigitimate ways of living.

    So, although there may be many other 'described motivations' most of them could be related to greed, even if the person does not internally recognise their motivation as greed.

    And the media likes of Murdoch are not necessarily deliberately against climate science. It is just that greed can lead them to do what they are doing. Media sell advertising. And advertisers want to know what kind of people they are advertising to. The success of the likes of Murdoch can be seen as an ability to attract an audience that 'wants more new stuff', does not care about understanding negative implications of how they live or what they chose to consume, is easily impressed by a message that suits their image and is unlikely to check into the validity of a claim they thought they liked. That type of audience is golden for misleading advertisers who want to profit any way they can get away with.

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  29. OPOF said:

    Lloyd Flack,

    Please share some examples of the motivations of people who resist better understanding the climate science that are not greed related.


    Most of the people I know who think climate science is bunk have no financial stake in the issue.  My father would be a good example.  His resistence is purely based on his previous ideological leanings.  That's not greed, it's ignorance.  You have completely missed Lloyd's point, and I doubt you will ever get it if you insist on such an extreme position.  You have no ability to empathize with someone who disagrees with you.  They are not all evil and most think that their position is right. 

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  30. You may be missing my point, but I admit I have little sympathy for people who deliberately resist better understanding this rather easy to better understand issue.

    The greedy people I am referring to include people who have a motivation like comfort, convenience or personal pleasure. All of those fall under the definition of profit and would be greed related motivations to not better understand this issue and the changes of human activity that need to be accepted when the issue is better understood.

    Please elaborate on the nature of the ideological leanings of your father you are referring to, and explain why you belive he adheres to them rather than being willing to better understand this issue. He may be one of the many people who are easily impressed by the attempts by greedy people to misinform and discredit climate science, because of the motivation to maximize personal profit, easily impressed beciase of a motivation to want more comfort, convenience and pleasure even if it is gotten through damaging actions.

    I am genuinely interested in learning more about the motivations of people who resist better understanding this issue that is not really that difficult to better understand. There may be non-greed motivations, but I have seen little evidence of those.

    I will admit thta many people who prefer to focus on entertainment and sport may not understand the issue. That is a significant problem, but it is not what we are discussing here. This is a discussion about people in that category who will resist better understanding the issue if it is brought up, people who resist changing their mind about it, even if their initial opinion is based on misunderstanding or very little actual understanding of the issue.

    I am not interested in pleasing people. I am interested in increasing the number of people who are more fuly informed and rationally evaluate what is going on. That includes accepting that such activity will displease some people who may never change their mind, because of their personal motivation not to change their mind, which commonly is motivated by greed or irrational fear created and promoted deliberately by greedy people.

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  31. One Planet Only Forever,
    Both Rob and I have corresponded with more denialists than you have. The groups we have dealt with overlap. We have a better idea of what they are about than you do.
    It is wishful thinking but the motives aren’t what you describe. There are, I think, two main motives.
    One is the value placed on human accomplishments and on liberty and in particular on the accomplishments of Western civilization. Many feel, unfortunately often correctly, that environmentalists undervalue these and are idealizing alternatives, alternatives that they believe are impractical on the required scale.
    But there is also an element of game playing. Many see environmentalism as a characteristic of the opposing team and oppose it because of that. This tendency gets aggravated by sanctimoniousness on the part of environmentalists.
    In my experience there is an aggravating element among many denialists. Religion. Many denialists refuse to believe that God created a world in which they have to act against their ethical preferences. I’ve found it easier to get a non-religious denialist to re-examine their beliefs than a religious one. Even so it is a matter of patiently explaining what is happening. That is what you have to do, explain, not denounce. You have to appeal to the desire to understand, to point out that the Universe cares nothing about their ideology. When doing this you will be more successful if you have some sympathy with their point of view, If you have ambivalent feelings about the necessary measures.
    Also remember some of these motives are not found only on the right. The Soviet Union had a really bad environmental record. Some of the reasons were the same, an unlimited belief in what humans could accomplish, just collectively rather than individually in their case.

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  32. Lloyd Flack,

    We agree that providing more information and rational evaluation of the full and constantly expanding information available is the only way to sustainably change someone's mind. But you may be misunderstanding the real motivations of the people most reluctant to better understand the issue. I have sympathy for those who did not realize they were tempted to be greedy and will change their minds. They will readily better understand the issue, including understanding how they were being fooled.

    However, some people will persist at resisting the development of better understanding that it is unacceptable to profit or benefit to the detriment of other life (environmentally or socially), or to profit or benefit in ways that cannot be continued forever by humanity on this amazing planet. That resistance is directly linked to their motivation to benefit as much as possible from activities like burning dug-up hydrocarbons which is damaging and unsustainable. And that resistance shows up as a resistance to better understanding climate change science.

    You may have dealt with may denialists but my attribution of greed also applies to the motivations you are chosing not to attribute to greed. I have also dealt with many denialists. I live in Alberta.

    Human accomplishments that have no future are not accomplishments. Pride in those things often masks greed related to not caring to do the harder and less 'personally profitable' task of living more considerately and more sustainably.

    Unfortunately, most of the developed Western economy is fundamentally unsustainable and damaging, it really is. Without significant change it is destined for a dead-end. This development has happened because unsustainable and damaging activity is easier and cheaper for someone to profit from if they can get away with it. This motivates people to try to get away with as much of that as possible, to get the biggest competetive advantage. It also leads to tremendous resistance against admitting that it is not acceptable. Some even declare that they expect the future to be better because of human ingenuity, yet they refuse to strive to better understand how to live their life in a way that would assist in that development of a better future when doing so would reduce the present they enjoy for themselves (greed). They prefer to live their life in ways that will set more challenges for the future.

    Economic Game playing is also greed motivated unless the game is being played totally fairly with the objective being the development of a sustainable better future for all life. Part of my MBA was the classic Game Playing scenario where the best total solution, and best possible result for any "Team" is through full honest cooperation. The result in MBA classes, which are sure to include certain types of people motivated to take such classes for personal profit, is never the best result because one team ultimately game-plays in a way they believe will be to their advantage (being deliberately dishonest). The result of their game-playing choice is really only a momentary sense of superiority over the others and is ultimately contrary to their best possible result, and definitely contrary to the overall total best possible result for all players. Such game playing is all about getting away with profting to the detriment of others, rather than competing the best you can for the best result for all. Sports played by talented athletes without vicious cheaters among them is an amazing activity, and global economic competition could be equally beautiful, but like sports needs vigilant effort to keep cheaters from prospering.

    Environmentalism rationally challenges the illigitimate pursuits of profit. It challenges the unsustainable and damaging ways some people try to profit. Pursuit of Civil Society also challenges the unsustainable and damaging ways some people try to profit. And, like it or not, Climate Change science's biggest hurdle to it being broadly better understood is that it also challenges the unsustainable and damaging ways some people try to profit.

    Also, being familiar with many religions I am aware that almost all of them include the point about all life on this amazing planet being precious and for humanity to be responsible stewards in that diversity of life. Noah and the Arc is a very plain and clear presnetation of that, even though it was not as clear to include all plant life in the Arc. So claims made to sound like religious resistance can be greed motivated irrational claims unsupported by the actual facts of the religious scripts.

    And Liberty is often deliberately misunderstood to exclude the requirement for rational, reposponsible considerate behaviour. Those trying to maximize their personal profit through unsustainable and damaging actons often tempt people to become callous supporters of their greed by waving the "Liberty" flag. Al Gore's "The Assault on Reason" provides a good presentation of this and other aspects of the deliberate actions by some against the development of a fully informed reasonable considerate populaton.

    Other books pointing out what needs to change include Paul Hawken's "The Ecology of Commerce", Naomi Klein's "No Logo" and "Shock Doctrine", Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring", Daniel Goleman's "Ecological Intelligence", and David Suzuki's "The Sacred Balance".

    And I am aware that almost all of the troubles created by humanity, and there are many, cross the political spectrum but have been all been due to greedy or intolerant people, unconcerned about the development of a sustainable better future for all, who have been able to succeed to the detriment of others in their time and to the detriment of the future of humanity.

    That highlights that a lot needs to change for Climate Science to be better understood by the entire global population. It is not simply about the science, because better undestanding climate science is 'not in the interests' of many people. And I am in favour of striving towards the required changes of global socio-economics and humanity that would  lead to sustainable broader better understanding of the science of climate change.

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  33. One Planet Only Forever -

    The primary problem I encounter occurs when climate science advocates begin blending their scientific explanations and understandings into the larger umbrella of public policy measures and larger philosophy/ideology positions.  The most successful contrarian move I've witnessed is to shift the discussion away from the science of climate change and into the broader ideological/political discussions of environmental regulation, sustainability production, population growth, corporate agriculture, etc.,. Once it becomes an issue of what makes the most short-term economic sense, the denial arguments (regulation stunts economic growth which cost jobs, requires personal sacrifice/inconvenience, etc.), become more attractive to many than typical climate change action advocacies which seem to offer very few short-term incentives to individuals, business or national interests.

    Typically, I keep science discussions focussed on the science, this usually eliminates most denial and generally, in fairly short-order exposes the conspiratorial thinking required to dismiss all the mainstream science support. If, and when, I do engage in public policy discussions it is important to focus as much or more on the potential short-term economic and societal benefits of taking action (growth, jobs, efficiency, infrastructure, etc.).  

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  34. O ne Planet Only Forever,

    You are not seeing your contribution to the problem. People react badly to being condemned by the sanctimonious. You are seeing others in a way that makes moral condemnation on your part easier and more satisfying.

    But seeing things in such black and white terms means that you have no credibility on the part of those that you see as black. Consider what you gain from having little empathy for opposing viewpoints. It stops you from having equivocal feelings when condemning someone, feelings that spoil the satisfaction of opposing evil. And it stops you from seeing how others see you and reeximining what you are doing.

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  35. Trakar, I agree with keeping discussions to the science until there is full admission that activities that increase CO2 levels must be reduced. How to accomplish the reduction is a separate discussion. But this comment string is about the things that get in the way of keeping the discuission to the science and getting someone to better understand the issue.

    It is important to understand the things that may make it difficult to get people to accept that activities that increase CO2 levels must be reduced. That awareness is indeed the reason to avoid getting sidetracked to policy and politics before getting full admission that activities that increase CO2 levels must be reduced.

    Of course an aware denier understands the slippery slope that they enter when they accept that activities they enjoy benefiting from are unacceptable based on a rational proof of unsustainability or harm to the environment or other people. Many people want to insist that profitability and popularity rule rather than reason. And much of the developed Western Economic activity would fail a reasoned evaluation to determine that the activity produces no accumulating harm or significant risk of harm, and that it is fundamentally sustainable into the distant future.


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  36. Lloyd Flack,

    In case my reply to Trakar did not clarify my position and comments, I offer the following.

    I did not say that I start out such a discussion by declaring a person who is not fully aware and better understanding of the climate science to be greedy. I said a person who actually is willing to better understand the climate science could have been tempted into believing what a greedy person wanted them to believe. They may have simply been more interested in sports or entertainment. And when they become more aware and better understand the climate science those people will also understand that they were being fooled if they had believed something other than the better understanding based on fuller awareness.

    However, anyone who persists at resisting better understanding the issue, refusing to accept the actual facts of the matter, is almost certain to be committed to be greedy. And it would be a waste of time to try to change their mind because their mind is already made-up as will be all their claims against better understanding (made-up).

    Acknowledging these facts of the matter is not being sanctiminous, and frankly does no harm. A committed greedy person will never better understand something that is contrary to 'their interest'. And they do not need to be convinced, they just need to end up being disappointed when the reasonable rational considerate majority understand what is actually going on and decide what is acceptable without considering their input (because their input would be better understood to not be relevant).

    I admit that does not 'attempt to please everyone'. But this is definitely an issue where allowing greedy people to set the standard of acceptability, or have any influence on the exercise of setting such standards, will not produce an acceptable result.

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  37. I think it would be easier to reason with denialists if they were primarily motivated by greed. But it’s ideology, something much harder to get through.
    Most of them treat beliefs about global warming as part of their side’s political position. They refuse to recognize integrity when it comes challenging beliefs that they have made part of their self-image. Self-image and idealism are much more dangerous than greed because they are insatiable and people are very protective of them.
    I’ve been arguing on another site with a denialist who wants to believe that adjustments to temperature records are done for corrupt reasons. But is your behaviour all that different? Yes, you are taking a factually correct position about nature. But you are giving in to your biases about opponents. And this can damage your credibility even when you are right.

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  38. Lloyd,

    The ideology many adhere to is greed related, or created to justify greed. As such, the person you are struggling to get to change their mind may be one of those I would eventually stop trying to convince ... because their greed based ideology means they cannot be reasoned with. Their mind is clearly made-up as will be their relentless arguments. I would move on to find people who are less informed or misinformed. There are plenty of those around who will change their mind when made more aware and given a reason to. Mind you some of those people read discussions like the one you are having and can learn to better understand much more by seeing the example of unreasonable reluctance as well as becoming more aware of the climate science facts. So the question becomes when to stop the effort to convince a person who clearly is not interested in changing their mind (because they see no personal benefit from accepting what better understanding climate science requires people to accept, their greed motivation actually makes them see a personal loss coming from acceptance of the science).

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