Posted by: climatewonk | March 1, 2008

7 Responses to the Claims of Climate Deniers

During the time I have spent among the “skeptics”, I have come across a laundry list of objections to the theory of AGW. These objections and complaints have been dealt with elsewhere far better than I can but I’ll try to respond to some of them.

1. Not every temperature gauge in the world is the same! How can we talk about global temperature?

Questions about the accuracy of the instrumental temperature record — is it accurate, what are the inaccuracies and more importantly, how significant are these inaccuracies to the reliability of the temperature record — are valid. However, what authority are you going to accept for the answer? Skeptics question the accuracy of the surface temperature record due to microsite contamination effects and urban heat island effects. They claim that the temperature record data has been improperly adjusted – Anthony Watts is usually cited as the champion of this branch of climate skepticism. I have no idea if what Watts has found is valid or not, or whether it is a serious issue or not. I have not read any work that addresses this issue from peer-reviewed sources. Until Watts’ work is replicated, a skeptic must hold back from drawing any conclusions. It is possible that Watts might be correct, or not.

My question to the skeptics is this: how do you know that Watts is accurate in his analysis?

Skeptics say there are some stations that do not meet standards, but I need hard evidence that failing to meet those standards has caused any bias in the temperature record. In order to determine accuracy of the site in question, it has to be compared to other sites and to the past. Simply claiming that X% of sites do not meet standards is not enough. Empirical evidence is required that shows that not meeting those standards has resulted in a bias in the temperature record that is significant enough to call into question its reliability.

2. UHIs

The concept of urban heat islands has been known for some time – way back to Callendar, from what I’ve read. The IPCC estimates that UHI account for only a fraction of the increase in temperature. Peterson (Journal of Climate 2003) argues that the impact of UHIs has been overstated and that meteorological data is more likely to be taken from cool sites. Parker (Nature, 2004) argues that the urban heat island effect has been effectively dealt with through existing corrections. Urban sites have to be compared to their rural counterparts to see if there is an anomaly. Where there is a difference, I understand that the sites have been adjusted to offset that difference.

Pielke’s work challenges Parker’s findings. Yet, even the Pielke paper admits that it “does not address the actual trends in surface layer heat content over time” and merely argues that Parker’s work needs further analysis and interpretation before it can be used to conclude whether there is or is not an urban heat island effect on large scale temperature trends. It ends up arguing that “the reported and regionally and globally averaged surface temperature trends have unresolved uncertainties.” In other words, this is not a refutation of Peterson or Parker or the reliability of the temperature record as a whole, but a critique of methods. I expect that further work will be done to refine the findings so this is not a “done deal”. Besides, even Pielke’s work must be subject to verification. Until it has been, a skeptic has no reason to reject Parker or Peterson or the other works on this matter. In other words, the burden of proof is on those who reject the temperature record to provide evidence that it is flawed and that the flaws matter. And that work has to be replicable and replicated.

UHIs have nothing to say about SSTs, melting sea ice, ice caps or glaciers.

3. But it’s been warm before and things were ducky!

There have been previous periods of warming and cooling, some of them abrupt in geological terms and some caused by GHGs. This does not preclude the possibility that the current warming is caused primarily by human-produced CO2 through the burning of fossil fuels. CO2 is a known greenhouse gas that is responsible, in part, for the fact we can even live on this planet. The GHE has been known for over a century. CO2 levels are higher today than they have been in all of recorded history and back 600,000+ years based on ice core data. Models, as imperfect as they are, can only account for current warming by including the increased CO2. To ignore (or deny) CO2 as a potential causative factor, given the rapid increase in its concentration in the atmosphere, is to be an ostrich.

4. But the models failed to predict the bolt of lightning that hit my tree last night!

The models, by the way, do not “predict” nor are they meant to and repeating this bit of disinformation does not give credit to deniers. The models provide projections of possible outcomes based on different scenarios. Modellers know that they are unable to capture the entirety of the climate in their models. Work is underway to constantly refine and improve them. They are used to offer possible scenarios of what might happen in the future given certain parameters. They are not predictions, so expecting them to predict the future climate or the past is not appropriate.

5. Warming is Good For Us! and other Idso propaganda.

Will warming be harmful? It depends on who and where you are considering. Evidence suggests that where I live will see a remake of the dust bowl of the 1930s, except worse. That would be not only catastrophic to the people where I live but to the globe for we are a large producer and exporter of grain. Warming is causing species to move to different latitudes due to changing local and regional temperatures. Some will not be able to adapt, based on studies of previous periods of climate change.

6. But CO2 Is Good For U and Me!

CO2 is a fertilizer, but as everyone who gardens or farms knows there is a limit to the amount of fertilizer that you can put on your plants without burning them to death. CO2 levels in the oceans are threatening calcium-bearing marine organisms and corals due to acidification. Evidence from paleoclimate studies shows that past periods of high CO2 have led to a change in the ph balance of the oceans and the extinction of marine organisms

So the idea that increasing CO2 will have no harmful impact is wrong. Some areas may benefit from warming. Others may be harmed. Who has the right to decide that those to be harmed do not matter enough for those of us who produce the CO2 to change our behavior? That is a moral question we in the developed world must ask when we consider our behaviour.

6. Wah! We can’t cut energy use by 80% and still drive our cars!

No one is saying we have to cut energy use by 80%. They are saying that we have to cut GHG emissions by 80%. There is no reason why we could not replace fossil fuels with GHG-free or cleaner fuels or energy sources – given adequate development of alternatives. Nuclear, solar, and biofuels are some examples. Carbon capture is a way to make existing fossil fuels cleaner. Efficiency of existing combustion engines is another avenue. Only the faint of imagination (or the politically/economically biased) fail to — or refuse to — see how it is possible. No one is saying we have to cut 80% of energy use, so don’t repeat that bit of denialist misinformation. They are saying that there needs to be a replacement of one form of energy for other cleaner forms.

7. Kyoto won’t work anyway.

As to Kyoto, I have only read Stern on the economic costs of not acting on global warming. I do not know much about Kyoto, except that few if any signatories have met targets. It means that if we are in for significant warming due to GHG, we are that much farther behind the 8-ball and will have to expend even more money and effort to mitigate and adapt.

In summary, the instrumental record shows the climate is warming. The atmosphere is warming. The sea surface is warming. Sea level is rising. Ice caps and glaciers are melting. Permafrost is melting.

Faced with this, what is a sane layperson to do?

The scientists involved in climate research have, for decades now, issued numerous statements that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are increasing at a historically unprecedented rate and that theory and research suggests that most of the observed warming is due to GHGs released through burning of fossil fuels. Thousands of scientists and dozens of science bodies have come out in support of this analysis. They claim that humanity must reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses in order to prevent significant global warming and the harm that could ensure from it.

EXXON, the worlds largest multinational corporation, who has as its sole purpose to increase return to shareholders, who makes its money off the very burning of fossil fuels that scientists are claiming is causing global warming (and the API and other similar corporations and industries and their PR companies and friends) has claimed variously through its PR shills and propaganda and fake petitions and bogus scientists that there is no warming, that any warming is natural, that it has nothing to do with burning fossil fuels, that the warming that is occurring is not dangerous, and that even if it is real, any attempt to mitigate it would destroy our way of life. It has paid millions of dollars to politicians and corrupt scientists to deny what the majority of climate scientists have stated is the cause of the problem. It has had scientists fired in government who disagreed with its no-regulation agenda and its agents in government positions of power have attempted to silence scientists and alter scientific documents.

Should a sane layperson listen to EXXON that there is nothing to AGW, there is nothing to worry about, and that any warming is not due to burning of fossil fuels?

Or should a sane layperson listen to the scientists and science bodies?

If you can’t do the math, you need to go back to logic school.



  1. Question: Is there a way to get my congressman to remove misleading and false information from his congressional website?

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