Why the global warming skeptics are skeptical

The Yale economist William Nordhaus has written an article in the New York Review of Books with the title “Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong” that is a patiently argued — and I am sure, for skeptics, totally unconvincing — rebuttal of an opinion piece titled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming” that ran in the Wall Street Journal and was signed by sixteen scientists.  Nordhaus’s error is that he takes the debate at face value, as if it were a disagreement over climate data.  It is not: it is ideological, so the only relevant sentences from the skeptics’ Wall Street Journal editorial are these:

Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet.

Nordhaus quotes this section as well but only addresses the issue of financial incentives, arguing (correctly) that there is more money to be made by the skeptics from corporations than there is by the global warmers from grants.  He does not address the politics of this at all.  But Nordhaus should have noticed that there is a nearly 100% overlap between skepticism about global warming and hostility to government regulation and taxation in all aspects of civic life, not just environmental.  Skeptics are skeptical not because the trend of the climate data is ambiguous — these sixteen signatories aside, most skeptics will never have looked at the data — but because they do not want to open the door to the government regulations that they believe would necessarily follow from accepting the science on global warming.  Their reasons are various: some have a reflexive opposition to government, others are profiting from the existing carbon-based economy.  But the global warming ‘controversy’ is entirely a defense against government action: the rest is a smokescreen.

Nordhaus might have sensed this when the Wall Street Journal editorial took a strange and otherwise inexplicable turn into Soviet history, likening the pressure within academia to conform to the global warming view with Stalinist oppression:

This is not the way science is supposed to work, but we have seen it before—for example, in the frightening period when Trofim Lysenko hijacked biology in the Soviet Union. Soviet biologists who revealed that they believed in genes, which Lysenko maintained were a bourgeois fiction, were fired from their jobs. Many were sent to the gulag and some were condemned to death.

That is just the kind of hysterical talk that predominates on right-wing radio; but then, the warming skeptics know their audience.





3 Responses to “Why the global warming skeptics are skeptical”

  1. Russell Cook says:

    “….the global warming ‘controversy’ is entirely a defense against government action: the rest is a smokescreen.”

    Skeptics will quickly point out the missing word from your above sentence:  “unnecessary”. People like me will point an abundantly obvious fact that promoters of man-caused global warming try so hard to hide, the skeptic scientists’ climate assessments contradict those of the IPCC. Skeptics do not deny that human activity may have a small-to-completely insignificant effect on the climate, they simply believe human-induced GHGs do not drive global warming. This is quite easy to find when you look through the multi-thousand page “Climate Change Reconsidered: The 2009 Report of the NONgovernmental International Panel on Climate Change” and the related “2011 Interim Report”, each collectively citing thousands of peer-reviewed science journal-published papers to make their rebuttal to IPCC reports. To claim there is no legitimate opposition to IPCC reports is to offer a form of denial that is unsupportable.

    I have no science expertise to say which side is right. What perplexes me so much is that rather than put out a wall of evidence clearly showing the skeptics to be wrong, promoters of man-caused global warming engage in quite an odd tactic instead, namely telling us that skeptics are corrupted by fossil fuel industry funding. However, as has become glaringly obvious by the Peter Gleick/Heartland Institute controversy, it’s still a paper-thin accusation based on guilt-by-association alone. Nobody offers a shred of proof showing how any specific exchange of money resulted in a corresponding false fabricated climate assessment. Folks like Greenpeace’s exxonsecrets site love to lay out lots of money figures, but when anybody actually does the math, the figures end up looking like starvation wages. But worse than that, it’s never proven how the moeny is NOT actually given out because the donors simply agree with what the skeptic scientists say. Others love to say a particular old coal industry memo from the early ’90s is smoking gun proof of a sinister conspiracy that operates like the old tactics of the tobacco industry. Problem is, unlike the secret memo that exposed the tobacco companies’ motives which is easily found in its full context on the internet, the infamous coal industry memo is never shown that way by ANY accuser who quotes from it. That all by itself would lead anybody with the slightest bit of curiosity to wonder if the accusers believe it should be kept hidden for some reason.

    And then, there is one more problem that’s really hard to ignore. Skeptics constantly call for debate. Promoters of man-caused global warming routinely duck out of those, and bloggers on that side such as Greg Laden actually advocate for fellow bloggers to either ignore critical comments or allow them but alter any embedded links they have so that they are redirected to meaningless sites.

    So if the assertion about me having a fear of government action goes ‘poof’, and you cannot demonstrate how my political or religious leanings have any bearing on what I say, and you can’t show that I am actually ignorant on the details of the issue, what fallback position remains for you, to explain why I have doubts about the need to stop global warming?

    • Anonymous says:

      Good point that skeptics would see it as ‘unnecessary’ government action; but then, all politics is a negotiation over what is necessary. I think in this particular case Nordhaus was using the fossil fuel funding argument more as a rebuttal than an attack, since it counters the notion that somehow money has corrupted the global warming believers. As for the matter of engaging debate, I suspect scientists are unwilling to do that with warming skeptics for the same reason they are unwilling to debate Intelligent Design and other anti-evolution activists: to do so lends legitimacy to views they regard as little better than wishful thinking.
      I have no idea what your political or religious leanings are but I am not certain that any assertion here has really gone ‘poof.’ So, surprise me: tell me that you believe, generally, in strong government regulation and just happen, in this instance, to believe that the global warming science is shaky.

      • Russell Cook says:

         On your challenge, I do believe in strong, fact-based government regulation. Perfect case in point would have been tight Federal and state regulation on mortgage lenders during the housing boom. In my own personal situation, a mortgage lender said I qualified for a loan that was more than a hundred k beyond what my own calculations on my ability to pay were. The Glass-Steagall Act should have never been repealed. Certainly tighter regulation on who’s qualified to purchase small handguns and ammo could have prevented a couple of the more heinous shootings we’ve had. I doubt that there are better means of regulating the airline industry, or ensuring that safe vehicles are allowed on the highways, than state and federal regulating agencies. If anything, I’d tighten airport security, and place greater restrictions on who is qualified for drivers’ licenses, when it comes to demonstrating that the vehicle owner has the skills needed to drive a car. And certainly, it would be mindless to abolish the EPA, considering how it is critical to regulate actual pollutants. And, I wouldn’t simply regulate cigarettes, I’d outlaw them. Thus, I say your assertion about my ‘fear of government regulation’ has gone ‘poof’.

        But with all due respect, you drive off a cliff when you say, “scientists are unwilling to [engage in debate with] warming skeptics for the same reason they are unwilling to debate Intelligent Design and other anti-evolution activists: to do so lends legitimacy to views they regard as little better than wishful thinking”. First, that is a shell-game talking point invented around last August when Gov Jon Huntsman tossed out his comments on Rick Perry, where others soon equated Perry’s statements about skeptic scientists AND unrelated ones about creation science to imply the Texas governor was an anti-science nut. The two general concepts are mutual annihilation; you can’t be anti-evolution and be pro-science on the topic of global warming. Furthermore, to imply that real scientists simply “regard” anything about skeptics viewpoints is itself anti-science. When skeptic scientists put out incredibly detailed alternative climate assessments based on peer-reviewed science journal-published papers, out-of-hand dismissal by pro-global warming scientists would indicate a sheer lack of confidence in the underlying assessments of the IPCC. In case you haven’t looked into it in any depth, skeptics’ concerns aren’t some nebulous collection of statements about the science not being settled, they go into minute detail about CO2’s role as a GHG gas compared to water vapor, the manner in which the poles gain and lose ice, the sun’s cosmic ray interaction with cloud formation, ocean currents, sea level rise, on and on. And these are highly qualified experts in these areas, not idiotic radio talk show hosts.

        Back to my original point, I doubt that you could find a solitary skeptic scientist who opposes SOUND government regulation. I submit that such a notion was another talking point invented to distract the public from having the idea that there could be legitimate science-based criticism of IPCC assessments. Read through the works of Myanna Lahsen, McCright & Dunlap, and Oreskes & Conway, and you see them tossing out this same ‘anti-government / anti-communist’ explanation for what might motivate skeptic scientists, but you will also notice another highly troubling problem in those narratives:  those analysts attempt to establish that such scientists are corrupted by fossil fuel industry funding, and they all ultimately rely on a singular source to make that point. Thus they imply the corruption needs to be explained……… but when the corruption itself cannot be proven, and those same analysts ALL have a direct connection with the singular source for the accusation, you now have a huge problem in what appears to be a deliberate effort to falsely steer the entire issue. Namely, enviro-activists attempting to create the idea of a ‘big coal & oil / skeptic scientist conspiracy’, where we seem to have just the opposite:  pro-global warming scientists with too-close-for-comfort ties to an enviro-activist lobby that must collectively marginalize their critics in order to stay alive.

        Analysis of scientific data rules the day, not any dismissal of criticism labeled as ‘wishful thinking’. One of the most damaging statements I ever heard on the side of the IPCC was Phil Jones’ refusal to turn over data sets to Warwick Hughes, where Jones told Hughes, “We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”  Think about that for a moment. The IPCC side, if it has any actual integrity, would practically beg for someone to prove them wrong, so that we would not have to look forward to a future of worsening climate that was caused by our own activity.

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