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Why we bother

Filed under: — group @ 12 March 2010

A letter from a reader (reproduced with permission):

Dear RealClimate team:

I have a background in biology and studied at post-grad level in the area of philosophy of science. For the last few years, I have been working on a book about the logic of argument used in debates between creationists and evolutionists.

About a year ago I decided it was time to properly educate myself about climate science. Being perhaps a little too influenced by Harry M Collins’ “The Golem” (and probably too much modern French philosophy!), I was definitely predisposed to see group-think, political and cultural bias in the work of climatologists.

On the whole, though, I tried hard to follow the principles of genuine skepticism, as I understood them.

Obviously, there are plenty of ill-considered opinions to be found either side of any issue, but only the most ignorant person could fail to see the terrible intellectual gulf between the quality of so-called skeptic sites and those defending the science behind the AGW thesis.

What convinced me, though, is that the arguments made by a few sites like yours are explicit and testable. In particular, it is useful that RealClimate sticks to the science as much as possible. It has been a lot of hard work to get here, but I am now at a point where I understand the fundamentals of climate science well enough to articulate them to others.

For my part, I am grateful to you guys. I hope it gives you some small amount of satisfaction to know that your work can convert readers who really were skeptics in the beginning. I use the word ‘skeptic’ carefully – the one thing most commonly absent from the so-called ‘skeptics’ is authentic skepticism.

By the way, my book is an attempt to categorise the various logical errors people fall into when they search for arguments to support a conclusion to which they have arrived at a priori. It will now have a few chapters on global warming.

All the best,


549 Responses to “Why we bother”

  1. 1
    tamino says:

    It may be hard for my critics to swallow, but I too got interested in the global warming issue because I was skeptical. Your reader has hit the nail on the head with “only the most ignorant person could fail to see the terrible intellectual gulf between the quality of so-called skeptic sites and those defending the science behind the AGW thesis.”

    And for me too, RC has been of inestimable help in learning about climate science.

    Thanks.

  2. 2
    Tony Noerpel says:

    bravo!

    As an Engineer, I’ve always accepted the science but I was willing to give deniers a go. Arguments like “the seventies”, “mars in warming”, “It’s the sun” and “water vapor is 98% of the GH effect” convinced me that deniers have a very different agenda than scientific reality. Each denier argument is more ludicrous than the next and defies the definition of skepticism. Please keep up the good work.

    Tony Noerpel

  3. 3
    Dave G says:

    I’m also grateful to all here at RealClimate, as they have given an unscientific person like me ammo to fight off the libertarian hordes.

  4. 4
    Daniel J. Andrews says:

    That books sounds like one I want to read. As a biologist I’ve been involved in the creation-evolution mess for a while. Unlike climate scientists I’ve not been threatened with physical violence, but I have had people express concern for my immortal soul (and my brother tends to keep his family away from me, as if I were going to jump all over his kids and drag them into the bottomless pit with me right there and then).

    When I started reading up on climate over 3 years ago I saw that the pseudoskeptics were using the same techniques as the creationists. I wasn’t skeptical about global warming (I know how science and scientists operate so I was pretty sure there was good evidence for it), but I didn’t know if it was natural or if we were responsible in some way.

    It was sites like RC that helped me understand how we know that it is “very likely” due to our gases. Initially many of the posts here were over my head (I didn’t even know what “forcing” meant), but I read the Start Here files, I read comments, I followed links galore, I bookmarked sites (big thanks to many of the regular posters for those links), I bought and read recommended books, and I watched videos (thanks to Dr. Dave Archer for his climate lectures, his book, and for sending me a pdf of answers to the book questions).

    And now, to quote Shakespeare, “In nature’s infinite book of secrecy, A little I can read”. I’m looking forward to being able to read even more in the years to come. Should you ever need donations to fight back against the antiscience, I’d be happy to contribute. In fact, tell me where I can contribute and I will.

  5. 5
    EL says:

    “Obviously, there are plenty of ill-considered opinions to be found either side of any issue, but only the most ignorant person could fail to see the terrible intellectual gulf between the quality of so-called skeptic sites and those defending the science behind the AGW thesis.”

    I think there is a multitude of issues driving the controversy:
    1. People live busy lives and get their sources from the media.
    2. Science itself has become very complex.
    3. A lot of different professions are having trouble coping with the complexity of science. (IE: They may have to trust experts even within their own subject)
    4. Many of those web sites mentioned are profit motivated.
    5. America has a very polarized political environment right now, and politicians have injected their poison into the topic.
    6. Businesses are trying to counter each other.
    7. There has been a complete breakdown in communication between the scientific community and the public at large.

    I think complexity is the largest issue.

  6. 6
    David B. Benson says:

    What Daniel J. Andrews wrote in comment #4.

    I as well have found obtaining a firm grasp of climatology much more difficult than an equivalent level of understanding of other scientific fields. RealClimate has provided a significant portion of my education.

  7. 7
    Luke Lea says:

    It would help to name which of the skeptical sites he found wanting? Climate Audit? Lubos Motl? Arthur Pielke, Jr.?
    Those are the ones I read, along with RealClimate of course!

  8. 8
    aaaaa says:

    Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway is a good background read on the history of skepticism.

  9. 9
    David B. Benson says:

    aaaaa (8) — Yes, but it is not skepticism, a honorable philosophical stance.

  10. 10
    Cfox says:

    Here, here, I offer my sincere thanks as well to RC!
    To: #4 Mr. Andrews:
    All the best in your evolutionary battles. I had the pleasure of taking Ken Miller’s intro biology class and it spurred a dormant interest in science (and corrected a few “lessons” provided by the Georgia Public School system…more specifically Cobb County, the one with the “Evolution is only a theory” stickers on the textbooks).
    Thanks to all the regular contributors…I even enjoy CFU.
    Thank you and know that your efforts are appreciated (even if in silence),
    CFox

  11. 11
    Tim Jones says:

    AGW seems so obvious to me that I’m amazed more people don’t get it right off. But people are in denial about the whole 6th extinction. I think there’s huge unconscious resistance to
    acknowledging that the American dream has become a planetary nightmare. Our gods are too small.

  12. 12
    Mark A. York says:

    Realclimate has been invaluable to me in writing two novels with global warming as the backdrop. It is the post on Crichton’s book that got me going on it. I didn’t read the whole novel till much later. I was outraged by the blatant, defamatory lies in it. It’s the same sort of thing flying all over the media now. My books are still works in progress, the first languishing on an agent’s reading pile of to do’s. Now, if I could just stay out of those centered and non centered PCA debates with disciples of McIntyre! Tamino has a dynamite lesson on that too. Just top notch.

  13. 13
    AndyB says:

    I really like that the writer confessed, “I was definitely predisposed to see group-think, political and cultural bias in the work of climatologists.” Bravo. Identifying one’s own predispositions is a critical and difficult thing to do. Most scientists I know do so.

  14. 14
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Agree, and a reader with a background in biology should find plenty of evidence of climate change without needing physics.

  15. 15
    Gary Bohn says:

    I too came from the evolution – creationist war, starting my time at t.o.. It was actually a discussion at an evolution friendly science site that got me interested in the AGW debate and directed me to RC. The first thing that struck me about the sceptics was the similarity of the structure of their arguments to that of the creationists.

    RC. along with Tamino and Deltoid have helped me immeasurable in developing the knowledge necessary to argue convincingly.

    Thanks
    Gary Bohn

  16. 16
    Lou Grinzo says:

    To me, the key point in this discussion is how long non-scientists like the author of the e-mail quoted in the original post and, well, me, have to work to get our heads around enough of the basics of climate science to avoid sounding like a complete fool every time we talk about it.

    I initially got into energy and climate issues via the peak oil topic. Compared to climate change, peak oil is much easier to grasp, and there are only a few pretty simple concepts one has to get, e.g. it doesn’t matter how large an oil reserve one finds if the oil can only be extracted at a low rate.

    One climate book that I recommend very highly to newcomers is Picturing Climate Change by Gavin et al. A really terrific presentation on the topic was given this week by Katharine Hayhoe, which I mentioned here:

    Must see presentation from Dr. Hayhoe

    http://www.grinzo.com/energy/index.php/2010/03/12/must-see-presentation-from-dr-hayhoe/

  17. 17
    Martin says:

    Well I guess that settles it…….
    I read one just like it the other day except where skeptic was changed to warmer …..
    Is there a punchline or a gotcha moment coming?
    .
    Go figure.
    .
    M

  18. 18
    Lou Grinzo says:

    And yes, I mangled the title of Gavin’s book. D’oh! It’s “Climate Change: Picturing the Science”.

    Sorry about that. As penance, I will buy an extra copy and give it to a relative.

  19. 19

    I have not read “Golem”, but I recently read new a new work of Harry Collins with Robert Evans, “Rethinking Expertise”. I guess that his thought has changed very much. My summary of what I got from the new book is here. Excuse me, this is a blog with a menu for Japanese-speaking people. Also excuse me for not having enough time to discuss it in the present context. Now I just say: logical discussion is a good thing, but it would not make practical sense if the meaning of the words they use are not shared.

  20. 20
    J says:

    Luke Lea (#7): [...] Arthur Pielke, Jr.?

    There’s an Arthur, too? Good God, we’re being overrun with Pielkes!

  21. 21

    Excuse me for my sloppiness. The link in the previous comment of mine (to my blog) should be this.

  22. 22
    Matthew L. says:

    I have had my run ins with various people here (usually the host!), but this post hits the nail on the head.

    Many of us struggle with the science, particularly those of us who are not scientists, but do enough reading and the reality gradually dawns. It also quickly becomes apparent what rubbish is peddled on denial/skeptic sites .

    All sites I feel have got rather bogged down in the minutiae of “Climategate” and I have to search quite a bit to find decent interesting science. I know you have to defend yourselves guys, but it all gets rather boring and I can’t wait for it all to blow over (as it will).

    As well as RealClimate, a big thanks to SkepticalScience.org, a first class site and invaluable aid for the bemused.

  23. 23
    Dan L. says:

    RC is indispensable. It provides a weapon in discussions for which “skeptics” simply have no answer.

    Keep it going, guys: we need you out here in the internet hinterlands.

  24. 24
    Ian says:

    Let me add my thanks to the list.

    A few years ago, like most people, my knowledge of climate science per se came completely from news sources. In other words, I thought it was an area of active debate and speculation where the basic issues were still unknown. I now realize that what I had learned from the news reflected the conventions of news media, rather than the science it was reporting.

    In sum I learned two things from news stories: first, there were unnamed scientists who made no specific claims except to assert that the surface was warming. Second, there were a few individuals who were on record making specific arguments about why the world might not be warming after all (e.g., because solar radiation matched the temperature over time, or the satellite record didn’t match surface records). I would read about these detailed arguments against warming, but never a direct response to them, except the continued assertion by unnamed scientists that the world was warming.

    Naturally I assumed that these objections showed real holes in the nascent science of climate, all the more because no scientific sources were ever quoted with opposing arguments (e.g., that the sun had never been ignored after all, and had no effect on the current trends). I was doing some of my own research into biases similar to those mentioned by your letter writer above, and I figured that climate science could provide an interesting case study.

    You can imagine my surprise when the primary literature revealed study after study after study supporting the mechanisms and effects of warming, and virtually nothing on the “other” side. A very different picture what I got through the news, and a continuing lesson in science and politics. Real Climate bridges the gap between primary literature and news reports like no other. Thanks for all the effort and work that you’ve put in over the past few years.

  25. 25
    NoPreview NoName says:

    I came to this site with some doubts (Are the models overfit? Are the CO2 frequencies already fully blocked?). A few hours reading the background material available here satisfied me.

    I continue to enjoy the new articles.

  26. 26
    Donald Oats says:

    Actually, Daniel Andrews, to quote your words:

    When I started reading up on climate over 3 years ago I saw that the pseudoskeptics were using the same techniques as the creationists. I wasn’t skeptical about global warming (I know how science and scientists operate so I was pretty sure there was good evidence for it), but I didn’t know if it was natural or if we were responsible in some way.

    [Italics put in by me to highlight]
    I would say that you were being sceptical, based upon your words that I have highlighted. Authentic scepticism, to use the words of the writer quoted in the blog piece above, is demonstrated by your comments.

    I try hard to inform people of the difference between the “scepticism” which is simply a ruse to shout down something, and “honest scepticism” (ie “authentic scepticism”) which is all about acknowledging areas of doubt about something and then following through to see if the doubt may be resolved, based on observation, evidence, and reasoning. An honest sceptic is one who will accept that for problems which deal with the inherently uncertain, reducing uncertainty significantly may be the best we can achieve with whatever today’s equipment, measurements, and theory may may provide. And an honest sceptic is willing to leave some doubts lingering, until a later time when those doubts may be reliably addressed.

    But once a toxic sceptic shows up and spouts arrant nonsense couched in the politics that they are really pushing, people seem to go weak at the knees and are putty in the hands of said toxic sceptic. In other words, toxic sceptics like the AGW denial crowd (my set of exceptions from that crowd is {}) generally adhere to a particular belief – for each individual the belief may differ from others – and then they wrap their attack target – AGW – around their core beliefs. In far too many cases they ultimately succeed in propagating both their particular core belief and the idea that AGW is not true. It is a good rhetorical strategy for converting a pissweak argument into something a person – with similar beliefs as the speaker claims to have, even if claimed only indirectly – may swallow as easily as a vitamin pill.

    This site is like the antidote to much of the wooly thinking that converts people into denialist-sceptics. I especially like it when RealClimate covers a particularly relevant topic with a fairly detailed level of the scientific reasoning.

  27. 27
    donald moore says:

    Everyone approaches life from some standpoint,the ‘logical errors’come from searching for arguments rather than EVIDENCE to support our standpoint.In the face of evidence only a fool would not be prepared to change his standpoint and such people are best left to their own delusions.

  28. 28

    The very first difference to note is the notion that anyone’s perception is Truth and cannot be challenged as such. This is the result of the false paradigm being taught in many college literature, sociology & education departments. This point of view is especially popular w/highschool teachers as it provides them a means of escaping trouble caused by angry calls to the principals over what They too believe is only a matter of opinion.
    This leads to reasoning first by emotion: ‘My perception is as good as yours and since the Bible and some climate scientist feel the same way about this controversy, My Opinion is just as good as yours’.

    To these people I say: “Only Qualified Climate scientists w/Ph.D who specialize in some aspect of this science ARE Qualified to Tell the rest of us what the truth is. Sometimes that ‘truth’ must be modified slightly, but this has No bearing on the Reality of what Is regarded as a Theory by scientists Working in this arena.”Theory” as used means Fact–it may be modified in details as we learn more and will certainly be expanded in scope with the scientific process. You’re sadly welcome to your opinions, but Not to your Own Facts/”

  29. 29
    Rob Zuber says:

    Scientists need to directly confront the liars where they are. There should be a coordinated attack on Fox News, Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, etc. because that is where the majority (of Americans) gets their disinformation from. It is not enough to respond with intellectual arguments on a blog. Polls of Americans show that fewer and fewer people accept global warming. Murdoch is winning and you are losing.

    The forces of Murdoch aren’t going to stop until they defund your research. Scientists need to fight back much harder in order to prevent this from happening.

    Just listen to what Glenn Beck says on Fox News on a weekly basis. He’s not simply a denier. He wants to take down science itself.

  30. 30
    donald moore says:

    The only reason for my coming on this web site and other websites is to observe the evidence supporting my standpoint.If the evidence points somewhere else i’m following and searching for truth rather than a standpoint.

  31. 31

    P.S. The above is Not to say that educated people with a sincere interest in science and climate science in particular aren’t capable of understanding very much about the subject. (if they understand “Theory” in science means “Fact” (w/future modifications and additions to come w/out meaning the basics or general conclusions are false.) They most certainly are if educated or simply intelligent enough to avoid the anti-intellectual traps set by a very dangerous paradigm pervading the general public,

  32. 32
    Thomas says:

    It is heartening to see that those without the necessary mathematical and physics background, but who are familar with the scientific method, and with good epistemological method, put in the considerable effort to figure it how.

    I seem to be surrounded by a different sort of opponent. Those who have first class mathematical capabilities, but whose political and religious background cannot get past the “its a gigantic fraud” framework. There seems to be an unshakable point of view, which usually starts with a belief that god made the world to be used up for human benefit (and only he controls the thermostat), and ends with a leftish conspiracy to transfer US wealth to the developing world. Its amazing to be told by a first rate computational fluid mechanist, that because you can’t solve for turbulence, that you can say nothing about future climate.

  33. 33
    D. Monington says:

    I, too, have been wanting to extend my thanks to the RC team. I’ve just been waiting for a thread where such thanks aren’t a hijack. Looks like this is the one.

    Like others, I’m a veteran of the creationism-evolution internet screech-fest, though I am a layman in the subject. And like tamino (who, oddly, I believe I know personally) I came to the subject from a somewhat skeptical point of view with respect to the cause of global warming.

    The articles here helped a great deal and the links to the actual science were invaluable to my understanding. I now feel that thanks to RC (and a few other sites), I have a basic grasp of the subject.

    Thanks for all your incredible VOLUNTEER effort. It really is making a difference.

    D. Monington

  34. 34
    Jean-Philippe says:

    Thank you RC for your Blog/site,

    I came first as a skeptic of AGW and believing of a cultural bias of scientists working on climate.
    You educated me so much, my views have totally changed.
    I’m quite ashamed now to think that before I had an opinion about climate not knowing even the basics, that now by reading your site I’m beginning to start to grasp your science.

    Thank you.

    (Also the “Response” in the comments section are amazing ! Dare I say sometimes even more useful than the article itself (ok maybe not, but they are amazing))

  35. 35
    Taylor says:

    Yes, thank you indeed. In the 90s I was a copyeditor at the American Geophysical Union and saw first hand the care and deliberation that went into research and peer review. Thus, though I had no interest in climate science at the time, I suppose I was fairly well inoculated against some of the sillier denier claims I would hear later (“Climate scientists have to parrot the pro-AGW party line; it’s so they can get rich off the grant money,” “peer review is really just keeping out views they don’t want to hear,” etc.).

    RealClimate has been invaluable in providing a context and explication that, sadly, has been missing from serious journalism. This liberal arts major is grateful for your site.

  36. 36
    dlharman says:

    There are too many comments on RC that automatically equate denialism to: Religious, Republican (or Libertarian) and BS degree as the summa level of achievement.

    It takes a true skeptic/student to be able to research a topic in spite of his biases unafraid of how the chips may fall truth-wise. I can attest to the fact that one doesn’t have to be even mildly liberal or non-religious to see how AGW is affecting our world. After all, those responsible for the CO2 emissions have come from every level of diversity. Understanding or not understanding isn’t the exclusive province of any demographic.

    RC has been indispensable to me in gaining a working grasp of climate science. Thanks.

  37. 37
    dhogaza says:

    Cfox:

    I had the pleasure of taking Ken Miller’s intro biology class and it spurred a dormant interest in science (and corrected a few “lessons” provided by the Georgia Public School system…more specifically Cobb County, the one with the “Evolution is only a theory” stickers on the textbooks).

    I read about such attacks on science in public schools, but I’m too old (and have no children), so have not been exposed to it in any personal sense.

    I’m glad you were open to your science teacher at the undergraduate level teaching you … well, science. Lucky you – Ken Miller!

  38. 38
    Leo G says:

    Sitting here with my butt firmly planted on the fence, I too would just like to say thanx to all of you who take the time to share your knowledge so selflessly. I’ve said it before, but I’m gonna say it again, the one big positive that has come out of this whole AGW fiasco, imo, is that it has brought lay people into direct connection with world class scientists from both “sides”. I can only see good resulting from this for both. I may not understand or agree with everything you guys post, but I sure as hell respect you all!

    Keep up the good work.

    Leo G

  39. 39
    Emanuele Lombardi says:

    “Obviously, there are plenty of ill-considered opinions to be found either side of any issue, but only the most ignorant person could fail to see the terrible intellectual gulf between the quality of so-called skeptic sites and those defending the science behind the AGW thesis.”

    Maybe you should look into better sites. I am not ignorant and have tried to educate myself and find that the AGW crowd are far from the impartial scientists they purport to be. If the data fails to support your theory you reformulate your theory. The AGW crowd discards anything that weakens their assertions. There is plenty of data that fials to support AGW, the difficulty is finding it in all the pro AGW rhetoric, but there are many good books if you loook for them.

    Emanuele Lombardi

  40. 40

    I always want to express my gratitude to the RC gang. I live right in the middle where AGW hits hardest. I don’t need RC to tell me that its happening, but I do need RC for furthering my education on the subject, I enjoyed other scientists comments a great deal as well. I regret not having greater dialogue with scientists having discovered alternative methods confirming or correcting warming trends gained from traditional data calculations.

    RC is the best place to get educated on Climate science issues on the net, perhaps Dr Masters weather underground gets quite close , it is by the way, very refreshing to read a meteorologist view on the subject.

    These are very important times, we make a difference
    for our distant future planet by adhering to the principles gained by knowing reality well…. Its good to be here..

  41. 41
    thermodynamist says:

    Since Joe Felsenstein doesn’t allow anyone who disagrees with him to post on his pseudo-scientific blog, I thought I would try here.
    [Sorry, but take it up with him--OT]

  42. 42
    Walter Meier says:

    I have to agree with the letter. It is sites like RealClimate and Climate Progress that have helped me separate the nonsense from the science, and for that I’m grateful. Keep doing what you’re doing and know that there are many of us lurking out there who will have your back.

  43. 43
    Edward Greisch says:

    Of course you have to keep on “bothering” to run your web site. Otherwise, the opposition will say that you gave up and declare victory. You can’t just refuse to answer and walk away, but some times you have to. That is how a blog is better: you can just post the truth and it stays there.

    Notice that the letter you quote is from a scientist. That makes a huge difference. There must be quite a number of things that make people “hard of understanding” to the point of being impossible to reason with. A scientist, regardless of his or her branch of science, probably does not have most of those problems. If all adults were scientists, GW would have been solved long ago.

    We have to find a way to “get through” to those “impossible” people. We can’t wait for Nature herself to prove it to them. Last night, someone mentioned to me that a graphic artist would be a good addition to any team that is trying to “convert” people. President Obama has recruited a huge number of people to devote a few hours per week to talking to people about his health care bill. Some political groups have created online petitions to sign that get sent to Congress. Others have organized marches on Washington. You have a loyal following that at least argues in your favor in the comments. Some of us can’t march, but I write Letters to the Editor and comments to articles elsewhere in your favor. You or we have to think of more things to do.

    What you are doing is absolutely vital to: you name it: National Security, the survival of humanity, all that anybody holds dear, etc. etc. etc. So you have to keep doing it. It is a moral imperative. Nobody else can do it like you can.

  44. 44

    I too wish to express my deep appreciation for the work of the RC team in their dedication and commitment to expressing the science in realistic terms. I continue to learn every time I read this site and it is one of the best resources for finding the details. RC is a gateway to understanding established and leading edge work in the field of climate science.

    If not for RC I and probably many others would have a much harder time in formulating communications for others.

    Thank you.


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  45. 45

    #7 Luke Lea

    It’s important to distinguish skeptical sites from denialist sites
    Skeptical sites are scientific sites that employ the scientific method in a robust and relevant manner.

    Denialist sites are sites that faux science with mostly distraction, smoke and mirrors, and they tend to indirectly disdain the scientific method in is most relevant sense.

    If you examine the sites you mention that you mention are on the ‘skeptical’ side. You will find that they are wrought and steeped in denialism, not scientific skepticism.


    The Climate Lobby
    Understand the Issue
    http://www.climatelobby.com/fee-and-dividend/
    Sign the Petition!
    http://www.climatelobby.com

  46. 46
    Sou says:

    I was first introduced to the concept of the greenhouse effect back at university in the 1970s. It is only fairly recently that I was prompted by the attacks on scientists, to learn more. In the process I’ve learnt much more than I bargained for; and now am in the situation where I can explain it in very simple terms. A bonus has been brushing up on the science of climate and related physics, which had been slumbering in my brain for the past 40 years, largely unused.

    I’m aghast at the lack of science education in my own country and other places, and the deliberate deceit and obfuscation on the popular denier sites, which take advantage of the uneducated, nurture their ignorance and pander to their inclinations. I’m flabbergasted that in a country as great as the USA, some recent polls show that more than half their population think the world was ‘created’ only 10,000 years ago. Something is very wrong there. I’m ashamed of the behaviour of some in my own country (eg Plimer, Carter, The Australian newspaper, blogger Bolt) in undermining the work of climate scientists and trying to delay mitigation.

    This site has been invaluable in leading me to the real science. Thank you to all the people who run RealClimate and to all those who contribute to these discussions.

  47. 47
    Hugh Laue says:

    It’s about 18 months now since I first got serriously interested in global warming when I followed up with the author (Dr Kelvin Kemm) of his “sceptical” view that “There’s no evidence that CO2 causes global warming”, published in a local (South African)trade news magazine (Engineering News). I asked him for references that supported his argument and, guess what, they were all media articles (eg daily telegraph) or blogs (WUWT). I was almost conned (fousing only on the anti-AGW literature) and wrote “Firstly, let me admit that I started this with the belief that the case for global warming via anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions was well supported by compelling factual data and well argued scientific deduction/inference. Well, as a result of my research over the last few days I have now just about completed a 180 deg turnaround.” But just after sending that email I discovered RC, queried AGW in a comment, was politely directed by Gavin to “Start Here” and read the IPCC reports, did that, quickly had my eyes opened, and replied to Dr Kemm the following day “Perhaps my last email was premature – I guess I am now sitting orthogonally to both views. I downloaded the summary of the latest IPCC report and have also looked at Bradley’s papers on paleolithic proxy data. I got some feedback from the realclimate blog that is leading me to look a bit more closely at the story from both sides.

    The evidence for an unusually high rate of global warming over the last century, compared with the last 1000 years, appears to me to be compelling. Do you agree that it is real? If not why not?

    That leaves the question of GHG foricng, for which you clearly do not believe that the evidence is compelling – in fact you used a very strong denial in your article “there is no evidence”. I don’t understand how you can say there is no evidence – there is at least circumstantial evidence (GHG increasing with temperature) and when anthropogenically caused GHG forcing is included in the models they give a reasonable fit, whereas without there inclusion (only known natural forcing included) they do not.” And then a day later (before he’d replied) I sent teh following “Well, now having downloaded the IPCC technical summary report and having looked more deeply into the climate change debate I am now reasonably satisfied that 1) the fact of a rapid global warming trend over the last 100 years to record heights, when one takes ALL the evidence into account (GISS, radiosonde and satellite) is impossible to deny and 2) that the scientific evidence that the atmospheric increase in CO2 from anthropogenic fossil fuel combustion is responsible for causing at least 50% of this temperature rise is compelling.

    So now I really cannot understand the stance being taken by yourself and other denialists. Most of the criticisms (by denialists) appear to me to have been adequately answered or at least do not put the total picture into doubt.

    You argue that the IPCC approach is not good science and also imply that “new computer models” support your view. Please direct me to the group/s that has developed this/these new models – I am ready and open to be convinced by good scientific arguments.
    Thus where I stand now (and I have not stopped delving into this) I hold the view that unusually rapid global warming is real and anthropogenic CO2 increase is the prime cause. Andalso that the anticipated negative impact due to increased weather extremes, especially severe flood/drought cycles, and sea level rise due to arctic ice melting is a real threat to the world that our children and grandchildren will inherit. What actions to take? If this risk is highly probable as projections indicate, then it is incumbent on us to take action to try and mitigate the risk. If we can agree that there is a problem then we can at least get into productive debates about what actions to take.

    I trust that you hold your views in good (scientific) faith and will not resort to ad hominen attacks on any of the researchers, Hansen or otherwise, but rather focus on the actual evidence and the scientific credibility of the hypotheses/models. If you believe the arguments (supporting an opposing view) are already out there please direct me to your sources so I can look at them myself without you wasting your time re-hashing them for me.”
    His reply was the usual mish-mash of denialist “arguments” culminating with “it’s the sun” and a reference to Monckton!! My reply? “If this is the best reference that you can offer to support your views then I have to seriously question your scientific credibility. A very cursory search picked up sufficient evidence to show that Monkton is not at all credible in the view of “real climate” scientists who have shown the many errors in his paper. The APS noted that his letter was not peer reviewed and the council rejected his conclusions.

    I suggest you take your own advice and consult or explore what the professional climate scientists are arguing – in particular the RealClimate site that is not grinding any political axe (unlike Monkton) but keeps bring the discussion back to the science. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/07/once-more-unto-the-bray/#more-583

    I really have a problem in understanding how you hold the view that you do? It appears to me to be heavily lacking in scientific credibility.”
    Needless to say I have not heard from him since but as far as I understand he is still promoting a denialist view.
    And I have had a similar experience with two other vocal South African denialists (Dr Philip Lloyd and Mr Andrew Kenny).
    My experience is that it is impossible to have a rational debate with denialists. And these guys are not stupid – they are all technically trained. But they are actually not interested in looking at the science and attack the process in their attempts to justify their “doubt”. RC is dismissed as “political” while CA is where you must go for “good science”!!?? And their bottom line is ALWAYS AGW is too uncertain to justify the economic cost of mitigating actions now.
    Thank you once again RC team for the honorable service you are providing to humanity. I also admire the patience with which you reply to newbies to the site that come with lots of denialist baggage (like I did)and enable them to find out (if they are prepared to put in the effort) the overwhelming scientific evidence for AGW and its very likely (being scientifically conservative) catastrophic impact if we continue burning fossil fuels.

  48. 48

    The reason RC is needed, also to add to what is missing in the media. Blaming El-Nino for the warmest winter in history for nearly all of Canada and then assigning El-Nino as cooling most of the US is correct, the higher sun shrouded by dominant thicker clouds giving a lot of snow during winter, quite normal!

    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=1447

    yet it wasn’t the warmest El-Nino ever,

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/tabledata/GLB.Ts.txt

    Global Temperature difference between 2010-1998 for December-January-February is +.12 degrees C. February just past was the warmest ever in history as well. What was this about
    cooling since 1998? Perhaps most contrarians talk only for a US audience?

  49. 49
    JRC says:

    I really appreciate this site. I have a pretty good background in physics, chemistry, and biology from college. But even with that background I was a skeptic until I examined the evidence. The deniers at time have arguments that sound convincing on the surface. It’s kind of sad that more people don’t have the time or the background to look into the evidence and have to rely on the media. Sorry but at this point the media is failing miserably. I have no problem with a skeptic because all scientists are skeptics on many levels. I know that people make comments about Libertarians on here. I’m a Libertarian. I’m a big fan of Thomas Jefferson. He was a big supporter in educating the people, and fiercely defended science. The idea of being a Libertarian and a scientist is not a contradiction or a paradox.

  50. 50
    Garrett says:

    “Climate scientists have to parrot the pro-AGW party line; it’s so they can get rich off the grant money,”

    These guys are so bloody rich. I bet gavin makes 7 figures alone allowing this site to be up every day. Just look at all the time he has to moderate it! Someone is paying him the Big Bucks! I Bet Mann makes 8 figures, and Al Gore, well, we know how much he is pulling in. Yeah, “Climate Change” is a windfall like never seen! just wait until the tax collection comes in next month!


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