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Millions of times later, 97 percent climate consensus still faces denial

Posted on 15 August 2019 by dana1981

A few weeks ago, the Bulletin ran a story referring to how Frank Luntz—the GOP message master who convinced party politicians to use the phrase “climate change” instead of “global warming” because the former sounded “less frightening”—is now offering his services to the cause of climate action. The idea that someone who had once crafted talking points defending some of the world’s worst carbon polluters had changed his tune to now advocate for “cleaner, safer, healthier” energy alternatives seemed to signal the dawn of a new era, right?

Not so fast.

In July, the Exxon- and Koch- funded Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) issued a formal complaint, asking NASA to “correct” a statement on the space agency’s website that said that “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”  In its complaint about NASA’s accurate statement, CEI cited 5-year-old disproved blog posts with titles like “1.6%, Not 97%, Agree that Humans are the Main Cause of Global Warming.” (It also cited conservative media outlets like ForbesNational Review, and the Daily Caller.)

So, what is the real percentage of climate researchers who agree that climate change is largely man-made? And what is the origin of the widely held perception among the American public that the science is still unsettled?

The numbers. By coincidence, also in July, a 2013 paper that I co-authored with my colleagues at Skeptical Science on the expert consensus about human-caused climate change in peer-reviewed literature was downloaded for the millionth time. In that study, our team examined the abstracts of nearly 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science studies published between 1991 and 2011, and categorized each one based on its position on the causes of global warming. In a second phase of our analysis we e-mailed the authors of each study and asked them to categorize their own papers using the same criteria, receiving 1,200 responses. Our team’s review of the abstracts yielded a 97.1 percent consensus that humans are primarily responsible for recent global warming; the author self-ratings yielded a 97.2 percent consensus.

Our analysis built upon a previous study published by Naomi Oreskes in the peer-reviewed journal Science in 2004. In her paper, which also just surpassed 1 million downloads, Oreskes examined the abstracts of 928 peer-reviewed climate papers published between 1993 and 2003. In her review, none of the abstracts disputed human-caused global warming. Not a single one out of 928. In 2016, our two groups teamed with the authors of five other climate consensus studies to publish a paper documenting the ‘consensus on consensus,’ in which we demonstrated that between 90 and 100 percent of climate scientists and their peer-reviewed research agree that humans are the main cause of recent global warming.

There has been a fairly steady increase in American public perception that most scientists agree on global warming, recently rising to record levels. Yet only 1-in-5 Americans realize that over 90 percent of climate scientists have concluded human-caused global warming is happening. Even Americans “alarmed” about climate change only think that 80 percent of climate scientists have reached this conclusion, which illustrates how widespread the public underestimation of the expert climate consensus remains to this day.

Origins. That so-called “consensus gap” between public perception and the reality of expert agreement is largely due to a sustained misinformation campaign. “There is no consensus” has been one of the most popular climate myths and can be traced back to a memo authored circa 2001 by that same Republican political strategist, Frank Luntz, who wrote then: “Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.” (To be fair, Luntz recently testified before the House Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, acknowledging, “I’m here before you to say that I was wrong in 2001 … Just stop using something that I wrote 18 years ago, because it’s not accurate today.”)

Fossil fuel-funded think tanks have apparently not heeded Luntz’s pleas; the formal complaint issued to NASA argued that our study excluded papers that did not take a position on the cause of global warming—which is akin to arguing that there’s no consensus as to whether the Earth is round or flat: Scientists publishing relevant research in a peer-reviewed journal don’t waste precious space stating a position on topics that have been settled.

It is in the fossil fuel industry’s best short-term self-interest to spread doubt on this issue. As our 97 percent consensus study lead author and cognitive scientist John Cook has documented, social science research shows that accepting the presence of expert climate consensus is a ‘Gateway Belief.

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Comments 1 to 37:

  1. Greed is a powerful negative motivator. Another important variable is that 4% of the population, on average, are sociopaths. Apparently we have gotten 1% of the sociopaths on side. That's not bad actually.

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  2. Joe Wiseman@1,

    It is an error to presume that 4% of climate scientists are sociopaths and that 97% consensus means that 25% (not 1%) of the climate scientists who are sociopaths accept the developed and improving understanding of climate science and the related corrections of developed human activity.

    Building on Joe Wiseman's point about the science showing that a significant percentage of the population lack the instinct to care about how their actions harm other life forms including future humans (more words, but a clearer statement of the problem than the term 'sociopath'), it is important to understand that the competitions for perceptions of status based on popularity and profitability encourage people to compromise their instinct to be helpful or caring, developing harmful results that can powerfully resist correction.

    Tragically for the future of humanity, the socioeconomic-political systems that develop tend towards harmfully undeserving people becoming the Higher Status and more powerful people. And that includes a higher percentage of the 'people who lack the instinct to care about how harmful they are' among the Higher Status than in the general population (google it).

    And that higher percentage of the instinctively harmful (because of a lack of the instinct to care or be helpful) among the winners is the evidence that the system they were Winners in promoted and excused that type of behaviour. In those systems others who have the instinct to care are ata competitive disadvantage and are encouraged to compromise their Caring instinct for other interests or instincts. And Jonathan Haidt has identified the set of human Instincts that can work against the Good Work of developing a sustainable constantly improving future for humanity.

    The following is the Wikipedia presentation of Haidt's 'Human instinctive/reactive' (not thoughtfully considered) Tastes that he incorrectly identifies as Moral/Ethical (having read Haidt's book I know that Wikipedia has correctly presented them):

    "1) Care/harm: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm

    2) Fairness/cheating: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating

    3) Loyalty/betrayal: Loyalty or ingroup: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal

    4) Authority/subversion: submitting to tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion

    5) Sanctity/degradation: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation

    6) Liberty/oppression: objection to coercion by a dominating power or person; opposite of oppression"

    Any of the Other 'passionate impulses' can result in a contravention of the Help/Harm consideration (even a claim of needing to be Fair can be abused to defend harmful unsustainable actions - compromising helpfulness in order 'to be fair to those who want to be harmful'). It needs to become understood to be Unethical and Immoral to allow those Other 'instincts/impulses' to count as credits against the Pure thoughtful Ethical consideration/determination of a help/harm evaluation of merit. They are only ethical if their Means and Ends fit fully within the circle of Help/Harm limitation. And it can be seen that political groups Uniting the Right prey on those other instincts to collectively harmfully fight to resist progressive helpful correction.

    So the required correction for the benefit of the future of humanity requires the caring instinct to Govern over all other interests. And that will require the people perceived to be higher status to prove that they deserve their status by consistent helpful actions. And that will require legal mechanisms for lower status people, and the future generations of humanity, to effectively penalize any high status person whose actions are contrary to help achieve and improve on the Sustainable Development Goals and similar developed understandings of what it takes to be Deserving of Status, deserving to be admired or valued.

    And the Propaganda Model developed by Edward S. Herman explains how competition for popularity and profit can and does make up stories that harmfully resist the required corrections of understanding.

    Admitting that the games are massively rigged and require significant correction is a Good Start.

    And exposing the harmfulness and unacceptability of the people who choose to resist the correct understanding of the consensus regarding climate science is a powerful mechanism for pushing for the required corrections of understanding.

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  3. Dana, I'm not sure continuing to demonise the fossil fuel industry by implying they are still sponsoring 'denialism' is useful anymore. No doubt they continue to use lobbying think tanks etc that use denialist propganda techniques to influence policy makers, and the general public, but a more sophisticated appreciation of matters than 'Big Oil bad' seems more appropriate these days. I think it far more likely that Big Fossil Fuel uses these lobbyists, not because they want to deny the science but rather that they want any proposed solutions to mitigate global warming to be as business friendly as possible. In short, BFF fears imposed heavy handed bureaucratic or left wing type solutions so uses lobbyists to campaign against this. As the well known denialist fighter Potholer54 (Peter Hadfield) has written, there are right wing low government solutions too.  

    Anyone who routinely takes on denialists, as I've been doing for decades now, should rapidly realise that there are four basic types of motivation. In order of numbers I would say most are A) right wing/libertarian deniers B) left wing deniers C) fundamentalist Christian deniers and, finally D) Galileo wannabes.

    A's deny because they are led to fear that climate science is faked up by the left wing, the 'New World Order/Agenda 21' and politicos who, they assert, only fund scientists who toe the line. They are led to fear that climate science is all a plot to increase taxes and government control, to take away their 'freedoms' (and, sometimes, guns..). Some will even, adopting a faux humanitarian stance, assert that climate change policies are a bad idea because they will hurt the 'poor peoples' of the  world by denying them cheap energy... This attitude is not helped by those of the more fanatical climate campaignes who assert that the capitalist system is the real problem and only by doing away with it completely, will we succeed - it's no wonder right wingers strongly resist this 'watermelon' (green on the outside, red on the inside) motivation!

    Bs deny, or at least did historically, although there still exists some far fascist left denialism such in 'Spiked', because they see climate change policies as denying the third world the cheap energy they need to develop out of poverty and thereby threatening the richer nations.

    Cs deny the science because they think God the designer is in charge, and so loves us that he wouldn't allow us to significantly destabilise the climate to our detriment, so he must have designed in feedbacks to prevent this which means they think that IPCC projections are a crock of s***.

    Ds are probably the most irritating because they believe their hypotheses are superior to all others. Tend to believe that climate science is invalidated by the laws of thermodynamics, cosmic rays, variations in the magnetosphere.

    I think there is evidence that support for the denialoshere is imploding and what will remain will be political rhetoricists using old denialist zombie memes to sway the minds of the public so they vote against the implementation of solutions that the 'other side' likes...

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  4. Joe Wiseman, I  get your point, but I doubt that many scientists fit the sociopathic label. Out of curiosity I had a look at what occupations attract sociopaths and why here. There is no mention of scientists, and the sociopathic personality described in the article doesn't seem to sit that comfortably with the scientific profession. 

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  5. Nick Palmer

    " In order of numbers I would say most are A) right wing/libertarian deniers B) left wing deniers C) fundamentalist Christian deniers and, finally D) Galileo wannabes."

    Good list and explanations, but I think you also have to add people with strongly vested interests in fossil fuels, such as oil company executives, transport sector executives, people who own cherished ICE cars etc, some of whom appear to be in denial of the science and / or mitigation in my experience, and it stands outside of right wing political convictions or a galileo complex. Not everyone who votes left wing supports either the science or mitigation, because polling tells us that suggesting they are just attached to fossil fuels at a deep level.

    I agree I do get a sense denialism is shrinking.

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  6. nigelj@5

    I thought I'd explained my suspicions as to why oil company execs use organisations who use denialist rhetoric to sway public opinions! I am more and more convinced that Big Fossil Fuel, as an entity, no longer believes denialist misinformation, this can be infererred because nowhere on their corporate websites these days will one find a trace of denialism - I think that is history...

    I think they use lobbying organisations, who do still use the 200+ arguments that this website combats so well, not because they believe in them but because they have a proven ability to muddy the waters and push the buttons of the political forces they want to influence. It is clear that some of the command and control 'solutions' put forward by the more extreme campaigners and environmental organisations are based largely on an anti-capitalist hard left viewpoint which seems to want to completely dismantle our industrial society.

    Whether Big Fossil Fuel is wrongly or rightly taking a Macarthyist 'Reds under the Bed' approach is unclear but, as I hinted above, there are solutions that businesses feel would work better for them and society which would sidestep draconian socialistic government type interventionist methods. It is notable that some oil majors have introduced a notional carbon tax into their accounting procedures in recent years, preparing for when the world may decide to go for a 'carbon tax and dividend' modified freemarket approach,  like the similar method (Cap and Trade) which worked well to reduce acid gas and smoke stack particulate pollution in the early 90s

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  7. Nick Palmer@6,

    The Delayers of Correction are an important part of the big picture. Their efforts to maximize their personal gain while delaying the understood required corrections are fairly obvious.

    After 30 years of powerfully supporting the incorrect popular denial of climate science, they are grudgingly accepting (not pushing for) a gradual introduction of Carbon Taxes. That action, that by itself, will only be a minor help in achieving the required 2.0 C limitation on human impacts (and will not achieve the real need to limit the warming impacts to 1.5 C).

    If those pursuers of maximum personal benefit (status) from fossil fuels had supported action like carbon fees starting 30 years ago there would be less evidence of how harmfully correction resistant the developed systems are. Now there is ample evidence that the current developed systems of popularity and profit are very harmfully correction resistant (and not just regarding fossil fuels).

    Allowing the developed systems to 'self-correct' (harmfully slowly) for the understood harm that is undeniably being done is not a solution. In fact there is a significant chance that without external influence and changes of the rules and penalties, the games of popularity and profitability will not helpfully self-correct, they will get worse.

    Defending the developed systems against correction, and pushing for them to be even more harmfully free from thoughtful considerate governance of what is allowed in the competitions for popularity and profit, implies accepting that the human developed systems and resulting status-quo need to be allowed to produce a significantly greater amount of warming. That will be the result of not rapidly correcting the undeniably harmful resistance to correction that is being baked into the systems. And it is undeniable that the delay of action through the past 30 years has created the bigger problem today that is forcing the need to more dramatically correct the system and the results it has developed (and the more powerful resistance to that correction may be exactly what the delayers of action through the past 30 years had been hoping to develop).

    The developed human systems have tragically proven the need for dramatic correction, and the harmful powerful developed resistance to correction.

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  8. Nick Palmer @6, while libertarian anti government thinking is obviously at the heart of the most vociferous climate denial, some of the general public who are in denial vote left, so dont think like this and so probably just resent change. I doubt they are are all hard left eco fascists. It's a whole other category of denial, but probably one open to persuasion because it's not based too much on ideology.

    But I agree about the motivations of oil companies and their reasons for supporting certain think tanks. As you imply one of their biggest fears is probably heavy handed government control so they might accept a carbon tax in preference to something more draconian. But only grudgingly.

    The basic issue is the free market has proven entirely incapable of fixing the climate problem with literally the only progress coming from governmnet subsidies, taxes and the like. There are more heavy handed anti capitalist approaches and massive government programmes like the GND. I think society has to make a choice of what approach they prefer, carbon fee and dividend looks the smoothest and least disruptive and most business friendly to me, but the longer that is deferred the less time we have which will leave only more heavy handed government responses. So business better understand this. Capitalism better watch out! 

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  9. I have supported one or another variation on the Carbon Tax for most of my adult life (a long time for an 80-something). In discussions with people of a wide range of political, relligious, socio-political, ethnicity etc orientations, I have found almost all to be amenable to some form of the Carbon Tax, once they understand the issues.

    I cannot prove it, but I really believe that nail-the-flag-to-the-mast opposition of vested interests is that they fully understand it will work just as intended, if properly implemented.

    Why the opposition of so many well-intended self-declared climate champions? I think of Van Jones. One morning my wife and I were listening to him on television. She observed that he is charismatic, articulate and handsome but… she wished "God had granted him a more generous serving of brains."

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  10. Maybe I'm just being pedantic here but you made four different statements about the consenus in this article, each one less emphatic than the one before:


    “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”


    "So, what is the real percentage of climate researchers who agree that climate change is largely man-made?"


    "Our team’s review of the abstracts yielded a 97.1 percent consensus that humans are primarily responsible for recent global warming;" 


    "we demonstrated that between 90 and 100 percent of climate scientists and their peer-reviewed research agree that humans are the main cause of recent global warming"

    I have seen this criticised in the climate denying  blogosphere. They quote the more emphatic statements and show with quotes from the paper that this is not justified.

    Would you please clarify.

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  11. Fair comment, BillyJoe @10 .

    Mainly , primarily , and largely . . . are all well-justifiable.   But extremely is a bit . . . er . . . extreme .   Yes, it's a logical consequence of the other three descriptors, but it doesn't present well.

    Word choice is close to irrelevant, in some ways.  The "climate denying blogosphere" will attack anything, anything at all, that it dislikes.   Words, logic, arithmetic — all can be perverted to serve the denialist agenda.

    # Only just today, I was admiring Lord Monckton's assertion that the climate science consensus was 0.3%  rather than the more truthful 97-ish percent.   And I am sure every reader here can think of multiple examples of other intellectual insanities promulgated in the "deniosphere". 

    And speaking of the good Lord M — I have begun reading the (very lengthy) "Lord Monckton's Rap Sheet" from the Climate Asylum  blogsite [ ].   Amusing +++ .   As the blogger says: "Nobody could make this stuff up".   But we already knew we were dealing with a most peculiar personality ! 

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  12. Billy Joe @10, the statement "what is the real percentage of climate researchers who agree that climate change is largely man-made?" seems much the same to me as using the terms mainly or primarily man made. These three words mean much the same thing. But it would have been better to just use one word for consistency.

    The statement "Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” is a different thing referring to whether humans have a role. They should really have said "Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely to have mainly been caused by human activities".

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  13. As to Monkton he is indeed an odd character like Eclectic says. He comes across to me like a libertarian attention seeking narcissist peddling snake oil. I think all we can do is point out the flaws in Moncton's views and hope sensible people understand. Don't ever debate them in front of the camera, they are masters of rhetoric you wont win that game, not with your integrity intact.

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  14. "Monckton Bunkum"

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  15. Postkey @14,

    While Monckton continually lays on the bunkum, his grand work Monckton,  Soon, Legates, Briggs, Limburg, Jeschke, Whitfield, Henney & Morrison (2018-unpublished) 'On an error in applying feedback theory to climate'   surely demonstrates the apex of his incompetence. (I should mention that some of the many co-authors may be unaware of their co-authorship.) According to the write-up on the planet Wattsupia, Monckton's grand work was supposed to set out how:-

    1. It can be proven that an elementary error of physics is the sole cause of alarm about global warming – elementary because otherwise non-climatologists might not grasp it.

    2. It can be proven that, owing to that elementary error, current official mid-range estimates of equilibrium sensitivity to anthropogenic activity are at least twice what they should be.

    Monckton's bunkum certainly goes beyond incompetence, but Monckton's grand work takes it to a new mind-numbingly high level.

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  16. Billy Joe @ 10,

    Of course, you've seen it criticized in the denialosphere, that's what they do. They criticize anything and everything that does not suit their world view. Look critically at the stuff they embrace without any scrutiny and compare to the hair splitting about language. What does that suggest about the genuine character of their skepticism, their intellectual honesty, the very validity of their arguments? 

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  17. Thanks for the replies.

    I guess what I'm suggesting that no ammunition be given to climate deniers. As I said, I have seen this inaccuracy used against the idea that there is a consenus,

    The cook paper has the following three categories of supporting papers:

    1) Explicitly states that humans are the primary cause of recent global warming

    2) Explicitly states humans are causing global warming or refers to anthropogenic global warming/climate change as a known fact.

    3) Implies humans are causing global warming. E.g., research assumes greenhouse gas emissions cause warming without explicitly stating humans are the cause

    Only the first category is consistent with the qualifiers "Largely", "primarily" and "mainly". But why not use the word actually used in the study, which is "primarily" and not apply it to the 97%.

    When referring to the 97%, none of these qualifiers apply, becasue the second two categories - which are included in the 97% - do not use a qualifier at all. They simply agree that humans are causing global warming but say nothing about the extent to which humans are causing global warming.

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  18. BillyJoe @17 and prior ,

    fair enough to point out the wisdom of keeping "ammunition" out of the hands of children & denialists.

    But the track record of the climate-science denialists is that they *simply-do-not-care-a-damn*  about truth, logic, evidence or honesty.   (Philippe Chantreau @16 expresses it all exceedingly well.)

    They will whip out a magnifying glass or a fine-tooth comb (please pick your metaphor of choice ! ) and look for a fly-speck on Mona Lisa's face . . . or look for a gnat on an elephant . . . and then they assert that this minuscule imperfection justifies denouncing the artistic worth of the Mona Lisa . . . or justifies ignoring the elephant in the room.   They are a lost cause, altogether.    Instead, any useful/interesting communication should be given for the benefit of the open-minded majority — who don't nit-pick, yet who are inundated with disinformation from "bad actors".


    More explicitly on the 97% Consensus matter, as individuals we should step back and look at the "big picture".   Which is a dichotomy situation — scientists are in two basic groups: (A) those who recognise that humans are the (approximately 100%) cause of the recent rapid global warming, or (B) those who do not recognize the evidence (i.e. who state that the global warming is non-existent or negligible ).

    When you boil it all down, the question of largely , mainly , primarily etc, as "qualifiers" is irrelevant to the underlying situation.   There are two groups of climate-knowledgeable scientists — those inside the consensus, and those outside.   (Arguably, there is almost no-one with a foot in each camp, even though there are a few who claim to be ! )

    BTW BillyJoe, if you look at the current-day consensus, it is well over 99% , according to the criterion of published science.   The Consensus study by Cook et al 2013  is based on historic figures which are centered/averaged around the year 2005 approx.    Quite a while ago ! 

    Here in 2019 , there is no realistic  debate about the climate consensus.

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  19. The science of global warming and climate change is fundamental, for it to be overturned would take a revolution in our understanding of how the Universe works at a primary level.

    Even before quantum mechanics were discovered in the early part of last century we knew that the Earth was much warmer than it should be. Over 150 years ago it was shown which gas in the Earth's atmosphere is almost certainly the cause of that warming, carbon dioxide. 

    Since the development of quantum theory we now have a very good idea of why carbon dioxide is so effective at moderating a planet's global climate. Heat emitted by the Earth is tuned to be absorbed by CO2 but sunlight arriving at the Earth is not. Adding or subtracting CO2 from the Earth's atmosphere creates a radiative imbalance that will be corrected by an increase or decrease in the global average temperature.

    The most radical hypotheses would have the Earth not warming as the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 increase.

    The few percents of research that show doubt are simply there as part of the uncertainty that is inherent in science, it may as well be stated in terms of a 100% consensus when it comes to evidence driving policy on global warming.

    It is very clear from the current situation that the only thing preventing evidence driving policy with global warming in what is likely an existential phenomena is an artificial factor being introduced to prevent that. That is a very intentionally and finely tuned stream of disinformation that still blocks the valid application of what really is now one of the most fully studied and understood phenomena in nature.

    And we also have a very well documented record of where that disinformation comes from.

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  20. Doug_C @19,

    I rather disagree with your comment or at least feel it sould be better explained.

    There are certainly differing qualities of work that comprise denialism. There is a large protion of that denialist work that is incompatable with very basic science. (I'm not sure that your mention of Quantum Mechanics is entirely correct or helpful to your assessment.) There is also a large protion of that denialist work that is incompatable with scientific data and thus contrdicts the resulting inferences that can be established by that data. None of this is a great distance from your comment.

    What I don't see is any remaining denialist work that is properly supported by evidence. The entirety of the 3% sitting beyond the 'consensus' is surely incompatable with the scientific data and it is actually not a proper constituent part of the science.

    What I particularly feel is a step too far is suggesting that:-

    "The few percents of research that show doubt are simply there as part of the uncertainty that is inherent in science, it may as well be stated in terms of a 100% consensus when it comes to evidence driving policy on global warming."

    This statement is saying that there exists "uncertainty ... inherent in (the) science" which is exactly the denialist message. The likes of, say, Richard Lindzen or Judith Curry who constitute the 3% outside the 'consensus' will argue that there is enough uncertainty to infer that Climate Sensitivity is low and thus AGW will not be a problem.

    Now, we can see that Lindzen with his cloud iris theorising or Curry with her large natural climate wobbles are part of the scientific process. But the doubt they may have sown scientifically is long dispelled. What we are left with is the likes of Lindzen & Curry continuing to spread their now-unscientific message to policymakers as though it was legitimate science. It is unscientific to represent these messages as scientific and their messages ar become part of the "finely tuned stream of disinformation" (although the "tuning" may not be a conscious process on their part).

    And masquerading as legitimate science, their message can then be presented as though it had the same scientific standing as the IPCC Assessment Reports rather than a loony fringe opinion, indeed one balanced by those who grossly exaggerate AGW.

    I note you use the word "existential" without making plain to what it applies - ie what it is that has its existence threatened by AGW. I would suggest that it is but that loony fringe (that is balanced by the denialist looney fringe) that describes AGW as an existential threat to the human race when AGW is surely only an existential threat to the world economy whose collapse would not be a pretty sight and likely reduce human populations to a fraction of today's total.

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  21. MA Rodger @20

    Quantum Mechanics are the most powerful tool we now have to understand physical interactions at the level relevant to this issue. Before we had QM there was very strong evidence that carbon dioxide is the most important persistent gas in the atmosphere for moderating the global climate. After the development of QM that became far stronger as we then had a detailed explaintion as to why that has allowed experimentation to a degree that simply wasn't possible before.  

    And the science on carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere and its intimate link to global climate got stronger as more data was produced.

    My point about uncertainty is it is being misrepresented by the denialist campaign, not placed in its proper context. There will never be 100% certainty on global warming in scientific terms because there is always room left to expand and adapt scientific theory as new information is acquired.

    The standards of scientific certainty are far higher than in any other discipline, in legal terms the confidence on the link between CO2 emissions and the serious impacts have been recognized at the highest level a long time ago.

    Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency


    The use of uncertainty in the case of global warming denial has nothing to do with advancing our understanding of the physical aspect of this phenomena, it is almost entirely political and economic in nature. It is simply not valid scientific skepticism.

    I use the term existential in regards to global warming in the threat to the existence of human technological culture and society on a global level and the threat to a significant portion of the existing biosphere that is already in the process of accelerated extinction as climate conditions change far faster than many species can adapt to or migrant along with.

    How can you refer to a process that is already well acknowledged to be underway as looney fringe?

    We are already seeing massive dieoffs in the oceans in some of the most important ecosystems, if fully half the Great Barrier Reef system dies off in two years with a projection of almost all coral reefs systems and their diverse biotas gone by mid century, is that not a signficant loss of biodiversity from that one source. 

    Plus the research showing many insects populations in rapid decline, it's at an estimated 2.5% per year now. Many avian species are in rapid decline as well. 

    We now have an estimate of 1 million species at risk of extinction, that would have a profound impact on the overall biosphere.

    Keep in mind that global warming and climate change is not taking place in isolation, it is the major human impact on the physical and natural systems on the Earth. But is taking place in the context of rapid deforestation of much of the worlds rain and temperate forests. In conjunction with a removal of a huge amount of species from the ocean for food with an equally massive polluting of the ocean environments.

    Plus everything else we are doing to replace and remove those natural systems that make complex life possible on Earth in the quantity and diversity it currently has.

    The truly loony fringe are those who think we can keep doing this for any longer without causing a systemic biological collapse.

    Climate change denial is probably the most irrational organized behavior of our species yet.

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  22. I've been following this critical issue for more than half my life. In the mid 1980s the science was sound from what I could see and it has just gained confidence in the subsequent decades while the real world catastrophic impacts are seen all around us.

    I find it inconceivable we are still discussing consensus or uncertainty on an existential issue. If there was even a 5% chance we are facing a global crisis of this magnitude it should result in immediate action and an end to meaningless speculation. But the chances even with conservative studies places the chances at over 95%.

    There is no elite climate research institute that is about to release a groundbreaking study that this was all some mammoth misunderstanding and we'll all be fine now. Instead we are now in a position of trying to save as much of the biosphere as we can before the impacts of our actions become so catastrophic that there will be no coherent response possible in the chaos of climate change emergency after emergency.

    The systemic cognitive dissonance over this issue is staggering. In Canada we are going into a fall election and one of the central issue still remains "is climate change real", there is a discussion of it this afternoon on our national broadcaster CBC.

    Earlier this year the current government declared a "climate crisis" in Parliament one day and the next approved for the third time the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that would eventually be piping to terminal almost 1 million barrels of dilbit from the Athabaska tar sands. One of the most carbon intensive sources of energy on the planet. Our government has already spent $4.5 billion buying the current pipeline and will have to put in more than that to triple the line.

    The fossil fuel sector here indicates no sense of emergency at all, the new Premier of Alberta which drives energy policy in Canada has effectively declared war on the science of fossil fuels driven climate change.

    Jason Kenney touts $30M 'war room' but provides few details


    There is no scientifically meaningful uncertainty left over whether climate change is occuring or the most likely forcing based on not just decades but centuries of science. Just politically motivated efforts to deny it.

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  23. Billy Joe @17, I agree. The Cook study is fine but seems a little inconsistent with some statements in the article. I'm not going to say more, but as you say dont give the denialists ammunition on a plate.

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  24. Nigelj @23 , perhaps you should  say something more.  New ideas?

    I don't think there's a point in doing any hand-wringing about the imperfections of the past (and hindsight will always  allow us to be wiser).   But conceivably there might be some future way of making a brilliant chess-move to stymie the nit-pickers/nay-sayers in the deniosphere.   Myself, I can't think what that move could be.   As Philippe C. says @16 , the denialists will simply do what they do . . . with or without them having any ammunition to use.

    For 2013, John Cook & associates were I'm sure very conscious of the likelihood of strong opposition to the Consensus study's conclusions . . . but they may not have anticipated the intense fury it stirred up.  (Even more fury than a certain Emperor might have felt as his lack of clothes was pointed out.)

    As you know, John Cook made the brilliant pre-emptive move of having an author-self-rated section in the study, to confirm the study's validity.  (A confirmation which the denialists strenuously ignore, to this day.)

    But all that being so, we still find Monckton & cronies going to vast lengths of absurdity in order to re-define 97% as e.g. 34% or 0.3% .   In the face of such blatant and persistent insanity, I suspect it is futile to try to use reasonable evidence to convince the denialists.   And the various consensus studies are aready done — and they are all essentially in agreement with each other — and there's probably no point now in re-confirming 97% or 98% or 99% .

    What remains, is to "get the message out" more effectively into the ears of the general public.

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  25. Eclectic @24

    I think some people are clearly beyond reach. There was an article entitled something like "Water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas not carbon dioxide, the scam revealed" by Tim Ball on a site not to be named.

    I pointed out the basic contradiction in his primary theme, that water vapour is in fact present in the atmosphere in the form of a vapour that can be in multiple phases at the same time. While carbon dioxide is present there as a gas that is in one state only. Meaning if all the persistent CO2 was removed from the atmosphere, within decades almost all of the water vapour would have precipiated out of the cooler atmosphere.

    His only response was some ad hominem, he didn't even bothering to address the science.

    For some people this has stopped being a scientific issue. At best it is an economic or political issue, at worst it is religious. For these it is no longer an impersonal academic subject, it is a very personal one to the poiint where many deniers treat objective science as a personal attack.

    How do you reason with people who have strayed so far from rational thought?

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  26. I am one of your Deniers.  I am a retired geologist of over 40 years and will remind you that sedimentary geology is in fact the very essence of climate change so I am not completely ignorant of the subject.  Quite simply, you have had almost 40 years and all the money in the world to prove your CO2 greenhouse gas theory and quite frankly ALL you have is  a 97% consensus of scientists that are saying “Because We Say So”.  There is not a single quantitative study in the last 40 years that proves the theory and quantitatively establishes CO2 concentrations to global warming and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that your group are not even working on one.  WHY?  Your 97% consensus might be good enough for you guys but most adults need at least some empirical proof to follo, and if there really was some proof, there would be no need for this comment or for your site.  This article and the above comments show an almost unbelievable dismay that deniers can even exist and virtually anything they have to say is garbage in the wake of our overwhelming “consensus“.  Well plugging your ears and yelling lalalalalala is not going to make the Deniers go away, nor is this continued Because We Say So.  Seriously, there are thousands of scientists that simply do not believe your hypotheses or your theory and until you grant them some respect you will get NONE in return.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Sloganeering without an ioto of evidence offered in support. Everything so far you have offered (not much) as counter-evidence has been a chimera and demonstration of your lack of knowledge and your readiness to believe what your suits your wishes instead of critical thought. Enough. (and the irony of statements are amazing).

  27. Thanks again for the replies.

    I am well aware that the climate deniers wil use every trick in the book, honest or dishonest, to discredit climate science, including all those studies about the consensus, including the most recent that puts it at over 99%. 

    There is just no point in giving them a "gotcha".

    Even if you think "mainly", "primarily", and "largely" are similar, it is not what was in the study which said "primarily" . And "extremely" in the following quote from the above article is clearly incorrect:

    “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”

    Again, al I am saying is don't give them a "gotcha" (and I have seen this "gotcha" used many times on internet forums).

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  28. Doug_C @25 , 

    Quite so.   No reasoning with denialists.   At the present state of climate scientific knowledge, one can only be a "denialist/skeptic/contrarian"  by being intellectually insane.

    Fair enough, to point out to Dr Tim Ball (self-alleged "Professor of Climatology") how wrong he is . . . but in doing so, you are "playing to the audience", but you waste your time playing to him himself.

    # Despite years of complete disappointment, I still read some of WUWT (and ClimateEtc ) from time to time, in the ongoing hope of discovering some important & valid argument against AGW.   Nothing at all of that sort discovered, yet.   (You may know ClimateEtc  as a kind of upmarket WUWT , but with much less frothing-at-the-mouth in the comments columns.)

    Occasionally in WUWT articles, there are some minor points of interest (points I had been unaware of).   Most of the articles are tiresome in the puerility of their propaganda slant.   The comments columns, I skim at speed (looking for the several "names" where I can expect sensible/insightful comments e.g. Nick Stokes, Steve Mosher, and a very few others — all of whom get excoriated by the hoi polloi  of usual commenters).   There is some entertainment value in viewing the bedlam antics of the usual commenters — of whom, half or more are in full denial of the GHE and the physics of CO2's radiative properties.   And I confess to a feeling of Schadenfreude  in viewing the insanity of these people's delusional Motivated Reasoning . . . but I find a spoonful goes a long way !

    To return to Dr Tim Ball — if I see his name as author of an article, then I skip reading any of it.   Along with a few other names there, such authorship indicates that reading the article will always  be an utter waste of time.   Utter.    Similarly to reading the computations & ratiocinations of Monckton (or any inventor of a Perpetual Motion Machine) -— you know that somewhere in the verbiage is a serious error . . . and so you needn't bother reading any of it.

    Monckton's various "re-calculations" of the 97% consensus, are in the same boat.

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  29. BillJoe @27 , it is 6 years too late to expunge the "gotcha".   And it wouldn't make any difference anyway — the denialists will always continue to recycle anything at all which they think (in their febrile minds) scores a "gotcha" point.  All you can do, yourself, is to develop some good ripostes — for the benefit of the audience, of course.

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  30. Eclectic @24, sorry to be a bit doomy and gloomy, but I doubt there is a brilliant chess move to neutralise climate denialists of the Christopher Moncton variety. Believe me I've tried to think of one many times, and I have scrutinised your and others comments looking for one!

    Obviously facts do convince some people, or we would all still think the world is flat, but the Moncton's of the world are not interested in facts. They are Doubting Thomases who are strongly driven by politics, or religion, or economics as Doug C points out, and I think you could add plain crankiness in some cases, and I think they are sometimes immensely proud people who are unable to admit they are wrong, ever.

    The only thing that might convince the hard core denialists is a rapid escalation in sea level rise or something like that, and even then maybe not in some cases. It's sobering to remember there's still a flat earth society, people think the moon landings were faked, and about 50% of people don't believe in Evolution in some countries.

    Theres an old saying "you cannot argue with an idiot" and some intelligent people are determined to act like idiots. If fact they can be the most stubborn.

    I've seen climate scientists debate with denialists to no avail.

    This is not to say we shouldnt try, but mostly when I respond to hardened denialists, or if I crticise some sceptical research paper, I word things mainly to connect with open minded people who might be reading, and who are just a little sceptical of climate change, and I choose my tone, tactics and explanations accordingly.

    Of course some denialism is just cherrypicking and other deliberate logical fallacies in a vertitable climate blizzard, and sometimes it's best to point these out and not get bogged down in the science too much.

    I sincerely believe its a battle to convince the many people in the middle of the bell curve, who think at least vaguely rationally, and there is some real hope there. Acceptance of AGW theory has increased a bit in America over the last decade, but Moncton will probably be last in line to change his views.

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  31. Doug_C @21/22 & @25.
    I think we are mainly talking past each other here. Perhaps to complete the trade of AGW 'credentials', I have been bashing on about the need to reduce our GHG emissions for only 38% of my life-to-date. I very quickly learnt that such a message is not something that easily yields meaningful results.

    We agree that the scientific uncertainty within the subject is not the uncertainty wielded by denialists, although they will happily add it to their own accumulated pile of uncertainties. We agree there is no doubt that the scientific consensus dictates the need to quickly reduce GHG emissions to zero. And we seem to agree that the 3% non-consensus is today entirely non-scientific.

    You do react to my assertion that there is scientifically a "looney fringe" that happily exaggerates AGW and which matches that denialist 3%. It is not as prominent as the 3% and it isn't so detatched from the science as the 3%. (And there are those non-scientific voices that exaggerate AGW even further.) Such exaggeration is often wielded by denialists as reason to ignore the science.
    [Strangely there has been warning from denier Richard Lindzen that the most basic non-scientific denialist argument is damaging to his denialism (He says you couldn't hire folk to do a better job - see from 12:00 in this 2012 talk in the Palace of Westminster.) but such mud doesn't seem to stick to denialists as it does to AGW.]

    One point I would take serious issue with.
    You consider "even a 5% chance we are facing a global crisis of this magnitude it should result in immediate action.[my bold]"  Yet I fully understand why, within the political sphere, that would not happen. The big problem is not the '5%' (which of course is actually a lot higher, not significantly different to 100%). The big problems are threefold - (1) the timing of the "global crisis" in the future way beyond any political planning horizons (with the exception of SLR on building requirements). (2) the far-reaching actions required by that "immediate action." (3) and what can be called 'institutional denialism' - your Trans Mountain pipeline provides a good example of the lunacy that can ensue. Unless the message sweeps the institution, the counter message of 'continue-on-as-before' will have great strength and will tend to regain its prior position. So bye-bye message.

    I will continue to object to use of the word "existential" without qualification. And the extinction of species and habitats is surely not such a qualification. (Note that denialists will counter by saying that the present sixth great extinction event isn't all down to AGW. And there are more powerful arguments that they fail to harness.)

    Finally, I'm reluctant to drag Quantum Mechanics into this interchange as it is certainly not of primary consideration. Yes QM does provide the "understanding" of the physics but the impact of the physics is measureable without it, perhaps this epitomised by black body radiation being the evidence that led to identifying QM and its probabalistic physics.

    @25 - "How do you reason with people who have strayed so far from rational thought?"  Reason may have flown out of their window but do we give them a free pass to spread their nonsense? If you can make their arguments look ridiculous it will perhaps chip away at their denialism and it will surely dissuade onlookers from believing it.

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  32. MA Rodger @31

    There's clearly an unscientific bias being applied by climate change deniers. Despite the vast amount of objective evidence going back centuries that the Earth is in fact much warmer than it should be if just basic thermodynics were at work and it is almost certainly the presense of persistent carbon dioxide that is mostly responsible for this warming effect, their entire position is based on denying this.

    Deniers simply do not weight their position based on the varying confidence in the data. They are 100% certain that by vastly increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere there will be no major warming event. And in fact whenever possible they default to a global cooling scenario to frighten people into believing in the threat of rapidly advancing ice sheets from the next ice age.

    As for the catastrophic impacts of global warming and climate change, when exactly do we declare it an emergency. The entire biosphere is now in a state of risk, we are now in the position where it isn't individual species that are at threat but the entire biological systems of the planet.

    Most life on Earth is in the oceans and they are in rapid transition to often a much more hostile state to the life there. About 25% of marine life spends part or all its life on coral reefs. As we saw with the recent coral bleaching over a massive area in the Great Barrier reef system this transition to what is effect a dead state can happen very rapidly. It took two years for half of one of the most extensive and diverse ecosystems on Earth to die. 

    We are not going to see a rapidly recovery of any coral reef system on Earth, almost all are going to be lost in the coming years as an incredible amount of heat is added to the Earth - mostly the oceans - constantly. Skeptical Science has a meter to display just that. The loss of marine coral reef systems globally can be considered a significant extinction event on it own. That will include most of the 1 to 9 million species that depend on coral reefs.

    But it is just one such factor. As I said we also have to look at the rapid and virtually uncontrolled removal of many marine species at clearly unsustainable rates. How will the oceans even function with such rapid and destructive changes. The source of most free molecular oxygen on Earth.

    Terrestrially we are looking at about 40% of insect species in rapid decline and the overall biomass of insects decreasing at about 2.3% a year. The basis of much of the food chain and biological communities on land is in rapid decline.

    About 40% of avian species are also in decline.

    I don't believe in unsupported alarmism, I do think that if the evidence is as stark as it seems then we are looking at a rapidly approaching point where the overall integrity of ecosystems on a global scale will start to fail.

    At which point there will simply be nothing we can do except watch a very rapid and almost certain cascade effect into a world that will not support much of the life now on Earth. And certainly not a species as large as ours with such high metabolic requirements.

    The oxygen question alone is stark. Not only are the oceans in a decline to a very unstable situation, but we are rapidly removing the secondary centers of oxygen production the rain forests. Under the current government in Brazil deforestation has doubled in pace. The rain forests of the SE Pacific region are being logged and in many cases converted to palm oil and other plantations on a vast scale.

    All these factors stress the entire biosphere and global climate change ties it all together into a formula for catastrophic failure that the data indicates has already begun.

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  33. MAR @31

    "you do react to my assertion that there is scientifically a "looney fringe" that happily exaggerates AGW and which matches that denialist 3%...Such exaggeration is often wielded by denialists as reason to ignore the science."

    Shrewd observation on this very real looney fringe that exaggerates AGW. A good example is and they might be well meaning, but they are clueless and indeed just hand the denialists ammunition.

    "I will continue to object to use of the word "existential" without qualification. And the extinction of species and habitats is surely not such a qualification."

    The term existential threat in unqualified form has bothered me as well, as being a dubious claim easily ridiculed by the denialists. I've said so at RC. However extinction of some species would be a reasonable qualification wouldn't it? It's a very real possibility, almost a given.

    However I'm having second thoughts on the use of the term extinction in the sense that the Extinction Rebellion group does not seem to have alienated people with it's choice of words, or been rubbished over it. Perhaps people largely appreciate the implied intent that climate change has a very strong possibility of making many plant and animal species extinct, and at least some poorer human communities in the tropics largely extinct if they don't immigate somewhere less hostile, which might not be an option open to them. So perhaps the term extinction and existential threat is not so bad.

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  34. Eclectic@29

    Putting aside, for a moment, the fact that climate deniers will definitely use it as a "gotcha" to fuel climate denialism...

    I do not understand why you prefer to make multiple excuses rather than simply agree that it is a good idea to state facts accurately.

    It's a win-win situation to get it right: providing accurate information and avoiding giving climate deniers another talking point.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] This discussion has run its course. Let's shut it down.

  35. BillyJoe @34 , 

    please clarify the point that you really wish to make.

    If you wish to suggest a form of words that would be "foolproof" , and to be used in any future consensus survey by John Cook (or others) . . . then you are welcome to do so.   The new wording won't alter the past, though.

    But I think you will have an uphill battle to find anything foolproof — especially since the anti-science group will be actively trying to be foolish in their interpretations.

    I am not aiming to provide any "excuses" for past surveys — I am simply pointing out the futility of hoping to achieve legalistically-ironclad definitions with absolute perfection.   Basically, in this matter of assessing consensus, we must rely on the common sense of the reader in understanding what is being discussed.

    As for "misinterpretations" by the science-denialists — well, You Can't Fix Stupid, nor can you fix malice & deceit in the minds of denialists.

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  36. My apologies, Moderator.   My post "crossed" with your request.

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  37. Doug_C @22

    I noticed that you used "tar sands" and "dilbit" (diluted bitumin) rather than "oil sands" and "oil" to correctly identify that Canadian fossil fuel energy resource. 

    However, I've noticed that even the Canadian government uses the incorrect term "oil sands" to minimize the negative connotation of the real name of the resource. 

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