Conversations with a Climate Change Denier

I hope he doesn’t read this. The first thing he told me was how much he hated the phrase Climate Change Denier, but it’s hard not think of him as one. He isn’t stupid. He’s an engineering grad student, and that’s not for the weak minded. He seems reasonable. He understands the fact of evolution, the age of the earth, and other things that many climate change deniers tend deny. Except, we’ve only just begun to delve into this beyond talking face to face. We’ve done some email correspondence, and I’ve sent my first round of rebuttals. If he ever gets the time we’ll see how he responds to the facts.

That is one thing that bothers me. If he, by chance, ends up accepting climate change is real does that prove he wasn’t a denier? Is mere ignorance justification? I can’t help but think not. Whether he’s denying the facts or has yet to be presented with them, he’s chosen to make a conscious decision to deny that it’s real. I don’t blame him because he is only human, and it’s likely its motivated by political or ideological thinking. There is no shame in admitting you’re wrong, so denier or not, if he’s willing to accept the facts then that is really all that matters. But will he? Only time will tell.

In the mean time, I want to share our conversation. I think it can be at least a little informational, but I’d love feedback if anyone is willing and able to do so. Because this is a learning process for myself too. I may get things wrong, or I may just do a poor job of defending it. After all, I’m not a scientist. However, I understand the consensus among scientists, and I am capable of at least a superficial understanding of the evidence.

I considered reformatting and reorganizing the email and response so it would flow better, but I’ve spent enough time on this as it is. I’ll show you what he wrote, and my responses will be italicized. Obviously you don’t have to read it all, but I appreciate you reading this far!

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Hey Josh,

Sorry for the late and (unfortunately) under-researched response. This is a really fascinating subject, and I have learned a lot in a short period of time. I can’t dedicate as much time to this as I would like, but here is a starting point:

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/12/26/co2-ice-cores-vs-plant-stomata/

You will probably be quickly repulsed by the rhetoric on this site, but try to look at the data.

This has taken me while to review and understand. The writers point seems clear though: the ice cap data and the planta stomata do not match. I found it difficult to understand, and I may be misunderstanding it. If so, try to explain it for me because just the link isn’t going to do. But this is what I got out of it: The stomata are a much more granular than the ice caps. It can offer snapshots that are closer in time while the ice caps are a much broader look that gives an overall average but that do not represent the short term variability. But it’s the overall view that we care about. The differences may arise from that variability.

Now, take that with a grain of salt, because I had a hard time understanding what they were getting at and at understanding other sources on the net. What I really took away from it though was that essentially it looked like a bad comparison (like apples to oranges). There are other sources of evidence to verify their accuracy. We have atmospheric data spanning back 50 years from infared recordings. Since the 19th century we’ve had chemical analysis of the atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and both of these match the ice cores. And there are other ways to calibrate the “paleoclimate thermometer” that the ice represents. They’ve compared independent measurements (figure 3 of paleo link). It can also be used to understand the atmosphere’s composition overall which in turn is testable in other ways.

I tried to correlate CO2 and temperature, but I’m having a lot of trouble finding accurate measurements for either. It seems like we only have about 100 years of temperature data and 50 years of CO2 to compare. Even so, it is difficult to access the accuracy of the data, and a strong trend doesn’t seem to appear (to my eye). Granted, I didn’t spend enough time trying to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison. I simply won’t have the time to do this matter justice (aka get a Ph.D. in climate science), which is why I try to keep an open mind. Here are my main concerns (and they are somewhat deep-seated):

1) Not enough historic data that is accurate.

We can study the effects of CO2 on temperature and infer their relationship. We also have a great deal of CO2 data. The deeper in the ice you go the further back in time you travel. Using these samples we’ve been able to track the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere back hundreds of thousands of years. What is more, we can study how much CO2 we are releasing, and we can make projections based on the current state of things and on what will occur if the current rates of pollution continue.

Also, climate is long term, but 100+ years of data tells us a lot still. Even so, there are other ways, like the ice caps, to analysis the temperature further back.
2) Failure of the models to predict periods of pause in warming while at the same time claiming that the models are more accurate (http://thefederalist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Climate-Model-Comparison.png)

Okay, we may have talked about this already, but the main issue with this claim is that they are essentially saying these models are failing to do something that they never were even created to do. It’s akin to saying if evolution is real, then how did life begin? It’s a non sequitur as evolution doesn’t claim to know how life started. Similarly, climate models don’t make year to year predictions. That sort of short time span is a look at the weather. The climate is much broader. We are talking two to three decades worth of averaged data. That’s what these models are attempting to do. And it’s worth noting that when using the initial conditions present in the past, they are able to accurately predict what has occurred since then.

I have other issues with this graph. One, there is no information given on how it was gathered or where it came from. I found the article it was posted in—I even contacted the author of it but didn’t get a reply (surprise surprise)—there was nothing providing a source. So, in that sense, it’s circumspect. We are unable to judge their methods nor the data. For all we know it could be completely false (at worse) or cherry-picked and misrepresentative of the whole.
3) Money (certainly goes both ways and I am skeptical of both)

This isn’t unique to Climate Change. Funding exists for all sects of science. I saw a video a month or so ago from a creationist who compared fossils to the crumbled up remains of sheet-rock to the fossils used in anthropology. She showed how unorganized and chaotic the crumbled remains were but how, if you try hard enough, you can find a pattern. But why would they do that? Where is the motivation? Obviously, they want the funding. The funding for their research biases them and leads them to infer things that just aren’t true. Now, you and I both know that’s bullshit. Or I assume you do; let me know if you don’t.

If you’re going to judge climate change based off of this you have to do it for every other discipline. If not, then you have to clearly define the characteristics that make it different. The process of scientific investigation and discovery is not perfect, but it is the best we have. And it’s been proven to work time and time again.
4) A desire to “do-good” before we know what we actually need to do. Those claiming to have the answer (e.g. Al Gore) scare me the most.
I want to touch on a few things here. First off, there was the question, earlier in our conversation, of whether or not anything could be done even if we found out it could. I still stand by the fact that there is. We can work to limit our output and begin to forgo our reliance on fossil fuels. Even supposing our measures did not work as examples and motivations to other countries it still does not prevent us from slowing down the process. It is also absurd to think that just because we can’t solve a problem at all there is no point in even trying.

But all of this is irrelevant in the question of whether anthropogenic climate change is real. It’s another side step. It’s as if, because it would feel that much worse if it were true, that somehow effects how real the problem is.

This knowledge is clear. You can continue to move that line a little bit further every time, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is a clear consensus among scientists and among scientific societies and organizations. We can quibble about the details later, but the first step is acknowledging that the problem is real. Then we can begin discussion on how best to tackle the issue.
I am in no way arrogant enough to think I understand the situation. I’ll argue that 99% of us don’t have a firm grasp on it. What is a great thing is for us to have this discussion, learn something, and try to enrich others. I can admit when I’m wrong, and will do so when I see enough evidence to convince me. However, at the present, I remain skeptical of the climate machine. My last point of clarification- I believe that the climate is changing, recently the trend has been warming, but I’m not ready to say that this is entirely caused by humans. Certainly we have an effect, but the real key is to try and quantify this.

To conclude, I must say the most persuasive piece of evidence for me is the consensus, and that isn’t even new. All that’s happened with it is that through the years it has become more and more extreme. It represents the view of the community at large—not just one person or group. It represents the overwhelming view of independent scientists and organizations.

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One Reply to “Conversations with a Climate Change Denier”

  1. Josh,
    You not only do not understand the science but you have no idea of what the scientific method is. Attempting to use fifty years of data to explain a change in Earth’s overall climate is like determining the final score in a football game by watching 1 minute of the third quarter… Insufficient data. And NONE of your scientist can say that they have an ACCURATE MODEL of Earth’s Biosphere or one that takes into account more than 50% of ALL THE FACTORS that make up climate! Go ahead and ASK THEM! All current models that predict global warming DO SO NO MATTER WHAT DATA IS ENTERED… this tells me that there is something wrong with the model, don’t you think? At least you ADMIT you do not understand the science. Unfortunately, you then go ahead and turn into a lemming and jump off the cliff with the rest of the politically correct… So sad. I still hold out hope for you. Be well my friend.
    John

    Like

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