New Internationalist

Switching off denial: a guide

Issue 442

Danny Chivers presents the New Internationalist guide to debunking the myths of the climate change deniers.

If you’re a sceptic, then I salute you.

Sceptics are people who don’t take things at face value; they demand facts, and are ready to change opinions based on the weight of evidence, even if that goes against personal preferences or beliefs. I like to think that I’m a bit of sceptic myself (although I’ll need a bit more evidence before I’m sure).

Deniers, on the other hand, refuse to accept evidence that conflicts with their personal beliefs, desires or ideology. People in denial gather reasons and excuses, however flimsy, that allow them to not believe in whatever unwelcome truth they’re trying to avoid.

No serious sceptic could doubt that human-caused climate change is real, and serious – the evidence is just too overwhelming. However, many people are still in a state of denial over climate change, for a wide range of reasons. Fortunately, opinion polls show that the majority of the public accept the reality of the climate problem1; however, the number of people who take climate change seriously seems to be slipping back in some countries.2 If we want to keep building a global movement for climate justice, then we need to face up to the problem of denial.

Here are some handy weapons for tackling climate change denial head-on.

Myths about the basic science

CO2 isn’t a greenhouse gas’

This is basic, well-established science that is difficult to deny – but some people still like to have a go. Carbon dioxide’s heat-trapping properties were first discovered by John Tyndall in the 1860s.3 The warming powers of CO2 can be demonstrated simply by filling a plastic bottle with the gas, shining a lamp on it and measuring its temperature compared to a bottle filled with ordinary air. The BBC do it in a two-minute video here: news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8394168.stm

When the climate changed in prehistoric times, the warming came first, then the CO2 rose afterwards’

Source: Petit et al 1999 Nature
Figure 1: Historic CO2 and temperature data from the Vostok ice core Source: Petit et al 1999 Nature

Evidence from ancient ice cores, tree rings, coastlines, and the ocean’s depths provide us with a pretty decent picture of how temperatures, sea levels, and the amount of CO2 in the air have changed over the last few tens of millions of years. The results are fascinating – the Earth has swung periodically between colder and warmer periods over the eons (see Figure 1). These huge changes were initially triggered by tiny fluctuations in the Earth’s temperature – the sun might go through a slightly warmer or cooler phase,4 or kinks in the Earth’s orbit might take the planet out a little further or in a little closer.5 The planet would then warm or cool gradually, over hundreds or thousands of years. Then suddenly, this would transform into rapid change, switching the planet from cool to warm or vice versa.

Why the sudden flip into rapid change? Well, as the planet warms up, carbon dioxide and methane are released from plants, soils and oceans. These gases create a greenhouse effect which leads to more warming and thus the release of more CO2 and so on until the whole climate has changed completely. This explains why temperatures started to rise first, and then CO2 followed.

Imagine that a group of gibbons escape and run amok at a zoo. They cause plenty of chaos by themselves, but the zookeepers don’t round them up quickly enough and so the gleeful gibbons started releasing the chimpanzees from their cages, who then start letting the other animals loose, until the whole thing spirals completely out of control. Looking back on this afterwards, it’s true that the zoo was already in chaos before the chimpanzees escaped; but it doesn’t mean that it’s therefore fine to release as many chimpanzees into your own zoo as you like, without expecting any consequences…

Many scientists don’t agree with the consensus on climate change’

According to a 2009 survey, 97 per cent of published climate scientists believe that humanity is changing the climate.6 The basic underlying science linking humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions with climate change is as well-established as the link between smoking and lung cancer, or HIV and AIDS – some people still deny these connections, but no-one takes them seriously. There is disagreement and debate around the precise effects of climate change; but the facts that it’s happening, it’s serious, and it’s caused by humans are well established and agreed by all but a small handful of scientists.

Unfortunately, this small group gets a huge amount of attention, making them seem more numerous than they really are – and a lot of this is to do with the funding and support they receive. This isn’t to say that the climate contrarians are simply in it for the money. I’m sure most of them believe in the things they say. But they wouldn’t have such prominence and status without the backing of certain wealthy and powerful individuals, political groups, media outlets and corporations with a (short-term and profit-driven) interest in preventing action on climate change. The mainstream media have a tendency to set up head to head ‘debates’ between climate scientists/campaigners and climate change deniers, which creates the false impression that the science is still disputed. It’s about as useful as watching a debate on how to solve the African AIDS crisis between an experienced Ugandan health campaigner and someone who believes that HIV is spread by evil pixies and can be cured by eating spaghetti.

Quick snippets of falseness #1

‘So what if ships can get through the Arctic Northwest Passage? It was open in the early 1900s too!’

It’s true that the Northwest Passage – the icy stretch of Arctic Ocean linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans above North America – was first navigated by Roald Amundsen in 1903-1906. Note, however, that it took him three years to get through! This passage used to be completely impassable to ships for most of the year; now, climate change has melted enough Arctic ice to make it an economic shipping route, triggering sovereignty disputes between Canada and other countries.

Myths about temperature rise

The world isn’t really warming up’

Source: Adapted from a graph from www.skepticalscience.com under a CC licence
Figure 2: Global warming since 1850, an average computed from ten different sources. The ‘0’ line is the 1990 - 2000 average temperature Source: Adapted from a graph from www.skepticalscience.com under a CC licence

Figure 2 shows the global air temperature over the last 150 years; the second adds in the ocean temperature since 1950.

So the temperature changes we are feeling on land are small fry (if you’ll pardon the expression) compared to the heating of the oceans. Meanwhile, cyclical weather patterns like El Niño and La Niña move heat back and forth between the oceans and the air in an irregular fashion – a major reason why atmospheric temperatures aren’t rising in a nice neat line. For example, a strong El Niño shifted a lot of heat from the seas into the air in 1998, causing a spike in air temperatures. When temperatures in the following years reverted back, climate deniers started going on about how global warming had ‘stopped’. Of course it hadn’t – it was just that the heat was being stored in the ocean rather than the atmosphere, as Figure 3 clearly shows. The top ten hottest years in recorded human history all happened in the last twelve years, with 2005 and 2010 tied for the hottest ever.9

The world cooled down between 1940 and 1970’

This isn’t true, but is based on something genuinely interesting. Global warming did plateau for a bit between the 1940s and the 1970s, due to the phenomenon of ‘global dimming’ – a type of industrial pollutant called sulphate aerosols were partially blocking the sun’s rays. This lasted for a while until the ongoing build-up of greenhouse gases – combined, ironically enough, with a reduction in sulphate pollution from power stations – eventually swamped the dimming effect and the temperature began to rise once more.10 You can see this flattened period on the graph in Figure 2.

The temperature data are fixed/flawed/manipulated’

Sources: Murphy et al 2009<sup>7</sup>, Domingues et al 2008<sup>8</sup>, graph by skepticalscience.com under a CC licence
Figure 3 – Total Earth heat content from 1950 Sources: Murphy et al 20097, Domingues et al 20088, graph by skepticalscience.com under a CC licence

To somehow tamper with or subvert the data from around 7,000 different measurement stations and satellites, which are processed via three different major organizations with hundreds of staff, would require an utterly fantastic level of conspiracy. Nonetheless, in 2010 a procession of (mostly online) commentators claimed that a series of hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit at the UK’s University of East Anglia contained evidence of just such a conspiracy (which they imaginatively dubbed ‘Climategate’). Three separate independent enquiries trawled through the emails and found evidence of nothing more than a few scientists occasionally being a bit rude about some of their colleagues, using some unhelpful jargon and having the odd moan about incessant public requests for information.11 However, there was one useful outcome: much more of the raw temperature data has since been made public, to avoid similar accusations in the future.12

But it’s cold today…’

Although the average global temperature is rising, that doesn’t mean that everywhere is getting hotter at the same rate. The global climate system is complicated; some places are heating faster than others, and some may even cool down depending on ocean currents and wind patterns.

The difference between climate and weather is important here. Climate change is a gradual, long-term process; weather is about short-term, day-to-day changes due to local patterns of wind, evaporation and ocean currents, and is more unpredictable. A few weeks of cold weather in one location tells us little about long-term global temperature change – that’s why we need all those thousands of temperature measurement stations taking decades’ worth of readings. Those measurements are telling us that every time there’s a bit of unusually cold weather somewhere in the world, it’s being outweighed by many more examples of unusually hot weather elsewhere, and so the overall trend is of a warming planet.

Quick snippets of falseness #2

‘The glaciers are growing, not shrinking!’

In any given year, some glaciers will grow a bit, because of local cold weather or extra snow. Professional deniers point at this minority of growing glaciers and pretend that all the rest don’t exist. Once you look at all the world’s glaciers at once, the shrinking trend is clear – they’ve lost over 20% of their mass since 194526.

Myths about other things that might be causing it

Volcanoes produce more CO2 than humans’

This one’s just nonsense – humanity is responsible for at least 60 times the CO2 of volcanoes.13 This point was firmly underlined when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull erupted in March 2010; the resulting ash cloud led to the grounding of planes across Europe for several weeks, preventing far more carbon dioxide than the volcano was emitting. It created a net saving of around 50,000 tonnes of CO2 per day.14

It’s caused by the sun’

Source: Data from NASA, Solanki and PMOD<sup>16</sup>, graph compiled by www.skepticalscience.com under a CC licence
Figure 4: Global temperature (red) and Total solar irradiance (blue) Source: Data from NASA, Solanki and PMOD16, graph compiled by www.skepticalscience.com under a CC licence

The sun does occasionally go through periods of increased activity, where it puts out a bit of extra heat. However, all the extra sun activity of the last 150 years can only account for a small amount of the warming we’ve seen in that time – the rest must be due to something else. Sun activity has remained roughly level since the 1960s, and has, in fact, been cooler than usual since 2003 – see Figure 4. This is all well-measured and non-controversial.15 So it can’t be due to the sun alone.

It’s caused by cosmic rays/something else’

There are other ‘theories’ out there, but with little or no evidence to back them up. Of course, in order to overturn the existing theory of human-made global warming, they’d need to have a mountain of contrary evidence that explains why the current scientific explanation isn’t correct. For example, if you decided that the real reason why leaves fall off trees in winter is that they’re being tugged off by mischievous squirrels, you’d need a bit more evidence than a photo of a squirrel sheepishly clutching an oak leaf. None of the other supposed explanations for climate change can provide the evidence (for example, the ‘cosmic rays’ idea comes from a handful of largely discredited scientific papers about the possible effect of cosmic rays on cloud formation17).

Quick snippets of falseness #3

‘There’s a new study that says the climate scientists were wrong’

New research is being done all the time to improve our understanding of the details of climate change. Sometimes this will contradict earlier ideas about certain climate change effects – for example, we now know that global warming isn’t likely to produce more frequent tropical storms, just more powerful ones. But it doesn’t contradict the underlying theory of human-made climate change – it just helps us to improve our understanding of its effects.

Myths about the effects of climate change

The Antarctic ice is growing, not shrinking’

This is true for certain areas of Antarctica – and, intriguingly, it actually gives us more evidence for global warming. Increased evaporation caused by higher temperatures has led to more snowfall in some parts of Antarctica, and thus thicker ice cover in these areas (usually inland). Closer to the sea (which is warming faster than the air) the ice is retreating.

Climate change has good effects, not just bad ones!’

True – up to a point. Warmer winters in some countries will mean fewer people die from cold. Increased temperatures have made it easier to grow crops in some regions. Sadly, these small pockets of positive effects are hugely outweighed by the negative ones.18 We have built almost all our settlements in places that are comfortable and fertile in our current climate, and our ways of growing food are carefully adapted to the weather we’ve been used to for thousands of years. Rapid changes in the Earth’s climate are already starting to throw this out of kilter – hence increasing deaths from storms, floods and famines. Even if climate change makes some places more comfortable to humans, do we expect everyone to migrate to the limited number of places where this is so?

Climate change is a problem, but there are bigger problems that we need to tackle first’

This argument offers a false choice – we can (and should) tackle the problems of climate change, poverty, healthcare etc all at the same time. Many of these problems have the same root causes – the relentless pursuit of profit and economic growth over people’s real needs – so it makes sense to work on them all together.

Climate change is making many of the world’s problems much worse – Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum19 found that climate change threatens all eight of the Millennium Development Goals20 and is making it much harder to tackle global poverty and disease. Any progress we make in these areas will be swept away by climate change, unless we act to prevent its worst effects.

We can’t trust the computer models’

While the ‘big picture’ climate change predictions (increased temperatures, more evaporation, melting ice caps and rising seas) are based on observed results and the prehistoric record, the more detailed projections (how much climate change, where, and by when) are based on computer models. These models are constantly checked and improved, and tested against real-life scenarios to make sure they’re as accurate as possible, but there are always going to be some uncertainties. This is why climate scientists talk in terms of probabilities and risks; no-one knows all the details of what’s going to happen as the climate changes, but these models can show us the most likely trends and give us some useful indications and warnings.

Some use this uncertainty to argue against taking action to tackle climate change and spending money on climate solutions, saying that it might not be as bad as we think. The problem with this argument is that we do know it’s going to be bad. We know because it’s already bad – people are suffering in floods and droughts, we’re losing species left, right and centre, and over 300,000 people are dying every year as a result of climate change.21 We don’t need the models to tell us that if we keep on pumping out the polluting gases that caused this mess, things are going to keep getting worse.

Quick snippets of falseness #4

‘CO2 makes plants grow faster, which will slow down global warming’

There’s no sign of this ‘fertilizer feedback’ actually taking place on any significant scale. This is probably because CO2 only speeds up plant growth if the plant also has everything else it needs to grow bigger – water, soil nutrients, light, space etc. Plants are the size they are probably because they’re lacking one of these other factors, not because they don’t have enough CO2 (and climate change is likely to make things worse by reducing the amount of water available to many plants).

Other distraction tactics

It’s too late, we need to adapt to climate change instead’

We’re already committed to a certain level of climate change, and so some adaptation will be absolutely vital. If we’re serious about climate justice then the nations most responsible for causing climate change should be providing funds and technology to the people on the receiving end, to help them cope with rising sea levels and more serious floods, storms and droughts.

However, adaptation cannot be a replacement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. ‘Adapting’ to more serious levels of climate change would involve coping with mass food shortages, the loss of dozens of major cities, finding new homes for hundreds of millions of people and countless deaths from starvation, conflict and disease. Runaway climate change could leave us with a largely uninhabitable planet.

Even if it were possible, adaptation on this scale wouldn’t be cheaper or easier than cutting CO2 emissions – even conservative estimates like the British government’s Stern Review place the costs of climate impacts far higher than the costs of prevention. It’s like saying ‘it’s just too much effort to hit the brakes, I’m sure my car can adapt to that brick wall’.

Leading climate scientists are telling us that we still have a decent chance of avoiding runaway climate change, but only if we act fast. Telling ourselves it’s too late is just another form of denial – an excuse to avoid action.

It’s all about population growth’

It’s true that the more people there are on the planet, the fewer resources there are to go around. However, birth rates in most Northern nations are low; most population growth is occurring in poorer countries. The current per capita consumption rate in these countries is very small – for example, the average Canadian uses the same amount of energy per year as 20 Tanzanians. The wealthiest 20 per cent of the world’s people use over 70 per cent of the energy. With regard to climate change it is far more urgent to reduce consumption levels in the North than birth rates in the South.

High birth rates are strongly associated with poverty, hunger and a lack of access to healthcare. They are also connected to a lack of women’s rights and restricted access to health information and contraception. If we want the world’s population to stabilize sooner rather than later, we need to support people around the world – especially women – to claim more rights, greater dignity and full control over their lives. However, we also need to urgently reduce emissions in the North!

Scientists exaggerate the risks of climate change to get more funding’

This is completely back to front – if a scientist found real evidence that contradicted the accepted theory of human-made climate change, do you think they’d have any difficulty finding funding? Successful climate change deniers can already rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars just to present their opinions, without the backing of any reputable science.22

A survey of climate scientists by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2007 found that 58 per cent of respondents had experienced political pressure to water down their scientific findings.23 The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was stripped of many ‘undesirable’ passages by politicians before it could be published, including warnings about the likely impacts of climate change on North America and references to the risk of runaway climate change.24 More recently, the outspoken IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri has endured a barrage of false claims of fraud and corruption from climate deniers.31 There is plenty of pressure on climate scientists to change their research – but nearly all of it is pushing them to tone down their message, and not to speak out.

How to talk to a climate change denier

If they’re just misinformed, or don’t want to believe it for personal reasons, then you may have a chance of changing their mind. Don’t expect to win them over all in one go – be sensitive, explain the facts as simply and clearly as you can and try not to get frustrated. Remember that the reality of climate change is a huge and scary thing to get our heads around – it’s a complex, decentralized and enormous threat that can’t be easily blamed on any one single organization or person. Accepting it fully means we need to make genuine changes in our lives and start working actively to stop it, which is a significant responsibility to take on.

Try being gently challenging rather than staying on the defensive – do they have a coherent argument as to why climate change isn’t happening, or isn’t serious? Most people don’t – they have a collection of soundbites or excuses that they use to justify not thinking about the problem properly. Don’t be too confrontational though – the aim is to make them seriously think the matter through and change their minds by themselves, rather than for you to ‘win the argument’. Be sympathetic rather than accusatory – make it clear that the fault doesn’t lie with the person you’re speaking to, but the public misinformers and their corporate funders.

If you’re debating with a ‘hardline’ denier – someone with a strong vested interest, or who’s being paid to spout an anti-science line – you need to be aware that you’re not likely to win them over! The only time it’s worth doing this is when there are other people watching – for example, at a public debate, on an internet message board, or in a media interview. In these cases, remember that it’s the audience, not the denier, that you’re trying to win over – and so coming across well is just as important as having the right arguments.

Stay calm, confident and polite. Counter their nonsense as best you can, but don’t just be reactive – ask them which bits of the basic science they disagree with. Do they not believe CO2 is a greenhouse gas, or that the planet is warming up? Ask them what evidence they have for these extraordinary claims that contradict 150 years of science and tens of thousands of temperature measurements. If they claim it’s not a big problem, give them some real-life examples of what floods, droughts and storms are already doing to people all over the world. Professional deniers love to pick at details but often struggle when challenged on the overall picture, because their cherry-picked criticisms don’t add up to anything coherent.

Danny Chivers is a climate change researcher, activist, carbon footprint analyst and performance poet. He is author of the all-new No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change, published by New Internationalist – a handy pocket guide to the latest climate change science, targets, solutions, politics, activism, and the way forward.

For the latest scientific debunking of contrary climate arguments, keep an eye on www.realclimate.org and www.skepticalscience.com

  1. nin.tl/gxGtbg ; nin.tl/ggpkmK and nin.tl/e1rSrU
  2. nin.tl/fTzx3y
  3. Tyndall, J (1861), ‘On the absorption and radiation of heat by gases and vapors, and on the physical connexion of radiation, absorption, and conduction’ Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol 151, Part I.
  4. nin.tl/bk59Hd
  5. nin.tl/d4vx46
  6. Doran, P. T. and M. Kendall Zimmerman (2009), ‘Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change’, EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union 90: 22.
  7. Murphy et al (2009), ‘An observationally based energy balance for the Earth since 1950’, Journal of Geophysical Research, 114. See also www.skepticalscience.com ‘It hasn’t warmed since 1998’
  8. Domingues et al (2008) ‘Improved estimates of upper-ocean warming and multi-decadal sea-level rise’, Nature, 453.
  9. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  10. See for example Stanhill, G. and S. Cohen (2001), ‘Global dimming: a review of the evidence for a widespread and significant reduction in global radiation with discussion of its probable causes and possible agricultural consequences’, Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 107.
  11. The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (31 March 2010), the Science Assessment Panel (14 April 2010), and the Independent Climate Change Email Review chaired by Sir Muir Russell (7 July 2010).
  12. ‘Release of global-average temperature data’, Met Office press release, 5 December 2009. nin.tl/dyuKWv
  13. Figures from UNESCO/SCOPE/UNEP Report ‘The Human Perturbation of the Climate Cycle’, available at nin.tl/bc7rhm. Gigatonnes of carbon converted into billions of tonnes of CO2 by my own calculation (multiplied by 3.67).
  14. nin.tl/9N4i5B
  15. IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group 1, Section 2.7.
  16. nin.tl/ gYpVgj
  17. nin.tl/ekctai
  18. There’s an excellent list of the positive and negative effects of climate change, with links to the relevant scientific research, at nin.tl/bBzYPb
  19. Global Humanitarian Forum (2009) The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis, available online at nin.tl/awh8nC
  20. A set of globally-agreed targets to improve health and fight poverty and hunger. See www.un.org/millenniumgoals/
  21. Global Humanitarian Forum (2009) The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis.
  22. The Noosa Journal, ‘Global warming skeptic takes his message to Noosa’, 11 January 2010. See also www.prwatch.org/node/8686
  23. Union of Concerned Scientists and Government Accountability Project, February 2007, Atmosphere of Pressure: Political Interference in Federal Climate Science.
  24. Roger Harrabin, 6 April 2007, The Today Programme, BBC Radio 4. David Wasdell, February 2007, ‘Political Corruption of the IPCC Report?’.
  25. J Vidal, ‘If Rajendra Pachauri goes, who on Earth would want to be IPCC chair?’ The Guardian, 3 September 2010.
  26. UNEP, www.grid.unep.ch/glaciers/

This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7

Comments on Switching off denial: a guide

Leave your comment







 

  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

  1. #1 Joseph A Olson, PE 27 May 11

    If this site allows debate, and you are seriously interested in the reason that the MOST informed scientists disagree with AGW, then visit FauxScienceSlayer.com. Follow the 'Link' tab to 'Author interview with Dennis Miller' where Ii explain in ten easy, humorous minutes the 3 biggest lies about this greatest FRAUD since the world was flat. Here is the brief outline:

    1 Thermal Mass....on a planet of 259 trillion cubic miles of mostly molten rock there is not enough CO2 mass total, much less from humans, to have any measurable thermal effect.

    2 The OLR Delay....Outgoing Longwave Radiation claimed 'trapped' by CO2 is delayed for only20 milliseconds

    3 CO2 Toxicity....claimed dangerous by EPA is safe to 50,000 PPM and has been 7,000 PPM many times in the past with NO impact on the temperature.

    Veritas vos Liberabit !

  2. #2 twawki 30 May 11

    What a load of rubbish. Next youll be parroting the line that global warming causes more snow. This magazine has become as bad as the lamestream media.

  3. #3 Giedre 30 May 11

    @twawki, what exactly is rubbish in this text, in your opinion?

  4. #6 DannyC 03 Jun 11

    @Joseph A Olson - I'm very happy to debate with you! I've looked at the link you posted and, with respect, none of the claims made in the interview stand up to scrutiny. You seem to be making three main points:

    * Firstly, you say that because the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is so small (390 parts per million), then it can't be having a significant effect. You use the analogy of dropping a hot ’BB’ (do you mean ball bearing?) into a swimming pool, saying that a very small item (a ball bearing) can't heat a large volume (a swimming pool). This completely fails as an analogy, because of course the CO2 isn't heating the Earth directly - it's the sun that's heating the planet, and all the CO2 is doing is trapping more of the sun's heat in the atmosphere. It's not like dropping a hot ball bearing into a swimming pool - it's like building a greenhouse over the pool. Even if the glass in the greenhouse has a much smaller volume that the water in the pool, it still causes the water in the pool to heat up!

    390 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 may not sound like much, but if you look at the prehistoric record you can see how significant it really is. The last time levels sank to 180 ppm, we had an ice age. In pre-industrial times, CO2 was at 280 ppm. Last time the CO2 levels were as high as they are today was in the mid-Pliocene, some 3.5 million years ago, when sea levels were 25 metres higher and huge crocodiles roamed the steamy plains of Canada. We're just lucky that there's a delay between increased CO2 and the warming it causes - we still have time to get CO2 down to a safer level before the really serious runaway warming kicks in (although things are getting urgent).

    * Secondly, you claim that CO2 doesn't capture enough radiation to have a warming effect. Anyone can disprove this, as explained in the article, by shining lamps onto two bottles, one with CO2 and one without - see here: news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8394168.stm

    The amount of heat captured by each CO2 molecule may seem small, but there's a heck of a lot of those molecules, and added together they have a very significant effect!

    You also claim that water vapour is a more important greenhouse gas than CO2. You’re right that there's a lot more water vapour in the air than there is CO2 - but the difference is, water vapour levels are currently relatively stable, while CO2 is rising rapidly thanks to all the fossil fuels we're burning and the forests we're chopping down. So it's CO2 we need to worry about, not water.

    Also in this section, you suggest that there's a limited amount of infrared radiation (i.e. heat) coming from the sun, so how can CO2 be trapping more of it as it increases? Well, the simple answer is that, at the moment, most of the heat from the sun bounces off the Earth and is reflected back into space. If we increase the amount of greenhouse gases like CO2 in the atmosphere, we trap more of that heat that would otherwise be reflected back into space.

    * Finally, you talk about the levels at which CO2 is toxic to humans, which is totally irrelevant and has no bearing on climate change whatsoever! It's the effect of CO2 in the atmosphere, not its direct effect on humans, which is the problem here.

    In summary: all of the points in the interview are unsubstantiated assertions, backed up by no scientific references, and very easily disproved by a brief look at any credible online climate science site. There's nothing new or interesting in the interview at all. Sorry!

    By the way, this is good news - it would be terrible if climate change wasn't being caused by CO2. If it was happening due to natural factors beyond our control, there'd be nothing we could do about it and we'd just have to resign ourselves to a future of droughts, storms, floods and other disasters. Luckily, it's mainly caused by human-made greenhouse gases - which means we can still avert the worst effects, if we act fast. So thank goodness that CO2 really is to blame.

    [nb. I posted an earlier version of this comment but accidentally got Mr Olson's name wrong! I realised the error as soon as I'd posted it and so asked NI to delete the comment and replace it with this corrected one. Apologies for any confusion caused, and a sheepish little wave of recognition to everyone else out there who's experienced that special ’just-pressed-send-then-suddenly-realised’ feeling...]

  5. #7 dramaticus 03 Jun 11

    @twawki I'd like to know too, exactly what you think is rubbish.

    @Joseph A Olsen... Come on. I am a busy man and I wanted to follow up your ideas. So I have taken the time to look at the interview you recommended. This 'expert'; says that Michael Crichton is the smartest man he ever met... Crichton's outpourings against AGM are legendary for being based on nothing. With all respect, you are akin to people who believe that 9/11 was an inside job and that man never landed on the moon. It's a way of thinking where the MASS of evidence and expertise is ignored for obscure tidbits that satisy potty theories.

    Of course this site is open to debate... It's famous for it. But there's nothing to debate with people who use Crichton and say things like ’The most informed scientists disagree with AGW’.

    Just a a waste of time.

    Three days ago, the latest figures were released, saying that our carbon emissions are far worse than predicted... and those who are trying to address this most serious of problems deserve a break from crackpots.

    It's somewhat disappointing that such a useful article only has comments from the dangerously eccentric fringe... what happened? Why is this?

  6. #8 dramaticus 03 Jun 11

    PS As I was writing, 'Danny' was posting. Excellent!

    I, too, got your name wrong Mr Olson, apologies. But no apologies whatsoever for my sense of despair at your groundless 'theories' nor for my comparing you to the kind of people who believe that 9/11 was an inside job.

    The world is in crisis, in so many different ways and the most immediate one and the one with the most dire consequences is climate change... people involved in trying to create changes that counteract it should be freed up from dealing with crackpots.

    On that note, an interesting piece of research to follow is the amount of 'deniers' and 'experts' who have turned out to be funded by oil companies.

  7. #9 dramaticus 03 Jun 11

    PS As I was writing, 'Danny' was posting. Excellent!

    I, too, got your name wrong Mr Olson, apologies. But no apologies whatsoever for my sense of despair at your groundless 'theories' nor for my comparing you to the kind of people who believe that 9/11 was an inside job.

    The world is in crisis, in so many different ways and the most immediate one and the one with the most dire consequences is climate change... people involved in trying to create changes that counteract it should be freed up from dealing with crackpots.

    On that note, an interesting piece of research to follow is the amount of 'deniers' and 'experts' who have turned out to be funded by oil companies.

  8. #10 DannyC 03 Jun 11

    @dramaticus - thanks for your thoughts and your support! As for the funding side of things, it's an important point but it's also worth noting that not EVERYONE who denies human-made climate change is funded by the fossil fuel lobby - there are plenty of other reasons why people don't want to believe it's true.

    For the paper version of the magazine, I also wrote a ’Spotters' Guide’ to different types of climate denial - it's not on the New Internationalist website yet but you can read it here: http://www.climatespectator.com.au/commentary/climate-denial-spotters-guide

    I'd be interested in your thoughts!

  9. #11 dramaticus 06 Jun 11

    @danny yes indeed, in the same way that people who think 9/11 was an inside job, there's plenty of people who are not professional deniers, just with an unusually configured mind. I admire your patience! And incidentally, think your article and your book are excellent.

    What next for the endeavors to reverse the worst?

  10. #12 Mark M. 10 Jun 11

    ’Closer to the sea (which is warming faster than the air) the ice is retreating.’

    Water has 30X the thermal resistance of air. It warms significantly slower, not faster than air.

    Also, trimming out the well documented Medieval Warming Period opens your graphs to the charge of selective editing.

    Finally, the idea that the East Anglia/Michael Mann computer model whose algorithms are secret (not available for review or experimentation) even to their maintainers! (who had to struggle with and experiment with 'fudge' variables) to 'reproduce' the reported results is somehow a valid scientific experiment if laughable. It's just pathetically bad programming by amateurs who don't understand the importance of data integrity, source code control, or key aspects of the scientific method like 'repeat-ability'. Publicly funded science should be audited regularly and subject to the same data integrity protections that comprise basic due diligence in the commercial world.

  11. #13 DannyC 11 Jun 11

    @ Mark M

    Thanks for your comments, which I will try to deal with in turn:

    ’Water has 30X the thermal resistance of air. It warms significantly slower, not faster than air.’

    It also cools much more slowly, and so retains heat for longer. Plus, of course, the dark surface of the ocean means it absorbs more heat than the ice-covered land in the Antarctic - and on a global scale there's a far greater surface area of water than of land. Figure 3 shows how significant this difference is at a global level.

    However, I will admit that in the interests of brevity I was over-simplifying things a bit - what's going on in the Antarctic is pretty complex! Certain bits are growing, and while some parts are melting most of the bits near the ocean AREN'T shrinking, despite the warmer oceans, due to various other complicating factors. The point I was trying to make in the article is that there are good explanations for all of this, and it can't be counted as evidence against human-made climate change. If you want a more detailed explanation, see here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/antarctica-gaining-ice.htm

    When it comes to melting ice, most of the action is currently in the Arctic, rather than the Antarctic. Which is good news, because if the Antarctic starts to give way, we're in BIG trouble.

    ’Also, trimming out the well documented Medieval Warming Period opens your graphs to the charge of selective editing.’

    - Nothing has been ’trimmed out’. The Medieval Warming Period was a phenomenon that only took place in Europe, not in the rest of the world. The graphs in this article all show global temperatures, and on a global scale it's significantly warmer today than it was in Medieval times.

    ’Finally...the East Anglia/Michael Mann computer model...’

    - I think I've answered this point already, in the section of the article titled ’We can't trust the computer models’. The models are only there to help us manage the problem. I've no doubt that some are better than others, and that all could be improved. However, there's an enormous mountain of evidence that human-made global warming is real and serious - from the prehistoric record to the current rocketing global rate of natural disasters - that has nothing to do with computer models, and that is telling us very clearly that this is a serious problem and we need to act fast.

  12. #14 Dani 13 Jun 11

    Dear sirs,
    Reading your article 'Switching off denial' made me very agitated. I am not a denier as such, but I do question it being completely human made for two reasons, neither of which were addressed in the article. One being, we are still coming out of an ice age, and therefore the would would be heating up, and there is no way of knowing what would be a natural height to go to. And second, I remember reading quite some time ago that the biggest emitter of CO2 is the sea, from the sun shining down.
    I am not a denier, as I am willing to hear all sides, and make my own mind up on the data gathered. If you have reasons against my two points, I would be very grateful to hear them.
    With regards
    Dani

  13. #15 fdkfjsdk 13 Jun 11

    ’Water has 30X the thermal resistance of air. It warms significantly slower, not faster than air.’

    And that would mean it cooled slower too. Which would mean that it would accumulate more heat in a given amount of time. I'm assuming you aren't a scientist yourself?

  14. #16 DannyC 16 Jun 11

    @Dani,

    Thanks for your questions - I'll look at each of them in turn:

    ’...we are still coming out of an ice age, and therefore the would would be heating up, and there is no way of knowing what would be a natural height to go to.’

    Check out the section of the article above about prehistoric warming and cooling, where I said:

    ’...the Earth has swung periodically between colder and warmer periods over the eons (see Figure 1). These huge changes were initially triggered by tiny fluctuations in the Earth’s temperature – the sun might go through a slightly warmer or cooler phase, or kinks in the Earth’s orbit might take the planet out a little further or in a little closer. The planet would then warm or cool gradually, over hundreds or thousands of years. Then suddenly, this would transform into rapid change, switching the planet from cool to warm or vice versa [because of feedback effects]’

    Before humans came along, these warming or cooling periods would eventually reach their natural end when the feedbacks ran out of power, or when external solar or orbital changes start to push things back the other way. Sometimes the Earth would remain in a relatively stable state for hundreds, thousands or millions of years, as all these forces come into balance; at other times the temperature would slowly start to change again, in response to the next tiny fluctuation in the sun’s output or in our planet’s kinky orbit.

    By pumping such a large amount of CO2 into the air at an unprecedented rate, we have effectively overridden these slow natural cycles. The jolt of extra heating from humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions is happening much more quickly than the tiny, incremental changes that triggered those past warmings and coolings. It doesn't matter what the planet was ’going to do anyway’ before we came along - by blasting so much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere so quickly, we are having a far greater effect in a much shorter time than the tiny, cumulative, long-term effects that used to take us in and out of ice ages. While certain natural fluctuations (such as the sun going through warmer or cooler phases) will continue to have some effect on the planet's temperature in the future, humanity's greenhouse gas emissions are currently the main game in town - and will remain so, unless we manage to drastically reduce them.

    ’...I remember reading quite some time ago that the biggest emitter of CO2 is the sea, from the sun shining down.’

    Every year, the sea releases about 332 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. However, the sea also absorbs around 340 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year - so overall, the ocean sucks up 8 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. It's a really important carbon ’sink’, and without its help global warming would be far worse. Unfortunately, by absorbing all this excess CO2 the ocean is gradually become more acidic, which is damaging corals and other sea life. This gives us yet another reason to reduce our CO2 emissions!

  15. #17 pcc 30 Jun 11

    Danny, what about the following sceptical counter-arguments?

    First, your Figure 1 suggests that climate change would happen anyway even in the absence of man-made greenhouse emissions, and that the current temperature is within the normal range experienced in the last 400,000 years.

    Second, you say that 'No serious sceptic could doubt that human-caused climate change is real, and serious'. Surely climate change is real and serious whether it's natural, man-made, or a mixture of the two, but the question is, how serious? There are many real/serious problems in the world today, where does climate change rank? Yesterday's newspaper, for example, mentioned tuition increases for students; crime; conflicts in Afghistan and Libya; drug addiction; political repression in Myanmar; unrest in Greece; the debt crisis; and cycling accidents due to poor road design.

    Climate change is a big topic for the activists who specialize in it, but most people have bigger and more pressing problems to deal with, and they feel insulted when activists and politicians don't recognize this reality. That's why there's so much popular scepticism on this issue. It isn't a matter of a 'false choice', as you put it: most of us agree something should be done about each of our problems; the disagreement is on priorities and on solutions.

  16. #18 nhardy 18 Jul 11

    Climate Change is real, it's just not caused by Humans.

    And Surprisingly, your 'Quick Snippets of Falseness' are actually false. However they do appear to be modified wordings of leading scientists actually say which you have changed to make them look bad.

    'Volcanoes produce more CO2 than Humans' - Absolutely true. For example did you know that the Chilean Volcano produced more CO2 than all of mankind has ever produced?

    Also, the World actually isn't warming up, global temperatures have been declining since 2000 and this year has recorded some of the coldest weather on record. True, some of the warmest weather has also been recorded in recent times, but that is also due to an advance in technology and the amount of weather stations, etc.

    Overall, to sum up your article as quick as I can;
    COMPLETE AND UTTER LOAD OF BULLS**T!!!

    95% Chance you are being paid by the Australian Labor Party to help sell their Carbon Tax. Guess What? It ain't working!

    I also noticed how no actual facts were given by you, only mere general ideas. I have yet to find a Human Caused Climate Change Believer with facts...

  17. #19 Annabelle 29 Jul 11

    1. The Ideal Gas Law PV=nRT quite accurately predicts the atmospheric temperature of Earth, Mars, Venus and Titan (at all altitudes) based on a simple pressure effect. Why add the unnecessary complication of the highly dubious Greenhouse Effect to an elegant and simple solution?
    2.How come you do not agree with a statement that says we are no where close to knowing where energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter. We are not close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not! It is a travesty!
    3.Most of the planet used to be covered by ice. The reason it is not now, is not because I drive a car or have central heating. Please try to get your tiny mind around that.

    The current warming trend pre-dates the rapid and substantial increase in consumption of hydrocarbons and it has been proven rises in CO2 have lagged warming climate, not led it.

    Actual measurement of atmospheric CO2 shows a substantial variation of levels since 1800, confirming ice core readings are simply wrong.

    The temperature of the planet has been higher than it is now and it is, in fact, excessive cold that poses a substantially higher threat to life.

    Sea levels are not rising at a rate that poses any threat to life and the Maldives, for example, are currently experiencing lower sea levels than they have for most of the last 200 years.

    Australia used to be on the Equator, so substantial change has always occurred on this planet and just because man is now prolific does not mean that will stop or that man has any right to believe he will always be prolific.

    The data on which the far from authoritative IPCC conclusions are based is of highly questionable integrity, as is the character of those who have achieved wealth and notoriety from promoting alarmist theory (yes, it is only theory). If you are so confident of your argument, why would you go out of your way to deny those who have valid questions the chance to ask them? Why would your first resort be to try to undermine the character of the messenger rather than the message?

    Should there prove to be a causal link between man's activity and the far from unusual change in climate, fine, but it is not proven, it is most certainly not justification for the huge burden to be placed on taxpayers and it is even more certainly not justification for some of the items included in the draft Copenhagen treaty.

    What's the solution for someone who is hysterical? A slap. I'm not close enough to administer it, but you could sure do with receiving a hefty one.

    I think you'll find most sceptics are people who are just sceptical and aren't paid by anyone to be sceptical.

    Strangely enough despite poor education, blatant attempts using politically correct Newspeak to curb rationality, independent thought is still out there to question ’received wisdom’ especially when politicians jump on a bandwago

  18. #20 Annabelle 29 Jul 11

    1. The Ideal Gas Law PV=nRT quite accurately predicts the atmospheric temperature of Earth, Mars, Venus and Titan (at all altitudes) based on a simple pressure effect. Why add the unnecessary complication of the highly dubious Greenhouse Effect to an elegant and simple solution?
    2.How come you do not agree with a statement that says we are no where close to knowing where energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter. We are not close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not! It is a travesty!
    3.Most of the planet used to be covered by ice. The reason it is not now, is not because I drive a car or have central heating. Please try to get your tiny mind around that.

    The current warming trend pre-dates the rapid and substantial increase in consumption of hydrocarbons and it has been proven rises in CO2 have lagged warming climate, not led it.

    Actual measurement of atmospheric CO2 shows a substantial variation of levels since 1800, confirming ice core readings are simply wrong.

    The temperature of the planet has been higher than it is now and it is, in fact, excessive cold that poses a substantially higher threat to life.

    Sea levels are not rising at a rate that poses any threat to life and the Maldives, for example, are currently experiencing lower sea levels than they have for most of the last 200 years.

    Australia used to be on the Equator, so substantial change has always occurred on this planet and just because man is now prolific does not mean that will stop or that man has any right to believe he will always be prolific.

    The data on which the far from authoritative IPCC conclusions are based is of highly questionable integrity, as is the character of those who have achieved wealth and notoriety from promoting alarmist theory (yes, it is only theory). If you are so confident of your argument, why would you go out of your way to deny those who have valid questions the chance to ask them? Why would your first resort be to try to undermine the character of the messenger rather than the message?

    Should there prove to be a causal link between man's activity and the far from unusual change in climate, fine, but it is not proven, it is most certainly not justification for the huge burden to be placed on taxpayers and it is even more certainly not justification for some of the items included in the draft Copenhagen treaty.

    What's the solution for someone who is hysterical? A good hard slap.

    I think you'll find most sceptics are people who are just sceptical and aren't paid by anyone to be sceptical.

    Strangely enough despite poor education, blatant attempts using politically correct Newspeak to curb rationality, independent thought is still out there to question ’received wisdom’ especially when politicians jump on a bandwagon

  19. #21 Freeman 28 Aug 12

    res ipsa loquitur:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuT19FVbR-0

  20. #22 Andyj 12 Nov 12

    You omitted the little fact in warmer times past, the air pressure was higher.
    In fact through pre-history temperature and pressure follow far, far more closely than C02.
    If you are one of these people who think ’C02 sequestration’ ought to go ahead, consider this, all the Earth's locked up Carbon that we burn came from the atmosphere.

    Glucose, the plants building blocks from photosynthesis is 6 parts carbon to 6 parts water. Expelling no less than 12 parts oxygen.

    Oh by the way, if you want to house, feed, cloth and equip then maintain ’needy’ foreigners who have flown into this high energy economy, I suggest you pay. If you want them to have lots of babies, then your AGW argument is moot.

  21. #24 Kevin 25 Jun 13

    Still a skeptic ! State of the art NASA remote sensing satellites have shown that way more heat escapes the atmosphere
    than the global warming models are using to predict future temperature rise . I want data that shows how much CO2 humans pump into the atmosphere and data on how much heat actually is retained as a result ! Also it has been reported that at one time CO2 concentrations were 10 times current levels and animal and plant life flourished ! I think GW is a scam ! Conservation, on the other hand would make a lot more sense ! No one can argue about leaving something behind for future generations. We have building technology that consumes 70% less energy and can stand up to Cat 5 storms . GW is just a diversion from what really needs to be done which is a complete redesign of our land based technology. Actually there is no need for re design since the designs already exist . One can only wonder how many times we have to see people standing in front of a pile of rubble that used to be a house when it does not have be this way ! As far as Climate Change ’ Change is constant and change is normal ’ Bucky Fuller . Deal with it !

  22. #25 pcmcgee 19 Apr 16

    You guys need to learn to solve problems, not continually occupy my life with them.

    SUN->------BIG UMBRELLA (at helio-terra Lagrange point)------>Earth

    Get the picture?

    Anything else?

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

Get our free fortnightly eNews

Multimedia

Videos from visionOntv's globalviews channel.

Recently in Features

All Features

Popular tags

All tags

This article was originally published in issue 442

New Internationalist Magazine issue 442
Issue 442

More articles from this issue

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

If you would like to know something about what's actually going on, rather than what people would like you to think was going on, then read the New Internationalist.

– Emma Thompson –

A subscription to suit you

Save money with a digital subscription. Give a gift subscription that will last all year. Or get yourself a free trial to New Internationalist. See our choice of offers.

Subscribe