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Surrendering to fear brought us climate change denial and President Trump

Posted on 17 July 2017 by John Abraham

This story picks up where an earlier post left off a few weeks ago. Then, I discussed some of the political realities associated with inaction on climate change. In that post, I said I would revisit the question of why so many people deny the evidence of a changing climate. Now is the time for that discussion.

What continually befuddles people who work on climate change is the vehement and indefensible denial of evidence by a small segment of the population. I give many public talks on climate change, including radio and television interviews and public lectures. Nearly every event has a few people who, no matter what the evidence, stay in a state of denial. By listening to denialist arguments, I find they fall into a few broad categories. Some of them are just plain false. Examples in this category are ones like:

There was a halt to global warming starting 1998.

Humans are only responsible for a tiny fraction of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Scientists are colluding to create this fraud.

Others are not false but are completely irrelevant. For example:

Climate is always changing.

We didn’t have thermometers a million years ago to measure global temperatures.

Cities are hotter than their surroundings.

Why would people think things or repeat statements that are known to be false or irrelevant? I am convinced that for the vast majority of people, they are not intentionally being incorrect. Something must be forcing them to be wrong. What could that be? Why are people so willing to believe and repeat lies?

That brings me to the connection with President Trump. His sheer number of falsehoods and flip-flops is so great, you lose track of them all. For instance, let us take the so-called wall to stop illegal immigration. First he said Mexico will pay for it and it will be “so tall;” now, he wants it to be paid by the US taxpayer. He falsely exaggerated the number of jobs that have been created since he came into office. He made false statements about the size of his electoral win. He made false statements about President Obama’s birthplace. He has made false and unsupported claims about voter fraud. He has made false claims about climate scientists. 

Finally, there is the current investigation into his and his administration’s potential collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice. I could go on and on and likely will get complaints from readers that I forgot this or that falsehood, but I have to limit the length of this post.

In a sane world, everyone would understand the threat of climate change and our ability to take meaningful action to handle it. In a sane world, no one would believe a president who has misled them time and time again.

So that raises the question - what is the reason people still discount the incontrovertible climate change evidence? What is the reason a persistent minority still support this dishonest president? I think I have figured it out, and if I’m right, it makes it much easier to reconcile the generally logical people I know with their seeming indefensible belief systems.

In a certain respect, this reason is something we as humans are nearly powerless to counteract. Before I give the reason, I want to be clear that I am sure others have noticed this too. I am sure others have written learned papers articulating this much more clearly than I can. My discovery is just a personal observation; something I should have recognized long ago. I am also not a psychologist so this is just my observations as a physical scientist.

The reason isn’t religion, it isn’t political ideology, it isn’t lack of scientific knowledge, it isn’t politics, it isn’t tribal identification. It’s none of those things.

The reason is fear.

Whether people are reciting a litany of falsehoods about climate change or whether they are contorting themselves to justify support for this president, they are doing so because they have to. They have to, because they are afraid of what happens if they accept reality.

With climate change, people are afraid for two reasons. First, they are afraid there is nothing they can do about it. Humans hate to have threats that are beyond our control. We are more afraid of Ebola than heart disease. We are more afraid of flying than driving, we are more afraid of sharks than toasters. We afraid of things we feel we cannot directly control.

Secondly, we are also afraid of bad news. How often have you not checked your bank account because you don’t want the bad news? Have you ever known someone who didn’t go to a doctor because they just didn’t want to know what their ailment was? It is so much easier to pretend a problem doesn’t exist. In fact, I’ll go a step further and say that people like to be lied to when it quiets their fear.

So with respect to climate change, that puts the population into two groups. The first group (which I am part of) knows that there is a problem, wants to face it head on, and solve it together. The second group cannot bear to look the problem honestly in the face and finds it easier to deny its existence.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 99:

  1. I generally agree here...and with pretty much everything our wonderful JA has ever said or published '-). But the problem with dismissing political ideology or religion as a major factor here is the high correlation of those who deny GW with those who identify as politically conservative and religiously fundamentalist. Are those ideologies just more likely to have very fearful people in them? That's what you would seem to have to claim, as far as I can see. I'm not sure how one would independently test such a hypothesis, but it might be interesting to try.

    And if John's hypothesis is true, what does that mean about Climate Communication? You can't really talk honestly for very long about the certain or even likely consequences of CC with out bringing up stuff that is going to make rational people somewhat or very afraid. Right?

    Connected to the whole issue of the role of fear and CC communications:

    Eric Holthaus writes, in part:

    "My advice for climate journalists going forward:

    1. Don't hold back. Readers can take it. (As long as it's rigorously grounded in the science, of course.)
    2. The weird shit that climate change could cause—the tail risks, the megastorms, the blinking out of entire ecosystems—is compelling.
    3. Climate journalists should find those stories—things scientists wouldn't bother with b/c they're unlikely—& report the hell out of them.
    4. AND THEN (this is the most important part) you plant the seed of possibility at the end & invite the reader to become part of the story.

    Because that's the reality: We are all part of this story. This is our story, we are shaping it every day."

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  2. Fear is an interesting way to frame it, but to me it is not quite broad enough to catch those who are driven by pure short term economic self-interest or those with a natural predisposition to contradict experts just for the sake of it.

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  3. I disagree that it is "fear" - at least to the degree that is presented.

    If you consider at the same time that these people are almost entirely in the "extremely conservative" subset of humans,  AND you add the knowledge that extreme views are often accompanied by supreme confidence in in ones own opinion  -  we can conclude that the contradictory evidence is being rejected out of hand because it would mean that the person at the extreme is in fact wrong and has to accept that they were wrong.   

    For most people this isn't a big deal. For someone on the extremes who relies on his/her own opinion and knowledge more, and on other people's opinions less, finding out they made a mistake is a near death experience.

    So while there is a "fear factor" involved (as is likely )

    We cannot discount the likelihood that it is fear of being wrong, in someone who cannot afford to have their worldview shaken in such manner. 

    Note that this sort of avoidance occurs in extreme liberals as well.  Just not in the area of climate.   Consider instead the arguments around nature vs nurture and the evidence for a genetic basis for intelligence. 

    It gets iffy out there on the edges.   :-) 

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  4. If this is fear, then good news on non-fossil energy is the antidote.  It may do more to emphasize the enormous strides being made in renewable power lately, than to prove conclusively to someone immune to proof that the 'hiatus' never happened.

    Big fossils likes to preach its captive audience that if they go with alternatives, the 'big government gulags' will not be far behind.  Stories that tell the truth may matter here: that alternatives are largely being fought by utilities which, as government-granted monopolies, are the very epitome of 'big government'.  It should sway some minds to realize that Joe Libertarian, in fighting renewable power, is fighting on the same side as a state-sponsored monopoly that thinks it 'owns' the right to sell him electricity, to the exclusion of all other sources in an open market.

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  5. I agree fear sums the issue up quite well. I would take it further and say "fear of change". However this doesn't get us too far, because simply saying be less afraid isn't going to do much.

    Take a step back. I look at climate denialists and I see evidence of vested interests, addiction to big v8 cars, jobs in the fossil fuel industry, dislike of big government, religious factors, and conservatism. I think it makes them deny the science, or issues around renewable energy, even although the denial is clearly illogical and contradictory etc.

    All these are fear of something, whether loss of jobs, petrol prices going up, government rules, beliefs being challenged, change in general. These are real and should be acknowledged, even although they are generally missplaced fears. For example renewable energy is actually creating jobs, electric cars are cheap to run, all governments have laws, etc.

    I think if we own this, it becomes easier to see a way forwards in terms of convincing people and addressing specific fears. We won't convince everyone, for example look at tobacco, vaccines, or evolution which are also issues revolving around various fears, addictions, etc,  but it should be possible to convince the overwhelming majority, and that is  what is important.

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  6. I agree that fear is an underlying ground for much denialism — many scientists were also reluctant to accept the magnitude of the problem as it became clearer and clearer the past 50 years.

    But there are other important aspects. One is international context. Vociferous denialism seems a peculiarly Ango-Saxon disease. Why would that be?

    1. The concentration of news into the hands of the likes of Rupert Murdoch, always printing ammunition for "scepticism".
    2. Corporate disinformation and ideological think tanks.
    3. The strong anti-governmet anti-left narrative that has taken hold since Reagan was president. Don't forget that Reagan won by scuttling Carter's energy policy, telling Americans they were great, and everything would go back to how it was in the fifties — without all these perplexing modern problems.

    These factors play much less of a role in most other countries of the world.

    A further factor is group loyalties. Many people's views on many subjects are informed by loyalty to their tribe and how the tribe has decided to view the matter. Loyalty is a big part of conservative and religious denialism, but it is precisely this loyalty that can be used to change the narrative [loyalty also means not running down the family farm before handing it to your children].

    As for people like James Delingpole, there have always been a small number of irredeemable miscreants who find their claim to fame in serving evil.

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  7. Mixing in Trump, Russiagate, and electoral fraud in a "false facts" narrative does help the case. Not all false claims are related, and many false narratives have been propagated on many fronts historically, and often refuse to die, like zombies, no matter how fastidiously they have been debunked. Russiagate has no publicly verifiable facts, and there is a decades old literature on electoral fraud in the USA. Contrary to accepted opinion, US elections do not set a standard of democratic integrity for the rest of the world; on the contrary, basic controls are so poor or even absent that monitoring organisations state that it is not even possible to monitor US elections, putting them behind monitored elections in Kazakhstan or Syria. Americans do not seem capable of enacting electoral reforms.

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  8. Ironically, when people like Al Gore, Michael Mann or Bill Nye expound the impending dangers of AGW they get howled down as Alarmists & Fear Mongers.

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  9. The aspect of fear applies to the followers more than the leaders. Some people have a real knack for scaring the $#!^ out of people, and then reassuring them that they will be saved if only they follow the One True Path.

    A long but very interesting read on the psychology of much of this is Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians. (Free download at the web page I have linked.)

    A shorter, less-scholastic blog post is The Long Con. Also very interesting.

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  10. JW Rebel @6,

    I agree totally, but everything you mention comes back to fear of something. For example it is exaggerated fear of government, fear of rules applying to business, fear of loss of power or privilege, paranoid fear of loss of individual rights. All this can obviously become excessive and deluded.

    Individual rights are obviously important, but self evidently do not give people the right to damage the environment or harm the community or expect government to ignore environmental matters.. That sort of world can’t work and we don’t have to put up with it. People promoting it are ultimately toxic.

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  11. I believe one of the most powerful and prevalent fears in the minds of climate science deniers (miss-understanders, delayers fighting against correcting incorrectly developed human activity), is the fear of having to admit that their developed perceptions of personal wealth, prosperity and opportunity are not justifiable, are not actually deserved.

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  12. I don't think fear is a consicous motivation for denial of evidence - or at least fear of the results of climate change. From tackling many denialists, I suspect that if fear is a factor, then it is fear of change that provides the fertile ground for the deceit to grow in. Fear of having to change one's life, one's aspirations, one's hopes and dreams. Fear of wasting all that time and money invested in some parts of education, job qualifications,  business experience etc which are only useful in the current status quo and would be redundant in a climate friendly economy.

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  13. I do not think that either fear or self-interest is motivating "denial of the evidence." Disrespect for others does not make a case for AGW.  Many "deniers" are not afraid to accept that the global climate is changing, and that it will affect us.    "Deniers" accept that we are adding pollutants like SO2 and CO to the air, and that we prefer clean air.  Deniers accept that GHGs may exacerbate the effects of the Milankovitch cycles, etc.  But insisting that everyone agrees (97%!) does not make a case.  What is needed is a clear explanation as to how mankind's addition of maybe 4% of the natural gas CO2 to the atmosphere can affect global climate.   Many "deniers" have seen Al Gore's chart showing that CO2 follows global temperatures,  both rising and falling, and cannot therefore be a cause of temperature, whether it is the 96% natural or the 3% man-made.  What the 'deniers' see is computer models, not proven science.  What the "deniers" do not see is clear evidence that mankind can affect the global climate.  Calling them "fearful" does provide the needed evidence.     

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  14. @13: "Deniers accept that GHGs may exacerbate the effects of the Milankovitch cycles, etc.”

    If you actually knew anything about the Milankovitch cycles you would know that they currently favour a slow global cooling, not warming.
    And what are these “et cetera” that you mention? Be specific.

    @13: "What is needed is a clear explanation as to how mankind's addition of maybe 4% of the natural gas CO2 to the atmosphere can affect global climate."

    Your personal ignorance or incredulity of such an explanation is not the same as the absence of that explanation. Furthermore, your estimate of the percentage of atmospheric CO2 that is anthropogenic is off by an order of magnitude. It is 30% (400 - 280 = 120 ppm out of the current 400).

    "Many "deniers" have seen Al Gore's chart showing that CO2 follows global temperatures, both rising and falling, and cannot therefore be a cause of temperature”

    A basic logic fail repeated ad nausium. We know for a fact that adding CO2 causes warming. We also know that CO2 lags temperature in the ice core record because orbital changes were the intitial forcing, not CO2, so of course it follows temperature. That in no way negates that fact that rising CO2 then produced still more warming. Furthermore, this point flatly contradicts your first one listed above. So which is it, CO2 and other greenhouse gases do cause warming, or they can’t? Get your story straight.

    "What the 'deniers' see is computer models, not proven science.”

    That’s becuase you don’t bother to look past the computer models. Don’t blame scientists for your failure to look at the established science that the models are derived from. You might try employing some actual *thought* before repeating such misinformed talking points.

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  15. thoughts@13,

    Jim Eager has done a fine job of correcting some of your expressed "thoughts"/preferred beliefs.

    As a structural engineer I can add that my work (and the work of all other engineers - appliers of science) includes using analysis models to 'predict' the performance of a structure under a  variety of conditions.

    Those 'models' are developed based on the best developed understanding to date. And the behaviour of every part of the real structure is understood to not be exactly modeled, just very well represented in general so that the general behaviour is well enough understood to result in successful designs based on analysis models (btw, these are not toy models like model trains or model cars and they are not 'fashion models that may only be popular for a moment').

    So from my perspective people who repeat a claim that analysis models are not relevant, or complain that 'models' do not 'exactly' represent things or 'exactly' predict what will happen, only proves that they 'do not really understand the matter that they are commenting on'.

    The propensity for some minds to not properly understand issues, making-up thoughts about what is to be believed, is tragic when it becomes popular. Especially tragic is when those made-up minds lacking understanding get away with winning popular support by complaining that a concensus understanding among people who would better understand an issue is not relevant, is a conspiracy.

    Why people fail to better understand matters like climate science is a serious problem. I still contend that many people who resist better understanding climate science also resist admitting the unacceptability of personally benefiting from unsustainable activity that cause harm to, or creates challenges for, others including/especially future generations of humanity. Many people resist understanding/admitting that their developed perceptions/beliefs are unjustified/poorly excused.

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  16. I think this article misses an important reason for doubting the consensus on anthropogenic global warming.  Some of us are  sceptical of consensus views, especially when they are so strongly bound up with politics and expressed in abusive terms. (Has anyone on this site ever questioned whether it is respectful to call someone a "denier".  It smacks of the sort of things "believers" say about outsiders.)  So I, for one, will continue to look at the facts and question some of the consensus assumptions.  The world has undoubtedly warmed in recent years, and it is a reasonable hypothesis that man made CO2 has made a significant contribution, but it is hardly beyond doubt - in fact the stronger the consensus the harder we should question the hypothesis, and the more open we should be to challenges to it.  

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] This is sloganeering -assertions without any backing evidence. What is your evidence that the consensus of worldwide climate scientists is "politically motivated". Why should we challenge the consensus on say gravity or atomic theory again? If you want back your assertions for doubt about climate, provide evidence.

    Our comments policy prefers respectful language but denier is a reasonable term when applied to someone who flat out denies evidence.

  17. I think many folks can't get their arms around the significance of a 2°C temperature change or how really fast this is happening relative to "natural" change. Maybe we need to excise the use of the word "since" in weather reports. You know, "warmest 18th of July since..." or "driest, since", "longest drought since". 

    As far as the rapidity of change, I like to ask my denialist friends to think about growing up living "across the street" from the glacier terminus at the end of the last ice age. Their great grandfather would be telling them that the glacier was there when he was born and his great grandparents said the same. It was permanent source of ice for us forever. For the temperature to have dropped 1°C would have taken 400 generations (10k years). Who would have noticed? Being born at the beginning warming, you would tell your great grandchildren the same thing, only now it would be a "mere" 40 generations to see a 1°C rise. Maybe relatives from 8,000BC left could have drawn a picture of it on the cave wall across from where the glacier was.

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  18. Mike Evershed: So as you get more and more doctors' opinions that you immediately need heart surgery, you become less and less convinced that you really need it? 

    Has goes your hobby of jumping off buildings, inspired by the consensus on gravity?

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  19. To keep a reply short, I will respond to above:

    "A basic logic fail repeated ad nausium. We know for a fact that adding CO2 causes warming."   Many do not see evidence for that "fact".

    "We also know that CO2 lags temperature in the ice core record because orbital changes were the intitial forcing, not CO2, so of course it follows temperature. "  I believe that CO2 continues to follow temperature (by about 2oo years) until they both reach a peak, when CO2 continues to follow temperature downwards.  The downwards trend is probably also caused by earth's cycles, activity of the sun (and other factors we do not yet understand.)  It does not appear that downward trends are initiated by a fall in CO2 levels either.                 

     "That in no way negates that fact that rising CO2 then produced still more warming."    Is this a "belief", or evidence based?

    "Furthermore, this point flatly contradicts your first one listed above. So which is it, CO2 and other greenhouse gases do cause warming, or they can’t?   Get your story straight."  Sorry if my point was not straight for you.  My point was that "deniers" do not simply "deny" everything - my point was that there are unanswered questions.  Getting hot under the collar about it is not an answer.  Regardless of what may have been the original causes of temperature changes,  I see that records show that atmospheric CO2 lags global temperatures, both up and down.  If there is a "fact" that shows otherwise, there are many who would like to see it.    

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  20. Hi Tom - of course not - you have to make a judgement. But doctors are a good case in point - there have been strong medical consensuses in the past on the value of bleeding people, of using surgery for ulcers rather than antibiotics, and lots of resistance to change. As for gravity....I've conducted a lot of personal experiments falling off things, so I'm not quite so dependent on the consensus in that area! My point is the more moderate one that in science, when everyone agrees, it is usually time to start looking for the anomalies in the theory.  All the recent data adjustments for example - doesn't that ring alarm bells for anyone on this site?

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  21. Further thought: the latest I read is that Dr. Andrew Weaver, climatologist at the University of Victoria, says that yes, CO2 lags temperature in the global records.  He changes the subject to now to assert that all the Greenhouse Gases (95% water vapor) support the temperature changes which are caused by other factors.  The question remains: When CO2 levels lag Temperature levels, why are we to believe that  CO2 levels affect temperature levels?   

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] The real issue is the degree to which we can temporally resolve CO2 and temperature changes in the past vs those which are happening now.  The temperature proxies of the past are what they are.  Which is immaterial, as we know that human activities are driving the current rise in atmospheric concentration increase of CO2 (through a variety of methods)...and because we can precisely measure the timing of the increase in CO2 and the timing of the increase in temperatures, we know that our understanding of the radiative physics of CO2 are spot on.

    As an illustrative example, the Koch Industries-funded BEST team found that, WRT 'Is CO2 leading or lagging temperature rise':

    "we know that the CO2 is not coming from the oceans but from human burning of fossil fuels"


    "it is clear that it is the CO2 that comes first, not the warming"


    Please unsure that future comments are constructed to be in compliance with this site's Comments Policy and are also on-topic for the thread on which you place them.  Thousands of threads exist here on virtually every topic pertaining to climate change that one could think of (use the Search Function).

  22. thoughts,

    If you understand that 'one thing can lead to another', feedback behaviour, this may answer your question.

    The warming of the planet for reasons other than human impacts is all that is shown in the history of the planet, except for the most recent times. Human activity has been understood to have severe regional impacts. We have recently had the collective global human impacts, primarily due to the impacts of the highest per-capita impacting people, become large enough to be recognized as severe global impacts.

    When those other non-human reasons caused temperatures to rise there was often an increase in life activity on the planet. That added life activity resulted in more CO2 in the atmosphere which, because CO2 is a GHG, amplified the warming potentially further amplifying the initial warming factor.

    Today what is seen is that CO2 levels are dramatically increasing. (NOAA provides lots of helpful information here) The only explanation for the rapid recent increase (since the mid-1800s) is human activity, particularly the unsustainable burning up  of buried ancient hydrocarbons. The other possible non-human influences have been evaluated and without human impacts the global average surface temperature would be on a very gradual decline at this time (therefore, more than all - more than 100% - of the recent global average surface temperature increase in the land and ocean surface measurements or satellite measurements as you can see using the SkS Temperature Trend page, they are all increasing) is due to human impacts.

    The expected result, since CO2 is a GHG, is temperature increases slightly lagging the forced human increases of CO2, unlike the previous history without human impacts where CO2 levels responded to some other factor.

    And the feedback from added water vapour in the warmer atmosphere is a significant factor. By the way, when hydrocarbons are burned (oxidized) the main products are the GHGs CO2 and H2O with H2O even being more powerful (but the amount of H2O valour in the atmosphere is limited by how warm the atmosphere is).

    Hope that helps you better understand this matter.

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  23. Mike Evershed: Your response to me after your first sentence was not in fact a response, but a change of topic. Your original comment was "in fact the stronger the consensus the harder we should question the hypothesis, and the more open we should be to challenges to it." I merely extrapolated your comment, and your response was merely to contradict your original comment and then attempt to shift attention away.

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  24. One Planet Only Forever -Thank you for your thorough and kind response.  I understand the feedback mechanisms.  But one part of your explanation leaves me puzzled still: 

    -Today what is seen is that CO2 levels are dramatically increasing. (NOAA provides lots of helpful information here) The only explanation for the rapid recent increase (since the mid-1800s) is human activity, particularly the unsustainable burning up of buried ancient hydrocarbons.

    I did not think that the only explanation for the current rise in CO2 was man's burning of fossil fuels.  My understanding was that for the past couple of hundred years  we have been  coming out of the "Little Ice Age".  Given that it  takes the oceans a couple of hundred years to respond to an initial rapid increase in temperature with an increased output of CO2, that inititial rapid temperature rise out of an Ice Age would  seem to be an explanation for  the current rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 .  Is this incorrect?

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Many misconceptions here. For the "coming out of little ice age", see here and here. For idea that CO2 is coming from oceans(!!) see here. You cannot claim CO2 is coming from oceans at the same time as CO2 content of ocean is increasing, and the isotope evidence is the smoking gun. (Not to mention that we know how much FF we have burned..). I strongly suggest you use the "Arguments" button on top left and check your myths.

    [TD] CO2 does not outgas from the oceans just because the temperature increases. CO2 constantly goes both in and out of the oceans. The net of those two opposite flows depends on the ocean temperature, the partial pressure of CO2 in the air, and the ocean chemistry (sort of the ocean equivalent of the partial pressure of CO2). When the partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere increases quicker than the ocean's temperature increases, and/or when the surface water does not mix fast enough with deeper water to reduce the "partial pressure" of CO2 in the surface water, then the net effect is oceans continuing to absorb CO2. See "Why Ocean Heat Can't Drive Climate Change, Only Chase It." Then see "How Do Human CO2 Emissions Compare to Natural CO2 Emissions?" In each of those posts, after you read the Basic tabbed panes, read the other tabbed panes.

  25. thoughts,

    Spend some more time reviewing and understanding the information on the NOAA site linked in my comment.

    As a minimum, look to the CO2 history movie. Check the CO2 records for the CO2 response you believe should happen after the Little Ice Age. Note that the more recent CO2 values go well beyond a response post-Little Ice Age (which would be a recovery to levels pre-Little Ice Age) and their timing and rate correlate well with increased human deforestation and fossil fuel burning.

    There is a lot more information presented on the NOAA site that can help you better understand what is going on.

    Someone has tempted you with a false claim, but you can learn to discredit and ignore them.

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  26. Mike Evershed @16

    You are sceptical about the consensus. Well at least 5 studies show theres a 90-97% consensus that we are altering the climate, by Doran, Cooke etc. This is conclusive that a very large majority of climate scientists think we are altering the climate. No poll has found otherwise, and maybe think about that.

    You appear to also think the consensus is politically motivated, but you provide no evidence. Its just a poll of scientific opinion.

    The word denialism is not evidence of political motivation and not really directly related to a poll on consensus issues.  (Although I personally don't like the word, so partly agree with you its not a great word).

    I want governments to look at consensus positions, always. They may not ultimately all be correct, but it's the only sane choice. Listening to the eccentrics is no basis for public policy.

    Remember the small number of dissenting climate scientists are not terribly convincing. Many are funded by the fossil fuel lobby, and many have quite extreme ideological leanings.  

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Mike does not appear to doubt that consensus exists. He seems to think that any scientific consensus is likely to be wrong and that policy should not be guided by it.

  27. @19: "Many do not see evidence for that “fact”.

    Then they either aren’t looking or they are in outright denial of labratory experiments that demonstrate the fact.
    For example, in this one Dr Iain Stewart shows very clearly how effective an IR absorber CO2 is:
    The IR energy from the flame is almost totally absorbed by the CO2 in the tube. What, exactly, do you think happens to the temperature of the gas in the tube after it absorbs that energy? Conservation of energy says that it can not simply disappear, it has to be converted into another form.

    @19: “I believe that CO2 continues to follow temperature (by about 2oo years) until they both reach a peak, when CO2 continues to follow temperature downwards.”

    Yes, in the ice core record it does, in fact the lag was more like 700-900 years, which is the length of time it takes for the full volume of earth’s oceans to respond to the inital warming. Again, it is orbitally driven changes in isolation distribution and timing that peak first and then reverse trend toward cooling. Therefore we expect CO2 to reverse after insolation does, since in this case it is acting as a feedback to the changes in insolation, not acting as the intial driver of those changes.

    For more see the basic and itermediat responses to the “CO2 lags temperature" argument here

    @19: "and other factors we do not yet understand.”

    So, you think that there is some mysterious climate forcing or source of CO2 that we don’t yet know about or understand, yet you outright reject a known and very well documanted source of CO2 (the burning of fossil carbon on a massive scale) and a totally natural forcing that we do know about and have known about for over 150 years? That is exactly the sort of magical thinking that science was invented to counter.

    @19: "Is this a "belief", or evidence based?”

    It is entirely evidence based. Belief has nothing what so ever to do with it, unless you count a belief in science to objectively observe and describe reality. See above for one example, among many, many others.

    @19: "I see that records show that atmospheric CO2 lags global temperatures”

    You are repeating yourself, but I also see that you are only looking at the ice core record, which only covers the last 750,000 years or so, during a period when we know that CO2 was not the initial forcing. Earth’s history is a lot longer than 750,000 years. Pseudoskeptics like to point out that earth's temperature has been warmer in the past. Indeed, much warmer. There have been several episodes during which an initial rapid but entirely natural elevation of CO2 in the atmosphere was the driver of global warming. The most recent was the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) of around 55.5 million years ago, when a massive injection of CO2 over the relativly short geologic span of 20,000 years forced temperature up by around 5C (9F), about the same difference between the last glaciation of North America and today. After the peak warming of the Eocene we then see an example of the reverse: a long, slow decline of atmospheric CO2 due to accelerated rock weathering as the Himalaya and Tibetan plateau were forced upward, forcing down temperature far enough for Antractica to permanently glaciate.

    Now here’s another fact for you: we are currently injecting CO2 into the atmosphere much faster than nature did when it created the PETM.

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  28. Thank you for well-considered responses here.   They are helpful.   My point was not to bring up all sorts of questions; my point was to rebut the opinion that started this thread: the opinion that "deniers" are motivated by fear or self-interest.  I intended here to show that "deniers" can be motivated by reason, by commonsense,  and by wanting evidence before they believe what they are told.  I do not think it is productive to label those who question as "deniers", or to suggest  that they motivated by fear and self-interest.  Listening and responding to questions is probably productive.  (I have a lot of reading to do before I get this!)   

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Abraham is using the word "denier" for those who are denying evidence which is the opposite from reason. True skeptics are not deniers. Pseudo-skeptics are skeptical about what is incompatible with their ideology and not remotely skeptical about any sort of fantasy that supports it.

  29. There is probably a mix of reasons why seemingly intelligent and well (?) educated people are often vehement deniers.  My theory is that is it largely due to the appalling standards of science knowledge in the population, particularly so in the USA. The lay public is so illiterate about science and how it works that they fall prey to the misinformation put out by deniers.  They will trot out all the old shibboleths which have been answered time and time again, but this hasn't got through to the general public.  

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  30. At least in America, there's a culture divide as strong as any seen since the Civil War, and largely involving the same protagonists (one could even argue over the same issue: whether all people are created equal).  Fossil money just attached AGW to that divide and it became part of people's cultural identity.  My sister's an Evangelical Christian.  It's not that she doesn't think, in her heart of hearts, that fossil CO2 is causing the current warming.  It's that she's being told that until abortion is overturned, all other issues (even a sensible person's 'issues' with the current American President), take a backseat.  So you get this situation, in Red State America, where they are telling you to give up your 'Global Warming Religion' and at the same time building up renewable power as quick as can be.  That way they can serve the pulpit on Sunday and the planet the rest of the week.

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  31. Thoughts @28, 

    There are probably a small number of climate sceptics who just have doubts about the science, and no other real motives, sort of contararians, but they are probably in a minority. 

    But I think the main reason for scepticism relates to various fears and vested interests and ideological issues.

    Consider that people working in the fossil fuel industry are more sceptical than average about climate science, as in this peer reviewed study. It's hard to believe fears about job security are not a factor that leads to denial of the science.

    Libertarians and fiscal conservatives are also more sceptical than average in various polls. They likely see government becoming too involved, and this could lead to denial about the science. Its hard to see any other reason why they would be over represented. Theres no evidence they have a superior knowledge of the science.

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  32. Elizabeth Gordon-Mills:

    There is probably a mix of reasons why seemingly intelligent and well (?) educated people are often vehement deniers.

    WRT AGW-deniers including lack-, luke- and luckwarmers, the simplest explanation is unwillingness to pay their marginal climate change cost of transferring fossil carbon from geologic sequestration to the climatically active pool.  They'd rather just keep on making other people pay them.  

    They're afraid a carbon tax that internalizes a fraction of their future marginal cost, requiring them to pay a few bucks more for a tankful of gasoline, is on a slippery slope to forcing them to pay for the accumulated socialized cost of their entire lives and allow illegal immigrants' kids to attend school with theirs, or something.

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  33. Elizabeth Gordon-Mills @29, I agree there are a range of reasons for climate denialism, although I think fear is a constant factor through many of them. It is just incredibly obvious.

    Science knowledge isn't great, but I dont know that poor science knowledge  is a basic cause of climate denialism. I'm not sure better education would change peoples views much on climate issues. Its become political.

    The denialists probably accept einsteins theories but not climate science, so go figure. 

    Most people get taught the basics of science, but its a question of whether they trust this way of thinking about the world. America is a very politically driven, and strongly religious nation, and this may have an effect on thinking.

    However more time should be devoted to science in schools.

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  34. I just want to clarify I think education about science, and climate science and climate denialist myths and foolishness is important, but simply everyone having a Bacheor of Science degree probably won't change every climate sceptics mind. At least half of the issue has become political / ideological / tribal, and slippery slopes indeed. Download the song Money by Pink Floyd. 

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  35. People with very high intelligence and minimal critical thinking skills are extremely adept at constructing rationalizations to defend there positions. I suspect every one of us will do that in some aspects of our lives unless someone challenges us.

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  36. Scaddenp @35

    But would very high intelligence people really have poor critical thinking skills? The two would mostly go hand in hand surely?  However I could see they could turn those skills off, due to political reasons, maybe without even realising they are doing it.

    I do agree we are all probably susceptible to rationalising things unless challenged, me included, at least in certain situations where instincts conflict with facts etc.

    I have changed my mind a little on the whole issue a little. I still think fears, greed and politics are a big factor in denial, but poor critical thinking / science education etc is probably a factor with some people. But its probably relatively easy to turn many of those people around with good explanations, if that's the only problem they have. Its people with a political / belief related issue as well that may be harder to convince from what I have observed.

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  37. Thanks to Nigel and for the reference to studies on consensus.  

    And apologies to Nigel and the Moderator PS for being insufficiently clear in the wording of my post .- I said  one of the reasons for lack of acceptance of the science was that it was bound up with politics. But but I should have been clearer that wasn't because I think the science itself is politically motivated. The problem comes further down the road when it is used in party politics. Here in the UK "climate change denier" is a label used by politicians of the left.   So when people like me with right leaning politcal views see the consensus view being used in this way by politicians we distrust, we instintively distrust the science as well.

    And also to be clear - I think we should question consensus views in science - not that we should ignore them in policy. It is reasonable for politicians to take action based on the consensus. But it is also reasonable for them to subject the consensus to hard questioning in proportion to the scale of the policy shift demanded. 

    On a lighter note re gravity - one possibility astronomers are considering is that our current theories may be wrong at astronomical scales, and if so this may help explain some of the observations on "dark matter". 

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] "Reasonable for politicians to subject the consensus to hard questioning"? Seriously, politicians are better making that judgement than the combined investigations of thousands of scientists? Please show an example of a political process overturning a scientific consensus. What politicians need to be sure about is that there is a consensus. That consensus is the only rationale guide to policy.

  38. Re: This thread that "deniers" deny because they are fearful or self- interested.  

    There is so much information available that contradicts what the AGW believers claim, that a reasonable person does not know what to believe.  Many reputable scientists (not just a few "eccentrics") do not believe the AGW claim. 


    One small example:

    For decades, people have seen  that they have been misled by the media on many subjects, so people in general do not trust what the media tells them.  They are not just fearful or self-interested.  The population now needs clear evidence in the real world before they believe what they are told.  

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  39. To possibly explain why "deniers" are still puzzled about the truth of AGW, here is another link:

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  40. thoughts: Every one of the claims in that CFACT article is either false or misleading. All of them are countered by facts with details and references to peer-reviewed literature here on SkepticalScience. Use the Search field at the top left of every page here, and click the "View All Arguments" link at the bottom of the list of top myths that is under that Search field. Given the falsehoods in that CFACT article, you might reconsider relying on CFACT.

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  41. "There is so much misinformation available that contradicts..."

    There, I fixed that typo for you.

    "here is another link: https://wattsupwiththat.c...."

    Citing that luny bin does not help your argument or your credibility one bit. That's it, I'm done with you. You will waste no more of my time.

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  42. Please do note that I am not here trying to engage in a discussion of these issues.   This thread is about the motivation of  "deniers".  I was trying to show why people labelled here as "deniers" have reasons for their opinions - besides fear and self-interest.   If the population is instructed to research into scientific literature for clear answers, it seems a good explanation for why "deniers" doubt the  media and the science.    It seems impossible to make this  point on this site.

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  43. p.s. Contradictory information is everywhere.   How is anyone to know  which scientists and which information to believe, whether to believe  SkepticalScience or CFACT or Whats Up With That, or what?   

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  44. How? Verify. Exercise critical thinking. Do these claims hold water? What is the scientific evidence they are based on? Are there science papers cited? If yes, go and read what they actually say. Was anything taken out of context? Distorted? Misrepresented? Cherry picked? Graphs doctored? Scales manipulated to create a desired effect? Flaws in reasoning such as strawman arguments, ad hominem, non sequitur, red herrings? Is opinion substituted to actual expertise or presented as equally valid? Is the consensus one of opinion or one of research results? Where lies the weight of the evidence? Adjustments are put in doubt, fine. What do the people making the adjustments have to say on the reasons for the adjustments? Are there papers published on the adjustments? 

    When I was in school, I was fortunate to be taught about mind manipulation techniques. We learned about WW2 Germany, the USSR, advertisement and marketing techniques, how to trigger emotional reactions, how our emotions impair our judgment. This has remained with me ever since. It also helps to be somewhat scientifically litterate and have the quantitative thinking afforded by basic math and physics education. Thoughts was probably not around when WUWT had their Antarctic carbonic snow article. Credibility on scientific matters is not that hard to ascertain.

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  45. thoughts @42.

    You say you do not try to engage in discussion about the reasons for AGW being scientifically a 'no brainer', but that you wish to demonstrate why "deniers" deny. In you attempts to set out this demonstration, what is your rationale for the link to Planet Wattsupia you provide @39?

    Your arguments prior to this were that the evidence for AGW is not set out clearly enough (@13), that you disagree-with/misunderstand the reasons for AGW (@19 & @21 & @24), issues you do not want to "engage in" (as you manage to remember @28), then (@38) present an example of the nonsense AGW can create by linking to a web page written by a denier so convinced that a worrying AGW-filled-reality will steal his comfort-filled-reality that he writes a whole book to argue "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax," and your final input you describe the problems a denier has in not knowing they are latching on to comforting denialist nonsense (@43).

    In all this I can understand where you are coming from, yet your comment @39 does not make sense to me. So why the link to that page @ Planet Wattsupia?

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  46. Philippe Chantreau @44.   Re: "How? Verify."  

    I understand how to exercise critical thinking.  No one can do the science for themselves - so when reputable scientists (PhDs) and reputable sources present contradictory evidence and assertions, critical thinking is not much use.  I agree with the red flags you caution against (strawman, ad hominem, sloganeering....) - I see those red flags on this site.

    MA Rodger @ 45.   To answer your question, my rationale for the link to that page "@ Planet Wattsupia" [n.b. this is name calling, or ad hominem]]  was to illustrate what is out there to contradict some of the information given on this site.

    Your phrase: "written by a denier so convinced that a worrying AGW-filled-reality will steal his comfort-filled-reality "  is nothing more an ad-hominem comment.  Denigrating anyone who has a conflicting opinion from yours is not a discussion.  [I was originally  encouraged by the Comments policy on this site, but they seem not much use.)]

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  47. thoughts @46.
    Your response to me seems to be saying that you consider the work of Larry Bell who wrote a book (apparently no spoof) entitled "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" as being in your view entirely credible. Do note I do not here "engage in a discussion of these issues" set out by Larry, but they are entirely ludicrous. That you consider such nonsense credible strongly suggests that in SkS you have come to the wrong place. You do tell us that you "understand how to exercise critical thinking" but for myself, a bit like your reluctance to accept AGW, I am reluctant to accept your claim as see no evidence of your "critical thinking."

    As for my enquiry @45, that 5-year-old Wattsupian web page may contradict "the information given on this site" (and I'm sure that is very important to you) but that doesn't make it any less nonsensical than the work of Larry. Note that if it were a useful analysis, where is it now? Oh yes! It's still buried in a 5-year-old Wattsupian web page.

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  48. Thoughts @38, with respect, you are entirely missing the point. Certainly some scientists deny climate science, including a very small number of climate scientists, and some other scientists.

    But there's evidence that at least some of these people have various ulterior motives, rather than just purely scientific objections and this could extend to various fears, beliefs and vested interests that colour their conclusions on the science. I would suggest you will find the vast majority have these motives.

    For example some sceptical climate scientists have been funded by fossil fuel lobbies like Willie Soon. Now are you seriously going to claim this doesn't alter their mindset? Of course it could, because these lobbies will expect a certain result.

    Roy Spencer is a sceptical scientist, and has strong religious convitions that "man couldn't fundamnentally destabilise" the planet. He also has strong libertarian political leanings so would definitely be suspicious of carbon taxes etc. Its perfectly reasonable to conclude these things colour his conclusions about the science to some extent.

    Richard Lindzen is a sceptic, and has expressed something very similar that the planet is self correcting.  He also has or had interests in the coal industry.

    Other sceptical scientists I have come across have strong fiscally conservative views, or libertarian leanings,and may be worried about government involvement or taxes. Its reasonable to think this could be a cause of their scepticism of the science.

    I think you will find many sceptical scientists, probably most are influenced by a range of ideological issues, personal interests, and fears.

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  49. Thoughts says at 38;

    "For decades, people have seen that they have been misled by the media on many subjects, so people in general do not trust what the media tells them. They are not just fearful or self-interested.""

    The media do sometimes get things wrong, but its the IPCC telling them, not some investigative journalist with some dubious opinion and limited facts gathering. Its not really the media as such.

    But I concede people might not trust in the "elites" and maybe some see the IPCC as an "elite". I will give you that much.  But isn't this all just missplaced and ridiculous fear of elites, so we are back to fear? There's certainly no rational reason for the degree of distrust in elites, and it's clearly not universal either. It may dominate in America with Trump supporters, but clearly not in France, given who they have just elected.

    "The population now needs clear evidence in the real world before they believe what they are told."

    There is clear evidence in the real world. We see clear data of increasing temperatures, in multiple different sets of data,  photos of receding galciers and so on. You would have to be a conspiracy theorest to deny so many different lines of evidence.

    So I have to conclude peoples climate denialism is largely driven by politics, dislike of environmental rules or taxes, religion and factors like this. I concede some may be poor understanding of the science as well.

    Of course the sceptics look at wattsup for opinions that the science is allegedly wrong, as it gives them an excuse. They exercise a  total lack of critical analysis of what they read. Five minutes checking the usual denialist myths shows they are genuinely absurd. But perhaps they dont "want" to exercise any critical analysis? Because the whole climate issue threatens various beliefs they have and political views.

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  50. nigelj @ 48

    Now you are saying that scientists sceptical of AGW are motivated by other interests besides the science (besides being fearful).  We all read different things, but from what I read, it is mainly the AGW folks who are motivated by other interests.  I read that it is has been practically impossible to get any research paper published unless it supports the AGW view, that a scientist can lose funding / job if not on board with the AGW view.  I read that NASA has been falsifying data to support the AGW agenda, that the IPCC exists only to support the AGW agenda.  I do not know what is true.  Yet again - I have no way of knowing which scientists and which organizations on which sides are really not motivated by personal agendas - even doing the best critical thinking I know how.  How is the general public to know what is so?


    MA Rodger @ 47  At risk of endlessly repeating myself, I am not defending or discussing any specific issues.  I am pointing out here that there are  views which are readily available  which do not conform to the views of this site.  My responses are conforming to the subject of this thread, which is suggesting reasons why some people "deny the evidence".  I am trying to point out that some people seem to deny evidence for good reasons.  I have probably said that too many times already.   

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Sloganeering and inflammatory snipped.  Please conform to this venue's Comments Policy.

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