Global warming skeptics (detail)

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See Global warming skeptics for definition of the term (which now encompasses doubters and other opponents of meaningful climate policy action) and for lists of "skeptics" (individuals and groups). This page is for further information.

For detailed rebuttals of typical skeptics' claims, see Climate_change_skeptics/common_claims_and_rebuttal

Self-identified global warming skeptics tend to focus their critiques on the reports of theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC reports are based primarily on peer reviewed and published scientific literature, and on occasion include material that is recently published or has not yet been published.[1]

Skeptics' disputes with the IPCC and advocates of action on climate change are commonly along one or more of the following lines:

  • There is no conclusive evidence that climate change is happening;
  • The changes in measured temperatures are part of the natural cycle;
  • Even if the changes are human induced, the scale is not sufficiently large to make changes beyond sensible "least cost" measures; and
  • The economic impact of making substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions on the scale suggested by the IPCC or other groups is too large.
  • The dire predictions of global warming are based on computer models, but those models don't include such highly correlated data as sun spots and global temperature changes.

While some skeptics challenge a particular technical point or approach in the IPCC reports - for instance, that there is global warming but it is not due to human activity - others have a more sweeping rejection of climate change science and proposed responses in general.

Common threads of Climate Skeptics Arguments

In a paper reviewing the common arguments of the global warming skeptics, Stefan Rahmstorf, Professor of Physics of the Oceans at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, noted that "the various climate sceptics hold very different positions. We can distinguish trend skeptics (who deny there is is harmless or even beneficial). Representatives of the various skeptics' camps quarrel, sometimes ferociously, in internet forums."[2]

'Trend skeptics', he suggested, are "a gradually vanishing breed" as public understanding of the reality of global warming has risen. These sceptics commonly claim that the surface temperature measurements have been distorted by ther proximity to urban areas, which is referred to as the 'urban heat island effect'. 'In fact, the measured trends have already been adjusted to allow for this effect by comparing adjacent urban and rural stations. The warming above the oceans as measured by ships, the global retreat of glaciers, and the declining Arctic sea ice provide further evidence against this claim," wrote Rahmstorf. These sceptics also often claim that satellite measurements show little, if any, warming trend since the data was first collected in 1979. After allowing for various factors which make direct comparison between data sets difficult, Rahmstorf wrote that the data "show trends between 0.08°C and 0.26°C per decade, compared to 0.17°C per decade found in surface measurements.[2]

'Attribution skeptics' on the other hand argue that while warming is occurring, it can't be attributed to human activities. These skeptics argue that Co2 emissions originate from the oceans or that increases in CO2 do not result in warming. "The oceans have certainly not released CO2 into the atmosphere; on the contrary, they have absorbed some of the extra fossil CO2 load. (Incidentally, this is leading to an acidification of sea water, causing considerable damage to coral reefs and other marine organisms, even without any climate change)," Rahmstorf wrote. While there are uncertainties about the feedbacks caused by increased greenhouse gases, Rahmstorf noted that "many studies using different approaches have provided increasingly hard evidence that the most likely value of the “climate sensitivity” (i.e. the equilibrium response of the climate to a doubling of the CO2 concentration) is close to 3°C. This results independently both from our physical understanding of the various feedbacks (which can be observed in today’s climate, e.g. in the seasonal cycle) and from an analysis of the role played by CO2 during past climate changes."[2]

He also noted that arguing that strong feedbacks from increased CO2 could not also claim that warming was caused by other factors such as solar activity. Rahmstorf notes that "solar variations cannot explain the warming in the 20th century. For one thing, they are not large enough; the radiative effect of anthropogenic greenhouse gases is by now several times stronger. And while reconstructions of solar activity do indicate a rise until 1940, they show no significant trend since then. The same is true of measurements of cosmic rays."[2]

The 'impact skeptics' argue that there are positive consequences from global warming, such as an extension of the range of agriculture or increased productivity. "In the absence of climate protection measures, we will probably see a warming by several degrees in this century. The most recent comparable period of major global warming occurred when the last ice age ended ~15,000 years ago: at that time, the climate warmed by approx. 5°C in global mean. This warming had serious implications for man and ecosystems. But the process unfolded over a period of 5,000 years – humankind is now threatening to bring about a similarly large climate change within the space of a century. This extraordinarily rapid change would most likely exceed the adaptive capacity of man and nature," Rahmstorf wrote.[2]

See also Climate change skeptics/common claims and rebuttal.

The Tea Party and climate skeptic candidates in the 2010 U.S. elections

In October 2010, the Wonk Room reported that four 2010 U.S. gubernatorial races featured climate skeptic Republicans in the Midwest (Terry Branstad in Iowa, Sam Brownback in Kansas, Mary Fallin in Oklahoma, and Matt Mead in Wyoming), and five gubernatorial races featured global warming deniers with Tea Party backing, in Florida (Rick Scott), Illinois (Bill Brady), Minnesota (Mark Dayton), Wisconsin (Scott Walker) and Ohio (John Kasich).[3]

The Wonk Room also found 21 U.S. Congressional races included climate skeptics.[4]And of the dozens of Republicans vying for the 37 Senate seats in the 2010 election, none supported climate action, after climate advocate Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) lost his primary to Christine O’Donnell. Even former climate advocates Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) voiced reservations on climate regulation. Many of the Senate candidates were signatories of the Koch IndustriesAmericans For Prosperity No Climate Tax pledge and the FreedomWorks Contract From America, which asks that America “Reject cap and trade: Stop costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices, and weaken the nation’s global competitiveness with virtually no impact on global temperatures.”[5]

Skeptics Group Discounts Skeptics Arguments

An internal 1995 document (pdf) of the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) -- an industry front group that disbanded in 2002 -- reviewed some of the "contrarian" arguments used by Richard Lindzen, Robert Jastrow and Patrick Michaels and other climate change skeptics. The document, which was obtained as part of a court action against the automobile industry[6] concluded that of the arguments reviewed:

"The contrarian theories raise interesting questions about our total understanding of climate processes, but they do not offer convincing arguments against the conventional model of greenhouse gas emission-induced climate change. Jastrow's hypothesis about the role of solar variability and Michaels' questions about the temperature record are not convincing arguments against any conclusion that we are currently experiencing warming as the result of greenhouse gas emissions. However, neither solar variability nor anomalies in the temperature record offer a mechanism for off-setting the much larger rise in temperature which might occur if the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases were to double or quadruple."
"Lindzen' s hypothesis that any warming would create more rain which would cool and dry the uper troposphere did offer a mechanism for balancing the effect of increased greenhouse gases. However, the data supporting this hypothesis is weak, and even Lindzen has stopped presenting it as an alternative to the conventional model of climate change."[7]

Global Warming's Deadly Denial

Reviewing the continued campaign by climate change skeptics, David McKnight, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales (Australia), notes that there several reasons why companies such as Exxon have had some success playing the global warming denial card. "First, the implications of the science are frightening. Shifting to renewable energy will be costly and disruptive. Second, doubt is an easy product to sell. Climate denial tells us what we all secretly want to hear. Third, science is portrayed as political orthodoxy rather than objective knowledge, a curiously postmodern argument," he writes. While the tobacco industry is often referred to as the template for the fossil fuel industry's campaign, McKnight argues that there is an important distinction. "There are no 'smoke-free areas' on the planet. Climate denial may turn out to be the world's most deadly PR campaign," he concludes. [8]

UK Split Ruling on Climate Change Skeptics

In July 2008, the British government's media regulator, Ofcom, issued a split ruling on "The Great Global Warming Swindle," a film commissioned and broadcast by Channel 4. Ofcom received 265 complaints about the film, including "a detailed 'group complaint' from scientists and concerned individuals that ran to 176 pages and accused Channel 4 of seriously misleading viewers." [9]

Ofcom found that Channel 4 broke impartiality guidelines and the film misrepresented statements by former British government scientist David King, in a scene with global warming skeptic Fred Singer. Ofcom also found that the film unfairly treated the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and MIT professor Carl Wunsch. However, Ofcom ruled that the program did not "cause harm or offence" by "materially" misleading viewers. Ofcom also said that its impartiality rules did not apply to the majority of the film, because the rules require balance on "matters of political or industrial controversy" and human-induced climate change has "been almost universally accepted by governments around the world." [9]


Ross Gelbspan, journalist and author, wrote a 1995 article in Harper's Magazine argues that the climate change skeptics "assert flatly that their science is untainted by funding. Nevertheless, in this persistent and well-funded campaign of global warming denial they have become interchangeable ornaments on the hood of a high-powered engine of disinformation. Their dissenting opinions are amplified beyond all proportion through the media while the concerns of the dominant majority of the world's scientific establishment are marginalized." [1]

Risk averse skeptics

In November 2004, climate change skeptic Richard Lindzen was quoted saying he'd be willing to bet that the earth's climate will be cooler in 20 years than it is today. When British climate researcher James Annan contacted him, however, Lindzen would only agree to take the bet if Annan offered a 50-to-1 payout. Subsequent offers of a wager were also refused by Pat Michaels, Chip Knappenberger, Piers Corbyn, Myron Ebell, Zbigniew Jaworowski, Sherwood Idso and William Kininmonth. At long last, however, Annan has persuaded Russian solar physicists Galina Mashnich and Vladimir Bashkirtsev to take a $10,000 bet. "There isn't much money in climate science and I'm still looking for that gold watch at retirement," Annan says. "A pay-off would be a nice top-up to my pension." [2]

Critiquing Skeptics as "Distraction Strategy"

In a blog ahead of the COP15 conference, Senator Christine Milne, Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens and former Vice-President of the IUCN, wrote that "Around the world, governments are explicitly linking the extreme weather events we've seen – heat waves, bushfires, drought and floods – to climate change and using that link to push for the limited action they are willing to take. Attacking climate sceptics for holding back action has also become a favoured mechanism for claiming the moral high ground in the climate debate. This claim to be guided by the science while espousing weak and scientifically unsupportable targets, this climate hypocrisy, is more dangerous than true climate scepticism because it is more insidious."[10]

Just prior to the COP15 conference, British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, told the Guardian that "With only days to go before Copenhagen we mustn't be distracted by the behind-the-times, anti-science, flat-earth climate sceptics. We know the science. We know what we must do. We must now act and close the 5bn-tonne gap. That will seal the deal."[11]

Government censoring of climate change scientists


In 2007, an investigative report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) uncovered evidence of widespread political interference in federal climate science. The report, which includes a survey of hundreds of federal scientists at seven federal agencies and dozens of in-depth interviews, documents a high regard for climate change research but broad interference in communicating scientific results.[12]

UCS distributed surveys to 1,600 climate scientists, asking for information about the state of federal climate research. The scientists who responded reported experiencing at least 435 occurrences of political interference in their work over the past five years. Nearly half of all respondents (46 percent) perceived or personally experienced pressure to eliminate the words "climate change," "global warming," or other similar terms from a variety of communications. Forty-three percent of respondents reported they had perceived or personally experienced changes or edits during review of their work that changed the meaning of their scientific findings. And nearly half (46 percent) perceived or personally experienced new or unusual administrative requirements that impair climate-related work. Scientists at the independent but federally-funded National Center for Atmospheric Research, who are not federal employees, reported far fewer instances of interference.[12]

While a large majority of respondents (88 percent) agreed that federal climate research is of generally excellent quality, respondents reported decreasing job satisfaction and a worsening environment for climate science in federal agencies. Two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) said that today's environment for federal government climate research is worse compared to five years ago. At NASA, three in five scientists reported decreased job satisfaction.[12]

The GAP investigation, consisting of 40 in-depth interviews with climate scientists and a review of 2,000 agency documents, revealed that agency media policies often unnecessarily hindered scientists' interaction with the media rather than facilitate public dissemination of their research. For instance, Dr. Drew Shindell, an ozone specialist and NASA climatologist, submitted a press release to announce the publication of a paper on climate change. Press officers significantly watered down language that described his findings, and the new research received little notice by the media.[12]

The Bush Administration also directly edited government scientific reports to downplay the severity of climate change. In June 2005, GAP gave the New York Times internal documents from Climate Change Science Program Associate Rick Piltz’s office showing handwritten edits on several 2002 and 2003 scientific climate change reports. The edits increased and at times overstated the level of uncertainty associated with climate science. According to the New York Times, the edits tended "to produce an air of doubt about findings that most climate experts say are robust."[13]

The edits were made by Philip Cooney, then chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who formerly worked for the American Petroleum Institute and led the oil industry’s drive to prevent restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.[13] Mr. Cooney is a lawyer with no scientific training who, upon leaving the Bush Administration, went to work for Exxon.[3]


In Spring 2010, Natural Resources Canada scientists were told they need "pre-approval" from Minister Christian Paradis's office to speak with national and international journalists about climate change science. The documents show the "new" rules went into force in March 2010 and apply not only to contentious issues including Alberta's tar sands, but also seemingly benign subjects such as floods that occurred 13,000 years ago. Critics say the documents give a glimpse of how Canadians are being cut off from scientists whose work is financed by taxpayers and is often of significant public interest.[14]

The documents show the new rules being so broadly applied that one scientist was not permitted to discuss a study in a major research journal without "pre-approval" from political staff in Paradis's office. NRCan scientist Scott Dallimore co-authored a study published in the journal Nature on April 1, 2010, about a colossal flood that swept across northern Canada 13,000 years ago, when massive ice dams gave way at the end of the last ice age. The scientific study was considered newsworthy and two British universities issued releases to alert the international media. It was, however, deemed so sensitive in Ottawa that Dallimore, who works at NRCan's laboratories outside Victoria, was told he had to wait for clearance from the minister's office before public dissemination.[14]

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  1. See, e.g., the critique, International Environmental Policy, by Aynsley Kellow and Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, pub. Edward Elgar 2002, ISBN 1-84064-818 X
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Stefan Rahmstorf, "The climate sceptics", Munich Re, Weather catastrophes and climate change, undated but approx 2004.
  3. Brad Johnson, "In Tight Governor Races, Tea Party Climate Deniers Threaten Clean Energy Jobs" The Wonk Room, Oct. 13, 2010.
  4. Brad Johnson, "Heartland Grows New Crop Of Anti-Climate Governor Candidates" The Wonk Room, Oct. 12, 2010.
  5. Brad Johnson, "GOP Senate Candidates Oppose Climate Science And Policy" The Wonk Room, Sep. 29, 2010.
  6. Andrew C. Revkin, "Industry Ignored Its Scientists on Climate", New York Times, April 23, 2009.
  7. Global Climate Coalition, "Primer on Climate Change Science· Final Draft", January 18, 1996, pages 16-17.
  8. "The Climate Change Smoke Screen", Sydney Morning Herald, August 2, 2008
  9. 9.0 9.1 Owen Gibson and David Adam, "Watchdog's verdict on Channel 4 climate film angers scientists: Regulator accused of letting makers off hook; Rules were broken 'but viewers were not misled'," The Guardian (UK), July 22, 2008.
  10. "Crisis rhetoric has to be matched with crisis action", Climate Thinkers Blog, November 2009.
  11. # Damian Carrington and Suzanne Goldenberg, "Gordon Brown attacks 'flat-earth' climate change sceptics", The Guardian, December 4, 2009.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 "Investigation Reveals Widespread Suppression of Federal Climate Research" UCS, January 30, 2007.
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Climate Change Research Distorted and Suppressed" UCS, accessed Sep. 24, 2010.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Margaret Munro, "Ottawa tightens muzzle" The Gazette, Sep. 13, 2010.

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