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Climate: In Denial?

"We didn't leave the stone age because we ran out of stones."

We've all heard the term "global warming" used to denote the observed fact that the earth is getting warmer. A better term for it is ACC, or Anthropomorphic Climate Change, since it doesn't always just involve warming - when heat is moved around, for example, some parts of the earth get cooler than normal ("Ice storm in May? How chilling!") while others get warmer. There is a great dichotomy between the scientific community and the general public, particulary in countries where gasoline consumption is rampant (that is to say, almost everywhere). The scientific community - at least the parts of it that spend their lives studying sciences that are directly or indirectly related to the climate - really is largely aware and in agreement that the climate is changing much more rapidly than at any point in the past few hundred thousand years, and that human action is one of the major causes of this change. The parts of the general public who deny ACC say that "well, the climate has always been changing, this is nothing new", which of course is true but not the whole story. Imagine a hypothetical newscaster, transported into the universe of the _Jurassic Park_ movie. Thinking of mosquitoes and snakes, he or she might say: "Well, animals have always been biting people. This is nothing new"...

In some ways this is analogous to the dichotomy between evolution and creationism, with many of the same people on the same side in each case. Biologists universally agree that evolution is a fact, and so do farmers who practice animal husbandry, which is just Anthropomorphic Characteristic Changing. There are debates among evolutionary biologists about exactly how evolution works (in part since no humans have lived long enough to watch very many significant instances of speciation), but all the reputable life scientists who deny evolution and assert creationism instead, could probably dance on the head of a pin.

Science is about remaining open-minded. There may be legitimate "climate skeptics" who have their bias but are open to reason, who will consider the facts (all of them, not just the ones that support their confirmation biases), who may come around. These people are distinct from "climate deniers", whose mind is made up (often because they are funded by the oil companies or the Heartland Institute, or because their political beliefs blind them to the science. To them we can only say: Check your premises.

In passing, let me say there is no room for any laws that criminalize climate skepticism. Science demands the right to be wrong, to fail, to learn, and to try again. Since we cannot know a person's motives, it follows that we cannot criminalize climate denial either.

OK, so, shut me up and let the facts speak:

  • What can one person do? Significant adoption of electric vehicles will reduce the consumption of hydrocarbons - "leave (more of) it in the ground" - reducing GHG emissions. Join the 400,000! If you live in beautiful British Columbia, go Solo!
  • What else can one person do? Eschew beef. Eschew bacon. Eschew dairy! COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret This 2014 documentary by Kip Anderson - billed as 'As eye-opening as Blackfish and as inspiring as An Inconvenient Truth' - aims to expose the role of large-scale factory farming (particularly dairy) in contributing to ACC, and the difficulty in getting reputable environmental organizations to focus on it. Available from the site for personal download (US$5), on DVD, and a related book. A new cut from executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio is available on NetFlix.
  • Here is some of the research that led to the Cowspiracy movie: an article in World Watch, November/December 2009,, by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang.
  • ArsTechnica Article Busting the Myth (or even lie) that climate science is useless because five decades ago it firmly predicted an ice age (pro tip: it didn't).
  • If Climate Scientists are in it for the money, they're doing it all wrong Professors/researches could make vastly more money coaching college football or doing data science on Wall Street.
  • James Prall of the University of Toronto has done "research on the researchers", analysing the academic viability of thousands of scientists who have spoken out on anthropomorphic climate change, both pro and con. Prall is a computer engineer and does not claim to be a climate scientist, but has used public information to compare the reputations of those speaking for and against ACC. One of his key conclusions is that "the climate change "skeptic" position has very few authors with any standing as climate scientists. While there have been several public declarations challenging the basic science or the need for any response like emission reductions, including some with a large number of names, the great proportion of those signers turn out to have little or no qualifications on this topic."
  • Prall's work was included in a journal article at PNAS, a journal that makes all of its research papers available for free via the Internet.
  • My Father Warned Exxon About Climate Change in the 1970's by Claudia Black-Kalinsky, whose father James F. Black, PhD, worked for Exxon for 40 years, "garnering dozens of patents through his wide-ranging research." In 1977, Black briefed some top executives at the company on the climate risks of burning oil. The next year he wrote: "Present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical." Unfortunately nobody listened...
  • SkepticalScience refutes commonly-offered objections to the science behind ACC, with links to peer-reviewed science.
  • Climate Progress posts news and analysis of the climate crisis and what's happening (or rather not happening) in U.S. politics to address it.
  • The Climate Reality Project is the project by Al Gore, creator of the movie "An Inconvenient Truth".
  • RealClimate is a key site hosting a dozen leading climatologists who take on the facts and the spin about what we do and don't know about our climate.
  • calls for prompt action to lower GHG emissions.
  • ClimateSight is the blog of Kaitlin Alexander, a Canadian PhD researcher in climate science at UNSW in Australia.
  • A new project called Climate Feedback aims to give scientists the opportunity not only to "challenge unscientific reporting of climate change, but also to highlight and support accurate science journalism."