Saturday, December 19, 2009

Climate denial: what is the truth?

How is anyone supposed to take seriously Eddie Smith’s letter (‘Any damage done to our climate was done long ago’, Post, December 8)? In attempting to debunk human- caused climate change he is of the view that the world’s climate scientists either don’t understand or have forgotten Archimedes Principle for goodness sake! Its not hard to find many such examples* - the nature and enormity of the problem is causing many people to search around for reasons not to believe it and to wait for someone else to act rather than take their share of personal responsibility. We see angry outright denial, scapegoat seeking, deliberate boasts about wastefulness, projection of anxiety onto something more manageable, or most common of all – people shutting out all information and just not thinking about the problem.

People are being helped to find reasons not to believe by very poor leadership from politicians who for decades have talked a lot, done nothing and now failed in Copenhagen. They’ve also been helped by the poor state of communication between scientists, politicians and the public. However, none of this changes the basic bio-physical facts. Climate change is an inconvenient truth – and we all have to face up to it. We’ve gone beyond the stage of fundamental dispute about the core science and entered a phase of finding out what it takes for us all to accept both the truth of climate change and most of all - its implications.

*Eddie also: mixes up toxic smogs with climate change – they have features in common but are distinct issues; talks of a warm period in the middle ages as if the whole globe was involved – it wasn’t, medieval warming was only regional; says the temperature has not risen for ten years – but the last decade has been the warmest in human history according to organisations like the Met Office and NASA and its trends over time that are correct climate science; compares the scientific reports on climate change to the Iraq ‘dodgy dossier’ – the scientific reports are peer reviewed, are many and varied, have appeared over many years, featuring stronger and stronger evidence as time has passed.

The picture above is taken from a You Tube clip that features David Attenborough and Prof Peter Cox on natural vs human-caused climate change. The red line shows the measured temperature trend, the green line the model prediction using only natural factors and the yellow line the model prediction using human and natural factors. You can see the clip in less than 3 minutes here:


  1. Glen - Just saw the video.

    How convinced can you be through a computer model?

    I use stochastic portfolio planning models which take every single possible world event and interaction between asset classes to find an efficient frontier.

    This is done to find optimum asset spread. frequently, these programmes are wrong. Last year especially so.

    Also, I think it's grossly arrogant to tar anyone who questions your interpretation of selected data as "angry" "scapegoat seeking" "...shutting out info...."

    The word "denial" is a strong point to make, as it infers someone is deliberately ignoring the truth, but as you and I know, many academics disagree not through ignorance but through critical analysis which contradicts your own.

    "Skeptic" is a better term - it's usually better to treat your opponents with respect if you wan't to win them over.

    Good luck getting the Communist party elected in Bristol East!

  2. I love your concluding comment about communism Anonymous - that's just the kind of well informed, serious, open-minded critical analysis we see from climate change denialists!! What utter rubbish!!

    All models should be subject to questioning and testing - including the mental modelling of the world we all do. Examining your mental models would make a great case study for instance. One way to test models is to look at how good their predictions are - the model in the video clip does very well doesn't it. I note that you dont address what this model does - you instead just blanket criticise all computer models (even though computer modelling is now a basic tool in all the latest science, not just climatology).

    I believe I'm accurately describing some aspects of the psychology of climate change denial. Its not just my interpretation of the data - its that of hundreds of scientific advisors to governments, hundreds of scientific institutions all over the globe, and all those working for the UN's IPCC...

    People in denial may or may not be fully conscious of the fact. Its not always a matter of deliberately ignoring or avoiding facing up to the truth, though I think some people are doing just that.

    You say 'you and I know many academics disagree'. Well, I was talking about people in general here not academics, however with respect to climate change science there is very little serious disagreement on the fundamentals of human-caused climate change in academic circles. So, I have to say to you, no, I dont know 'many academics disagree' in this instance.

    During all the recent debate after the hacked emails there's been a lot of political heat from professional, campaigning denialists and virtually no light through critical analysis of the science - why is this I wonder?!?! If their critical analysis of the science of climate change is so good why are virtually all scientific advisors and scientific institutions distinctly unconvinced??

    I'm not trying to win over anyone Anonymous and certainly not denialists like you. I'm describing my view on the science, the debate, the pyscology etc to attempt to shed light on the issue. Sceptic is a word I would not apply to you as I dont think your mind is open.

  3. Glen - Re communism - I have studied the Green Party policy - it's not far off, in it's opposition to free markets...or free market denial, as I could call it.

    It's symptomatic of the ideology which refuses all evidence that free markets produce the greatest benefit to all, despite history, and the consensus of thousands of economists.

    Now, I am not so arrogant as to use this term, as all people have their opinions, and I can respect others point of view, however wrong I might believe them to be. To try to explain their opposition to my POV as a psychological flaw as you have above would be undemocratic, and ignorant.

    I was making the point that since we cannot be assured that computer models produce accurate results, the term "denier" is too strong to use for those that dispute "facts" based on possibly inaccurate data. I can supply you with a list of academics who disagree with you, if required - and I think you are either lying if you say you haven't heard of them, or clearly if you haven't attempted to hear an alternative hypothesis, you don't have an open mind either - reminiscent of your denier psychology methinks.

    All the scientific groups you gave reference to tend to have a strong financial interest in influencing government and ultimately taxpayer funding.

  4. Well, you would say that wouldn't you Anon!! I've had people tell me they think being green is fundamentally akin to nazism too! The truth is that Green principles and policy are just very good sense - backed by the best available scientific evidence.

    Why cant readers of this blog know who you are by the way? Its plain exactly who I am, what my agenda is and so on - what about you??

    You assume that all who are opposed to free markets are communists. This is far from true.

    'free markets produce the greatest benefits to all' Where you have been Anon? On another planet? We're still going through the biggest global recession ever - due the failure of the free market and politicians who encourage instead of adequately regulating it!! Global 'free trade' is massively exploiting and polluting the poor world, making a minority even richer - and is a million miles from helping them get decent food, water and other basics....

    You misunderstand and misrepresent my point on the psychology of denial. You do this deliberately perhaps, as it suits your argument -and you see it as the best point of political attack (given that you obviously still dont want to get into any actual science!). The point is that all people have this denial tendency - its a feature of the human condition - and at different points on different issues we would all exhibit the tendency to denial to various degrees. I think it helps us to ovecome any tendency to denial to acknowledge it. You seem to be seriously underrating the importance of the human tendency to denial of matters that are very difficult - full acknowledgement is required to attempt objective assessment of evidence dont you think!?!

    The IPCC say they are 90% sure that human-caused climate change is a very serious problem requiring urgen action - I think that gives me grounds for using the term denial with respect to the climate issue. I'd draw a distinction between people like you who go around with a political agenda and have made no dent at all in any of the basic science and people in general of course, who are just struggling to come to terms with the socio-economic and political implications of established science.

    You've still not commented on the example of the climate model tested against actual temperature measurements in the video clip. Why not? Surely all models, including the mental models you and I use to interpret the real world, should be tested - and the climate model that factors in human influence in the video clip performs well when tested.

    By the way, it would be a surprise if you could not produce a list of academics who disagree with me (and disagree with the IPCC, hundreds of govt scientific advisors, hundreds of scientific institutions all over the globe)! What would it establish? Is this what you'd call quality evidence? I'm fairly well aquainted with the names of academics who deny climate change, the websites of demialist campaigners and so on - some have been prominent environmentalists eg David Bellamy. My point is that its not 'many academics' in the sense that their numbers are relatively small - the academic consensus is with the IPCC view.

    The idea that the UN's IPCC, hundreds of scientific advisors and hundreds of scientific institutions all around the globe, across virtually all countries, are somehow making up or exaggerating human-caused climate change to gain funding is simply not credible. NASA and the Met Office are just out for financial gain are they??


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