Climate denialism: ‘It’s about ideology, not facts’

Climate denialism: ‘It’s about ideology, not facts’ October 23, 2011

The big news last week on climate change wasn’t news at all, just more of the same. A lot more of exactly the same.

The Guardian reports: “Global warming study finds no grounds for climate skeptics’ concerns: Independent investigation of the key issues skeptics claim can skew global warming figures reports that they have no real effect”

The world is getting warmer, countering the doubts of climate change sceptics about the validity of some of the scientific evidence, according to the most comprehensive independent review of historical temperature records to date.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, found several key issues that sceptics claim can skew global warming figures had no meaningful effect.

The Berkeley Earth project compiled more than a billion temperature records dating back to the 1800s from 15 sources around the world and found that the average global land temperature has risen by around 1C since the mid-1950s.

This figure agrees with the estimate arrived at by major groups that maintain official records on the world’s climate, including Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, with the University of East Anglia, in the UK.

“My hope is that this will win over those people who are properly skeptical,” Richard Muller, a physicist and head of the project, said.

Several previous attempts and approaches to measuring the average temperature had produced the same results. Seeing those same results confirmed over and over and over seemed, for most scientists and other interested Earthlings, more than enough to satisfy “proper skepticism.”

Muller, however, remained open to the possibility that all of those different approaches might have shared some bias or flaw that resulted in all of them being identically wrong. So his approach accounted for everything the denialists said hadn’t been accounted for and addressed all of their criticisms of those previous measurements.

And the end result was the same. Precisely the same. Those criticisms or oversights or supposed biases had no measurable influence on the earlier measurements. Using the methodologies purportedly preferred by the “skeptics” Muller wound up duplicating the earlier results, further confirming their accuracy. The world is getting warmer. That has been confirmed again and again, and now once again.

TalkingPointsMemo’s Brian Beutler notes that this hasn’t gone over too well among climate denialists: “Climate Change Deniers Abandon ‘Befuddled Warmist’ Physicist Who Came Around on Global Warming“:

Climate change deniers thought they had an ally in Richard Muller, a popular physics professor at UC Berkeley.

Muller didn’t reject climate science per se, but he was a skeptic, and a convenient one for big polluters and conservative anti-environmentalists — until Muller put their money where his mouth was, and launched the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, in part with a grant from the Charles G. Koch foundation.

After extensive study, he’s concluded that the existing science was right all along — that the earth’s surface is warming, at an accelerating rate. But instead of second-guessing themselves, his erstwhile allies of convenience are now abandoning him.

“When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find,” Muller wrote in a Friday Wall Street Journal op-ed. “Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections. Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate.”

The reference there to “this portion of the climate debate” acknowledges that over the last few years, denialists have been strategically retreating from their earlier claim that global warming is not happening at all. There are still plenty of vehement deniers making that claim — boldly asserting that temperatures are not rising, ice is not melting, glaciers are not disappearing. Muller’s study leaves them with no place left to stand, although that is unlikely to change their minds, change their tune or change their shtick. We’ll likely continue to hear this form of denialism from Fox News’ back-benchers and from lazy editorial cartoonists every time it snows.

But the cagier denialists have stepped back from that claim, following the lead of former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. As governor of Alaska, denying the reality of rising temperatures, melting ice and thawing permafrost wasn’t really an option for Palin. So she conceded the reality of global warming, but shifted to denying that this warming had anything to do with human activity. This is the more sophisticated version of climate denialism — allowing that global warming is real, but denying that “anthropogenic” global warming is real. (When I say “more sophisticated,” I mean in the way that, say, Moe was more sophisticated than Curly, or in the way that “Intelligent Design” is more sophisticated than Answers in Genesis.)

TPM’s Beutler reports on the reaction to Muller’s study from these “AGW” denialists:

Marc Morano — a former aide to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and author of the website Climate Depot has a different, subtler line of attack: “[T]he climate debate has not centered on whether the Earth has warmed since the end of the Little Ice Age about 1850 or since the 1950s. The climate debate is about how much humans may or may not be contributing to the warming trend,” Morano wrote Friday, calling Muller a “befuddled warmist.”

If Muller’s findings have no bearing on Morano’s belief that global warming is real, but unrelated to human activity, then it’s not clear why he responds so aggressively to them. He reacts like he’s being attacked, even though he purportedly agrees with, and shouldn’t be threatened by, the temperature measurements Muller reports. Morano is getting testy because the basis for his position is slipping away like an ice floe melting beneath a polar bear. He finds himself with even more reasons not to believe what he believes, and still no good reasons to believe it, so he has little recourse other than to get angry (we’ve seen this same reaction before).

As Phil Plait notes, Muller’s study isn’t likely to change the minds of deniers, because more facts don’t matter to people whose position never had anything to do with the facts in the first place:

I know this new study won’t sway climate change deniers. It can’t, because nothing can. The reason for that is simple: This isn’t about the science. If it were, the conversation would have been over years ago. Instead, it goes on, because it’s about ideology, not facts.

It’s nice to see the previous scientific studies bolstered by this independent one, and there’s more good news in that the American public now seems to understand that global warming is indeed real. And it was nice to see BEP lead scientist Richard Muller saying … that these results support the idea that it’s humans causing the rise in temperatures.

But, as I have been saying all along, there will never be a “crossing the finish line” moment. Whether it’s the Moon Hoax, or vaccines causing autism, or psychics talking to the dead, or climate change denial, this will be a continuing fight.

The bottom line, of course, is that Muller’s findings aren’t good news for anybody. The world is getting warmer. That’s true. It’s a fact. But it’s also Very Bad News.

And the news seems to be getting worse: “Evidence builds that scientists underplay climate impacts

A decade ago scientists predicted the Arctic wouldn’t be ice-free in summer until 2100. But the extent of summer ice in the North has rapidly shrunk and today covers 70 percent of the area it did in 1979. Now some scientists think the Arctic could be naught but open water within 25 years.

In August, a team lead by University of York researcher Chris Thomas published a study showing that plants and animals are moving to higher elevations twice as fast as predicted in response to rising temperatures. They’re migrating north three times faster than expected, they found.

As for extinctions, earlier this year two scientists at the University of Exeter paired predicted versus observed annihilation rates. The real-world rates are more than double what the best computer modeling showed: While the studies, on average, warned of a 7 percent extinction rate, field observations suggested the rate was closer to 15 percent.


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