Climate Change Deniers: A Cacophony Of Grunting

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It is a waste of your time and it annoys the pig.”

Folk saying

It has been noted that we approach climate change denial as if the problem were not enough education, not enough facts in the public domain, but this does not seem to be the problem (eg here and here). Overwhelmingly the public relies on what they consider trusted sources to tell them what is true. They do not and will not go to other sources to see if their beliefs are correct.

If public education isn’t effective, what is Plan B?

My “Letter to a climate skeptic” was actually written with 2 particular friends in mind. Intelligent, educated adults that I respect, who nonetheless had been conned into adopting the “climate skeptic” posture. I suspect their stance is largely due the appeal of the ‘maverick intellect’ image rather than actual skepticism or having actually examined the issue (which they clearly have not).

There’s the rub; they are intelligent, thoughtful people who nonetheless have been taken in be the climate Denier disinformation campaign. If that demographic is not on side, what hope is there? The comments on the ‘Letter’ are instructive in that while they confirm what I say in the article itself, I suspect the actual effect favours the Deniers.

Let’s briefly have a look at them, but with an eye to how it would be perceived by someone who is not that familiar with the issue. I think it fair to say that such a person would only scan them and not read them too closely.

The first thing to note is that there are a lot of them that disagree with the content of the article, but in fact they come from only a few posters. There are actually Denier hitlists where certain writers are targeted by the Denier activists who then spam the comments forums and vote down the articles in question. Regardless, there is the appearance of significant disagreement, but it actually only represents a small cadre of Deniers. This is pretty typical.

If we look at actual content of the comments it follows the pattern described in the article itself. More than a few claim that I am wrong and/or that I make straw man arguments etc, but offer no substantiation for the claim. For some reason we are supposed to take their word for it. If I am wrong, why can’t they say how? Or offer any evidence to counter mine?

Others bring up supposed “facts” that show that I am wrong. What should be hilarious is that most of them are debunked in the article itself and/or the references provided. How would the commentators  know this? They didn’t even read the article. Notice how many of those comments make no reference to anything I said? They are generic Denier claims that can (and are) pasted to any article about climate change despite their being known to be false. Others cite discredited works such as the misrepresentation of Hulme’s work even though Hulme himself has condemned their lies.

On and on it goes. It is juvenile and tiresome. Unfortunately it is also effective. Members of the public are not going to go through the comment threads on climate articles any more than they are going to look at the science itself. Even if they did, as long as some on both sides cite something it will look equally authoritative to them. Despite the vacuity of the responses, they do sustain the illusion of scientific controversy, at least to the casual reader.

So if writing such articles is not going to influence the public, what is the point of them? Or in responding to the Deniers comments? Like all political battles there is no single strategy or tactic that is going to win it.

In the title I say “skeptic” because there are many who believe that this is how they are behaving. They are not Deniers per se, just misinformed. Unlike the commentators they are actually open to seeing actual evidence and may be influenced by it.

Obviously the Deniers who attacked the article are not the people to whom the letter is addressed. It’s not simply a matter of confirmation bias in the sense of them only being exposed to one set of arguments. As we can see in the thread some Deniers do go to media that present the opposing case, they simply don’t read them.

How do you reach those who blind themselves to anything that conflicts with their world view? You can’t. Not in any direct way at least. As noted in the folk saying, it is a waste of your time and just annoys the pig.

On the one hand it is not even necessary to reach the hard core Deniers in that they represent a minority demographic, even if over represented among societies powerholders. On the other hand they have successfully created the illusion of scientific controversy and that has influenced public perception of the climate change issue. As such it is necessary to both continue attempts to educate the public and to respond to the challenges by the Deniers even though this in and of itself will not change much. The pigs may never learn to sing, but their grunting will drown out those who can if we allow it.

In seeking a successful strategy I think it is instructive to look at two other examples of scientific efforts to confront ignorance and Denial; evolution and tobacco denial. Both of these have faced virtually identical campaigns of disinformation (by some of the same “think tanks” and phony experts in a number of cases), but with slightly different outcomes.

While evolution is taught in most schools for the scientific truth that it is, it remains controversial and recently the Deniers have even enjoyed some success in the political arena. For the most part the tobacco denial industry is dead and the battle won. Why the difference?

In fact, the tobacco issue was not only aligned along similar ideological lines (ie the libertarian reflexive opposition to any state intervention), but also had enormous financial and political power. It is true that the evolution Denier industry is also powerful, but much more scattered.

I suspect that the answer is the infamous tobacco lawsuits. The court cases which made it not only not profitable to engage in Denial, but enormously costly. Given the enormous damage that climate change is causing, and will cause, there is considerable scope for holding those who knowingly lie and deceive the public accountable for their actions. Further, there is legal grounds for doing so (see here).

This is the most promising avenue of attack because a court of law is not the uncritical forum that the popular media is, nor will it accept the nonsense that a political committee or hearing pretends is credible evidence (eg here). Most judges take a very dim view of being lied to and treated like an idiot, and have the authority to communicate that in ways that make the point rather effectively.

Such a campaign has powerful potential allies. Industry itself is quite divided on the issue as has been seen in the US Chamber of Commerce debacle. The Chamber itself has taken a Denier stance, but this has alienated quite a number of large corporate interests. The simple facts are i) many corporate heads are not ideologically blind morons, ii) many businesses have far more to lose from climate change than they gain from the status quo,  iii) some corporations stand to profit from significant changes in our energy policies, and iv) the corporations are under increasing pressure from stockholders.

There have been some tentative forays into using the courts

(eg here), but there needs to be a lot more. We need many lawsuits to be brought against the corporations and professional Deniers who knowingly lie and commit fraud, suits that run into the billions and trillions of dollars and which hold individuals accountable for their actions. I suspect that will get the porcine chorus  singing a different tune very quickly.

Image Credits:

Three Little Pigs by johnmuk

pigs_crop by johnmuk

Munching Pig by tj.blackwell

When Pigs Fly by Studio H (Chris)


14 Responses to Climate Change Deniers: A Cacophony Of Grunting

  1. TinyCo2 June 21, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    In response to your letter. I suggested that you ask sceptics what they believed and since you didn’t see fit to try it, I’ll tell you anyway.

    A smart sceptic knows that there’s no real point in debating the science unless both sceptic and opponent are fully versed in the minutiae of the science. The level of detail required is beyond the time and skills available of the common person. YOU cannot convince me. It needs to be done by a process of detailed and unbiased investigation. Like the IPCC but without the prepaid advocacy agenda.

    The more I learn about the process of climate science (as opposed to the science itself) the more I come to doubt the credibility of it’s conclusions. I cannot say that CAGW isn’t true, but I can say that the people involved in bringing it to the World’s attention do not meet my standards for credibility. I do not see the kinds of safety procedures that other sciences have in place to eradicate poor practice. I do not see the levels of documentation and accountability that businesses are tied to. I see a science in it’s infancy, dominated by academics and politicians who are not used to being held responsible for the conclusions they come to. I am not alone in these opinions.

    Are these good reasons for being a sceptic? Isn’t the planet too important to risk on points of principle?


    a) I already do my bit, since my carbon footprint is very small (can you say the same? Perhaps you could link to a post about all the cuts in CO2 you’ve made?).
    b) I think demanding better science is the key to ending scepticism or belief, depending on the outcome.
    c) Being a sceptic keeps pressure on AGWers to do better.
    d) Solutions to AGW are not without disadvantages, some of them fatal. I’d like to be sure it’s necessary to dismiss all the advantages of the modern world that have been brought to us courtesy of fossil fuels.

    You think sceptics are a problem getting the wider public on board? Hah! The vast majority don’t care. The majority will never read beyond the news headlines. The public are bored with climate change and despite your bitter letters, it’s not going to change in the near future. They see the hypocrisy of AGW evangelists and they just want everyone to shut up about global warming.

    So instead of trying to convince your friends with a less than gracious letter, you might want to start demanding better climate science. More accountability. Better records. Leaders with smaller carbon footprints (you mock Lord Monckton but on your side you’ve got Al Gore and Prince Charles, pulease!).

    Or maybe just get on and reduce your own carbon footprint. Nobody’s stopping you.

    • TinyCo2 June 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm

      LOL sending me to a list of climate scientists as proof of the veracity of climate science is like sending a list of scientologists as proof that L Ron Hubbard was right.

      I’d have been more impressed if you’d linked to AR4 WG1 Chapter 9. Personally I find it a bit lacking in detail.

      • contributor June 21, 2010 at 8:18 pm

        That is a list of research papers organized by author … try actually looking at what you are given; literacy, it could change your life.

        Mike Kaulbars

    • Craig Goodrich June 22, 2010 at 7:34 pm

      Err, umm, lessee, looking through this article I find no mention of science. Looking through “Letter”, I find that the only discussions of the science is on the part of the Deniers, and that the only response to them was pointing to a bunch of utterly vacuous articles and blog posts.

      So I must be overlooking something. Mike, you can fix all that and refocus on the science right here and now: Where precisely in AR4, WG 1, Ch 9, “Attribution” — which is the only relevant part of the entire report, obviously — is the actual evidence for the anthropogenic CO2-driven warming theory, and where in either WG 1 or WG 2 is the actual evidence that there is any possibility of catastrophic consequences?

  2. Jack June 21, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    More of the same non sense from the same author on a different day.

    When are the climategate scientists are going to stop practicing Voodoo scientce?

    And when are writers stop becoming a global warming sheeple? When are they going to start looking at the voodoo science practiced by climategate scientists and realized they had been scammed?

    The global warming scam continues despite global cooling we now see.

  3. Luboš Motl June 22, 2010 at 1:00 am

    These are cute piggies. I was sure that it was just these ten piggies who make all the clicks on the Internet and who make the majority of the mankind believe that there is no climate threat. 😉

    But it’s great to be assured of that. They’re skillful pigs, indeed. The only problem is that my photograph isn’t included – I must be the eleventh, M-theoretical piggie.

    Also, thanks for capitalizing our holy name, Deniers. We have been promoted to capital Deniers. 🙂

    More seriously, I am always amazed how much self-confidence people whose IQ is much closer to the IQ to the pigs on the pictures than mine – such as Mike Kaulbars – are able to gather just by meetings lots of other mindless sheeples.

    • Craig Goodrich June 22, 2010 at 8:02 pm

      Lumo — welcome to the party! Bring over some of your quarky friends to czech out the fun (and make sure to include some of those stringy supersymmetric girls)!

      These Kaulber articles are so wonderful. Nowhere else have I seen so perfectly distilled for public view the amazing combination of ideological blindness, complacency, moral superiority, and smug ignorance that characterizes the “intellectual” left that thinks it’s running the West. This site is almost as good as a museum!


  4. klem June 22, 2010 at 9:45 am

    After all of the really boring text you have written above, what is your ultimate point? I remember a week or so ago seeing the “Letter to a climate skeptic’ blog and it was really long and boring, I ended up asking the same question there as well. Focus ok?

    Look when it comes down to it, climatology just has a correlation between CO2 concentrations and temperature over the last 50 years. That’s it. Climate science has never found the big hammer, the big proof that CO2 is the cause of AGW. All of the images of glaciers melting and polar bears swimming are just evidence that climate changes, they are not evidence that CO2 is the cause. When climate science finds the big hammer, I will gladly change my view and become a lunatic alarmist. But until that happens I remain unconvinced, and I am not on the oil or tobacco or big green payroll, much to my dismay.

  5. Special K (NJ) June 22, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Before one buys a highly touted porker
    S/he would be well advised
    To take a hard look before buying
    At the item of which s/he’s been favorably apprised.

    And before purchasing anything, including, e.g., climate change,
    From one who in one’s eyes is blowing smoke
    It’s important to remember the admonition
    Against buying a pig in a poke.

    And when it comes to selling climate change
    Folks–understandably a ma.jor.i.ty–
    Are hesitant to buy a thing, sight unseen
    And say “Show me!”‘, as do pragmatic folks from Mis.sou.ri.

  6. Craig Goodrich June 22, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    “Members of the public are not going to go through the comment threads on climate articles any more than they are going to look at the science itself.”

    … Because, if they did look at the actual science, they might come back to Mike and ask silly, silly questions, like for example, where precisely in AR4, WG 1, Ch 9, “Attribution” — which is the only relevant part of the entire report, obviously — is the actual evidence for the anthropogenic CO2-driven warming theory, and where in either WG 1 or WG 2 is the actual evidence that there is any possibility of catastrophic consequences?

    Mike, my boy, you’re apparently too intellectually lazy to even make a feeble try at answering this. This is what I expected. But I assumed that you were intelligent enough to at least stop digging…

  7. S2 June 25, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Good to know you’re still alive and kicking, Mike. 🙂

    I do think you owe us some kind of explanation, though. An email would be fine, we’re not looking for a broadcast and of course we’ll respect your privacy.

    You know who we are, and you can contact as few or as many of us as you like – but any kind of contact would be good.


  8. Jeff June 26, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Remember back in the 70s everybody was talking about the new ice age. Climate change is all about ensuring more grant money coming in by scaring politicians and the public as much as possible. Climate change is a myth.

    • Martha June 26, 2010 at 10:14 am

      As above — maybe Zizek can help you with your fear of the future.
      Regardless, your denial is part of the democratic process.


  9. Martha June 26, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Thank you for that link.

    It’s an interesting concept, especially if approached in the Lacanian sense (the denial requires knowing).

    There is an increasingly large body of literature in social science that has has taken up this problem of understanding the gap between what science has made clear and what the public realizes.

    Elites continue to shift and stall, and are so transparently unwilling to take the necessary steps.

    But there is another explanation for the beliefs and nonaction of citizens who deny the danger.

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