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Confessions of a Former Environmental Skeptic

April 2008

In his 1964 Republican presidential nomination acceptance speech Barry Goldwater gave voice to one of the most memorable one-liners in political punditry: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

These are stirring sentiments, to be sure, and once in a great while they may even be true. But for most human endeavors, moderation is a virtue and extremism is a vice. The reason is clear: all extremists think they are defending liberty and pursuing justice, from Timothy McVeigh and the 9/11 terrorists to Torquemada and abortion clinic bombers. One country’s terrorist is another country’s freedom fighter.

Extreme environmentalists are a case in point. Members of environmentalist groups who vandalize Hummer dealerships, destroy logging equipment, or torch scientific laboratories see themselves not as the terrorists that they are, but as environmental freedom fighters. And environmental groups who paint doom and gloom scenarios and exaggerate, distort, or even fabricate claims in order to keep the donations flowing only hurt their cause in the long run when doomsday comes and goes without incident or the claims turn out to be baseless.

As an undergraduate in the early 1970s, we were told that overpopulation would lead to worldwide hunger and starvation, oil depletion, precious mineral exhaustion, and rainforest extinction by the 1990s, predictions that have all failed utterly. Scientists like Bjorn Lomborg in The Skeptical Environmentalist have, in my opinion, properly nailed environmental extremists for these exaggerated scenarios. And his book is where I entered the debate.

In 2001, Cambridge University Press published Lomborg’s book which, given the similarity between its title (The Skeptical Environmentalist) and that of the magazine that I publish (Skeptic), his publicist thought it would be a perfect topic for the Skeptics Society’s public science lecture series at the California Institute of Technology, which I host. Given the highly debatable nature of many of Lomborg’s claims, however, I only agreed to host him if it could be a debate. Lomborg agreed at once to debate anyone, and this is where the trouble began — I could not find anyone to debate Lomborg. I contacted all of the top environmental organizations, and to a one they all refused to participate. “There is no debate,” one told me. “We don’t want to dignify that book,” said another. One leading environmentalist warned me that my reputation would be irreparably harmed if I went through with it. So of course I did. My own Senior Editor, Frank Miele, who is an expert on evolutionary biology and biodiversity (and is one of the fastest and most facile researchers I’ve ever known), challenged Lomborg on several of the chapters in his book, and we had a lively and successful debate.

My experience is symptomatic of deep problems that have long plagued the environmental movement, and for a time the political pollution of the science turned me into an environmental skeptic. That alone would be meaningless, given that I have only ever written one article on the subject, but I believe that the extremists had a similar effect on millions of others who remain skeptical in the teeth of what I now believe to be overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic global warming. The tragedy of this inappropriate conflation of politics and science is that world-class scientists and science communicators like David Suzuki have been warning us about this problem for decades, and doing so in a systematic and reasonable manner that so many of us failed to hear because of the extremists’ claims.

What turned me around on the global warming issue was a convergence of evidence from numerous sources. My attention was piqued on February 8, 2006, when 86 leading evangelical Christians — the last cohort I expected to get on the environmental bandwagon — issued the Evangelical Climate Initiative calling for “national legislation requiring economy-wide reductions” in carbon emissions. After attending a 2002 Oxford conference on the science of global warming, the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, the Reverend Richard Cizik, described his experience as “a conversion … not unlike my conversion to Christ.”

Later that month I attended the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, California, where former Vice President Al Gore delivered the single finest summation of the evidence for global warming I have ever heard, based on the 2006 documentary film about his work in this area, An Inconvenient Truth. Because we are primates with such visually dominant sensory systems, we need to see the evidence to believe it, and the striking visuals of countless graphs and charts, and especially the before-and-after photographs showing the disappearance of glaciers around the world, shocked me viscerally and knocked me out my skepticism.

Four recent books on the subject then took me to the flipping point. Archaeologist Brian Fagan’s The Long Summer (Basic, 2004) documents how civilization is the gift of a temporary period of mild climate. Geographer Jared Diamond’s Collapse (Viking, 2005) demonstrates how natural and human-caused environmental catastrophes led to the collapse of civilizations. Journalist Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes From a Catastrophe (Simon and Schuster, 2006) is a page-turning account of her journeys around the world with environmental scientists who are documenting species extinction and climate change that are unmistakably linked to human action. And biologist Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006) reveals how he went from being a skeptical environmentalist to a believing activist as incontrovertible data linking the increase of carbon dioxide, CO2, to global warming accumulated the last decade.

It is a matter of CO2 Goldilocks. In the last ice age CO2 levels were 180 parts per million (ppm) — too cold. Between the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution CO2 levels rose to 280 ppm — just right. Today CO2 levels are at 380 ppm and are projected to reach 450 to 550 ppm by the end of the century — too warm. Like a kettle of water that transforms from liquid to steam when it changes from 211 to 212 degrees F, the environment itself is about to make a CO2–driven flip.

According to Flannery, even if we reduce our CO2 emissions by 70 percent by 2050 average global temperatures will increase between 2 to 9 degrees C by 2100. This rise could lead to the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which the March 24 issue of Science reports is already shrinking at a rate of 224 ±41 cubic kilometers per year, double the rate measured in 1996 (Los Angeles uses 1 cubic kilometer of water per year). If it and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melt, sea levels will rise 5 to 10 meters, displacing half a billion inhabitants of coastal communities.

I mentioned above that I have only ever published one article about the environment, and that was recounting my conversion from global warming skeptic to believer in my monthly column in Scientific American. In that column I closed with this sentence: “Because of the complexity of the problem environmental skepticism was once tenable. No longer. It is time to flip from skepticism to activism.”

What I meant by that final clause is that it is time to do something about the problem. I did not specify what we should do, but in my opinion we have time to fix the problem without drastic and draconian governmental intervention. For example, I believe that if we start the transition now, we can make the shift from burning fossil fuels to alternative fuels through normal market channels. The market for hybrid automobiles, for example, will continue growing at a breakneck pace such that within two decades the vast majority of cars will be hybrids and the transition to purely electric cars (or cars that run on some other combination of electricity and a cleaner alternative fuel), will be successful. In other words, I would much prefer to see governments establishing pollution standards and carbon dioxide levels that the marketplace is then free to work around in its usually efficient manner (more efficient, in any case, than most government programs are capable of achieving).

In response to my Scientific American column, I received thousands of letters and emails. A few were surprised that it took me so long to come around. For example:

Michael Shermer announces that “it is time to flip from skepticism to activism” with respect to anthropogenic global warming. Well, gosh, Shermer, welcome to the party. Where the heck have you been? No offense, but most of your readers realized it was “time to flip” years ago. Maybe the shocked and horrified response (“there is no debate”) that you got when trying to promote skepticism about global warming was not, as you assume, “symptomatic of deep problems that have long plagued the environmental movement,” but was, rather, indicative of how far off the rails of rationality you had gone. After all, as you observe, even the evangelical Christians abandoned the skeptical position before you did! It might be worthwhile to devote a little time and introspection to exactly why you stuck to a dangerously irrational point of view for so long; because the sand you buried your head in is exactly the same sand that we need to get the average American’s head out of. If it took four books and a lecture by Al Gore to change your mind, I despair that we will ever change the minds of the people who really matter: the voters.

— Ben Haller, Menlo Park, CA

Indeed, my correspondent is right, the vast majority of letters that I received were skeptical of my loss of skepticism. That is, in spite of what I now see as overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic global warming, there are still plenty of skeptics out there, and I believe that they are primarily motivated for the same reason that I was — they got burned by environmental extremists. Here is a small sampling.

Michael Shermer sure has ‘flipped’! He quotes Flannery as saying that “even if we reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 70% by 2050, average global temperatures will increase between two and nine degrees by 2050.” Could it be that global warming is caused, in the main, by forces beyond our control?

— Robert Schnepp, Port Hueneme, CA

I was disappointed to see that Mr. Shermer has surrendered his skepticism on anthropogenic global warming in the June 2006 issue of “Scientific American.” His “flipping point” seems to be the demonstrated reduction in some of the world’s glaciers. I suggest he enroll in a freshman course in historical geology. There he will learn that glaciers have come and gone many times in the recent history of the earth (geologically speaking). The most recent episodes of glaciation are referred to as the Pleistocene era. I think his change of heart will turn out to be as wrong as his stated belief in the 1970s that starvation and depletion of resources would plague the earth by the 1990s.

—Howard Sahl, Longmont, CO

Very appropriate Michael. I have always looked somewhat askance at Scientific American’s views on environmental matters. Shame on you for following their editorial dictates. I will never again read my Skeptic magazine (I am a subscriber) in the same open minded way that I have previously. You have joined the philistines. The blunt, highlighted in red, comment: “Reducing our CO2 emissions by 70% by 2050 will not be enough.” shows a ‘grab’ at a statement that would put even the most rabid environmental group to shame. Prove it!

—Ivor Davies, Oakville, Ontario, Canada

Before you jump on the idiotic bandwagon and irreparably destroy your reputation, you ought to talk to John Brignell of www.numberwatch.co.uk and Michael Fumento of www.fumento.com and most importantly Steve Milloy at www.junkscience.com. Keep in mind:

  1. Climate changes no matter what we do.
  2. The single greatest heat source is … THE SUN, variations in its output will cause variations in our temperature.
  3. The trouble with people presenting evidence is that they like to present the stuff the supports their premise, but ignore all the rest. You can show 50 glaciers that are receding and ignore the 50 that are growing. You can show the ice shelf breaking off but ignore the fact that it is getting colder in antarctica.

The greatest danger we face on this planet is the Eco Freaks. The climate will change no matter what we do. If the Freaks have their way, we will not be able to combat it, because we will have squandered resources trying to stop a hurricane instead of getting out of the way. I like your work, but you are scaring me now.

—Brad Tittle, Senior Systems Analyst, Trainnow.net

I too, am a skeptic. I am particularly skeptical of conventional wisdom that reeks of left wing politics and uses none other than Al Gore as a reference. Look up Malthusian economic theory so that you understand what it means when I accuse you of having a Malthusian mind. Several months ago there was an excellent greenhouse gas article printed in your publication using thousands of years of ice core data as its basis. This data showed quite convincingly that the glacial cycles, most probably brought on by the precession of the earth in its orbit around the sun, are accompanied by increases and decreases in greenhouse gases. It also showed that the most recent interglacial warm period should have begun to cool off and green house gases should have begun declining about 6000 years ago. They have not. They have, instead, increased. The scientist who did this study pointed out that about the only possible variable to explain this change in these cycles would be the rapid expansion of human population accompanied by farming, irrigation and raising of domestic live stock. Greenhouse gases have been going up when they should have been going down for 6000 years. There were no SUV’s back then. The answer to the dilemma you fear was also in the data from that article. The two largest plagues of the last two thousand years actually showed up in the ice core data as reductions in greenhouse gases. You want a 70% reduction in greenhouse gases you’d better plan a plague, a big one. The fact is that if anything can be proven as cause and effect, the only thing one might be able to say with some certainty is that the mere existence and growth of the human population has delayed a glaciation, which the aforementioned data indicated should have begun about 2000 years ago. Probably this is a GOOD thing!

—Jim Gampetro, Buffalo, WY

It seems the primary reason for the Skeptic’s “flipping” is the change in carbon dioxide levels from 180ppm (ice age), 280ppm (industrial revolution), 380ppm (today), and then the projections. So what about the previous 4.5 million years? What were carbon dioxide levels BEFORE the last ice age? The time frame for which we have data is so small compared to the history of the earth (which has endured numerous hot and cold periods), that forecasts based on that data are unscientific. Kinda like calling an elephant long and skinny based on a feel of it’s tail. I’m not ready to “flip” yet.

—John Guimont

I well remember watching television programs about the environment hosted by David Suzuki. They were visually stunning and brilliantly presented. But my mind had already been hardened by the failed predictions of the extremists, and so I watched and listened, but I did not see or hear. But you were right, David, and for many decades of tireless work on behalf of this pale blue dot and its inhabitants, we all owe you a debt of gratitude.

This article was first published in an edited volume as a Festschrift
for David Suzuki by Greystone Books, Canada.

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61 Comments to “Confessions of a Former Environmental Skeptic”

  1. Ian Blake Says:

    Oh dear, oh dear. Like many others, I am now seriously mistrustful of Mr Shermer’s skeptical credentials. I recommend a look at the NIPCC report which provides a very thorough and convincing counter to the exaggerated claims in the IPCC report itsef, and how that report was manipulated to get it that way. Follwoing is an extract from a SEPP weekly newletter.
    —-
    Keeping the IPCC Honest ­ Part II

    IPCC reports, and particularly their Summaries
    for Policy Makers (SPM), are noted for their bias
    in support of the political goal of control of
    fossil fuels in order to fight alleged anthropogenic global warming AGW).

    The most blatant example is the Second Assessment
    Report (SAR), completed in 1995 and published in
    1996. Its SPM contains the memorable phrase “The
    balance of evidence suggests a discernible human
    influence on global climate.”

    This ambiguous phrase conveys a mental picture of
    climate scientists, preferably with gray beards,
    sitting around a table judging both human and
    natural influences, looking at published
    scientific research, and carefully weighing their
    decision. Nothing of the sort has ever
    happened. The IPCC has consistently ignored the
    real natural influences on climate change and has
    focused almost entirely on human causes,
    especially GH gases — and more especially on
    carbon dioxide, which is linked to industrial
    activities and therefore bad almost by definition.

    How then does the IPCC-SAR arrive at this
    “balance?” It was done by carefully removing
    references to any doubt that human influences are
    the major or almost exclusive cause of
    warming. I will quote here from the WSJ (August
    13,1996) article, written by the late Professor
    Frederick Seitz. He compared the draft approved
    by the authors of IPCC-SAR Chapter 8 (Detection
    and Attribution) and the final printed text. He
    noted that key phrases had been deleted from the
    approved draft before printing.

    This IPCC report, like all others, is held in
    such high regard largely because it has been
    peer-reviewed. That is, it has been read,
    discussed, modified and approved by an
    international body of experts. These scientists
    have laid their reputations on the line. But this
    report is not what it appears to be–it is not
    the version that was approved by the contributing
    scientists listed on the title page. In my more
    than 60 years as a member of the American
    scientific community, including service as
    president of both the National Academy of
    Sciences and the American Physical Society, I
    have never witnessed a more disturbing corruption
    of the peer-review process than the events that led to this IPCC report.

    A comparison between the report approved by the
    contributing scientists and the published version
    reveals that key changes were made after the
    scientists had met and accepted what they thought
    was the final peer-reviewed version. The
    scientists were assuming that the IPCC would obey
    the IPCC Rules–a body of regulations that is
    supposed to govern the panel’s actions. Nothing
    in the IPCC Rules permits anyone to change a
    scientific report after it has been accepted by
    the panel of scientific contributors and the full IPCC.

    The participating scientists accepted “The
    Science of Climate Change” in Madrid last
    November; the full IPCC accepted it the following
    month in Rome. But more than 15 sections in
    Chapter 8 of the report–the key chapter setting
    out the scientific evidence for and against a
    human influence over climate–were changed or
    deleted after the scientists charged with
    examining this question had accepted the supposedly final text.

    Few of these changes were merely cosmetic; nearly
    all worked to remove hints of the skepticism with
    which many scientists regard claims that human
    activities are having a major impact on climate
    in general and on global warming in particular.

    The following passages are examples of those
    included in the approved report but deleted from
    the supposedly peer-reviewed published version:

    · “None of the studies cited above has
    shown clear evidence that we can attribute the
    observed [climate] changes to the specific cause
    of increases in greenhouse gases.”
    * “No study to date has positively attributed
    all or part [of the climate change observed to
    date] to anthropogenic [man-made] causes.”
    * “Any claims of positive detection of
    significant climate change are likely to remain
    controversial until uncertainties in the total
    natural variability of the climate system are reduced.”
    The reviewing scientists used this original
    language to keep themselves and the IPCC honest.
    I am in no position to know who made the major
    changes in Chapter 8; but the report’s lead
    author, Benjamin D. Santer, must presumably take the major responsibility.

    IPCC reports are often called the “consensus”
    view. If they lead to carbon taxes and restraints
    on economic growth, they will have a major and
    almost certainly destructive impact on the
    economies of the world. Whatever the intent was
    of those who made these significant changes,
    their effect is to deceive policy makers and the
    public into believing that the scientific
    evidence shows human activities are causing global warming.

    If the IPCC is incapable of following its most
    basic procedures, it would be best to abandon the
    entire IPCC process, or at least that part that
    is concerned with the scientific evidence on
    climate change, and look for more reliable
    sources of advice to governments on this important question.

    In addition to these text changes there are also
    two key graphs that were doctored in order to
    convey the impression that anthropogenic influences are dominant.

    You may recall that this dishonest 1996 IPCC
    report played a key role in the political
    deliberations that led to the 1997 Kyoto
    Protocol. The persons responsible for making
    these alterations bear a heavy responsibility for
    misleading the Kyoto conference and for the subsequent economic damage.

  2. Christopher Sauvarin Says:

    Genuine scepticism is a virtue. Ideology-driven or fossil-fuel funded pseudo-scepticism is worse than a vice.

    The trouble with climate change is that it requires considerable study and tenacity to get a reasonable grasp of the basics. There is much bogus scientific information out there, deliberately disseminated to confuse and bewilder the unwary.
    The nay-sayers, whether lazy, self-opinionated wind-bags, or the foot soldiers of the fossil-fuel industry and the freedom-to-pollute ideologues know this. They can easily perform a bait & switch to cast doubt and bamboozle the average citizen.

    No-wonder that so many are confused.
    I believe that:
    Knowingly disseminating scientific falsehoods should be made a crime.
    Making false and unfounded allegations against scientists, should be a felony.

  3. Christopher Sauvarin Says:

    The burden of proof lies not with the scientific majority, who are convinced by the science, but with those who falsely claim variously that:
    there is a world conspiracy to impose world government
    The science says the exact opposite of what it actually says
    etc.

    The denialists’ arguments are further diluted by the fact that they can’t even agree what the science is wrong about!

    1 “It’s the sun”
    2 “Climate’s changed before”
    3 “There is no consensus”
    4 “It’s cooling”
    5 “Models are unreliable”
    6 “Surface temp is unreliable”
    7 “Ice age predicted in the 70s”
    8 “It hasn’t warmed since 1998″
    9 “We’re heading into an ice age”
    10 “Antarctica is cooling/gaining ice”
    11 “CO2 lags temperature”
    12 “Al Gore got it wrong”
    13 “Global warming is good”
    14 “Hurricanes aren’t linked to global warming”
    15 “It’s freaking cold!”
    16 “Mars is warming”
    17 “1934 – hottest year on record”
    18 “It’s cosmic rays”
    19 “It’s just a natural cycle”
    20 “Urban Heat Island effect exaggerates warming”
    21 “Arctic icemelt is a natural cycle”
    22 “Sea level rise is exaggerated”
    23 “Hockey stick was debunked”
    24 “Other planets are warming”
    25 “Greenland was green”
    26 “Water vapor is the most powerful greenhouse gas”
    27 “Human CO2 is a tiny % of CO2 emissions”
    28 “We’re coming out of an ice age”
    29 “It cooled mid-century”
    30 “Oceans are cooling”
    31 “It warmed before 1940 when CO2 was low”
    32 “Mt. Kilimanjaro’s ice loss is due to land use”
    33 “Polar bears are increasing”
    34 “There’s no empirical evidence”
    35 “Glaciers are growing”
    36 “Extreme weather isn’t caused by global warming”
    37 “Climate sensitivity is low”
    38 “Satellites show no warming in the troposphere”
    39 “The IPCC does not represent a scientific consensus”
    40 “CO2 is not a pollutant”
    41 “If scientists can’t predict weather, how can they predict long term climate?”
    42 “CO2 effect is weak”
    43 “CO2 has been higher in the past”
    44 “Greenland is cooler/gaining ice”
    45 “There’s no correlation between CO2 and temperature”
    46 “Neptune is warming”
    47 “Jupiter is warming”
    48 “Pluto is warming”
    49 “There’s no tropospheric hot spot”
    50 “Greenland ice sheet is stable”
    51 “It’s Pacific Decadal Oscillation”
    52 “It’s the ocean”
    53 “It’s volcanoes (or lack thereof)”
    54 “Less than half of published scientists endorse global warming”
    55 “CO2 measurements are suspect”
    56 “It’s aerosols”
    57 “Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?”
    58 “It’s El Niño”
    59 “It’s microsite influences”
    60 “It’s land use”
    61 “Humans are too insignificant to affect global climate”
    62 “It’s methane”
    63 “It’s Solar Cycle Length”
    64 “Naomi Oreskes’ study on consensus was flawed”
    65 “Water levels correlate with sunspots”
    66 “Solar cycles cause global warming”
    67 “The sun is getting hotter”
    68 “It’s the ozone layer”
    69 “It’s satellite microwave transmissions”
    70 “Global temperatures dropped sharply in 2007″

  4. Jim Stewart Says:

    Like Ian Blake, I doubt Mr Shermer’s skeptical credentials.

    More importantly I wonder if, having “flipped” so emotionally and publicly on anthropogenic global warming, he has the courage to admit his reasons for flipping were never valid. In short, after spending years and billions of dollars looking for it, no discernible evidence of human influence on global climate has been validated.

    Don’t take my word for it, ask any of the many authorities with access to up-to-date global atmospheric temperatures and carbon dioxide data. In the US, ask Alan Carlin, a senior analyst for the Environmental Protection Agency.

    That’s what I encouraged Kofi Annan to do if TimeCNN includes my question in the 10 to be put and answered interview in an upcoming issue of TIME magazine, as you’ll read in submission 80 if you go here: http://10questions.time.com/2009/09/17/ask-kofi-annan/comment-page-4/#comment-26095.

  5. Bill Says:

    As soon as the UN implements a Global Warming Tax of 5% of everyone’s income, I will know it’s a con job by the Puppet Masters. It’s all about the money. Always has been and always will be, because there is no end to the Greed of the Puppet Masters. They will screw the working man every chance they get. Read The New Babylon by Michael Collins Piper and look behind the curtain and see who the OZ really is. It’s sad that scientists have their head in the sand and refuse to believe they are being manipulated by powerful billionaires who control the politicians who are only front men for a hidden agenda.

  6. Steven Lawless Says:

    First: My congratulations and appreciation to Michael Shermer for having the courage and honesty to publicly confess to having had a change of mind. So often people are so afraid of being called “flip floppers” that they will cling to every belief (particularly true with religeous belief) that they have held since they were in 6th grade.

    Second: It certainly can be difficult for people to sort out the complexities of the opposing camps on a subject like global warming. But as a complete non-scientist I have come to some conclusions as to which way would be wisest to lean based on the following ideas:

    1. Am I supposed to believe that the thousands of nerdy IPCC scientists peering into their microscopes from countries around the globe are somehow busily conspiring with each other to concoct some fairy tale for political gain? I know some scientists. And, yes, a lot of them are sort of nerdy. But, no, they are to a person CONSUMED with curiosity about what they are exploring and are not at all of a mind to play games.
    2. Am I supposed to believe that it is a lie that the great majority of the climate scientists in the world belive in AGW?
    3. Even if there is real doubt about the matter, what would be the most prudent thing to do? Continue petal-to-the-metal to consume the world’s fossile fuels or apply the brakes until we know more. If we’re wrong about AGW and we apply those breaks, yeah, there will be some dislocations in the extractive industries. But at least there will be something there to extract when our 7 times great grandkids arrive. People sound so swaggeringly confident when they proclaim “We’ve got enough oil/coal/gas/etc. to last for the next 50/100/200/etc. years!” Well….What then? These are my descendants we’re talking about here!!! Your’s too?
    If, on the other hand, that vast majority of scientists are right and we apply the brakes, well, maybe we save the world.

    Steven Lawless

  7. Alexa Price-Whelan Says:

    I am so glad that Mr. Lawless brought up his 3rd point: even if anthropogenic global warming is NOT real, what does that mean? That we have every right to be wasteful and destructive? Of course not. We have a responsibility to limit the impact we have on this planet; we don’t know if humans will ever have the opportunity to inhabit another one, so for now, it’s all we’ve got. It may be difficult to link our behavior to global warming, but there are other effects that are undeniable (consider the accumulation of waste in landfills). Debating whether global warming is anthropogenic is a distraction from the real question: are we all doing the simple things (like producing less garbage) we can do to limit our impact?

  8. Malcolm Mowbray Says:

    There is a good point made by one of your contributors – that the size of human population has the most dramatic effect upon warming. Every extra million people provide an extra million consumers, clawing their way up in whatever society they live in, trying to attain a motorbike or a car, central heating or air conditioning, above all, BREATHING.
    Although governments may legislate about CO2 reduction, the relatively small losses are outweighed by the increase in population which would appear to exponential.
    So who is to blame? Poverty in old age is one cause (I must have children to care for me when I am too old to work) but far more important are the religions (and governments) that ban contraception and/or abortion for “moral” reasons that should be anathema to any rationalist.

  9. Chris Howard Says:

    True enough, even if anthropogenic global warming isn’t “real” there are plenty of other reasons to curb co2 emissions as well as pollution in general. The debate from the denialst perspective is a red herring. Asthma and other resperatory illnesses, specifically in children, but also across the general pop. have been increasing since the advent of the industrial revolution, as has acid rain, ecosystem degredation and water pollution. We should be focusing on curbing all pollution for a variety of reasons, not just global warming. There appears to be a more militant stance coming from the environmental extremist perspective. I am hearing people declare that the “powers that be” be held criminally responsible for fabricating pseudo-scientific claims to deny global warming. The scary thing here is that they’re talking about treating those who do deceive the public with misinformation as murderers, or as accesories to murder, and are suggesting retribution. This debate may turn violent. People on the extreme ends are very angry and frustrated, and they’re demanding justice. My fear is that it my be acted out by a mob, rather than in civil or criminal court.

  10. Mark Schaffer Says:

    “As an undergraduate in the early 1970s, we were told that overpopulation would lead to worldwide hunger and starvation, oil depletion, precious mineral exhaustion, and rainforest extinction by the 1990s, predictions that have all failed utterly.”
    I would like to know the exact wording of what Shermer was told. What are the nuances he is leaving out to bias his argument here. Certainly peak oil happened in the U.S. in the early 1970′s and how many people have died of the effects of hunger and outright starvation? The story is always more complicated than when Shermer is presenting a black and white portrayal to avoid being wrong. In fact, he has made an extreme argument in the process of complaining about environmental extremists. This undercuts his credibility.

  11. Victor Dominocielo Says:

    The problem with using anthropogenic global warming/CO2 as a motivator and rational to change our way of living is that 97% of CO2 is naturally caused and only 2.5%-3% can be attributed to humans. So even if we dropped our CO@ production to zero, we could only effect 3% of the changes happening in our atmosphere.
    We should all be and are environmentalists in that we all want the cleanest air and water possible. However, the catastrophic thinking and human centrist solution to what is happening to our ever changing planet should be dropped from the argument, rationale and discussion.

  12. Mrs Pelican Says:

    Oh Mr. Shermer, I can’t believe you said those things. Four books and a (now discredited) Gore movie was all it took to convert you? As you know, people seem to have a deep need for some kind of religious belief and it can come in many guises, the latest being the Holy Church of Climate Change. And, as usual, those who stand to profit are only too happy to promote it (although the eco-elite do not practice what they preach as they jet around the world proselytizing). Maybe you and Bill Maher could go have a coffee somewhere and talk about this – he seems to have found religion too.

  13. Mark Schaffer Says:

    Victor,
    Given that removal processes balanced introduction processes for CO2 before we started digging up deep sequestered carbon, burning it, and tipping the balance what do you think would happen to a long lived gas with a small percent increase every year? Perhaps going from ~280ppm in the nineteenth century to over~385ppm today is not so far fetched???
    Mrs. Pelican is woefully uninformed on this issue if she equates what science knows about AGW with religion. If readers eliminate her empty rhetoric they will notice she presents no facts regarding the subject…just name calling and overblown generalizations.

  14. John Alger Says:

    I wish to thank Mr. Shermer and his fellow skeptics for tutoring me in the skills of skepticism. I have begun using those skills in daily life. I am more than willing to listen to the supported facts of any case, by all sides, and discard any preconceptions I may have had. All I seek is an unemotional and respectful debate on the facts.

    I personally find it reasonable, on its face, that humans bear some responsibility for global warming and almost entirely responsible to growing CO2 levels. I also agree with Mr. Shermer’s concern that global warming activists repeatedly fail to respond, fact by fact, to all the counter claims. While I have tried to educate myself on the golbal warming over the last decade, I find myself stymied resolve my doubts by the refusal of activists to counter the oppostion’s charges.

    A prime example is Christopher Sauvarin’s lengthy list of the anti’s claims. Personally, I beleive at least a few items on the list can be refuted with a minimun of effort. I would really like to hear the reposnse to some of the items and still others that will continue to raise doubts in me until someone can difinitively disprove them. However, despite Mr. Sauarin’s obvious emotion about the topic, he, like others, made no attempt to address any of them. Please, don’t dodge the questions, rebut them.

  15. Paul Bredderman Says:

    Michael,

    One thing Nature, and climate, is not governed by is ‘political’ science.

    If global warming is obviously threatening to force us to make changes, we need to get on with them.

  16. John Beck Says:

    The #1 problem with discussing climate change is that it is a very complex (and non-linear) system. Us non-experts are ill equipped to evaluate the weight of arguments because we lack the foundation of knowledge.

    For example: Victor and Mark seem to agree that Anthropogenic CO2 is about 2-3% of total CO2 emissions, yet they seem to draw completely different conclusions regarding the significance of it. This disagreement stems, in part, from a lack of understanding of the Earth’s carbon cycle. [I'm not a Climate expert so I won't reveal the limits of my understanding of this].

    Until we have a deeper understanding of the processes which contribute to climate change we cannot have a productive discussion of it.

    Here is another example of subtleties being important: bolometric (total) measurements of variations in Solar irradiance (energy output) suggest that the Sun is responsible for no more than ~1/3 of global warming. However, changes in total sunlight energy output don’t tell the whole story – UV light from the Sun varies much, much more than visible sunlight. Although UV is a tiny fraction of all sunlight energy, it absorbed by atmospheric Ozone and O2 – whereas visible light (which is the lion’s share of solar energy) essentially passes straight through.

    What does it all mean? That the answer ain’t simple.

  17. John Beck Says:

    Oops. I accidentally cut out this paragraph after the one about solar irradiance:

    UV light ionizes the atmospheric gases and may have a big impact on cloud formation. Increasing the cloud coverage on the Earth decreases the amount of sunlight absorbed by the system (ie. clouds reflect most sunlight back into space b/c they’re white). So a tiny change in the solar irradiance can have a big impact on the Earth’s climate – depending on details of that change.

  18. Chris Says:

    I’m with those who prescribe a dose of common sense. I don’t need a scientific study to tell me that cleaner fuels are the smart way to go. The same way I don’t need a scientific study to tell that nitrite-laced hot dogs are bad for me.

  19. Thom H. Says:

    The AGW-deniers seem to be saying we should be cautious about cutting back on CO2 (and other GHG) production as if producing giga-tons of CO2 is the norm. This is ass-backwards, folks. The “norm” for planet Earth would be zero GHG production by humans and we should be cautious about producing any at all until we’re positive about the effects. Of course that horse is already out of the barn, but reducing production should be the obvious goal since we (seemingly) don’t know for sure what the effect on global temperature is but we do know that those greenhouse gasses are pollutants, or are accompanied by pollutants, in many other respects.

    Victor, I don’t know if your numbers are correct but I think that instead of taking comfort in the fact that 97% is overwhelmingly larger than 3%, you should be worried about a threshhold effect or, as M. Schaffer puts it, “tipping the balance”.

  20. g andrew Says:

    Dear folks,

    I would concur that there is a human effect on the environment. I remember the impact of hearing the following a decade or more ago:

    According to some source I’ve long forgotton, exacting measurments by the automic clock revealed the rotational speed of the earth had fractionally increased thanks to the convergence of major water resevoirs (and their immense weight) in North America and other regions about the waist of our Earth. Simple physics in a child’s classroom made it clear to this non-mathimatically minded skeptic that if you increase the weight of a spinning object (hello Auto Shop 101!) at it’s equator, it’s speed will also increase.

    Man has actually shortened our Earth’s year. If we can actually move earth and water enough to speed up the Earth’s rotation, just what other effects might we be perpetrating?

    I would be very interested to hear if anyone else has an opinion on this automic clock data…

    Best wishes,

    G

  21. Mark Schaffer Says:

    Just so John Beck understands, there is no doubt that CO2 is increasing and that it is due to the burning of deep sequestered carbon fuels. For you to understand this check these two sources:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/06/how-much-of-the-recent-cosub2sub-increase-is-due-to-human-activities/
    And for even more depth:
    http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-chapter2.pdf
    Now instead of speculating why not read the actual science?

  22. frank! Says:

    as an activist (vietnam, nuclear, environmental – from waaaay back)i am encouraged and humbled by the quality of the comments above.

    may i inject another perspective into the debate?

    - given that fossil fuels fuel the core cause of AGW, some perspective on their origin is surely appropriate?

    the standard model postulates swamp theory.

    the evidence (non swamp species catastrophically entombed in vast mats between sterile sedimentary layers) points to a planetary catastrophe.

    ancient traditions speak of divine judgement to be repeated (though fire rather than water?) when times recapitulated those conditions that obtained in the first place.

    good luck?!

  23. John Gorman Says:

    Complaining about “environmental extremists” is not very useful, unless the author is willing to name names and give sources. i.e. Just who has said such things, where and when?

  24. Al Lowi Says:

    Flipping from skepticism to activism is a dangerous form of exercise — jumping to conclusions. Activism is a false alternative. Skepticism is the essential posture of a scientist. Intellectual honesty demands it. In science there is always a seed of doubt. There is no such thing as settled science. Activism is an ideological phenomenon. Second-hand conclusions are matters of faith.

  25. Chris Goodman Says:

    The debate on AGW was interesting, but delayed adressing the problem. Now we need to be skeptical about the solutions proposed by engineers, business and governments.

    Will Carbon Trading work?
    Can REDD fight corruption to save rainforests?
    How many wind turbines, solar thermal plants are required and at what cost to the grid?
    How do we make buildings more efficient?
    Can the planet support 9 billion people whizzing around in new electric cars?
    If AGW existed before fossil fuel buring, then how can we modify agriculture to reduce carbon emmissions?
    How do we deal with entrenched vested interests?
    Can we believe the claims of corprorate green wash?
    How do we reduce consumption without stagnation?

    Above all, can we trust a highly secretive nuclear lobby who entreat us to belive their next generation of nuclear power generators really are safe; don’t lead to weapons proliferation; don’t cause waste and can be built in huge numbers close to your home (but not before the next election)? That’s what they said about the last generation.

    Skeptics are urgently needed to sort out the inevitable hubris of climate change solution promotors from the good solutions that we actualy have to adopt.

    Personally, I find George Monbiot from the UK is a good guide in these matters.

  26. Steven Lawless Says:

    John Alger,

    You asked for rebuttals to the lengthly list of AGW denier’s claims supplied by Christopher Sauvarin. Although I haven’t matched them up point for point I’ll bet that this site

    http://www.grist.org/article/series/skeptics/

    covers most of them.

  27. P K Narayanan (Dr) Says:

    Concerns about changes in the biosphere: Are they really worthwhile?
    ——————————————————-

    It is a harsh reality that man made hazards like release of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases into the biosphere, destruction of forests, disproportionate consumption of natural resources et al are reasons for serious concerns in the path of survival of the species including humans as they are at present. If we closely purview the other side of the picture, we may convince ourselves that any concern to retain what are all of the present form and what are all of the present existence of the living and non-living organisms for years to come in onward journey in space, would be a fallacy. Our beloved Earth was not like what it is today, trillions of years ago: Did it not take thousands and thousands of years for living organisms to appear on the earth. We know that in the beginning of this process of transformation, there were no plants, no trees, no birds and no animals including humans on this planet.

    The present earth with all its trees and plants and resources, did not so far end in a disaster or ecological calamity even though destruction due to several natural calamities like endless earth quakes, volcanoes, wild fires, torrential rains and floods were the order of the years that passed by but the original planet continued to exist.

    The nature has that particular capability of equilibrating itself with the environs and the changes that take place from time to time including what happens in space. This process of equilibration is applicable to all living organisms including plants, animals and humans. The right course of approach for every one would be to be optimistic and to allow nature to reach whatever stage it reaches while at the same time to keep a semblance of balance and contentment about what every one needs and consumes. It is the greatest truth that no concerns can change the course of nature.

  28. Stephen Austin Says:

    Take a look at this. It argues increasing and wasteful consumption by the rich rather than population growth is destroying the planet.
    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/09/29/the-population-myth/

  29. Malcolm Mowbray Says:

    I see above a (disparaging) reference to nuclear energy. France gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear power and, as such, is undoubtedly the “cleanest” first-world country in terms of CO2 emissions. Of course, we have all heard of the frequent deaths from this dangerous custom in France, the mega-pollution that has resulted and the frequency of mutations in that country, leading to the abortion of nine out ten pregnancies – or have we?
    The problem with nuclear generation is the emotional argument (not one for sceptics (sorry, I’m English)) that we should fear the invisible. I’m reminded of Thurber’s mother who insisted on putting plugs into all the electricity sockets lest the electricty leak out.

  30. John Alger Says:

    My thanks to Steven Lawless. That is a very informative site.

  31. Dennis J. Junk Says:

    I’m reminded of Richard Lewontin’s review of Carl Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World,” published in the New York Review of Books. Sagan includes arguments from authority as one of the chief fallacies in his “Fine Art of Baloney Detection” chapter. But, counters Lewontin, we had to rely on the likes of Carl Sagan to inform us about astronomy; we rely on either Dawkins or Gould for biology; and we rely on experts even in scientific fields closely associated with our own because no individual could possibly master the niceties of more than one or two fields.
    It comes down to trust at least as much as it does to critical thinking. I for one see the global warming debate as not occurring among scientists so much as it is an attack on science from well-funded outside groups. But that’s because I trust the scientists I’ve read on the matter and I suspect money determines message. Oil companies have deep pockets.
    Let’s remember that Shermer, a professed libertarian, is taking a position most of that persuasion see as anathema.

  32. Mark Schaffer Says:

    Before anyone finds themselves nodding in agreement with Malcolm Mowbray’s comments about nuclear power please read the short introduction and link to the longer .pdf here:
    http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid504.php
    Shermer, meanwhile, is still using bad judgement by referring readers to Bjorn Lomborg as a source. He has been completely discredited in expert science circles so the only outlet for his dissembling is straight to the public.

  33. Nathan Weatherby - Phoenix Says:

    Mr. Shermer your naiveté astounds me.

    One of many questions I have:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8299079.stm

    Nathan Weatherby
    Phoenix

  34. Required Says:

    While I have taken issue with Michale Shermer’s Libertarian views, I must say, this kind of honest self-evaluation is why I keep coming back to him. He really isn’t afraid to say that he got some things wrong, and whatever disagreements I have had with him, I do feel that he is sincere. However, get ready for many morose responses by the Libertarian cult that he has attracted.

    Recently, as a person who considers himself Liberal, I have been pondering the effect that many naive Liberals have had on current scientific issues. In particular, I agree that the wide-eyed, dizzy environmental movement has done considerable damage to science based environmental pursuits. I blame the ever present grip of spiritualism that even many Liberals have their own version of, for this problem. It seems that emotion is a problem for all political groups, but some more than others.

    I have also concluded that while I feel that Conservatives are much more deluded about scientific issues (they almost seem proud of their ignorance) Liberal groups have a lot to answer for as well.

    There are times that I wonder if Liberal devotees aren’t just as drunk on some mythological spiritualism that plagues many Conservative groups.

    I can certainly understand the skepticism that has occurred since the early 90′s towards environmental obsessives. They do similar damage to the discussion that unwavering environmental skeptics do.

  35. Laureen Asa-Dorian Says:

    I wonder if the recent “climategate” emails have prompted you to “flip” back?

  36. EJ Says:

    Hmmmm.

    Came across your writings here from the coasttocoast site. Don’t know you or your CV’s. But watching tv shows is not scientific. Neither are unvalidated, currently falsified computer models with assumed boundary conditions! These models ignore solar winds and clouds. They assume forcings. They fail on 3/4 of forecasting principals.

    Climate science is still in it’s infancy and it’s practitioners are still using soft science principles.

    Also, there are NO RAW EMPIRACAL observations which verify these models, hindcasts don’t count. Thus the models are not scientific and no better than throwing chicken bones.

    So if you are a man of science, it’s time to review the scientific method and Wikip. has a great definition.

    I am an engineer by training and have studied this science for a decade now.

    Have you not studied the CRU scandal? I am appalled at these climate scientists who are behaving like little girls. And to think these people are lead authors for the IPCC.

    Time to take off your rose colored glasses dude.

  37. jeffsmathers Says:

    Even NASA has sequestered and is holding data under the pressure of a FOIA request for the last two years. It is requiring the efforts of the applicant and his attorneys to release it.

    There was a state climatologist in Oregon who was fired by the governor because he did not ‘believe enough’ in AGW…..

    The impact of this fraud will affect people’s liberties and taxes for generations.

    Science is a platform to apply an application of measurement ‘standards’ to determine if a hypothesis can be made into a theory.

    Unfortunately, science is made into a religion by ‘scientists’ that seek to gain truth by their peers and by an aggregate of politics in both government and academia that will ‘pay’ their way to the next discoveries.

    Outcome based science is rampant and truth is not the golden mean anymore. The ‘feel good’ objectives and directives of schools and of society in the last 30-40 or so years and motivations that promote ‘self esteem’ standards have replaced the desire for ‘truth’ for a marketing cliché “does it sell”?

    Ocean levels are obviously cyclic over periods of time and based on the glaciations that occur over large areas of land mass, thus changing the level of oceans.

    Based on assumed factors that the worlds mass and volume of water in liquid and solid form is roughly fixed, excluding the small fractional amount in the air, and the land mass is roughly static in form or placement for the last million years, then the largest influencing variable is heat.

    Using this reference chart for the last million years then you can see that there is an approximate maximum ocean level that we are presently enjoying.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Se…temp_140ky.gif

    With the trends that are so obvious and repeatable who is willing to say that this recent event that started 18 thousand years ago is special?

    This argument does not refute the imperative necessity to ensure that the resources we use are utilized efficiently, and the output of our consumption should be clean as possible or practical..

  38. Bob Says:

    Ironic that Shermer’s book “Why People Believe Weird Things” is what I recalled when I started to question AGW theory. The result was learning way more about climate than I had ever planned on. Going on many a wild goose chase. Watching and reading as real scientists learned much more about our planet despite those with the megaphones claiming we knew enough already and must act on their opinions. So now I think about the book again and come here to find Shermer believing a weird thing. The problem with AGW is that the predictions based on the theory have so horribly failed to match the observed raw data. That important other half of the “science” was ignored to promote the cause celeb. Scandal after scandal on this issue involves proponents trying to fit the square data into a round hole. Yet the true believers still don’t take pause. The massaged raw data is presented as the “real” data. I can see Shermer basing his opinion on this “real” data. A lot of people did. We were told over and over again that it was “science” like the drip from Chinese water torture. But what good is an opinion based on bad data? Shermer may have made his opinion despite being burned by environmental extremists in the past but AGW theory is my first time being burned. If they fool you twice, shame on you. The sad thing is that this nonsense and all the time and money it has absorbed has taken away from legit environmental concerns who may also take a hit to their credibility thanks to this fiasco. But thank you Michael Shermer for your book. I don’t think it is nearly as important to teach what to think as it is to teach how to think. Differing opinions on this issue won’t change how I view your book and I still recommend it to friends.

  39. billgeorge Says:

    Complexity on this issue is being understated. Hijacked by politics – inducing pseudoskeptism, we have sheep imbibing cool aid on both sides of the anthropogenic global warming fence in which their cherry picked facts have become overstated.
    Long term data is perhaps less than satisfactory which should give us pause before any “extremism” (e.g.,carbon tax) is considered. Caution and “moderation” is the best approach until the jury returns with more refined data.
    In science the jury is always out – the truth only becomes less nebulous.

  40. kelly Says:

    I have been doing a large amount of reading on global warming, and human caused global warming lately. I use those words because I think basic understandable language should be used, and I seperate the two, because I don’t believe that we’re talking about just one topic of debate.

    Let me be clear on the point that global warming is not the only reason to reduce pollution, and co2 is not the only problem we face. Acid rain requires a simple piece of litmus paper to test, and not very hard to show what is causing it.

    We aren’t talking about acid rain in this context, it’s global warming, and the idea that (a) we are responsible, and (b) we need to act fast, and dump trillions of dollars into solving the problem.

    My real problem with the concept that we must act now, is it just makes me think of timeshare salesmen. The idea of being better to the environment is fantastic, and by that I mean better than good.

    This is where things start to get more fuzzy, because we have a very large amount of data, and a number of informed opinions about what data is significant, what the data means, and the modeling of that data to make predictions.

    I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. But there doesn’t seem to be a overwhelming concensus about the answers among scientists that I have been led to believe either.

    I really tend to be cautious when many reputations, and a staggering amount of money are involved. I keep firmly in mind that 10,000 people, many colledge educated, signed a petition to ban di-hydrogen oxide. (h2o)

    Money does strange things to people, and we as a social group aren’t very forgiving about professional scientists being wrong. We are a little more forgiving about a sceptic being wrong.

    The commentary here is very polarized, but I personally wonder if the whole climategate issue was motivated by an actual desire to decieve, or maybe, those leaders found the data lacking, and simply tried to salvage thier careers.
    Doesn’t matter as much, because we have independent data to show in fact, the models used to forcast global warming aren’t accurate enough to spend several trillion dollars on.
    Check out the NASA GISS report on the topic and decide if they are ignorant fucktards for yourself.

    speaking of which, Mr Mowbray, a very fast check of infant mortality rates clearly shows that not only does France NOT have a 90% infant mortality rate, but they have a lower mortality rate than the US. An eye opener for that statistic, so does Cuba. Angola was listed as highest at 18%.

  41. kriemer Says:

    My problem is not in the climate science or statistical analysis of same; as I must confess that the subject is far too complex for me to have an intelligent opinion.

    My issue is with those that pronounce the science as complete and all counter arguments to no longer matter. While the burden of proof may(?) have shifted to those skeptical of anthropogenic climate change the nature of science is constant reevaluation of data.

  42. Orson Olson Says:

    Shermer’s doubts about the envrionmental movement are not without foundation or a long history of Truth-bending (think of spoon-bending by Uri Geller). Public choice economists have shown this to be the case. (Just google up “Baptists? The Political Economy of Environmental Interest Groups” by Todd Zywicki, Case W. Res. L. Rev. 315, 2002-2003.) But his basis for adopting alarm is lacking in two ways – absence of sound data and invocation of authority.

    Knowing Shermer’s formal educational and political biography and knowing the skeptic’s movement over my lifetime, I think J. Scott Armstrong’s presentation at the ICCC conference in Chicago should be of acute interest. (Professor Armstrong is the founder of scientific forecasting at Penn’s Wharton School of Business.) If it isn’t, then you aren’t alive to science.

    His talk asks: “Global Warming: A Scientific Forecasting Controversy or a Political Movement?”
    ====================================
    Podcast SOURCE:
    http://www.heartland.org/bin/media/podcasts/ICCC4/JScott_Armstrong.mp3
    ====================================

    To summarize his 15 minute presentation, scientific forecasting requires objectivity. Objectivity is composed of five things:
    -Multiple reasonable hypotheses (versus advocacy)
    -Decentralization
    -Replication
    -Full and understandable methods, transparency
    -correction of errors

    Audit of IPPC procedures for modeling: IPCC violated 72 of 89 principles relevant for climate forecasting. (SEE paper by Kesten and Armstrong.)
    _ _ _

    *IPCC Models*

    The global warming movement is not based on the scientific method; they don’t use multiple hypotheses; they do not use validated forecasting methods; they do not use decentralized processes – rather government and big business control the research; in terms of replicability, they do not fully and understandably disclose their methods and data; correction of errors? They don’t do anything about is, they just defend!

    CONCLUSIONS

    There are no scientific forecasts of man-made global warming; there are no scientific forecasts of net harmful effects due to global warming; there are no scientific forecasts of the proposed benefits from halting global warming.

    Forecasts of dangerous global warming is the product of an anti-scientific movement. Part of this is because of the massive funding for it.

    =======================================================

    If the anthropogenic global warming is the product of an anti-scientific movement, then these steps overlooked or even trashed by the IPP need another look if science is to be redeemed.

    The leading skeptic of global warming methods has been expert statistician Steve McIntyre, blogging for years at climataudit.org

    His privately funded campaign of investigation, reporting and analysis have been devoted to the institutional problems of replication, full and understandable methods, transparency, and correction of errors. Climategate can only be seen as a private revolt somewhere behind the UEA-FOI barrier against the institutionalized violation of these key principles.

    This is all too clearly in evidence as seen in the rise and fall of the Hockey Stick. In Britain’s “Prospect” magazine, Matt Ridley praises Andrew Montford’s ‘The Hockey Stick Illusion’ as “one of the best science books in years.”
    http://climateaudit.org/2010/03/11/shut-eyed-denial/

    “People make mistakes in science. Corrections get made. That’s how it works, is it not? Few papers get such scrutiny as [Mann’s Hockey Stick] had. But that is an even more worrying thought: how much dodgy science is being published without the benefit of an audit by Mcintyre’s ilk? As a long-time champion of science, I find the reaction of the scientific establishment more shocking than anything. The reaction was not even a shrug: it was shut-eyed denial.”

    THE pertinent ethical question skeptics must now ask themselves is the same one uttered generations ago after a different struggle:

    WHERE WERE YOU DADDY, DURING THE WAR AGAINST MAN-MADE CLIMATE CHANGE DOGMA?

  43. Orson Olson Says:

    Data is the mother lode of all science. The most fundamental basis for the theory of AGW is that temperatures rise as man-released atmospheric CO2 rises. Since last year, all of old confidence has exploded.

    If the pre-climatgate implications of the loss of one of the standard global temperature data bases integrity weren’t clear before, then they were afterwards.

    (Climatologist Pat Michaels explains here http://article.nationalreview.com/print/?q=ZTBiMTRlMDQxNzEyMmRhZjU3ZmYzODI5MGY4ZWI5OWM=)

    The shoddy state of the CRU surface data record was admitted by Phil Jones last September; he said they had lost the original data on which it was constructed (SEE Harry readme file, which chronicles the sufferings of an underling to attempt to herd that data – unsuccessfully.)

    IN June, 2010, Georgia Tech climatologist Judith curry concedes the bad state of affairs regarding the temperature records: “We need a new surface temperature data set, archived, and publicly available.” (http://climateaudit.org/2010/06/04/losing-glacier-data/#comment-231587)

    The echoes of climategate will last through US congressional hearings next year into scientific misconduct and possible fraud – and into 2014, as the scientific basis – and lack therefor – for the EPAs endangerment finding on CO2 regulation is challenged and revisited through the courts.

    The nearest proposed date for a new surface temperature data base is 2013.

  44. Orson Olson Says:

    Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” was reviewed by Fred L. Smith, formerly with the EPA. He finds the author’s exclusive focus with extremely pre-modern hierarchical societies excellent fodder for the convenient recycling (ala Paul Ehrlich) of many, many neo-Malthusian mythologies.
    (Download from HERE http://multi-science.metapress.com/content/u29t168343l76748/)
    An economically savvy reader like Shermer should find these hoary offerings easy to pick out and dispatch.

    Other expert reviewers found Diamond’s portrayals of modern Montana and Australia – among others – worrisomely fact-challenged.
    (LINKS here http://www.commonsblog.org/archives/000576.php)

  45. Orson Olson Says:

    “…I attended the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, California, where former Vice President Al Gore delivered the single finest summation of the evidence for global warming I have ever heard, based on the 2006 documentary film about his work in this area, An Inconvenient Truth. Because we are primates with such visually dominant sensory systems, we need to see the evidence to believe it, and the striking visuals of countless graphs and charts, and especially the before-and-after photographs showing the disappearance of glaciers around the world, shocked me viscerally and knocked me out my skepticism.”

    To any skeptic, THIS is lame. Good science relies on the best and most comprehensive data. What the IPCC and Jones and Wigley data sets offered up were neither transparent, replicable, nor sound.

    “Experts” have been about the dubious business of “adjusting” land-based temperatures. (SEE http://www.solopassion.com/node/7106) Without explaining what, how, and why.

    Contrary to the IPPCs undocumented “90% certainty” of man-made causes for recent decades warming, Roy Spencer shows how natural oceanic climate cycles can account for all of this “warming,” even if the massaged data is taken at face value.

    Meanwhile, cover 30 years of comprehensive and truly global satellite data finds a linear trend of only 0.14C degrees per decade – well along the bottom of IPCC “predictions.” And this result is far from new.

    The alarming warming “predictions” James Hansen in 1988 have proved to be below his best case scenario that assume a CO2 emissions reductions. Just as Armstrong says, the models these were based on were wrong and unscientific.

    It is hard for this skeptic to get alarmed about anything except the “swindle” claimed by New Zealand’s Dr. Vincent Gray – the most active expert reviewer of the IPCCs AR4 of 2007. These critiques have been cataloged and found to be a mostly useless exercise. The editors endorsed cheerleading and almost completely ignored engaging any critics. Far from “review” in any meaningful sense, they are a phony fig-leaf of a fraudulent respectability.

    And THIS is “science?” No-it is scientism.

  46. Orson Olson Says:

    I’ll take my leave from what could be seen as a series of pre-TAM hissy fits, but I do I must point the irony of German’s getting to the skeptical needs of reforming climate science in the wake of climategate before Americans do.

    Ironic, because WE – our Federal government does nearly all of the world’s climate science funding, including founding the CRU at the University of East Anglia – ground zero for climategate.

    Der Spiegel is on the case, in “How The Science of Global Warming Was Compromised” (05/17/10).
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,695301,00.html

    Erin O’conner summarizes in “Corrupting climate science” – the comments below are also worth heeding.

    “Der Spiegel tells the story of how political machination–from left and right–has warped climate science into a mockery of dispassionate knowledge creation. Any analysis of the climate debate that apportions blame by pointing fingers solely at the right or at the left is part of the problem. Any defense of climate scientists that rests on facile evocations of academic freedom is part of the problem. We need to see this fiasco for the massive global clusterfuck that it is, recognize its implications–not just for how we understand climate change, but also for the credibility of scientific research across the board–and take action on at least two fronts.

    “One, we need to start from scratch with climate research, and suspend major policy and spending initiatives until reasoned, reliable data are available. Then we might be able to have an actual debate grounded in actual logic and measured argument, and we might be able to end the current pattern of panicked and self-serving action based on skewed agenda-driven claims.

    “Two, we need to read the climate science fiasco as a sign of how badly academic peer review has been broken–and to rethink, from the ground up, whether and how academia can repair its integrity. If it can’t or won’t, we no longer have a justification for academic freedom. And if we don’t have that, higher education and academic research as we know it (or as we like to think we know it) will simply cease to be. This last is not a prediction, but a description of a process that is already in motion.”

    http://www.erinoconnor.org/archives/2010/05/corrupting_clim.html

    In an age of continued “prestige” science, government funded, naturally, peer review has been replaced by pal-review. The result in climate science has been hugely wasteful, precisely as the economic historian of science Terence Keeley would have predicted.
    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/non-fiction/article3201917.ece

  47. Orson Olson Says:

    If the Science Is Solid, Why Stoop? – February 12, 2010
    By Stanley W. Trimble,
    Prof. of Geography, UCLA

    “I must preface my remarks by saying that I believe that there has indeed been climate warming over the past few decades and I believe that human action may be one of the causes. While Climategate may bring into greater question some of the work underlying climate warming, it decidedly does not disprove it.

    “Having said that, I must add that Climategate is, in my view, the greatest science scandal in my lifetime. Beyond any scientific implications are the implications of the behavior of the East Anglia scientists and their correspondents – suppressing information, denigrating those who don’t agree with them, trying to deny others access to scientific journals, questioning motives, and conniving to disfellow skeptical colleagues. These are the earmarks of zealotry. While maybe not illegal, they are most certainly unethical. Civilized people, much less scientists, just don’t do those things – but then, apparently they do.”
    _ _ _

    He goes on to show how climategate proves environmentalists enforce double standards of science.

    “As we can see from Climategate, climate warmers can do some dastardly things to the scientific process and to scientific colleagues. But the most despicable thing they do is to call skeptics ‘deniers.’

    “What they are doing, of course, is trying to connect environmental skeptics with Holocaust deniers. If their science is so solid, why must they stoop to such measures? And why hasn’t the rest of the climate warming establishment condemned this and other vilification tactics? I’m proud to be a skeptic. Skepticism, in my view, is the watchword of good science. It is the process of challenging, perhaps even if Hegelian, that keeps the scientific enterprise honest and moving forward. The recent editorial by Donald Kennedy, then editor-in-chief of Science, proclaiming that the climate war was over, that the “warmers” had won and no one else need apply, is in my view a travesty – and Orwellian. (Donald Kennedy, editorial, ‘Climate: Game Over,’ Science 317, issue 5387, July 27, 2007, 425-27.)

    “Any idea in applied science is always open to question. Period. 

    SOURCE
    http://springerlink.com/content/p3128wk8x6041101/fulltext.pdf
    Acad. Quest. (2010) 23:54–56

    WHY CAN’T THE ‘SKEPTIC’ ESTABLISHMENT AIR LIKE GRIEVANCES?

  48. Orson Olson Says:

    Tim Flannery is pressured to account for his wildly alarmist predictions (expectations?) by interviewer Andrew Bolt in this excerpt:

    Andrew: All that’s lovely, Tim. But I think you need to be held to account for the alarmism that is in part your stock in trade, your shtick, and is responsible for what you now see-the retreat from global warming policies.

    Flannery: You want to paint me as an alarmist.

    Bolt: You are an alarmist.

    Flannery: I’m a very practical person.

    Bolt: I’m asking you to defend these quotes.

    Flannery: Well, I’ve done that already

    Bolt: You said the Arctic could be ice free two years ago. [Actually, last year.]

    Flannery: No I didn’t…

    [The show host, Steve Price interrupts, and they argue over the questioning.]

    Bolt: I’m asking Tim whether he repents from all these allegations about cities running out of water, cities turning into ghost cities, sea level rises up to an eight-story-high building. Don’t you think that is in part why people have got more skeptical?

    Flannery: I don’t, actually, because some of those things are possibilities in the future if we continue polluting as we do. And we’ve already seen impacts in southern Australia on all of those cities. Everyone remembers the water restrictions and so forth. Just because we get a good, wet year doesn’t mean we should forget about the problem. We actually have to deal with this long term drying trend and that means securing our water supply.

    Bolt: You warn about sea level rises up to an eight-story building. How soon will that happen?

    Flannery: Asking that question is it’s a bit like asking a stock analyst when the next stock market crash is going to happen and how big it’s going to be. No one can. We can all see the underlying weakness in the market in the months before the crash.

    Bolt: Thousands of years?

    Flannery: Could be thousands of years.

    Bolt: Tens of thousands of years?

    Flannery: Could be hundreds of years.

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2010/06/20/how_to_expose_a_warmist_andrew_bolt_interviews_australias_al_gore_106015.html

  49. OFBandG Says:

    As someone who has been involved in major environmental causes since the late seventies, and subsequently did graduate work in Environmental Studies at Huxley College of the Environment, I truly enjoy hearing opposing arguments on environmental issues. They are so educational in a theoretical sort of way. If only we could arrive at a place in time where decisions were made based on those arguments. Most of what drove me crazy as a young activist and proponent of conservationist causes was the ease with which people opposed to our position could find “facts” denying, or superseding, our “facts”. It would take us weeks or months to research and reconstruct our presentations in such a way as to overcome these hurdles – and then they would throw something at us from an entirely different direction leaving us flatfooted and fumbling again. Industry and government have staff experts whose task is to accomplish exactly this outcome. Gradually the weight of for and against arguments confuses all but the most dedicated and, as a naturally conservative species, we decide, in the face of confusion, no action is the best action. No action translates into maintenance of the status quo and, thus, the logging, mining, polluting, land filling, or whatever goes ahead. Unfortunately, the perceived cure is to ramp up the message to the heights of exaggeration and rhetoric – an area where industry and government experts show less proficiency – and inflame the passions of the citizenry. Extremism may border on dishonesty but it brings politics into the fray and, ultimately, it is politicians who decide the issues based not on scientific understanding but on their need to be re-elected. I don’t advocate this strategy for every environmental controversy but when stonewalled by powerful organizations in command of superior resources and, in particular, when facing time sensitive decisions, there isn’t much else you can do – except sit by and watch the destruction of something irreplaceable and beyond the ownership of one selfish generation.

    With regard to your assessment of David Suzuki: He is a treasure of rational thought and action who has brought commitment, passion, and energy to his role as a leader in the search for truth and wisdom. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with him once and found he displays all of the qualities listed above whether in conversation with thousands or just a few.

  50. R King Says:

    As a Canuck, it might be surprising to some that I’m not a huge Suzuki fan, although I used to be. When I heard his comment about deniers being ‘inter-generational criminals’, I heard echoes of my late father in the early stages of dementia. Sadly, the host of the show, Jian Ghomeshi not only didn’t challenge Suzuki, he didn’t ask him to define an appropriate sentence for these ‘deniers’ – gag-orders? Imprisonment? Execution?

  51. Eric Reynolds Says:

    Mr. Shermer,

    Thank you for your temerity in so clearly outlining your “conversion” on this matter. As a leading figure of rational thought, I am sure this will carry weight with the public.

    I am also curious. In one of the comments you posted in the body of this article by Ben Haller of Menlo Park, he stated that “It might be worthwhile to devote a little time and introspection to exactly why you stuck to a dangerously irrational point of view for so long.” You address this to a degree by talking about the off putting tactics of enviornmental extremists in the past. However, were you a perfect rational being (I am not implying the existence of such a creature), you would have been able to sepearte the hype and emotion from fact long ago. Indeed, given your position as a leading skeptic and science writer, you’ve had far more access to those doing said research than most. One would think a self descrbided rational skeptic would have been a bit quicker on the uptake.

    Please understand, that my intent is in no way to offer judgement here. Instead, I am far more interested in what insight you may have garnered in the past two years since posting this article, specifically as related to the above statement by Mr. Haller. I must assume that you have given this some thought.

    Is there any insight you might offer to others wishing to see past personal assumptions and emotional responses, in order to get at the Truth? Also, I wonder if a former fundamentalist christian may have converted to a fundamentalist skeptic, too some degree? And lastly, has this change of mind on such a large issue caused you to rethink your stance in other matters, or was this a one time affair?

    Thank you again for your clarity, and for a career devoted to the pursuit of knowledge.

    Sincerely,

    Eric Reynolds
    Rohnert Park, CA

  52. Robert L Hamilton, Engineer Says:

    First, the Physical Facts of the matter: The earth’s atmosphere weighs about 10**19 pounds; at 300 parts per million by volume the CO2 weighs about 5*(10**15) pounds. We add annually about 10**11 pounds of CO2. (This is high school Physics.) Global Warming Perps rely on two graphs and a ‘noncept’ to prove AGW: One of the graphs – MBH98 – was summarily deconstructed and shown to be a fraud; The other – Keeling Curve – requires an annual addition of 10**13 pounds of CO2 which is preposterous. The Greenhouse Noncept requires that a molecule radiating energy does not cool, which is nonsense. (This was proven experimentally in 1909 by Prof. R. W. Wood of Johns Hopkins.) Mr Shermer, I quit reading SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN when you developed your ‘Belief’ and if you need further instruction in high school science please contact me by e-mail. Thanks for your time and Enjoy your Day. DR Robert L Hamilton, Engineer.

  53. Jay Davis Says:

    Michael,
    Do you really still believe in AGW? Have you looked at any other evidence other that Al Gore’s? Do you know that CO2 levels FOLLOW temperature (that’s just one small fact)?
    I believe you are sceptical about a lot of things, which makes me wonder why the blind belief? What are you getting out of endorsing this? I realise that if global warming were proved false with evidence enough to convince even you, that thousands and probably tens of thousands of people will lose a lot of money. Will you?

  54. Sharpshooter Says:

    What a chump, falling for Algore’s claptrap!

  55. John McAdams Says:

    The “evangelical Christians” you are talking about are in fact basically liberals who use religious language, but vote for liberal Democrats, and favor a liberal Democratic agenda.

    People are free to call themselves “evangelical” if they want, but any critical observer will notice that the particular ones you are touting are politically liberal.

  56. John McAdams Says:

    So you think David Suzuki is a great fellow?

    What do you think about this?

    Jail Global Warming Skeptics

    Frankly, your conversion proves what Chesterton said:
    “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.” Global warming is the new religion.

  57. George Kimball Says:

    Mr. Shermer,
    Fifteen years ago at a chance meeting (Fox’s) we talked for a while and I explained to you a very basic flaw in AGW claims. I mentioned my background, which includes a PhD in radiation physics from the school a few miles down Lake St. plus many years of work in geosciences. You understood immediately and agreed that unchanged, the flaw debunked just about all of the AGW claims. That flaw has now been studied extensively and is indeed unchanged.

    So I’m sorry my comments didn’t stick and am very saddened to see you endorse the biggest pile of scientific b.s. since cold fusion. Worse, the Skeptics now appear to be on the GW bandwagon – in the bitterest of ironies engaged in precisely the kind of conduct they have spent decades exposing and opposing. Email me if you are interested in discussing this further. The earth has far bigger environmental problems that are being neglected.

  58. Martin Lack Says:

    Dear Michael, I have just watched the BBC’s Conspiracy Road Trip – UFOs programme, in which you and your magazine featured. My curiosity was aroused by seeing the words ‘Climate Change Q&A’ on the cover of your Skeptic magazine… I am therefore relieved to find that, even if you were once not so, you are convinced of the reality of climate change.

    In terms of its collective adverse affect on humanity, climate change denial has very clearly now exceeded even the remarkable achievements of the “smoking cigarettes is not dangerous” campaign waged for decades by the tobacco industry.

    However, what is even more remarkable is the fact that, despite the despicable behaviour of the tobacco industry having been revealed, people continue to be fooled by the fossil fuel industry using exactly the same strategy to perpetuate doubt and policy paralysis. It is almost as if no-one ever said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!”

  59. e-papierosy Says:

    Dear Michael, I have just watched the BBC’s Conspiracy Road Trip – UFOs programme, in which you and your magazine featured. My curiosity was aroused by seeing the words ‘Climate Change Q&A’ on the cover of your Skeptic magazine… I am therefore relieved to find that, even if you were once not so, you are convinced of the reality of climate change.

  60. leigh lennox Says:

    I was thinking of reading Mr. Shermer’s book, “Why People Believe Weird Things”…but instead I think my time would be better spent on writing my own book: “Why People Don’t Believe Things That Really Aren’t That Damn Weird If One Just Thinks About Them For A Minute Or Two”.

  61. Alexander Says:

    Dear Michael,
    Thanks for your writings and videos. Good to see that you have a range of views on this article. Wonder what your opinions are in 2013 now that there has been only 0.06 C increase in global average temperature over past 15 years ? I saw you speaking on YT saying there were worst case scenarios and best case scenarios.
    One way of looking at the longer term would be to think of other factors that might come into play after 2100. If the fossil fuels run out by 2120 then that could lead to a dramatic fall in the number of humans on Earth. If there was not enough power to sustain the cities and they were abandoned then it would not matter if sea levels rose. So why worry about it ?
    Also over much of the past 500 million years CO2 levels
    have been more than double present levels. We currently have the lowest level of CO2 in the atmosphere of the Phanerozoic
    period. So maybe it will benefit plants if we liberate the CO2. Free The Plantfood, Feed The Plants. Is coal the ultimate green fuel, the truly green fuel, the greenest fuel? Drive your petrol engine car and fertilize the plants?
    Also the odd thing in this debate is that so many people who think CO2 is life threatening refuse to build nuclear power stations. There are over 400 nuclear stations in the world, how many accidents have there been ? So that makes me think CO2 is for some an excuse to gain money & power.