Monday, May 28, 2018

Why One Should Never Use the Term "Climate Denier"

Some terms are simultaneously hurtful, destructive, counter-productive and misleading. 

Climate denier is a good example of such an inappropriate phrase, and one that is unfortunately in vogue among some climate activists and media outlets.

Cartoon by David Horsey, LA Times

There are so many reasons that the term climate denier should never be used, but let me provide a few:

(1)   It plays off the term "Holocaust denier".    For most of the second half of the 20th century, the term holocaust denier was given to those who denied the reality of the holocaust--- bottom feeders such as neo-Nazis and those with strong anti-Semitic tendencies.  The Holocaust is an historical fact in which 1/3 of the Jewish people were killed:  an obscenity and a crime against humanity.  It occurred.

But some "environmentalists" have decided to use adopt this term for folks that have a different view of climate change than they have, included those that agree that climate is changing and that mankind is making some contribution to it.    Furthermore, while the Holocaust is history and a known fact, climate change, and particularly anthropogenically forced climate change is another story:  there are still major uncertainties regarding climate change, including the magnitude of the human-forced warming and the local impacts.  Our models are very clear than increasing greenhouse gases will warm the planet, how much and spatially varying impacts have a lot of uncertainty.

In short, using the term "climate denier cheapens the term "denier" in a way that is painful to many in the Jewish community.


(2)  The terms "climate denier" or "climate change denier" is usually used for anyone who does not "believe" that virtually all of the change in Earth's climate over the past half-century was caused by human emission of greenhouse gases.  

You are a climate change denier even if you accept that there has been climate change caused by natural processes, or if you believe that both natural variability and human forcing is behind the changes.    Seems strange to call someone a climate change denier if they accept that there is climate change and mankind is contributing.   

Many climate activists demand that folks agree with them that virtually all climate change is caused by humans--or they use the "D" word. 

This is really silly because climate scientists can not show that humans are entirely to blame for what has happened during the past fifty years.  We know that some modes of natural variability have had major impacts (like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation) and that the warming trend and sea level rise has been going on for over a hundred thirty years ago (since the Little Ice Age ended)--well before human emissions of greenhouse gases had a significant radiative effect (see sea level rise plot below)


So many of my department, one of the leading research centers in atmospheric sciences of the country, should be considered climate change deniers.  Go figure.

(3)  Climate denier clearly is a pejorative, put-down term that does not win converts or friends.   Folks are irritated when they called a denier and a less likely to listen to the findings of climate science.   We need to build bridges to those who are doubtful about the impacts of increasing greenhouse gases, and calling them names can only push them away. 

A number of leading climate communicators understand the dangers of the "D" word.  Two weeks ago, Dr. Katherine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University, one of the current rock stars of the climate communication universe, spend a few days at my department.  She explained why the denier terminology is bad and says she doesn't use it.  Her favorite:  climate dismissal.

To secure real action on human-forced climate change one needs to build a consensus of folks with varied political backgrounds.  Calling names is not the way to do it.
Climate Change deniers are often shown in an unflattering light
Some of the most active name callers (folks who love the "D" word) ironically are some of the least informed and the most dramatic stretchers of the truth.

Bill Nye, for example, loves to call folks deniers, while he makes exaggerated claims about the impacts of anthropogenic greenhouse gas forcing on extreme events (like major cold waves being caused by global warming).  He frequently makes serious technical errors (he is not a climate scientist by the way).  Why does such a poorly informed individual represent science?


Al Gore also likes to sling around the "D" word and is constantly exaggerating the effects of greenhouse gases on extreme weather (yes, he also claims cold waves are caused by increasing CO2).   

Ironically, many of these name slingers don't seem concerned about their carbon intensive life styles, for example, jetting around the nation and the world, and owning big houses (or several houses in the case of Al Gore).  There is another letter for such behavior and is starts with "H" and it rhymes with "theocracy."

The ideas that the "deniers" are stopping progress on climate change is just nonsense.  Some of the most knowledgeable, progressive people I know have the worst carbon footprints.  Climate scientists are probably the worst of the bunch.  Left-leaning politicians who enjoy traveling to unnecessary meetings (like a certain governor) are another.   They know the truth, but they won't sacrifice in their own lives.  See all the big cars being driven around Seattle these days?....those folks are not deniers.  Most are good, card-carrying progressives.

In fact, I have found a strong correlation between heavy use of the phrase climate denier and NOT knowing much about climate.   There are a few exceptions to this (like Professor Michael Mann of Penn. State), but most folks fixated on going after climate denial have very weak backgrounds in climate and atmospheric sciences.


Instead of using fact-based arguments, such fervid "anti-denialists" often use a near-religious use of authority, pushing a baseless "97% agreement" among scientists about global warming.   John Cook of Skeptical Science and Naomi Oreskes of Harvard are the worst offenders.

The media has used the "climate denial" narrative as a crutch.  Instead of spending the time on learning about the highly technical details of climate science, it is far easier to cover (and participate in) the name calling.  In many ways, this reflects the hollowing out of science coverage in U.S. media and the reduction in science journalism.

The solutions to greenhouse gas emissions are not name calling or laying on  guilt trips.  The solutions will be technological, with new energy sources displacing fossil fuels.  And eventually we will learn how to pull CO2 from the atmosphere on an industrial scale..

Putting down other people and calling names, might make some folks feel better, and perhaps represents  "virtue signaling" in some quarters (such as with the staff at the Seattle Stranger tabloid), but it is counterproductive, without scientific basis, and hurtful.

Time to drop the "D" word.




76 comments:

Aaron Brethorst said...

"The solutions to greenhouse gas emissions are not name calling or laying on guilt trips. The solutions will be technological, with new energy sources displacing fossil fuels. And eventually we will learn how to pull CO2 from the atmosphere on an industrial scale.."

How is this not deus ex machina by another name?

jayemarr said...

Thank you for the brave stance. I have a carbon footprint probably half of most of the people who sling insults at me for asking them to tone down the hyperbole around the climate debate.

I also wonder -- why are these same people always so dead-set against nuclear power? It is the only reliable source of energy that produces no CO2. But we're shutting down nuclear power plants due to pressure from environmentalists.

Charles Nathaniel Erwin said...

Cliff,
For a long time I have read your blogs on being accurate about the science of climate change and have agreed in most part. I feel the need to push back on this one in several ways.

I do agree:
For normal everyday people we are friends with and interact with, I agree we should not use labels and not assume bad intentions. I would not use the "D" word because you are right that it immediately puts people on the defensive and stops the conversation.

And I agree
That papers like the Seattle Times and NPR should be held to the highest standards when reporting facts, information and what is speculation.

But...
1) I'm loath to remove a work from the English lexicon because it has some second degree connection to the holocaust. In some ways I make your argument; removing words from use in our language is a high bar to reach and including "denier" cheapens the reasons we don't use and say the others.

2) When talking about industry, politicians and spokespeople, I look at the "D" word to mean their opinion can't be trusted. They are in the same category as Tobacco when they were the last to admit the relationship with cancer and all the other denier industries fueled by money and power to muddy the water, delay action and cost lives. "Denier" means people who do not care about the truth and only care about winning.

3) Why do we live in a country where science takes third place when decisions are made?
Lots of reasons, but none of them are because the science is badly messaged by Bill or Al or Neil. Blaming them for even a fraction of where this country stands in terms of scientific understanding and leadership based on scientific fact is unfathomable. These figureheads, these entertainers see an uneven playing field that science is losing. So yes, they wrap it up and make a show and talk big and are entertaining because without that the media and the public only hear one side of the story. Drives me crazy when people act like one side of an argument should play fair while the other side does what it takes to win. I'd love to play fair, but not winning has become to costly.

4) If you think you should pay more taxes, then just give your money to the government. If you think we shouldn't have guns, then melt yours down. If you believe in Climate Change, then sell your car, quit your high-tech job and live on a farm powered by squirrels. Bill Gates isn't allowed to fight hunger and Warren isn't allowed to lobby for tax equity and Al can't work on Climate Change. Just like a Scientist, bringing a Knife to Gun Fight. I don't expect people to be pure and if one side of the debate only accepts pure leaders we are doomed to lose. I don't know if Al, or Bill or the Gov should lead better lives, but I know our side of the debate will lose if we try and bolster our argument while living under sustainable rules that the other side does not live under.

Cliff, we are losing and we are losing to a side with money and power and position. To win we need the science and we need to match up in money and in power and in position. You make a good point to not to down to your friends and engage in conversation rather than name calling. But then you take a swing at people you hold less than pure who are trying to stop the losing and its you who are ending the conversation and you who won't be helping define a better future.

Jay Freeborne - Tax Resolution Talk said...

Thanks Cliff. Yes - we don't need climate change to be another 'culture war" punching bag - we just need to focus on the solutions and the science. Appreciate you always towing this line. My family owns one car and is getting solar panels - trying to do something - anything! Yes - to Jayemarr above - Nuclear has to be on the table! Apparently NJ is trying to keep it in the mix.

John Franklin said...

Cliff

"Climate change denier" will continue to be used to identify those who deny either the reality or causes of climate change. As you point out, it is absurd for people to ignore the historical facts of the holocaust by being "holocaust deniers", and it is also absurd for people to ignore the historical and current facts of our warming climate and its causes.

While you say that the term "denial" is a sensitive one for some groups you should note that Ross Gelbspan, in his 1997 book, described a "pervasive denial of global warming" in a "persistent campaign of denial and suppression" and, according to Wikipedia was one of the first to emphasize the denial that was then just starting.

Hayhoe's suggestion that "climate dismissal" should be used in place of "climate denier" misses an important point. "Dismissal" is the act of treating something as unworthy of serious consideration. Those in government and industry who are threatened by a switch from a fossil fuel based economy are giving a great deal of serious consideration on how to discredit or suppress climate science

Bruce Kay said...

Jayeman asks:

" why are these same people always so dead-set against nuclear power? "


Although it is a bit hyperbolic to tar every "Warmist" with the same brush, it is true that many "warmists" (to risk accusation of using a pejorative term) are not only opposed to nuclear power but also Natural gas or Hydro electric, all of which are the most obvious readily available technologies that could immediately help to decrease greenhouse gas output. I'm sure they will tell you that they are all just as bad but by any skilled measure of risk, they clearly are not.

This I would suggest is an act of climate denialism. Yes I know, exactly as the right wingers do, they will tell you they deny nothing. The climate is changing and they even say it will come with risks but in order to protect their peculiar ideological mythologies ( Nature preservation, anti corporatism, pro corporatism, preservation of the hierarchical status quo, etc) They will all down play the benefits and up play the risks - neither remotely possible without (to borrow a phrase from Katheryn Hehoe) dismissing the overarching risks that for over two decades the overwhelming consensus of expertise has been broadcasting with flashing neon lights.

I rather suspect that if you walked down the hall at Washington U to consult with the expertise in the Psychology department, they would agree that despite their hysterical hand wringing about the threat of Climate change, The inability to support the most logical and pragmatic technologies available indicates that they also deny the consensus expertise opinion on Climate change risk. They have other motives, often entirely sub consciously, but their behaviours in sorting and managing priorities requires that a certain degree of denialism is required to accomplish that sometimes Hurculean task.

Seems a little complicated? Well if we are to believe as the climatologists constantly say that climate is complex, is it such a leap that human cognition is equally complex?

And in both sciences, no favours are done by ignoring them, along with the language they use, in favour of "common sense".

Steven Lawrence said...

Thank you for the post. We need to learn how to engage those who disagree with us, whatever side we are on in this issue. Name calling and such by both sides will not bring us together and we need both sides to solve this and any issue.

Galen Knapp said...

I have to counter your first point about not using a term because of its tie-in with Holocaust denier. A "denier", to me, is someone who dismisses the truth of a topic without giving it due consideration. This happens in both the spheres of climate science, and unfortunately the Holocaust. However, it seems clear that both sets of people are denying evidence put forth.

Expecting us to solve an issue with future solutions is just the type of thinking that always gets us into trouble. The time for both debate and solutions is now, and shouldn't be the responsibility of future citizens and scientists.

It may seem hypocritical, but you can both want fewer greenhouse gas emmisions AND drive a car that emits gasoline. Of course, you may try to limit your emissions in certain ways, but I also believe that we can all make a yet larger difference by supporting legislation that limits the emissions of greenhouse gases from both personal and larger-scale producers, like coal factories.

Joanna B said...

I notice in the few comments on this post the denier deniers also use dogwhistle terminology & are pro nuke. While I greatly appreciate the work and analysis that goes into the meteorological aspects of this blog, the political stuff is nudging too far into the trumpy spectrum for me.
Side question: How many people will die because climate deniers are allowed to hijack the narrative and make policy based on their willful misunderstanding of how climate change affects us all? As many as died in the Holocaust?

Jason Groves said...

This article fails to argue convincingly against the use of climate denial, because it ignores much of the research in this field. Many who use this term draw explicitly or implicitly upon Freud's definition of denial: “An unpleasant reality is ignored, and a realistic interpretation of potentially threatening events is replaced by a benign but inaccurate one.” I'd say that's pretty spot-on, no?

There is a well-researched opinion article over at Scientific America that explores this connection: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/climate-deniers-youre-climate-deniers-deal-with-it/

Also, to dismiss climate denial because of a superficial reference to Holocaust denial is a textbook example of concern trolling: "the action or practice of disingenuously expressing concern about an issue in order to undermine or derail genuine discussion." I'm sure most Jews, myself and Freud included, would not take offense at the comparison, but thanks for your sudden interest in the Shoah and its aftermath. If anyone is genuinely interested in the ways in which people have productively used the Holocaust as a framework to commemorate other instances of corporate and state-sponsored violence, I could recommend Michael Rothberg's "Multi-directional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in an Age of Decolonization."

Placeholder said...

Why not be honest? Call us heretics and demand we be burned at the stake.

Organic Farmer said...

Boy this denier thing is complex.

Hearing the term climate denier is offensive to some Jewish people? Or is a Jewish person being called a climate denier, the thing that is offensive?

Should non Jewish people put the "d" word in the catogory, as non black people should with the "N" word?

To me that seems like a lot to ask for. Though I have never used the term climate denier myself, because I see it as counterproductive..

I gotta dig deeper with my Jewish friends and family on this one.

Cliff, I will never use the term on your blog. I respect that it is offensive too you. Besides, it is counter productive to the cause of furthering actual climatic science!!!

C.P.O. said...

This is why Cliff is the best. Probably not winning any kudos from either side in this, but staying conservatively true to the science (in the non-political use of the word "conservative"). It is an uphill and probably a losing battle to change a phrase once it has gained traction in the culture however. We are probably stuck with "climate deniers" for better or for worse.

sunsnow12 said...

Where are the other scientists speaking out against it? I know of one - https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/how-one-number-touched-off-big-climate-change-fight-at-uw/ "In all my years of science, I've never seen this sort of gag-order approach to science." That was Cliff Mass, and that was 2007.

Science has always been about truth winning out through facts. It has always been about debate. It has never, ever been about bullying or destroying those that disagree... and when it does it loses all credibility. All of it. Climate Science, Climate Change, Global Warming: zero credibility. None. Call me a denier. I just won the debate, since the debate is over once the ad hominems begin.

No ethical scientist threatens another scientist. No one in science calls another scientist names. And yet it is pervasive in Climate Science, and has been now for decades.

Why is that acceptable? What does it say about the underlying science? When people use intimidation to "convince" you, are they usually right since you were probably wrong anyway?

Cliff, I really do not think people understand how important public positions like this are. You are an absolute hero for standing up like this. Let's get back to science, debating what the facts are telling us. Now that is fun.

Russell Cunningham said...

I will second what Charles said up above.

Cliff, you make excellent and valuable points, and you are correct: Name calling our peers is not helpful. I'll also agree that it is highly irritating when I see "environmentalist" stuck up Bellevue rich people driving their massive SUV's into their massive 4 car garage at their massive mansions... It is indeed HIGHLY hypocritical. I agree...

This being said...

As much as I want to see a clean fight on the part of the scientific community, the fact of the matter is that the extreme right does NOT play clean or fair. They are KICKING OUR ASSES when it comes to the use of fossil fuels, resource extraction, wild land destruction etc..

Speaking of FACTS:

Scientists SUCK at public communication and marketing skills. Seriously....they do!

Who does NOT suck at public Communication or marketing?

FOX NEWS!!

Seriously Cliff, stupidity is winning!!

We cannot expect the American population to adopt an evidence-based thinking system, when people care more about the NFL and getting rid of government than they do about the atmosphere. One 15 minute session watching Fox and Friends highlights just how PROACTIVELY IGNORANT a massive percentage of the USA population really is.

We have a MARKETING war on our hands as much as we have an environmental war.

Your critique of Bill Nye's facts may be correct, but they are not helpful from a population-wide perspective. Nye's work at getting young people and adults excited about science education is critical, and I find it ironic when scientists active in their field basically try to destroy his credibility.

I mean C'mon, the guy goes head to head with the creationist Ken Ham, and highlights how much trouble we're in when young people adopt into that SHIT world view. A scientist essentially saying that Bill Nye has no credibility is really misguided in my opinion.

I spend many hours each month reading the most current climate change research papers, and if you could provide examples of his factual errors, that would be helpful. As far as I can tell, he is basically right on when it comes to facts about climate change and the scale of anthropological forcings.

Cliff, as much as I appreciate your blog and research, your post was quite aggressive towards many who would support your research and findings, and in that way this post does not help to close the cultural division gap. I think that you could do FAR MORE to convey the urgency by which action needs to happen. Spending time criticizing use of the word "Denier" and calling "science entertainers" hypocrites is an interesting use of your time......Particularly when we have Fox and Friends as an adversary.

Bruce Kay said...

Placeholder says:


"Why not be honest? Call us heretics and demand we be burned at the stake."


Because we are talking about denialism, a fairly routine everyday human behaviour, not the extremes of the Spanish Inquisition. But seeing as you brought it up, isn't the term "Cultist" a bit more associative with hysterical superstition and witch hunting?


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yp_l5ntikaU&t=21s




Doc Wellness said...

Cliff,

What is the appropriate term to use for those that have spread misinformation to deceive the American public (e.g. The Heartland Institute, ExxonMobil, Shell, American Petroleum Institute, Willie Soon ...)?

"Climate Change Deceiver"

"Climate Change Betrayer"

"Climate Change Defrauder"

Those that spread misinformation with the intent of delaying climate mitigation and adaption are committing a crime against humanity, i.e. "...a deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign, that causes human suffering or death on a large scale."

Your thoughts?

RLL said...

In the early 90s Al Gore worked at a bi-partisan approach to global warming. Newt Gingrich and other Republicans responded positively. Most of us assumed that there would be a lively disagreement between conservative and progressive solutions to the problem, with compromises AND solutions.

Instead for a number of peculiar reasons any Republican hoping to win a primary MUST deny that global warming is a reality, Romney amongst them. No Republican can safely admit this reality. That is almost a classic definition of denial-ism.

This false equivalence between the left and the right seems to be a favorite point of yours. I am baffled.

kaylamarie said...

Hi Cliff,
Would you mind elaborating on the "baseless 97%" scientific agreement part? I was under the impression that this was true.
Thanks,
K

Bert Wyman said...

Dr. Mass,

You are preaching to the choir.

E.M. said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I'm a white collar professional living and working among other white collar professionals, and many (read: essentially all) of them a) never miss a chance to make some petty snipe at those who remain unconvinced by Al Gore's showboating and b) never miss a chance to take a weekend plane trip somewhere, either. Their hypocrisy is astounding, and I'm glad I'm not the only one who's noticed it.

Stan Axe said...

I'm at a loss to find a better term than "climate change denier" to apply to folks like Senator James Inhofe.

BAMCIS said...

A few things and will try to keep this brief but probably won't succeed:

First off: Nuclear power(fission based). Why would this NOT be a valid discussion? How about why IS it even a discussion at all?

A) It still involves tearing a finite rare ore from the ground and all the nasty processing to make it pure. Plus making nuclear power commercially viable involves intentional waste and inefficiency.

B) The politics of it are convoluted at best. First off, not every nation has Uranium within their borders. For those that have access to Uranium, there is always the nagging question of will it be used to generator power or ultimately used for constructing some kind of WMD? Depends on the nation, and what kind of popularity contests they are currently winning.

C) 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima.....

D) No one really knows what to do with the waste. Deeper hole in the Earth? Shoot it into the sun since rockets never explode, right?

Also, anthroprogenic climate effects are a symptom of all the overindulgent, massively wasteful smorgasbord that is consumerism. Lets not kid ourselves here. 8 billion people on a exponential growth curve all wanting a specious house with a big green lawn in the 'burbs, two new/er cars, lots of fancy furnishings/appointments/comforts/gadgets...latest Iphone every year....so on and so forth. Oh yes, lets not forget LOTS OF CHILDREN. Future customers and taxpayers!

That all comes at a cost. Considering it took how many billions of years for natural processes to deposit all those raw materials here (unless you are a Creationist. If so what are you doing here?)to manufacture all the stuff, feed all the mouths, build all the buildings and infrastructure? That same amount of raw materials that will be expelled like feces through a goose in a few thousand short years at the rate we are chewing threw it is certainly going to leave a mess.

So something has to change. First off there has to be an acknowledgement that a problem does indeed exist. Which of course might be bad for the economy and too many political agendas to count. Many ideas about climate and what to do or not do still revolve around maintaining an economy rife with ponzi scheme politics and consumerism waste. IE, that persistent status quo.

Dumb.

Cliff Mass said...

Kaylmarie:
They subjectively went through papers, deciding themselves whether scientists believed in global warming. I could go into detail, but there methodology is just silly. Scientists are not of one opinion about the topic...there are all shades of gray..cliff

Cliff Mass said...

RLL,
There is no false equivalence. There are plenty of Republicans that understand global warming is a problem...so please don't make this black and white....it isn't. Lots of Republicans in eastern WA want more reservoirs and are worried about the snowpack. ..cliff

Cliff Mass said...

Doc Wellness,
Why the need to call them names? And what name would you like for the climate folks that are exaggerating and fibbing on the other side? Drop the fighting with those folks and work on solutions...you will accomplish a lot more. Even where lefty environmentalists are in control, little is accomplished (like Seattle)....so don't blame the big, bad deniers. The fault dear Brutus is in ourselves....cliff

Bruce Kay said...

RLL makes a succinctly accurate observation on a key point in history which as he points out has set the stage for the ideological purity test for any Republican - the repeated and consistent public denial of climate change risk.


That point in time was marked by Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich sitting side by side, on a couch of all things, in front of Congress and proclaiming on National TV an intention to work together to find solutions to global warming.

Instantly the outraged Republican voter base showed the Republican leadership the political equivalent of a hanging tree and the rest is history. There would not then nor ever will there be any action on Climate Change so long as they ever expected to get another Republican vote. Since that time the rare Republican who ever voices otherwise (John Huntsman for instance) has been ruthlessly kicked out the door never to be seen again.

Such a hostile revolt never once happened on the Democrat side. As already pointed out, "agreeableness" is a personality trait that Liberals do score high on...... while Conservatives do not. That is a generalization. There are many Conservatives who can and would like to work collaboratively but they cannot due to one very important thing:

The Republican party is no longer merely Conservative. It is dominated by Right Wing Authoritarians and has been since the days of Tom Dellay and Newt Gingrich and that most scurrilous rogue of them all, Grover Norquist and his "No more Taxes purity pledge". As we should all recall, his only goal was and still is to "shrink government until it could be drowned in a bathtub".

There is no reasonable equivalency of unreasonableness, Cliff. It is substantively owned by the Republicans. They own it because they earned it.

Rebecca Timson said...

Not all climate activists are "dead-set against nuclear power". Some are engaged in research RE alternatives to water-cooling in nuclear power generation, which is essential if nuclear power is to have any future in a world of limited fresh water resources. Some are devoting their attention to reducing the CO2 impact of nuclear power generation. (Plenty of CO2 is released in the nuclear supply chain, eg in the mining process.) Some are focusing on how to reduce the obscene costs of nuclear power; for example, there's been innovation around the idea of local mini-plants. We're still left with serious concerns about hazardous by-products, high-impact accidents, and parallel play with WMDs. And there are some serious political issues, because some very powerful countries (including our own) really don't want a nuclear solution to go global. You understand why, given the overlap with war technologies.

In Japan and elsewhere, the pressure to stop nuclear power production certainly does not come only from "environmentalists". I can recommend some reading about that, if anybody is interested.

Rebecca Timson said...

I think "hypocrite" (whether spelled out or suggested) is an example of name-calling. If you think name-calling won't further the conversation (and I agree with this), please don't refer to activists as hypocrites because they continue to use products and services that contribute to changes in the atmosphere. Yes, those of us who are fortunate enough to have choices should all choose to reduce our footprints (carbon and otherwise). But this is a systemic problem, bigger than anything any ad hominem attack can address. Let's all practice what we seem eager to preach, and get past name-calling.

John K. said...

BAMCIS - good post, all of it so very true. And where do all the newly arrived "in-the-know" techies from India and China head? Straight for the suburbs in their Lexus (or is it Tesla now?) to the buy the biggest house they can find, all so they can live the high-life, just like an "American". It's hilarious.

Rose Doctor said...

Hi Cliff and thanks for this wonderful column. In my experience the so called "Climate Deniers" are often far more well informed on aspects of climate than the activists. And they are certainly far less lavishly funded. Notable among them are some very high profile scientists, such as Drs. Judith Curry, Will Happer, Gordon Fulks, Tim Ball, Willie Soon, Bob Carter (sadly deceased), Fred Singer, Nicola Scaffetta, Jennifer Morohasy, Nir Shaviv, Craig Idso, Richard Tol, Ian Plimer, Alan Carlin, the list goes on and on. Your voice of moderation echoes loudly.

Doc Wellness said...


Cliff says "Drop the fighting with those folks and work on solutions..."

First, we need honest information. The best source that I know of is "The Fourth Annual Climate Assessment" (2017).

Second, we need climate experts to call out those that are spreading misinformation and to hold them accountable. Union of Concerned Scientists is helpful for this.

As a climate expert, are there other sources that you would recommend.

Cliff Mass said...

Doc.... a key issue is that there is misinformation on both sides. It has gotten tribal. Not good. The IPCC reports are also good sources of information.....and I hope you find my blog is one as well...cliff

kaylamarie said...

Hi Cliff,
Thanks for your reply (on the 97% agreement). I wasn't aware of this. In your estimation, what would you say is the percentage of climate scientists who would agree that climate change is driven by human activity?
Thanks,
K

P.s. is there a book you would recommend on climate change for those of us who are not climate scientists? (aka not super technical but still informative)

Jennifer Largent said...

👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

Placeholder said...

The IPCC (which, by the way, is not a scientific body but a political and promotional one) got their statistics wrong. Not that the AGW Cultists will actually dare to commit any math or science. It's too inconvenient.

http://www.informath.org/AR5stat.pdf

sierraddict said...

I've never commented before, but I couldn't resist this time - this post just is SO not helpful in bringing us to a more sustainable future.

The most absurd part of this post is the part where Dr. Mass mocks Al Gore for flying around the world attempting to change hearts, minds, and policy against climate change. Seriously? Are we so in the weeds that we can't see the bigger picture - that government policy is the only way to avert catastrophic climate change, so emitting carbon in the service of positive policy change is a really, really good thing?

Let's use a thought experiment in which everyone on the "left" of the climate change debate was not "hypocritical" suddenly took extreme personal action to reduce fossil fuel use. Small apartments, condos, and houses in city and town centers would skyrocket in price even more than they already are skyrocketing. Jet fuel and gasoline prices would crater, along with the prices of suburban McMansions. Do you think that there would be any unintended consequences of this? OH yeah. Everyone else would say, "Oh wow, $1.00/gallon gasoline and $200,000 McMansions! Saweet, I'm going to vastly increase my carbon footprint!" Net impact on carbon emissions - not nearly as much as the newly "non-hypocritical" climate change folks would think or like.

When we're in a world where wealthy, powerful, self-interested funders underwrite climate skepticism and have blocked urgent government action for decades, why would you spend so much effort on internecine warfare within the camp of people who believe in anthropogenic climate change of one form or another? It just makes no sense to me.

Bruce Kay said...

Placeholder - Very interesting link you posted.

At least I think it is interesting. Problem is, how exactly would I know if its interesting, or correct, or deceptive or for that matter, relevant?


I can assure you that despite the author's introductory claim that anyone with no statistical experience can and should be able to make any reliable sense of all that gobble de gook, even a person with extensive statistical experience would take considerable time and energy to untangle it into a rational and substantive judgement of his claims.

Which is not me certainly. Next question:

Can you explain how - other than your voluminous supply of horse sense that is - how exactly it would be you?

Evelyn Sherr said...

Dear Cliff
I have enjoyed your website, and have shared a number of your columns on my Facebook page. But, like other commenters, I have to agree that this column has gone too far. This is 'soft' denialism of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), and it gives comfort to outright AGW deniers. There are plenty of those, starting with Trump's claim that climate change is a 'hoax.' We have a full-on local AGW denier, Paul deWitt, in Bend, OR. deWitt is currently associated with the conservative Heartland Institute.

Here are some of deWitt's claims in a guest column published in the Bend Bulletin:

About atm CO2 and global temperature link: 'In fact, all available evidence, including ice core data, shows that CO2 is a trailing factor: It follows rather than precedes atmospheric temperature changes and therefore does not cause them.' (This claim is wrong and easily refuted!)

About AGW: 'There is one problem with this assertion: It simply is not true. It is what the climate change industry wants us to believe so that they can continue to extort billions of dollars from local, state and federal governments that have been cowed into submission by the purveyors of disinformation about climate change.'

About efforts to mitigate AGW: 'Instead of chasing the ephemeral goal of mitigating climate change, climate alarmists could spend their time and government resources more productively on real ecological problems, such as the mountain of plastic floating in the Pacific or the mismanagement of forests resulting in catastrophic fires.

If this is not full-on anthropogenic global warming denial, I don't know what would be.

Evelyn Sherr said...

For those interested in learning more about the scientific basis for anthropogenic global warming, the book and website 'The Discovery of Global Warming' by Spencer Weart is really good,with easily understandable essays on the contribution of disparate branches of science to the current consensus. https://history.aip.org/climate/index.htm

The website Skeptical Science https://skepticalscience.com/
is a good source for understanding and refuting the arguments of AGW deniers.

Cliff Mass said...

Evelyn...you and others are wasting your energy in fighting with "deniers". Ignore them. Also good advice with Trump. Build the new future without them. Find moderates you can work with. This fixation on deniers is completely non-productive use of your time..cliff

Doc Wellness said...


Cliff said: "Find moderates you can work with."

Can you suggest some "moderates" that I can work with.

Ansel said...

My, what a political debate always results when climate change is mentioned! So I'll throw in my 2 cents worth: If I were writing the rules, you'd have to have a science degree to vote or to run for office. But of course I could never get it to pass.

BAMCIS said...

Ok, so lets say the GLOBAL scientific community unanimously reaches a consensus. As in ALL scientists. Even from the countries we don't like or respect. Climate change is near or completely 100% caused by human activity. *confetti, balloons drop and que the marching band* Party favors all around.

Then what? Is there an end game? One in which we all win?

Many people believe The Rapture will come or some other prophecy shall come to pass long before the climate gets too extreme. Or we will be all devoured by zombies. Most of these folks vote and they elect people of like mind from their tribe. How to you get those people on board and the knuckleheads they elect?

Then there are people who are unemployed, homeless,starving, living in conflict zones. How do you get them to give even an inkling of a crap? (Spoiler! You don't)

No need to cite examples. Just turn on your TV or open your browser. Its a massive uphill battle.

Bruce Kay said...

World War 2 was an uphill battle too.

Somehow we all came together to do the right thing with that little global problem. Fundamentally, what is the difference in this situation?

Drew said...

This is a wonderful article that needs more exposure.

Please consider submitting it to the New York Times Op-Ed page.

https://help.nytimes.com/hc/en-us/articles/115014809107-How-to-submit-an-Op-Ed-article

JeffB said...

Science is not a belief system. It is a process of inquiry. Galileo was a denier. And historically science has been pretty successful at denying righteous elites their certainty.

BAMCIS said...

WW2 was not nearly as subtle.

Pearl Harbor galvanized the populace easily. The evidence was irrefutable. Planes with big red dots on them dropping bombs on our battleships. Even the most unscientific of us knew what was going down and the most scientific required no control or review of data. Yup, we are at war. No need to have a debate.

Climate change is much more retrospective and interpretive. Even more so if the change occurs slower than we can adapt to it. If that is the case, than whats the problem?

That is why this whole debate is so difficult. Its not abrupt. It won't be a problem until it is.

Eric Blair said...

Thank you again for raising this issue and putting your thoughts into greater context. When I noticed the environmental lobbies beginning to change their terminology in order to smear anyone disagreeing with their assumptions, I knew that the MSM would quickly follow in lockstep. If people honestly wish to deal with this issue in an honorable and respectful manner, they must refrain from attacking those who happen to have an alternative POV. It's called a Republic where free speech is a vital cog of the culture, and when anyone attempts to drive debate out of the public sphere and ruin the lives of those on the opposite side of their own spectrum, then their country will be lost forever. This is the underlying reason why I use the name I post under.

Chris Mc said...

This problem really can't be solved in short term. So name calling is not necessary. With short term issues, sometimes making oponents angry is helpful. Imo

I think (hope) our life spans are short enough that the generations will slowly correct the wasteful habits we've made. If they don't i imagine the world will be a very ugly place in only a few hundred years..

Bruce Kay said...

BAMCIS - yes to all your points. In other words it is a perceptual difference but in terms of risk, the differences are little.


To put it in perspective imagine that there had been a global scale collaborative effort to avoid WW2. That is, to anticipate its potential and to prevent it.

Actually it is not hard to imagine, there was an attempt to do so. Right after the catastrophic effects of WW1 the League of Nations was created for just that reason but unfortunately, it being poorly supported and implemented it failed, WW2 being the result. After WW2 another effort was made and despite so much opportunity the United Nations was in fact largely successful in mitigating conflicts that had great potential for a WW3.

The European Union was also credited for keeping the peace and prosperity throughout Europe. Sadly some think it is worth getting rid of.

All this history should be considered in regard to the any defeatism of "an uphill battle" as if we have never encountered it before. We know what needs to be done and we even know, through experience, how to do it. The only problem is some of us don't want to do it.

In order to mitigate our current global scale problem ( no. it isn't just a Washington state problem) rather than get in the trenches and adapt we do need to follow the lessons of prior collaborative efforts that may not have been as exciting as Pearl Harbour but that is only because other Pearl Harbours were avoided rather than reacted to.

If all this analogy is at all too abstract, think about war as adapting. Think of the UN as mitigating the problem.

JeffB said...

BAMCIS:
Exactly. Alarm implies a level of action that is inconsistent with the empirical evidence of climate change as of now. Cliff has posted several times noting that different locations may also find climate change to be quite pleasant and no cause for alarm. And there is much debate about whether the future could bring warmer or colder climate. We know from history that colder climates are far more dangerous and difficult. But it is all just guessing as to what the future five decades hence may hold.

I can’t recall a single chaotic geologic event that was accurately predicted fifty years prior. Only a fool would take that bet, which is why there is reasonable dissent.

There is also the matter of new technology. It’s entirely likely that there is some new and novel energy source that entirely changes our reliance on carbon based fuels. If we discover that source before climate changes to an alarming level, again no problem.

It’s also a time scale problem. Most would reasonably plan for events in the timespan of their children, and maybe their grandchildren. But their great, great, grandchildren whom they will never know? I think not. Twenty years ago the vocal climate change activists told us that alarming change would be here by today and that has not come to pass.

Bruce Kay said...

Well that was fun and revealing although I'm not sure your arguments were too persuasive from a purely factual and logical standpoint. For instance the primary argument for the association of Climate change denier with the Holocaust denier is a classic logical fallacy (the Strawman Fallacy).

By that I don't mean to say that people only pretend to leap to that conclusion. It wouldn't surprise me at all but in order to do so, the Strawman fallacy is the intuitive path that it must take and it does suggest a certain sensitivity to feeling that the term is indeed pejorative. In other words, the question remains:

Are we expected to ignore or deny a substantively factual and institutionally traditional descriptive term simply because its appropriate use (in objective terms) hurts someones feelings?

I actually think its a fair question and it is implied in your third proposition:

"(3) Climate denier clearly is a pejorative, put-down term that does not win converts or friends. "


This does have merit. God knows, the successes of something like the UN in negotiating wildly irrational ego's and unspeakable agendas around the world does require a considerable degree of shall we say "accommodation" in order to keep the boat going at least in the right direction. I'm just not sure if a pragmatic accommodation of behaviours literally translates to an outright denial of behaviours. Somehow I rather doubt that the genocide in the Sudan or the shooting out of the sky of flight 17 is being denied while pragmatically being "set aside for now". At the UN, many things are set aside or avoided if it is politically expedient. That does not mean they poof out of existence.

Facts - or to be more precise in order to accommodate the argumentative, the best known knowledge on the matter at this point in time - is not to be denied even if pragmatically "set aside" for entirely political reasons. However, reasonable accommodation might be a reasonable solution to move things forward. To that end Kathryn Leyhoe's suggestion of using the term "Climate Dismissal" could be a reasonable solution.

But if so, the obvious question is: is Dismissal in this context synonymous with Denial?

and if that is the case, what exactly is the point of you offering it as a replacement?

sierraddict said...

JeffB - you're taking an extremely rosy view of the mainstream climate predictions. Through past emissions, we have by most climate models I've seen already locked in enough future warming to be alarming. The question of current action is whether we swiftly move to keep the level of warming to to merely quite damaging in some locations, or whether we keep on keepin' on to the point of widespread catastrophe. Yes, 3-5 degrees C may actually result in a 'nicer' climate for many sets of coastal Northwesterner preferences, but the damage done to billions of poor brown people in the tropics and subtropics is what's really concerning.

Unfortunately, any technological no-carbon energy discovery say in 2040, which is mass-deployed by say 2060, will according to most climate models be too late, under a business-as-usual emissions scenario up to that point, to avert catastrophic climate change late-century due to lagging effects. We need to deploy current technology at mass scale now.

Evelyn Sherr said...

Cliff,

I still think it is useful to push back against AGW deniers, who are often supported by fossil fuel interests. Their main goal is to confuse the public, to create doubt about whether AGW is occurring and whether we can do anything about it. The public should know that the science is indeed settled, and that we can mitigate the worst effects of future warming by acting now.

Re; Moderates on AGW mitigation -

Bob Inglis, the former Republican S.C. Congressman who recognizes the role of humans in global warming and who was defeated by Trey Gowdy, has an organization, RepublicEn,to promote conservative solutions to the challenge of AGW - check out his website: http://www.republicen.org/

There is a Green Tea Coalition, led by Georgia Republican Debbie Dooley, which champions the roll out of clean, sustainable solar and wind energy.

The Citizens Climate Lobby supports the Climate Solutions Causus in Congress - half of the members of the CSC are Republicans, half Democrats. Some of these Republican Representatives are from Florida districts already experiencing the effects of sea level rise.
https://citizensclimatelobby.org/climate-solutions-caucus/

College Republicans are also becoming concerned about the future effects of AGW, which their generation will have to confront. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article203094199.html



Unknown said...

JeffB, you fall into a common and unfortunate trap. As there is no getting around laws of thermodynamics, and as anthropogenic climate change illustrates, it is not the acquisition of energy that is the problem, it is the dissipation of wastes.

Alex said...

The left wouldn't be using the term 'denier' if the Holocaust connection wasn't so pervasive in our culture. So the continuous use of it is despicable. I'm in the Bjorn Lomborg camp. I believe AGW is somewhat real, but there are bigger priorities to deal with since warming is 'locked in' anyways. Like solving overpopulation, water supply, wars, etc...

Eric Blair said...

Evelyn - until the AGW movement admits that the best short - term solution must include to some degree more nuclear energy, then all of the other solutions offered will have little public support to increase their outlay of tax monies. In the end, public persuasion (and not coercion) will carry the day, regardless of which POV you may possess.

sierraddict said...

Eric Blair - nuclear energy sounds like a good idea, but as someone in the electric utility industry, it actually doesn't meet the need at the lowest cost. Even without considering the political costs, nuclear energy is so financially expensive that in essentially every case, decarbonization through wind, solar, energy efficiency, demand response, and gas peaker plants to fill in the gaps is just hands-down cheaper. The Southwest and, to a lesser extent, the South, have solar. The Midwest has onshore wind. The East has offshore wind. The Northwest has a little of everything plus existing hydro. It's cheaper to develop those zero-carbon resources further than to turn to nuclear.

A nuclear plant is also a bad fit for wringing out those last bits of carbon in a theoretical future world by retiring the gas peaker plants. Nuclear plants can't ramp up and down quickly like peaker plants can.

Personally, I am way more concerned about large-scale climate problems than small-scale radiation problems, so I'm open to nuclear in theory. But it just doesn't pencil. If it's not the lowest-cost approach, why would anyone bother trying to tackle the PR & safety problems?

So don't pin nuclear's demise on the Left. The industry has failed to learn how to achieve safety at a reasonable cost. And, the technology just doesn't play well with the cheapest energy sources - variable renewables.

Eric Blair said...

Good points, but if nuclear energy is so wasteful, then why has France had so much success in building small scale breeder reactors to power much of their country over the past few decades? Additionally, if more resources go to Thorium reactors (and the like) and their capability of reusing spent fuel, wouldn't that have positive implications for future energy needs (if the technology pans out)?

phd in earth science said...

The elephant in the room is that scientists must be skeptical, or else they can make big mistakes. Feynman said it best: "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool."

Bruce Kay said...

PHD in science - The elephant in the room is neither scientists being skeptical nor that they will still make mistakes.


The elephant in the room is the assumption - bordering on a sacred mythology, one consistently demolished by any actual application of the scientific method in the sciences of psychology - that to practice skepticism is as reliable a route to good judgement as the assumption (another sacred mythology again, etc) that "common sense" will do the same.

Scientists, like any well practiced and proven practitioner of near any institutional professional career domain, actually possess the skills that are paramount in the reliability of any application of skepticism.

This is the reason - a scientific fact, in fact - why only a tiny proportion of any form of any Denier, ranging from climate change to the Holocaust to Auto mechanics, can legitimately be called a "skeptic".

The mere act of skepticism is, as Feynman accurately suggests, nothing more than self deception without the long road of acquiring the skill required.

Which to repeat, the vast majority of deniers lack, no more no less than the vast majority of "believers". Whatever mistakes occur in science with or without skepticism, the mistakes made by the rest of us are far more prevalent no matter how copious the use of common sense or skepticism.



Doc Wellness said...


I like Bob Inglis' RepublicEn organization.

"The solution? Eliminate all subsidies for all fuels. Make all fuels fully accountable for all of the costs they bring upon society. Figure a way to make it in our trading partners' interests to join us on a level playing field where all products bear all of their climate costs. No more socializing soot. No more passing on climate costs to future generations.” -Bob Inglis

They also call out organizations that deceiving the American public, such as the Heartland Institute.

"For intentional obfuscation of peer-reviewed science for political gain, The Heartland Institute is this week's climate jester."

We need both: advocates for solutions and public shaming of the deceivers.

Placeholder said...

The "progressive" cultists here who bleat about "facts" and "denialism" and whatever latest empty buzzwords about electricity generation are unscientific know-nothings whose actual motives spring from self-righteousness and a desire to raise taxes, lubricated with huge amounts of hypocrisy.

Bruce Kay, I see that your Canuckistanian government (psst ... your boy minister is a figurehead ... pass it on) understands that the economy there is critically dependent on mining. If you're going to deliver lectures, might I suggest delivering them at home? People will listen politely, and then ignore you.

In the U.S., we listen impolitely, and then ignore you. You despise our rudeness, but it does carry the advantage of honesty.

Placeholder said...

@kaylemarie, if you are still checking in, here's your answer about the long-debunked 97% claim.

http://fabiusmaximus.com/2015/07/29/new-study-undercuts-ipcc-keynote-finding-87796/

phd in earth science said...

This sort of censorship of opponents is consistent with people who won't allow open speech on college campuses. Good for you Cliff for calling it out.

Naomi Aldort said...

The way to have a unified view that everyone can agree on and care about is to talk about air and water quality, avoiding even the word "climate." We all agree that the current energy use and production cause pollution to water and air (facts in the present), harming all humans and all life. Lets unite and act on the obvious.

Obviously the opinions about climate vary because, as you said, it is not a fact of the past. But the opinions about air and water pollution is unified and factual. Lets act to clean our air and water.

Naomi Aldort
Author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves

jeff said...

Thank you Cliff. Great article.
Tribalism has jumped the shark!

Placeholder said...

@Naomi Aldert, since when are you are the arbiter of what we "all agree" about? Your stereotypical "progressive" arrogance is thick enough to cut with a chainsaw. Honest to God, what is it with you people? Stop putting words in other peoples' mouths, and concentrate on listening for once. I realize that this is pretty much impossble for "progressives," because: You can always tell a "progressive," but you cannot tell a "progressive" a single damn thing.

Russell Cunningham said...

@Placeholder,

What is it with YOU PEOPLE? It doesn't matter if you disagree with Naomi Aldort's comments that "everyone" cares about clean air and water. The fact of the matter is that if you DON'T care about those things, you are:

1) Absolutely retarded.

2) Proactively ignorant

3) Combination of 1 and 2.

Well done posting a link to a known "Climate Denial" .com website that has absolutely ZERO scientific validity. Concentrate on listening for once? Listening to or reading clear and blatant lies about the science of the environment is proving to be an utter waste of everyone's time.

Speaking of science, try this experiment:

Park your car in a closed garage, and run a hose from the exhaust pipe up into the cab. Climb in and close the doors and keep the windows tightly closed. Start the ignition. Now breathe deeply for one hour.

After this experiment, come back and have a discussion about whether or not carbon emissions are good, bad, neutral, or other. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts.

Placeholder said...

@Russell Cunningham, you are a prototypical arrogant Seattle "progressive." And when push comes to shove, you urge anyone who doesn't give your cult the ol' stiff-armed salute to commit suicide.

You want to hear my thoughts? What, after I've killed myself at your suggestion? You people are way around the bend. And then you wonder why your political party is at its loweest strength nationwide in nearly 100 years. You wonder why Americans do nothing more than pay lip service to your cult religion.

If you want to know who has killed rational discourse in this country, find the nearest mirror and have a good, long, honest talk with the ugly fool you see there. But don't sit there and lie about being curious to hear my thoughts when you've just told me that you'd rather see me dead.

For God's sakes, what in hell is wrong with you people?

Organic Farmer said...

Sorry, that's horrible.

You are exibiting scientific ignorance yourself!?!

Combustion in a low oxogen environment (such as your closed garage produces CO, quite not common, and not so good for life.

Now CO2 is from combustion in an oxogen rich environment. Sure in high enough concentrations it can kill.. But keep in mind life on this planet does not exist without it!

We breath in oxogen and exhale CO2. Plants take in CO2 and give off oxogen.

A CO2 rich environment is a boon for plants, like all the plants that thrived to make that coal and oil we pump up and release again today..

Simple sicence. I wished hyistarical rhetoric would end.

It seems arguing about climate change may be the greatest danger to humankind yet!!

Go plant a tree or something.

Placeholder said...

On further reflection, Russell Cunningham's ugly posting gave me a valuable insight into the nature of "progressives."

1. Yes, if you disagree with them you are a heretic

2. Yes, they want you dead.

3. No burning at the stake. The screams would interrupt the yoga classes, so it would be much better if you'd just go into the garage and kill yourself. Do it that way and it's a) quiet, and b) it's your own fault.

Death, yes, but a kind 'n gentle death. It's the Seattle "progressive" way. So polite.

Organic Farmer said...

For the record placeholder.. me I am a fiscally conservative Socialist!!, like the kind you find in northern Europe.

I have no skin in the Republican vrs Democrat game of distractions.

Total BS, neither have the blue collar working man in their interest. Or for that matter, realistic ways to right the environment, without sticking it to the bottom 50% of the working class.

Unimpressed Matt said...

I'd like to push back against your points in #2.

Are you truly trying to say that current climate change is not predominantly caused by humans? It seems as such. You mention PDO, but that oscillates on a roughly decadal scale (as you know, I'm sure). How does that explain rises in average global temperature beyond the last few decades? It cannot.

And you mention that earth has been warming since the Little ice age. True. But when we look at orbital patterns of earth, based on the Milankovitch Theory we should expect to be going in to a slightly colder period, no? So that point is effectively debunked.

I am truly surprised that a knowledgeable and accredited meteorologist like yourself is actually pulling the "we can't prove it is humans" card. I find this post to be, well, useless. It's time to stop mucking about the infield and debating useless topics like whether or not we should call people who don't believe in climate change "deniers", and time to start making actual, systemic change.

Placeholder said...

@Organic Farmer, I had someone in this thread tell me to kill myself because I don't worship in his church. At the moment, I'm not real interested in the niceties of how anyone's political self-description. Seattle's "progressives" are getting a liitle scary.