Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hyperskepticism and Global Warming

One contemporary issue that I happen to have a fair amount of knowledge about is the issue of global warming. My first real job after college involved working for an environmental consulting firm, which organized climate change research.

In doing this work, I encountered a deliberately engineered campaign to cloud the public mind and obscure the debate on global warming with a carefully designed and marketed set of half-truths and outright lies. I currently hold the opinion that those who engineered the global warming denial campaigns of the last 20 years seriously rank with the Nazis of Germany and the Stalinists in terms of evil.

This is not hyperbole. The engineers and financiers of these campaigns show themselves to be as unconcerned about the destruction of whole cities or countries and the deaths of hundreds of millions of people as the Nazis and Stalinists showed themselves to be.

I suspect that future generations will be able to name at least four Presidents from America's past without effort, Three of these will be Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. The fourth will be George W. Bush. The reason that Bush's name will come up is because future generations will have monuments to remind them of the work his administration did (or did not do). Among these will be the watery ruins of Miami and New Orleans, for example.

The denialist arguments had no merit based on reason. A person with a moral concern not to contribute to destruction comparable to that suffered in World War II – a person who cared about such things – would have been motivated to look at the data and would have seen the flaws. A morally concerned person would have then asked, "Would a good person risk being responsible for this level of destruction for the sake of money?" and would have answered, "No."

A moral person would have said, "The people need the facts. Even if I, personally, have not made up my mind on the issue of global warming, I am going to feed the people facts, not fallacies scientifically engineered to maximize confusion and paralyzing people against taking action that could have prevented the destruction of future cities and cost future lives."

A moral person would have cared.

One of those fallacious arguments was the argument, "The future is uncertain, so we should do nothing until we have more data."

One of the implications of uncertainty is that there is as much of a chance that things will be worse than expected than there is that the situation will be better than expected.

Consider a case in which a researcher tells a supervisor, "Our best estimate is that, if you set off the explosion now, you will kill six people. We are 95% confident that it will be somewhere between 0 and 20."

To this, the manager responds, "Good. You don't know that anybody will be killed in the explosion, so set off the explosion."

This is the moral quality of those who participated in the global warming denial campaign, except the cost is not between 0 and 20 lives. The cost is the destruction of whole cities (though at a rate where the population will be able to move out) and the deaths of tens to hundreds of millions (from disease, starvation, thirst, and wars caused by population migrations due to sea level rise and climate change).

A growing body of evidence is suggesting that the estimates as to the amount of destruction that we will see as a result of global warming will actually exceed the estimates from the computer model. The models predicted that the arctic ice cap would not disappear until 2050. Now, they are looking at 2015. The models did not predict the melting of the Greenland ice sheet – sea level rise was sue almost exclusively to thermal expansion. Now, we're looking at 20+ feet of sea-level rise from Greenland’s melting alone, with nearly 10 times as much waiting to melt in Antarctica.

This is the cost of hyperskepticism, when practiced by those who willing to dismiss the destruction of whole cities and the deaths of perhaps hundreds of millions of people for the sake of their own profit.


Luke said...

I was a global warming skeptic until literally like 2 months ago. I just hadn't had the evidence explained to me in a compelling way, and my head was clouded up with myths and propaganda that I, with limited time to devote to the issue, had no way of knowing were myths and propaganda. Or at least that's what I tell myself to keep from feeling guilty. :)

In any case, I'm glad I finally "saw the light." Actually, it was the Youtube guy potholer54 who finally broke through to me. Good on him.

Luke said...

Some fodder for your commentary:

Anonymous said...

I'm a Lomborg skeptic. After reading his book "Cool It", I really think the alarmists are a hugely narcissistic bunch -- meaning it's more about themselves rather than doing real thinking about the issue(s) and prioritizing, which would require toning down the grandiosity of their cause and their place in it.

Hume's Ghost said...

Lomborg, ech.

If anything, I think the scientific community isn't alarmist enough. Human civilization is the gift of Earth's climate stabilizing into a kind of Goldilocks scenario for us, but we are quickly heading towards a level of CO2 in the atmosphere that has not existed during the history of human civilization. And we're talking about the kicking on of feedback mechanisms that once they get going, the changes will be irrevocable for out intents and purposes.

Sheldon said...

I am with Hume's Ghost. I don't know if it is the scientists or the policy makers who are not being alarmist enough. But it would seem that more drastic measures need to be taken, as opposed to debating cap and trade schemes. We need to get off coal as soon as possible, taking the lead so as to encourage China to do the same. But we are still building coal fired power plants in the U.S. Go figure.

NASA scientist Hansen predicted we were ten years away from some critical "tipping points" several years ago. So if he is wrong by ten years, we still have precious little time to act if those "tipping points" are 17 years away.

Anonymous cites no real reason for his hyperskepticism except ad hominem accusations to say that "the alarmists are narcissistic". What does this psuedo psycho-analysis have to do with anything?

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous cites no real reason for his hyperskepticism..."


1)I cited a book as my reason.

2)I did not say I was "hyperskeptic" in any sense.

There are some decent Youtube videos of Lomborg giving some short talks that cover his main points. I think there's a TED one that's decent. Alonzo even posted a blog on him once.

Another Anonymous said...


Given your self-proclaimed knowledge of global warming science, surely you can explain why I shouldn't interpret the following reports as throwing cold water (no pun intended) on global warming alarmism:,2933,468084,00.html

And just so we're clear, "Because those stories were funded by Nazis!" won't hold much sway with me.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Given your self-proclaimed knowledge of global warming science, surely you can explain why I shouldn't interpret the following reports as throwing cold water (no pun intended) on global warming alarmism:

If you follow the links on this article it goes to a NASA article that shows that two reports that the oceans were cooling were both mistaken.

But when he factored the too-warm XBT measurements into his ocean warming time series, the last of the ocean cooling went away. Later, Willis teamed up with Susan Wijffels of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organization (CSIRO) and other ocean scientists to diagnose the XBT problems in detail and come up with a way to correct them.

"So the new Argo data were too cold, and the older XBT data were too warm, and together, they made it seem like the ocean had cooled," says Willis. The February evening he discovered the mistake, he says, is “burned into my memory.” He was supposed to fly to Colorado that weekend to give a talk on "ocean cooling" to prominent climate researchers. Instead, he’d be talking about how it was all a mistake.

Nothing wrong with the initial claims in this report - only the spin attached to them. This is an excellent case of somebody distorting facts in order to confuse people away from the truth . . . the next best thing to outright lies.

That sulphate aerosols cause cooling (and thus the removal of sulphate temperatures will cause temperatures to return to normal levels) is well known. However, the removal of aerosols allowing temperatures to return to normal does not explain why temperatures have exceeded what was once normal.

If I pour a bucket of water in a tub, and take the same size bucket of water out of the tub, in taking the water out the water level will drop. But, if the water level drops below what it was before I added the water, we still need another factor to explain the difference.

As the article states, one of the emergency measures we can take to combat global warming is to allow companies to pollute the atmosphere. However, sulphate aerosols are poisonous - and we would have to figure the health costs into the benefits of this option.

Again, this is a measure that might be taken to offset global warming - which we would not have to do if there was no global warming to offset.

Still, the costs of poisoning ourselves might be less than the costs of 250' of sea-level rise.

There is no contradiction of global warming science here.,2933,468084,00.html

Effectively, this is circular. Global warming denial is true because there are news reports of people who deny global warming. This is no different than saying that the Jews were responsible for 9/11 because there are people who say that Jews are responsible for 9/11.

Simply another article reporting that people who deny global warming exists.

Simply another article that reports that there are those who deny the existence of global warming.

Sheldon said...

I am familiar with Lomborg and others who cite his arguments. What I was criticizing YOU about is this:

"I'm a Lomborg skeptic. After reading his book "Cool It", I really think the alarmists are a hugely narcissistic bunch --"

Now whether this is your thought or Lomborg's, (I doubt the latter), what on earth does this ad hominem charge have to do with anything? Who are you? Their psycho-analyst or something that you would be privy to the knowledge that they are "narcissistic"?

Anonymous said...

"what on earth does this ad hominem charge have to do with..." anything?

Sheldon, I refer you, once again, to my original post, wherein the general answer to your question is found.

Hume's Ghost said...

Speaking of motivations ...