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Changing Climates, Changing Minds: The Personal

Posted on 11 March 2012 by Andy Skuce

Nobody comes into this world with a fully-formed opinion on anthropogenic climate change. As we learn about it, we change our minds. Sometimes, changing your mind can be easy and quick; sometimes it’s hard and slow. This is an anecdotal and subjective account of the author’s changes of mind.

A goal of Skeptical Science is to change people’s minds, especially the minds of people who doubt the reality of man-made climate change. John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky’s The Debunking Handbook provides a how-to and how-not-to resource for debunking myths and misinformation: a guide to changing people’s minds, based on published research in psychology.

 In this article I’ll examine my own history and sketch out how I twice changed my mind on climate change; I’ll speculate on why one step was easy yet memorable while the other was hard work but forgettable.

The Keeling Curve epiphany

You're only as young as the last time you changed your mind.

-Timothy Leary (via Stewart Brand)

My university education was in geology and geophysics. Earth Science students tend to have some fundamental concepts drummed into their skulls, none of them instinctive or common sense:

  • Deep Time; the scarcely imaginable age of the Earth. (This and other geological ideas are beautifully described in John McPhee’s book Basin and Range.)
  • Gradualism; even the largest features of the Earth, oceans and mountain chains, are the product of slow processes over long time frames. This contrasts with catastrophism, the idea that the Earth’s features formed by sudden and unusual paroxysms.
  • Uniformitarianism; the processes that worked to shape the Earth are the same as those operating today. Often expressed in the phrase: The present is the key to the past.

Notions like these comprise a heuristic—a problem-solving framework—used to sort the most likely hypotheses from the least likely. Geologists are taught to be favourably biased towards explanations that are slow-acting and that involve commonplace mechanisms: to show a preference for the humdrum over the extraordinary.

I first started hearing about man-made climate change in the 1990’s, following the Rio Earth Summit. From my geologist’s perspective, it seemed immediately implausible that any significant global change could occur suddenly or be caused by just a couple of centuries of human activity. Nevertheless, I was curious enough to pick up a copy of a book by John Houghton: Global Warming, the Complete Briefing (second edition, 1997). At the time, Houghton was the Chairman of the IPCC.

Soon stumbling upon the Keeling Curve. I was initially puzzled by the annual saw-tooth pattern, which was nicely explained by seasonal growth cycles of plants.  I noted the gradual upward climb in CO2 concentrations. Suspecting that this near-linear trend had been graphically amplified, I looked at the Y-axis and was surprised to see that from the 1960’s to the 1990’s the absolute atmospheric concentration of CO2 had increased by nearly 15%. Fifteen percent in thirty years! To a geologist, thirty years is not even an eye blink and a fifteen percent change in any important global parameter in such a short time is unprecedented.

The Keeling Curve

Reading further, it became clear to me that the trend of CO2 increase was a result of our burning of fossil fuels and that— once it is understood that CO2 is a critical component of the greenhouse effect—continuing such rapid emissions would inevitably lead to changes in the climate.  

Even though I now accepted the scientific reality of man-made climate change, coming to grips with the potential severity of climate change took much longer.

Overcoming lukewarm bias

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

Reputedly said by the economist John Maynard Keynes, after having been criticized for changing his position on monetary policy during the Great Depression.

A friend recently reminded me of a long comment I had made in a private online forum in 2006, made in discussing a scientific associations’ planned public stance on climate change. Many of the people there were, I claimed, making biased and anti-scientific arguments against the basic chemistry and physics of increasing CO2 concentrations and climate change. But I also wrote this:

…I consider myself something of a climate change skeptic. There are valid scientific and economic reasons for advocating a do-nothing stance on climate change.

Thus, by accepting the basic science but by downplaying the consequences of climate change, I was adopting the position of a lukewarmer. That’s no longer my opinion and, until I reread that passage, I had forgotten I had ever held it.

It may be sufficient explanation for many readers to know that I was employed full-time for many years in oil exploration (I’m now mostly retired).  While there’s an undeniable element of truth to that explanation, I think that the biggest factor that led me to minimize the effects of climate change was an inherent optimism bias, a tendency to discount threats and instead always look on the bright side. Having such a bias is generally a benefit in society and at work. When somebody makes a dire prediction, I reflexively think: “Don’t worry, things won’t be that bad” and immediately start looking for signs of pessimistic bias in them.

An example would be my reaction to watching the movie An Inconvenient Truth. It struck me that Al Gore was misleading in his portrayal of the amount of sea level rise to be expected over the twenty-first century, even if every word he spoke was true. Indeed, the people who went with me to the movie all came away thinking that a six-metre sea-level rise was imminent and they reacted in disbelief when I told them what the IPCC forecasts actually were. For me, at that time, the main lesson of the movie was that people sounding the alarm on climate change exaggerate. It took an effort for me to appreciate later that the IPCC had a conservative bias in its projections and that multi-metre sea level rises were within the range of scientific projections over the coming centuries (e.g., see fig 17, here).

After 2006, I took part in an internet discussion forum, initially adopting the role of agnostic on serious anthropogenic climate change, arguing with both extremes; let’s call them “alarmists and deniers”, for want of better labels. This experience was what eventually changed my mind on the seriousness of climate change and the idea that climate scientists had an alarmist bias. Every time I examined a denialist argument, a little research quickly convinced me that they were wrong; invariably their references were unreliable and their arguments incoherent. When it came to disagreeing with the alarmists, even if the worst outcomes they predicted were questionable and sometimes overstated, their overall case was coherent and based on solid references. Over a period of a few years, I drifted away from my lukewarmer stance. I can thank a handful of deniers for provoking me to do my homework, which helped me change my mind; but I don’t think I had any success in changing their minds.

The divided self: What was I thinking?

It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one’s own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice. -Prince Gautama Siddharta (via Jonathan Haidt)

Why was it so easy, even a bit of a thrill, to overcome my geologist’s biases and to accept the basic physics of man-made climate change, when it was so difficult to overcome the optimistic bias that influenced me to believe that any change in climate wouldn’t be that bad? I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to that or that I'm the person best placed to provide it. But after reading some popular books on psychology, I would speculate that those two sets of biases were located in different parts of my brain: the geologist’s bias is a taught bias, lodged in the logical and conscious part of the brain and easily confronted, while the optimistic bias is innate and rooted in the subconscious.

Who’s in charge here? Source.

For those interested, all three of the following books are recommended.

  • Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow explores the division of the brain into “System 1” the fast-thinking intuitive part that does most of the work in running our lives and “System 2” the slow-thinking and energy-intensive part of our brain that we have to engage to solve difficult problems. System 1 works wonderfully well most of the time but its inbuilt pattern recognition mechanisms can lead us astray, for example, with optical illusions or probability problems. System 2 is clever but lazy, usually engaging after System 1 has done its work. It sometimes makes up stories to explain away System 1’s shortcomings, rather than attempting to correct them.
  • Evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers’ book The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life takes a radical view, arguing that deceit is everywhere in nature, and that it is an adaptive strategy employed by genes and individual plants and animals; expressed by orchids, angler fish and Bernard Madoff. We not only deceive our predators and prey, but also our spouses and relatives, and, especially, ourselves. The truth may set you free but deceit can get you ahead, and if you can fool yourself, then the better you are able to fool others.
  • Psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis has, among other things, a powerful metaphor for the divided human mind: 

Modern theories about rational choice and information processing don’t adequately explain weakness of the will. The older metaphors about controlling animals work beautifully. The image that I came up with for myself, as I marveled at my weakness, was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him.  Source

We shouldn’t be too surprised when we get things badly wrong and show bias. It’s in our nature. And if a climate skeptic doesn’t immediately accept a compelling argument or even a simple fact, it’s not necessarily because they are wilfully obstinate or dishonest. It is probably true that some diehard denialists have internal pachyderms with skins so thick that even sustained whacking from the mahout won’t ever get through. However, many skeptics should come around eventually—not because the advocates of the urgency of action on climate change are smarter or more persuasive or more virtuous than the doubters—but because the scientific consensus on man-made climate change is right. The scientific method, including the peer-review process, produces reliable knowledge precisely because it has been developed to overcome our natural human biases.

In the upcoming article Changing Climates, Changing Minds: The Great Stink of London, I look at how Victorian London came to grips with its human waste problem and compare that with the challenge we face in altering the political direction on climate change.

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Comments 1 to 45:

  1. Andy, this is a FABULOUS piece. It is so eloquently written and well thought out.

    My own story of discovery is much less remarkable. Going through grade school I vaguely knew there was some problem called global warming, but almost nothing else. I was lucky enough to have my first real introduction to the subject from a climate scientist at one of the local universities, during a day long environmental workshop for high school students that I went to on a whim. His presentation was, in retrospect, a total life changer for me (given how much of my time I spend on climate science, and the fact that I am beginning a career in the field). I remember that my thoughts on the presentation were not "we're all going to die" as much as "wow, this research is really interesting!" The very fact that oxygen isotopes could be used as proxy data for temperature sort of blew my mind.

    Previously I had enjoyed science in school, but mostly because it was so nicely organized and I have always enjoyed classification (apparently my mum first suspected I would be a scientist when she noticed me sorting the contents of my Christmas stocking into categories). This was the first area of applied science, however, that really appealed to me. Previously I had always liked theory and concepts more than applications - ie, the periodic table over chemistry labs, even if explosions were involved.

    So I approached climate change like a scientist, rather than an activist, from the very beginning, and have more or less remained that way since. I think the only obvious psychological influence on my position was the fact that I was brought up to trust experts like doctors and scientists. The credibility spectrum, in a very crude form, was present in my mind at a very young age :)

    Kate
    http://climatesight.org
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  2. I would agree with AndyS's poor view of Gore's "Inconvient Truth" which I feel only preaches to the converted & doesn't reach across to the 'disbelievers'.

    Then a film had a similar counter-productive input into my own 'conversion'. In common with those that watched it with me, I found Channel 4's "The Greenhuose Conspiracy," (a 1990 precursor of "The Great Global Warming Swindle") entirely unconvincing. Its message of a mythical AGW that was nothing to worry about was so poor that it converted a roomful of potential skeptics into the exact opposite.
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  3. Nice to read a post from really geological point of view.
    It is very easy for e geoscientist to have an optimistic bias.
    We geologists are educated to think in geological times. We know, that humans are not at all able to "destroy the earth".
    If we speak with people who are not educated this way, we often forget, that we have a totally different point of view, and often we are not able to see our own shortcomings and our own bias.
    I have a very optimistic point of view myself, reagrding to geological times. It does not matter what we do with the earth if we take some 10 million of years from now.
    I had to learn that we are not speaking about earth history but about human civilisation, and that is a totally different thing.

    Further you maust have in mind, that just in the geosciences there has been a tremendous advancement in knowledge over the past 20 years. When i was at university from 1982 to 1989 there were still many teachers not accepting plate tectonics. I have met two of these people during my own student time and later, (one of them Jan Veizer, he is still out there).
    Geology as science has gone through a paradigm shift from describing science to experimental an d more exact science like physics and chemistry. During my education mathematics was not included in geology. Now it is a required part of the basic education world over.
    You must have in mind, that there are many teachers still at work, who have grown up in the old world of geology and unfortunately stuck in their conception of the world, still teaching it to the students, and you must always have in mind that students only are humans, often not able to overcome their adopted conception.
    This is, why so many geologists reject the theory of global warming due CO2.
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  4. Sometimes I have tried to explain this to people confused by the different opinions of scientists they have heard. I have tried to explain that everyone has bias including people with scientific training, sometimes we don't know what we don't know - it is just one of our human limitations/ frailties. Thinking about AGW needs to be based on understandings derived from decades of peer reviewed reseach across multiple fields of science which are summarised for the average citizen by Academies of Science around the world. What can be done to get the media and politicians to be really clear on this, to put aside opinion and concentrate on communicating the evidence-based understandings in regard to AGW.
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  5. Andy, the essential similarities of the underyling "tenets" of geology with those of evolutionary biology are interesting since the latter also incorporates the fundamental roles of "deep time" and "gradualism" ("uniformitarianism" is rather taken for granted since it's beyond question that the molecular mechanisms of genetics are essentially uniform through time).

    The major differences (which is hugely relevant to consideration of the climate change and its consequences) are the roles of "catastrophism" and "adaptation" in evolutionary biology. I'm sure that modern courses in Earth sciences now consider the roles of catastrophism since catastrophic events are part of the deep time geological record (even if catastrophic events may be mere "blips" of which the gradualist geological progression is largely indifferent). But these are fundamental to biology as can be seen by the association of major extinctions with corresponding evidence for massive tectonic (or extraterrestrial impact) events, raised temperatures, raised CO2 levels, ocean anoxia etc.

    So the question is not whether events involving massive alterations in the Earth's atmosphere, surface and oceans do or do not profoundly affect the ability of species to survive (since the evidence shows strongly that they do), but the extent to which the effects on the atmosphere, surface and oceans of the contemporary astonishing release of greenhouse gases are going to pressure the ability of contempory species (including us) to adapt.

    Perhaps the answer to the problem of educational "bias" on the part of the broad geology community is for Earth science courses to include strong elements of the association between the geological and biological records in deep time, since these are fundamentally intertwined to the extent that causality acts profoundly in both directions. In fact I expect that good Earth science departments do this, and one only has to look at recent(ish) TV series (e.g. the various BBC series presented by Ian Stewart on Earth history) to see that this association is both fascinating and hugely instructive of our present circumstances.

    In this respect I would strongly recommend Earth Story (presented by Aubury Manning): This is a truly inspiring and instructive account of the interplay of the gological and biological in Earth history and is presented in such a straightforward and scientific manner to make one almost weep with intellectual pleasure!
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  6. My background is mostly statistics and biology with a good general knowledge of other scientific and mathematics related fields. I first heard about the danger of global warming in the 1970s. The arguments for it looked convincing. It seemed to be physically inevitable. But the question was how much and how quickly.

    I didn't pay much attention to it at the time. Later I wondered how long a data stretch we would need to tease the signal out of the noise. As an Australian and working a lot of the time on water environmental problems I was very aware of the large natural fluctuations that we had. I thought we would need data over a very long period before the magnitude of the trend could be reliably estimated. I did not realize the magnitude of the trend and I overlooked the fact that global temperatures were what counted and their variability would be much less than that of Australian temperatures. I was also wary about predictions in general especially those from complicated models. Primarily I was interested in other things and did not take the time to look closely at climate science. I was aware that climatologists were becoming more certain that current trends were dangerous and something had to be done. Since unless I have a good reason to believe otherwise I trust the judgment of scientists in their field I thought they were probably right but not having found out much in the way of details I felt no sense of urgency. I was sceptical of those denying the trends and could see the political motivation.

    What got my attention was when the predictions of the models which had clashed with tropospheric temperature records turned out to be right. The records had a bias. This successful prediction impressed me and gave me much more confidence in then modeling.

    I started looking up what I could find on climate science. Real Climate was the most useful source. I discovered that modern climate science gave explanations that fit together and were as comprehensive as could reasonably be expected. In particular they made sense of paleoclimate. I found out about the footprints of different sources of warming and how what we had was that expect from greenhouse gases. Also I found that the other things which could have brought about a trend had changed little over the past half century. I found out that the temperature sensitivity could be divided into four components. Two, those of non precipitating greenhouse gases and of water vapour, could have ballpark estimates of the equilibrium sensitivity calculated fairly simply and reliably. Those were nailed down hard and were big enough to be dangerous unless a net negative feedback reduced them a lot. I found out that most of the uncertainty came from other atmospheric feedbacks especially clouds. These were thought to be small positive feedbacks but could be small negative or larger positive feedbacks. The thing is for there not to be a danger these had to be big negative feedbacks and there was no evidence that I could see of this. Then there were the non atmospheric feedbacks, primarily albedo and natural greenhouse gas releases brought about by the heat. There was no way these were going to be anything but positive and substantial even though there was no way to get a good estimate of them. While the estimates of the sensitivity had an annoyingly large range the all roughly coincided. And they had been obtained by a variety of methods. This gave me confidence that the true value was unlikely to be far from the point estimates.

    I realized that climate change was going to be a major danger to future generations. I was not thinking that it was going to affect us much but that we had a responsibility not to wreck the world for them. Most of the predictions of danger were for fifty or so years down the track. But over the past couple of years especially it has become plain that the danger is hitting earlier than expected. The predictions of the ultimate state have not been changing much. The predictions of the speed of change and consequences have. Ice sheets won't slowly melt in place. They will collapse. We should have expected that from the way that glacials end much more quickly than they start. It looked like extreme weather would be hitting us earlier than expected, like right now. And there are fears of possible methane releases. I don't know how grave these are.

    Sorry this post has been so long but I think it is too complicated to cover in a shorter post.
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  7. folke_kelm, I am curious about your reference to Jan Veizer and his apparent non-acceptance of plate tectonics. I guess you have first-hand experience that informs your comment on this.

    It's not really that big a deal but it does give some insight into the nature of knowledge and how one acquires one's world view, and Veizer's an interesting example. In another context he has at various (or the same?) times both supported a view of Earth surface temperature variability in deep time that is (i) contrary to the evidence-base that informs the scientific consensus (he suggests a dominant role for cosmic ray influence on surface temperature), and (ii) entirely consistent with the evidence-based consensus view (i.e. a major role for greenhouse gas variations).

    I've always assumed that Dr. Veizer likes being controversial, provocative and embracing novel ideas, none of which are bad things! But I do wonder whether he really does doubt the fundamental role of plate tectonics in Earth history, and might not be being a little provocative (e.g. in order to stimulate some insightful thought on the part of his students!).

    Where this has a deeper importance (and now I am drifting towards the subject of the recent Lindzen Misrepresentation thread), is how a tendency to be scientifically provocative can drift towards something less admirable. I've similarly assumed that Dr. Lindzen's early pronouncements about climate (that increased tropospheric temperatures would cause the upper atmosphere to dry and thus act as a negative feedback; the negative feedback associated with his "Iris hypothesis" etc.), were examples of provocativeness.

    Unfortunately, if provocative ideas strike a chord with those that have rather less noble agendas, then the support and adulation one may receive from these scientifically dubious quarters, may cause one to become rather too fond of one's ideas even as the evidence accrues against them. At that point "provocativeness" may drift into something less savoury including a tendency to misrepresentation of one's own and other's science in order to maintain a facade of authority...

    ...this doesn't apply to Dr. Veizer, but it may well do in the case of a very tiny number of elderly scientists who are rather idolised in some quarters for making demonstrably false pronouncements about contemporary climate science that go far beyond being "provocative"...
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  8. I was probably in the lukewarmer camp for most of my life, accepting that AGW existed, but not that the magnitude was anything to be worried about until November 2009.

    The catalyst for change? Ironically enough, "Climategate." As a science grad student, it was patently obvious to me that the hacked emails did not show the vast conspiracy alluded to by the right-wing media in the USA. So I wound up reading up on actual climate science from Realclimate and here (and a bit of tamino as well). The most scientifically convincing thing to me was the SkS rebuttal of the "Global warming=UHI" myth. The fact that climate scientists had tried and tested multiple clever ways of ruling out UHI convinced me that one side was making research and the other was making excuses.
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  9. I don't remember when I became first aware of the global warming question. I have done my degree in astrophysics and it was obvious to me that increasing CO2 will increase the temperature. My first mental shock occurred in 1998, when I was doing my first postdoc in atmospheric remote sensing. I had to use MODTRAN for my job. In MODTRAN, CO2 concentration is a variable, by default it use the pre-industrial concentration of 280 ppm, but I needed the actual value for 1998, which was 365 ppm. This was disturbing. Meanwhile, I became aware of the But, the real eye opener came in November 2005, when I was participating to a Bar des Sciences about the search of extraterrestrial life. At some point in the debate, someone brought the question of the prioritization of resources given the environmental problems including climate changes. At that point a paleontologist took the microphone and climate that climate change was true and totally unnatural. She was followed by a specialist of meteorites, who supported her position. This was shocking for me because they were geologist who are supposed not care about climate change and they were clearly worried and deeply concerned.

    But the real tipping point was this paper of Gutowski et al. (1998) described in the blog of New Scientist (http://www.newscientist.com/blog/environment/2008_04_01_archive.html). This paper demonstrated that even the homeless have an unsustainable environmental trace due importance of infrastructures in developed countries. Later that year, I became a candidate for the Quebec Green party.

    With the peak oil, climate change, the general loss of biodiversity and at least another dozen a civilization threatening problems that nobody speak about, my effort are likely to be vain. Nevertheless, I will be able to stake my grand children in the eyes and not be shame to tell them I try to do something.
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  10. This is an excellent essay, and traces well the individual changes in perception that occur when one begins to really grasp what the science is saying about anthropogenic climate change. I happen to be of the opinion that humans began altering the climate of Holocene sooner (many thousands of years ago) rather than later, and thus the Anthropocene started well before our modern mass fossil fuel induced changes, which only have radically accelerated those changes.

    But the bigger issue is really not about individuals changing their minds about this topic, but rather, the perception and will of the body politic. This is a much more complicated issue as it is not subject to the same influence of reason and appeal to ultimate facts of science, but rather is much more subject to emotions and the mentality of the herd, and as we've learned throughout history, herds seldom do the right thing, but rather, must often be forced to by the shear power of nature. Thus, while we might hope that the herd of the body politic will do the right thing when it comes to anthropogenic climate alteration, we should expect it will take a series of increasingly strong nudges from an increasingly chaotic and out of balance climate system to move the herd in the right directions. Appeals to reason will not stop a stampeding herd from heading toward a cliff, but a few strong bolts of lightning directly in their path may nudge them in a different direction.
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  11. To give some credit to Gore, my climate 'trigger' moment was in watching An Inconvenient Truth. Before then, like Kate @1, I only had a vague notion that global warming was a problem. The film got me curious and started me researching the subject, and 6 years later I haven't stopped.
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  12. Thanks for the comments everyone. I appreciate all the personal stories .

    MA Rodger: To be clear, my point about the Gore movie wasn't that it was bad (it was mostly good, I think now) but that I obsessed about one aspect of it and concluded that because one politician had framed an issue deceptively then that somehow was evidence that climate scientists generally exaggerated.

    Chris@5: Yes the old gradualism/catastrophism debate in geology is similar to the debate between the gradualists like Richard Dawkins and the punctuated equilibrium model of Stephen Jay Gould (although I believe that the "debate" was really almost non-existent among biologists and something of a vanity project kept alive by Gould). As I understand it the gradualist "creeps" largely prevailed over the catastrophist "jerks" in evolutionary biology as they did in geology. Sometimes the creeps overreached in geology, for example in the long and bitter debate over the origins of the Scablands in Washington State; where a catastrophic origin for these valleys is now orthodoxy.
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  13. Interesting: Figuring out how to get the globe's "political mind" to catch up with its science is an interesting subject. Personal stories are so important because, in the end, that's what it is all about! Nothing less is required to get a semi-universal acceptance on this matter, thereby getting people to really cooperate with the sacrifices that will be required. If not, then eventually the physics will demand that political & military entities take control (with or without the backing of the masses). Such a non-cooperative prospect is a troubling thought.
    In my limited experience amongst my little circle of manufacturing chemical engineers, it seems that once a person has PUBLICALLY made a statement casting their deep-seated conviction, they have, in doing so (whether they like it or not), FIXED themselves in immobile concrete. It seems that the very act of a public proclamation has some sort of power over the mind that affixes a person's core convictions. Even if these convictions are based on obfuscated, erroneous information (that might partially trouble a person's inner conscience), once a person publically states his/her personal-defining belief on the matter, it is very hard for them to skeptically listen, let alone accept, any contradictory information. They seem to only listen to what they want to hear and their convictions only become more entrenched.
    The parallels between this process with that of publically stating one's faith is not an overstatement, I think, as for most of us, who are not privy to “touching” the real data, the whole AGW argument really comes down to trust and belief. Someday real, substantial pain may slap-up us public dullards, then the argument will change from ‘belief’ to ‘physical reality’, but I believe (ha) that that day, when sufficiently significant mass pain starts to sway the facile and fickle-minded politics, is at least 25 years away. In the meantime, changing fixed minds will be a STEEP, uphill battle.

    To be fair, all of us are guilty of this (both sides of the AGW argument). Addressing this is, at its core, the whole idea of this 'skeptical' site; it hammers home the idea of always fighting (deep in ourselves) the possibility of getting entrenched in erroneous bias.
    Over my years as a chemical engineer, I have been wrong about MANY things dealing with process & management issues around our corn wetmilling plant. It is humbling to look back and think about the stupid things I screamed about, but which turned out to be non-issues (or else minor issues that we were able to overcome without the dire consequences I forecasted). This has been a good life lesson for me, humbling me to, instead, start off my thinking, on any subject, with the strong likelihood that I'm probably more WRONG than RIGHT (although, I'm probably being overly kind to myself on this ‘humble’ characterization).
    Good character traits are rudimentarily very important here: 1) that it is better to see 'GRAY' and not 'BLACK & WHITE', 2) swallowing one’s pride and accepting the real possibility that there might be real truth on the other side of the argument ... and, I think most important, 3) that an OPEN ARENA of COMMUNICATION is fundamentally required to changing minds. We must allow everybody to feel that they can openly voice their little, deep-seated argument s (without being ridiculed). If we instead bully people to submission, we will never really get cooperation (which, speaking for myself, is my lofty goal). The bully approach will only get people to nod their heads ‘yes’; but then, after we part company, fight me with even more vigor than before.

    I’m sure that all of this is at the heart of John Cook’s visionary project here. This site is really quite a ground-breaking combination of virtue mixed with social networking. As the years pass, I will be very glad to look back and remember little bright spots on this whole geopolitical endeavor. And, I am most confident that Mr. Cook’s work here, along with all the climate scientists working so hard without any thanks, will be near the top of this bright list.
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  14. I can certainly identify with a lot of this. I am a skeptic about most things, and climatology doesn't get a free pass. From childhood, I'd been environmentally conscious, including exposure to the idea of global warming. However, I was having serious doubts by the mid-2000s, due to a generally ornery personality and my difficulty believing that a rich politician like Gore seriously cares about the environment. (I still have these traits ;D )
    The more I thought about it, it seemed rather incredible that human CO2 emissions were significant compared to natural sources like volcanoes. How did we know it wasn't the sun? And the climate is a complex dynamical system; how is attribution even possible in such a situation?

    But like I said I'm a skeptic, in the actual meaning of the word - I require that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence - and I set out to find what the real story is. It turns out, I was wrong: anthropogenic emissions are orders of magnitude larger than natural ones; solar forcing does not explain observed warming; attribution is a sophisticated geophysical exercise rather than mere correlation-finding; and complex dynamicism doesn't mean acausality. I'd found the extraordinary evidence. SkepSci wasn't the only resource I used in my search, but it was certainly helpful. Thanks!
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  15. We have evidence already - lots of it. Communicating it to a scientifically illiterate and unreceptive population is not easy.

    By the time we have extraordinary evidence, it may be too late to correct.

    Humanity is going to hit a wall. Why does it have to waste time working out the speed of impact *before* applying the brakes?
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  16. @ #13, sauerj:

    Very nicely put. This part is the heart of my #10 post:

    "Someday real, substantial pain may slap-up us public dullards, then the argument will change from ‘belief’ to ‘physical reality’, but I believe (ha) that that day, when sufficiently significant mass pain starts to sway the facile and fickle-minded politics, is at least 25 years away."
    ____

    I hope it is not 25 years away, as each year that passes, creates that much more work and difficulty later. Unfortunately, I do think that we are at least 5 to 10 years away, but each passing year will bring more shocks to the system and the obviousness of the situation will only increase until it drowns out the politically motivated "noise". In the meantime, the personal changes that Andy has so nicely detailed for us, are necessary to set the stage and lay the foundation for future consensus of the body politic so that action can be taken once the noise is gone.
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  17. An interesting discussion.

    My own moment of revelation, if you will, came from growing bacteria in a petri dish in 7th grade science class. My colony went from tiny, to thriving, and eventually to overpopulation, decay and mostly death. That took about a week. It made me sad that if only the population had kept itself in check, there would have been enough gelatin to keep the colony thriving for a long time. It struck me that any population without predation would grow exponentially, consume all resources, and then collapse. Humans have managed to effectively overcome all predators. The only effective predator of man is man. Since then, I've always figured humanity was in for trouble at some point, just a question of when and what form.

    Currently, I think when is the lifetime of this generation of young people, who face a triple jeopardy of climate change, peak oil, and overpopulation. Food energy is a limiting factor for any species; and we have been leveraging energy from fossil fuels to produce food energy. At the same time, emissions from fossil fuels have produced a food security issue through changing the environment. It will take some portion of the energy we have available to shift to an alternate energy production paradigm; so, unavoidably energy costs will rise during the transition. There is also a rising demand for energy to produce food (and comfortable shelter) because of the rising population (and the desire of those eating mostly rice to eating more like westerners), at the same time, fossil energy that is easy to produce and use in mobile applications is in decline. (There is a reason we are drilling for oil under 2 miles of ocean, producing tar sand oil, etc.)

    Food and shelter at the moment take precedence in people's minds over food and shelter in the future. So, there will be great reluctance to let energy prices rise more, even if would only be temporary, in order to invest in non-fossil energy technologies. It will continue to be exceptionally challenging to convince the general population to take some lumps now in order to avoid far larger lumps in the future. It will be very hard to have a change in energy production paradigm at the same time that energy cost is already causing economic difficulties.

    Population growth would be a problem regardless of climate change, but it would be easier do deal with whatever limit there is on carrying capacity if that carrying capacity were not also in decline. Less productive land takes more energy (through fertilizer, irrigation, etc.) to produce the same amount of food.

    I believe the Arab "spring" (It's not any Spring that I would want to experience.) was triggered by rising food prices, which were at least in part a result of the Russian wheat failure, which was caused by changing climate. As heat waves become more common, crop failures will become more common. (I am skeptical of the notion that Siberian and Canadian tundra will convert to productive fields in the near term; nevermind bare rock exposed by retreating ice.) This will result in global food prices continuing to increase. Areas where food represents, say, 5% of the typical income will be largely unaffected; areas where food represents more than half the typical income will be in bad shape. I see people ask when climate change will have what negative impacts, and I think: It has already started; open your eyes.
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  18. andylee, R. Gates,
    I share your conclusions.
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  19. FYI, my perception of the relationship between energy price and food price:

    FAO Food Price Index

    Commodity Fuel (energy) Index 30-Year
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  20. sauerj (#13),
    One of my favorite quotes, by Ghandi:

    "Ah, because I have learned something since last week."
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  21. It's certainly encouraging to know that thoughtful people can examine the evidence and change their minds. I do know complete skeptics who were turned into alarmists overnight because of "An Inconvenient Truth" although for me, I was immersed in other things at the time I saw it, and was somehow able to believe for a while that climate change was going to happen far away, and in the distant future.

    I didn't become an alarmist until 2008, when I realized all the trees are dying. It scared the daylights out of me, and I read everything I could find about climate change.

    Ironically, I no longer believe it is climate change that is killing trees (yet) because they are dying everywhere, even in places where there are no insects, or drought, or significant temperature rise.

    It's become quite obvious to me that tropospheric ozone, which is well known to be toxic both to humans and to vegetation, is killing the trees, both directly and by making them more vulnerable to insects, disease, fungus, drought and wind.

    The optimism bias against this conclusion is even stronger, I've found, than the urge to deny the existential peril from climate change. It's too bad, because if people would really look at trees and see the terrible condition they are in - even trees in landscaping nurseries being fertilized and watered - perhaps the understandable resistance to the drastic sacrifice required to avert continuing emissions would be reduced.

    http://www.deadtrees-dyingforests.com/ has links to research, including the draft EPA report that the Obama administration didn't want on the table, which concludes that ozone is causative in damage to forests - and annual crops as well.
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  22. R. Gates (@16): I agree SO much with your sentiment! I hope, & pray, that real change is within 5-10 years. In some way, I find myself hoping for some major, catastrophic event that happens sooner than later, at least BEFORE tripping points are passed.

    But, what I hear at work (from educated, technically versed men that should know better but never take the time to read good sources on the subject), OR what mass media thinks are the "issues" of the day (& lack of indepth climate reporting), OR sick-minded denier ridicules on sites like realclimate OR letters-to-editor on our local paper, it seems like we have a LONG way to go!

    When versed, intelligent engineers don't have the foggest idea about ANYTHING pertaining to climate science, to me, this is very concerning!

    Though a bit of a stretch, I think the civil rights movement has some parallels concerning what I believe, SADLY(!!!), will be long drawn-out timeline here. When the blacks came back from the semi-integrated WWII battle field, it took another 20 years before the civil rights movement brought about real policy change. And, it was a HUGE uphill battle.

    To me, though a few beacons have shone in the last 20 years, it seems like, only in the last couple years, has a grass-roots core of action-minded people been developed (i.e. with growth at sites like www.350.org, www.climateprediction.net, etc). It is like we just came back from WWII; now we have the real, uphill work ahead of us. But, in the same spirit of MLK, the work will have to be done with upmost integrity and dignity otherwise we will only be shooting ourselves in the foot.
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  23. An outstanding article Andy (you've added significnatly to my reading list) and an outstanding comment thread.

    In many ways I'm jealous of those who have recently awakened to the alarming nature of this issue, I sense that in a way it gives a greater confidence in your understanding of the issues - and of course "you're only as young as the last time you changed your mind".

    I grew up with a strong sense of the importance of the environment instilled in me and in the early to mid 80s it would seem this ensured a concern about anthropogenic climate change. I can't remember a time when it wasn't part of my environmental awareness and by the time I came to my O' level English project (at 16 years old) I was already writing about these concerns in words that I would barely change today.

    The obvious concern for me then is whether I have ever really questioned or tested these beliefs. Having spent some seven years studying philosophy, and the philosophy and history of science in particular, I've certainly challenged many of my assumptions and I know I have changed my modes of thought as a result, thrown out lazy, convenient and comforting beliefs. But my concerns about our influence on the climate have only strengthened. I'm as certain as I can be that I've been honest with myself, but even so every time a 'sceptic' challenges me to question my beliefs (so about 5 times a day on average I'd guess) I still go through the process of wondering if this is so tied up with my identity that I can't let it go. It would be wonderful if I could, how easy and comfortable life would be ... for now.
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  24. Yes, a fabulous and insightful piece.
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  25. Looking at the comments here, what is not getting across to the public is the urgency of the problem. If you look at it in detail the urgency comes across automatically. But we cannot reasonably expect everyone to look at that level of detail. We have to convey the urgency simply but not so simply that we can be attacked as misleading.

    As you convey the urgency you also have to give realistic solutions with realistic costs. The denialists are exagerating the cost of solutions but there is a temptation to treat techically immature solutions as if they were economically viable now. A bit of counting chickens before hatching is going on in renewables. But there is plenty that we can do now.
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  26. When I set out to understand the controversy, I was struck by two things - one skeptical arguments simply don't hold up to inspection.

    And I was thrilled and intrigued by the absolute cleverness of the way climate scientists figured things out about the past (tree rings as a proxy for temperature data, for example). Brilliant!

    For those who engage in online discussions and have a signature - I suggest something simple like "The world is warming, man is to blame." - It keeps the topic ever-present, even if you are discussing the precise number of angels that can dance on a pinhead.
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  27. Perhaps our perceptions are coloured by where we enter an argument. When I first heard about global warming, it was a possible minor problem a long way into the future. I then thought no more about it until about 5 years ago, when we had the massive sea ice melt of 2007.

    Maybe it was this this set me on a path of always thinking the scientists are far too conservative. However, just because I can see a problem does not mean I can put figures to that shortfall. Gradually most of what I saw as incompleteness has been answered.

    In hindsight I realise I could see changes as far back as the early eighties. The edge of the Western Australian wheat belt had moved westwards. Moora traditionally too wet for proper wheat growing had become a very productive wheat area.

    I am still deeply pessimistic about where we are heading.
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  28. Strangely, I didn't have an epiphany moment. I have an engineering background which gives you a range of basic science. And I have always been interested by Science and scientific ideas and thinking

    Probably my biggest on-going source was 'New Scientist'. Interesting, topical but not too hard-core. So over the years an acceptance of AGW coalesced. Then as the years passed and the world basically was doing diddly-squat about it I started getting onto a limited number of blogs - reading and later commenting. And I quickly realised how many people who were skeptical on-line were either poorly informed or deeply biased.

    Then as you start putting arguments to people, pointing out the fallacies in their viewpoint - not differences of opinion but actual logical fallacies, failure to consider all the evidence etc - and again and again they don't shift their view, you start to realise that their 'skepticism' isn't really rational but has other deeper psychological underpinnings.

    This also forced me to expand my knowledge base - paleoclimatology, radiative transfer physics, the change in the Sun's heat output over deep time etc, carbonate chemistry in the oceans. And as one does so, the skeptic arguments just get thinner and thinner.

    Then when you see that not one 'skeptical scientist' is acting as an 'honest broker', never do they present the full picture, you realise that 'professional skepticism' is a sham.

    Their motives may be many and varied - pecuniary, political, philosophical, ideological, personal esteem or the lack of it, defence of a worldview even if that requires closing the mind to the evidence. Psychology would be such a wonderfully interesting topic if its consequences weren't so serious.

    Finally some very key data then narrows the options for what is causing AGW and then it really really jells. Put simply, any argument about AGW that just looks at Surface Air Temperatures without considering other key information - Ocean Heat Content changes are the Elephant in the Room here - is either ignorant or deliberately mendacious.

    I hope to have a post up this week looking at the Elephant and just how much it informs our opinions.

    At this point you realise that commenting on Anti-AGW sites has one purpose and one purpose only. To try and make a sensible case to all the 'lurkers' on the site. Just ignore the main players and their regular acolytes, they are a lost cause. But so many un-commited people can be informed with the facts or misled by the misreprentation.
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  29. Andy,
    That is the best piece of writing I've read in the last month. As a die hard fan of old London Town, I look forward to your next piece!

    Dan
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  30. I'm sure;
    "once it is understand that CO2 is a critical component of the greenhouse effect"

    Should read;
    "once it is understood that CO2 is a critical component of the greenhouse effect"

    Other than the typo, an excellent piece.
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    Moderator Response: [AS] Thanks! (underline added to comment for emphasis)
  31. Lazarus - could you bold the change - I don't see a difference.

    Thanks.
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  32. Wow! An excellent primary article, followed by fascinating, informative discussion!

    I simply want to add another positive comment about Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth". It was seeing that movie that started the process of converting me from an interested spectator regarding environmental issues to what some call an "alarmist". Being a scientist (which means being a skeptic), I didn't immediately "believe" any of Al Gore's claims, but the movie motivated me to ask whether there was any scientific justification for his claims. With help from many sources, I found that Gore's claims were largely justified. My continuing investigations over the years since Gore's movie have convinced me that, in many ways, the perils we face are even worse than Gore described.

    I'm now in the process of retiring from my previous scientific work (in the area of molecular biology), and I'm trying to figure out how I can best utilize my new-found understanding of AGW to promote constructive responses in my home country (the USA). Any suggestions from readers of this message would be welcome (huberman@buffalo.edu).
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  33. This is a very honest piece of writing, thanks. However, personally, I don't give a monkey's about whether the current warming is anthropogenic in origin, or due to the excessive flatulence of the ravenous bugblatter beast of Traal instead (or of my mate, Dave, but that another story).

    It seems to me that far too much of the debate, if such is what it is, centres on whether we humans are responsible for climate change or not. Unfortunately, all the public sees is scientists arguing the point between themselves to a very minor extent (think the usual suspects), if they see it at all, and the media arguing with the scientists to a major extent. They, therefore, see no point in supporting action on the issue, believing that genuine doubt exists. They don’t know that columnists such as Peter Hitchens and Melanie Philips haven’t a clue what they are talking about. The result is that the public takes a position along the lines: ‘If it ain’t quite broke, don’t quite fix it.’

    Just for the record, I would be astounded if we humans are not responsible for the change in climate that we are experiencing. Unfortunately, I will also be astounded if we as a species make the changes that we need to make if we are to avoid a dire future. And one of the major reasons is the AGW vs. GW debate that the public sees in the media, not the one that is already as good as settled scientifically - the one that is screaming: “Hit the f***ing brake, NOW!” We know about greenhouse gases and how to cut our production of them. While we get on with doing that, we can send a team out to search for bugblatter beasts. It’ll keep the media happy, and make a change from their slipping the police a few bob for information about celebs.

    The public need to be made aware that by the time they see that the climate is broke, it will be far too late to be able to fix it. When they see just how much they have been deceived, the only solace will be seeing them turn on the deceivers: the media, Lindzen and the like, the WUWT kindergarten, and of course, Monckton. Perhaps Monckton will turn to that other toff, Lord Lucan, to give him some tips on disappearing. Monckton, more than most, will sure as hell need them, ‘Don’t you know?’
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  34. For me, I suppose there never was any doubt. My attitude was basically political/technical/environmental. I'd grown up through the cold war and watched the brilliant sunsets of the atom bomb testing era. We'd come through the fear of nuclear catastrophe with only a few childish nightmares as well as the real horror when the cold warriors came a bit too close to getting hot.

    The industrial pollution that darkened my city's skies had largely abated. I'd watched the international negotiations and general argy-bargy about acid rain and ozone take a good while, but eventually the agreements got done. We got rid of asbestos mining and manufacture. All very sensible and quite tedious if you look at the diplomacy involved.

    Like Glenn, I always read New Scientist back then. And I simply took it for granted that this problem would be just like the others we'd dealt with. Jimmy Carter had put solar panels on the White House roof and I presumed that in the natural order of things, everyone in Australia would have them in plenty of time to deal with the problem. When Reagan took them down, I dismissed that as him being foolish again, just like his claims that trees were more of an atmospheric problem than cars. Because when my own water heater needed replacing not long after, we got a solar system. And I seriously thought everyone else would be doing that too.

    I'd taken a little interest in the science. Just like acid rain and ozone, I'd look at reports and maps but I simply relied on the science as reported to be accurate. The Rio conference came up with a lot of grandly worded virtuous intentions and I thought they'd get down to the nitty-gritty sooner or later. And somehow or other, the wheels fell off without me even noticing. Now it's much, much later than I ever thought it would be.

    All my confidence that we'd notice we'd made a mess, just like all the other messes, and we'd get on with cleaning it up has gone. I'm worried sick about my children's children - and their grandchildren as well - and, far from dreamily wondering about how different their lives will be from ours, I'm horrified.

    It didn't have to turn out this way and it breaks my heart.
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  35. I heard about Global Warming many years ago, in the 80's I think. At the time, I thought to myself "That's interesting, but nothing to worry about for now". I also heard about Peak Oil about the same time and had much the same reaction.

    After the global financial melt-down and as I was no longer in the ranks of the employed, I had the time to look at what had happened. Examining the GFC led me to links pointing to Peak Oil and I was slightly disturbed by the immediacy of that problem. It seemed to be a dagger to the heart of Civilisation As We Know It, which it is in fact, but links from there led me to the topic of Global Warming and suddenly the scales fell from my eyes.

    As has been mentioned in the comments on another thread, we seem to be worse off then cyanobacteria, in that we are set fair to totally consume the very resources which sustain us, with only one probable outcome. I have come to the conclusion that the Four Horsement of the New Apocalypse are:
    • AGW
    • PO
    • GFC MkII (MkIII etc)
    • Overpopulation
    Population growth underpins all the others, leading me to observe that there are just too many of us, even if (fond hope) we eventually get our emissions under control and develop an alternative to fossil energy. Perhaps nature will evolve a new pestilence to decimate us, perhaps starvation will decimate us under the impending food and energy supply insecurities, or perhaps we will decimate ourselves through war. All I am sure of is that our population will ultimately collapse and it will not be pleasant for the survivors.

    Alarmist or Realist? I think it is realistic to be somewhat alarmed about the path we are on. Perpetual growth is an economic nonsense. We would be wise to be planning now for a shrinking population and economic contraction, but which politician would want to be part of that picture?
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  36. I was 'converted' from a lazy, casual, lukewarmish acceptance of the mainstream science by denialists on a local chat group.

    They'd throw out one of the usual memes. I'd be amazed. I'd ask, "Can this possibly be true?" Then I'd diligently root around and find out that, no, it's not true.

    After a while the pattern became obvious... and it became obvious as a corollary that all this bunkum wasn't just spontaneously generating itself, like bacteria were once supposed to do. It was seeded and nourished by organized groups, in service of an agenda--or, I think now, a couple of interlinked agendas.

    Call it the Germ Theory of denialism, or call it a war on truth. Just don't call it coherent, because it always turns out not to be, if you look.
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  37. No one totime has suggested SkS link in the process of "eye-opening" for many "lukewarmers" so I will do.

    Until I started reading SkS (middle of 2011) I was indifferent to the arguments for AGW, me opinion more or less formed by number of articles in popular press that I've heart to be "for" vs. "against". Even Al Gore movie, which should have "opened my eye", like in Dana's case, did not really convince me, because of its subsequent critisism by "skeptics".

    When I started reading SkS and checking their references/verifying with my knowledge in some subjects, I realised that popular press bias is bad choice for formulating one's opinion on AGW issue. Especially when I compared the clarity of SkS resources and obviousness of their arguments (as opposed to obscurity and complicated language of "skeptic equivalents such as WUWT) I started appreciating how good job SkS is doing at popularising climate science. Eurica price diplayed on the right margin is well deserved.
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  38. I arrived at SkS from, quite frankly, a fairly random web search a couple of years ago. I've always been convinced of the evidence for AGW - it simply makes sense to me that our actions have consequences, and I (personally) didn't need convincing of that.

    Once here, I was rather amazed at the logical perambulations required to deny the science - the posters who were just blowing smoke, so to speak. The lack of logic, the stacked fallacies (I have a background, among other things, in philosophy), the self-deception required to flatly deny the evidence - it's incredible, and horrifying, to me. And so I've begun to opine on the subject myself, in the hopes of a useful contribution.

    Since then I've also sought out some of the 'skeptic' blogs, pointing out facts where I can, where I feel I might have an impact. And (where I can) attempting to contribute to the discussion here. SkS has been an amazing resource in this regard; it's my hope that this information, when spread widely and clearly, may lead others to a more reasoned evaluation of the evidence.

    It's going to be a rough ride for our children, our descendants, due to our actions. I can only hope we can act, in a reasoned fashion, to minimize the problem...
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  39. Doc Snow@36

    Very similar experience to mine. A contrarian acquaintance of mine was in the habit of posting long messages full of damning evidence on an IRC channel that we both frequented. At the time my acceptance of AGW was based mostly on my general acceptance of science and not on any particular strongly held conviction so his barrage of evidence forced me to really investigate what he was saying and what I believed.
    The first thing I discovered was that he was not performing the same level of investigation as his source often contradicted his premise. After a few months of him posting some nail-in-the-coffin-of-global-warming, me actually reading it and replying with facts, and him calling me a socialist stooge (no joke) I gave up arguing with him.
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  40. Since the first Club of Rome report –this month exactly 40 years ago – I recognized the exponential growth principle. Working in the chemical industry I was indeed confronted with depleted resources and/or much higher costs of energy and raw materials.

    Also in 1972 deniers acted against the Club Of Rome message. And I recognized that the denier-message was much easier adsorbed by colleagues and friends. Although most of them actually did not buy or read the report! It made me angry!
    With the concept of exponential growth in mind I looked to the global population figures. Four (4) billion in 1974, with growth factor 1.75 to 7 billion in 2012. (I cannot coop with the label of “overpopulation”).

    The next area is the use of fossil fuels. The concept of Peak Oil is clear. The unavoidable energy transition did only recently start. Many renewable energy production or conversion systems are short after start-up in “death valley”. Development is hampered by to small scale operations, NIMB-actions of citizens, too high costs and severe energy storage and distribution problems. At this moment I do not detect the right urgency in the main press.

    Going with the use of fossil fuels we earn the CO2-problem. The last six months I studied Climate Change. I came to the conclusion that mankind is actually doing a geo-engineering process. The atmosphere and oceans do change in composition. And it cannot be avoided and the effects are not clear at all.

    After reading on skeptical and denier blogs and following the main press I had at a weak period in my thinking. They got me almost in their camp! I really needed to study the science again and again to know where my believe should be based: in the scientific approach. Recently I choose to do a study on scientific thinking.

    My focus is communication of climate change to the public. Actually I am still angry and want to use the adrenaline shot in a positive way.
    The SkepticalScience website has been of great help in forming my opinion.
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  41. Not to pile on the geology aspect, but my "moment" was in the mid 1990's when I was invited by a geologist friend to a talk by a noted climate change scientist at a luncheon hosted by a geologists' association. (If my memory serves me correctly the speaker might have been from New Zealand.)

    I went in eager to learn about the issue and was dismayed at his flippant attitude toward the possibility of humans having an effect. The lack of real in-depth data, and half-explanations left me shocked. But even more so, I was shocked by the receptive laughter to his jokes that mocked climate science.

    I only left with one conclusion: be very skeptical of so called "skeptics".

    Interestingly, I had another such moment years later visiting a web site associated with Tim Ball, who was cited in the local media. The half-true pseudo-science, clearly crafted to confuse people with minimal science background, was enough to prod me to do some real research, and SkS proved to be a credible source for me.

    I find it fascinating how I can credit the deniers for my climate science education. Well - more accurately credit to them and the SkS authors, who might or might not wish to share such credit!
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  42. ianw01: That speaker would probably be Chris de Freitas. I attended a lunchtime talk given by him sometime in the 1990's (it may well have been the same one you went to) hosted by the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists. I too recall being a little shocked by his snarky attitude and the reaction of the audience. Had this been a talk on any other scientific subject, I doubt that the audience would have reacted the same way; it was most unprofessional.

    De Freitas subsequently, in 2002, published a paper in the Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology. I have since learned that that paper was reviewed by Willie Soon and Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, who were hand-picked by the journal's then editor, Tim de Freitas, Chris's brother.

    This particularly irks me because the Bulletin is otherwise a fine scientific journal. Earlier in the 1990's, I published a paper in the Bulletin and also acted as a reviewer. Because of the CSPG's unscientific and politicized stance on climate change, I choose no longer to be a member of the society.
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  43. Andy, yes indeed that name seems familiar, and the hosting organization fits perfectly. Thanks for filling me in, and for a thoughtful original post.
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  44. Loved this article. My own conversion was much more prosaic. An engineer specializing in 'thermal fluids', I got accepted into a PhD program in Atmospheric Science, studying mesoscale meteorology. The guy who taught me basic Atmospheric Physics was the resident climatologist, who was studying the 'Urban Heat Island Effect'. Mind you: this was in 1980. Ever since, it has amused and astonished me to watch the skeptics trump the 'Urban Heat Island Effect' as something they discovered sometime in the '90s. But, honestly, I left Atmospheric Science, when the climatologist asked us to calculate and describe the atmosphere in Arthur C Clarkes spaceship 'Rama'. This did two 'damaging' things: It reignited a teenager-love of all things 'classic science fiction'. And it re-affirmed what, as an engineer, was bugging me about the atmosphere: the old complaint that 'everyone complains about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it'. Its not a system you can change, like a good engineer would want to. (How wrong I was!) I've been designing satellites since then. The issue of how a satellite, like Earth, finds its internal temperature has been my bread-n-butter for 25 years now. I cannot BELIEVE how embracing of idiocy my fellow Americans have been on this subject. We need to build 'Rama' just so I can escape to it...
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  45. Thanks for the article. I posted a story of my own introduction to climate doom at the european tribune site a few years ago.

    www.eurotrib.com/story/2009/1/2/192917/8527

    sidd
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