2011-05-16 05:05:35Yes we have one, a climate Sceptic who changed his mind based on the evidence!


Do Climate Skeptics Change Their Minds?

Yes. But not often.

Until a few months ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more classic climate skeptic than D.R. Tucker. A conservative author and radio talk show host, he didn't buy the notion that greenhouse-gas emissions were causing temperatures to rise. He was pretty sure global warming was a hoax perpetrated by Al Gore and a cadre of liberal, grant-hungry scientists. Then Tucker did what partisan pundits and climate skeptics rarely do: He changed his mind.

"I was defeated by facts," Tucker announced on FrumForum, the popular conservative blog. In an April 18 post, "Confessions of a Climate Convert," Tucker told readers how he came to question the ideologies of the climate debate, examine the science, and conclude that global warming was, in fact, very real. Tucker's post sent a giddy ripple through green circles and stoked the ire of his libertarian colleagues.........

Tucker's conversion began when he read Morris Fiorina's Disconnect, which outlines the way partisan divisions take shape between Democrats and Republicans, and points out that environmentalism used to be one of conservatives' chief concerns. Tucker's curiosity was piqued.

"Why was it that environmentalism was only associated with the Democratic party now? And it was from those political questions that I became open to the scientific questions," Tucker says. "It went from politics to the science."

After that, a friend convinced Tucker to take a look at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report—the authoritative synthesis of the most recent peer-reviewed climate science. "Initially I was a bit skeptical. But I kept on reading it, and there was just so much evidence, and it was so detailed, and it was so backed up, and it was so documented, that I was like, 'holy shit, this is for real.' "

In the months since then, Tucker has become an active proponent for climate legislation: He works with groups like the Citizens Climate Lobby, writes letters to his state representative in defense of the EPA, openly calls for a carbon pricing system, and continues to engage his libertarian friends on the issue.

(Mentions John on the second page)

2011-05-16 06:03:55
Alex C


Yes, and Watts not budging (same article I think from an earlier thread).  Since that particular thread went the Watts Way® though, perhaps some other discussion:

I remember a couple years ago when I used to be a "skeptic" (more uninformed than opinionated, so I doubted AGW), my father and I had a small conversation about AGW, and he basically said it was a hoax.  Not being of a very argumentative mindset about it then and knowing little, I didn't say much in response, but it's a bit different now.

Actually, ever since I registered with SkS, since we have linked email accounts, each update from SkS that I get he also gets, and I think he has been reading some of the material that has been published here.  Since then he has been much more open to both talking about the issue and discussing its veracity.  He knows I'm interested in it, so he (and my mother as well, it was a nice family conversation) asked me a couple questions about the evidence for AGW, and brought up some "skeptical" points like volcanoes.  I told them that volcanoes emit some 100-300 Mt of CO2 each year, while humans emit about 30Gt.  And, too, that volcanoes have a net cooling effect, barring accumulation of CO2 (snowball Earth idea).  They were shocked, to say the least.

I had found that interesting.  When I interned at an auto supplier for a few weeks through school last year, one of the workers there and I became pretty good friends, and he got into political discussions sometimes.  Nice guy, tea partier (aha! yes, this gets interesting).  He brought up global warming and, if I recall correctly, asked a - somewhat rhetorical - question about what evidence there was for it.  I brought up the Suess effect, and he like my parents was surprised that such information existed.  What was his main problem with the topic, he said, was that evidence like this isn't really shared between the scientific community and the proletariat (uh, so to speak).

So the problem with both was a lack of education on the subject.  All actually seemed to be willing to listen to the evidence when it was given to them - this I think mirrors what the article above is saying.  I recall what you said too John (when you get a chance to read this) about your father being surprised at the distribution of climate scientists amongst skeptic/pro-agw.

Hopefully the majority of those that are "skeptical" are uneducated.  Contrary to popular phrasology, you can fix stupid.  It's much harder to fix politics and ideology.

2011-05-16 06:32:20


An important though unstated part of your story is that the people you were speaking with were open-minded, and I assume that you didn't get impatient or arrogant about your information, but presented it in an objective fashion.

This works much better!

2011-05-16 06:59:18Cool stories, Alex
John Cook

From what I hear, your stories may be the exception, not the norm. Perhaps you talk to open minded people and/or you are a great communicator who can discuss a volatile subject like climate change without alienating or polarizing people. If the latter, you need to be getting out and talking to lots more people. In fact, yes, do that, we need to empirically determine if it's the former or latter option - if the latter, you need to be deployed on talk back radio and public speaking events to reach conservative audiences! :-)
2011-05-16 08:08:10
Alex C


>>>This works much better!

Certainly does.  Online it helps as well, I've found, which can be surprising depending on the atmosphere.  I've gotten a lot of practice with handling information in Q&A forums (well, "forum," Y! Answers) and have had some success that I can better exemplify for you guys, like here here and here.

Of course, if you look through some of my other answers to questions, it's obvious that I don't always practice patience or humility.  "Such is the way with anonymity" would be my defense, that and "they started it!"  While online discussions go rogue fast, face to face conversations are much easier to handle since people tend to be civil.

I also usually have conversations with people I am familiar with, which helps a lot with people being open minded.  More likely to listen to a friend than a stranger.

That being said though, I think I would be fine with more public communication, I just don't know where to start.  I have been complemented before on being a good communicator, so there's potential.

2011-05-16 13:11:09
Glenn Tamblyn


One thing I have noticed at times on the public SkS site is occasional long conversations between SkS regulars (both Forum members & others) that become heated witht the SkSer obviosly thinking their opponent is a reasonably hard core denialist when it ended up being that their opponent had more real skepticism but a prickly personality.


Its worth bearing in mind when talking to a new voice that if they are putting forward a seemingly aggresive skeptical position to try and determine their underlying position generally before going in boots and all and alienating a possible convert. Obviously this doesn't apply to regulars like Ken Lambert - we know where they are coming from.


Perseus. Want to write a short post on Tucker? Be nice to put out some positive messages, not not just the negative ones of nailing the Black Hats.

2011-05-16 17:27:54


A post on this subject is a good idea, although we could include instances of sceptical 'conversion' in other subject areas as well, and the underlying reasons for this.  I think it's important to identify those sceptics who use reason over ideology so time and resources can be more efficiently allocated.

2011-05-16 18:51:45
Mark Richardson

"So the problem with both was a lack of education on the subject.  All actually seemed to be willing to listen to the evidence when it was given to them - this I think mirrors what the article above is saying.  I recall what you said too John (when you get a chance to read this) about your father being surprised at the distribution of climate scientists amongst skeptic/pro-agw."



I'm guessing your parents and a drinking buddy were much more willing to listen to what you had to say than they would have been to <i>yet another</i> talking head in the media.

2011-05-16 22:27:48


Another example is an old friend of mine (college room-mate) with whom I discussed the matter: He's very conservative. When we had a chat about AGW and Climategate, he had the usual talking points, but I dismissed them in very summary fashion. After all these years, he knows that I know what I'm talking about on scientific matters, even though we disagree vehemently on many social and economic matters.

He's not going to be ready to campaign for renewable power anytime soon, but at least he doesn't think the science is a fraud anymore.

Actually this is a funny situation, because:

- His wife is a mid-level (or higher) manager in the Southern California Air-Resource organization, and seemed to be better informed than him on some of these matters; but they're both politically conservative, so maybe this topic doesn't come up.

- He's involved in consulting on alternative (liquidized natural gas) vehicle deployment strategies, so I would expect him to be slightly less gung-ho on gasoline. On the other hand, he loves cars.

People are never 100% what you expect them to be!