Saturday, January 23, 2010

Oh the easy life of being a climate change denier

This week I was reading an article by UK journalist George Monbiot in which he demolishes line by line an opinion piece written Michigan columnist John Tomlinson in which Monbiot judges there are 38 errors (or one misleading statement per 26 words). Now admittedly the Tomlison piece was from a small paper in Flint, Michigan, but Monbiot correctly asserts it is just the worst example of many, many such articles written in just about every newspaper throughout the world.

Monbiot made this statement:

this astonishing wealth of disinformation means it has probably taken me 100 times longer to respond to his article than he took to write it.

This of course is the precise point of why it is so easy to be a climate change denier, and it is why such views have been making inroads into the public opinion. You see it is incredibly easy to deny climate change is real. Here, come with me I’ll show you how:

“The main difficulty for those who advocate Anthropogenic Global Warming is that the world has not warmed since 2001 though the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to increase. That they can’t explain why this is happening is proof that the whole thing is nothing more than a sham.

But look, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Consider the weather forecasters. Can anyone tell you what the temperature will be in 30 days time? Can they tell you whether it will be hotter than it is today? Can they get it right to a degree? How many times do you see the weather bureau prediction for tomorrow’s temperature out by over a degree? It happens all the time, and yet we’re expected to believe scientists can tell us what the temperature will be in fifty years? And this is important because these same scientists would tell you that the temperature has increased by only 0.8C since 1900. So if they can’t get the temperature right to within a degree for one day’s time, how can we believe they’ll be right when we’re talking about 50-100 years?

After all never forget that in 1970 most scientists thought the world was about to enter another ice age.

They were wrong then, and yet now we’re expected to ruin our economy and increase the prices of everyday groceries by 200% on the basis of a guess? A guess that was wrong before, and has been shown to be wrong ever since 1998.

Most scientists and politicians base their arguments on data which has long since been discredited such as the infamous hockey-stick graph, the work done by the University of East Anglia, and we now know that Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth was riddled with errors – despite the Government's continued holding him up as a guru on the issue (fortune teller is a better description!). The fact is it was warmer in 1000AD than it is now. Many scientists are now beginning to realise that the warming may be due to sun spot activity and climate change is merely a normal thing that happens every 1000 years or so.

And tell me this: are you really concerned that today could be 0.8C hotter than it was this time in 1900? Of course not.

It’s time to put and end to the snowjob (have you seen how cold it is in Britain this year?) of climate change. Far better the government spend our taxes on things that will produce jobs, rather than by bringing in a tax that won’t change the temperature one degree (no not even 0.8C) and will only kill our economy”.

Gee that was easy. It took no thought at all. No research. No supporting evidence. All it took was for me to make stuff up.

But to refute every statement I made? Well hell that will require evidence, data, research, graphs etc etc etc . I even want to discredit it all, and I wrote it and know that I just made it up (all except the bit about the earth increasing by 0.8C since 1900). But upon reading such an article, especially if you are reading it in your regular newspaper (remember newspapers contain facts), you can feel reassured that everything is ok, you can stop worrying.

People actually would love to discover that climate change is not real. I certainly would love for it to be false. No one really wants to hear that life as we know it will be drastically altered within 50 years. No one really wants to be told that their grandchildren will probably have to endure hardships because of things done over the past 100 years. 

Most people with regards to climate change are like smokers. They will ignore the “evidence” about cigarettes and cancer, and instead focus on the good news, for example news about some old actor who dies at the age of 80, and they think – see he smoked his whole life and he lived to 80! They ignore thinking about Humphrey Bogart dying at 57, or Yul Bryner only making it to 65, or Nat King Cole at 45. And if they do think of those guys, they rationalise by saying, well they smoked a pack or 2 a day and probably unfiltered cigarettes – that’s not me. They smoke “light” cigarettes, and feel good about it until they read that “light” cigarettes meant nothing, and in fact could lead to worse cancer due to the deeper inhaling done.

You see, smokers look for any evidence that you can smoke and still be ok. The evidence isn’t actually evidence, they are just exceptions to the rule – one guy they know who smoked dies at 80, whew, they can ignore all the science and all the other people who died at 50 and stop worrying. It is all total bull, but the same occurs with climate change. One assertion in the IPCC report about glaciers is wrong, whew we can now ignore everything else in the report and every other journal stop worrying.

People love to be told everything is alright; people want to believe it, and the worse things get, the more they want to believe the opposite. Coupled with this is that (as I have shown above) it is easy to write that there is nothing to worry about with climate change; it is hard to argue that there is – because that requires science.

Those who deny climate change exists thus have a lot easier time putting forward their case than those who would seek to argue the opposite. Take the utterly dumb argument I made about not being able to predict the weather in a month’s time. This is about as stupid a point as one could possibly make, and yet it is made time and time again, even by journalists who are otherwise regarded as having some intelligence. Take the ABC chief political reporter Chris Uhlman. Here he was on Insiders in July 2008:

When the weather department can tell me what the weather is going to be like next Friday with any certainty and Treasury can get within a million dollars of what the surplus is going to be next year, I'll believe an economic model that marries those two things and casts them out over 100 years.

Yep, get that, until the weather department can get next Friday’s weather right, the whole thing is bunkum. By that logic I hope Uhlmann doesn’t have any of his superannuation in shares. You see, I have no idea what the All Ordinaries index will be next Friday, neither with any great degree of certainty would any economist, financial advisor, treasury official, or journalist. But I tell you this, I will bet my superannuation that it will be higher in 20 years than it is now. What do I base this on? The evidence (sorry I can’t put the graph on the page).

trend bullBut logic is not the weapon of the climate change deniers – obfuscation is. Challenge them on the trends and they’ll produce a graph like the one on the left that looks like it means something.

When then it is explained at length that the graph is meaningless because a 9 year trend is far too small to show anything, they change tack and say well if you can’t show that it’s getting cooler, then you also can’t show that it’s getting warmer (and ignore the fact that no one was ever using the graph to try and prove the world is getting warmer).

HADCRUT3 30 year trend (10year running)If you then use a graph that shows 30 year trends in temperature, they will argue that we can’t trust that data because it is the HadCRUT data which in part comes from the East Anglia University and “we all know what they get up to”.  

So you then show them the graph from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies:


They will argue that the GISS always exaggerates, and we can’t trust them – after all Jim Hanson who is in charge of the GISS in 1988 said the world would be destroyed by climate change. (He didn’t, but have fun looking up everything he wrote and said in 1988 as you try to refute it).

And so it goes on and on. Arguing with them is like trying to pick up mercury. Their business isn’t about arguing the science, it’s about changing the goalposts whenever questioned. They’ll cite blogs, because the peer-reviewed journals are all controlled by a cabal of climate change believers. If they do cite a journal article it is usually from some unknown journal of some pissant little university, or they quote out of context something said by a climate change scientist, or they focus on a minor aspect of climate change in the belief that disproving that one minor aspect destroys the whole – kind of like focussing on Shakespeare’s anti-Semitic representation of Jews in an attempt to disprove he is English’s greatest writer. 

hockey-stickThey’ll keep making statements like the “hockey-stick graph  has been completely destroyed by Steve McIntyre”. And to refute the statement you have to show a boring bloody research paper which states:

Based on the analyses presented in the original papers by Mann et al. and this newer supporting evidence, the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium.

And so they go quiet, but then reiterate the statement that the hockey-stick graph is discredited a week later, and keep saying it again and again and again.

Now newspapers are supposed to correct errors, and yet because this is “disputed science” you can keep stating the hockey-stick graph has been discredited, global warming hasn’t occurred since 1998 etc etc without any worries or need for correction. 

And they keep doing it because it is an incredibly popular topic. Possum on Crikey normally gets about 20-30 comments on his blog posts about political polling numbers. The past week or so he has had 4 posts on climate change date. The posts have had 355, 120, 49 and 156 comments each. Now I’m not suggesting Possum did the posts to improve his hit count, but I sure as well know Andrew Bolt has made his blogging career out of putting out the crap he does on climate change day after day after day.

In the past week or so I have had a couple back and forths with some climate change deniers on the Crikey site, but it is all  futile. Nothing will prove to them that it is happening. They see the three graphs above and say you can’t trust them, instead they say we should trust the first graph shown. Ask them what data will prove to them that climate change is real and they won’t tell you. Climate change deniers wait for someone to produce some data and then they focus their energies on discrediting it. And even if they did say they would accept climate change is real if temperatures increased by X degrees over X number of years, when such figures were shown they’d say, “Oh but that comes from East Anglia and you can’t trust them”, or “Oh that’s Jim Hanson’s work, he’s a well known exaggerator”.

In other words you will never be able to persuade them.

The problem is that such denier columnists and politicians will persuade readers. They will keep stating things that have been disproved. Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen, Barnaby Joyce and Stephen Fielding (and others) will justify ignoring the entire IPCC report because of one error about the shrinking of glaciers, but will keep citing Ian Plimer as having disproved the climate change science, despite his book having page after page after page of mistakes, fubs, exaggerations and straight out falsehoods. They’ll keep making statements about scientists for eg thinking we were entering an ice age in the 70s, despite the evidence showing that such a statement is completely false.

N_timeseriesBecause remember the tactic of the deniers it to make statements that must be refuted – in depth. They’ll use graphs about arctic ice coverage but stop using them as soon as it doesn’t fit with the story they’re trying to sell. Real scientists see the data and try to work out why it is showing what it is showing. The East Anglia kerfuffle where Kevin Trenberth wrote: “The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't” was about trying to work out what is going on, not about ignoring what is going on. And what is always ignored by deniers is the response to that statement by Tom Wigley, who wrote:

At the risk of overload, here are some notes of mine on the recent lack of warming. I look at this in two ways. The first is to look at the difference between the observed and expected anthropogenic trend relative to the pdf for unforced variability. The second is to remove ENSO, volcanoes and TSI variations from the observed data. Both methods show that what we are seeing is not unusual. The second method leaves a significant warming over the past decade. These sums complement Kevin's energy work. Kevin says ... "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't". I do not agree with this. 

But ignore that, ignore it all! (And hell, it’s easy to! Have you read that paragraph above? It goes on and on, using big-wonk-science-boffin words).

Just keep ignoring the graphs, shrink the data to 10 years, 8 years, 25 months, whatever it takes to make it look like the world is cooling and just keep repeating it. Keep repeating it. Keep repeating it. And of course, those who agree with the science of climate change are expected to be able to refute every such statement every single time, and are expected to refute them using standards set by deniers that are impossible to meet.

Just remember the Surgeon General’s first report on the dangers of smoking was made in 1964. Think how long it took the public to not only agree with it, but to also be in such a mind that Government's could pass actual laws banning smoking in certain areas? A good 40 years in many states and countries. We don’t have 40 years from the 2004 IPCC report to get everyone on board and for governments to make laws – the planet in 40 years will be the equivalent of Humphrey Bogart at age 56. 

Remember as well, the same tactics used by the tobacco industry to discredit the surgeon general’s report (and others) are used now by climate change deniers (heck Stephen Fielding’s favourite, The Heartland Institute is still using them for tobacco!).

It’s easy they say, don’t worry, it’s all a scam, use your common sense, don’t trust scientists with their big words and fancy graphs (which by the way show the world has cooled since 2001 or 1998, take your pick). And so like the smoker who wants to be convinced they won’t die from smoking, it’s all too easy for people to smile and think “whew”.


Evan said...

Good post Mr Grog. I've been thinking just this for a long time now.

The question of Why still bothers me. Why do these guys, MPM, JamesK, get up every day and spend SO much time pissing people off? What sort of person enjoys that?

Tim said...

THe same thing intrigues me Evan. Who are these people and what motivates them.

Michael said...

Many in the media mistakenly believe balance is necessary for fair and reasonable reporting.

That leads to "he said/she said" journalism where it's difficult for readers to discern the truth.

If the truth is obvious there is no need for balance. If I'm quoted saying the sun rises in the east it's not necessary for the journalist to find someone who disagrees.

Climate change is a fact. There is no need for the media to give equal space or time to deniers.