Climate Change: How Can I Be Sure?

One of the most difficult problems communicating science to the public is how to convince someone who does not have a scientific background and cannot take the time to look at the science itself. For someone who is legitimately uncertain and wants to know the truth regardless of what it is, what can one offer?

From WallMart greeters to Orthodontists, probably 99% of the public is getting along by putting their faith in some group or other (just as we all do for most things in our life; how many really understand electricity? or how a computer works?).

Some accept the word of the scientific community, some side with the climate change Denier “scientists”, some with a particular suite of media, and so on. Regardless of which, they are taking the word of one group over the next pretty much on faith.

I believe that I have what may be a contribution which will help those who are uncertain and really want to know. Before getting into what I have to offer let’s look at some of the other attempts to address this problem.

This problem eats at most people concerned with climate change and there are several approaches that people have tried. The first is to demonstrate that the climate change Denier claims are all misrepresentations, hoaxes and lies, for eg:

The problem with this approach is that it still relies on faith. The Deniers say that water is the most important Green House Gas (GHG) because … . The scientists say that while strictly true, that is not relevant because … . There is no way to even understand the relative claims without getting into the science, and no way to know which side is correct without really getting into it.

Another approach is to ask people to rely on their own experience. No one who has some intimacy with the out of doors, be it as a gardener, skier or farmer, has failed to notice the changes. Unfortunately this does not tell anyone why it is changing. Is it natural as the Deniers claim? or human caused as the science shows?

Dr Peter Gleik has wrestled with this question and come up with two responses. The first is to note that “The best argument against global warming” is … well, there isn’t one. There is no counter hypothesis, no explanation for the scientific facts other other than human caused climate change. Unfortunately,  again, even thought it is true, it is still a claim the average person would have to take on faith.

His other approach, “Climate-change deniers versus the scientific societies of the world: Who should we listen to?” (which others use as well) is an appeal to common sense, but again the average person does not realize that we are talking about millions of scientists vs a few dozen cranks and industry PR flacks.  After all, some media keep reporting about supposed large numbers of scientists rejecting climate science.

Even if the Deniers are only a handful, how does one tell that they are not modern Galileos refuting the scientific orthodoxy? … they certainly claim to be. Maybe the minority are right about this; after all “science has been wrong before.”

The fact is that unless you know how science is funded, how it is carried out etc, there is no way you can know that these claims are idiotic drivel. Scientists are not paid to come up with pre-determined results, and the comparisons to Galileo etc are ridiculous, but you have to take my word on that … Catch 22.

Then there is the appeal to the Precautionary Principle. Again fairly sensible in suggesting that if there is doubt we should choose the course that is going to have the best outcome for humanity. This video is a popular resource that uses this approach.

Unfortunately it is another Catch 22 though, since if climate change is not real or not something we can affect, then the best outcome is achieved by not trying to do anything about it. Even if one is uncertain it is difficult not to fall back to that conundrum.

Well I would like to make an appeal to your own logic and common sense.  This is hardly a proof, and indeed is even irrelevant to the science in a way, but it has the advantage that you do not have to trust my or anyone else’s word on anything.

To begin I want to describe a hypothetical situation. Suppose someone wants to miss work or school and they assure you that they have a Dr’s certificate confirming that they are sick. What they actually give you is a crude, crayon scribbled, obvious forgery.

You know that they are lying when they say this is a legitimate Dr’s certificate, even though they may actually have a real one somewhere else. That this one is a fraud does not prove that they don’t have a real one, or that they are not sick, just that they are lying about this one.

Do you believe them? How about after the second forgery? the third? At some point you decide that they are simply lying about everything because you know that someone who has a real certificate would not waste your time with obvious forgeries.

So let’s have a look at a few of the climate change Denier’s crude, crayon scribbled lies. For all of these please do check them on any/all of the premier Denier sites such as Climate Depot, Climate Dispatch, wattsuwiththat, joannenova.com, thisresilienterath, Heartland Institute, SPPI, etc

Historically CO2 levels have lagged temperature changes by 700 to 800 years. A Denier claim is that science either does not admit to this fact, or cannot explain it (eg here). Actually the lag was predicted by Lorius et al before it was discovered, and is well understood and explained in the science (see links provided here or simply google it).

Whether the scientists’ explanation is true or not need not concern us here. The point is that the Deniers are lying when they claim that science has no explanation, and this is something you can verify yourself. You can click on any or all of those links and see scientists do have an explanation, even though you may not have the background to tell if it makes any sense or not.

Science acknowledges the lag and there is an explanation for it, so why are the Deniers lying about it? Why the crayon scribbles if they’ve got the real thing?

The Deniers claim (eg here)  that:

  1. the IPCC said that current temperatures are unprecedented;
  2. the IPCC leaves out the Medieval Warm Period;
  3. past climates were hotter than now, which the IPCC and science can’t explain.

Actually

  1. the IPCC said “the rate and duration of warming of the Northern Hemisphere in the 20th century appears to have been unprecedented during the millennium.” (rate, not absolute temperature);
  2. the IPCC discusses the Medieval Warm Period right here;
  3. IPCC Chapter 6 (pgs 433-498)  is devoted to discussing those past climates, even the ones hotter than the present.

The point here is that the Deniers are lying. You don’t need to know any science at all to see that. You don’t need to know whether the science is correct or the explanations make any sense at all because the Denier claim is that they don’t even exist, and that is a lie.

So we’re back to the hypothetical example and its’ question. If the Deniers have “the real thing”, if they have “actual scientific evidence”, why do they keep lying? Why the crude, crayon scribbled frauds if they actually have anything real?

None of what I have said proves that the science is accurate or that the Denier’s are wrong.

All I am asking is that you listen to your own common sense in deciding whether you are going to believe people who keep handing you crayon scribbled lies while claiming that they have “the real thing.”

What does your common sense tell you?

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23 Responses to Climate Change: How Can I Be Sure?

  1. -3 Vote -1 Vote +1Maurizio Morabito
    December 21, 2010 at 10:44 am

    The article suffers from the usual issues, namely arguments are presented as if there were two united fronts fighting each other and all one had to do were to choose a side. Reality is much more complex than that and the average person (and scientist) will believe and/or be convinced of a range of details about climate change, not necessarily fully compatible with the expert next door’s. A little less crusading might be in order, if any progress is to be achieved.

    • Mike Kaulbars
      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Mike Kaulbars
      December 21, 2010 at 12:54 pm

      The Deniers have no “unified front” because they have no actual science to unify behind. The whole Denier Canon is in fact a andom collection of misrepresentations, discredited theories, frauds and anecdotes. If you can believe it, some even still push the “there was scientific consensus about global cooling in the 1970s” http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/the-1970s-ice-age-9-myth/ fraud, even though this is another one that you don’t need a scientific background to verify that it is nonsense.

      Which gets us back to my point, if they actually had anything of substance why don’t they tell us what it is instead of this barrage of inane drivel?

      • -5 Vote -1 Vote +1Maurizio Morabito
        December 21, 2010 at 1:54 pm

        yes, if you had anything of substance to say you would free yourself from the shackles of Good vs Evil (considering also the less-than-stellar results achieved so far). But you can’t, because you haven’t.

        Consider this: in your farcical worldview, where every single thing people that disagree with you is wrong, wrong, wrong, climate scientists would only talk about how good their science, and most of all how bad any other view of climate were. But of course it isn’t so, and the debate in the IPCC itself is vigorous as can be seen in the comments that are received.

        So when you state you are sure about climate change you should actually specify what particular flavor, such as for example 18cm of rising seas or 80cm or more; 2C, 4C or 6C; ice-free Arctic sooner, or later; the fate of hurricanes; and so on and so forth. And what makes you sure about that flavor and no one else.

        Otherwise all you will explain, and again, and again as you’ve been doing for months if not years, is why you take as the scum of the earth a particularly extremist type of non-believer in climate change (those that expect no consequence whatsoever from CO2 emissions). This leaves out 99% of humanity, about whose convictions, knowledges and beliefs your crusade has absolutely nothing to say. And in fact, you say nothing at all apart from a generic and unsubstantiated “I am Sure of climate change”, that as-is would likely get in many polls percentages similar to “motherhood and apple pie”‘s.

        ps “common sense” tells me the world is not made of Good People That Are Always Right and Bad People That Are Always Wrong.

        • Mike Kaulbars
          +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Mike Kaulbars
          December 21, 2010 at 2:11 pm

          Thank you for that irrelevant Straw Man rant.

          If you would ever care to address anything I actually ever said (you do this by citing specific instances … something you can’t do when you are just making things up), or that the science actually says (same, cite the source), I’d be more than happy to discuss it.

          PS it also wouldn’t hurt if it was relevant to the actual post rather than a generic rant … that would be a thoughtful touch.

          • -6 Vote -1 Vote +1Maurizio Morabito
            December 22, 2010 at 1:25 am

            It’s bad habit for you to respond to yourself, and I agree you have been victim of your own ranting for quite some time. One day you will publicly ponder about the meaning of your utterings, for example: if the IPCC indicates a warming in the XXI century between 1.1 and 6.4C and I state that I expect a little less than 2C what exactly am I “denying”???

            • Mike Kaulbars
              +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Mike Kaulbars
              December 22, 2010 at 6:43 am

              i) Apparently you are still incapable of citing anything I actually say to substantiate your claim. That would be because it is a fiction;

              ii) Giving a range of IPCC scenarios without specifying the context is simply dishonest.

              iii) Do you have an actual point? Why don’t you tell us what you do expect and why… citing actual science.

              iv) as per above, you still can’t cite sources.

  2. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Stephen
    December 21, 2010 at 11:34 am

    This is an interesting alternative approach. There is no doubt you can objectively show that the Deniers are wrong and unreliable by this approach.

    The problem is that most Deniers are ideologically opposed to climate change, so they won’t be likely to change sides any more than a religious group or Football team.

    The few remaining people who really do wish to know the truth but don’t know already, are rarely interested in hard facts and details. Belief to them is more about personalities, image and rhetoric.

    It’s difficult for someone with a scientific background to understand this mentality. However, it’s obvious by communicating with Joe public on Bulletin boards that a lot of people seem to think science can be changed through the force and style of argument itself. That there are objective truths out there independent of human behaviour seems incomptable with their philosophy of life.

  3. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1VeraH
    December 21, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Nice post Mike, it truely is hard to shift good information from bad – there’s so much around! Especially hard if one had no scientific background/skills.
    Also Maurizio… thank you for confirming the post is good.. if you don’t like it it must have hit some truth ;-)

  4. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1VeraH
    December 21, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Edit: forgot to say: common sense appeal is a good one. I hope your readers use it Mike :-)

  5. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1PatC
    December 21, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Maurizio I think you do Mike a disservice. He continues to grapple with some of the least scientific responses to climate change realities, I suspect, as a way of highlighting the real science. Personally I wish we could just ignore all the Denialism out there, but wouldn’t that be dangerous? Especially given that so-called common sense probably isn’t.
    I think Stephen does a good job of summing up the problems of how people receive information and what they do (or more often don’t do) with it.
    But one could write a philosophy dissertation on whether or not “there are objective truths out there independent of human behaviour”. You don’t have to be a scientist to assert that Science is a human construct, and as such always subject to human fallibilty. And you don’t enough need a coherent ideology to get it wrong.

    • -4 Vote -1 Vote +1Maurizio Morabito
      December 22, 2010 at 2:04 am

      PatC – were Mike in the business of clearing out misconceptions he would be doing something similar to what happens on blogs like Science of Doom. I suspect instead, based also on the torrent of personal insults he regularly falls into as demonstrated in the canned responses to my comments, that Mike is the classic hammer for whom the whole world is full of nails…that is, he’s convinced that anybody that shows the slightest doubt about upcoming climate catastrophes is a dangerous individual that should be isolated for the sake of humanity’s survival. Hence his quasi-deranged belief that the writer of a blog like mine, dedicated to make fun of people distorting the science to get their own pet cause a funding by labelling as climate-related, is an put-and-out “denier”. There’s no grey in such a thinking, only stark black and white, and if you don’t understand how dangerous that is, well…

      ps I did ask him about what “flavor” of climate change he is sure about. A response to that would invalidate of course the simplistic idea that all you need to be sure about climate change is to read what a few strrange people have written and compare it to the musings of respectable scientists. Of course, Mike refuses to answer.

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    Vote -1 Vote +1World Spinner

  7. Vote -1 Vote +1PatC
    December 22, 2010 at 4:53 am

    I often wonder how we will all sound to someone reading old Internet archives 50 years down the road. No doubt they will wonder what was in the water that made us – and by us I mean all of us sitting in front of our safe little terminals, shielded by some or other degree of anonymity – so incapable of intelligent discussion and debate, so eager to indulge in the character assasination of people we have never met.
    What a waste of precious time, and human and natural resources. Can we get back to the Science, and what might be done about it all?

    • -1 Vote -1 Vote +1Maurizio Morabito
      December 22, 2010 at 3:04 pm

      PatC – no need to wonder – have you ever tried to re-read what was written on Usenet just 15 years ago – our only hope of saving face wrt future generations lies in the sheer boredom and inanity of whatever we’re writing.

      As for going back to the Science – the biggest waste is in the time spent to label people according to a writer’s prejudice. This affects the most rabid AGW Believers just as the most vehement AGW Contrarians, and results in…no progress at all.

      If only we could do without that, we would be able to talk climate change indeed, starting from adaptation and whatever needs to be done in any case (as in, better protect people from the current climate extremes), as you suggest in the other comment.

  8. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Richard Mercer
    December 22, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    The examles of denier lying that Mike cites are only a few examples. There are far more than these. In fact standard practice of deniers is to misrepresent what climate scientists or the IPCC have said. It happens on a daily basis.

    Then there are all the faked charts of sea ice, global temps, sea level rise etc., with Steve Goddard being a prime example, but certainly not an exception, but rather the rule.

    One glaring example is:

    Anthony Watts a D’aleo make it all up with this claim:

    “NO WARMING TREND IN THE 351-YEAR CENTRAL ENGLAND TEMPERATURE RECORD”

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2010/02/15/summer-and-smoke/

    and they get their heads handed to them by Tamino

    Long story short, they left out the 19th century and only used summer data, leaving out winter data, to arrive at their quackery graph.

    Go ahead read it. Open Mind blog.
    Its not long. I read stuff like this everyday. This is the kind of junk that real science is up against, and what the deniers have half of Americans believing. Tamino is brilliant and debunks this stuff regularly. Unfortunately, the public doesn’t see much of that, as it never makes it into the mainstream media. But the junk sure does. The real science doesn’t have the massive PR campaign to counter it.

    Again, just one example. There are many many more like this.

  9. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Richard Mercer
    December 22, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    When I encounter people who claim that global warming is just a part of natural cycle, I like to help them be better informed. Still with us Maurizio?

    The coal we burn took something like 65-100 million years to form in the earth.
    I think of it as mother nature’s carbon capture and sequestration. It represents carbon that has been locked out of the active or short term carbon cycle. Man is now releasing this carbon back into the atmosphere and active carbon cycle in something like 150-200 years, a nanosecond or so in geological time scales.
    This is unprecedented in the history of the planet. In no way is this part of some natural cycle of the earth’s climate.

    • -1 Vote -1 Vote +1Maurizio Morabito
      December 22, 2010 at 3:15 pm

      Richard – You’re preaching to the choir.

      I myself do agree that the CO2 emissions will have an effect. I can even consider the possibility that it will be a significant one, perhaps even dangerous at least for some.

      What I abhor, is the kind of pseudoscience bandwagon that is sucking the life out of climate science, as shown by the incredible number of absurdist “climate” claims peppering newspapers and scholarly journals. For a list with links, visit Numberwatch: http:##www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm

      ps there’s an article in the latest issue of Nature suggesting scientists to avoid oversimplifications, about which even the Climategate official inquiries castigated the CRU team. Whilst I am sure that if I had ever made such a point the usual hordes would have popped up to tell me what an awful person I am, I wonder how long we’ll have to wait before somebody starts accusing Nature of “denialism”…

      • Mike Kaulbars
        +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Mike Kaulbars
        December 25, 2010 at 6:28 am

        Still with vacuous generalities … cite specific examples of “absurdist “climate” claims peppering … scholarly journals” if you can.

        If you can’t … ponder why you keep spouting this sort of nonsense.

  10. Vote -1 Vote +1PatC
    December 22, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    I heard Robert Watson on CBC radio last week. He was inspiring in the way that he spoke of climate change as an absolute given. So I would argue that CC is indeed being discussed in the mainstream (though some of the people I live with would happily argue that the CBC is not the mainstream – a different but not unrelated discussion given that said person is also a skeptic/denier. Must remember to ask him if he’s heard of the World Bank.) Sorry, I digress. …
    RW did mention human nature’s tendency towards 11th hour, 59th minute action…. I do hope he is wrong on that one. Increasingly I fear that the real scientists out there will not so much be warning us how to prevent or alleviate climate change but scrambling to find us new ways to ameliorate the catastrophic effects of climate change. Especially since simply running out of our poisonous fossil fuels would in itself cause immeasurable social upheaval, even before we take into account the environmental damage our gas-guzzling way of life is causing.
    The hardest thing to take about Denialism is that in terms of the environment we should be changing our behaviour in any case, even if climate change were not the reality we are facing.

  11. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Daniel J. Andrews
    December 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    One way to demonstrate deniers have nothing aside from crayon forgeries is to show how their own arguments are mutually exclusive. E.g. It is not warming. Warming is a natural 1500 year cycle (or 500 yr, or 100 yr). Warming is from the sun. Warming is from volcanoes. Warming is from cosmic rays. It was warming but now it is cooling since [insert favourite year here, usually 1998, but other cherry-picked years are used]. You can’t trust temp records (but apparently you can trust them if they show no warming when you cherry-pick them).

    Or you can show how deniers say Source A says X but when you check Source A you find it has been misrepresented and says “Apple”. E.g. Jones said there hasn’t been any warming since 1998.

    There are masses of contradictions and a typical denier needs to believe 4 contradictory things before breakfast (apologies to Lewis Carroll). The average person doesn’t need to know a whole lot about science to see these are contradictions, nor do they need to do a lot of research–common sense is all that it takes.

    • Mike Kaulbars
      Vote -1 Vote +1Mike Kaulbars
      December 25, 2010 at 6:26 am

      I don’t disagree because you are absolutely correct, however for someone to verify that for themselves requires that they start getting into the science.

  12. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Noel Newnam
    December 26, 2010 at 12:25 am

    Those who argue that the earth has been hotter in the past aren’t even arguing the salient point–that the RATE of global temperature increase is unprecedented, as measured globally on land AND in the much larger area of the earth called THE OCEANS. If one reads widely, in established science journals, one can see, without using a ruler, that the science of climate has grown extensively in the last 2 decades, and that as more and more diverse AND QUALIFIED scientists have joined the conversation, the consensus over the reality of human-accelerated climate CHANGE keeps getting larger. You can, of course, still accuse all these thousands of scientists–and the publications that review them–as being wrong, but you would be DENYING that they all use the same tried and true methods and procedures in their studies. They also publish their complete procedures and analyses openly for ALL their peers to see and evaluate; unlike Fox News, politicians, and arbitrarily exclusive groups of any kind.
    Secondly, as an adult who has been around a few decades, I always defer to Shakespeare about people who “protest too much”; invariably they are trying to block the truth. My personal assessment of the core of the deniers is they are people so enmeshed in the empire of oil that they are incapable of entertaining any different worldview, and/or they are so codependent on their gas-guzzling insecurity-crutch vehicles that they are deathly afraid of losing them. Their fear leaks past their words of bravado, and all I need to smell it is a normal set of healthy social skills.