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Climate Deniers Are Giving Us Skeptics a Bad Name - Fred Singer

Posted on 17 March 2012 by John Mason

Somebody recently drew our attention to a provocatively-titled piece by Fred Singer on the website of the Independent Institute, another of those many political think-tanks over in the USA. We had a look at the piece and it turns out that it is another strange example of someone well-known over many years for their contrarian views on climate change (among other things) attempting to claim some kind of 'middle ground'. In short, as you will see below, he is saying, "most deniers [his term, which he uses a lot] are wrong, most climate scientists are wrong but I'm right".

It's not the first time we've seen someone trying to re-jig the debate, with a number of leading political anti-science activists now saying that they accept that the greenhouse effect exists and that temperatures are increased by Mankind's industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases (but only by a teeny-weeny little bit). In doing so, they are putting ground between themselves and the rank-and-file who daily appear on comment threads to insist that the greenhouse effect doesn't exist, is a hoax and blah blah blah. It's as if they have realised that there is no longer any mileage in promoting that particular bunch of myths to policymakers and public alike, so that instead they are going for climate sensitivity as an alternative target. "Calling all think-tanks. Calling all think-tanks. Go to Plan B, repeat, go to Plan B."

Independent Institute

OK then, let's take a closer look. All of Singer's text is in italics.

Singer begins by drawing up his view of where the 'balance' exists in the climate debate:

"On the one side are the “warmistas,” with fixed views about apocalyptic man-made global warming; at the other extreme are the “deniers.” Somewhere in the middle are climate skeptics."

He goes on:

"In principle, every true scientist must be a skeptic. That’s how we’re trained; we question experiments, and we question theories. We try to repeat or independently derive what we read in publications—just to make sure that no mistakes have been made."

That second quote is quite true and is the background behind every branch of science, from climatology to cardiology. But Singer then elaborates. On the 'warmistas' he says:

"I am going to resist the temptation to name names. But everyone working in the field knows who is a warmista, skeptic, or denier. The warmistas, generally speaking, populate the U.N.’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and subscribe to its conclusion that most of the temperature increase of the last century is due to carbon-dioxide emissions produced by the use of fossil fuels. At any rate, this is the conclusion of the most recent IPCC report, the fourth in a series, published in 2007."

He then goes on to churn out a tangled series of well-known and long-debunked climate-myths, to which, once they are unravelled, there are plenty of rebuttals here at Skeptical Science, for example here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

And then, his wrath falls upon the opposition: I've added the links below to his text, as they go to Skeptical Science pages that also deal with these myths in more detail. He writes:

"Now let me turn to the deniers. One of their favorite arguments is that the greenhouse effect does not exist at all because it violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics—i.e., one cannot transfer energy from a cold atmosphere to a warmer surface. It is surprising that this simplistic argument is used by physicists, and even by professors who teach thermodynamics. One can show them data of downwelling infrared radiation from CO2, water vapor, and clouds, which clearly impinge on the surface. But their minds are closed to any such evidence.

Then there is another group of deniers who accept the existence of the greenhouse effect but argue about the cause and effect of the observed increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide. One subgroup holds that CO2 levels were much higher in the 19th century, so there really hasn’t been a long-term increase from human activities. They even believe in a conspiracy to suppress these facts. Another subgroup accepts that CO2 levels are increasing in the 20th century but claims that the source is release of dissolved CO2 from the warming ocean. In other words, they argue that oceans warm first, which then causes the CO2 increase. In fact, such a phenomenon is observed in the ice-core record, where sudden temperature increases precede increases in CO2. While this fact is a good argument against the story put forth by Al Gore, it does not apply to the 20th century: isotopic and other evidence destroys their case.

Another subgroup simply says that the concentration of atmospheric CO2 is so small that they can’t see how it could possibly change global temperature. But laboratory data show that CO2 absorbs IR radiation very strongly. Another subgroup says that natural annual additions to atmospheric CO2 are many times greater than any human source; they ignore the natural sinks that have kept CO2 reasonably constant before humans started burning fossil fuels. Finally, there are the claims that major volcanic eruptions produce the equivalent of many years of human emission from fossil-fuel burning. To which I reply: OK, but show me a step increase in measured atmospheric CO2 related to a volcanic eruption."

To those who have been in this debate for a long time, some of the above are familiar, although the 19th Century one is novel. Most conspiracy-theories seem to be along the lines of global warming having some connection with a plot to install a socialist world government: given the great diversity of faiths and political beliefs from country to country around the world this would seem an implausibly ambitious project to pull off, even for the worst James Bond baddie, but I digress.

He could also have complained about another alternative viewpoint. TV weatherman Joe Bastardi recently opined:

“CO2 cannot cause global warming. I’ll tell you why. It doesn’t mix well with the atmosphere, for one. For two, its specific gravity is 1 1/2 times that of the rest of the atmosphere. It heats and cools much quicker. Its radiative processes are much different. So it cannot — it literally cannot cause global warming.”

The idea that CO2 doesn't mix well with the atmosphere is so far out that we don't actually have a rebuttal for it: it is only necessary to say it's just as well the gas does mix well in our dynamic atmosphere as a CO2-rich layer hugging the ground is not what we would want at all.

Anyway, Singer seems to have lost patience with both “sides”:

"I have concluded that we can accomplish very little with convinced warmistas and probably even less with true deniers. So we just make our measurements, perfect our theories, publish our work, and hope that in time the truth will out."

In view of the last sentence, and whilst the abandonment of a number of contrarian myths is an encouraging sign, it is odd that the piece finishes with five supposed quotes. Let's take one of them and examine it in detail:

"“Unless we announce disasters no one will listen.” —Sir John Houghton, First Chairman of the IPCC"

A Google of that reveals it has been copied and pasted far and wide across the Internet echo-chamber. So: where did it originate? Peter Hadfield wanted to know that whilst studying some of Christopher Monckton's output, and this is what he found. Its first appearance in that form was in an Australian Sunday Telegraph article in November, 2006:

sunday telegraph november 2006

But is that really what Houghton said? Er, no. The original goes back to an interview with him in the UK Daily Telegraph on September 10, 1995:

daily telegraph, september 1995

That's a bit fuzzy, so I'll retype it:

"If we want a good environmental policy in the future, we'll have to have a disaster. It's like safety on public transport. The only way humans will act is if there's been an accident."

Consider that for a moment. Is it not true? Here in the UK, exactly the same human traits led to the compulsory Ministry of  Transport test that keeps lethally-dysfunctional vehicles off the road. It led to the outlawing of taking to the wheel when blind drunk. It has led to the banning of smoking in many public places (coincidentally Singer did a lot in the past for the pro-smoking lobby - is there a pattern here?). We do tend to legislate when bad things happen in order to try and reduce the risk of them happening again: in other words, we as a species are very good at bolting the proverbial stable door after the horse has gone.

But how did the error with the quote occur? The journalist who used it in the Australian Sunday Telegraph stated:

OK. That sort of thing happens in the blogosphere. So that's it, then, is it? Not quite: six years later, we still have Singer and others repeating the misquote without question. Just to requote him from the beginning of his article:

"We try to repeat or independently derive what we read in publications—just to make sure that no mistakes have been made."

Indeed, Mr Singer, and just one of those five quotes is evidence enough to demonstrate that you haven't. A true "skeptical scientist" would have checked that 'quote' before repeating it. It is to be hoped that, next time, you are a little more careful....

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 69:

  1. Singer is pulling one of the oldest tricks in the right wing playbook - have your surrogates state things even more ridiculous then your own positions, so you look good in comparison. Mitt Romney is hoping to ride that tactic to the White House.
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  2. Does Singer's work justify his claiming the mantle of skeptic, or does he deserve the title of denier?
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  3. It sounds like Mr Singer is suggesting a "rebranding" for the "skeptics".

    Creationism was losing ground until the Discovery Institute decided to rebrand the argument and make it one of scientific controversy.
    It appears Mr Singer is going to use the language of science and scientific methodology to seize the high ground in public debate. Front-line soldiers of science are not the intended target in this war; this is about winning the hearts and minds of our loved ones back home. A well thought out strategy and rebranding effort aimed at the public will easily convince that this is a matter of scientific disagreement between scientist.
    No one who is a regular to sites like this are going to be convinced by a change in semantics or tone but then regulars to this site are not the ones in the cross-hairs.

    This could be an opening fusillade where truth becomes the first victim and where science will be the ultimate looser.
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  4. So we just make our measurements, perfect our theories, publish our work, and hope that in time the truth will out.
    Just a few questions, Mr. Singer:
    • Who is 'we' exactly?
    • What exactly is your 'theory' explaining all the evidence?
    • 'Publish' in which respected journals, exactly?
    • What 'truth' do you claim exclusive access to, exactly?
    Apart from those questions, I found nothing remarkable in the sentence quoted above. I look forward to the announcement of your Nobel prize. Any day now. Trust me, I'm a sceptic.
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  5. This is becoming a standard tactic among the more literate of the contrarians. In his presentation at Westminster Lindzen has a slide which says

    Carbon Dioxide has been increasing
    There is a greenhouse effect
    There has been a doubling of equivalent CO2 over the past 150 years
    There has very probably been about 0.8 C warming in the past 150 years
    Increasing CO2 alone should cause some warming (about 1C for each doubling)


    He then goes on to say

    Unfortunately, denial of the facts on the left, has made the public presentation of the science by those promoting alarm much easier.

    Emphases mine

    So much for the D word being a cruel attempt by the "team" to brand contrarians as holocaust deniers and so much for there being no such thing as settled science.

    Of course he then goes on to claim that none of this matters and there is nothing to be worried about.
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  6. There is a strong of "pot, kettle, black" about this. I would have expected the mass of deniers to eject Fred Singer because of his embarrassing connections to the Heartland Institute, Big Tobacco, and his long record as an anti-environment crusader.

    He gave evidence to Congress on behalf of companies denying Sherwood Rowland's research on the ozone hole. Rowland (who just passed away) won a Nobel Prize and continued researching (among other things) global warming. The relative merits of Rowland and Singer as scientists seems to have been missed by Singer's admirers. Singer argued for companies defending their right to cause acid rain. If anything, Fred is a prime exhibit for the anti-denialist case.

    I suppose it just emphasises just how much a chaotic crock denialism is.
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  7. Prof. Singer's rhetoric is rather transparent, firstly saying:

    "On the one side are the “warmistas,” with fixed views about apocalyptic man-made global warming; ..."

    and then positioning skeptics as moderates

    "In principle, every true scientist must be a skeptic. That’s how we’re trained; we question experiments, and we question theories. We try to repeat or independently derive what we read in publications—just to make sure that no mistakes have been made."

    and then the actual moderates as extremists

    "But everyone working in the field knows who is a warmista, skeptic, or denier. The warmistas, generally speaking, populate the U.N.’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and subscribe to its conclusion that most of the temperature increase of the last century is due to carbon-dioxide emissions produced by the use of fossil fuels."

    In other words the IPCC are not proper scientists as they have fixed views (not actually true, their conclusions are based on an assessment of the evidence, if the evidence changes I'm sure they would be only too happy to change their conclusions) and that they conclude there will be apocalyptic MMGW (which isn't true either, AGW will have severe consequences for some parts of the world, but hardly "apocalyptic").

    The attempt to represent climate skeptics as moderates is transparent rhetoric, they are nothing of the sort, mainstream science is the moderate position. There are extremists on both sides, but the skeptics, whether they like it or not are not moderates.
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  8. So, when Singer repeats over and over again that the satellite record shows no warming he's admitting that it gives "skeptics" a bad name? Does saying, "Climate science is not what we call real science. It’s not physics or chemistry" give "skeptics" a bad name? Does saying, "The people who did the IPCC reports were essentially crooks" raise or lower the conversation, Fred?
    Fred Singer: “The people who did the IPCC reports were essentially crooks.”

    Ironically, Watts posted a link to this Singer piece this week as a rebuttal to none other than Doug Cotton, who was trying to peddle his 6,000 word manifesto against the greenhouse effect. What people like Watts and Singer don't get is that it's too late to disassociate themselves from the Cottons and the Goddards (and in this case the difference isn't too big anyway).
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  9. Dikran Marsupial;
    "positioning skeptics as moderates"
    "is transparent rhetoric"
    Will the public perceive this positioning as transparent or will it appear to be a reasoned debate?
    The science community can see that the emperor has no clothes...the public will be dazzled by Singers spectacular fashion sense and controlled modulation.
    Magic is all about deception and debating the bottom side of an argument requires skills of a David Copperfield.
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  10. "To those who have been in this debate for a long time, some of the above are familiar, although the 19th Century one is novel."

    Actually, I suspect he was referring to Beck's 're-evaluation' of Callendar's work. This has previously been debunked in discussion threads here on SkS and Real Climate has a writeup on it here.

    Singer wrote: "So we just make our measurements, perfect our theories, publish our work, and hope that in time the truth will out."

    Wait. Singer has done actual scientific research? Published results? News to me. I've only ever heard of him as the go to guy for 'scientize' nonsense. Need a 'scientist' to say that asbestos is safe for kids? Singer's your guy. Want to discredit that whole 'smoking and cancer' link? Fred's already on it. DDT. Acid rain. CFCs and ozone. He's been an all purpose denier for decades.

    I thus find this change of gears incomprehensible. Nobody who knows his history, or observes the many 'factually challenged' claims he continues to make in the same article, is going to be fooled... so what gives? I don't recall Singer ever having taken 'his own side' to task for insanity before. I wonder if, like Spencer, he made the mistake of digressing into discussion of actual science with some of his 'followers'.

    Anyway, this should be filed away with similar statements of reality by other 'experts' on the 'skeptic' (not) side as things to show people who go around citing them for claims that AGW is 'all a hoax'. It is long past time that the moonbats should be fighting >each other< over their countless contradictory claims rather than acting in unison despite the insanity of it all.
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  11. The deniers are not very happy with Singer's piece. Just read the comments over at American Thinker. 153 comments loaded with hard-core denial and conspiracy theories.

    I think Singer will find it quite lonely in the "middle".
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  12. The bulk of Singer's publications are well in the past, though he was a co-author on Douglas et al 2004--the 'tropical troposphere' paper manhandled by Santer et al 2008.

    See:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/10/tropical-tropopshere-iii/
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  13. I can't speak for Singer, but many skeptics accept greenhouse gas theory because it is well established and coherent with all the evidence, not just as a "tactic". Similarly, most skeptics do not promote or endorse deniers, but to the contrary spend numerous but mostly wasted hours explaining basic physics to them. I agree with the substance of Singer's argument, but his writing is bad, using terms like warmista is ridiculous.

    I agree with Dikran above, since I am skeptical of high sensitivity I cannot claim to be a moderate in that debate, I am clearly on the left end of the estimate curve.

    As for being associated with the cranks, it happens 100% of the time in any thread with people who don't know me. I find it's pretty much useless to explain that I am not anti-science.
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  14. Eric (skeptic) at 23:23 PM on 16 March, 2012

    I'm sure you have already explained this before here, but I'm not that regular here. What has convinced you that the sensitivity should be in the lower end of the uncertainty ranges?
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  15. Reading the comments at Amerian Thinker (and seeing some of the usual idiots over there...ie -Snip-) makes me think this is just part of Singer's shtick. He can whip out those comments to show "See, I'm in the reasonable middle!"
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    Response: [DB] Inflammatory snipped.
  16. Alexandre, I gave some ideas about the uneven distribution of water vapor here: /detailed-look-at-climate-sensitivity.html, and modeling of ENSO in post 30 here: /Dessler-2011-Debunks-Roy-Spencer-And-Richard-Lindzen.html. Neither thread is very satisfying to me, I still owe scaddenp a more detailed answer, but I certainly do not have the time to build my own climate model.
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  17. YubeDude@9: "the public will be dazzled by Singers spectacular fashion sense and controlled modulation.
    Magic is all about deception and debating the bottom side of an argument requires skills of a David Copperfield."

    Undoubtedly, but it's easier when the audience doesn't want to see the wires, mirrors, and machinery that allows the magic to work. Copperfield's audience doesn't at all believe in the magic; they know it's wires, mirrors, and machinery. They want to see how well Copperfield can hide the wires, mirrors, and machinery. Singer's target audience desperately needs actual magic--something to counter the inevitable transformative march of science across the competing authorities of religion (the future is already written) and the blind, mad dash of unfettered capitalism (the future is the untold story of the production of exchange value by the individual; all other histories/metanarratives--environmental, social, etc.--are illusions and (pardon me) the lies of "academic liberals"). One audience looks for the wires, mirrors, and machinery; the other desperately tries to avoid seeing the wires, mirrors, and machinery.

    is not the primary activity of the Singers of the world, whatever side. Singer, Monckton, Watts, et al. do not engage in direct dialogue concerning the science (many applauded Pielke Sr. for trying to do so, and rightly so, even if it ended a little muddled). They studiously avoid such direct dialogue. Argument is for people who want to resolve a situation. Singer et al. are only interested in shaping the opinions of those unable to access and process (for whatever reason) the evidence; they are not interested in engaging in scientific discussion with working scientists (unless the event is carefully controlled to produce the desired outcome -- see Monckton).
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  18. Third section should be "Argument is not . . ."
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  19. The "CO2 was higher in the 19th century" is not new, it comes from a E&E study of the late biology teacher Ernst-Georg Beck. Here is the central diagram, which I get a laugh from every time I look at it, and here's the E&E article. Rebuttals are here, here, here, here, and here (among others).

    David Wojick (the guy that does the K-12 curriculum for Heartland Institute) likes the Beck data too (to be fair, he's smarter than that, pounding the uncertainty; this just to show that the Beck data is still thriving).

    I was wondering for a while why there was no rebuttal to this crock :)

    p.
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  20. Note we also have a post in the works examining Singer's scientific comments in this article.
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  21. Mostly, these guys are attuned to their audience and shape their message accordingly.

    Hence, Lindzen's "reasonable" message in London. I am sure if faced with a group of Tea Party Republicans, he would let rip with the usual "Fascist Plot!". You will find Christopher Monckron makes the same assessment of his audience. I saw him once on TV presenting the climate war as a gentlemanly dispute over the value of clmate sensitivity. Within months he was in Australia cutting loose with his usual "Big Government Nazis!" line.

    Singer is surprising because he chose to make his play to the most inimical of audiences. 99% of the comments on American Thinker attack him, and treat him with even more contempt than climate scientists do.

    In the 1960s, the Republican Party cut itself loose from right wing crazies like the John Birch Society for the good of the party. They have since been let re-join, but maybe Singer realises that his brand of denialism needs to do the same or they will all sink together.
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  22. One gets the feeling Singer is putting lipstick on a pig here (or, borrowing a line from Two and a Half Men, putting a goat in a tuxedo).
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  23. DSL:
    "Singer et al. are only interested in shaping the opinions of those unable to access and process the evidence..."

    I completely agree, but this can be a winning strategy for Singer and Company. The fact is that a significant majority of the public have neither the ability nor desire to tackle the scientific nature of this issue and Singer knows that without the support of the majority of the public there will be no political will or public acceptance for change.
    All the science in the world will mean nothing without the general public buying into the reality. Singer isn't fighting the facts, he is fighting for the public's perception.

    Magic is about being entertained.
    True, most educated adults know that it is all done with smoke and mirrors but I would disagree that magics appeal is only in the desire to find the hidden tricks. More than a few just want to be entertained; those that choose to suspend adult reality and buy into the magic do so because it feels good.
    Climate issues, for the vast majority are too heavy and frightening; many just want to hear nice words and be entertained. Any dialog that is easy to swallow and avoids statements that mention change or suggest looming crises. are what people want to hear. The masses want happy magic not frightening facts.
    What percentage of the population do you think has the capability to comprehend the science involved?
    What percentage of the population do you think wants everything to stay just the way things are?
    Do you think the public wants to hear forecast of rising seas, heat waves and environmental destruction, or do they want to hear "don't worry, it won't be all that bad", which do you think the average man on the street wants to hear? This is not a question of what they need to hear but want they want to hear. I want to hear my wife is faithful and I ignore the parade of men leaving my bedroom when I come home.

    Singer is selling "science populism" to keep the crowds happy. He has the easy sell, it's what people want to hear and he is rebranding his argument to make it appear to have more scientific weight. Now the public gets a feel good analysis and it sounds like science; how can he go wrong?
    He isn't talking to you or me, he's talking to the 99.5%.
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  24. Headline:
    'Singer Out Of Tune With Climate Skeptics'

    Let me fix Singer's argument: "Climate 'Skeptics' are giving Skeptics a bad name".There,that's better!

    I predict that the deniers will keep 'refining' their position to the point that one day they will be claiming "We never,ever said that AGW isn't true,or that it wouldn't be a massive problem.We just said we don't know how much or when...now we know...it's quite massive,and now"
    Oh,and to that point,I am now regularly seeing deniers claiming that nobody is saying that the greenhouse effect doesn't happen,or that humans are not causing warming with Co2,it's just a matter of how much",(and of course they think it's small to negligible).
    Nobody?...Really!!!...Nobody?
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  25. Captain Pithart at 01:44 AM on 17 March, 2012

    Well spotted. It certainly deserves a rebuttal.
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  26. tmac57,

    True. A lot of deniers are instead now focusing on climate sensitivity being low (al la Lindzen and Spencer).

    And when they finally accept that it is more than high enough to be a problem, they'll question the timing of any equilibrium sensitivity (figuring we have 200 years to figure out how to get things under control).

    And when they accept evidence of the pace of climate temperature change, they will then point out that maybe the effects of climate change won't be immediate, that the wholesale transition of ecosystems and ice melt will still take hundreds of years.

    They'll also question whether any immediate effects being seen are really a result of climate change, or just plain local weather phenomena.

    There will always be another denial "but," like one of those Russian nesting dolls.



    In the words of Peewee Herman, "Everyone I know has a big but."
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  27. Yubedube #23,

    Sadly, I am inclined to agree with you here. In turn, your thoughts illustrate very clearly why the actual quote, not the altered one, from Sir John Houghton, was made in wisdom.

    tmac57, #24,

    All of this is quite plausible, noting as we have done in this piece and others how the polarity of the argument is drifting about, and yes witness the comments on the original American Thinker post that kicked this and some other SkS posts in the pipeline off. Compared to any discussion on controversial topics here, there's some well crazy stuff that's been posted. The trouble is that guys like Monckton, Inhofe, Morano, Lindzen, Singer and others have positively encouraged such non-critical thinking for as long as I've been in this debate. It's a bit rich for them (or some of them to be more accurate) to turn on their own now, having advocated almost exactly the same over many years. And at the same time they continue uncritically to repeat stuff that is just plain wrong. That ain't skepticism!
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  28. @Lars Karlsson 11 - Thx for the suggestion to read the article's Comment Section. Laughed to the point of tears ... for example:

    "How can you be sure that it's not just steaming unicorn poop?"

    Indeed.

    @dana1981 - Why would you possibly want to do a rebuttal? When combined with the Comments, it stands on its own as a Far Side candidate.

    Ol' Fred seems to have succumbed to a temporary bout of bucket-list sanity. And the inmates didn't appreciate it.

    Here's a decent follow-up - hold a contest to see who can find all the real science in the Comments section - no cheating, you have to look.
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  29. Sphaerica and others: I added some questions to some old threads related to sensitivity. Not so much to get new answers because there were some pretty good ones already, but to point out that there is always work to be done defending claims about the applicability of paleo sensitivity estimates and sensitivity in general. I don't think it is really sufficient to attribute it to a new focus by skeptics, although that may be partly true. It is also true that it was a past focus by skeptics.
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  30. I couldn't help thinking of the classic article, "Arguments we think creationists should NOT use," which took a similar path in that it rejects some of the wackier anti-evolutionary arguments while still maintaining the newer, sexier arguments (irreducible complexity, specified complex information...)
    http://creation.com/arguments-we-think-creationists-should-not-use

    If I remember correctly, "Arguments..." actually caused a bit of a schism amongst creationist organizations. It will be interesting to see how Singer's article will play out.
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  31. I rather like being described as a warmist, and being part of the warmistas. I like my warmy community. It sounds great to me, because it means so much more than just a belief in the science of climate change. I’m proud of my associations with protecting the environment and see no shame in having serious concerns with what we as a species are doing to our own home. But I’m not so stubborn as to believe there is a defining line between myself and skeptics or those who stick their heads in the sand. There is a continuum from one spectrum to another, we all sit on the spectrum, but hopefully more at the environmental end. Like our views on the nature of health, what we say and think about climate science often says more about ourselves than the subject itself.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Fixed text.
  32. Its partially reheated "luke warmism".

    The false balance "moderates".
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  33. 29, Eric (skeptic),

    As Singer's article demonstrates, everything has been a focus of skeptics at one point or another. The basic strategy is throw it on the wall and point and shriek at whatever sticks (and sometimes often what doesn't).

    Now Singer wants to suddenly position himself as the "reasonable" one by saying that some of those things are silly, while others aren't (so he's not silly, no siree).

    I will agree that about four years ago climate sensitivity was the issue that deniers should have been discussing, instead of pretending that CO2 wasn't rising, wasn't anthropogenic, temperatures weren't rising, etc.

    But in the past years the evidence has mounted considerably. Times have changed. More studies have been done. One has to look through and past a lot of evidence to find a few details worth haggling about, and then focus on those details to the exclusion of the body of evidence.

    Even if you want to dig into it that far, and find some area of doubt, the weight of the evidence still says that a 3˚C outcome is at least possible if not likely or very likely, and even that is only if we stop at a mere doubling of CO2.

    I'd ask you now, just off the cuff, to give the percent chances that you personally believe for a climate sensitivity of 1˚C, 2˚C, 3˚C, 4˚C or higher per doubling of CO2.

    I'd ask you what the chances are of civilization achieving a level of 450 ppm, 500 ppm, 550 ppm, 600 ppm or more before getting the problem under control.

    Then I'd ask you to seriously look at your own opinion on the matter, based on your own current understanding and those numbers, and then ask why you are not much, much more concerned.
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  34. To Singer's credit, it's very very rare to see one 'skeptic' saying that some other 'skeptic' is wrong. Usually, you have the "it's the sun" guy totally happy to agree with the ODP guy, or with the "not warming" one.

    Not much of a credit, but hey, I'm making an effort here.
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  35. Alexandre Roy Spencer also regularly points out shortcomings in other skeptics arguments. It is indeed to their credit.
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  36. @Alexandre, I agree. It's very rare to see those in climate denial arguing, even when their views contradict one another. It seems that if you're on the denial 'side' of the argument -- however strange your belief or opinion -- then you're an ally.

    On the other hand -- as the comment threads of SkS attest -- the 'warmists' will often argue (in the nicest possible way) over details, and then further down the thread one or the other will be persuaded by an argument or suddenly come to a realisation. This is much more like the way science works as I understand it.
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  37. "If we want a good environmental policy in the future, we'll have to have a disaster"

    A sad, but painfully real truth.

    Something far worse than this will be needed:



    Just replace "2004 tsunami" with "climate change" and "killed" with "killing".

    It's sad, but maybe this must happen every day on every city of every major economic power for months before the public wake up and demands that decisive steps against pollution are taken.

    However, at that point it could be too late.
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  38. Nota bene:

    The WWF ad comparing the 2004 Tsunami and the 9-11 Terrorist Attacks was on one side a great idea to show how big and deadly a disaster can be, but on the other was comparing apples with oranges because the Tsunami is natural disaster, while 9-11 was a man-made disaster.One is amoral, the other is outragingly immoral.

    Yes, a manmade disaster. Sounds familiar not?

    Isn't a suicide mission to make everything possible to prevent the disoriented captains(aka governments) of the hundreds of planes(aka countries) that will soon crash over all the cities of the planet from turning away and save themselves and the cities inhabitants?

    Murder is not just planned killing. Planned denial of a future disaster (blocking any action that can prevent it) is murder too.

    If that is allowed to happen, it will be teached in XXII Century history books as a far worse massacre than the worst episodes of the XX century.

    Fortunately that history is still not written, but time is running out...
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  39. John Russell #36- I heartily agree with your last sentence,and I hope that isn't just my own confirmation bias talking.
    SkS really does a wonderful job keeping the discussion on an intellectually honest level that is worth emulating,and sadly, rare on the internet.
    I suspect that many 'climate skeptics' would see that kind of diversity of thought as 'breaking ranks',and 'heretical'.
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  40. Sphaerica, I posted on sensitivity here. The chances of civilization stopping at 450 are very low, maybe 10% because we will reach that in about 30 years or less. The chances of stopping at 560 are much better considering that gives us until 2100 if we stay at 2ppm per year. I assume we will have technology and plenty of non-fossil energy by then and substantial means to mitigate past emissions.

    My concerns come mainly from the uncertainties in the sensitivity I talked about in the other thread. If all uncertainties go in the wrong direction we will have 3 or 4C. I am sure there are better threads where I could talk about what to do if that happens.
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  41. Actually I agree with Singer. There are denialists, there are sceptics and there are alarmists. I am a sceptic in fact a bit of a denialist.

    The human race will not go extinct - though a lot of other species may, the Greenland ice sheet will not collapse this century - though I am not so sure about the parts of Antarctica. Nor will civilisation as we know it be destroyed by moving to a carbon free economy.


    I do however accept that greenhouse effect is real, that a warmer atmosphere will hold more water vapor than a cooler one, that there is no gaia mechanism that will ensure that clouds will conveniently save us from ourselves, that it is extremely difficult to see how clouds can be both a forcing mechanism and a negative feedback.

    I am truly sceptical about some other things. That means I am not convinced but am certainly prepared to believe they are possible and prepared to become convinced if I get more information. These include for instance the prospect of minimum arctic sea ice reaching zero this decade.
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  42. 40, Eric,

    I'll reply on the sensitivity thread.
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  43. Sceptical Wombat

    I am curious as to what your perception of the message is. Setting aside the science for now, how would you characterize the tone of the message that is AGW?

    What aspects of the skeptical position do you find convincing?

    For either side, are there rhetorical attitudes on display that you find ineffective?

    What are your sticking points that keep you, "in fact" a denialist?

    I am looking at how the issue can be reworked to increase public acceptance and filter out that which only serves to distract. Your thoughts would be helpful.

    Thank You.
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  44. YubeDude

    Most of the things I that I would take a denialist approach to are in fact straw men created by the fake sceptics to try to justify their use of the term "alarmist" - though some of Hansen's descriptions of worst case scenarios (for instance complete evaporation of the oceans) fall into that category. Hansen of course makes it clear that these are worst case, would take multiple centuries and are not likely - but the fake skeptics tend to ignore that.

    I also think that some news outlets have a tendency to automatically associate any problem of inundation from the sea with sea level rise and global warming. A recent example would be the ABC's treatment of problems in the Torres Straight. Now I will accept that, in a business as usual scenario, future sea level rises are likely to cause major problems with huge economic costs - but I very much doubt that anything significant has already happened.

    The other thing I absolutely do not believe is that transitioning to a carbon neutral energy regime would wreak havoc with the worlds economies. The people who claim that it would are in my opinion the real alarmists.

    As far as I know there is nothing in the FAR that would put me in the denialist camp - with the obvious exception of the Himalayan mistake.

    The point I was trying to make was there is nothing particularly wrong with Singer's classification - its just that he has drawn the boundaries in the wrong places.
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  45. Is the rightwing trying to head off a backlash? ClimateCrocks.com report that Ann Coulter smeared Sarah Palin and other leading GOP loons as charlatan conservatives.

    I'll pass on the clear irony of Coulter's statement and comment that it seems the US Republicans might FINALLY be waking up to the reality that a leadership composed entirely of radical ignoramuses is no longer palatable on the national stage.

    I imagine Singer's remarks, given his history going back to the Acid Rain days, are equally ironic.
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  46. Singer is a paid lightning rod deployed to attract all our energy. His task is to deflect criticism and distract true science involving the tobacco indust... er, make that the carbon fuels industry.
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  47. @Sceptical Wombat 41
    My skeptical "friends" would have called you a warmingista. (but I have a new set of friends now. ;)

    I don't think the Arctic Ocean ice sheet will melt in this decade either, but consider this: Right now the summer melt zone goes up to about 75N latitude, clearing a Northwest passage through Canada's arctic islands by the fall equinox. Once the melt zone gets as far as the top of Ellesmere Island though, winds and currents will push the ice into a melt zone whichever way they move and the last bit of ice will melt "catastrophically".
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  48. @Eric (skeptic)40
    Plotting CO2 vs T may give a climate sensitivity of 2.0 to 2.5C/doubling (e.g. http://i44.tinypic.com/m1wcm.gif) , but this is a non-equilibrium state, because there will be more warming as the oceans "catch up" even if CO2 stops dead in its tracks. I think what climate scientists report is "equilibrium sensitivity", which will inevitably be higher than what we can pull off a graph. Us amateurs have no way to estimate the difference between equilibrium and non-equilibrium, which is why we have to put some trust in professional scientists to do the estimates.

    Taking that into account, 3 to 4C/doubling sounds very reasonable. If any significant amount of methane disgorges from permafrost or deep sea methane ices, watch out!

    I agree civilization will not end, but consider that more than 50,000 New Orleans citizens were refugees from hurricane Katrina. Imagine the chaos that might result from the equivalent of 100-400 Katrinas (5-20MM new refugees) worldwide every year for decades (from flooding, storms, droughts, etc.). Civilization would certainly be strained!
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  49. JoeTheScientist, considering the entirety of the oceans, the equilibrium time you are talking about is 1000's of years, simply not worth caring about. The oceans are sinking heat that won't come back (i.e. water is being warmed from 35 to 35.1 or something along those lines). If that water comes back to the surface it will cool the atmosphere.
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  50. Sceptical Wombat

    Thank you for your reply.
    I am interested in the tonality of the message and not the content. All the charts and graphs, the science in general, sail way above my pay grade. I am one of those in the masses who is the target of the communication barrage. It appears to me that though the science community has the facts to support their position they don't have the catchy spin and subsequently lose ground to those that doubt.

    Arm wrestling the data should be a rather one sided affair but it is not and the reasons it is not is what interest me.
    The science side uses the data to lever their opponent while the other side uses smoke and mirrors to distract the audience; they make claims that kids will go hungry and old ladies will freeze if this Socialist restructuring happens. They turn the argument on its head and beat it with illogical non sequiturs
    I opened with a post wondering if Singer and his minions had started to rebrand their message in an attempt at re-positioning the argument. They can't fight the science so why not target the perception.

    Not wishing to invoke Godwins Law...let's not forget that the second most powerful man in the NSDAP was Dr Goebbels. I think Karl Rove and Sean Hannity were tied for third.

    Thanks again for your reply.
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