November 23, 2011

Global Warming: A Dialogue (Part 1)

The Scientific Consensus

THE DENIER: First of all, I object that you’re being referred to as “The Philosopher,” while I’m simply called “The Denier.”  That’s not just offensive, but entirely inaccurate—for the fact is that most thinking people, specifically most scientists, don’t believe in global warming.  For instance, a recent study found over 31,000 scientists, including over 9,000 Ph.D.s, who dispute that human-caused greenhouse gases have or will in the foreseeable future cause “catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”[1]

THE PHILOSOPHER: The study you’re referencing isn’t actually a study at all.  It has never been proven that those 31,000 people are scientists or that they’re even people.  Anybody can get their name added to the above-cited petition.  All you have to do is print a copy of the petition, sign your name (or anyone’s name, for that matter), claim you’re a scientist, and then mail the petition to a place called the Petition Project, which is based in La Jolla, California.  And that’s it, that’s all you have to do.[2]  The Petition Project—whoever they are—never does anything to confirm that you are who you say you are. 

So if I wanted to increase the number of petition signers, all I’d have to do would be print out the petition, sign my name (for kicks, I might call myself something like I.P. Freeley), state my field of science (let’s go with oceanography), and send it in.  A few years ago, environmental activists “successfully added the names of several fictional characters and celebrities to the list, including John Grisham, Michael J. Fox, Drs. Frank Burns, B. J. Honeycutt, and Benjamin Pierce (from the TV show M*A*S*H), an individual by the name of ‘Dr. Red Wine,’ and Geraldine Halliwell, formerly known as pop singer Ginger Spice of the Spice Girls.”[3]

THE DENIER: Many of our best scientists have come out against global warming.  Given your obvious reliance on the mainstream media, you probably haven’t heard about such dissenting scientists as Richard Lindzen, Sallie Baliunas, and Roger Pielke, but they’re there, and their mere presence debunks the so-called “scientific consensus.”[4]

THE PHILOSOPHER: Two points here.  First of all, these and other dissenting scientists have far more nuanced positions than you imply.  None of the three individuals you cited, for instance, denies that global temperatures have increased over the past several decades, although they claim that the human contribution to global warming is less than the mainstream of scientists has claimed.  Second, it’s simply irrefragable that the majority of scientists, especially earth scientist, believe in anthropogenic global warming.  For instance, a 2008 study conducted by the University of Illinois found that 90% of geoscientists agreed the global temperatures have increased since 1800 and that 82% of them agreed that this increase has been largely anthropogenic.  According to the study, the more research scientists had conducted in climate science, the more likely they were to believe in anthropogenic warming; for instance, while only 47% of petroleum geologists believed in such warming, a full 97% of climatologists did.[5]  A 2010 study conducted at Stanford University found that over 97% of surveyed climate researchers believed in anthropogenic global warming.[6]
Moreover, only one reputable scientific body—the American Association of Petroleum Geologists—has come out against anthropogenic warming.  By contrast, as I’ve listed in the following footnote, a large number of reputable scientific organizations have issued statements affirming their belief in global warming.[7]

THE DENIER: Yeah, well science isn’t done by consensus.  The majority of scientists once believed that the sun revolved around the earth, but that didn’t make it so.


Conspiracy Theories, Climategate

THE DENIER: Besides, most of these “scientists” aren’t really scientists at all, not in the true sense of the term.  They’re propagandists and shills, most of whom undoubtedly stand to profit if they can convince people to surrender more rights to the government in the name of “saving the planet.”  That this whole thing is a hoax, a conspiracy, was proven by the Climategate controversy.  For the first time, the public was able to see what climatologists were saying to one another when they didn’t think that anyone else was listening.  We now have proven that even they know it’s a hoax.[8]

THE PHILOSOPHER: It’s certainly true that many people—for instance, those who’ve invested in certain green technologies—stand to profit if governments tighten environmental regulations.  Of course, it’s also true that many business leaders stand to profit if such regulations are loosened.[9]  That’s why this debate cannot be ultimately decided by consensus.  What matters are the facts, the temperature records, etc.  So let’s talk about the facts.  I’d like to hear why you doubt global warming. 

Before we do that, though, I feel the need to point out that your take on Climategate is off.  If you read these emails in their entirety, you’ll see that they’re really not so game-changing after all.  If you pull a line or two of the emails out of context, you might be able to convince others that these scientists knowingly falsified evidence, but a proper exegesis reveals that such was not the case.  In 2009, the Associated Press conducted an extensive review of the emails, involving five reporters, as well as experts in research ethics, climate science, and science policy.  The AP found that the scientists were “keenly aware of how their work would be viewed and used, and, just like politicians, went to great pains to shape their message” and that they often refused to share their data with global warming skeptics.  Despite this, the AP concluded that the emails “don’t support claims that the science of global warming was faked.”[10]

* * * * * 

UPDATE (1/15/13): Regarding the scientific consensus over global warming, Jim Powell, who formerly served on the National Science Board, recently searched the Web of Science for peer-reviewed scientific articles about global warming between 1991 and 2012. His findings: of the 13,950 articles he found, only 24 rejected global warming ("Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility - In One Pie Chart," Desmablog, November 15, 2012).

* * * * * 


[2]Instructions for Signing Petition,” Petition Project

[3]Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine,” SourceWatch.  See also “Guest post: scrutinising the 31,000 scientists in the OISM Petition Project,” 11 March 2010, Skeptical Science.

[4]List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming,” Wikipedia; “Roger A. Pielke,” Wikipedia.

[5] University of Illinois researchers approached geoscientists listed in the 2007 edition of the American Geological Institute’s Directory of Geoscience Departments (“Surveyed scientists agree global warming is real,” CNN, 19 January 2009; “Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” EOS, Transactions American Geophysical Union, Vol. 90, No. 3, Page 22, 2009.”

[6] The Stanford researchers “compiled a database of 1,372 climate researchers. They then focused on scientists who had published at least 20 papers on climate, as a way to concentrate on those most active in the field. That produced a list of 908 researchers whose work was subjected to close scrutiny” (“Study Affirms Consensus on Climate Change,” NY Times Blogs, 22 January 2010).

[7] Scientific organizations that have affirmed their belief in anthropogenic global warming: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, the Australian Institute of Physics, the European Physical Society, the European Science Foundation, the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, the American Geophysical Union, the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, the Soil Science Society of America, the European Federation of Geologists, the European Geosciences Union, the Geological Society of America, the Geological Society of London, the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the American Meteorological Society, the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, the Royal Meteorological Society, the World Meteorological Organization, the American Quaternary Association, the International Union for Quaternary Research, the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Society for Microbiology, the Australian Coral Reef Society, the Institute of Biology (UK), the Society of American Foresters, the Wildlife Society (international), the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Preventative Medicine, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the Australian Medical Association, the World Federation of Public Health Associations, the World Health Organization, the American Astronomical Society, the American Statistical Association, the Institution of Engineers Australia, the International Association for Great Lakes Research, the Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand, the InterAcademy Council, the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, the International Council of Academics of Engineering and Technological Sciences, the Royal Society of New Zealand, the Royal Society of the United Kingdom, the Polish Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council (US), and the national science academies of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, the Caribbean, China, France, Ghana, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, India, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, New Zealand, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (“Scientific opinion on climate change,” Wikipedia).

[8]The Global Warming Conspiracy,” 4 February 2011, Conspiracy Watch; “Global Warming Conspiracy Theory,” Wikipedia; “Climategate: the final nail in the coffin of ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’?” James Delingpole, The Telegraph, 20 November 2009;

[9] For more on those profiting from global warming denial, see, “The Truth About Denial,” Newsweek, 12 August 2007.  See also “Climate change denial,” Wikipedia.

[10]Climategate: Science Not Faked, But Not Pretty,” Seth Borenstein, Malcolm Ritter, Raphael Satter, Associated Press, 12 December 2009.


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