Climate Change: Dissenters and Deniers

It’s no surprise that not everyone agrees on Climate Change’s impact on our world, and not everyone agrees that humankind played a part in changing our climate. In today’s world, you can make any assertion, true or not, and someone will disagree with you and claim to have a good reason.

Note: I’ve never been a dissenter or denier of mankind’s influence on climate change; at worst I was unconvinced. I’ve lately become convinced.

Part of the reason I remained unconvinced for so long was the misinformation and out-of-context information regularly spread by the dissenters. It makes it difficult to sift through the fluff to find the facts.

Who are the dissenters and deniers, and what are they saying? What is their evidence?

For the most part, groups that dissent from these international studies are not made up of scientists. They are political, religious, and commercial groups, including lobbyists and activists. However, in some cases, they are scientists.

AAPG

One of the very few scientific bodies that has dissented from the IPCC’s conclusions was the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, but that organization changed its tune slightly in 2007, saying (PDF):

“…the AAPG membership is divided on the degree of influence that anthropogenic CO2 has on recent and potential global temperature increases … AAPG supports reducing emissions from fossil fuel use as a worthy goal… AAPG supports the pursuit of economically viable technology to sequester carbon dioxide emissions and emissions of other gases in a continuing effort to improve our environment and enhance energy recovery.”

And in 2010, the group said (PDF):

“Climate change is peripheral at best to our science…. AAPG does not have credibility in that field…….and as a group we have no particular knowledge of global atmospheric geophysics.”

“31,000 Scientists”

Many conspiracy-theory style websites point to the “Global Warming Petition Project” (or Oregon Petition), signed by “31,000 scientists” saying that the whole thing is a hoax. This petition actually does exist — I found news sources for it — but there are some problems with it.

George Woodwell and John Holdren, two members of the National Academy of Sciences, noted:

“This petition has long since been recognized in the serious scientific community as a farce, in part because the signatories are listed without titles or affiliations that would permit an assessment of their credentials. Among the names are those of the author John Grisham, several actors from the TV series “M*A*S*H” and a Spice Girl.

The ‘eight-page abstract of the latest research on climate change’ that accompanied the petition is a tissue of mistakes and distortions, misleadingly formatted to mimic an article from a scientific journal and accompanied by a letter of endorsement by a long-retired president of the National Academy of Sciences, Frederick Seitz, who has no expertise in climate matters. The academy dissociated itself publicly from the package, stating it ‘does not reflect the conclusions of expert reports of the academy.” (source, New York Times)

When asked about the Spice Girl’s signature among the “31,000 scientists”, the organizer of the petition responded.

“Robinson acknowledged that her endorsement and degree in microbiology was inauthentic, remarking ‘When we’re getting thousands of signatures there’s no way of filtering out a fake’.” (source, Associated Press)

In almost direct contrast to that statement, the petition’s website says: “All of the listed signers have formal educations in fields of specialization that suitably qualify them to evaluate the research data related to the petition statement.” And the petition itself alleges that stringent procedures were followed to verify each signer’s credentials.

Liepzig Declaration

There was another petition, called the “Leipzig Declaration”, which was also taken to task by Woodwell and Holdren:

“[It] is the work of S. Fred Singer, who was also loudly wrong about the stratospheric ozone problem. [It is claimed] that Mr. Singer’s declaration was signed by more than 100 climate scientists; but it, too, dissolves under scrutiny. The list contains 80 signatures, mostly an odd assortment of television weather persons, dentists, lab assistants, civil engineers and others who, despite their names’ appearing on the list, say they have never heard of it.”

Political Expediency

Some elected officials resist the growing evidence about man’s involvement in climate change. It’s possible that some actually believe that, while others take up positions in order to get elected in extreme right-wing areas like Oklahoma.

For example, Oklahoma’s senior U.S. Senator James Inhofe does not believe humans have contributed to climate change. Notably, he’s the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. He takes the view that:

“…God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.” (source, audio of Inhofe interview)

Inhofe has also cited the discredited and farcical Oregon Petition as evidence, but has made it clear that his main reasoning is his belief in God. He has compared the EPA to the Gestapo and consistently votes against any bill that would restrict the emissions of greenhouse gases. In fact, he’s consistently voted in favor of any bill that could possibly increase the profits of oil companies, and voted against any bill that could possibly help the environoment or slow climate change.

When asked during a public hearing on environmental regulations, Inhofe was asked whether he really thought he was more knowledgeable than the IPCC’s 2,000 climate scientists. He responded that “I’ve already given five speeches on the subject”, and brushed the matter aside.

But he’s an extreme case.

Sourceless Websites

The largest, most exhaustive source I could find for opponents of human-caused climate change are hundreds of websites with names like Global Warming Hoax, Forbes.com, and Global Climate Scam. Many of them have lists like “10 Myths About Global Warming”, where they purport to “bust” the myths, one by one. These sites are generally homogenous in their use of ALL CAPS, exclamation points and lack of sources, spell-check, and correct punctuation.

When they do mention sources, they often name a person who they say is a scientist but don’t cite any certification, or they name a person working at a university you’ve never heard of. They almost never link to any published scientific reports (though they sometimes link from one hoax site to another). Most of these sites appear less credible than most blogs and make little effort to assuage that assumption.

What Are Their Reasons?

Aside from Senator Inhofe, who has publicly refused to use reason or facts in this discussion, what are some of the reasons that dissenters and deniers provide?

As noted above, many of them continue to point to one of the petitions, claiming “31,000 scientists disagree!”, unaware that the petitions and their claims have been discredited. There are other arguments as well that help to muddy the waters for the less decisive among us.

* Many claim, rather ambiguously, that scientists around the world do not agree that the climate is changing or that man had a part in it, choosing to disbelieve regular surveys and polls of climate scientists, showing that as many as 97% believe the global temperature has increased and more than 80% believe humanity is part of the cause.

* It’s also popular to point out that “1934 [or some other year] was much hotter than today”. In the specific case of 1934, they’re referring to reports about temperatures in the U.S., which aren’t related to global temperatures except as a small part of the whole. It’s worth noting that scientific records show that North America’s average temperature has remained relatively stable over the past several decades, and even cooled in some places. It’s the average temperature of the entire globe that has risen.

* Here’s a favorite argument: The Earth cooled from the 1940s through the ’70s, while GHG-emissions were increasing drastically. This ignores the fact that we were also helping artificially cool the Earth through emissions of aerosols (which helped erode the ozone layer, increasing instances of skin cancer and acid rain). When we stopped emitting the aerosols, the Earth kept right on warming. And this cooling period is included in the computer models used by climate scientists.

* Another argument is: Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It’s actually good for the environment. (Inhofe has mentioned this a couple of times.) This misunderstands that there’s actually a difference between naturally occurring carbon dioxide and man-made carbon dioxide. It also ignores that carbon dioxide isn’t the only greenhouse gas; it’s just one of many. And it ignores that we’re systematically and methodically — by deforestation — removing the Earth’s ability to absorb and use carbon dioxide.

The “it’s not a pollutant” argument is part of the foundational reasoning of John Coleman (here), a meteorologist who helped found the Weather Channel.

* Some deniers are still circulating the falsehood that a series of emails found by a hacker in 2009 proved that global warming was a hoax. You can read all about that one; basically a few emails were misunderstood and read out of context. Eight separate committees investigated the claims and found no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct.

* Another one: In the 1970s, all scientists agreed the Earth was cooling and that we were heading into another ice age. This refers to a 1975 report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. What the actual study concluded was that they didn’t know enough to predict future climate. The report recommended setting up a national climatic research program and doing more studies.

* Some claim that the scientific data is hidden or secret, which leads them to believe there’s a conspiracy of some kind. Actually, quite a bit of it is available online (here, for example.)

Why Do People Believe Incorrect Information?

If all these claims are untrue, why are these claims continuing to resurface and circulate?

My theory is that many people intentionally limit their sources of information, based on belief systems. In other words, they’ve first chosen to believe something, and then only read/view media outlets or websites that support that belief. If they come across a story that shows the opposite view (even if valid and supported), they lose confidence in that source because it doesn’t match what they’ve already decided to believe.

It also might depend on what can be gained from propogating one side or the other. Many businesses stand to lose future profits if legislation is passed to curb man’s input to Climate Change — car companies, power companies, oil companies, farming conglomerates, cattle and ranching associations, etc.

Of course, it’s also true that some have profited (and will profit) from espousing the idea that humankind has contributed to climate change — through book and movie sales, scientific appointments, and perhaps even elections in some venues. But these profits are not in the same ballpark as the corporate profits mentioned above.

Further Reading

For more, see the following entries, written mostly for myself, to help clarify my thought processes:

Like The Climate, My Position On Climate Change Is Changing
Climate Change: Asking the Right Questions
Climate Change: We Are Responsible
Climate Change: Dissenters and Deniers (you’re here)

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