A ClimateGate Video

Potholer54 just posted a video investigating whether or not the CRU emails actually show faked data/deliberate manipulation/a socialist conspiracy. Enjoy.

If you’re interested in an explanation of all the papers and theories the CRU emails are discussing, RealClimate does a great job.

I hear Peter Sinclair is also working on a CRU video – I’ll embed it here as soon as it’s posted.

Where to Go for Answers

To all of our new readers, thanks to CBC and StumbleUpon, this is for you!

Most of us don’t read scientific journals. We read the newspaper instead. We read our news feeds. We watch CNN.

These sources, as we know, are fairly low on the credibility spectrum. But how are people like you and I supposed to understand the more credible sources? Scientists don’t seem to speak plain English. And you can’t even read most of their studies without a subscription.

Usually this isn’t much of a problem, because the popular press and the scientific journals say basically the same things – that there’s going to be a lunar eclipse on a certain date, that red meat increases your risk of a heart attack, that a new kind of dinosaur was just discovered.

However, when you start reading about climate change, the newspapers start going crazy.

The world is warming. The warming is caused from the world coming out of an ice age. The warming stopped in 1998. Glaciers are melting. The warming is caused by human activity. The warming is caused by sunspots. The warming is inconsequential. The warming is catastrophic and is going to kill us all. New York is going to be underwater. Scientists faked the whole thing.

As someone who keeps up-to-date with the scientific literature – that is, sources from the top few tiers of the credibility spectrum – I can tell you that it is not under the same confusion as the mass media. There are a lot of myths about climate change that go around the newspapers and the Internet, but were never in any sort of legitimate scientific study. I cannot stress this point enough.

For example, have you heard the one about NASA getting the Y2K bug, and later discovering that the warmest year on record wasn’t 1998, but in fact – whoops – 1934? Global warming must be fake!

Actually, that’s not correct at all. NASA discovered that 1934 was the warmest year on record in the United States. And that “United States” part got dropped in translation somewhere in the blogosphere. Contrary to what American media would have you believe, the United States is not the whole world. It makes up less than 2% of the Earth’s surface. And the warmest year on record globally is either 1998 or 2005, depending on how you measure the Arctic temperatures.

There are dozens of stories like that. So many of the explanations you hear for global warming being natural/nonexistent/a global conspiracy are based on misconceptions, miscommunications, discredited data, or flat-out lies. They were never in the scientific literature. They are not endorsed by the sources at the top of our credibility spectrum. They are, shall we say, urban myths.

But how are we, humble non-scientists, scanning through the newspaper on the way to work each morning, supposed to know that? We need some kind of a link between the scientists and the public. Some journalist who actually knows what they’re talking about, and cites all of their claims with credible sources. Some sort of encyclopedia that will dispel all the myths about climate change.

Luckily, there are many of these encyclopedias. There are a lot of people out there trying to fulfill this very purpose.

One of my favourites is Peter Sinclair’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week video series on YouTube. He debunks common claims like “global warming stopped in 1998”, “global warming is caused by the sun”, and “temperature leads CO2 in the ice cores”. Sinclair is a professional journalist, so all of the videos are well explained, easy to understand, and fun to watch.

Another great source is Coby Beck’s How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic series. These articles cover just about every objection out there. Equally comprehensive is Skeptical Science. They’ve even compressed their explanations into “sound bites”, so you can answer your uncle’s objections in just a few sentences over Thanksgiving dinner.

Some of the sources from the top of our credibility spectrum have also chimed in. Environment Canada has created a fantastic FAQ document about climate change. It covers everything you need to know to wade through YouTube comments or online debates, along with citations you can actually trust.

Finally, Scott Mandia, a regular reader here at ClimateSight and a meteorology professor in New York, has just posted a copy of his presentation to the public about climate change. What I like about this document is that it’s very up-to-date. All of the graphs are the most recent of their kind. It also provides some philosophical perspectives to really sink your teeth into, like an analogy about medical advice, and some memorable quotes at the end.

We shouldn’t have to double-check everything the newspaper says about climate change. But the objections to anthropogenic global warming have such an awful track record that we really should, at least before we go and spread them around. These sources will cover just about everything you need to know.

Skepticism and Denial

Skepticism and denial are two words that many climate change activists throw around. What is the difference between them? What is the appropriate usage for each? And which camp do most of so-called “global warming skeptics” fall into?

A skeptic is someone in doubt. The key word here is “doubt”. They are willing to listen to evidence from all sides because they haven’t formed an opinion yet. However, it will take very strong evidence for them to accept a theory or belief.

All scientists are taught to be skeptical – to never make assumptions, jump to conclusions, or accept a theory without asking further questions. Skepticism is scientific nature. It is a way of saying, “I don’t know enough about the topic to make a decision.” Skepticism shows inherent objectivity.

A denialist will adamantly reject something, no matter how much evidence supports it. They will only listen to evidence from the side of the debate they support. Unlike a skeptic, who will accept a theory when strong evidence arises, a denialist will never accept a theory. Denial shows inherent bias.

Applying these definitions

In the context of climate change, I feel that denial, in a way, is opposite to skepticism. All over the Internet there are people claiming that climate change is nonexistent/natural/a global conspiracy. They say that they are “skeptical” of the evidence that humans are causing the Earth to warm. Let’s look at a rather tragic story and see if it sheds some light on whether they are actually skeptical, or if they are, in fact, in denial.

In The Great Global Warming Swindle – as well as countless other sources – a graph is presented which shows the Medeival Warm Period to be slightly warmer than the present day.

ipcc1This graph is from the first IPCC report, dated 1990. The film is adamant that this graph is correct. However, in the years following 1990, the IPCC did more research on the Medeival Warm Period, as almost all of their historical temperature data was from Europe. They looked at data from other parts of the world and discovered that the warming was confined to Europe. The Earth, as a whole, hardly warmed at all. By the third IPCC report, the graph had advanced dramatically, to what is known as “the hockey stick”.

ipcc2

This graph prompted a lot of yelling and screaming, and a lot of claims that the IPCC was forging data. But, in actuality, their data set had just improved. And it was continuing to improve. By its fourth report, the IPCC had not just a hockey stick, but a whole hockey team.

ipcc4

This graph, the most recent, was created by the same source as the first graph, which showed the Medeival Warming Period to be warmer than today. It was 17 years more recent. It had advanced dramatically. However, the Great Global Warming Swindle et al continued to use the graph from 1990 and claim that it was credible. Do they hold valid scientific concerns regarding the stastical methods used to create the more recent graphs? Or are they simply cherry-picking data?

There are other, similar, stories. Many skeptics put incredible faith on the idea that other planets might be warming – a dubious area of research we’re just starting to explore – and then turn around and say that the Earth’s temperature record, which has been going strong for a century, is flawed. They say that the 1970s theory of an impending ice age – which was mentioned by a single, discredited paper – held complete consensus in the scientific community, whereas there is apparently “no agreement” over the idea of human-caused warming.

They call themselves “skeptics”. But how can they really be of skeptical nature when they are clinging to certain pieces of evidence in a way that’s not skeptical at all? How can they claim that they hold logic, rationality, and common sense when they are advocating – without analysis, investigation, or statements of uncertainty – for all evidence which supports their pre-conceived conclusion?

Does this show inherent objectivity – skepticism?

Or does it show inherent bias – denial?