2011-02-17 15:25:08How skeptics react to overwhelming evidence for climate change
John Cook


I have two question marks over this blog post - is it picking on our skeptic visitors too harshly? And is the ending too weak? I'm not sure how to end it because I really don't have an answer to the questions I raise. Suggestions welcome:

How skeptics react to overwhelming evidence for climate change

James Wight's recent blog post on melting ice around the globe yielded a fascinating insight into the psychology of climate change skepticism. James presented in one concise article an overview of ice melt all over the globe. Signs of ice melt are being seen from the North Pole where Arctic sea ice is ever thinning to the South Pole where Antarctica is losing land ice. The massive Greenland ice sheet is losing hundreds of billions of tonnes of ice each year and glaciers all over the world are retreating at an accelerating rate. When you step back and peruse all the evidence in a single glance, the final conclusion that ice is melting all over the globe is unequivocal. So how did skeptics react to such a strong evidence-based presentation?

Let's sample a few comments. HuggyPopsBear considers this current period 'wonderful times':

'I suppose its amazing really to see the changes in the world today, and to see an ice free artic regions would be something this world has not seen for many thousands of years. What wonderful times we live in, in that we can see and monitor these changes.'

Well, that's certainly a glass-half-full attitude! RSVP goes a step further, suggesting that perhaps all this ice melt is a good thing:

'I am sure deep down there are "hundreds of millions of people" who wouldnt mind seeing some changes in their lives,... and more likely than not, the well-to-do who do not.'

When the skeptic position of "it's not happening" is no longer tenable, one moves onto "okay, it's happening but it's a good thing". Is global ice melt a good thing? Are hundreds of millions of people, particularly poor people, welcoming the changes being seen all over the world now? Let's find out.

The Himalayan glaciers are shrinking at an accelerating rate (Yao 2007). In summer, these glaciers provide drinking water for at least 60 million people although this figure is more likely over 100 million (Immerzeel 2010). The retreat of these glacier is threatening the drinking water supply for many millions of paper throughout China. A change in life can often a good thing but not when the change is from having drinking water to not having any.

Sea levels are predicted to rise around 1 to 2 metres over the next century. This will displace hundreds of millions of people (Dasgupta 2007). Especially vulnerable to sea level rise is the low-lying country of Bangladesh. As a developing country, they lack the infrastructure to erect sea walls to defend themselves from sea level rise. Over this century, we can expect to see a wave of climate refugees fleeing these stricken regions into other parts of the world.

I confess I fail to understand how anyone can glibly comment about this type of future as if its a good thing? Is it a lack of empathy? Ignorance? That's difficult to countenance for regular readers of Skeptical Science, when the impacts of climate change are repeated on a regular basis.

Perhaps it's willful ignorance. When faced with uncomfortable truths, cognitive dissonance can be a powerful psychological force that helps us avoid truth that are just too painful to contemplate. I honestly don't know. Perhaps skeptics can enlighten me why they don't feel a twinge of concern when confronted with all the evidence of melting ice and the impacts it will have on humanity.



2011-02-17 15:55:35hmm
Dana Nuccitelli
I'm a bit on the fence with this one.  It's certainly a good point, but picking on the 'skeptic' commenters in a blog post might not go over very well.  Then again, you give them a chance to defend themselves at the end (I thought the end was fine).  Maybe pose the end as a bit more of a challenge for the 'skeptics' to defend their position in the face of the evidence you've presented.
2011-02-17 16:22:04
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

I perceived the comment by the HuggyPopsBear contingent to be similar to those watching slasher movies or witnessing a train wreck:  horrid fascination.  Part of it is also that "going-where-no-man-has-gone-before" thing (the Edmund Hillary thing):  witnessing an ice-free Arctic Ocean has never been done by a modern human before.  A seminal moment, like when Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.

RSVP was just being RSVP: consciously choosing to be an ass.

2011-02-17 18:39:29Video game
James Wight


Richard Alley has said "If this were a video game, I'd push the button and see what happens, because it'd be really exciting. But it's not a video game." I feel much the same way. Maybe this is what "HuggyPopsBear" was getting at (saccharine by name, saccharine by nature).

When writing my post I considered going into why we should care about melting ice, but decided not to because the argument I had to rebut was "Ice isn't melting".

2011-02-17 19:06:28

While, at least in principle, I can understand that someone may think that a few degree of warming won't be that bad, the melting of ice is so obviously bad that ignorance cannot have a role.
As for the post, maybe you could be more generic about the skeptic's claims and do not quote anyone in particular.
In the last paragraph I'd drop the first sentence and write in the last "the obvious impacts it will have on humanity"; this addition will highlight your surprise for these stupid comments.
I interpreted HuggyPopsBear's comment like Daniel did, horrid fascination more than "it won't be bad". I'm with Alley, if this were a video game I'd definitly push the start button.
2011-02-17 20:15:56
Mark Richardson
I don't think this post has a great tone to communicate with people other than the 'choir'.
2011-02-18 08:38:40Yes, I think I'll let this one languish in the forum
John Cook

In hindsight, this post was an emotional response to those comments - I found RSVP's glibness outrageous and infuriating. I wanted to make people like him accountable for their comments. But what does that achieve? How does that help our goal, of reaching the undecideds? Isn't it just adding fuel to the partisan debate? It might be therapeutic venting about appalling skeptics but it doesn't achieve our 'mission'. So I'll have to settle with getting to vent about it here on the forum :-)