All Over the Map

The climate change debate is usually categorized into two sides. One side claims that humans are causing the Earth to warm. The other claims that they are not.

But does the second side have an alternate scientific explanation for why humans are not causing climate change? When they are the extreme minority of scientific opinion, the burden of proof is really on them. So let’s look at the scientific theories of some of the more prominent skeptics.

Dr S. Fred Singer

Dr S. Fred Singer

Dr S. Fred Singer is an atmospheric physicist and a professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia. He is widely known for his opposition to the mainstream opinion regarding climate change, and has a history of being funded by oil companies and conservative think-tanks to promote this skepticism. (He was similarly funded for his opposition to the theory of tobacco causing cancer, as well as the theory of CFCs depleting ozone.)
Dr Singer claims that the observed warming is a natural phenomenon that occurs every 1500 years. He uses data from the Greenland ice core to support this theory. The data illustrates repeating D-O events, a well-known phenomenon from the last ice age, in which ocean currents caused the Greenland ice cap to warm while the Antarctic ice cap cooled. There was no change in the energy balance of the Earth, and little, if any, change in average global temperatures. Peter Sinclair created a fantastic video about Dr Singer’s D-O theory which you should all check out here.
With the training and knowledge he has, you’d hope Dr Singer would know to always use data from both poles when addressing issues of paleoclimatology. But, given his track record, there’s a good chance he’s deliberately trying to deceive us.
Dr Richard Lindzen

Dr Richard Lindzen

Dr Richard Lindzen is an atmospheric physicist and professor of meteorology at MIT. He was one of the many lead authors of the third IPCC report. His scientific work seems to follow the mainstream opinion……but he seems like a skeptic in the media. He is just as prominent as Dr Singer – between the two of them they’ve probably written most of the skeptical newspaper editorials out there. Like Dr Singer, Dr Lindzen is known to have been paid by the oil industry to promote his views on climate change.

But what are those views? It’s hard to know. Given his publications and participation in IPCC, it seems like he agrees with the basic physical processes of climate change. In an interview with Canadian climatologist Andrew Weaver, he seemed to acknowledge that humans were changing the climate, but didn’t think the consequences would be too bad. But he also likes to claim that there is little agreement or confidence, regarding anthropogenic climate change, in the scientific community. He told the Boston News that the Greenland ice sheet was thickening, indicating cooling – while it is well known that the thickening is due to an increase in snow from warmer temperatures. He’s also claimed that climatologists made up global warming so they would get more grant money.

Richard Lindzen says so many different things – it’s hard to tell whether or not he has a consistent opinion. Again, in scientific circles, he’s working just fine with the mainstream opinion. But then he goes to the media and spews out all the contrary arguments he can think of. My best guess is that Dr Lindzen is trying to confuse the public on climate change, because he doesn’t want action to be taken. But who knows?

Dr Anthony Watts

Anthony Watts

Anthony Watts is a weather forecaster, but now spends most of his time running the websites Watt’s Up With That? and Surface Stations. He believes that temperature data stations are producing flawed data, showing a false warming trend. He spends a lot of time trying to explain how observed signs of warming, such as melting ice sheets, are irrelevant.
However, we could forget the temperature data altogether, throwing out all the GISS graphs of temperature changes. We could instead look at changes in the timing of physical and biological events, such as when birds migrate, when snow melts, or when flowers bloom. NASA recently conducted such a study, and found that 90% of the 29,500 data sets studied indicated warming temperatures.
These are three of the most prominent skeptics who are actually qualified to understand climate change. If this small community – perhaps no more than a few dozen scientists worldwide – had a consistent scientific theory to explain why humans are not causing climate change, perhaps we’d pay more attention to them.
But they’re all saying different things. Their ideas are all over the map. I don’t think I’ve even seen two skeptics who share the same theory.
They’re working as hard as they can to disprove climate change, but they can’t even agree on an alternate explanation.

34 thoughts on “All Over the Map

  1. Kate, I don’t believe that Watts has a PhD. I did some googling and all I can find is that he’s been a radio and TV weather forecaster for 25 years, and the bio he presents at WUWT says nothing about education whatsoever.

    Given that he’s proven himself to be statistically as well as scientifically illiterate, I think it’s safe to say that if he doesn’t mention having higher degrees, he doesn’t have them.

  2. One point. If they all agreed on the same cause then the claim could easily be debunked in a high profile way with the authors fully discredited.

    Coming up with many different reasons creates confusion and this,it appears, is more effective program in delaying the progression to a decrease in co2 emissions.

    It has been,after all a proven tactic by PR firms in adancing a clients agenda. Namely to slow/delay a change over to a different source of energy that doesn’t emit co2.

    Just look at the tobacco Industry for the playbook

  3. What is your source for Watts having a PhD? Neither his web site (wattsup, at least), nor the Heartland Institute (for their speaker listing) credit him with a doctorate (or, for that matter, any degree).

    Somewhat related in assessment is that meteorologists are not necessarily knowledgeable about climate. One major arm of this is the simple fact that there is a lot more to climate than the atmosphere. Oceans, ice, land, lakes, and, … quite a lot it turns out … all play major roles in climate, but are of relatively little concern for a TV weather forecaster (Watts’ prior career). The other is that weather is short term, while climate is long term. Weather can turn up all sorts of wild things — temperatures higher at 5 AM than 5 PM, an April warmer than May, rampant chaos, etc. Climate, on the other hand, is not nearly so wild. Mid and high-latitude areas are consistently warmer in summer than winter.

    More important than degrees is whether the person has been publishing about the topic at hand in the scientific literature. Google scholar is helpful in this, though it does include quite a lot more than scientific literature. A search there on his name, with ‘physics, astronomy, and planetary science’ selected, for the last 20 years, turned up zero articles. There are holes in google scholar, one of my more important (to me at least) papers in that time frame doesn’t show up. But several others do.

    • Thanks. It was sort of stupid of me to assume that Watts had a PhD. I’ll make that change right away.

      I agree with how meteorology is often unrelated to climatology. In fact, one of the scientific disciplines with the most opposition to anthropogenic climate change in Doran and Zimmerman’s poll was meteorology. Possibly because they deal with short term rather than long term changes…might cause a little bias.

  4. “Given that he’s proven himself to be statistically as well as scientifically illiterate, I think it’s safe to say that if he doesn’t mention having higher degrees, he doesn’t have them.”

    I’m surprised he hasn’t made some thing up like our own Tim Ball who has passed himself off as one on the first climatologists ever in the world or as a climatology professor for 28 years at the University of Winnipeg

    Here’s a link to a letter penned by Ball in /06 to our then PM. I don’t know if it was actually sent but a copy is here

    His letter to the Royal Society has been cleaned up to show his proper credentials now but only because it was shown by Desmogblog to be false

    • Tim Ball is quite something….he appeared in the Great Global Warming Swindle and his caption indicated that he was still a professor at U of W, whereas he had already retired at the time of filming. The U of W had to send their lawyers after him….

      He also pulled out the “temperature lead CO2 concentration during ice ages, therefore global warming is false” crock during the Great Global Warming Swindle. Like Dr Singer, it’s obvious that Dr Ball must know the explanations behind such phenomenons and why they do not disprove AGW. However, he continues to repeat them deliberately to confuse us.

      “Our own Tim Ball” – are you Canadian too?

  5. ” are you Canadian too?”

    Yes I am,from Ontario. About 2 hours north of the big smoke.

    One reason I followed over was the fact you are Canadian and it would be nice to have a blog on AGW from a Canadian perspective with maybe a focus on Canadian issues?

    I’m interested in sharing news/ideas with the people that have been at other sites. Like minded people whith intellect to share insite on our problems up here like some of the insanity coming from Harper (Bush junior),

    I am tired of denial-bots and would like a higher level of conversation for a change

    • A great book which deals with climate change in the perspective of Canadian politics, etc is Keeping Our Cool by Dr Andrew Weaver (UVic – best climatology school in the country). I’d really recommend reading it. Sadly I don’t know of any other Canadian climate change blogs – other than the “go green!” ones on the CBC website. Having 10% of the population of the States really catches up to us sometimes.

      • I agree, not many blogs out there with desmogblog the most prominent

        They also have a problem with the same old trolls spewing the same tired long debunked denier points in the comments section but they also provide many links to their sources and investigate/expose the PR machine behind the stories that confuse the general public.

        Other than desmogblog I haven’t found any other Canadian based sites that put forth the science in a responsible manner.

        At least till now :^) Keep up the good work. There are a lot of people yet in Canada that need to know the facts to at least be able to make an informed decision on what exactly is happening to our planet. There’s obviously too much at stake to let sites like NRSP or Friends of Science proliferate any further.

        A little education can and will go a long way to removing this waste of internet space

      • Oh yes of course, desmogblog. I don’t go on there too often, mostly because all the stories of deception make me angry. But it’s a good site, very well put together. They have some great YouTube videos as well.

        “There’s obviously too much at stake to let sites like NRSP or Friends of Science proliferate any further.” Exactly the prupose of ClimateSight.

  6. A bit off topic… I think I’ve asked this before, but can’t find the post on it, but can you explain again the significance of carbon dioxide pollution? I have heard the argument that CO2 was plant food, and doesnt pose harm to humans. If this were the case, it would be a hard topic to argue. Obviously it is not =) If you could answer that for me or redirect me to the post that answered that question, I’d be much obliged!

    • The problem with carbon dioxide is that it causes the temperature of the Earth to increase (see the post “The Greenhouse Effect” for more detail). This increase throws a whole bunch of things off whack – precipitation patterns, average temperatures, wind and ocean currents, habitats for plants and animals…the list goes on. All life on Earth, including humans, is adapted to the climate in which it lives. The rate of change in the climate we’re experiencing (and expecting more of) will be too fast for many species to adapt. People, as well as the biosphere, can expect significant consequences. For some rather frightening scenarios of potential consequences, check out this report:

      CO2 is consumed by plants to produce carbohydrates for them to consume, as well as oxygen. More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would theoretically stimulate more plant life to soak it up…..but only if nothing else changed. When you add into the equation a higher temperature, the possibility of changes in water supply, and the increased spread of invasive species (like the mountain pine beetle in Canada’s western boreal forest), it becomes much harder for the plants to absorb the extra CO2. Check out this video by Peter Sinclair which addresses the topic in more detail:

      Thanks for visiting, and ask as many questions as you’d like, I’m always happy to try to answer them and/or point you in the right direction.

    • Great answers to Law’s question. A recent paper in Nature (19 Feb 09) showed that growth rates in tropical forests appear to be out of equilibrium, meaning the forests are increasing their growth in response to some disturbance, likely carbon fertiization from increased atmospheric CO2. A review in the same issue also expressed a lot of caveats: e.g., the difficulty in determining that a sampled forest was in equilibrium in the first place before rising CO2.

      Even if there is a sustained net increase in plant growth, there is no guarantee that the carbon will stay sequestered. If the growth is in leaves, the carbon will quickly return to the atmosphere as the leaves decay. If in wood, it can be returned to the atmosphere in forest fires, which may be more frequent in a warmer climate; but if the carbon ends up in the soil, there is a chance for long term carbon storage.

      Another effect may not be uniform growth among plant species, but shifts in which species are dominant based on each species’ ability to exploit higher CO2 levels. I’m hunting down the paper that showed a tendancy for vines to do better in the Amazon at the expense of hardwood trees; the vines offer less long-term carbon storage.

      I started a illustration of these concepts that includes the effect of higher CO2 on plants’ water consumption here:

      Now that I’ve shared it, I’ll some incentive to finish it.


  7. Mr. Lindzen’s claim, that climatologists made up global warming so they could get grant money, is so willfully destructive of public confidence in the disinterested nature of science that I am amazed that any scientist would put such an arguement forward. It is very much like the paranoid thinking of some during the cold war that any policy or action that might construed to be of benifit to the various comunist governments, or that bore any resemblance to their policies, must therefore be motivated by a black and hidden desire for the triumph of the soviets. Linzen doesn’t like the conclusions of his opponents so their motives must be the worst sort. Wow.

  8. CS, I disagree with this statement: “The climate change debate is usually categorized into two sides. One side claims that humans are causing the Earth to warm. The other claims that they are not. ”

    I find the discussions far more nuanced than that simple statement implies. Most of the skeptics admit the planet is warming, most also admit that GHGs impact temperature, they vehemently debate the amount of impact of GHGs, they vehemently debate the value of the catastrophic projections, and will point to natural causes to counteract and over ride GHGs effects.

    Certainly you do not deny that natural causes can have short term effects over riding GHGs? If you do, how do you explain the oscillations in temps in the records?

    • Hi there, thanks for dropping in. I certainly agree that natural causes have strong short-term effects on climate – just look at the El Nino of 1998, the La Nina of 2008, and the various strong volcanic eruptions in the past century. However, no peer-reviewed study has been able to explain the current warming without anthropogenic effects factored into the equation. If you find otherwise, please let me know.

      I have heard a lot of skeptics say that the planet is not warming (eg Anthony Watts). Many others claim that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas (eg Tim Ball). The purpose of this post was, in fact, to disprove the statement that the debate is split into two camps (perhaps I didn’t make that clear?) – it is split into many. One represents the vast majority of the scientific community; the remaining views are almost all different, as I discuss at the very end of the post.

      Thanks for reading, hope you’ll keep coming back.

  9. One more thing: Your post more or lesss presents Lindzen and Singer as being on the same scientific level. That’s not at all the case. Lindzen is a real climate scientist, while Singer had a career doing other stuff entirely and can only pretend to be a serious researcher. Note e.g. that he published an advocacy book based on the D-O business but never submitted anything for peer review. Similarly, Singer has been a full-time shill for the bad guys for 20+ years while for Lindzen it’s been very much a part-time hobby (although that may be changing now that he’s reached retirement age).

    • Hi Steve, thanks for dropping in. I agree that Lindzen, Singer, and Watts are all in totally different scientific levels as they relate to climate change. Lindzen was on the IPCC, Watts studied weather (and appears to think that it is the same thing as climate), and Singer will say whatever you want as long as you pay him.

      I can see straight through Watts’ and Singer’s motives, but Lindzen confuses me….pretty average in scientific circles, doesn’t dispute anything, but then goes to the media and throws out all sorts of nonsense. Did you see, on Michael Tobis’ blog, the letter that he recently signed? Pretty outrageous, and Michael’s comments were spot on.

      Hope you’ll keep coming back. I’ll check out those links too.

  10. I did see Michael’s post, although it’s only the latest such outrage. Actually Lindzen is above average in scientific circles. That track record gets him continued respect despite his ongoing descent into denialism, although to all appearances he resents the field because he hasn’t been granted the degree of respect he thinks he deserves.

    Lindzen came up with a clever and plausible idea in his 40s (“cumulus drying” and later the “iris”; the essential idea is that much of the warming is self-canceling due to changes in cloud behavior) and has been promoting it ever since. That it’s been comprehensively rejected after years of debate in the literature has only caused him to shift his efforts to the public arena.

    One more Canadian climate link: Deep Climate

  11. I’ve been here before, but can’t remember if I commented. Anyway, Steve Bloom has led me back here …

    Lindzen is arguably the most credible “skeptic”, but is definitely outside the mainstream at this point. And he does accept funding from dubious sources:

    In general, SourceWatch is a good way to follow the money (full disclosure: I have contributed there). You can check out some of the Sourcewatch articles on Canadian “skeptics” and their organizations in the sidebar at my site. Friends of Science is particularly hair raising (and that story is not over yet, unfortunately).

    Another Canadian website:
    One Blue Marble

    Great, thought-provoking blog – as Tamino says it gives one hope for the future.

  12. climatesight, isn’t your insight in this post simply a special case of there being only one truth, but an infinite variety of lies?

    That’s why telling the truth is easy, but making up lies and keeping them consistent, hard work. That’s why lie detectors work ;-)

    I’m lazy, so I’ll stick to the truth ;-)

  13. The term meteorologist means one has a DEGREE in the field – essentially it is a degree in fluid/gas physics. A WEATHER FORECASTER does not need a degree. The two terms are often confused.

    Watts is NOT a meteorologist – he is a weather forecaster.

  14. Quick question: Precisely what evidence to you have to support the claim that Fred Singer has “opposition to the theory of tobacco causing cancer”?

    [Singer’s involvement with tobacco companies is well summarized in this documentary (although it might be geo-locked so only Canadians can watch), this video, the book Climate Cover-Up, and (I believe) Naomi Oreskes’ presentations. Hope that helps. -Kate]

  15. Neither help at all with my question, the Youtube video does not address your claim, and nowhere on that “DenialMachine” web page is there any reference to it. If you know where in their documentary he says tobacco does not cause cancer, please provide it in direct quotes.

    Are you able to provide a direct quotation or web link where it is plain to see he had “opposition to the theory of tobacco causing cancer”? If you make such a claim, isn’t it in your best interest to be able to produce readily accessed evidence out of James Hoggan’s “Climate Cover-up” book? Rather than say “I believe” about Naomi Oreskes’ presentation, would it be best to make sure she said words to that effect?

    [More specifically, he said that secondhand smoke doesn’t cause cancer. I suppose that is different, and it’s what all of those sources mention. Yes, I was too general, but tell me that at the outset instead of turning to aggression. -Kate]

  16. In the 80″s CO2 increases and therefore global warming were blamed on the rapid decrease in rain forests do to cutting. How was this disproved and where can I find “credible” proof? When you’ve lived long enough and have seen “experts” and news change the name and reason for the same phenomenon enough times it becomes difficult to accept any arguments at face value. Sometimes, and just sometimes, the fact that something is written or said even a lot does not make it true!

    [Deforestation leads to less CO2 being removed from the atmosphere, so it contributes to global warming, along with emissions from fossil fuels. This is common knowledge. -Kate]

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