How do Climate Change Denialists rationalise their position?


Iceland 046sThere is of course often quite rightly a vast diversity of thinking on any and every topic, and Climate Change is no exception to that. However, the prevailing scientific consensus is now distinctly clear and it is like that because it has a solid foundation that consists of rather a lot of well-researched evidence that confirms it, and so the real conversation within such circles is not “Is it happening?”, but rather is “What exactly can we do?”.

Meanwhile, the denialist bandwagon rolls on, and continues, so you do have to wonder what exactly is the core of their argument and how do they manage to persuade themselves that they have a robust and quite compelling case.

As an answer to that, Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist who contributes to SkepticalScience.com (not this blog, the other one), has written a Guardian article that highlights the mechanics of it all. He writes about the prevailing generic pattern seen again and again…

Climate models, and the predictions they make, are based on physics. We know how much more energy is trapped on Earth when we increase the greenhouse effect, and we have a good idea how much this trapped heat will warm the planet. We’ve understood these physical scientific concepts for over 150 years.

When climate contrarians make their own predictions, they tend to throw physics out the window. For example, as documented in my book and a paper I recently published with Rasmus Benestad and colleagues, contrarians have made climate predictions based on things like the orbital cycles of Jupiter and Saturnocean cycles and sunspots, and “natural fluctuations,” but they often completely disregard the basic, long-understood physics of the increasing greenhouse effect.

… and then moves on to illustrate it with the latest example …

And so we have the latest such unphysical climate prediction, made in a report by Loughborough University statistics professor Terence Mills, on behalf of the anti-climate policy advocacy group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). The report essentially fits a statistical model to past global and local surface temperature changes, and then uses that statistical model to forecast future temperature changes. It’s an approach that’s been used to predict financial market changes, for example.

The obvious flaw in this application is that the Earth’s climate is a physical system, and the statistical model includes no physics whatsoever. You simply cannot accurately predict how a physical system will change if you ignore physics, like the increasing greenhouse effect. As DeSmogUK put it, the GWPF report predicts no global warming by ignoring the main cause of global warming. 

… and he then proceeds to slice and dice it all up.

There is also one other key point to highlight here – the GWPF report has not been published within any appropriate peer-reviewed journals and so has not had the normal scientific scrutiny your would expect prior to publication.

This causes a real problem

Such bogus and highly misleading reports get circulated within reputable media outlets such as The Times as if they were credible rebuttals, and so the task of having a discussion about taking meaningful decisive action risks being derailed.

Luckily the community are on the ball, and so Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at University of Reading and IPCC AR5 Author, was soon being quite vocal in his criticism of this latest bit of daft nonsense …

Mr Nuccitelli Sums it all up nicely

Clearly there is a deep emotional attachment to a specific position within the GWPF, one that is devoid of any persuasive emperically-based arguments, and so it is that emotional bond that enables their stance to both thrive and also demonstrate an immunity to facts. It is of course wholly appropriate for a discussion to take place, but when the arguments put forward turn out to be very misleading and devoid of a robust evidential foundation, then it is no longer a scientific discussion and is perhaps more akin to a religious debate. None of their “evidence” changes the reality we now face of a rapidly warming world, a rapidly rising sea level, and a rapidly shrinking arctic sea ice, or as Mr Nuccitelli put it …

The reason mainstream climate scientists have accurately predicted global warming, while contrarian predictions have failed, is that the former are based on physics while the latter are based on wishful thinking. Regardless of how many misleading charts and unphysical models climate contrarians cook up, and how many stories conservative media outlets run about this nonsense non-science, it’s not going to change the physical reality of global warming.

Now that very much reminds me of Richard Feyman’s now famous quote from the 1986 Rodgers commission report (last line in Appendix F) …

reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

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