2011-12-28 12:38:13A Brief History of Public Climate Debate - and other things
Brian Purdue


I wrote this as an opinion piece for the paper but it didn’t get published – they did publish one on the Arctic though. I was wondering if SkS would be interested. It was written for a different audience and is now outdated so needs reworking. It could include latest from Goddard chat thread. There are plenty of words I can turn into links and add graphs etc.

                                           A Brief History of the Public Climate Debate and Deception.

Public awareness and the so-called debate about human-induced climate change now spans more than three decades, with the informed scientific debate running much longer.

Scientists from many disciplines have now reached a “facts” based consensus, but the public debate goes relentlessly on.

In 1990, BBC TV warmed up the media debate with the two-hour documentary After the Warming, which presented the then known evidence on global warming and human’s causal link. An immediate response came from its commercial competitor, TV channel 4, who aired with the documentary The Greenhouse Conspiracy.

The battlelines were drawn but one thing soon became patently clear; this was not going to be a public debate about climate science, but an ideological and vested interests debate – climate science was challenging the status quo.

The “no” side ensured that whenever major climate conferences where held, or peer-reviewed scientific papers and data analysis were released, this coincided with copious amounts of contradicting opinion designed to perpetuate doubt and stifle action. Sceptics even held their own conferences, like those by the right-wing libertarian American Heartland Institute.

The Great Global Warming Swindle, also made by channel 4, was broadcast just prior the release of the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. This thoroughly debunked documentary featured many of the same sceptics who appeared in the 1990 Greenhouse Conspiracy. All the compelling scientific evidence gathered over the intervening 17 years hadn’t shifted these rusted-on sceptics from their “nothing will convince me” stance.

Three weeks before the Copenhagen Climate Conference, hacked Climategate emails mysteriously appeared from somewhere in Russia, and conveniently helped fuel the reluctance of the major carbon emitters to sign up to a binding agreement. These emails proved to be no more then harmless and misunderstand chatting between a few climate scientists, but sceptics persist with their conspiracy theories.

Climate sceptic’s successful tactic has been casting doubt on the science by plays on the public’s ignorance of the accumulated scientific facts and observations about greenhouse gas warming.

This doubt has been driven by the deceptive claim that global warming stopped in 1998.

Global temperatures may have levelled off but they remain around the record 1998 level, with 2005 and 2010 equalling the 1998 El Nino warming year. One scientific explanation for this slowing is the same as that when temperatures actually “dropped” between 1955 and 1970; namely heat reflecting manmade aerosols.

But something hasn’t stopped, and climate denialists are desperately pretending it’s a mirage; the Arctic sea ice is melting.

Arctic temperatures have continued to rise dramatically, which has forced NASA to change its temperature maps because parts of the arctic have risen above the old map’s plus 6 degree Celsius trend limit.

The arctic sea ice continues to melt at an alarming rate. It plunged to a record summer low in 2007 of 4.13 million sq. kilometres. The whole of the last decade was below the average 1972-2008 trend line, with the last three years, 2008, 2009 and 2010 being almost as low as 2007.

This year is on track to at least equal the 2007 record.

But even more alarming is the plunge in the sea ice’s volume, with the average ice thickness nearly halving. 2010 had, by far, the lowest ice volume, and 2011 is running below last year’s record.

Climate modelling predicted this decline would not be reached till 2040, so scientists are working hard to explain the 30 year difference. Explanations have been put forward but they are all the result of high forcing temperatures.

 So what is the response from the sceptics? More doubt of course.

They looked into their crystal ball last year and blog sites were full of opposite predictions to the current reality, like this from US celebrity sceptic weather forecaster, Joe Bastardi. “My forecast for next year (2011) is for sea ice to melt only to levels we saw back in 2005, or 06 (5.5 million sq. kilometers). “The ice is coming back” he said.

To cover this he recently claimed that the satellite data books were being cooked. It didn’t take much to show he had misread the data, and worse.

This behaviour is nothing new; sceptics do this all the time to try to smear the scientists and perpetuate the doubt. They seem prepared to say anything to defend their untenable position when compared to what the science is showing are the facts behind the changing global climate.

As the evidence inexorably mounts, one thing’s becomes evermore certain; in another three decades we won’t be debating climate change – we will be in the middle of it.


2011-12-29 16:48:55No comment
Brian Purdue


From the absence of comments I assume people think this post shouldn’t be given a jersey on SkS. 

I wasn’t going to spend time rewritten piece if the basic theme didn’t get approval. The theme was mainly about the media’s role in the debate and informing or jolting memories about what’s happened over past 30 years (I have followed the debate over that period). It was written for a paper so couldn’t be too down on the media but that theme could now be strengthened.

SkS has already reviewed the book The Inquisition of Climate Science but the telling line from Powell’s book was about the media’s role in seeking “balance” in their reporting of climate change.

“Right-wing media like the Wall Street Journal and Fox News are guilty, but so are the Washington Post and the New York Times . The two decades long success of the industry of denial could not have happened without the complicity of the media”.

A more attention grabbing title

Climate Denial and the Media – Banishment of Science Reality.

If still no comments will consider case closed.


2011-12-31 03:23:00
Dana Nuccitelli

I think the post could be worth publishing.  It could use a little more focus on the media - like make it clear that Bastardi is basically a media figure (appearing on Fox News and other media outlets).  The 'warming stopped in 1998' part could benefit from a discussion of Foster and Rahmstorf's results - that removing volcanic, solar, and ENSO effects reveals that the warming trend hasn't even slowed down.

Overall it talks a bit too much about 'skeptics' and not enough about the media giving those 'skeptics' a voice.  The post is about the media, and if the media weren't giving the 'skeptics' air time, their denial wouldn't really matter.  The problem is that the media is giving them a soapbox.

It also reminds me of a point in Stephen Schneider's video (which we'll probably be posting tomorrow) that the experts (i.e. the IPCC) go through tons of work and peer-review and put out these robust reports and studies, then some yahoo who's funded by the fossil fuel industry gets equal air time to disparage those robust results using nothing more than a bunch of misinformation - that's the problem the media is causing.  You touched on it a bit towards the beginning of the post, but then got away from that point.

2011-12-31 05:49:39
John Mason


Brian, I think this topic does deserve an airing. In addition to Dana's points and the agreed need for it to be up-to-date, I think another area of focus that does carry traction is flagging-up the well-known links between climate change denial and other forms of the practice - smoking, asbestos, DDT etc - often with some of the same characters deeply involved at the forefront.

Dana is right that the media in general have totally failed to understand the concept of balance/false balance, with the exception of those outlets that purposefully promote anti-science themes for reasons of ideology, knowing full well what they are doing.

Cheers - John

2012-01-02 10:21:54
Brian Purdue


Sorry dana and John, I missed your comments and suggestions - must have got buried quickly. I wrote it when arctic was a hot topic but now off the boil (till next year!).

I agree it needs to focus more on the media. I may be able to weave in stuff on true scepticism but relate it to media promoting denialism.

Away for a couple of days so will look at it when I get back.

Thanks for advice