Conscious Climate: Consensus & Denial

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The prospect of a massive world-wide shift away from economies driven by fossil fuels to ones based on conservation and renewables constitutes a major challenge — in both ideological and economic terms — to major beneficiaries of business-as-usual. While some have accepted the need for a dramatic world-wide response, and even embraced the challenges ahead as opportunities, others have tried to forestall political action by denying the growing body of evidence that climate change is real and the need to address it urgent.

It is the critical examination of empirical evidence that distinguishes scientific consensus from mere widespread belief - and genuine skepticism from mere denial. This section examines the nature of scientific consensus, addresses some of the most common misconceptions and/or misrepresentations of the evidence for climate change, and takes a brief look at some of the most prominent deniers.


Click here for an annotated list of Peter Sinclair’s “Crock of the Week” videos.
To receive future installments, subscribe to his YouTube channel here.
  For those with an immediate need to answer a contrarian talking point (once your brother-in-law has calmed down enough), the best overall “arguments” web-site I know of — Skeptical Science, run by Aussie ex-physicist John Cook. (Two other excellent sites are listed below under Myths and Misconceptions.) Familiarize yourself with the arguments, then phone in and challenge the next radio talk-show host who suggests human-caused climate change is a hoax!  

How Science Works
  “In any complex scientific picture of the world there will be gaps, misperceptions and mistakes. Whether your impression is dominated by the whole or the holes will depend on your attitude to the project at hand. You might say that some see a jigsaw where others see a house of cards. [Climate scientists] have in mind an overall picture and are open to bits being taken out, moved around or abandoned should they not fit. Those who see houses of cards [dissenters] think that if any piece is removed, the whole lot falls down.” (the Economist, March 18, 2010 - copy here)

How are scientific jig-saw puzzles assembled, and what constitutes scientific “proof”? How can the intelligent layman distinguish between valid scientific skepticism and house-of-cards denial? How important is peer-review, and how does it compare with public debate (between scientists and skeptics) as a tool for advancing knowledge?


An inexpensive and easy-to-read book, by science teacher Greg Craven, on “how to avoid your own biases and decide for yourself, with confidence, what our best bet is on the issue of climate change”; includes a great section on the power and pitfalls of science.  
  What’s Proof Got To Do With It? Science historian Naomi Oreskes explains how “science does not require proof — neither in the sense of a direct detection or measurement, nor in the sense of certainty or unanimity — to advance.”  
  How To Be A Real Sceptic
Importance and Limitations of Peer Review
L&C, GRL and Peer Review
Three articles from the folks at RealClimate, the first on the difference between the genuine skeptics and “la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you” contrarians, the others on the critical importance - and limitations (with several current examples of the latter) - of peer review.  
  Mixing Politics and Science Step by step, this paper picks apart the debate surrounding the issue of hurricanes and climate change, illustrating both the scienfic process and its politicization as researchers attempt to educate the public and inform policy.  
  Stephen Schneider’s “Mediarology” A lengthy and sometimes technical look at the problems scientists face in communicating climate complexity and uncertainties to the public.  

The Scientific Consensus
  What level of scientific consensus on human-induced global warming and its implications would justify creating a new world-wide energy infrastructure in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change? Does that consensus currently exist?

  Consensus Versus Certainty
Examining the Consensus (2009)
IPCC AR4 Report: The Physical Basis (2007)
Royal Society: Facts and Fictions (2005)
Oreskes Survey, Science 2004
Is the Oreskes Consensus Real?
Scientific Opinion - Wikipedia
A discussion of just what scientific consensus is, followed by several resources illustrating the depth of peer-reviewed scientific consensus that current climate change is real and human-induced.  

How Denial Works
  Many countries have laws against libelling and slandering individuals, no such prohibition against the simple spreading of misinformation on issues of public import. We like to think that we live in a society dedicated to the progressive dissemination of knowledge. But what of deliberate campaigns, based on political ideology or short-sighted commercial greed, to spread ignorance?

  Birth of a Climate Crock (YouTube 7:08) Peter Sinclair’s humorous depiction of a climate crock actually being born.  
  Think Like A Detective (glacier melt)
Rewriting The Science (CBS, 2006)
The Denial Machine (2007 CBC video, 39:47)
Wall Street Journal, 2005
A link illustrating how curiosity unravelled an almost comical misrepresentation of the reality of world-wide glacier declines, followed by three more examining the wider campaign to undercut climate science by some of the biggest actors in the denial game, including the Bush whitehouse and the world’s most profitable company . . .  

Myths and Misconceptions
  The following resources examine some of the more common misconceptions — and misrepresentations — of the evidence for human-induced global warming.

  How To Talk To A Climate Skeptic
Real Climate wiki
Climate Denial Crock of the Week
What The Science Says
Four of the best web-sites devoted to cutting through contrarian clutter: a list of denier talking-points - by topic, stage of denial, type of argument and level of sophistication; Real Climate’s growing supplement (including list of contrarian authors); and Peter Sinclair’s excellent collection of YouTube rebuttals; and a growing list of beautifully-done expositions from the folks at Skeptical Science.  
  The Great "Hockey Stick" Controversy
National Academies Hockey Stick Report
This early controversy over the temperature record is still a litmus test for identifying resistance to the stubborn inconvenience of scientific evidence.  
  British “Swindle” Documentary (part 1 of 9)
Climate of Denial Analysis of “Swindle” movie
In The Green Analysis
Media Lens Analysis
Wikipedia article
Still the epitome of global warming denial: a March 8, 2007 British documentary entitled The Great Global Warming Swindle (web-site here). The movie link is followed by three detailed critiques, plus a Wikipedia review of the film’s history and influence. Watch the film and be convinced that climate change is a hoax - then pick a few issues, dig a bit deeper, and judge for yourself the difference between skepticism and denial . . .  

Rogues Gallery
  Is the fact that parts of the denial campaign are highly organized and well-funded relevant? In one sense no, since the validity of any position should depend on its supporting evidence and logical consistency, not on who's presenting it. On the other hand, if the process of enquiry itself is being undermined by distortion or outright censorship, is it not important to know who's responsible? Below: a miscellany of resources illustrating the breadth and depth of the campaign . . .

  Michael Crichton
Richard Lindzen
Fraser Institute
Christopher Monckton
Tim Ball
Ross McKittrick
National Post series on deniers
. . . a few of the lesser luminaries . . .  
  Wikipedia: Global Warming Controversy As this one page from Wikipedia illustrates, you soon reach a point where you have to decide if your time is better spent examining every last contrarian, or getting on with a consideration of how to address the REAL challenge! My suggestion: use Wikipedia and Google to get a quick sense of whether a given argument or source is worth investigating further.