Why Climate Change Skeptics Fail To Get Traction With Their Views

Let me ask the climate change skeptics a question. My motive is well-meaning–I have given advice to those on the consensus side of the fence several times in the past, so I’m not singling you out.

If the people on the other side were only those like John Cook, Stephan Lewandowsky, Michael Mann and Peter Gleick, wouldn’t you say that it was easy pickings for you to expose their weaknesses and show them up? I think you would.

Now look at your own side. When an AP reporter wants to get the skeptical point of view, who does she or he end up talking with? You may hope that it’s Judith Curry, Freeman Dyson, Steve McIntyre or Richard Lindzen, but in fact the people who are on TV and in the newspapers are generally folks like Marc Morano or Viscount Monckton.

Nobody appointed them spokespersons–like John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky they saw an opportunity to make a name for themselves and seized upon it. Marc Morano was very busy playing partisan politics before he inherited the global warming assignment from Senator Inhofe and he will happily return to partisan politics when this gig is finished.

As for Monckton, well I must say I have never seen a clearer example of a publicity hound in all my life.

It’s not just who’s representing you–it’s what you are saying. What is the coherent message of skeptics?

To me it seems that you mostly react vehemently to whatever story the consensus (or the Konsensus, mostly) puts out. You don’t have a narrative that you can consistently put forward, nor a way to fit new science and climate news into your narrative. Judith Curry does very well with the Uncertainty Monster theme, but she’s not a skeptic.

And you regularly get your clocks cleaned. Just this week, when Harvard Kennedy School released results of a poll showing that 23% of U.S. young people thought global warming was unproven and a further 20% thought recent warming was due to natural causes, bloggers like Jo Nova put up the post. The same day Skeptical Science, a popular Konsensus blog that is as far from skeptical as you can get, put up a story titled “College students are making global warming a moral issue. Here’s why that scares people.” The same day. When was the last time skeptics were that quick off the mark?

What is the skeptic story? I get that you’re not organized and not likely to become so. But you do need to use a shared vocabulary that provides you with some legitimacy and answers some questions before they are asked.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation and Heartland, the two signature organizations for skeptics on climate change, have clearly not done enough to provide a shared base of information. Leading lights such as Richard Lindzen and Freeman Dyson are either not interested or not in a position to become spokespersons.

Of course, I’m a lukewarmer. I don’t agree with you on the probable extent, impacts or preferred policies to deal with climate change. But I’ve gotten to know a lot of you over the years as intelligent, honest and well-meaning individuals who really have something to contribute to the conversation.

get involved

Taking pride in your individualism is one thing. Refusing to work on putting together a coherent framework to explain your views on climate change is another. I submit that it’s in part intellectual laziness. Saying that ‘getting skeptics to agree on anything is like herding cats’, something I have frequently read on blogs, is also saying that you feel no sense of responsibility for what happens.

1. Tell the world you (mostly) agree with the laws of physics, that that isn’t the issue
2. Confront the ‘denier’ meme.
3. Keep the record in front of you. Temperatures have plateaued, albeit at a high level, despite vast increases in emissions.
4. Keep a sense of humor about the absurdity of some of what is being published. Laugh at Cook’s MOOC. Laugh at the claims about Xtreme Weather.
5. Vote. Get involved with politics at a local, regional and national level. Politicians don’t know who you are or what you believe. All they hear is what the Konsensus tells them. And they lie.

I’d write something similar for Lukewarmers, but as far as I can tell we could all fit into a closet. Okay, I know that’s no excuse. I’ll come up with an action plan for us as well. Might not be very different from what I prescribe for skeptics.


27 responses to “Why Climate Change Skeptics Fail To Get Traction With Their Views

  1. When an AP reporter wants to get the skeptical point of view, who does she or he end up talking with?

    Tom, when was the last time an AP reporter even attempted to obtain “the skeptical point of view” … from an actual skeptic?

    IMHO, it happens so rarely that it’s hardly worth mentioning!

    Furthermore, on such rare occasions, “climatic correctness” seems to dictate that rather than offering their readers a nuanced, independently researched, and/or balanced perspective, such AP reports (among other syndicated accounts) are nothing more than “canned” recyclings of material fed to them by various and sundry PR pieces – and/or that which is promulgated by organizations such as the so-called Society of Environmental Journalists.

    As for your recommendations … if you believe that none of us have confronted “the denier meme”, this suggests to me that perhaps in your research you’ve missed far too many posts on this particular subject (not to mention your other “suggestions”)!

    • Hiya Hilary

      I’ve seen you do it, I know. And a few others–but not many.

      On 2 May 2015 at 18:22, The Lukewarmer's Way wrote:


  2. Tom, The answer to most of your questions in this posting is that the skeptics and “believers” alike are generally falling silent as reality dawns upon them…
    For eg…read this post at Jennifer Marohasy’s site…

  3. Rather than concentrating on personalities or attempting corrections you need to look at similar behaviour elsewhere. Judith Curry has commented that climate deniers are not aware that the same problem occurs in other scientific fields. The climate alarmist campaigns have many similarities with other causes here in the UK such as anti alcohol,tobacco and fat/sugar. In all these other causes the emphasis from health campaigners (activists) tend to focus on control or forced behavioural change through legislation rather than actual health reduction. Similarly in climate, the solutions often seem to be deliberately counter productive or ineffective and always lead to forced changes of behaviour by use of legislation.

    For smoking in spite of a relative health risk improvement of 100-1000 times and taken up spontaneously by smokers, anti-smoking campaigners spent a lot of effort actively campaigning against them, either to ban or by neutering them through drug reclassification (make them more expensive, restrict development) and tweaking allowed limits. Their focus was on de-normalisation rather than health reduction. Like climate with big oil, they also have a bogeyman big tobacco from whom nothing can be trusted. With a similar disdain for data they have relentlessly pushed through plain packaging legislation in the UK in spite of results from Australia showing that this was the only anti-smoking measure that actually positively increased smoking rates. There were a stream of reports from health campaigners on this, those that actually included real smoking data would cherry pick the date range to include dates before the start of plain packaging so as to hide the contrary result.

    January 2014 was the start of a big campaign against sugar in the UK after decades of demonizing fat in our diet, suddenly fats were OK, sugar was the demon, there was no apology just a slick change of campaigning by largely the same group of activists, this reminded me of the shameless change from global cooling of the 70’s to global warming of the 80 by the then quite small climate scientist/activist group.

    For alcohol we have been subject to years of campaigning about increasing alcohol abuse, all while alcohol consumption was falling. Just as with climate campaigners/activists these professionals also supply an enormous stream of press release scare stories which are duly reprinted by the news media and give the impression to the layman that there is some crisis that needs resolving. And as with tobacco/climate with their bogeymen any utterances by the alcohol industry are also biased because of what could be called big money, while their own information is absolutely pure and unbiased.

    And just as with climate campaigns these are also not a clash of ideology by two sides, but of one ideology whose proponents are prepared to deliberately lie/misinform or hide information for the right outcome, while the opposing side is effectively just passively responding to correct a stream of what appears to be deliberate mistakes.

    In all of this climate debate I have come across only one person on the denier/lukewarmer side who has correctly identified why the contrarians/lukewarmers are destined to always be sidelined, this video sums up what the problem is.

    Arguing to 0 vs Arguing to 100%

    Nobody’s interested in pesky little inaccuracies, or those boring farts who point them out, after all what is more important, morals or saving mankind/the planet. At least the Centre for industrial progress are up there with a positive ideology as well (although I hope they maintain their morals)

  4. Pielke Srs blog represented the real opposition to the Konsensus. His viewpoint was reality based and not derived from politics. He was trying to change the minds of people concerned about the damage humans were doing to the climate. His solutions didn’t cater to any particular industry and they probably would work.
    He wasn’t a specialist. He had a broad grip on the science. He actually read the papers he discussed.
    No one has taken his place.
    When you talk about skeptics, lukewarmers, and alarmists, you shouldn’t forget people like me and Roger who think that climate change is a serious problem but the role of co2 is exaggerated. You can call us realists, empiracists, etc.
    The climate consensus would come to its senses much faster if the deniers would just shut up.
    I am going to start using the term denier for the idealogues who are just using the debate to demonize the other side. I respect skeptics.

  5. Pingback: Traction: Tom Fuller asks why Skeptics fail to get it | Shub Niggurath Climate

  6. Tom, I am not quite clear what question you are asking us! But Shub has put some answers on his blog.
    You ask “what is the sceptic story?” but you answer this yourself. There are hundreds of sceptic stories, all different. Sceptics, more or less by definition, prefer to think for themselves rather than swear allegiance to some kind of declaration drafted by some organisation. I don’t feel that GWPF or Heartland represent my view.

  7. The reason they often choose Monckton is because there’s the easy option to dismiss him as a non scientist. Morano is easily dismissed as being politically motivated and probably in the pay of big something or other.

    In addition it’s difficult to get anyone to actually sit and talk in a debate with someone labelled as a ‘denier’ or sceptic. Wasn’t there an ‘interview’ in which Gavin Schmidt refused to even occupy the same table Roy Spencer?

    Climate change has already moved well beyond the argument over science and is firmly embedded into the political and ideological arena where science has no use except as weapon.

  8. >Temperatures have plateaued, albeit at a high level, despite vast increases in emissions.

    As Mosher has pointed out, this is a foolish position for skeptics to take. What happens when temperatures go up? Do they claim that the numbers are fake? For 2014, they could claim that it is still close enough that they can’t say with certainty which year is the record. But what about when temperatures go up a little more?

  9. MIke N,
    Pointing out that temps have plateaued and emissions have gone up is called “telling the truth”. It is a fact on the ground, so to speak.
    That it is instead considered some sort of political position by the consensus is what is absurd.
    What is absurd is that when temps were going up, the consensus talked about nothing else. Now that they are not going up, the talk is about absurd things like missing heat and other magical explanations. When the true believers are not engaged in calling skeptics “deniers” or invoking grand “fossil fuel” conspiracies. And of course hiding from the discussion.

    • Temperatures plateaued tends to get conflated with global warming ended in 1998. Those who make the argument are caught flat-footed, and perhaps refuted, when temperatures go up.

  10. For my views on climate change, go to scibull.com, the website of the Science Bulletin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, click on “Most Read Articles”, and download our paper “Why models run hot: results from an irreducibly simple climate model”.

    I do not seek publicity, but because I am willing to speak out where others are cowed into silence, I sometimes get reported.

    I am now researching the mitigation economics of carbon dioxide capture and storage and separately of windmills; the gross thermodynamics of the climate system and the implications for climate sensitivity; and the connection between seismic activity at the mid-ocean divergence boundaries and recent changes in ocean temperature.

    If asked, I give undergraduate lectures, faculty-level seminars, or public presentations on these and other areas of climate research. It is no part of my ambition to run campaigns. I report my results, and that is that.

    • I don’t know how to address you properly, so I hope Mr. Monckton will serve until you correct me.

      I think you are probably quite capable of performing the analysis of CCS. I’m not really sure anyone can set out in detail the gross thermodynamics of the climate system, or connections between seismic activity and recent changes in ocean temperature. But I wish you well in your endeavors.

      But to be blunt, one reason I wish you well is that it should keep you busy enough to stay off the front pages. I consider much of what you say to be provocative and counter productive. I also think that you actively seek headlines more than the expansion of human knowledge. Perhaps you will prove me wrong with your new efforts.

      I also think that while you are exploring new frontiers of science that you should pay heed to some of what has been long accepted by distinguished scientists.

      I believe you could find something of value to contribute to the discussion about climate change, its future extent and potential impacts. I don’t think you have done so to date and I consider that a very real disappointment.

      Someone with your intelligence and energy is capable of so much more.

      • Typical liberal cowing to the sensibilities of Europeans. America has no nobility, so Mr Monckton will suffice. Since you are asking, Lord Monckton is proper form of address for a Viscount.

      • Well, he is the second Lord to visit this site, although Ridley got the job while he was in the middle of commenting here. If it becomes a trend I want to get the courtesies straight, right?

  11. I posted the following comment on Shub’s site. Since Tom Fuller is giving advice to skeptics, here’s some well-meaning advice for him and other lukewwarmers to consider:

    I like Tom Fuller. I’ve met Tom a few times, and he’s very pleasant and likable. But it’s clear that he doesn’t understand scientific skepticism. Skepticism depends upon testability, which is another term for falsification (see Prof. I. Langmuir for a thorough explanation).

    At bottom, skeptics are saying to the climate alarmist group: Show us. Provide testable, measurable scientific evidence quantifying man-made global warming (MMGW, AKA: AGW).

    But so far, there is no such evidence. None at all. If there were measurements quantifying AGW, then for one thing, the question of the climate sensitivity number would be answered definitively (climate sensitivity is the degree of global warming resulting from a doubling of atmospheric CO2). As it currently stands, depending on who you ask, guesstimates for climate sensitivity range from more than 6ºC, down to 0.0º (Miskolczi et al). And everything in between.

    So we have a situation in which the proposed remedy is the radical restructuring of Western industrial society — based upon a conjecture (MMGW) that has never been quantified! Skeptics have been asking: What is the fraction of MMGW, out of total global warming?

    Is it 50%? (or preposterously, 100% as some claim)?

    Answer: No one knows.

    Is it 5%?

    Answer: No one knows.

    Is it 0.03%?

    No one knows!

    Skeptics simply say: Show us. Quantify MMGW. The alarmist conjecture states that dangerous MMGW is happening. But no one has ever been able to measure the fraction of MMGW, out of total global warming (which has been stopped for many years now).

    Show us, Tom. Quantify MMGW. Because so far, every scary prediction made by climate alarmists has failed to take place, from disappearing Arctic ice, to more extreme weather events, to accelerating sea level rise, to ocean ‘acidification’ — to the big enchilada: runaway global warming and climate catastrophe. Every alarming prediction has failed. No exceptions.

    When every alarming prediction made by one side of a debate turns out to be flat wrong, rational folks will raise the bar. They will begin to insist that those making outlandish predictions need to produce supporting measurements. But there are no measurements, despite spending $billions of tax dollars searching, and investigation by thousands of highly educated scientists using the most advanced instruments. Lately, the alarmist argument has morphed into: “But there can’t be measurements like that! It’s impossible.”

    Nonsense. Just about everything in science is measured. Billions of dollars are spent measuring subatomic particles like the Higgs boson. Atmospheric CO2 is measured to six decimal places. Anthropogenic emissions are precisely quantified. The only things that can’t be currently measured are signals that are swamped by background noise (ie: the signal is too small), or some things affected by the Uncertainty Principle. Everything else can be measured — if it’s there, and if it is not too small to measure with current instruments. By falsely claiming that MMGW cannot be measured, what they are really saying is: “Trust us when we warn you about dangerous MMGW. We can’t show you, but take our word for it.” The real reason they can’t show us is because MMGW is simply too minuscule to measure.

    If MMGW was the cause of all global warming, it could easily be measured. The answer would be 100%, as global T would rise in lock step with human CO2 emissions. But the opposite seems to be the case: despite the steady rise in CO2, global T has remained in stasis for many years now. (At this point, my personal disclaimer: I think AGW exists. But it is simply too minuscule to measure, except for local UHI effects.)

    So to sum up: Tom Fuller misunderstands scientific skepticism. Every honest scientist is a skeptic. Otherwise, we would be back in witch doctor territory. Skeptics are right to ask for evidence quantifying MMGW. That is an entirely reasonable request, particularly since the proposed remedy amounts to dismantling of our technological society, while most other countries will continue to use fossil fuels.

    Mr. Fuller and all the rest of the climate alarmist crowd constantly avoid the question of quantifying MMGW. Because if they admitted that there is no measurable evidence for what they claim is happening, their opinion begins and ends at the conjecture stage. It is no different in principle than claiming there is a black cat hiding under the bed in a dark bedroom — but no one will turn on the light and look under the bed, because they know there may well be no cat there. A conjecture is merely an opinion. To advance MMGW to a testable hypothesis requires verifiable measurements.

    The entire MMGW scare amounts to a giant head fake. The public is constantly bombarded with assertions contending that global T is rising, and that the rise is accelerating, and that Arctic ice is disappearing fast, and… well, you get the idea. There is never any cost/benefit analysis. There is almost no discussion of extensive *measurable* evidence showing that agricultural productivity is rising due to the rise in atmospheric CO2. There has never been any global harm identified due to rising CO2 (which remains a tiny trace gas). And so on. In fact, all the available evidence shows that more CO2 is beneficial to the biosphere, with no observed downside. More CO2 is harmless, and beneficial. But try to find any of Mr. Fuller’s media cohort pointing out those facts.

    If Tom Fuller wants to practice being a true scientific skeptic, this is a great opportunity. A ‘dangerous MMGW’ conjecture has been put forth (in science, the hierarchy is: Conjecture, Hypothesis, Theory, Law). A conjecture is an opinion (MMGW is not a ‘hypothesis’, which among other things must be able to make repeated, accurate predictions; but no one was able to predict the current stasis in global T). Fuller should join with genuine skeptics in demanding that those supporting the MMGW conjecture must produce verifiable supporting measurements, quantifying the fraction of MMGW out of total global warming from all sources. Disregard emotional arguments such as, “But we can’t keep dumping CO2 into the air!” And disregard anything in which the word “carbon” is used to define carbon dioxide or CO2.

    In science, we need measurements to make rational decisions. Climate science is no exception.

    • Smokey,
      Great essay.

    • Hiya Smokey,

      Thanks for taking the time to post such a long comment on this.

      Obviously I disagree with much of what you say, but I’m not going to have time to post a detailed response today. I will,though. You make some good points and where I think you are mistaken I think it’s worth discussing why.

    • Marty of Erie

      Smokey, read more of Thomas’s blog before you make such generalizations.

    • Marty of Erie

      The best methodology for separating out the man made component from the cyclic variation is Scaffetta’s. But both camps are disregarding his results.

  12. Hi Marty,

    Question: what “generalizations” would you be referring to? I tried to be very specific. The central point I made is regarding the lack of empirical measurements supporting the man-made global warming (MMGW) conjecture. So far, that conjecture is based on lots of assertions, but very little scientific evidence. And the fact that global warming stopped many years ago has caused great (and deserved) consternation among the MMGW believers.

    I’m not the only one who has raised the concern over the lack of empirical measurements. It has been questioned regularly on WattsUpWithThat and other blogs by well known scientists. Science depends on measurements. Otherwise, the debate comes down to: “Trust us. Take our word for it that there is a climate emergency happening.” With literally $Billions riding on the answer, “Trust us” is inadequate. We need measurements quantifying the putative problem.

    Measurements are certainly possible, if the signal is above the background noise level. The MMGW conjecture is put forth as an established fact, and as I stated above, I personally think that AGW exists.

    But if the MMGW signal is too small to measure, then the proposed remedy — that CO2 emissions must be radically reduced (to below 350 ppm, for example) — is an extremely high price to pay to satisfy a What if… scenario. And the fact that most other countries would ignore such reductions would make our own actions completely irresponsible. China has now surpassed the U.S. in emissions, and then there is India, Russia, the EU, and a hundred smaller countries. With the sole exception of the U.S. and France, all of their CO2 emissions continue to rise.

    The 30,000+ scientists and engineers (including more than 9,000 PhD’s) who signed the OISM statement are far more numerous than all the climate alarmist scientists in total. Since the alarmist crowd seems to be impressed by “consensus” arguments, they should listen to those highly educated folks who think that CO2 is pretty much harmless, and beneficial to the biosphere.

    If we take out all the emotional claims, and all the politics from the debate, we are left with the fact that there has been no global harm from the rise in CO2, and agricultural productivity is rising in step with rising CO2. That matters immensely to the world’s billion or so people living on less than $2 a day. If CO2 is reduced, that will inevitably cause widespread starvation. That brings up the cost/benefit question: with no verified harm, and with many verified benefits due directly to the rise in CO2, why is it that feeding the world’s poor is always disregarded? It is a no-cost, huge benefit that some would like to eliminate for (IMHO) nefarious reasons.

    Although the rise in CO2 was unplanned, no verified downside from CO2 has ever been empirically demonstrated. CO2 appears to be completely harmless at these levels. Further, there is extensive evidence that on all time scales, from months to hundreds of millennia, showing that changes in CO2 always follow changes in temperature. Effect cannot precede cause, thus the complete lack of any evidence showing that ∆T is caused by ∆CO2 is very problematic for the alarmist crowd.

    The ‘carbon’ scare is nothing more than a baseless, evidence-free and measurement-free conjecture. But we are expected to radically alter Western civilization in order to appease a relatively small clique of self-serving scientists and bureaucrats? Why?

    If you buy into the carbon alarm, please provide good reasons, backed up by solid empirical measurements and scientific evidence. Because there is too much at stake to simply accept the word of self serving rent-seekers like the UN/IPCC and Michael Mann. Wouldn’t you agree?

  13. Hi Tom, I wrote a reply in my blog too.

    Why do you guys bet up on Monckton? Monckton is a good speaker and he knows the meta-science stories very well.

  14. Why do skeptics fail to get traction? Go to their sites and read the comments. They scare people off. You are judged by the company you keep. Who is going to pay attention to a gang of ideologues.

  15. Marty,


    That’s just deflection.

    The only thing that matters is data. Facts and evidence.

    Skeptics are not “ideologues”; that label belongs exclusively to those promoting their man-made global warming narrative.

    And you may not know it, but scientific skeptics (the only honest kind of scientists) are winning the hearts and minds of the public.

    Just a few years ago, there was still a lot of concern over MMGW. But no more. Now, articles about the ‘carbon’ scare are met with ridicule across the board. Just read the comments from the public in the media. You will see. They almost all ridicule the ‘carbon’ scare.

    You are whistling past the graveyard, Marty. Scientific skeptics are winning. The MMGW scare has been debunked, and there is no reviving it. That parrot is dead.

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