Thursday, July 21, 2011

Minor myths: most deniers accept that global warming is happening

Here at IT we've given extensive coverage to the "lukewarmers" -- people who believe global warming is occurring, but don't think it poses any near-term threat to people. This view is not supported by the evidence and does not even make much sense logically.

Lately, though, some lukewarmers, especially Judith Curry, have tried to recast the climate denier movement as prominently or exclusively lukewarmist -- to assert that most climate deniers think that the world is warming and humans are contributing to it. Why they want to pretend this is so is not certain, but if, as I've argued, the position of lukewarmism is basically an attempt to maintain the conclusions of climate deniers whilst jettisoning their more loony conspiracy-theorist, anti-science baggage, then the fact that most of the people that have time for them are unreconstructed deniers must be an embarrassment to them. The unfortunately reality for people like Judith Curry, who has legitimate scientific chops but is now far outside her area of knowledge or expertise, saying truly absurd and easily falsified things, is that serious people find her laughable, and laughable people take her seriously.

In reaction, we find her greatly overstating how many of those that praise her actually agree with her:

7. I think everyone in the room agrees that the climate has warmed over the last 50 years, for whatever reason: we saw plots of land atmospheric temperature, marine atmospheric temperature, sea surface temperature, and (from Prof Svensmark) ocean heat content, all with a rising trend.

JC comment: there should be 100% agreement on the sign of the temperature change, although there is some room to debate the actual magnitude of the increase.

Dr Curry has made similar assertions in other posts and comments.

It's not just Curry, of course, but many people, for example commenters at "the Blackboard," who spread this myth:

That being said, the satellite data, which is purported to be the most reliable, does show some warming. Most likely, SOME of that warming can be attributed to CO2, and SOME of the warming that can be attributed to CO2 can be attributed to the fraction of CO2 in the atmosphere which is emitted by humans.

Most skeptics do not actually doubt this. The thing that many skeptics doubt is the idea that the portion of the warming which can be attributed to not merely CO2, but the fraction of CO2 in the atmosphere which humans are directly responsible may not be all that significant.

And another example from the Blackboard:

Please note that most skeptics agree that there is probably a little AGW, but probably not much, so you are not arguing about their being some AGW.

Jay Ambrose's famous effort to invoke Godwin's Law to protect climate deniers took it as a central premise:

The implication of using the word to describe doomsday skeptics is that they have some deep, dark evil motive — probably money — to overlook scientific data piled so high that no one of ordinary intelligence possibly could. It doesn’t seem to bother them that most skeptics agree that the Earth has been getting a little warmer even if they harbor doubts about an apocalypse arriving tomorrow afternoon.

That's the party line; "Those people behind us with the torches and pitchforks? They're as reasonable as we are -- maybe more so." Let's look at some data.

According to George Mason University's brilliant "Six Americas" bi-yearly poll, 10% of Americans are "dismissive" of global warming -- these are your hard-core skeptics. They are the only group polled where more people thought "The US should not reduce it emissions" (46%) than that we should (26%). Among the next most-skeptical group, the "doubtful" (15% of those polled) twelve times as many people thought we should reduce emissions (59%) versus not (5%!) "Dismissives" are the only group to oppose developing sources of clean energy (45% versus 44%), something that the "doubtful" strongly favor (88% for versus 12% against) and the public as a whole favors 91% to 9%.

"Dismissives," then, represent their own group with distinctive opinions; they are the one the rest of us refer to as climate deniers. Is it true they mostly concede the world is warming?


Positive responsive for the statement "Global warming isn't happening":

All responders: 11%
Doubtful: 21%
Dismissive: 60%

Sixty percent of the hardcore deniers think global warming is not happening at all (the rest think humans aren't the primary cause), temperatures are not changing, full stop. The people with the pitchforks are not more reasonable than they seem: I'll be posting more of the amazing findings of the "Six Americas" research anon. But the minor myth that the bulk of deniers have shifted to the lukewarmist position and accept the world is warming, human actions are causing warming, and that "uncertainty" or the cost of mitigation are their primary concerns -- not true, according to the people holding the torches.


  1. Great blog post. Maybe if you write this up, and ask Judith to post it as a submission from a guest blogger.

    I'm sure she'll be interested.