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Understanding the pre-IPCC Anti-Climate Science Misinformation Blitz

Posted on 26 September 2013 by John Mason

The IPCC AR5 Cometh... and the political carpet-bombing starts in advance! (updated September 27th, 10.20am - see below!)

The basic tenets of science are pretty solid: gravity, plate tectonics, germs that cause disease and so on. The foundations of climate science, such as the role of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, have likewise been well understood for decades. Similarly, in the context of the manufactured political debate that stalks climate science, some things are so equally certain that they will turn up like buses and trains - mostly when expected. A clear example is that whenever a noteworthy climate-related event occurs, contrarian activity ramps up and on occasion goes into hyperdrive. Witness, in the latter context, the weeks leading up to the release of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (WG1) Summary for Policymakers, a time in which the background trickle of contrarian activity has become a raging flood.

It started a while back: we noticed an uptick in Astroturfing a few weeks ago: then there was a deluge of grossly-misleading articles in certain mainstream newspapers (the usual suspects) in which an IPCC 'crisis meeting' featured strongly (it was in fact a long-planned routine meeting). Study of the 'discussions' beneath many recent climate change articles in the online versions of our newspapers showed a huge increase in anti-science commentary. It's as though the contrarians have had text-files with a list of climate-myths from which to copy-and-paste as fast as they could. It brought to mind old footage of bomber-planes like B52s in action, engaged in carpet-bombing campaigns, only in this case with randomly-selected anti-climate science myths. In a similar manner to the dubious 'gish-gallop' debating technique, the intention has clearly been to attempt to derail any serious discussion on that rather important topic: the future of Mankind on Planet Earth. 

There are times when a picture is worth a thousand words, and this is one such time, so at this point I'll hand over for a moment to my graphics-savvy colleague JG -  this is the modern face of climate change denialism:

carpet-bombing with anti-climate science myths

A veritable storm of irrationality, it has not gone unnoticed, as Lord Stern observes in this Guardian article from September 24th. Look at any climate change discussion-thread right now and you'll find "Climate's changed before" (never mind the accompanying mass-extinctions) juxtaposed with, "in the 1970s they said there would be an ice-age" (a minority but media-attractive view at the time), "CO2 is plant-food" and so on and so on, ad nauseam. Well-trained parrots, indeed!

Like gravity and plate tectonics, the basic tenets of the relationship between greenhouse gases and climate change have been well-understood for decades, a product of the scientific investigations that began some two centuries ago. So well-understood, in fact, that a split has occurred in the contrarian movement, between those who deny that the greenhouse effect exists and those who figured they'd have to accept that it does exist but who continue to deny its importance and give over-emphasis to the uncertainties with respect to the fine details of just how bad things will get if we continue on this fossil fuel binge.

Notwithstanding such schisms, they all continue to throw every bit of muck that they can, in the hope that a little bit of it sticks here and there. It's happened before and it's happening again - and will almost certainly happen many more times, but the key is for people to recognise it for what it is. I don't think I'm alone in considering humanity and biodiversity to be worth the trouble that it might take you to share this - and JG's graphic - around Cyberspace.... and if you want a larger (1024 pixels wide) version, click here.

UPDATE 27th September 2013, 1000 BST

Just to kinda make my point for me, here are two screengrabs of contrarian output in the last 24 hours. The first one is from the Climate Depot website, where anti-science activist Marc Morano spends his time attacking scientists, for reasons best known to himself. The second one comes from the comments below a live report on AR5 at The Guardian. Bingo!

(warning - head-vice required if you read the text, but if you want a good example of a Gish-gallop, this is one!)

Copy-and-paste carpet-bombing - Exhibit 'A':
Climate Depot, September 26th 2013, 2.57pm.

copy & paste carpet-bombing: exhibit 'A'

Copy-and-paste carpet-bombing - Exhibit 'B':
Guardian comment, 27th September 2013, 9.12am.

carpet-bombing exhibit 'B'

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Comments 51 to 53 out of 53:

  1. My claim#32: "Annual Global Mean Surface temperature is the only metric that the general media actually reports that scientists use to measure the impacts of the the enhanced greenhouse effect on the Earth's climate system."

    grindupBaker #42: "So it is patently absurd to say that "global warming" is only an increase in atmospheric heat content and when I find that climate scientist you say told IPCC to say that I'll chastize him/her severely."

    Show me a single media report that puts a number range on the predicted mean ocean temperature rise in the next 100 years due to global warming as it does for atmospheric temperatures.  I have not seen one.  Googling it doesn't show one either.  So if you have data that conflicts with my claim/assertion, please provide it.

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  2. In Toronto, a meterologist posted a piece critical of the 5th IPCC report in late September.

    I posted this rebuttal on a science-based skeptic website:

    I would like any feedback the SKS crew can provide regarding my analogies, or if I have overstated the science in any places. I want to be clear and confident, but I also don't want to overstep.

    My intent is to try to slow down the the climate "skeptics" momentum by raising some question marks about the authenticity of their claims.



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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] I deleted a duplicate post of this comment.

  3. The same approach as discussed in the OP (carpet-bombing FUD both before and after publication of a significant report) can be seen with the US National Climate Assessment released 5/6/14. Multiple blog posts at WUWT, JoNova, Currys blog, Michaels and Knappenberger over at the CATO institute, Morano at ClimateDepot, swarms of commentaries from FOX News, etc. 

    It appears those in denial feel threatened by significant reports on the science of climate change. At this point I treat any observed frenzy in the denier camps as a recommendation to read what they are so upset about...

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