What Makes Global Warming Skeptics Tick?

Debunking the arguments of global warming skeptics has become somewhat of a hobby for us here at TreeHugger. Even though the consensus around the issue of climate change has long passed the stage of critical mass, with an overwhelming majority of scientists now embracing the view that anthropogenic influences are contributing to trends in rising global temperatures and sea levels (amongst other things), there still remain a stubborn few who refuse to recognize the facts and accede to reality.

And while we could just as easily continue to expose the fallacy of their conjectures and evidence (and probably will to some extent), we thought it might be interesting to try to understand the methodology behind the madness. Luckily for us, Ian Enting, a professor at Australia's University of Melbourne, has gone ahead and done the work for us.As he admitted as much during his interview with ABC's Robyn Williams, his main motivation for writing the book was his "frustration at the arguments" and his perception that "what was being presented as science, wasn't, it just lacked the basic characteristic of consistency." Ironically, he noted that the skeptics actually tended to disagree more with each other than with the scientists that actually believe in global warming:

"There is one group who say the warming of the Earth over the later part of the 20th century is due to the Sun, and other people who say it isn't happening, and you can't have it both ways. For me, the other revealing thing was the case in the US Supreme Court when you find out what these people will say in a forum where they could have been actually tested. Then they said the most likely warming over the 21st century is 1.8 degrees Celsius. That's the low end of the IPCC and it may happen if we're lucky. If we're unlucky it will be more like twice that. But when they were actually in a forum where they could be questioned, half a dozen of America's most prominent so-called sceptics said 1.8 degrees warming is the most likely amount of warming over the 21st century.

Of course they said over the 21st century, which means you have to add it to the 0.5 - 0.7 we had over the 20th century. So we're already in the 2.5 degree range with those sort of numbers, so we're into what normally people would say is dangerous, but dangerous is a spectrum of things."

Responding to a question about the validity of the views expressed by author Michael Crichton in his book State of Fear (a work of fiction, mind you), he noted:

"There are three different stories there, actually quite difficult to disentangle because it is starting off about a legal case there for the counterarguments, it's just that he has one side's arguments being presented apparently convincingly and the other side seemingly massively incompetent. He then has this appendix that is also I think somewhat misleading. So just pulling apart the different voices and analysing what they say.


In a sense, the misrepresentations are there as part of the plot, it's just they're never quite exposed that way.

There are two specific things about [the graphs]. One is he plots them on different scales, so what I have in my manuscript is a replot with the same scale. And then he dropped the last three years off the end of the US record and those were increasing, and the two years beyond the time when the book was published have been increasing a bit more..."

His main criticism of the skeptics' work is that they always tend to focus on minutiae instead of the complete picture. As he explained, the climate system is "very complex" so "if you tend to look at isolated facts just one at time, then you can have a lot of explanations with it." He concluded by stating that any scientist considering the gathered evidence as a whole, instead of particular events or data points, would not find "anything in these arguments at all."

Image courtesy of New Scientist

Via ::ABC Radio National: Study of climate sceptics (radio program)

See also: ::Ronald Bailey: "No one paid me to be wrong about global warming"

Tags: Australia