Climate Denialist Claims - And What the Science Says

"Controversy equalizes fools and wise men -
and the fools know it." - Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

"We got here according to the laws of physics and we are subject to those laws and must live within them, We can't be guilty of magical thinking in predicting our future." - National Academy of Science member and UCSC Astronomer Sandra Faber

The community of climate scientists many years ago started an excellent website - - which organizes links to the peer-reviewed professional journal papers on climate, and distilling the essence for the intelligent layman. It also provides a forum for anyone to ask questions or post objections, with climate scientists' answers. It was felt necessary to create as an antidote to the loud misinformation spread by the denialist blogosphere, junk science promoters, and their political and corporate supporters. It includes a well organized wiki debunking the AGW denialist claims. Here is another good listing of the many sources debunking the claims of those denying human responsibility for global warming. I'm doing my own website here, specifically for the Cabrillo College student, but I'd recommend also that you spend time browsing the site to get better informed. SkepticalScience is an even better place for locating published papers debunking the AGW denialist claims although aimed at perhaps a slightly more scientifically literate audience. Here is another good list of climate denialist claims debunked, online at New Scientist (circa 2007).. AGW Observer links the abstracts of essentially all climate-related journal papers. The late Stanford climate scientist Stephen Schneider has an excellent video on the denialism issue. Here is UC San Diego's Professor Naomi Oreskes video lecture on her book "Merchants of Doubt" - the fossil fuel and right wing strategies to attack the science on tobacco/cancer, and on human-caused climate change. And here is a list of AGW denialist papers and their debunking. Note how very few slip through the process of review and make it into a genuine scientific journal. Among the few papers that did survive review, more than one has led to scandal and resignations due to failure of the journal's review process, as we'll show later here. Denialists and conspiracy theorists have some similar psychological traits - this examination of the supposed moon landing hoax is entertaining and has some nuggets worth remembering. And as sea level rise accelerates, note the insanity of deep denial that is the State of Florida, for future reference. Even more disturbing, this professor of history at Yale demonstrates parallels between Hitler's denial of science as a key ingredient to justify the Holocaust and his invasions of so many countries, and the present denial of climate science by the Republicans and the growing genocides against the world's poor being caused by crop related genocide, here.

Here are some accessible (and entertaining) ~10 min YouTube videos - Climate Denial Crock of the Week - which show denialist tactics and myths and how they wither when confronted by the real science. While these videos often have fun at AGW denialists expense, take careful note they explicitly demonstrate a good reading of the scientific literature as well. They also contain valuable visualizations and most are well worth watching.

The "Urban Heat Island" myth
The "Temperature Leads CO2" myth (includes good visuals on Milankovitch cycles relation to Ice Ages), and 2012 update
The "Global Warming Stopped in 1998" myth and 2013 update and excellent 2013 video (2min) from SkepticalScience showing no change in heating rate
The "Medieval Warming" Myth (and validity of the "Hockey Stick" temperature graph of Michael Mann), also here
The "Solar Cycles Cause Global Warming" myth
The stolen emails ("Climategate"), what the emails actually say, and AGW Denialist tactics. and Part 2, and the Wrap.
Here's an updated version of "Climategate", which includes a chronicle of how retired Berkeley professor Richard Muller (earlier guilty of disgraceful slander against climate scientists) began a large independent study to look at global warming claims, and found (to his surprise, it seems), that the previous science was done carefully and is indeed sound.
The "Greenland and the Arctic are Gaining Ice" myth
"The Great Global Warming Swindle" Swindle (on the notorious junk science film released after Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth"), this new video combines many graphs debunking the cosmic ray and sun myths as well.
"Flogging the Scientists"; pretty sobering.
The American Denial of Climate Change (N. Oreskes, and the Republican directive re-labeling Global Warming as "Climate Change")
What We Know About Climate Science.
A good point-by-point debunking of the claims of Marshall Institute chairman William Happer's criticisms of AGW in 2011 .

Denial of human-caused global warming is highest in the United States, among the major countries - also the country with the largest economy and largest impact on fossil fuel corporate interests. The 3 worst climate-denying countries here have something in common - dominance of Rupert Murdoch controlled media (e.g. Fox News)

It's important to note that the basic "fingerprints" of anthropogenic greenhouse warming were understood and being observed as long ago as 1982, as this video shows. While modeling and more detailed work has certainly added much in those 30 years, the understanding that it is humans who are causing global warming, is not new - it is a testament to the effectiveness of the massive disinformation campaign of the fossil fuel industry and right wing political types that any can still believe, here in the 21st century, that there is a "controversy" here. The U.S. is unusual in having such a science-ignorant public so willing to buy into this disinformation (Global Trends 2014)

Climate denialists have put up these these and other claims to convince politicians and the general public that either the science of human-caused global warming is deeply flawed, or that climate scientists demonstrating humans are responsible for global warming are part of a global conspiracy of lies and they cannot be trusted. The denialists' goal - to stop policy changes that threaten the profit streams of the fossil fuel corporations. Let's see what the actual evidence says... I've selected these claims below in part because they have turned out to be the most important to consider for Cabrillo College students.

Claim: There is no consensus among climate scientists that global warming is caused by human activities (Richard Lindzen is notorious for making this claim).
Why this claim is wrong.

Claim: "32,000 of the World's Leading Scientists" have signed a petition rejecting the idea of anthropogenic global warming.
Why this claim is wrong.

Claim: Water Vapor is vastly more important than CO2 in the greenhouse effect. CO2 is a tiny component of the atmosphere and contributes only a tiny amount of greenhouse warming. And besides, the absorption lines of CO2 are saturated and so adding more CO2 to the atmosphere won't add more greenhouse warming.
Why this claim is wrong.

Claim: Scientific consensus is a sign of dogmatism, "group-think", "unwillingness to consider other views", and is analogous to "religious zealotry. It is anti-scientific".
Why this claim is wrong.
It is worse than wrong - it is vicious slander against good people

Claim: Fewer cosmic rays reach the lower atmosphere during solar maximum, producing fewer low clouds because they act as nucleation sites for cloud droplets, and fewer low clouds lead to higher average ground temperatures (Svensmark 2007). This is an amplifier for solar-caused warming of the Earth.
Why this Claim is Wrong.

Claim: It's the sun that is causing global warming.
Why this claim is wrong.

Claim: The costs of halting CO2 rise would be crippling to world economic progress, and we should not commit to drastic action until we can prove with certainty that man and fossil fuel burning is causing global warming.
Why this claim is wrong.

Claim: CO2 is Good for Plants, and more CO2 is Good for the Earth.
Why this Claim is Wrong.

Claim: Global warming has stopped since 1998 (or 1999, or 1995; I've seen them all).
Why this claim is wrong.

Claim: Cloud feedbacks from enhanced warming are negative (i.e. cause a net cooling), so that climate is essentially stable.
Why this claim is wrong.

Claim: Climate models are untrustworthy, they kluge parameters to fit the data.
Why this claim is wrong.

Claim: Climate scientist Michael Mann (of Penn State University) is guilty of misusing confidential data, engaged in a conspiracy to withhold information, and manipulated or destroyed data to strengthen his case that human activity was changing the global climate.
Why this claim is wrong.

Claim: It can take centuries or thousands of years for temperatures to fully rebound out of an Ice Age. Global warming may be nothing more than a rebound from the last ice age, or the Little Ice Age.
Why this claim is wrong:

Claim: Why should we believe climate scientists now? In the '70's they were predicting we were headed for an Ice Age!
Why this claim is wrong:

Claim: Greenland is actually GAINING ice, not losing it, as global warming alarmists would have you believe. ``The evidence so far suggests that the Greenland ice sheet is actually growing on average" - Richard Lindzen, quoted here.
Why this claim is wrong.

Claim: Antarctica is GAINING ice, so even if there's ice loss in the Arctic, it's just a natural variation as ice gains and losses come and go around the poles.
Why this Claim is Wrong.

Claim: The domestication of rice and clearing of forests beginning near the dawn of civilization likely saved us from an Ice Age.
What the Science Says.

Claim: There can't be Global Warming. We had record low temperatures here in 2009
Why this Claim is Wrong.

Claim: "How can you trust climate models, they don't even include clouds!"
Why this Claim is Wrong.

Claim: "Aerosols Are Not Even Considered in Climate Models!"
Why this Claim is Wrong.

Claim: "CO2 Follows Temperature, Not the Other Way Around"
Why this Claim is Deliberately Misleading.

Claim: Late 20th Century cycles in land temperatures, CO2, and sea surface temperatures (SST's) show that CO2 still lags, and therefore cannot be the cause of modern global warming.
Why This Claim is Wrong.

Claim: Cities have grown during the 20th century and their asphalt, concrete and buildings absorb much more heat than vegetated countryside. This biases temperature measurements - this "Urban Heat Island Effect" accounts for much or all of global warming, not CO2.
Why This Claim is Wrong.

Claim: Sea Levels dropped significantly in 2010 and 2011, showing climate scientists' claims of higher CO2 means rising sea levels is seriously flawed.
Why This Claim is Wrong.

Claim: "Climate models get energy balance wrong, make too hot forecasts of global warming."
Why This Claim is Wrong.

Claim: Climate scientists who claim global warming will be a disaster are just alarmists trying to scare you, trying to insure more grant funding for their projects.
Why This Claim is Wrong.

Claim: Long term oscillations in the ocean/atmosphere - the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO), account for ~half of Global Warming; so the climate sensitivity of CO2 must be lower than thought.
Why this claim is wrong.

Claim: "Strong to violent tornadoes have actually been decreasing for the past 58 years, and it is possible that the explanation lies with global warming"
Why this claim is wrong.

More Claims: There are other climate denialist claims - debunked. A good and very condensed summary statement of each myth and with links for expanded discussion can be found here. Also note that has an excellent collection of fairly detailed debunkings of the climate denial myths,

On Richard Lindzen
Richard Lindzen is the highest profile and considered the most prestigious (retired Sloan fellow at MIT) of the AGW denialists. So it's disturbing that he uses his emeritus MIT position (earned by reputable work that was not AGW-denialist oriented way back when he was a young man (in 2012 he was 70 years old)) while making misrepresentations in the Wall Street Journal and other non-science journal outlets about climate science and the scientific evidence for global warming, without references, without support. Here is an account of his testimony in front of the UK's House of Lords and the outright falsehoods about the scientific consensus. A quote from this article: "when a panelist specifically asks ‘how far your view of the role of water vapour is shared by other scientists?’ (Q144), one cannot honestly answer ‘That is shared universally’ when no other scientist in the field has made a case for a negative water vapour feedback. This is probably the most egregious mis-statement in the whole testimony and is deeply misleading."

Here are links to his conflicts of interest in taking money from Big Oil, and to his own grad students' testifying that Lindzen feels a strong emotional need to prove his status at the expense of others, bringing into further question his ability to be objective and truth-oriented above all else: “If you want to prove yourself a brilliant scientist, you don’t always agree with the consensus,” said Daniel Kirk-Davidoff, a former student of Lindzen’s at MIT. “You show you’re right and everyone else is wrong. He certainly enjoys showing he’s right and everyone else is wrong,” Kirk-Davidoff continued. “If you have a ten minute conversation with him, you can tell that.”.

Collection of links on Lindzen's strikingly poor record on climate change ideas, his past funding by oil money

Climate scientists respond to Lindzen's Newsweek interview (2006)

Here's another good video on the junk science objections to AGW, the final few minutes of which does a good summary of the poor science in Lindzen's continually discredited "Iris" hypothesis. Here is a video of a debate between climatologist Andrew Dessler and Lindzen on climate sensitivity, and I hope you'll note the clear quantitative reasoning of Dessler vs. the breezy largely non-specific and unsubstantiated dismissal of concerns about future climate change from Lindzen. From my experience with his writing and speaking, this is his style. Lindzen's continued output of opinions clearly at variance with the evidence is impressive. A long and growing list of Lindzen quotes and comparisons with reality, is here. No responsible person sincerely desiring to know the truth can afford to simply take his unsupported pronouncements and poor science on faith, just because he's a former MIT professor. That is the classic logical fallacy of the argument from authority. Instead, one gives credibility to a scientist's claims because he's supported his case well, in solid peer-reviewed scientific journals which have stood the test of critical examination.

Update 2012: Despite having been called on his wrong statements repeatedly, he continues to make them. The latest is described here, and here. Lindzen has another (Aug 22, 2012) op/ed piece in the Wall Street Journal which continues to spread his opinions which are at odds with the evidence, as critically examined here. Finally, in 2013, Lindzen, now in his 70's, retired.

Politics and Psychology, and a Prediction
The seemingly endless Sisyphian task of talking sense into climate denialists has many pondering why they cannot be reasoned with. Isn't there a point where the desire to deny human responsibility for climate change is overwhelmed by another very human motivation - the desire not to look like a complete idiot, or worse? I don't believe simple greed is the whole story (although it may be that simple for the largest funders of denialism and their paid politicians). There are many motivations that may help explain this. But some new thoughts include these - this interesting article on the correlation between low IQ and political conservatism, and this one from author Chris Mooney and his book "The Republican Brain: The Science Behind Why They Deny Science - and Reality" (and video talks by Mooney summarizing the key discoveries here (start at 3:45) describing the interesting finding that high education levels correlate with higher conviction on the reality of human-caused global warming among Democrats, but this correlation does NOT exist for Republicans. In a 2012 poll, Republicans are found to be far more likely to believe in Demonic possession (68%) than in climate change (42%) . A new study to be published in the journal Psychological Science finds a strong correlation - people in denial of human-caused global warming also tend towards a belief in a wide variety of conspiracy "theories", and also with a free-market orientation. Denialist blog sites responded to this study with (unsurprisingly) - it's a conspiracy! (see journal study here, and also LiveScience). Is this meant to describe every individual conservative? No. But in a political system where it is not intelligence, but sheer vote count is all that matters, these correlations are vitally important.

Update 2011: As the frequency of climate-related disasters increase, surely the desire to not be on record as a complete idiot will gain traction, right? So how will the rhetoric evolve? As I've been telling my students in '10 and '11, my prediction is that we'll hear more of something like this - Well that's a darn shame. It's a shame the science wasn't settled sooner. Nothing we can do now except adapt to the new climate. Americans are a resilient people, and capable of tackling tough challenges, and we have every confidence in their ability to find a way to adapt to this new world we're heading into. And by the way, we'll need plenty of energy to accomplish the mission, and we - the fossil fuel industry - we'll be here for you, and for all of us! You won't hear apologies, you won't hear admissions of gross lying, admissions of slander against climate scientists, confessions of policy foot-dragging, nor will you hear any willingness by the fossil fuel industry to pay the full costs for what will happen to future generations. If they continue to hold sway, it'll be not the fossil fuel corporations, but the all of us, and even more - our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren who will pay dearly.

2012 Updates:
Today (July 12, '12), I received a news item - pollsters are now telling Republicans that they must quietly back-peddle or face their own wrathful voters: This source says "Note: a well informed source tells me that republican pollsters are quietly warning their clients, congress people and senators – that unless they walk back their stands on two key issues: climate change and gay marriage, '...nobody under 30 is going to vote for them in 2016.' " If heeded, it's a hopeful comment (but if heeded, would it just be word play, until they win the elections?). Now look at the policy statements on climate from Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

A recent climate denial (presented without evidence, as is typical), appeared in the Wall Street Journal in late January 2012, and simply repeats the claims already shown to be false here and elsewhere. They distort and misrepresent the position of Yale economist William D. Norhaus, who has written a good refutation here. More on this, and excellent links to the catastrophic externalized costs of carbon which the fossil fuel industry is working so hard to convince you it should not pay, is here.

2013 Updates:
Feb 3, 2013: "...Ultimately we have a moral responsibility to the most innocent victims of adverse climate change. Those who will suffer the most are the people who are the most innocent: the world’s poorest citizens and those yet to be born. There is an ancient Native American saying: “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” A few short decades later, we don’t want our children to ask, 'What were our parents thinking? Didn’t they care about us?'"
- Nobel laureate Dr. Steven Chu in his letter to his employees after announcing his resignation from his cabinet position as U.S. Secretary of the Department of Energy.

May 2: A new poll finds that 29% of Americans and 44% of Republicans think that armed rebellion may be necessary in the U.S. in the coming years. Is this how Republicans and other climate denialists plan to respond - with armed rebellion - if tax-and-dividend or other major policy changes are instituted in order to reduce the odds for the most dire of climate forecasts? These people are very accustomed to ruling politics, Wall Street, and business, and we may be surprised at how far they'll go if their power is every seriously threatened. So far, that power is not threatened.

2015 Updates:
Jan 31. There does seem to be some strategic walk-back on climate denial from the Republicans. No actual truth-telling, but a walk back, accompanied by the new meme: "I'm not a scientist, but...", even though Republican strategists acknowledge how laughably ridiculous and intelligence-insulting this line is. They follow it with luke-warm climate waffling and advocacy of policy inaction.

Feb 7. A new legal verdict, granting damage awards to climate scientist Andrew Weaver from right-wing media slander, of $50,000, will hopefully get noticed and send a chill through the well-funded lies-and-slander-against-science machine. Unfortunately, Americans continue to rank climate change at the bottom of their priorities. Our local congressman here confirms this in private conversation - "No one DC cares about climate change". And in the above New York Times article... “It is very difficult to find an issue that voters place lower on the list than climate change,” Mr. Ayres said. “It vies with gay marriage and campaign finance reform as the least important issue. Most voters care about jobs, economic growth, health care and immigration.”. The fact that campaign finance reform and climate change both rank at the bottom is very telling, and perfectly in line with last year's Princeton study showing that big corporations and their lobbies decide what laws are enacted, and the average voter has, to within statistical noise, no influence at all, thanks in part to the conspiracy of silence on how critical these two issues are for solving ANY issue. Remember, we only vote for the candidate and his smiling face with the firm handshake. It's the smiling face, listening to the well-monied corporate lobbies, who then makes the laws. This all points to the likely outcome - we'll remain complacent, contenting ourselves with, or even patting ourselves on the back for, token efforts at change. That'll continue until the disasters get too obvious to ignore, at which point it'll be far too late to do anything meaningful to prevent our long term descent into a grim future. Tipping points are being passed right now, and in the recent past... not the distant future. The near and distant future is being determined not so much by the future's actions, but by today's. That's the sober reality of the physics time scales associated with climate.

October. InsideClimateNews has uncovered the wide extent to which scientists at Exxon-Mobil knew way back in the late 1970's the reality of CO2-induced climate change, that it would be disastrous, and how well their studies showed pretty much exactly what the future has turned out to be - and the management at Exxon-Mobil instead chose to lie, and to fund the massive dis-information campaign which still goes on. Hopefully this scandal will not suffer the fate of so many others - a conspiracy of silence in the media.


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