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Climate Hustle

Are you a genuine skeptic or a climate denier?

Posted on 30 May 2011 by John Cook

The ABC Drum have just published my article Are you a genuine skeptic or a climate denier? Right now, there are no comments but I imagine the discussion will get fierce shortly so be sure to keep an eye on it (expect to see all the traits of denial I describe rear their ugly head in the comments and be quick to point them out). An excerpt:

In the charged discussions about climate, the words skeptic and denier are often thrown around. But what do these words mean?

Consider the following definitions. Genuine skeptics consider all the evidence in their search for the truth. Deniers, on the other hand, refuse to accept any evidence that conflicts with their pre-determined views.

So here's one way to tell if you're a genuine skeptic or a climate denier.

Read full article...

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/img/presenters_sm/robyn_williams.jpgSkeptical Science and our book Climate Change Denial have been popping up elsewhere in the media over the last few weeks. My co-author Haydn and I appeared on Robyn William's Science Show a few weeks ago - you can listen to streaming audio or download the interview in mp3 format. The Science Show webpage also has a transcript of the whole interview.

On the morning of the Sydney book launch, I did an interview with John Stanley from the Sydney commercial radio station 2UE. You can listen to an mp3 of the interview here. Many thanks to 2UE for letting me republish the interview here on Skeptical Science and thanks to John just for having the interview - I wonder how many angry emails he received from 2UE listeners afterwards.

After our Sydney and Canberra book launches (more on that in a future post), Haydn and I returned to Sydney to record an interview with James Valentine at ABC 702. This interview gave us the opportunity to do something I've been looking forward to for a while - respond to talk-back callers. Sure enough, the first caller was a geologist enquiring about past climate change!

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Comments 451 to 488 out of 488:

  1. Eric (skeptic) @448:

    1) Your solution to reef protection was "blown off" by pointing out that the proposer of the method you advocated indicated that it would have wide spread and potentially adverse secondary effects whereas you just blithely asserted that it would not. When challenged on this point, you just changed the subject. In other words, when faced with principled and evidence based objections, you had nothing beyond your mere assertion to back up your opinions.

    2) It is tendentious and false to classify the free market as it works in any western nation, or in international trade as a "libertarian free market". The "free market" is in fact heavily regulated even in the United States, and justifiably so because grim experience shows that an unregulated market produces the satanic mills of Victorian England and impoverished labour with no safety measures in primary production.

    3) The false claim that the "free market" is libertarian itself sets up a false dichotomy. It has been proven in economic theory that a market in which there is perfect competition, in which everbody knows the consequences of their every transaction (perfect information), in which nobody will be worse of if they undertake a particular transaction (no coercion, so long as coercion is also understood to include coercion by circumstance), in which there are no large disparities of wealth, and in which there are no negative externalities will produce an ideal distribution of resources. Economists have a technical name for a market meeting those conditions. They call it a "free market". It can also be demonstrated that any market that does not meet all those conditions will inevitably produce suboptimal distributions of resources. It is transparently obvious that not one of those conditions is actually met in real life. Therefore an unrestrained market must produce suboptimal resource distribution. It of course does not automatically follow that a regulated market will perform better, but where regulation is specifically tailored to make the unrestrained market to operate more like a free market, such regulation has a high probability of improving the distribution of resources relative to the unrestrained market.

    Consequently, the choice we face is not that between a free market and a command economy. It is the choice between a regulated market and an unrestrained market, and while the former will consistently raise the wealth of all participants, the latter has been proven time and again to be harmfull the to interests of the poor and disenfranchised members of society.

    4) Bringing this somewhat back on topic, the choice we face then is not whether to regulate a carbon market. Failing to do so will transparently impoverish low-emitters to the short term benefit of high-emitters. In the long term, even the high emitters will be impoverished, but they act irrationally in this regard because of imperfect knowledge. Therefore, in this case a regulated market can certainly be a better approximation of the ideal of a "free market" (where "free market" is the economists technical, not the libertarian term of art which trades on confusion between the two). The question is, therefore, not whether we should regulate, but which form of regulation most closely approximates a free market at the lowest regulatory cost (ie, administrative cost, cost in distorting the market, and cost in corruption).
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  2. Tom, my reef solution is not simple and there are some unknowns. However you could help your case by pointing out a potential adverse secondary effect of cooling upstream water via cloud formation. I honestly can't think of any adverse effects. I don't think I would have any problem taking full ownership of the reef and providing for its protection using just resources of the reef (provided there were unbiased government measurements of reef health, no unreasonable restrictions on tourism, etc) On your points 2 and 3, we would have an endless debate with absolutely no relevance to CC mitigation.

    On point 4, it seems to me that no regulation is needed at all, just a carbon tax. For example, if my plastic spoon factory produces spoons that are cheap and always disposed of, but the ones from your factory are heavy duty and reusable, you would be creating higher value product with just a little more use of carbon. An increasing carbon tax would force both our prices higher with the inevitable result that people would switch to your spoons and reuse them. Compare that to "regulation". Would plastic spoons simply be banned? Or more to the point, can a regulatory scenario create a better market than the one I just described?

    That raises the carbon tax issue. Scaddenp is very interested in determining if there are ways to approach mitigation that mesh with libertarian principles. I have two problems with the carbon tax, first that it confiscates the property of the fossil fuel investors. That problem should be solvable. The bigger issue is the distortion of the market that creates boom/bust cycles and artificial shortages and gluts of various inputs leading to black markets and other inefficient markets. It seems inconceivable that there would be a glut of alternative energy but it has happened in wind and will happen in solar until there are better storage techniques and a smarter grid.

    The artificial shortages is a much bigger problem. One reason I brought up Haiti was that a lot of their problems are due to the inability to purchase cooking gas. In this case it is obvious that a wealthier society would not have to cut down all their trees for cook fire charcoal. In my own state the artificial shortages of reasonably priced heating fuels in the winter of 2009/10 created a gray market for propane in small containers normally used for barbecues. Those were unsafely hooked up by homeowners who were cut off by the propane company (couldn't pay their bills) or used with unapproved heaters indoors (lacking a low oxygen automatic shutoff). This was just a very small sampling of what will happen in the economic downturn from malinvestment (the bust after the boom) and the carbon tax itself, will be unable to afford the luxury of protecting the environment (or their own health and safety).

    I don't have a solution for external costs for scaddenp, nor a solution to the problems created by the carbon tax. I can only repeat what I said before which is that the wealth of the society is what leads to the ability to control external costs. Tom, you would probably argue that the unloading of external costs is what leads to the (illegitimate) wealth. I would point out that those external costs are far in the future and much smaller than some have estimated ("we don't talk about the airport anymore").
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  3. “I am simply frustrated by your apparent lack of willingness to adapt.”

    Eric, there is deeper issue here which is why I keep pressing. Firstly, your “adapt” stance appears to imply that you think it is reasonable for you to enjoy the benefits while other people pay the cost? Seriously? The right wing here do a lot of complaining about paying (tax) for other people’s benefit (education/health subsidies) and I doubt it is different in US. So surely the principle of paying for the adaption is acceptable? More importantly, you have stated in later post your reasons for opposition to carbon tax – I am trying to find an alternative to carbon tax which is more acceptable hence I am interested in possibilities that result from (legal) avoidance of liability and how conflict of rights is managed. You have so far avoided these questions.

    Remember that the hypothetical situation is what is “libertarian way” if convinced that cost of adaption will be higher than cost of mitigation. Denying that it could ever be possible isnt helping.

    You claim frustration about lack of specifics of cost and effects. Well the scientific consensus (as opposed to the Greenpeace version) on effects of climate change is found in IPCC WG2. Surely it’s perfectly clear there though regarded as excessively conservative by climate scientists. A costing of these effects is in Stern report. The costings have been criticized but I know of no better attempts that didn’t also assume (with no scientific basis) that WG2 was alarmist instead of conservative. One big problem is that this is area of science with least certainty. Policy must be made on imperfect knowledge.


    “OTOH, I agree the free market is far from perfect.”

    So do I. What I want is effective solutions. In many situations, a free or near free market provides them. When they don’t I look for alternatives rather than demanding some philosophical purity. How come an imperfect market is acceptable but an imperfect tax isn’t? (Don’t bother with that, I know the answer).

    Your answer here appears to be that if everyone was as wealthy as you, then there wouldn’t be a problem. (Or hope it is rather "I'm all right Jack, dont bother me"). Can everyone be as wealthy as you? In Bangladesh, population density is 11 per hectare for instance. Does the world have that much resource? It’s easy to create a political narrative using Haiti or other countries as examples – the problem is really ineffective government and overcoming the real barriers to changing that is not a simple task. Saying that a democratic rule of law with free market is the answer is easy – making it happen is not.

    “So I have to ask you, since your wealth came from the market, why won't you use your wealth to adapt?”
    I have no choice. What I resent is paying for a problem I have little responsibility for. Responsibility for this problem can be seen here here.


    “Why won't you promote the economic freedom needed to create that wealth in countries like Bangladesh. If you don't think that is feasible, why won't you give a small portion of your wealth to private relief organizations?”

    I do both, and not that small a portion either.

    “we don't talk about the airport anymore”. You are implying that I was overestimating the cost of adaption. The technological and monetary challenge is in fact enormous and I am not sure it would ever be built. Abandonment seems more likely. I pointed that out because fixating on airport rather than transport corridors was inappropriate. This method fixes all three and preserves land.

    Returning to original inquiry, so far the answer is bleak. It seems that even if we knew emissions would kill us, there is no libertarian way to limit emissions. I am still interested though in exploring the questions of resolving conflict of rights and legal responsibility.
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  4. By the way, I hope CATO and other libertarian groups are loudly in favour the proposals to scrap fossil fuel subsidies. I would have thought subsidies of any kind an anathema to the right but so far that doesnt seem to be the case? (I only support subsidies on education and health). Killing any form of subsidy on fossil fuel is surely the simplest way to start.
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  5. Your point of "confiscation of property of FF investors" seems something of an exaggeration. Until the market begins to adapt, there are no losses. As carbon demand goes down, then so should reinvestment levels, just like I imagine happened to investors in say pagers, or maybe blacksmiths with introduction to auto. Why should FF investors be protected anyway but not those in say fishing, seaside property or any other adversely affected by global warming?
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  6. Eric(sk) - still interested in the questions of resolving conflict of rights and legal responsibility.
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  7. I've been thinking pretty hard about the question of mitigation policies for libertarians. Scratch a skeptic and you tend to find a right-wing/conservative. Furthermore, I haven't found any libertarians that are not somewhere on the not-happening/not-us/not-bad spectrum. While I guess that its possible that right-wing genes somehow provides a better understanding of climate physics than climate scientists have, it seems more likely to me that a clash with political values inhibits a proper evaluation. Some of this might be simply a conservative resentment of a changing world but I am hypothesising that for many/most? the first inkling of global warming comes from hearing about an unacceptable proposed solution. If it is better to reduce CO2 emissions rather than adapt, then we need effective proposals that don't offend these values.

    I have found very few libertarians even prepared to think about it. Cudoes to Eric here and to others who have taken up the challenge in email over the past couple of years. I am taking right-libertarians political theory in a nutshell to be:
    The right to individual liberty of action providing it does not infringe on the rights of other rights-respecting citizens.Individual responsibility for the consequences of these actions. Government is as minimal as possible with roles of protection from external aggression, maintenence of legal system to enforce contracts, and such police as needed to protect citizens from rights violation by theft, fraud or force.

    The solutions to climate change most acceptable to this group are ones that also promote the libertarian agenda. Eric's suggestion of insurance regulating safety and privatization of roads with appropriate cost are examples. Unfortunately, these mostly dont seem to very effective solutions - they depend on somehow getting alternative costs below coal without raises coal price to be effective. What if you cant? The problem is that the costs of producing power from coal dont include external and future costs but there is no easy mechanism that I can think of for adding in uncertain future costs. What does the theory do in these cases? "Cap and trade" attempts to add these cost to carbon but it is an anathema to the Right for which it is designed to appease.

    Killing subsidies on fossil fuels should be a no-brainer - in fact killing all industry subsidies and returning the savings as reduced taxes should be more than acceptable since subsidies imply coercive support of government-favoured industries. To an outsider, it seems US big business simply bribe their representative with campaign funds to get tax support in return. It might be asking a bit much for Cato Institute to be waving this banner but I would regard it as litmus test as to whether its truly is designed to promote libertarian values or merely a political tool to protect some very rich interests. A bigger sticking point however is likely to be that subsidy removal is proposed by a Democrat president.

    Government action is portrayed as theft of the rights of fossil fuel property holders but is their situation any different from asbestos property holders? Our knowledge of the toxicity has improved in both cases and the response of the industry has been rather similar.

    As far as I can see, libertarian theory struggles with issues where the free action of many individual results in a rights violation. Examples would be passive smoking, pollution control - and climate change. How can a citizen with say, a lung condition, sue those who choose to smoke in public, or not buy emission-control for their vehicles? No one individual is at fault and no mechanism exists for rights protection that I can see. It is interesting to see libertarians responding with denial on passive smoking too.

    Government action is permitted by the right in the case of external aggression so it seems self-preservation values override those of liberty. This I think explains the ghoulish preoccupation by AGW-activists with ice-melt and extreme weather. They are trying to trigger a self-preservation response. But suppose your country wont suffer too badly under the effects of climate change and the really bad stuff happens elsewhere? Does rights-respecting only apply to citizens of your country? Your state even? If not, then how is this rights-conflict arbitrated?

    In an ideal world, it should be possible for a person to choose to take no mitigating action in belief that science is wrong, provided that person is also willing to take their share of the responsibility for liabilities for adaption and compensation. However, I cant think of any mechanism by which this could work for a multi-generational problem like climate change. People object to paying for the "sins of their fathers" (though the same people appear to be quite happy to pass the costs to another generation).

    This is a tough problem. We are born with a desire to do what we like and instinct for self-preservation,whereas respecting others rights and taking responsibility are learned behaviours. To me, libertarianism seems a theory for the empty frontier rather than a heavily populated planet, but I would really like followers of the theory to face up to the problems above with some workable solutions instead of denying such problems exist. Solutions that would get whole-hearted support are needed and for that I think a value other than liberty/preservation needs to be invoked.
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  8. Note for the record, I am taking up scaddenp's offer to discuss this by email.
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  9. You know with all the calls by republicans for spending cuts in the budget before they will raise debt ceiling, you would think they would rush at killing US$39B of fossil fuel subsidies instead of a mere US$4B proposed. True free-marketeers do you think?
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  10. ...first that it confiscates the property of the fossil fuel investors.


    Cries of stealing profits or property from FF producers reminds me of asbestos. Would anyone argue that we should have let asbestos miners/manufacturers continue to ply their wares, despite the dangers... because it would be unfair to steal their property/profits from them?

    The Daily Show

    News article

    Really... what's the difference?
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  11. #457 scaddenp at 13:33 PM on 11 July, 2011
    Government action is portrayed as theft of the rights of fossil fuel property holders but is their situation any different from asbestos property holders? Our knowledge of the toxicity [carbon dioxide & asbestos] has improved in both cases and the response of the industry has been rather similar.

    #458 Eric (skeptic) at 10:02 AM on 14 July, 2011
    Note for the record, I am taking up scaddenp's offer to discuss this by email.

    I have replied to scaddenp 457 here, but it got deleted. On the other hand I am not willing to discuss it in private like Eric (skeptic) does,

    { complaints about moderation again, snipped }
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    Moderator Response: [muoncounter] Only hostility to speech here is hostility to speech that is off-topic and/or violates the Comments policy. But you knew that already.
  12. At least let me get the message through, please.

    Dear scaddenp, if you happen to find a public place which is [...], let me know please. We could continue the thread there. I suggest the same to you, Eric.
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  13. Moderator - in writing that comment, I am very conscious that I walked into political territory but it is my belief that political values are an important part of the question as to whether someone is in skeptic camp or not. Furthermore, I am trying to get some constructive engagement with right wing thinkers on alternative policies. I would plead that posts provide for such engagement be allowed through.
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    Response:

    [DB] Phil, as long as the comments continue to be tangential to this thread, then go ahead and conduct them here.  As long as the participants construct their comments to comply with the comments policy and keep them relevant to the topic of this thread, "Are you a genuine skeptic or a climate denier?" then it will be allowed.

    Or, if you wish, put together a specific guest post of your own geared to that and we can discuss it with John.

  14. Okay, that is perhaps the best way rather than hijacking another thread.
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  15. From an article in CounterPunch recently by Michael Brenner (International Affairs at the U of Pittsburgh:

    "Of course, this last is a feature of contemporary American political culture in general. Facts are taken to be infinitely malleable, the very notion of truth is denied, speaking honestly is viewed as a life style choice, and communication is more a matter of self affirmation than an attempt to convey knowledge, emotion or intention to somebody else. We have externalized navel gazing to a remarkable degree. All the demonstrative primping and preening suggests self-licking ice cones looking for an audience. One consequence is that public discourse is not anchored by common standards of honesty. It is a maelstrom of raw opinion, emotive outbursts, mythology and primal screams. Accountability, therefore, ceases to exist. There is accountability only where there are benchmarks of veracity, a reasonably rigorous monitoring of what is said and done, and a dedication on the part of some at least to ensuring that these requirements for a viable democracy are met. The abject failure of the media to perform these functions to any reasonable degree is a hallmark of our times. The think tank and academic worlds are little better."

    The piece was on Obama, but this section seemed awfully relevant to the work being done at SkS.
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  16. In discussions or debate over climate science, “denier” is a pejorative term ambiguously accusing a person of denying:

    * 1) that “global warming” is occurring,
    * 2) that “anthropogenic global warming” is occurring, or
    * 3) that “global warming” is unquestionably caused by anthropogenic causes.

    This is an illogical ad hominem attack rather than addressing the substance of the argument.

    Long term global warming: I and most literate people I know of, recognize, and do not “deny”, that long term “global warming” has been occurring for about 11,000 years since the last ice age.

    Anthropogenic global warming: Similarly, I do not “deny” generic anthropogenic causes to “global warming” or “climate change”. Anyone having a basic understanding of solar energy and “albedo” recognizes that converting a forest to a field or ploughing the prairie is decreasing the albedo and increasing absorption of solar radiation. The consequent US “dust bowl” caused significant climate effects. Burning coal generates sulfate aerosols that cool the planet while “clean air” legislation reducing sulfate emissions will reduce this cooling.

    Thus, to accuse a person of being a “global warming denier” per se is a knowingly false libelous accusation inferring moral and scientific perfidy.

    The key scientific issue is whether “anthropogenic” causes dominate natural causes for the “global warming” of the latter half of the 20th century.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 AR4 Summary for Policy Makers Sect. 2 p 5 concludes:

    Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.

    (The IPCC
    defines “very likely” as at least 90 percent certain.)

    Conversely, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) 2009 report Climate Change Reconsidered in the Excutive Summarycites other evidence and concludes the opposite:


    It is therefore highly likely that the Sun is also a major cause of twentieth-century warming, with anthropogenic GHG making only a minor contribution.

    Whether the global warming from the mid-20th century to the end of the 20th century is caused primarily by anthropogenic causes is thus a scientific issue that is subject to scientific contention and evaluation.

    The environmental movement has made “anthropogenic global warming” a major political issue. Heated political advocates try to use “denier” pejoratively as meaning ignorantly denying the scientific evidence. Emotions run high from beliefs that opponents are “destroying Mother Earth” and killing millions of people in Bangladesh etc.

    Any scientist using “denier” is in effect making a pejorative political ad hominem attack rather than objectively addressing the substance of the scientific facts hypotheses, models, and theories.
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  17. Dana69#466: "“denier” is a pejorative term ambiguously accusing a person of denying:"

    Then let's not be ambiguous. A 'denier' is simply one who is in denial. Denial is defined very simply as

    a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.

    This includes:
    simple denial - deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether
    minimisation - admit the fact but deny its seriousness (a combination of denial and rationalization)
    projection - admit both the fact and seriousness but deny responsibility.


    There is nothing in any aspect of this definition that is pejorative. The word 'ignorant' (in your next to last paragraph) does not appear in the meaning of 'denier.'

    Pejorative, however, is defined as words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. That in and of itself is an opinion and not an 'ad hominem attack.' Argumentum ad hominem requires an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it. As quoted above, 'denier' is a description of someone's state of mind and that is not specifically negative.

    As far as your attempt at equating IPCC and NIPCC, you'll have to provide some substantiation of NIPCC's scientific credibility. Simply quoting their statement here is at the same level as an unsubstantiated opinion.
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  18. Muoncounter,

    While your comments are appreciated, it seems you cherry picked comments for your own purposes. The 3 main points promoted by the climate change community are:

    * 1) that “global warming” is occurring,
    * 2) that “anthropogenic global warming” is occurring, or
    * 3) that “global warming” is unquestionably caused by anthropogenic causes.

    My comments indicated agreement with all of them, so there does not seem to be any divergent thoughts regarding the physics.

    That being said the fact that the majority of scientists no longer debate the subject should not lead one to conclude that the debate is concluded, that we have an answer, or that the science is settled. Much of what we’ve learned suggests that we actually know less than we previously thought we did.

    The main "bone of contention" between both campus seems to be a matter of degree. The IPCC indicates the potential for warming of 1.8 to a high of 6.4 "SPM.3. Projected global average surface warming and sea level rise at the end of the 21st century. {10.5, 10.6, Table 10.7}"
    http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-projections-of.html

    The projection arc is upwards of 100+ years. The reported catastrophic events that are projected to occur, based on the upper scale of the chart, are what most so called "deniers" tend to push back from. Why, because it is no longer a discussion of science, but of politics. Along with the insertion of the precautionary principle as applied to future behavior.

    It stops being about what is, and becomes what ought.


    The NIPCC is an organization created with credible scientists as it members. Smear tactics aside, they are qualified experts in the fields of climate, physics and geology.
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  19. Dana69 - The NIPCC is a lobbying/advocacy group, derived from SEPP, and closely tied to Dr. Fred Singer and the Heartland Institute.

    Their Interiem Report, with the rather telling title "Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate", is examined here. It does not pass muster.

    You need to examine your sources a bit more closely.
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  20. Dana: "The main 'bone of contention' between both campus seems to be a matter of degree."

    What are these campuses of which you speak? You describe the position of one campus (IPCC). What's the position of the other campus, and what comprises this other campus?

    Dana: "Why, because it is no longer a discussion of science, but of politics. Along with the insertion of the precautionary principle as applied to future behavior. It stops being about what is, and becomes what ought."

    When is science not political? When is a decision to fund one study and not another not political? When is the decision to accept publication of one well-done study and not another not political? When are the results of a study that claims with confidence significant human impacts (positive and/or negative) not political? Why do we study "what is" if not to serve the determination of "what ought"?

    Note that the NIPCC is not an alternative IPCC. The primary purpose of the NIPCC (determined by its actions and statements) is to be critical of the IPCC. The NIPCC has not produced a comprehensive, institutionally-supported theory that serves as an alternative to AGW.
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  21. Dana69#468: "it seems you cherry picked"

    Not. I specifically addressed my comment to your objections to the word 'denier'.

    "the fact that the majority of scientists no longer debate the subject should not lead one to conclude that the debate is concluded,"

    I'm not sure what you mean by that. Would it be better if there was widespread disagreement among the majority of scientists?

    " that we have an answer, or that the science is settled."

    You've agreed with the physics, as you stated above. That is the science; that much is settled.

    " Much of what we’ve learned suggests that we actually know less than we previously thought we did."

    Really? Satellite temperature and ice extent measurements started 30 years ago. We do indeed know a heck of a lot more now than we did then.

    "The projection arc is upwards of 100+ years."

    So? All usable scientific theories are both prohibitive and predictive: they must specify what will and what will not happen. Climate is inherently a long time scale study; the statement 'here is what the current understanding of the science predicts given these scenarios' is entirely appropriate.

    You speak of politics: If we, as a society, do not pay attention to the full range of potential outcomes that science can forecast, we are not making an educated decisions. We are in the position illustrated on the cover to John's book. Why shy away from discussing the worst-case scenarios if they are part of the spectrum of possibles? That is why the deniers (oops, I said the bad word) of today are playing with fire (and flood).
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  22. [inflamatory deleted]

    In 1960 Edward Lorenz asked, “Does the Earth have a climate? The answer, at first glance obvious, improves on acquaintance.” About 1975 Benoit Mandelbrot expanded on Lorenz’s Chaos Theory –positing a “butterfly effect” with “strange attractors” etc.– by formulating Fractal Geometry, a depiction of natural reality as non-random but strictly indeterminate, self-similar on every scale. Together, Lorenz and Mandelbrot determined that extrapolating phenomena of suitably complex systems (those where three or more variables interact) is mathematically as well as physically impossible.

    Earth’s atmosphere is such a “complex system”. Therefore analysis in detail, leading to meaningful forecasts or projections, is fundamentally impossible in principle. Climatologists adducing ambiguous historical data, necessarily incomplete and inconsistent, to plot not merely local but global temperatures decades in advance are either [deleted at posters' request]

    As Lorenz suspected, atmosphere does not drive “climate change”. From 1964, geophysicists have known that plate tectonics, Alfred Wegener’s “continental drift” hypothesized in 1912, constantly reconfigures continental dispositions on geologic time-scales. Cyclical Pleistocene glaciations began when North and South America walled off Earth’s eastern and western hemispheres, blocking circulation of deep-ocean (bathymetric) currents, regularly resetting global thermostats. This phenomenon will only end 12 – 15 million years from now, when hemispheric landmasses shift sufficiently to re-establish oceanic circulation patterns.

    Basic physics, whereby evaporating hot air rises to draw cooler northern currents underneath, cites convection currents rather than any micro-pollutant as symptom, not cause, of long-term cyclical “climatic” shifts. Precipitation becomes key– flooding rains in summer, blizzard snows in winter. “Weather”, yes, but inextricably a part of Lorenz’s and Mandelbrot’s “complex system".

    If you think I simply spout this in an attempt to deny the obvious, please feel free to check out your own vaunted IPCC report that agree with the same.

    14.2.2 Predictability in a Chaotic System

    "The climate system is particularly challenging since it is known that components in the system are inherently chaotic; there are feedbacks that could potentially switch sign, and there are central processes that affect the system in a complicated, non-linear manner."
    http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg1/504.htm

    [inflamatory deleted]
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] Please read the comments policy, inflamatory comments are unhelpful. The weather is chaotic, however the climate (long term statistical behaviour of the weather) probably isn't. Non-linear does not mean "unpredictable". [Somebody else] Also please read the post "Climate is chaotic and cannot be predicted" and comment further there, not here.
  23. If you base your philosophy on that premise, that nothing can be meaningfully modeled, then I expect you to stick with it. Any further claim from you about the future will be taken as hypocritical. I'm joking. I don't think you meant to adhere strongly to L & M, but then why even mention it? Scientists know the climate is complex. They know that every actual system is complex and inter-related. Still, to the extent that physical laws are established, so too are established patterns of interaction.

    Vaunted? Do you really want to go down that road? I have made no assumptions about your attitudes toward anything, Dana69. Indeed, where I was unsure about your understanding, I asked questions. You have been given the chance to interact in a reasonable manner, whether to put forward your case against AGW and thereby, to some extent, establish your position (with all the attendant ideological implications) or to explore the science through open and objective (to the extent possible) dialogue. The use of "vaunted" suggests condescension, and condescension is the surest way to non-violently end a relationship. I'll accept evidence if you want to argue the basis of such condescension, but I won't descend into an insult-fest.
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  24. Dana69, if what you were saying were true then we would have to conclude that it is absolutely impossible to predict that Winter will usually be colder than Summer.

    I don't think that really holds up.
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  25. 472, Dana69,
    Earth’s atmosphere is such a “complex system”. Therefore analysis in detail, leading to meaningful forecasts or projections, is fundamentally impossible in principle.
    This is wrong. The butterfly effect is applicable to weather, not climate. It is probably not possible to accurately predict weather beyond a few days in advance, but climate is a hundreds-years-long average.

    Your argument is equivalent to saying that the movements of water in the ocean are so complex that it is impossible to predict the timing and height of the tides.
    ...atmosphere does not drive “climate change”...
    This is false, or at best misleading. Atmosphere by itself does not drive climate change, but it is a major factor. Attempting to imply otherwise is a blatant act of denial.
    If you think I simply spout this in an attempt to deny the obvious...
    Actually, yes, I do, because while you include selected facts, they are a miniscule representation of the bigger picture. To imply that plate tectonics and only plate tectonics controls climate is utterly absurd, simplistic, and, yes, a clear effort to spout in an attempt to deny the obvious.
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    Moderator Response: Everybody, please move this conversation to the thread "Climate is chaotic and cannot be predicted." Thanks.
  26. Dana69:"Therefore analysis in detail, leading to meaningful forecasts or projections, is fundamentally impossible in principle."

    Surely you can tell that's a patently absurd conclusion, generated from an improper application (or understanding) of chaotic systems.

    The climate where I live can be described very simply: hot and humid in the summer, cool and humid in the winter.

    The point is that climate is determined over a long-period; individual chaotic events average out.
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  27. If climate is deterministic in nature you could have reasonable assurance of the outcomes. If more stochastic (governed by the laws of probability) it would be problematic.

    Seems most arguers here land on the deterministic side.

    But consider the following statement by the IPCC Working Group I:
    "This considerable advance in model design has not diminished the existence of a range of model results. This is not a surprise, however, because it is known that climate
    predictions are intrinsically affected by uncertainty (Lorenz, 1963). Two distinct kinds of prediction problems were defined by Lorenz (1975). The first kind was defined as the prediction of the actual properties of the climate system in response to a given initial state. Predictions of the first kind are initial-value problems and, because of the nonlinearity and instability of the governing equations, such systems are not predictable indefinitely into the future. Predictions of the second kind deal with the determination of the response of the climate system to changes in the external forcings. These predictions
    are not concerned directly with the chronological evolution of the climate state, but rather with the long-term average of the statistical properties of climate. Originally, it
    was thought that predictions of the second kind do not at all depend on initial conditions. Instead, they are intended to determine how the statistical properties of the climate system (e.g., the average annual global mean temperature, or the expected number of winter storms or hurricanes, or the average monsoon rainfall) change as some external forcing parameter, for example CO2 content, is altered. Estimates of future climate scenarios as a function of the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases are typical examples of predictions of the second kind. However, ensemble simulations show that the
    projections tend to form clusters around a number of attractors as a function of their initial state.

    They do not specifically say so, but the reference to Lorenz and the use of “attractor” imply that chaos theory is being invoked here not determinism.

    Stochasticsm seems to be the statistical model on which climate prediction is based. Many climate modellers share this view, e.g. Stainforth et al (2007), viz.:

    "weather is chaotic and climate may be taken as some 'attractor' of weather."

    I know this thread is about skepticism as a whole, and this may seem off point, but it goes to the heart of why someone would be more skeptical to the overall conclusions of climate arguments.

    Meaning, there seems to be valid reasons to doubt.
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    Moderator Response: There is a thread for that. Type "chaotic" into the Search field at the top left of this page. And take this discussion there, please.

    [Dikran Marsupial] I have responded to this post here. Any further discussion of chaos theory on this thread is off-topic.
  28. Dana 69 - Ah, yes, "there seems to be valid reasons to doubt", the Argument from Uncertainty claim, which is a logical fallacy.

    You seem to be arguing that because there is some uncertainty in certain aspects (exact sensitivity, for example), that you can dismiss the entire field of science. If you were to actually believe that and apply it in real life, you would never leave the house.

    Exact values of cloud feedback? Indirect aerosol effects? Long term climate sensitivity? There's some uncertainty, a range of values. But the fact that there is a significant climate sensitivity? No uncertainty there.

    Noting a particular value is fuzzy does not support claiming it has a zero value. That's a frequent error I see in discussions here - and unsupported by the evidence. In fact, that would be denial.
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  29. Ugh - KR - you beat me to it. Forget leaving the house--simple thought, having been rendered functionless, would be almost impossible.
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  30. KR,

    We both come to conclusions in different ways. If you are comfortable with the level of uncertainty, and are willing to act using the precautionary principle, so be it, but that does not in of itself validate the argument.

    The atmosphere does not drive climate. CO2 is a product of the atmosphere. It can have some affect, but the amount and extent is a large variable up for discussion. Try to quantify that.
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  31. Dana69 - "The atmosphere does not drive climate. CO2 is a product of the atmosphere."

    Really - such amazing statements... So the 29-30 billion tons of CO2 from our yearly emissions are a 'product of the atmosphere'? And the world isn't 33C warmer than it would be without greenhouse gases?

    As I said, denial. Until and unless you actually read up on the science, I don't think it's worthwhile discussing matters with you. I would suggest The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect as a starting point.

    As to the uncertainties in various values - they exist. But, you appear to be certain that the numbers are zero, when all evidence points to non-zero ranges. So based on some uncertainty you are claiming values outside any range supported by evidence. That's not rational at all, and in fact is a logical fallacy.
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  32. KR,

    Does the whole argument rest on "product of the atmosphere"? I misspoke, I meant to say CO2 is part of the atmosphere, and if the atmosphere doesn't drive climate, then CO2 doesn't drive climate. That is a basic syllogism.
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  33. 480, 482, Dana69,
    The atmosphere does not drive climate.
    Patently false and evidence of denial.
    It can have some affect, but the amount and extent is a large variable up for discussion.
    Patently false and evidence of denial.

    Do you have anything to say other than "I don't believe in science?"
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  34. Dana69 - You seem to be overlooking my statement here, "...the world isn't 33C warmer than it would be without greenhouse gases?"

    The atmosphere with greenhouse gases causes the climate to be about 33°C warmer than it would be without those gases. Therefore your antecedent "if the atmosphere doesn't drive climate", and hence your syllogism, are quite false. See even a basic writeup of the Greehnouse Effect for some details.

    Please - read some of the science. Your repeated contradiction of basic physics is either ignorance of said science or, quite frankly, just making stuff up to object - denial.
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  35. Eric(Skeptic) asked my in a discussion on WUWT how I define the term "AGW denier". My definition is quite simple:

    An AGW denier is a person who argues against, or opposes effective measures to reduce GreenHouse Gas emissions by rejecting well established science.

    For the purposes of this definition, anything assigned a likelihood of "Likely" or greater by the IPCC is considered well established science. Something considered "Likely" by the IPCC can certainly be wrong, and has as much as a 34% chance of being wrong. So it is certainly rational for somebody to disagree with the IPCC on such an issue. What is not rational it to assume that there is a very high probability that you are correct in that disagreement. That being the case, insisting that policy be based on your belief when that belief has a high probability of being false, and the consequences of basing policy on that belief, if false, are likely to be dire, is irrational. This is particularly the case as most of the viable minority views also imply equally dire consequences, which can be avoided by the same policies. They just allow us more time for implementation.

    Given this, a person who back low climate sensitivity (say a sensitivity of 1) but insists on an interim policy of lowering emissions while the evidence is allowed to accumulate is not a denier. In contrast, somebody who claimed the climate sensitivity for doubling CO2 was closer to 2 degrees but that this constituted adequate reason to not do anything would be a denier.

    At the other end of the equation, Doonesbury's (entirely fictional) "Honest Man" is not a denier. Although he fiercely rejects any policy to combat climate change, he does not do so by distorting the science.
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  36. Thanks Tom. From IPCC 2007, the "likely" categorizations are increases in drought, intense tropical cyclones and sea level rise. The "very likely" projectinos are precip and heat waves and warming is virtually certain. I assume a statement like this "Taken together, the evidence strongly favours a combined water vapour-lapse rate feedback of around the strength found in global climate models." means "very likely" or similar?

    But in the next section they say "Despite some advances in the understanding of the physical processes that control the cloud response to climate change and in the evaluation of some components of cloud feedbacks in current models, it is not yet possible to assess which of the model estimates of cloud feedback is the most reliable." Is it denial to ignore their overall assessment of models and point to cloud uncertainty? Is cloud uncertainty going to change any of the projections above to less than likely? I would also extend "cloud uncertainty" to mesoscale weather uncertainty to especially highlight the resulting uncertainty in upper troposphere water vapor. However, I would need a specific reference for what is considered "likely" for those particular areas.

    Apart from sensitivity-affecting factors like the above, I think the rest of your premise is well-defined: warming, Arctic amplification, sea level rise, SST increases and intense tropical cyclones, etc are all likely (i.e. inevitable) although timing will vary based on assumptions as you suggest.

    If I were a Congressman (which rules out honest man) from my area (Northern Virginia, mostly rural) I would meet your denier definition due to excessive costs for CO2 reduction. Tax and rebate would help, but would still be a negative for mobile home residents and the tradesmen who have to drive vans to their work. I would vote denier by your definition but point out that the uncertainty favors the longer time scale projections giving us time to develop other strategies (e.g. CO2 capture directly from the atmosphere)
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  37. Eric (skeptic) @486, the estimate of climate sensitivity is largely independent of the estimate of its individual components. This is partly because, in models, uncertainties tend to be coupled, so that if one factor is not as positive a feedback as expected, some other related factor will not be as strong a negative feedback so that the net effect on climate sensitivity is small. This is the case, for example, with the water vapour/lapse rate feed back. It is also partly because for factors where the uncertainties are independent, the final values will likely show not bias. So, for example, evidence is currently showing the ice/snow albedo feedback to be much more positive than is found in models. I do not conclude from that that climate sensitivity will be higher than expected because, odds are that some other factor (or group of factors) will show a lower sensitivity. Perhaps that factor will be climate sensitivity.

    We can hope that the coupled Global Circulation Models are all biased in favour of high climate sensitivities, but assuming that they are is neither scientific nor skeptical. Consequently resting your expectation of low climate sensitivity on just one factor is selective reasoning.

    More importantly, climate sensitivity is not just estimated from models. Estimates of climate sensitivity from paleo data, by definition, do not underestimate or overestimate any feedback. As paleo data consistently suggests climate sensitivities around 3 degrees per doubling of CO2, it is a very reasonable assumption that particular errors in estimating particular factors in coupled GCMs will cancel out.

    Given that, although you may think the evidence favours a low climate sensitivity, acting as though there is not a high probability that you are wrong is foolish.

    Turning to the other side of the equation, assuming 2.5 < the climate sensitivity < 3.5, the US and Australia need to eliminate all CO2 emissions by 2020, either by direct reduction or by purchase of overseas carbon credits, if we are to not face massive ecosystem failures. If the climate sensitivity is greater than 3.5 degrees C per doubling, those eco-system failures are probably already locked in.

    As a simple fact of economics, decarbonizing the economy in 20 years is a huge economic task. Doing so in 10 years or less will destroy the economy. So, suppose we act on your assumption that climate sensitivity is between 1.5 and 2.5 degrees per doubling of CO2, but that in 10 years we find out the IPCC central estimate was more accurate. By not acting now we have committed ourselves to destroying the economy by decarbonizing, of of having it destroyed by massive ecosystem collapse within a generation or so.

    In contrast, suppose we act on the supposition that the IPCC is correct, but in 10 years we find out that you were correct. Well, then we are ahead of the game, and can slacken of the effort. We have lost very little in the process.

    We are like drivers setting ourselves up for a turn. We know we have to turn sometime. By breaking later, if we make the turn, we will gain an advantage in terms of economic growth (which is not to be sneezed at). But by breaking later we significantly increase the risk of not making the corner. As it happens, our navigator is telling us "Brake, brake, brake" and has his fingers firmly grasping the dashboard with white knuckles. In the meantime we are pushing a little harder on the throttle and saying, "Not yet!"

    Of course, economies and ecosystems do not steer like rally cars. Rather, they steer like super tankers.

    You can see why I don't want your putative congressman at the wheel. Like most elected politicians, s/he's all about the short term electoral cycle, with no thought to the long term consequences.
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  38. Tom, when you have a chance, please address my paleo argument in that thread My contention is that the quantified sensitivity estimates rest solely on models, there is no other way to convert the large paleo temperature change to the smaller one for the doubling of CO2.

    I agree with your economic assessment, that it is a huge task. Rather than carbon offset purchases I would favor a tax and rebate like that proposed by Hansen to include a CO2-based tariff on imports. It makes it rather easy to step on the brake lightly to see unpredictable economic impacts and make adjustments. One thing you have left out of your analogy is technological progress that makes it easier to brake. That is being funded and studied currently using biology, technology, genetic engineering, etc. Combined with a long timeline, this will be a viable solution, but obviously that requires essentially the same degree of non-denial that you are looking for.
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