2011-04-27 13:12:27ABC Drum article: How to tell if you're a genuine sceptic or a climate denier
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
202.146.15.12
I'm going to submit an article to the ABC Drum, to coincide with the launch of the book. Sorry if this repeats the same themes in all my recent articles such as the Treehugger transcripts - even I'm getting a little bored by it all but they are messages that need to be said. Feedback welcome. I wrote two possible endings, am probably leaning towards the less preachy version. The preachy version doesn't really match the tone of the rest of the article.

How to tell if you're a genuine sceptic or a climate denier

In the charged discussions about climate, the words sceptic and denier are often thrown around. But what do these words mean? Consider the following definitions. A genuine skeptic considers all the evidence in their search for the truth. Deniers, on the other hand, refuse to accept any evidence that conflicts with their previously held views.

So here's one way to tell if you're a genuine sceptic or a climate denier. When trying to understand what's happening to our climate, do you consider the full body of evidence? Or do you find the denial instinct kicking in when confronted with inconvenient evidence?

For example, let's look at the question of whether global warming is happening. Do you consider sea level rise, tripling over the last century. Do you factor in the warming oceans, which since 1970 have been building up heat at a rate of two and a half Hiroshima bombs every second. Glaciers are retreating all over the world, threatening the water supply of hundreds of millions of people. Ice sheets from Greenland in the north to Antarctica in the south are losing hundreds of billions of tonnes of ice every year. Seasons are shifting, flowers are opening earlier each year and animals are migrating towards the poles. The very structure of our atmosphere is changing.

We have tens of thousands of lines of evidence that global warming is happening. A genuine skeptic surveys the full body of evidence coming in from all over our planet and concludes that global warming is unequivocal. A climate denier, on the other hand, reacts to this array of evidence in several possible ways.

The most extreme form of climate denier won't even go near the evidence. They avoid the issue altogether by indulging in conspiracy theories. They'll pull a quote out of context from a stolen 'Climategate' email as proof that climate change is just a huge hoax. I'm yet to hear how the ice sheets, glaciers and thousands of migrating animal species are in on the conspiracy but I'm sure there's a creative explanation floating around on the Internet.

The hardcore denier, firmly entrenched in the "it's not happening" camp, denies each piece of evidence. When confronted by retreating glaciers, their thoughts flick to the handful of growing glaciers while blocking out the vast majority of glaciers that are retreating at an accelerating rate. They ignore sea level rise by laser focusing on short periods where sea levels briefly drop before inevitably resuming the long-term trend. The key to this form of denial is cherry picking. If you stare long and hard enough at a tiny piece of the puzzle that gives you the answer you want, you find the rest of the picture conveniently fades from view.

Some climate deniers have found it impossible to ignore this overwhelming array of evidence (after all, cognitive bias does have its limits) and moved onto the next stage of denial: "it's happening but it's not us". After all, climate has changed throughout Earth's history. How can we tell it's us this time? The answer, as always, is by surveying the full body of evidence. Warming from our carbon dioxide emissions should yield many tell tale patterns. We don't need to rely on guess work or theory to tell us humans are causing warming. We can measure it.

If carbon dioxide is causing warming, we should measure less heat escaping to space. Satellites have observed this. If less heat is escaping, we should see more heat returning to the Earth's surface. This has been measured. Greenhouse warming should cause the lower atmosphere to warm but curiously, the upper atmosphere to cool. That's indeed the case. As far back as the 1800s, scientists predicted greenhouse warming should cause nights to warm faster than days and winters to warm faster than summers. This is happening. Everything we expect to see from greenhouse warming, we do see.

We have, as science historian Naomi Oreskes aptly puts it, "many lines of evidence converging on a single, coherent conclusion". This consensus of evidence is the reason why we have a consensus of scientists with 97 out of 100 climate experts convinced that humans are causing global warming.

Less preachy ending...

So which camp do you fall in? Do you look at the full body of evidence, considering the whole picture as you build your understanding of climate? Or do you gravitate towards those select pieces of data that, out of context, give a contrarian impression, while denying the rest of the evidence? If what the vast majority of climate experts are telling us is true, climate change is a grave issue that demands urgent action. We deny the science at our own peril.


Alternative, more preachy ending...

For those who accept the scientific consensus, there is a more insidious form of denial - to accept that humans are causing climate change but choose to ignore it. Governments deny the implications of global warming when they talk positively about climate action but fail to back their words up with action. When we let politicians get away with it, we let denial prosper.

There are many ways we can roll back climate denial and contribute to the solution, such as reducing our own carbon footprint. But the greatest contribution we can make is to let our politicians know we demand climate action. Politicians may or may not care about the planet's future. But one thing we know with certainty is they care about their own future, particularly at the next election. If we send a strong message to our politicians that we demand climate action, they will be forced to act.

2011-04-27 15:03:37comments
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
69.230.97.203

"A Genuine skeptics considers all the evidence in their search for the truth.  Deniers, on the other hand, refuse to accept any evidence that conflicts with their previously held pre-determined views."

"Do you consider acknowledge sea level rise, a key indicator of a warming planet, tripling over the last century? Do you factor in the warming oceans, which since 1970 have been building up heat at a rate of two and a half Hiroshima bombs every second?  This is just the tip of the iceburg of evidence that the planet is warming.  Glaciers are retreating all over the world..."

"I'm have yet to hear how the ice sheets, glaciers and thousands of migrating animal species are in on the conspiracy, but I'm sure...

"They ignore sea level rise by laser focusing on short periods where sea levels briefly drop before inevitably resuming the long-term upward trend"

"Some climate deniers have found it impossible to ignore this the overwhelming array of evidence that the planet is warming (after all, cognitive bias does have its limits)" [you said "after all" in consecutive sentences]

"Greenhouse warming should cause the lower atmosphere to warm but curiously simultaneously," or "By trapping more heat in the lower atmosphere, increasing greenhouse gases should cause the upper atmosphere to cool as the lower atmosphere and surface warm."  I don't like "curiously" because it makes it sound like a mystery.

"That's indeed the case what we observe is happening....This is also happening."

"...convinced that humans are causing driving global warming."  Another emerging denier argument is that the human contribution is small.  We're not just causing some warming, we're the dominant cause.

I'd suggest combining the endings:

"So which camp do you fall in? Do you look at the full body of evidence, considering the whole picture as you build your understanding of climate? Or do you gravitate towards those select pieces of data that, out of context, give a contrarian impression, while denying the rest of the evidence?

Even for those of us who accept the scientific consensus, there is a more insidious form of denial - to accept that humans are causing climate change, but choose to ignore it. Governments deny the implications of global warming when they talk positively about climate action but fail to back their words up with action. When we let politicians get away with it, we let denial prosper.

There are many ways we can roll back climate denial and contribute to the solution, such as reducing our own carbon footprint. But the greatest contribution we can make is to let our politicians know we demand climate action. Politicians may or may not care about the planet's future. But one thing we know with certainty is they care about their own future, particularly at the next election. If we send a strong message to our politicians that we demand climate action, they will be forced to act."

2011-04-27 22:57:08
James Wight

jameswight@southernphone.com...
112.213.133.149

Maybe add links to back up some of the claims you’re making about the various lines of evidence – even if they’re only to SkS, that’s better than nothing.

I prefer Dana’s ending.

2011-04-28 02:05:09links
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
64.129.227.4

Oh yeah, I also meant to ask if you were going to link some of the text, since there are lots of opportunities to reference rebuttals.

2011-04-28 06:30:27Back links
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
124.187.6.188
Yes, I will link to SkS, but I'll try not to go crazy (which will be tempting) as I don't want to look like I'm spamming the ABC Drum. Just a few judicious links to the really important pages :-)
2011-04-28 17:55:47
MarkR
Mark Richardson
m.t.richardson2@gmail...
92.24.241.14

Sherlock Holmes!

 

Always a few good quotes from there on skepticism versus denial :)

2011-04-28 18:04:48Submitted
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
124.187.6.188

Made lots of changes, went with Dana's ending that combined all the preachiness from both endings. Thanks for the feedback, all.