The Scientific Activist

A piece of global warming denialism was published today in the conservative Financial Post. Normally it wouldn’t be that noteworthy, except that it was oddly included in Sigma Xi’s daily “Science in the News” digest. The article attacks the idea that there is a scientific consensus (embodied by the IPCC) regarding global warming. In a sense, the author is correct. The science regarding global warming is ongoing, and there are myriad subtleties to work out. Of course, this is not what the author is referring to. Although the scientific community as a whole agrees that the earth is warming, that this warming is due to carbon dioxide, and that the human carbon dioxide emissions have contributed to this warming, the author of this piece disputes this. To do this, he relies on outdated studies, vague and unreferenced arguments, and on misleading surveys (of non-scientists).

On a previous post a commenter, citing this article, wrote:

I run a site on global warming (www.globalwarming-factorfiction.com). It is designed to try to give both sides of the issue, I think I do a fairly good job of it since WSJ.com has referenced me several times.

I think we need to look more closely at Mr. Griffin’s words. If GW is caused by nefarious human activity than we should do something about it. But if GW is caused by the natural changes of global climate, then we need to live with it and adapt. There is a high likelihood that the latter is true and many climate scientists think humans are not the root cause. In fact, in a recent study of scientists only 39% felt that carbon dioxide reductions were a priority (http://globalwarming-factorfiction.com/2007/06/02/they-call-this-a-consensus/).

We simply do not know enough about our climate to take dramatic action on this issue.

The commenter is referring to today’s article from the Financial Post, but, to be fair to the original article, he exaggerates quite a bit. The original article writes:

A more recent indicator comes from the U.S.-based National Registry of Environmental Professionals, an accrediting organization whose 12,000 environmental practitioners have standing with U.S. government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. In a November, 2006, survey of its members, it found that only 59% think human activities are largely responsible for the warming that has occurred, and only 39% make their priority the curbing of carbon emissions. And 71% believe the increase in hurricanes is likely natural, not easily attributed to human activities.

This is a bit more accurate, but still misleading. Here are the key findings from the National Registry of Environmental Professionals (NREP):

  • “59 percent respond that current climactic activity exceeding norms calibrated by over 100 years of weather data collection can be, in large part, attributed to human activity.”
  • “58 percent of those practitioners surveyed think the U.S. is in a position to begin taking concrete public policy steps that have a good chance of slowing the negative effects of global warming.”
  • “67 percent report they think the U.S. Government is NOT doing enough to address the effects of global warming.”
  • “53 percent of professionals polled consider international agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol, provide a solid framework from which large volume energy producing countries like the U.S. can play a positive role in combating the effects of global climate change.”

In regards to the 39% number mentioned above, the question was “Which human activity would you say should be regulated the most to generate an effective public policy response to global warming?” 38.6% of respondents answered “carbon emissions as a whole.” The remaining 61.4% gave a variety of other answers, including “energy production”, “modes of transportation”, “deforestation”, “ocean pollution”, and “air pollution”. This in no way implies that “only 39% [of scientists] felt that carbon dioxide reductions were a priority,” as the commenter claimed.

So, although these results clearly demonstrate that a majority of respondents agree with the prevailing scientific views on global warming, there is no true consensus. This, however, is incredibly misleading. The Financial Post article is about the scientific consensus, but the NREP is not an organization of scientists, much less climate scientists. It is a professional accreditation organization, and if one actually looks at its registry, there are almost no academic scientists represented among its membership.

I consider it incredibly misleading to include a survey of non-scientists as evidence that scientists dispute the global warming consensus.

If you really want to know about the scientific consensus about global warming, a good place to start is here. And, for more information, check out the rest of the Gristmill’s full guide to “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic” (hat tip to Pharyngula).

Comments

  1. #1 bigTom
    June 4, 2007

    I think this sort of denialism is fairly effective. We all have this democracy thing in the back of our minds, so when someone states (rightly of wrongly) that a large percentage of people beieve a certain way, we tend to think that result needs to be respected. Of course in this case simple fact checking would reveal serious cherry picking (of survey response categories, as well as who is surveyed). Nevertheless unless you can get these discrepancies in front of the Financial Post’s readers, so they will actually acknowledge them- the article will have its intended (denialist) effect.

  2. #2 crookedbyexxon
    June 5, 2007

    While it is more or less clear to anybody that GW is occurring

    what really lacks scientific consensus are

    its causes: is it CO2, land use, solar activity, two or 3 combined. Nobody knows how much each one accounts for the global climate change. Except of course the religious believers of 100% CO2 and the religious believers that GW does not exist.

    Consequently no scientific basis exists on
    what EFFECTIVE actions, if any, mankind can do against GW and its effects.

  3. #3 Nick Anthis
    June 5, 2007

    “Consequently no scientific basis exists on what EFFECTIVE actions, if any, mankind can do against GW and its effects.”

    That doesn’t follow naturally from your first statements, and these black and white arguments (“nobody”, “no scientific evidence”, etc.) do a service to no one. Little to nothing in science is ever 100% certain, and if we waited for such evidence before making scientifically-based decisions, we wouldn’t get anywhere.

  4. #4 Bob
    June 5, 2007

    CO2 in the atmosphere is but one variable to what makes our climate. The media loves to push the doom and gloom of people like Al Gore are selling (Yes, Al is making millions selling gloom.) I don’t believe we have a real scientific debate because it is politically incorrect to challenge political and media conclusion that climate change is solely due to burning fossil fuels.

  5. #5 Ron Bridges
    June 5, 2007

    I’m just a layman, but it seems to me that it doesn’t really matter what the “consensus” is. Truth is what matters, and majorities have often been wrong. Let’s focus the debate on what is true, and quit wasting time arguing about “consensus”.

  6. #6 MarkH
    June 5, 2007

    That series of articles is like a textbook case of the denialist methods. The cranks that Solomon manages to find, it’s pretty impressive. He builds them up as these giants, when they’re almost all talking outside their field, none of them are taken seriously by anybody, and they use the same old conspiracy theories and cherry-picks and misrepresentations of the literature. The best is the one on Lindzen, who promotes some of this Al Gore conspiratorial nonsense like Bob here is pushing. Lots of other classic techniques like the impossible expectations stuff (crookedbyexxon’s argument).

    That and the shameless attacks on consensus. Give me a break. It’s just the Galileo gambit all over again. The entire list of articles is just the same old canards rehashed over and over again. Even the “Mars is warming” nonsense is recycled. It’s just intellectual dishonesty.

  7. #7 Jason Coleman
    June 5, 2007

    I consider it incredibly misleading to include a survey of non-scientists as evidence that scientists dispute the global warming consensus.

    It’s not often that the use of the word “incredibly” results in an understatement. It’s simply outright deception as far as I can see.

    However, I think that the fact that in little more than a year’s time we have seen the Bush Administration go from ‘waiting on all the science’ to discussing just which policy direction to take on climate change shows just how pointless and desperate such articles as this are. In so far as we can know anything in a developing field of science, we know that climate change is happening and we have a very high level of confidence we are causing it. Arguments such as those made by two previous commenters requiring an unreasonably high level of confidence or even more vague demands of “truth” never had a place in a discussion regarding science or science based policy. Such nonsense has little traction with the general public anymore and it fools no one here.

    Since the reader mentioned in Nick’s article gave their site for providing both sides, I’d like to throw a couple of articles I wrote for Newsvine months ago your way as well:

    http://super-structure.newsvine.com/_news/2007/02/26/587145-article-deals-in-climate-myths-not-with-them

    http://super-structure.newsvine.com/_news/2007/02/06/555414-25-reasons-why-you-should-understand-neil-boortz-is-wrong

    Their both full of links to reputable sources and the second has a number of resources for more information at the bottom. I hope someone can find them useful.

  8. #8 Ron Kling
    June 7, 2007

    So you buy this manmade global warming idea, huh? You don’t think this is just a fad?

    I bet you bought into the Y2K alarmism, too.

    How long did it take you to use up all that extra toilet paper and peanut butter?

  9. #9 gary Williams
    June 7, 2007

    I don’t the current trend of “my scientest is bigger than your scientest” very helpful. If you have legitamate agruments against what the “Denialists” (such a silly and juvenile term) propose, then you should state it.
    The practice of simple name calling and discreditation just lowers the debate down to the level of “creation science”. (an oxymoron if ever there was one)

  10. #10 Nick Anthis
    June 7, 2007

    Well, in this post, for example, I showed how two denialists relied on misleading arguments. If you’re looking for a good discussion of the science behind global warming, I would suggest the reference found here.

  11. #11 Gary Williams
    June 7, 2007

    Yes I’ve reviewed that one as well. If you would like to trade links, try this one:http://www.john-daly.com/hockey/hockey.htm
    How do you feel about the grossly misleading “Inconvienient Truth”? Are you OK with the misleading suggestion of 20 foot sea level rises or that Katrina was caused by GW?
    Are you OK with teaching young childres in schools that Gore is a Climate expert and everything he says is undisputed truth? Does it not bother you that the IPCC scientests said that they really did not know what was causing the warming, but because they could not think of anything better, they will agree that it must be man made CO2? And then the political body of the IPCC wrote that into a Hysterical statement that the world was about to end if we don’t repent. And then there are the Papal indulgances (carbon credits) being sold to gullable people to retone for their sin of flying on a plane.
    Anyway, the truth WILL eventuallly come out as it did the last time this was tried. (I was around in the 70s and remmeber the coming Ice age and the overwelming concensus)
    When it does, it will be very interesting to listen to all the explainations. This will at least be very entertaining. Too bad so many will suffer from the dumb policies that will be forced on us.
    Anyway Keep up the dialogue. it is the only way to get past this.

  12. #12 Nick Anthis
    June 8, 2007

    Listen, Gary, global warming isn’t something I’m looking forward to, even if it means people like you will be proven wrong (although based on your current denialism I’m sure you’ll find some way of skirting the issue).

  13. #13 Gary Williams
    June 8, 2007

    Actually, the only thing I will need to skirt will be inefective green movement fads that will dirvert money from important causes to a futile attempt to change a perfectly natrual warming peroid. I am really looking forward to the increased crop production, the reduced deaths from cold and generally warmer weather. Alhough it will only last a few more years. Perhaps then we will be able to get back to the real issues of cleaning up actual polution and not chasing silly phantoms like CO2.
    In any event, we WILL see. as they did in the 1895 GW scare the 1938 GW scare the 1957 GC scare the 1970 Ice age scare…….. The truth will be undiniable.
    Science will again move away from religeous doctrine and back to the persuit of facts.
    BTW I appreaciate the opertunity to exchange views.

  14. #14 Gary Williams
    June 8, 2007

    Forgot to ask again. Are you ok with scaring chilldren with Al Gore’s over the top Hype? you never did answer any of my questions. I was genuinly curious.
    I really facinated with the psycho social side of the whole issue.

  15. #15 Oliver
    June 9, 2007

    @Gary:

    The fact that you refer to the hockey-stick argument merely illustrates one thing: You will buy anything suggesting there is no problem, whether or not it actually agrees with your arguments, and you will doubt anything that says there is a problem. If you claim existence of a natural warming period, you should maybe hesitate to use the (long-debunked) hockeystick criticism. The fact that you grab odds and ends off the internet merely shows that you lack any and all knowledge of actual scientific publications.

    And by the way: Even if a warming period is natural, we’d be right to worry about it. Because nature doesn’t give a rodent’s posterior whether a couple of denialists (and those they should have listened to) are flushed down the drain.

  16. #16 Nick Anthis
    June 9, 2007

    Gary,

    This isn’t a “psycho social” issue–it’s a scientific issue. And, if you’re going to continue to make wild arguments ignoring all of the current science, don’t expect me to answer irrelevant questions.

  17. #17 Gary
    June 9, 2007

    Hey Nick; I am interested in the responses because they tell me a lot about the popular mind set. People are smart, masses of people are stupid. Its just a rule.
    I site the hocky stick because it illistrates the depths that some will go to to twist the facts to fit their political agendas. They actually tride to rewrite history with that one.
    And the Psycho social element of this is very interesting.
    I really beleive most of you are just tickled pink at the opetunity to be part of huge Global and noble cause to fight the eval ginvavitus… or global warmeing or what ever. If we found out tomorrow that it was all a mistake, a lot of little people would have their main reason for feeling important yanked out form under them.
    It is a facinating sutdy.
    And if you really “really” look at the Science you will have to agree, there is no proof of anything and no real concensus on anything. Look past the political statements in the IPCC Summary fo idiots at what the scientests actually wrote.
    and don’t get upset, I just don’t agree with you is all.

  18. #18 Gary
    June 9, 2007

    So….
    Do you actually believe the Hocky stick is acurate?
    Do you really believe that the Midieval Warming period was just a myth.
    Do you really believe that the ice core record does not show that co2 follows temp?
    Do you really believe that Mars, and Neptune and the moons of Jupiter warming are just a coincidance?
    Just wondering……

  19. #19 Oliver
    June 9, 2007

    A)The criticism of the hockey stick has been debunked ages ago. You’d know that if you followed scientific literature

    B)It’s spelled medieval. And you seem to mix up local and global issues, and, as usual, temperature and heat.

    C)It is irrelevant whether the ice core shows that co2 follows temperature. First of all, what it does is show that the warming effects STARTED before CO2 rise STARTED. However, the warming trend continued all along the rise of the CO2. So all this shows is that _in_those_specific_cases, CO2 was not the INITIATING factor. If you had any idea of complex mechanisms, however, you’d find the data very indicative of a feedback regulation mechanism, in which another factor initiates a rise of temperature, which causes a release of CO2 from natural reservoirs, which in turn further fuels a rise of temperature. Coincidentally, the increase of CO2 we currently see is not from heat-sensitive natural reservoirs.

    Do you actually believe everything you read on the internet? Like, JFK was shot by aliens, and Elvis lives, and Adolf Hitler, too, hiding away in his secret fortress in Antarctica…. right?

    Look, what you are doing here is arguing that fundamental physical constants aren’t what they actually are. You obviously don’t realize that your arguments are tantamount to denying gravity exists.

  20. #20 Nick Anthis
    June 9, 2007

    Actually, the hockey stick model has been pretty well validated. I’m not going to get into a debate full of loaded questions, though. On an unrelated note, you might look into a spell checker as well….

  21. #21 Oliver
    June 9, 2007

    Gary, if you actually read the IPCC report, not just the “summary for idiots”, as you call it, you would not be able to claim any of the bullsh1t you post here. Because the science in there is referenced to actual academic publications in peer-reviewed scientific literature -which Nick and I happen to read regularly, much unlike you. You obviously have NEITHER read the full IPCC report, NOR the literature it is summarizing (and that, coincidentally, is all the IPCC report does: summarizing literature)

  22. #22 Gary
    June 9, 2007

    You are right of course. A blog argument will not change reality in any way. I still find it facinating to see the level of total commitment to what amounts to academic theory. I really find it hard to trust anything the poilitcal IPCC writes. But like I said, this shtick has been trotted out many time in the past and will no doubt be again. Time will indeed tell.
    Any way, do you have a link to anything that supports the hockystick. everything I have been able to find indicates that it is a total fraud right down to the original source code that weights input to deliberately create the desired shape.
    And do enjoy the nice weather while it lasts.
    Cheers

  23. #23 gary
    June 9, 2007

    Oh… and that link you offered actually supports my argument. All they did was adjust the time period to exclude the inconvienient truth about the midieval warm period. Everyone knows the tem has been rising for 400 years. All those SUVs the clergy were using perhaps.

  24. #24 llewelly
    June 9, 2007

    I am really looking forward to the increased crop production, the reduced deaths from cold and generally warmer weather.

    I’ve added some links to Gary Williams words, so that others may better understand what he is talking about.

  25. #25 Gary
    June 9, 2007

    Cute!! You guys are really fun.

  26. #26 Oliver
    June 11, 2007

    Gary,
    your statement “to what amounts to academic theory” demonstrates that you have next to zero working knowledge of scientific method. An academic theory is _the_ currently accepted working model. And working models is all that science ever produces: Models that describe how the world and the universe around us works in a way that is understandable at least to those of us who acquire a minimum of knowledge in a field. Gravity is a theory, relativity is a theory. All of them are used, because individual aspects -not every bit and piece- have been confirmed time and time and time again. They are used as equivalent to fact until such a point where a better model is proposed. There is nothing “better” than a current academic theory. When there is, the new, better theory replaces the old, and then there STILL is an academic theory. An academic theory -regardless of the discipline- is THE current state of the science. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a theory.

    The Monty Python argument “It’s only a model” doesn’t hold, because being human being, a model is likely all we’ll ever get to describe what’s happening -whether in climate in specific or in the universe at large. If we’d know the be-all-end-all, we’d be dictating commandments to Mose on Mt. Sinai or wipe Sodom and Gomorrha off the face of the planet. So suggesting that one of these “mere models” can be happily ignored is about the same as suggesting you can disbelieve gravity or that Einstein was a moron. The sheer fact that both these other theories still will require some filing and trimming at the edges doesn’t mean you can jump off the Empire State Building yelling “It’s only a model” and hope to survive.

  27. #27 Fred@simplicitysolar.com
    June 30, 2007

    As a solar installer looking at this arguement from the ground level, I obviously have bias.
    However, in the end in my opinion this entire arguement is about behavior, not about science. In the end it does not matter whether the sun is responsible for most of warming or CO2 is or is not an initiating factor.

    In my humble opinion, humanity has some influence on our global invironment, and thus some need for responsibility.

    What behaviors are the skeptics promoting?
    Business as usual? More Humvees and Escalades? More dollar stores and Walmarts loaded with petroleum laden products?
    What is it they are espousing for behavior at the ground level?

    I see no difference in what our response should be, no matter who is “more right”

    Clean solar energy is the most abundant sourse of power available on this planet. The key to social and economic parity accross this planet is energy. In my opinion, we should be kissing the very feet of those like Al Gore, not for any scientific accuracy, but for the magor shift in capital into pv and other RE investment and driving the cost of these alternative energy production systems down. Thanks to the endeavors of the Earth Huggers, within 5 years you will be able to purchase independant power systems that will compete economically with any cheap power now available in the US and put that system anywhere at any size to power anything needing power. Water purification systems for instance.

    This whole arguement is detracting from the enormous benifit mankind will receive from the actions of those like Al Gore who have caused this shift in capital investment into RE.

    Somehow I wish all of you would put a cork in it, and go buy some new light bulbs.

  28. #28 Kelson
    July 19, 2007

    My biggest question is not whether global warming exists, but what is the true impact that humans are having on the change? my other opinion is that we are ignoring a lot of really important environmental for the Global Warming Crusade. What happened to deforestation and habitat destruction? Slash and Burn is still in use around the world. Massive amounts of our Pine forests in this country are dead, Why? Because of Pine beetles, and because of real estate we don’t let fires do natural population control and undergrowth chokes out the forest as well. Maybe if we fixed the smaller localized issues, Maybe we would find that it would start working towards the global warming crisis as well. Also, it would be easier to convince people because they would see the benefits in their own back yard.

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