The Global Warming Culture Wars

Politics and ideology stoke passions in climate debate.

In 2010, Yale University’s Dan Kahan published an essay in Nature, explaining why cultural values shaped scientific debates.

“A growing body of work has suggested that ordinary citizens react to scientific evidence on societal risks in much the same way,” Kahan wrote. “People endorse whichever position reinforces their connection to others with whom they share important commitments.”

What results, Kahan said, is a clash of worldviews. For example, he wrote, “The same groups who disagree on ‘cultural issues’ — abortion, same-sex marriage and school prayer — also disagree on whether climate change is real and on whether underground disposal of nuclear waste is safe.”

Many who identify themselves as climate skeptics reject this notion that people are predisposed to view scientific information through a cultural lens. It’s all about the science, they insist. This was the sentiment recently expressed by most of the climate “skeptics” in their comments here and elsewhere. Numerous commenters took particular offense to Colorado State University climate scientist Scott Denning’s statement that: “Almost everyone that dismisses climate change as a problem does it for ideological or political reasons, not for scientific reasons.” (See related post.)

In fact, there is abundant evidence for Denning’s observation. One need only read what climate skeptics themselves say. For example, scroll through Bishop Hill, a popular U.K. climate skeptic blog, to the comments on a post about James Hansen’s advocacy for a global carbon tax. The idea that environmentalism — specifically the issue of climate change — is a stalking horse for a larger political agenda runs wild in the climate skeptic mind. In that Bishop Hill (Andrew Montford is the blogger) thread, this comment with a feverish conspiratorial bent reflects one strain of climate skeptic thinking:

From the very beginning the whole CAGW [catastrophic anthropogenic global warming] affair was a thin scientific covering to a political-religious movement to introduce a pan-national fascist control over all governments of the World. The whole global warming scare is a pretext for global government.

It’s important to note that this is no outlier view. James Delingpole, a U.K. conservative writer quite popular with climate skeptics, often disparages environmentalists as authoritarian “watermelons” — green on the outside and red on the inside. Several years ago, the Dutch climate scientist Bart Verheggen asked Jeff Condon, an American climate skeptic blogger, what he considered “socialist” about climate science. Condon’s reply: “Just the preferred and demanded solutions and the continued support of organizations with socialist tendencies, IPCC, UN, Copenhagen, etc.”

Lest you think these are isolated musings on blog sites, consider Naomi Klein’s much-discussed 2011 Nation magazine article. In it, she reports directly from the Heartland Institute’s annual conference:

Over the course of this two-day conference, I will learn that [President] Obama’s campaign promise to support locally owned biofuels refineries was really about “green communitarianism,” akin to the “Maoist” scheme to put “a pig iron furnace in everybody’s backyard” (the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels). That climate change is “a stalking horse for National Socialism” (former Republican senator and retired astronaut Harrison Schmitt). And that environmentalists are like Aztec priests, sacrificing countless people to appease the gods and change the weather (Marc Morano, editor of the denialists’ go-to website,

Most of all, however, I will hear versions of the opinion expressed by the county commissioner in the fourth row: that climate change is a Trojan horse designed to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism. As conference speaker Larry Bell succinctly puts it in his new book Climate of Corruption, climate change “has little to do with the state of the environment and much to do with shackling capitalism and transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth redistribution.”

To be sure, there is no monolithic world that climate skeptics belong to; there are “shades of gray.” As science writer David Brin has written:

Not every person who expresses doubt or criticism toward some part of this complex issue [climate change] is openly wedded to the shrill anti-intellectualism of Fox News — nor do all of them nod in agreement with absurd exaggerations, e.g., that a winter snowstorm refutes any gradual warming of Earth’s atmosphere. Indeed, you are likely to know some individuals who claim not to be “global warming deniers” but rational, open-minded “AGW-skeptics.”

So it’s understandable that some science-based climate skeptics are peeved to find themselves lumped in with the Marc Morano/Heartland Institute/James Delingpole camp, but here’s the thing: those three are representative public voices of climate skepticism, just as James Hansen, Al Gore, and Bill McKibben are representative public voices of the climate-concerned community.

These are, in effect, the widely recognized captains of the two opposing teams. They are the ones that draw the battle lines, lead the charge, wage the war of words. (There are other high-profile figures that eagerly join the fray, of course.) And so many with an interest, or say, in this issue choose which side they want to be on and fall in behind the putative leaders. They do so based not on the science, asserts Yale’s Dan Kahan, but according to which side they identify with. In his Nature essay, Kahan put it this way: “Like fans at a sporting contest, people deal with evidence selectively to promote their emotional interest in their group. On issues ranging from climate change to gun control, from synthetic biology to counter-terrorism, they take their cue about what they should feel, and hence believe, from the cheers and boos of the home crowd.”

Even some conservative pundits, such as The Washington Post‘s Michael Gerson, have noted that in the United States, at least, climate change has “joined abortion and gay marriage as a culture war controversy,” and that the “scientific debate has been sucked into a broader national argument about the role of government.”

Gerson wrote in a column earlier this year that:

The resistance of many conservatives to arguments about climate disruption is magnified by class and religion. Tea Party types are predisposed to question self-important elites. Evangelicals have long been suspicious of secular science, which has traditionally been suspicious of religious influence. Among some groups, skepticism about global warming has become a symbol of social identity — the cultural equivalent of a gun rack or an ichthus.

But however interesting this sociology may be, it has nothing to do with the science at issue. Even if all environmentalists were socialists and secularists and insufferable and partisan to the core, it would not alter the reality of the Earth’s temperature.

What to do about that reality is the crux of the larger climate debate. That, and not science, is what the two “sides” are really fighting about. But if it’s incumbent on the climate-concerned camp to make its case for action, then that task surely would be made easier if it figured out a way to neutralize its opposition. To that end, here is one piece of advice from a smart commenter at the Economist:

If the Left, from the very beginning, had approached the topic from the point of, “We understand fully the Right’s concerns over economic freedom and the size and scope of government with this issue, but we believe that the threat of climate change is real, so we believe humanity needs to do something about it…” well then the Right would likely have been more open. But this has never been the case. To this day, the Left continue to spout the nonsense that the Right want to take away people’s clean air, clean water, wreck the environment, and so forth.

It’s sad because it undermines their own arguments. Climate change, while skepticism can be warranted, isn’t junk science either. Humanity is releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and this could create a sudden shift in the climate at some point. The concern is that, historically, when this has happened, it has had drastic effects on the biosphere when it happened, because the lifeforms couldn’t adapt to that kind of quick change. Think of it like this: imagine a MASSIVE fire is burning on Earth, one that is releasing billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. It would not be illogical to speculate that eventually, this fire could start to have an effect on the planet’s climate after a certain point. But the Left need to understand the Right’s concerns and arguments as well.

When those concerns and arguments are met head-on, perhaps then the battle won’t be so narrowly — and so distractedly — focused on climate science alone.

Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a New York City-based freelance journalist who writes often about the environment and climate change.
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38 Responses to The Global Warming Culture Wars

  1. RickA says:

    Nice post.

    However, I don’t consider the focus on climate science to be “distracted”, but an essential first step.

    Why consider adaptation and/or mitigation and the political path forward for those issues if the “problem” doesn’t really require those solutions?

    I consider that the first essential point the AGW crowd has to convince me of (or collectively the entire country or world) before I agree we need to even consider solutions, is that the warming is caused by humans. After all, the null hypothesis is that the warming is caused by natural variation in the climate – and none of the science has actually falsified this yet.

    In other words the warming we have seen is consistent with either theory – natural variation and/or human caused AGW, and science has not yet been able to show it is one and not the other.

    That is why scientists are saying “It will be to late to wait for confirmation – we must take action now”. They want to apply the precautionary principle, because science has not actually been able to rule out natural variability as a source of some or all of the warming.

    So we first have to realize that the AGW crowd is actually advocating action, not based on science, but on what they think the science will show at some future date (based on models which have been shown to grossly deviate from observations).

    In order for science to show it is humans and not natural variability, we need to collect more data over a long period of time, to reduce the error bars on the warming signal, to small enough so that we can conclude that it is really humans causing the problem and not simply a natural variation in the climate (which we know has occurred many times over the last 8000 years).

    The “distracted” fight you are referring to is really about who has the burden of proof (Trenberth wants to switch it from the AGW crowd to the skeptic crowd), and what the evidence actually is, the quality of the evidence, and what the evidence actually shows.

    The fight also revolves around climate sensitivity, which is how much warming to expect from a doubling of the CO2 level from 280 ppm to 560 ppm – and as you well know, there is a huge range of numbers floating around for this value – ranging from 1.8C all the way up to 10C. Again, because of the large error bars, we cannot scientifically say what CS is with any real certainty yet.

    It matters hugely if it is 1.8C or 4.5C, as that drives all the discussion about the solutions.

    Even if the problem were correctly identified, and agreed upon by both the left and right (or more properly the AGW crowd and the skeptic crowd), we still have to move onto the solution part of the problem.

    Will eliminating CO2 emissions actually help? How much? How much of the warming since 1850 is even caused by CO2, and how much by other things like natural variability, carbon black, land-use changes, airplane contrails, air conditioning, blacktop, cosmic rays, solar magnetic variation, etc.

    What is the cost-benefit?

    Will it raise the cost of food? Energy? What are the knock-on effects of that on the poor? Is that worse than the average global temperature rising 1.8C (for example) by 2100?

    Personally, I consider a solution which deprives billions of a rising standard of living (which we have had since 1850 in the West), increased food prices and increased energy prices for the poor to be immoral.

    In order to really solve the problem, I think we need a science driven solution which involves non-carbon energy production which is actually cheaper than coal, oil and natural gas energy production – which we have not even invented yet. If we had that, the skeptics wouldn’t object, because the migration to a non-carbon energy production would happen naturally, by just buying the cheapest energy, and solve the problem of CO2 emissions as a by-product.

    But even setting the budget for research on non-carbon energy would benefit from better scientific evidence of how much of the warming is natural versus human caused, and what the impact would be of emitting less CO2 (how much will it really matter) – which brings us back to the first problem.

    • Gws says:

      Thanks for the interesting comment. Indeed the discussion has to move on to solutions, and you made several points I agree with.
      As a scientist I would like to address two things from your comment:
      1. It is not correct that climate scientists have not sufficiently considered natural variability. The last IPCC report addresses that specifically. The warming in the last several decades cannot be explained by natural variability. Instead, it can be well explained by greenhouse gas action. A large variety of studies all come to the same conclusion that current warming rates are unprecedented and can only be adequately explained by observed greenhouse gas increases.
      2. CO2 greenhouse action is based on basic physics, its increase in the atmosphere since industrial times well documented, and its fingerprint clearly human. There is no doubt that human emissions are causing it’s increase and the associated planetary warming.

      Thus, of course its emission reduction and eventual elimination of emissions will help, the faster the more effectively.
      The discussion about climate sensitivity, the expected equilibrium warming from a doubling of CO2, is also better known then your post implies because not all numbers in the range are equally likely. The most likely (see IPCC) number is between 2 and 3 degrees C. In either case, I cannot see how this drives the solutions discussion. If you want to avoid the negative consequences of warming, the science only tells you how fast you would want the solutions to be achieved, not which solutions you are supposed to choose, as long as they are eliminating the carbon emissions.
      If market based solutions are faster then regulation, then those may be the preferred ones. Clear is only that solutions need to be found quickly (within years to a decade or two) if you want to provide “equal” energy for a rising global population considering dwindling fossil energy reserves and increasing costs to extract that fuel.
      I agree with the second part of your post, especially regarding price. As long as fossil fuel energy is kept cheap, the (societal) incentive to switch away from it is too small.

      • RickA says:


        Thank you for your reply.

        1. I actually doubt that current warming rates are unprecedented.

        I think proxies average out the historical rates, and damp down the actual historical variability in warming and cooling rates.

        If we could go back in time and actually actually measure the temperature throughout the MWP, I think you would find that the warming rate was at least as great as today (at least during some decades or 30 year periods of the MWP).

        Same for the Roman warming period, and earlier ones.

        It is only looking back, trying to estimate warming rates using proxies, like ice cores and tree rings, which I think are much more muted than actual daily temperature data, that makes it look like current warming rates are unprecedented.

        2. I don’t doubt the physics, just the feedback additional warming calculation, which relies on a lot of guesswork (as evidenced by the wide range of guesses). So from just the physics, we can expect about 1.2C of warming by 2100 (given the current rate of adding CO2). I don’t doubt this, nor am I particularly concerned by it.

        It is the wild guesswork of going from 1.2C to 2.5C or 3C or 4.5C or 6C or whatever, that I doubt.

        • Eli Rabett says:

          Well Gws gave you some useful information, but to heat this up a bit your reply shows that Keith was right (never thought you would see those words eh Keith?) and that your willful ignorance is our real problem

        • GWS says:

          Unlike others, I am assuming here that you are not a Troll but genuinely question how sure the science is.

          Skepticism is generally good.
          It is a trait that scientists use to advance knowledge. Thus, contrary to what many skeptical folks like to think, their skepticism is, or better was actually shared by the scientists who work at that particular topic and in most cases it has led to research, including empirical testing of the skepticism initially raised. In this case: yes, scientists have thought of that (e.g. signal damping) too, they have done the research, and they have concluded that current rates are unprecedented (the BEST thing was a good example: all the shrieking about that someone will finally set the record straight just by having a skeptical view at it, turned out to be much ado about nothing. Why? Because the culprits had of course been thought of before).
          Alas, doubt is also an initial scientific response, but scientists actually go DO the work (unlike denialists), find evidence, have it critically (peer-)reviewed, AND (finally) let themselves be convinced by that.

          If there were only very few studies on past temperature variations and an actual lead along your lines of thinking, some doubt may still be justified; but that ain’t actually so.

          “Guesswork” is not a justified qualifier for the range given.
          You moved the goalpost a bit switching from the range you questioned before to the feedback issue. Feedbacks are generally understood and overwhelmingly positive (meaning reinforcing the initial forcing). That makes sense as one would otherwise not be able to get in and out of a glacial cycle easily. The most important and fast response positive feedback is that of water vapor. Its value (aka about doubling the CO2-only effect) has been confirmed a number of times now, such as via measurements, indirectly via paleoclimate data, and via climate modeling; it is probably the best understood of all feedbacks . So no “guesswork” here. CO2 increase and water vapor feedback account for most of the expected warming.

          What you may be referring to is the less well understood longer-term feedbacks, such as carbon cycle feedbacks. For example: If the warming reaches limits that unlock large amounts of carbon, such as those currently locked in frozen soils at high latitudes, the overall long-term climate sensitivity could be much larger than the current best estimate of approx. 3 deg C. And you guessed it: Yes, scientists are actively working on finding answers to these questions. So far, concerns have only been raised, not dampened.

          In summary:
          Doubt is good, but it is important to not stop there with a closed mind, which can lead to denial. The devil is as always in the details, and it is understandable that people not familiar with the matter often remain doubtful. But an open mind and a little trust in those nerdy enough to study a complicated thing such as climate can help.

          • RickA says:


            From my reading, I was under the impression that the 3C included both the direct warming from the CO2 and also the additional warming from feedback effects.

            I was under the impression that purely from the CO2, the warming we could expect was about 1.2C, just from the physics of the additional CO2 in the atmosphere, and the other 1.8C (using the 3C number) was based on indirect feedbacks. I also understood the indirect feedback warming to be based on models and assumptions, and not directly flowing from physics like the direct warming of additional CO2 in the atmosphere.

            Is that your understanding also?

            Reading your reply, I couldn’t tell if you thought the 3C was direct and another 3C was indirect (feedback derived) – so I just wanted to check.

          • GWS says:

            Yes, your reading is correct (your first paragraph). And yes, initially the “additional” warming was based on models. But those (“assumptions”) are based on the physical understanding of climate. Years ago I spoke to a mechanical engineer on a plane, who was also skeptical about the climate models; he thought they were based on extrapolations and statistics. Not so, they are based on the physical understanding of our climate, no “economics voodoo” as for what the engineer perceived them.

    • Rick McIntire says:

      It appears that you really have not paid much attention to the actual science and well-thought out discussions of potential solutions. Your post is a litany of debunked talking points nearly all of which have been asked and answered. Go to and do some serious reading with an open mind. There is no “theory of natural variability” as no scientifically-credible mechanism has yet been offered showing what the driver of such “variability” and “cycles” might be.

      • RickA says:

        Rick McIntire.

        If the climate doesn’t change naturally, on its own, it must only change due to human influence?

        It doesn’t change due to tilting of the earth or changing the distance of the Earth from the sun?

        Ice ages don’t happen naturally?

        Land bridges cutting off ocean circulation don’t change the climate?

        The climate didn’t change because life started pumping out O2?

        Lightning started forest fires don’t cause climate change.

        Volcanic eruptions don’t cause the climate to change?

        Of course that is not true.

        All the prior climate changes (pre 1850) occured without humans dumping lots of CO2 into the atmosphere, and therefore are all “natural”.

        A lot of climate changes post 1850 are natural also. Mount Pinatubo changed the climate for two years, and this was natural.

        The climate changing naturally is the null hypothesis, and it is up to the scientists to show that the current climate change is not natural.

        The only way they have explained it so far is to simply state that no other explanation exists without assuming the desired answer – so their desired answer must be right.

        But this ignores the fact that similar climate changes have happened naturally many times before (even over just the last 15000 years), without humans pumping CO2 into the atmosphere – so I find their logic a little lacking.

        I don’t doubt the physics, which dictates some warming from going from 280 ppm to 390 ppm. But that warming is only 1/3 of the predicted warming, which is argued to be amplified by feedbacks.

        It is the feedback estimated additional warming I doubt.

        I think the only sure way to determine climate sensitivity is to wait until we hit 560 ppm, measure the average global temperature, and subtract the 1850 average global temperature.

        Until we know that number, we don’t even know how far we have to move cities above sea level.

        • Toby says:

          Sorry, Rick , but you are just plain wrong.

          You really should go away and come back with the empirical backing for the expectation that humans could easily survive “similar climate changes [that] have happened naturally many times before (even over just the last 15000 years)”. Yes, maybe, but human beings may have only barely survived in out short eye-blink of geological history.

          I somehow doubt if humans would have easily survived the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, 57 millions years ago, when temperatures spiked by 5C to 7C over a few thousand years. And modern temperature change is far more rapid.

          About 15,000 years ago, a glacial period ended – thanks to naturally produced CO2 which rose to about 100ppm. See

          Humans only invented agriculture 10,000 years ago. 5,000 years before we were just a scattering of hunter-gatherers, struggling to survive in a very unfriendly environment. For 10,000 years or so the environment has facilitated us, but that looks as if it is coming to an end.

          • RickA says:


            I am not sure I understand your point.

            We did survive all the natural climate changes over the last 15,000 years – right?

            We are here, are we not?

            I think we both agree on my main point – which is that there have been a lot of climate changes over the last 15000 years which occurred naturally, and were not caused by humans.

            By the way – the CO2 did not rise to 100 ppm – but more like 210 ppm (and was never below 180 ppm on the graph you pointed me to).

            I haven’t looked this up yet – but I am pretty sure plants would struggle or even die in a 100ppm CO2 environment.

          • Fred Barney says:

            Empirical Backing? That is what I’m waiting for the AGW crowd to start using. Don’t tell me you think computer modeling is empirical backing?

            And come on! is one of the most biased web sites out there. They aren’t skeptical, they’re drinking the kool-aid.

    • RickA says:

      You also said “the science only tells you how fast you would want the solutions to be achieved, not which solutions you are supposed to choose . . .”.

      I kind of agree with this.

      If we knew that CS was 6C, I think that would dictate a much narrower range of possible solutions than if we knew that CS was 1.5C.

      At 6C, we may have no other option (currently available) but 100% hydro and nuclear for non-carbon baseload (always available, not intermittent) power generation.

      At 1.5C, we may have the luxury of 25 years of research directed at non-carbon energy production which is cheaper than oil, coal or natural gas.

      Maybe fusion, maybe space based solar energy (both baseload power, not intermittent).

      So I agree with you, but the science does effect the range of potential options (in my opinion).

      • GWS says:

        This is where the discussion needed to be 20 years ago before the denialism movement started, and where it has already been in other parts of the world. The problem has many facets, but it occurs to me that leadership is an important one. As the issue becomes more pressing, more heads-in-the-sand only make it worse.
        Leadership in alternative energy development and deployment is dearly needed. In Europe it is partially government driven, in China it is ordered. In the US, it is a rag rug at best, which does not help.
        As you hinted at: Most solutions are already at hand and are getting widely deployed, no engineering breakthroughs needed any more. Just the (societal) will to make the conversion.

        • RickA says:


          Again – thank you for finding this reply (which I put in the wrong place).

          I understand that we (I mean the USA) could completely replace all carbon producing energy production with about 300 nuclear power plants.

          So we really do have the technology right now – and I agree with that completely.

          Two problems though:

          1. Nuclear is more expensive than carbon producing power generation.

          2. Even if nuclear was cheaper on a per KWatt/hr basis, the cost of 300 nuclear power plants is pretty staggering.

          • GWS says:

            A discussion about nuclear is not what this threat calls for, though it is important to be had. IMHO, nuclear is no mid- to long-term solution for many reasons, the least being terrorist and nuclear proliferation threats.

          • RickA says:

            Of the currently available technology, I think nuclear is really the only non-carbon alternative.

            Hydro is non-carbon, but only available in certain locations (rivers).

            Wind and solar – while non-carbon are intermittent, and still need baseload power as a backup.

            Nuclear is the only widely available non-carbon baseload power ready to deploy right now (as far as I know).

            Of course, I think we need to invent new non-carbon baseload power options which are cheaper than coal, oil and natural gas (and nuclear, which is more expensive than coal, oil and natural gas) – but they are not available now (nor can we say when they will be available).

            So we cannot just turn off all the coal, oil and natural gas power generators – we have to switch over to non-carbon sources gradually – which I think leads back to Nuclear.

            Without a cheaper non-carbon baseload power source, we cannot rely on market forces to convert – but must rely on law (and even worse – treaties).

            So I don’t really see an alternative to nuclear myself.

            To bad Germany had the knee-jerk reaction of turning off its nuclear power plants – that is exactly the wrong move now. They are going to end up buying carbon producing power or generating their own carbon producing power and they don’t even have to worry about tsunami’s!

          • gws says:

            While you may be correct that nuclear is available and should be used appropriately, you are not right concerning the need to “invent” more technologies. Solar power (including photovoltaics, wind, and biomass) are perfectly well developed, they are only being more improved engineering-wise. And they are not widely deployed yet because current distribution methodology is based on large and aging central energy production, which could be called behind its time. But prices for wind energy production are already competitive and photovolataics are making giant steps towards competitiveness. Germany and other countries that have already decided to make the energy transition, will need to built different grids, and while that also needs people to agree to, they are probably a bit more willing to allow their energy to be distributed than some other big company’s nuclear power plant to deliver it to them. So the energy transition is also likely going to be a social transition.

  2. jeffn says:

    Clarification, please- the Naomi Klein column that you appear – quite accidentally – to be suggesting is ridiculing skeptics for their crazy environmentalism=socialism “conspiracy theories” was actually “much discussed” because Klein concludes: “Here’s my inconvenient truth: they aren’t wrong.”
    In short, Klein agrees that AGW is a great stalking horse for anti-capitalism. And she’s no “outlier” among the left or the environmental movement in that regard. But there’s a tribe that likes to use the phrase “conspiracy theorist” to discredit their critics. Unless, you know, the subject is oil funding.

  3. Norm B says:

    I agree with the blogger at William Briggs (
    The “science” on everybody’s mind when you ask them if they are “for” or “against” science is global warming. But that, except for cogitations on the equations of motion and thermodynamics, isn’t a science at all; instead, it is a roiling political matter. Further, everybody knows this. We are told, are we not?, that the science is settled, that the sky is reaching a tipping point, and that the only thing which will stave off this calumny is massive injections of money into the atmosphere.

    I belabor this argument to make the obvious point that if you were to ask somebody their innermost feelings (for what counts more than that?) about science, you might have thought you were inquiring about model parameterizations, but you are instead getting answers about the growing suspicion of the motivations of politicians.

    Or, were we indeed discussing model parameterizations?

  4. Hi Keith,

    Thanks for the links. One small correction: I’m Dutch, not Danish.

  5. Toby says:

    Nah, I just don’t buy it. You are saying that if Jim Hansen had put his arm around Richard Lindzen at some point in the 1980s and said “Dick I feel your pain, but we gotta do this …”, then Dick might have shed a quiet tear for his dead ideology, and acquiesced in agreeing that clmate change was happening. Repeat with Roy Spencer, John Cristy, Pat Michaels, Fred Singer …

    Surely that is just patronising men who are, after all, scientists, and who would expect to be addressed in the language and norms of science. And if that does not do it, I fail to see what else would ….

    In fact, the right was pre-armed and battle-ready to resist climate change science. It had already backed industry against acid rain regulation, CFC regulation, and passive smoking. Marc Morano and Steve Milloy did not garner millions of dollars to run propaganda campaigns because their love of individual freedom had not been recognised. The phrase “watermelon” was in use long before the early climate change debate.

    Well, ok, if Mr Climate Denier needs a bit of stroking to assuage his hurt before he comes across, I would up to a point. But somehow, in the end it disrespects climate deniers far more than to to argue the science.

  6. Doug Proctor says:

    Once you allow that political or ideological considerations determine which side of a scientific controversy you choose – here we must allow that there is some unsettled aspect of the case – you must allow that BOTH SIDES are potentially overstating their cases. Which means that the “warmist” scientists are potentially just as non-scientific in their choices as the “skeptics”.

    When there is doubt we always give the benefit to the position that supports our other beliefs. William James, as a pragmatist, would have declared that that is the appropriate thing, not just the emotional thing to do while there is doubt. This policy preserves both energy and resources – preserving the status quo keeps the system safe from undesireable changes while the new ideas are further checked. The warmist and the skeptic have different concepts of the status quo, that is all: for one, climate change is anthopogenic, and for the other, solar/planetary induced (mostly).

    Pots calling the kettle black: if you agree that you have an ideology in the game, then so will I. In fact, I’ll admit it right now. But I’ll change mine if you can give me data that is unique to CO2-will-kill-us-all.

    • keith Kloor says:


      You write:

      “Once you allow that political or ideological considerations determine which side of a scientific controversy you choose – here we must allow that there is some unsettled aspect of the case – you must allow that BOTH SIDES are potentially overstating their cases.”

      Absolutely. I was aware of this as I was writing my post. This should have been acknowledged, but I was trying to keep the focus on climate skeptics, mainly to address the strong reaction to my previous post. I do believe that the vast majority of people with only only a passing knowledge of global warming choose their side based on ideological/political affiliation. But don’t take my word for that. Here’s what Gallup says in their latest survey:

      “Personal worry about global warming is significantly related to politics and ideology. Democrats and liberals are most likely to say they are worried, while Republicans and conservatives are least likely.”

      • Eric Adler says:

        The story of plate tectonics is often presented by AGW skeptics, as proof that the scientific consensus can be false, and we should not accept AGW just because 97% of scientists do.

        The evidence produced by Wegener in favor of plate tectonics originated from the fact that identical species were found in 300M year old strata in Brazil and Africa, and the land shapes seem to fit together like puzzles. The physical mechanism he provide for the motion of the plates, which was centrifugal forces caused pangea to drift from the south pole to the equator, was wrong. This is what lead scientists to reject his theory. Arthur Holmes theory that thermal convection caused the plates to move took many years to confirm. Exploration of underwater ridges resulted in the understanding of sea floor spreading, which resulted in the confirmation of Wegener’s theory. The reason it took years was that there were gaps in the theory that took 50 years to fill in.

        The GHG theory of global warming is actually quite consistent with our understanding of the ice ages, as well as the current global warming trend. The GHG theory of which explains the earth’s climate is actually 150 years old. So far the skeptics haven’t produced viable explanations of past or present climatic events that contradict this theory. Over time, the evidence has continued to confirm and strengthen it. The opposition to the theory originate from political think tanks, rather than scientific publications.

        Contrarians like Spencer, Lindzen, and company have failed to produce viable scientific publications that show it is wrong. Their evidence has been thoroughly debunked.

        There is no evidence that the history of the AGW theory is analogous to Plate Tectonics, which is an AGW skeptic claim that you are echoing in your post.

  7. Fred Barney says:

    Hey Keith:

    Labeling people as this or that is BS. It does not matter what the masses believe. What is important is the truth and that is not always a pleasant or easy process. Most scientists laughed at the idea of plate tectonics as the primary reason for earthquakes. But that theory is now the predominant one. Is the science settled forever? Probably not.

    The empirical evidence for catastrophic climate change is also not looking so good these days. So it is more than valid to search for another theory. Putting people down is not an answer, it is a weak argument that should never enter a scientific debate.

    • Eric Adler says:

      The empricial evidence for catastrophic climate change is actually looking quite good these days, contrary to your statement.

      Arctic sea ice is declining much faster than the IPCC model predictions and so are the world’s glaciers. Careful analysis of temperatures which take account of natural variation due El Nino oscillations, solar radiance and volcanoes show that the trend of increasing global temperature driven by greenhouse gases continues. This information is easily located in scientific journals available on the web.

      The lack of empirical evidence is a myth perpetrated by AGW deniers and not true, based on the available information.

      • RickA says:


        The evidence merely shows that it is warmer now than 1850 – not that the warming is caused by human emitted CO2.

        The mere fact of warming explains the sea ice decline and glacier retreat – which has also happened several times before CO2 increased from 280 ppm (in the last 15000 years).

        There is a lack of empirical evidence to support the claim of feedback induced additional warming of 2C that is expected by 2100 – that is what is at issue.

        • Eric Adler says:


          You are wrong about the lack of evidence to support the theory that warming is related to CO2.

          In fact, the current global warming trend is accompanied by satellite measurements of changes in the spectrum of outgoing radiation which shows that CO2 and H2O absorption has been increasing with time.

          In addition, solar radiance and cosmic ray influences are ruled out by the data, since there is no trend associated with them that would explain the global warming we are experiencing.

          In fact, observations of water vapor in the air show that increases in temperature are associated with increases in water vapor similar to what is included in climate models.

          In addition, during the most recent deglaciation, increases in CO2 lead global warming over a substantial period of time, and modelling shows the climate sensitivity due to increases in CO2 is sufficient to explain the global warming.

          There is plenty of confirmation that GHG’s drove warming in the past, due to feedback, and that human emissions are driving it at present.

          In some cases warming and cooling has occurred without CO2 increases, but logically, this does not contradict the possibility that CO2 is and has been a factor in the past.

          • RickA says:

            Warmer air will hold more H2O – so it makes sense that H2O absorption has increased.

            If CO2 absorption has also increased, this also makes sense – although it was my understanding that H2O vastly outweighed CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

            However, what I said was that there was no empirical evidence for the feedback induced warming.

            I have no quarrel with the .8C of warming since 1850 that we have seen – it is the extra 2C or more that the models are adding in based on feedbacks which I question.

            I understood that temperature increases lead CO2 increases by 700 or so years, when coming out of previous glaciations – so I don’t believe that if CO2 goes up 1ppm, the temperature increases right away.

            It seems to me that the data actually only show warming consistent with the no-feedback warming scenerio – which is why all the modes are overestimating the warming.

            I think the evidence is that temperature increases drove increased GHG’s in the past, and not the other way around.

            I only expect about 1.2C to 1.3C of warming by 2100 (.4C to .5C more) – but that is just a guess from projecting the trend.

            We shall see.

          • gws says:

            You are strongly drifting into trolling. I have already explained the matter to you earlier, but you have made the same arguments here to Eric AGAIN after you seemed to have accepted my previous explanation. Maybe one more time:
            1. The initial forcing comes from increasing CO2, followed by warming, which enables increasing atmospheric humidity, which increases the forcing a.s.o.
            2. The CO2 only effect is roughly doubled by that mechanism in equilibrium (with increased water vapor in the atmosphere) and Eric gave you more details than I initially did
            3. Experienced warming lags behind equilibrium warming, so warming will continue for a while even if you take away the forcing (aka stop human-caused CO2 emissions instantaneously); current warming is in line with expected warming, check one of the latest related entries in
            4. Whether warming preceded increased CO2 in the past is irrelevant for the current situation, because logically “A leads to B” does not exclude “B leads to A”

            Ask yourself this: If you are smart enough to figure out these good questions because you use critical thinking, why do you assume that scientists working in this field every day did not think about these themselves and worked them out?

          • RickA says:


            You asked “why do you assume that scientists working in this field every day did not think about these themselves and worked them out?”

            I do assume scientists have worked out answers to these questions. However, I also assume the different scientists have worked out different answers.

            The models projections are overshooting the actual observations (at least the ensemble of the models).

            So, there is still room to question the accuracy of projections based on climate models, and in fact the wide variation of estimates of CS show that many different ways of looking at the problem exist, and there is not uniform agreement on this question (or there would be uniform agreement on CS).

            I am not a climate scientist, but read a lot of the papers.

            My take on it is that an actual observation is worth millions of model estimates (especially unvalidated models).

            I hope to be around when CO2 hits 560 ppm, and then we can actually measure CS, by simply determining the average global temperature at 560 ppm and subtracting it from the 1850 average global temperature. I am sure that will be a lot more accurate than the model driven determinations of CS.

            I will also hope to be around in 2100, and take a look at how much the sea level actually has risen, compared to estimates.

        • John says:

          “The evidence merely shows that it is warmer now than 1850 – not that the warming is caused by human emitted CO2.”

          Geochemists often do ‘thought experiments’ like, what if the ocean were abiotic?

          Let’s try another: Let’s suppose that there were some process that removed all the CO2 from the atmosphere, and also prevented release of CO2 by the ocean. What would the temperature of the earth be?

          • RickA says:


            I don’t know the answer to this question.

            I would guess that since going from 280 ppm to 390 ppm added .8C, that going from 390 ppm to Zero would be about -2.4C (about 3 times .8).

            However, I understand that the temperature is related to the log of CO2 concentration – so my linear figuring is sure to be incorrect.

            What do you think the answer to your question is?

          • John says:

            This was the puzzle noted by Joseph Fourier back in the early 1800s, when he looked at the radiation balance of the earth. His calculations showed that the earth should have an average temperature of about -10degC, if the earth was a ‘black body’, and given a certain amount of reflection. He had the idea that the atmosphere was involved, but otherwise couldn’t explain the difference. John Tyndall (who invented the spectrophotometer) studied experimental atmospheres in the lab. He couldn’t find any absorption of heat in an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, but when he added trace amounts of CO2, the temperature in his atmosphere rose. He thus demonstrated the earth’s greenhouse effect, without which earth would be uninhabitable.
            It stands to reason that the more CO2 in the atmosphere, the greater the greenhouse effect. You seem to accept this. Why is this particular increase in CO2 not related to an increase in planetary temperature? Of course CO2 pumped into the atmosphere doesn’t all stay there; much of it goes into the ocean, weathering, and the biosphere. And there are feedbacks (water vapor, aerosols, albedo changes). Together these will complicate the CO2 greenhouse relationship. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the increase in the greenhouse effect is causing the recent warming.

  8. Doug,

    Even though it sounds fair to claim that both sides let ideology colour their judgment, they do not necessarily do so to a similar extent.

    The (implications of) scientific insights conflict much more more with certain ideologies than with others. E.g. climate science (and environmentakl science in general) conflicts with anti-regulation/libertarian ideologies. With other issues (e.g. vaccinations), it is more the “everything-gotta-be-natural” ideology that feels conflicted.

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a certain ideology, but they all have their specific blind spots regarding their view on reality.

    The truth is not necessarily in the middle of what certain ideologies say.

    • Tony Duncan says:


      This is a very important consideration, and I think a signal that ACC is NOT driven by ideology among the majority of experts is the fact that so many of them have different ideologies. Whereas those that deny significant warming due to GHG are overwhelmingly of a limited range of ideology. there are exception, such as Alexander Cockburn, but he does not understand the science and his argument is purely ideological (capitalist corporations are inventing the crisis in order to reap profits off the backs of the working people). there are significant conservatives and limited government advocates, and devout . Christians who have looked at the science and are convinced by it. Another factor is the demonization of climate scientists as being engaged in fraud either to make money or to promote an antidemocratic ideology. Knowing a few climate scientists and reading the actual words of people like Hansen, Mann, Schmidt, Trenbeth, etc, while there can certainly be seen some ideological bias in cases, it is nowhere near what they are daily accused of.
      I certainly agree that people who do not really understand the science accept it from largely ideological grounds. I have had numerous talks with people who acted like they knew about the issue, but it was quickly apparent that they had gross misconceptions about some basic issues, and understood nothing about areas of uncertainty.
      I personally have serious issues with how aspects of various sciences are practiced, that I think are due to blind stops and biases. And I am skeptical of some claims and tactics of supporters of ACC, but I am much more impressed with the debate among scientists engaged in climate research who are convinced by the theory than the almost unanimous acceptance of anything but ACC, as long as it undermines ACC that I see among deniers. Singers recent protestations seemingly being an unusual occurrence.

    • Tony Duncan says:


      And I appreciate your restrained comment to Keith. How anyone could imagine Verheggen as anything but Dutch boogles the mind. Danish indeed, psshaw