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Climate Denial Video #1: The Difference between Skepticism and Denial

Posted on 5 August 2011 by dana1981, John Cook

Skeptical Science has collaborated with TreeHugger to produce a series of six videos on climate skepticism and denial.  The first of these videos, narrated by our own John Cook with his lovely Australian lilt, discusses the difference between climate skepticism and denial.  Enjoy.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 63:

  1. Nice video. Maybe now people will stop equating skepticism with denialism. Everyone, not just skeptics, should examine all the evidence with regads to climate change.
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  2. The video would be so much better without the too loud and distracting background music. I couldn't listen through the entire video.
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  3. Skepticism is valued in science. Indeed, in speaking with climate scientists, it has been my delight to discover the degree of skepticism expressed by the scientists themselves towards their chosen craft/profession.

    That being said, there is a huge gulf exhibited on this blog between those who base their skepticism on science...and those who base their "skepticism" on "cycles".

    Climate scientists are in the former camp; "squeptics", the latter. And ne'er the twain shall meet.
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  4. EtR - its not uncommon to see criticism of pro-AGW statements from people associated with AGW. (eg Tamino yesterday. It is extremely rare to see so-called skeptics criticizing denialist claims. (Eric(skeptic) being a rare exception). Haven't exactly noticed this from you so far.
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  5. Just want to point out that technically, denial sits on both sides of skeptic. You can deny the positive argument (ie: deny that humans are causing global warming), but you can also deny the negative argument (ie: deny that it could be natural).
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  6. Dale#5: "you can also deny the negative argument (ie: deny that it could be natural). "

    Maybe you missed the part in the video that talked about denial as willfully ignoring the evidence. Until there is some credible evidence of 'it could be natural,' there is nothing to deny on that side.
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  7. muoncounter, the video gave me the distinct feeling that the term "denial" had been set to only the denial of human effects (the use of the thermometer near the AC).

    Even if you think that no one sits in the "deny natural" section, you can't say that it doesn't exist.

    Also I question your comment "until there is some credible evidence of 'it could be natural'". I hate to point out that there's ~15 billion years of natural climate change on Earth. That's some pretty credible evidence that natural climate change does occur. It's just this time, it may or may not be (depending on your view).
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  8. Muoncounter is right, Dale. You are confusing "deny" with "denial."

    You can deny that a proposition is true - in which case you are just on one side or the other of a debate.

    That is not denial, however. Denial is when you refuse to accept a proposition despite clear evidence that the proposition is true.
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  9. Also Dale, noone questions whether climate change has happened naturally. That is a red herring. In a way the effect of CO2 is natural, just as the effects of the sun, albedo, and aerosols are. They effacts are the result of "natural" physical laws. As they have changed so has climate in the past.

    The only thing different about the current situation is that humans are producing the CO2.

    FYI... earth is only 4.5 billion years old. You're thinking of the universe.
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  10. Most climate change "skeptics" would categorize themselves as the type of skeptics being described in the video. The problem is that they don't realize that they are coming to the party late. In other words they don't realize that most of the "skeptic" questions have already been discussed and addressed in the published literature over the last several decades. This is why well cited websites like Skeptical Science are such a valuable tool for scientific communication.
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  11. It should also be noted that denial is in many respects distinct from denialism, which is a systematic misrepresentation of evidence to propagate a viewpoint at odds with said evidence.
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  12. Re: Composer99
    "a systematic misrepresentation of evidence to propagate a viewpoint at odds with said evidence"
    This is something that has been displayed several times recently on this very website.

    Alas.
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  13. Stephan, actually there are people who deny natural warming. You see it in newspapers every day. People who believe all the warming is human caused. They are in denial that natural warming occurs in the face of evidence some warming is natural some is human.
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  14. I deny that the audio is clear enough for most people who, like myself, have a substantial hearing problem.
    With my speakers in their normal position I heard " ss p gg dd cll ". With one speaker right up against my best ear I could clearly hear the busker in the street outside.
    Please boost the recording volume next time - and shut the window! ;-)

    I did like the image of the graffiti reflected in floodwater.
    I couldn't make out the narration, but imagined: "The only benefit from rising sea levels will be the drowning of graffiti artists."
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  15. Dale, certainly someone who denied that climate changed in the past would be in denial. Given that belief, they would also have a hard time arguing for human caused climate change in the present.

    That said...I actually don't know anyone who denies that climate has changed in the past - and I don't see it in the papers every day. Point me to a citation perhaps.
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  16. DB at 3 and Muon at 6
    Since you brought it up: of course there have been cycles and of course it could be natural. You have a much better chance of swaying me to your position if your argument was phrased that human activities are influencing a natural cycle.
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    Response:

    [DB] I learned long ago the futility of spitting into the wind or arguing with a mind already made up.

    And the warming of the past 3-4 decades is anthropogenic in origin.  If that means "natural" in your book, so be it.

  17. apirate

    Well that's easy enough. Humans (who are in fact a part of nature) are affecting the natural carbon cycle, which influences climate through natural physical mechanisms that have always acted in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

    Does that work ?
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  18. Stephen, you don't have to deny past natural change to deny the current change. In one of the newspapers I read (The Age in Melbourne) on climate change articles you can see reader comments displaying the belief that the current warming is all human induced. It's quite possible that emotional headlining by the paper is responsible for this.
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  19. Yep, we are suddenly adding a lot of heat on top of a milankovich-driven interglacial cycle that will last for several ten's of thousands of years. That suit you pirate? However, there is no evidence that 20 century warming is driven by milankovich cycles (a slight cooling could be expected), or any other natural cycle. All natural cycles have physical mechanisms. Invoking a natural cycle with no mechanism as an alternative to warming from a well-known mechanism doesnt make sense. It then begs the question of why you think the measurable change in radiative forcing from GHG emissions is having no effect while a natural mechanism with no known source does have an effect. Wishful thinking in my view.
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  20. Hi Dale,

    Is the text below (from WUWT) written by you? Do you also post at WUWT as "Dale"? Because the quoted text is a great example of someone who is not a true/genuine skeptic, but rather of someone who is in denial about the inconvenient truths of AGW, and who is uncritically willing to believe anything that supports their position.

    "Dale says:
    July 28, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    This seems as good a place as any to mention this recent paper:

    [Albatross removed hyperlink to paper]

    The paper shows how current AGW models break the laws of physics (that the amount of radiation emitted is proportional to its temperature) which explains the findings of Lindzen (and now confirmed by Spencer-Braswell in this paper) that Earth’s radiation emitted is actually fluxing with temperature.

    The paper also slams the AGW models as they use equations which physicists use to model stars, which do not work for terrestrial bodies. Thus all the AGW models are completely useless."
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  21. pirate#16: "if your argument was phrased that human activities are influencing a natural cycle. "

    So human activities are significant enough to influence these unnamed natural cycles, but we are not significant enough to cause changes on our own? We have to be 'helper engines' at the back of a naturally moving train? This requires that these same cycles are somehow moving with the same frequency and phase as our activities: heating when we are pumping out CO2, cooling when we are putting out the aerosols. But we already know that's not true; the past climate change you are fond of citing operates on a much longer time frame than anything we could possibly do.

    I'm skeptical of this model.

    If you haven't had a look, see the Loehle and Scaffetta thread. Natural cycles run rampant there.
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  22. Albatross, yes I do read both sites. As mentioned in the video, a true skeptic assess all the evidence. I fail to see how what I wrote locks me as a "denier" as all I did was paraphrase what the paper's claim. I read SkS for a AGW slant, and WUWT for a non-AGW slant. Isn't that the point of the video, look at ALL the evidence?

    I also read two newspapers too, one critical of AGW and the other supporting AGW. Does that make me a denier as well? IMO, anyone who only reads one source is denying that other opinions and evidence may exist.
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  23. Dale,

    "Isn't that the point of the video, look at ALL the evidence."

    What a very telling comment. You are naively assuming that all 'evidence' is equal in terms of credibility and relevance and validity. That is most definitely not true and not how to properly access where the science is at. That is faux balance. Next you will be insisting that medical students seriously consider the views of people who are of the belief that HIV and AIDS are not linked, or that governments should not take action on AIDs in Africa (e.g., Mugabe) b/c some people question the link between HIV and AIDS. Or mathematicians to consider that pi should be a nice round 3.0.

    And your post at WUWT demonstrates that you are very unskeptical and uncritical of seriously flawed work that seems to support your position.

    What is more WUWT do not present evidence, they present, for the most part, propaganda and fodder for "skeptics" and those in denial about AGW. WUWT also offers a podium for certain people who disparage, threaten and harass climate scientists. WUWT is not a genuine skeptic site, far, far from it.

    In light of some of the disparaging comments you have made at WUWT, I find your posts here disingenuous and strikingly similar to those that would be posted by a "concern troll".

    PS: Do you also post at BishopHill?
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  24. Michael Shermer has a Skeptical Manifesto in which he attempts to define the contemporary skeptical movement.

    The pan-Canadian skeptical blog Skeptic North has a series overviewing skepticism in its modern context.

    I have also heard that neurologist & notable skeptic Steven Novella (who also is involved in the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast) came up with a good, short definition of modern skepticism; I have been unable to locate it to share here, however.

    I would summarize the definitions above as saying that the contemporary skeptic provisionally accepts or rejects claims based on the body of evidence available to support them (or lack thereof), and the logic by which the evidence is marshalled to support the claims. The modern skeptic also adjusts acceptance or rejection of claims as better evidence or logic is assembled.
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  25. One thing I forgot to conclude the last comment with is that the majority of members of the contemporary skeptical movement whom I have read extensively tend to accept the scientific mainstream/consensus position on AGW. (e.g. Novella, as well as Scienceblogs' Orac, PZ Myers, and Discover Magazine blogger and astronomer Phil Plait).
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  26. Skepticism is about looking for the truth while denial is about hiding from it.
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  27. Albatross#23: "your post at WUWT demonstrates that you are very unskeptical and uncritical of seriously flawed work that seems to support your position. "

    Ah, that is the beauty of 'selective skepticism.' Anything that supports your position is by definition free from all flaws; anything said by the opposite side is total bunk.

    What is refreshing about SkS is that you can't get away with that.
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  28. Aside from a possible small natural component, the warming over the past several decades has been caused by humans. That's just reality, supported by a large body of physical scientific evidence. Denying a falsehood (that a substantial amount of recent warming is 'natural') is not denial.

    If somebody publishes a paper in some obscure journal concluding that elephants are blue, you can call that evidence, and argue that it's entirely possible that elephants are blue, because we need to consider all the evidence, including this obscure paper. It doesn't change the fact that in reality, elephants are not blue.

    And if you seek out evidence to support that view because you want to believe that elephants are blue, it's hard to dispute that you're in denial about the fact that elephants are not blue.
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  29. I have to note (compliments to John Cook, and all the contributing authors and moderators) that this site is (IMO) a complete breath of fresh air on the Intertubes. Actual consideration of evidenciary values, peer reviewed papers, and the idea that facts outweigh opinions? I've had folks point out that I was wrong, and they were correct, which I value immensely.

    I much prefer a fact-based discussion than the echo-chambers of the already convinced. There are already far too many of those.

    Priceless...
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  30. Albatross, if you don't look at all the evidence, how can you conclude it's not equal in credibility and relevance and validity?

    You may say I'm unskeptical and uncritical, so be it. I just don't think the climate is as sensitive as claimed. I could raise points to support my belief, but this is not the thread for it.

    "What is more WUWT do not present evidence, they present, for the most part, propaganda and fodder for "skeptics" and those in denial about AGW. WUWT also offers a podium for certain people who disparage, threaten and harass climate scientists. WUWT is not a genuine skeptic site, far, far from it."

    I find this an interesting comment, since wouldn't the WUWT diehards say the same thing about here (substituting relevant terms)? That is why I read and post at both sites. As I said above, I come here for an AGW slant, and I got to WUWT for a non-AGW slant. At least them I see both sides of the story and can assess the truth of everything being said. If anything, isn't that the intelligent thing to do rather than fall into a trap of becoming warped in your belief from a single sided message? Gee, isn't that what all the Murdoch News problems are about?

    Which comes back to what I originally said, you can deny the positive argument, or you can deny the negative argument. Denial sits on BOTH sides of skeptic as portrayed in the OP video.
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  31. Dale#30: "At least them I see both sides of the story and can assess the truth of everything being said. "

    How do you do that? What do you bring to the table, so that you can 'assess the truth' of the likes of Hansen or Trenberth vs. Goddard or Watts?

    "isn't that what all the Murdoch News problems are about?"

    No, that's about breaking the law. We'll see how far the hacking investigation goes. Remember that hacking incident?

    "you can deny the positive argument, or you can deny the negative argument. "

    No again. As several folks have pointed out, it is not the arguments that are being denied. What separates skeptic from denier is denial of the facts.

    If there were relevant facts on the 'negative' side (something more germane than 'it's changed before'), then there would be both sides to the story.
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  32. If all you have is blog statement, with no reference to peer-reviewed published papers, then chances are its rubbish.

    For a genuine scientific conflict, there are no matters of opinion. The matter gets settled by data. A conflict involves alternative models of reality. You look to where the model make different predictions from each other and see which one matches the data best. However, beware of those trying to pull the wool. If the result is valid, then it needs to stand scrutiny from science peers. This is the role of scientific publishing. The unpublished papers are either self-delusion from amateurs or downright medacity aimed at Joe Public.
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  33. Dale: "I could raise points to support my belief, but this is not the thread for it."

    Do it. You could do nothing more helpful here than to present your case.

    That is the difference between SkS and WUWT. Here you have an open forum to present your case. You will not be shouted down unless you refuse to address counterarguments, and even then it takes a very long time (see the 2nd law thread). You will not be whipped with ad hominem and sharp rhetoric (well, Sphaerica gets a little pointy occasionally). AGW supporters here will take you seriously as long as it's clear you're not playing games. If you support AGW but present a crappy argument, other AGW supporters will point out the brown stuff. None of this is true for WUWT. The comment stream at WUWT is like a transcription of conversation at a UFO convention: everyone has been abducted, and each abducting alien is different, yet everyone believes each other's stories.
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  34. Muoncounter, since you brought it up do you mean the hacking incident that exposed manipulation of data to hide the decline and the peer review process so that contrary views don't get published?

    Anyways I am out of this conversation. Its obvious that on this site it is "bad" to be skeptical of the AGW mantra.

    Thank you all for your time.
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    Moderator Response: Dale, please you are very confused about what "hide the decline" means. You are also ignoring the fact that none of the scientists who had their emails hacked have been found guilty of "manipulating" data-- fact eight separate investigations have not found them them guilty of the things that you are accusing them of. Moreover, Lindzen, Spencer and other "skeptics" have lengthy publication records. In other words you are simply parroting long debunked myths and fallacies. Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right. This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum. Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it. Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.
  35. Ah, the old hit and run, eh Dale? Nice technique.

    Do you believe in evidence-based thinking, Dale? If so, provide some for your "hide the decline" interpretation. And do it on the appropriate thread.

    Contrary views don't get published? Which views? Let's circumvent the official organs right here and now: you represent those views, and posters at SkS will work through them. Maybe you'll bring something valuable to the table. Who knows? If you can't represent those views, though, you shouldn't talk like you can. And, hey, there's always E&E; if your views can't get published there, it's possible that they are actually totally worthless, or at least unreadable. Ad journalem? Deservedly so.
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  36. Dale#36,
    No, I meant the illegal hacking incident that subjected scientists to a lynch-mob in the media. Only to find that independent review found no wrong-doing of any kind. Let's hope the actual criminals will be discovered this time. But there are other threads for that.

    "obvious that on this site it is "bad" to be skeptical of the AGW mantra."

    DSL#34 asked you to present your case; your response was to bug out and it is somehow turned into a criticism of SkS.
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  37. Muoncounter, if you note the posting times, DSL posted as I was typing. I'm on a phone thus typing is slow, with an annoying auto correct at times.

    But since it was asked, explain the recent temp flat line in the face of exponentially rising CO2, NASA satellite data showing no increase in aerosols, and CERES satellite data showing increased IR leaving the system.
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    Moderator Response: Please everyone, stay on topic and take discussion to a more appropriate thread. FWIW, stratospheric aerosols have been increasing, see Solomon et al. (2011): "The authors analyzed measurements from several independent sources – satellites and several types of ground instruments – and found a definitive increase in stratospheric aerosol since 2000."
  38. @ Dale
    "I find this an interesting comment, since wouldn't the WUWT diehards say the same thing about here (substituting relevant terms)? That is why I read and post at both sites. As I said above, I come here for an AGW slant, and I got to WUWT for a non-AGW slant."

    So you come to Sk Science for the science, and WUWT for ....?

    The fake graphs by Steve Goddard on Arctic sea ice and such?

    Watts and Goddard - Sea Ice
    http://climatecrocks.com/2010/11/24/lively-times-at-wuwt/


    "Climate Cherry Pickers: Falling sea levels in 2010"

    "... recent post by Steve Goddard which casts doubt on the fact that we've experienced record hot temperatures over the last year, citing falling sea levels in 2010."

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/Climate-Cherry-Pickers-Falling-sea-levels-in-2010.html


    "Arctic death spiral: Naval Postgrad School’s Maslowski “projects ice-free* fall by 2016 (+/- 3 yrs)”

    "But in the land of make-believe, Watts and Goddard say: "Arctic ice extent and thickness nearly identical to what it was 10 years ago."
    June 6, 2010

    http://climateprogress.org/2010/06/06/arctic-death-spiral-maslowski-ice-free-arctic-watts-goddard-wattsupwiththat/



    The fervor over a meaningless paper by Spencer?

    "Just Put the Model Down, Roy" (Spencer)
    by: Barry Bickmore July 26, 2011

    http://bbickmore.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/just-put-the-model-down-roy/


    The faked graphs that an article by Watts and D'aleo used to make this claim?
    "NO WARMING TREND IN THE 351-YEAR CENTRAL ENGLAND TEMPERATURE RECORD"

    Open Mind
    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2010/02/15/summer-and-smoke/

    They get their heads handed to them by Tamino

    Long story short, Anthony Watts (of Watts Up With That) and D'Aleo left out the 19th century and only used summer data, leaving out winter data, to arrive at their quackery graph. Of course summers in the period were relatively cool, while winters were relatively warm. Even for skeptics, this one takes the cake for cherry picking.

    there are many more examples where those came from

    What you see as balance, is like having to present someone who believes the moon landing was faked, everytime NASA has something to say about space research and exploration.
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  39. Dale:

    That's some pretty credible evidence that natural climate change does occur.

    An utter strawman. We all know that climate change occurs naturally. We also know that this means the climate will change when forced to do so.

    See if you can guess where I'm going with this.
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  40. Dale,

    actually there are people who deny natural warming. You see it in newspapers every day. People who believe all the warming is human caused. They are in denial that natural warming occurs in the face of evidence some warming is natural some is human.


    I was going to ask you to provide cites, but Stephan already did that. Your reply:

    you don't have to deny past natural change to deny the current change. In one of the newspapers I read (The Age in Melbourne) on climate change articles you can see reader comments displaying the belief that the current warming is all human induced. It's quite possible that emotional headlining by the paper is responsible for this.


    So what you're saying is that some ordinary punters think that recent warming (I assume you mean the last 30 - 50 years) is entirely anthropogenic in origin.

    That appears to be pretty much the case. A proper rendering would include caveats, but the basic, unqualified view given out by Joe Blow isn't that far off the scientific view.
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  41. Moderator, thanks for the direction.

    --off topic content deleted--

    Sometimes, the message contradicts the observation. That leads to questioning.
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    Moderator Response: Please take your thoughts on aerosols to the relevant thread as requested earlier. Thank you.
  42. "But since it was asked, explain the recent temp flat line in the face of exponentially rising CO2, NASA satellite data showing no increase in aerosols, and CERES satellite data showing increased IR leaving the system."

    Perhaps you check
    a/ that temp is "flat line".
    b/ the NASA satellite show no increase in aerosol
    c/ what the solar forcing is currently

    then ask why does CERES show increased IR? (Hint, temperature).

    And finally, what actually do the model predicts?
    (eg look at Keenlyside et al 2008 and surrounding controversy and maybe the actual model outputs, eg as
    shown here )

    Now if global temperatures did stay static or decline over a 20+ year period, while total forcings increased, then I would be asking for an explanation from modellers.
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  43. Stephen at 17
    Not a bad way to phrase it, but if you are not implying that CO2 is the driver of the climate.
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  44. Pertaining to natural cycles. Looking at the figure from the USEPA website, temperature rises - followed by CO2 and temperature falls - followed by CO2.

    CO2 is not driving climate change. Does it have a significant affect - maybe. But, it is not the driver. The 4 peaks prior to the current one had to be caused by natural cycles, not anthropogenic because we weren't here!

    Moving to the current interglacial and the human population boom in a geologically short time, and the resulting rise in CO2 that is partially caused by our FF use and land use practices - you can see why I state that my buying in to the AGW hypothesis depends on statement that says "we may be influencing natural phenomena". And, even though CO2 levels have skyrocketed, the temperature is not following it. At best it is sort of hanging around before it begins it's next drop.

    I hope you can understand my skepticism.

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    Moderator Response: [mc] Please remember to restrict image width to 450.

    [Dikran Marsupial] Please also see CO2 lags temperature. The natural carbon cycle provides positive feedback to temperature peturbations, however our fossil fuel/land use emissions over-ride the natural carbon cycle, so CO2 can now be a driver of climate rather than a feedback. While CO2 has acted as a feedback in recent geological time, it has also acted as a driver of climate, for instance the emergence from the Ordovician snowball Earth is hard to explain without accumulated CO2 from volcanic sources. The response of the climate to anthropogenic emissions has been pretty much what was predicted, so the comment about temperatures "hanging around" is misguided.
  45. Pirate, just out of curiosity, do you know precisely why CO2 is called the climate "control knob"?

    I think what you mean is "fluctuations in atmospheric CO2 have not historically driven major changes in climate."

    Why is the temp "hanging around" when it has sharply dropped at each of the last four peaks? Do you have a physical mechanism that explains this?
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  46. I think muoncounter said it best,

    "Anything that supports your position is by definition free from all flaws; anything said by the opposite side is total bunk."

    This appears to be more true than we would like to believe. A true "skeptic" would be critical of either, and look for the proof in the pudding.

    Dale,
    If you are really interested in two competing sites, read realclimate and Roger Pielke, they often present opposite sides to the same story, with references to each other on occasion. Judith Curry's Climate etc. would be better than WUWT.
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  47. apiratelooksat50 @44

    "Pertaining to natural cycles. Looking at the figure from the USEPA website, temperature rises - followed by CO2 and temperature falls - followed by CO2."

    Yes, historically CO2 levels have risen as a result of increased temperature caused by some other forcing. It was a feedback that made things even warmer.
    That was then.
    Now CO2 is rising ahead of the temperature and acting as the forcing as well as a feedback. The previous peaks were not anthropogenic, and no one denies that. This CO2 peak does not follow the previous pattern. That is what makes today different from years (eons) past.

    That is my understanding of the science anyhow. YMMV
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  48. pirate#44: "you can understand my skepticism. "

    The graph you posted shows exactly why there is nothing natural about the current situation: the red spike at the far right (present) never happened in the 400k yrs shown until now.

    Yet you cling to 'it's not us' or whatever variant that suits the current topic. The point made by this video - and multiple comments on this thread (and many other threads on SkS) - is that clinging to a preconceived notion in spite of all evidence to the contrary is not skepticism.
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  49. Muon,

    I have a very difficult believing anyone who claims that the red spike is not due to us. Also, since concentrations have not been at the current level during the past 400k years, the past history may not be the best indicator of the current (or future) situation.

    Expanding on your final point: we as scientists should examing all the evidence, especially if it is contrary to our beliefs, before coming to conclusions. Paraphrasing Einstein, a hundred scientists will not prove me right, but one scientist can prove me wrong.
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  50. Hi John,

    Very nice video. It's really pleasant to see and listen to.

    Congratulations to you, particularly. I remember the time when you said that you were not confortable with hearing your own recorded voice (or something to that effect). Talk about overcoming one's own self-imposed limitations!
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    Response: Thanks Alexandre but I confess, I still find it cringeworthy listening to myself. But sometimes you just have to man up and do what you gotta do.

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