More on Global Warming Denial

Few of the denialist commentators I have encountered in discussions of global warming issues have demonstrated an understanding of the science. I may be wrong, but I don’t think I’ve met one who has read the IPCC reports -- which are the most complete documents on the subject. They’re not interested in the facts, they’ve already made up their minds. The facts that they have at their fingertips all come from the same denialist websites. It’s like they have this really efficient system for parroting the latest nonsense that comes down the pike.

I saw a really great example of this just today. Somebody by the name of John Casey issued a press release on January 2nd, 2008, predicting a new period of record cold weather due to solar cycles. As of today, January 6th, a Google search reveals that 95 websites, have carried the press release. I carried out a random check of 12 of these and every one was a denialist site that cited the news release approvingly. The problem is, John Casey is a complete unknown. A Google search finds no scientific work by any John Casey on solar cycles or climatology. He doesn’t show up anywhere. This story is, as far as any scientist is concerned, a complete hoax. Yet all the denialist websites reprinted it as yet more proof of how wrong the AGW people are.

2. What sources of information have you consulted? Have you checked a broad range of sources, including both denier sites and asserter sites? If you were really interested in the issues, you’d want to hear both sides. But if you’re just here to argue, then you’ve spent most of your time on sites friendly to your preconceptions, loading up on ammo for your next big showdown.

3. If the solar radiant energy hitting the earth were to increase by 1%, how much would the earth’s temperature increase (assuming no atmosphere)? It’s a simple question with a simple answer, and it’s quite basic to understanding what’s going on with climate change. I ask you, do you know the answer to that question? Could you figure out how to answer it? I’m not asking anybody to answer the question -- it’s strictly a rhetorical question. If you cannot answer the question, then I’ll state flatly: you don’t understand the basic principles. And if you don’t understand the basic principles, what are you doing arguing the fine points?

Which brings me to another important question: why are people arguing all these fine points? Why are we getting all this ado about temperature measurements, snowstorms, water vapor, and so forth? There are a great many other areas of science that are more interesting and pose fascinating challenges, yet we don’t see much public argument about those issues. Why is this scientific topic so controversial? The answer, I submit, is that this isn’t a scientific controversy. It’s a political controversy. And I don’t mean to say that the both sides are political. I mean to say that one side (the deniers) is motivated exclusively by political beliefs, while the other side (the asserters) is motivated primarily (but not exclusively) by scientific analysis. In rejoinder, deniers will point to Mr Gore and other political figures who have pressed this case for obviously political reasons. They are correct in so noting. But this does not deny two basic facts: 1. The deniers are overwhelmingly political in intent. They don’t care about the science itself, they care about the consequences of the science. 2. The people who are motivated by scientific rather than political considerations are overwhelmingly on the asserter side.

As I have earlier pointed out, the deniers love to use "the shotgun": a rhetorical tactic in which you throw a big pile of complicated tedious arguments at your opponent in the hope that some of them will stick. The pile is so big that most bystanders get confused. The best indicator that somebody is using the shotgun is their failure to stand behind any of their arguments. If you tackle one of their claims in detail and show that it is incorrect, they don’t respond -- they just move on to the next claim. I have experienced this behavior numerous times in my short time here.

To the deniers, then, I offer this advice: render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Don’t stick your political nose into a scientific discussion. You are outclassed and wrong. Stop jawboning and start reading – starting with the IPCC reports. Aren’t you looking five or ten years into the future? Since you don’t understand the science, you really have no idea how all this will turn out. You’re relying on wishful thinking, not rational analysis. Here you are, loudly declaring to the world that climate change science is a hoax, but you really don’t understand the science well enough to know what you’re talking about. Which means that, ten years down the road, you could turn out to be utterly wrong. Ten years from now, the effects of climate change could be so glaringly obvious that the whole world will know that you were completely, totally wrong. And what’s that going to do to your reputation? What’s going to happen when the whole world decides that you deniers lied from the beginning, lied throughout the controversy, lied about everything, and continue to lie? What’s going to happen when proponents of, say, a $50/ton carbon tax point to you and ask the public, "Whom do you trust, the deniers or us?" There’ll be egg all over your faces and you’ll lose every political battle you enter. Now, of course, you might be right -- but you don’t really know whether you’re right or wrong, You don’t understand the science. You want to believe you’re right, but wishing don’t make it so.

The sad thing is, you have solid ground elsewhere on which to fight: the decisions about how we combat global warming are intrinsically political decisions, they are difficult ones, and if you fought your battle there, you could actually accomplish something. But you have overreached yourselves. You have intruded into areas about which you know nothing, assuring the world of a truth you do not know to be true. You are so combative that you try to conquer more territory than you need or are able to conquer, and that will be your undoing. When the truth becomes clear to all, you will be so utterly discredited that your attempts to contest the real decisions -- what we do about CO2 -- will be doomed to failure. The data keep rolling in, the science keeps advancing, and the outcome is clear to any observer whose mind is not fevered with political partisanship. Pride goeth before the fall. You will pay for this foolishness with loss of political sway. The sooner you start seeing reality as it is rather than how you want it to be, the sooner you’ll stop losing ground.