Climate-change denialism outraces parody

Climate-change denialism outraces parody February 1, 2012

Last month, NASA reported that 2011 was the ninth-warmest year on record:

The global average surface temperature in 2011 was the ninth warmest since 1880, according to NASA scientists. The finding continues a trend in which nine of the 10 warmest years in the modern meteorological record have occurred since the year 2000.

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, which monitors global surface temperatures on an ongoing basis, released an updated analysis that shows temperatures around the globe in 2011 compared to the average global temperature from the mid-20th century. The comparison shows how Earth continues to experience warmer temperatures than several decades ago. The average temperature around the globe in 2011 was 0.92 degrees F (0.51 C) warmer than the mid-20th century baseline.

… The difference between 2011 and the warmest year in the GISS record (2010) is 0.22 degrees F (0.12 C). This underscores the emphasis scientists put on the long-term trend of global temperature rise. Because of the large natural variability of climate, scientists do not expect temperatures to rise consistently year after year. However, they do expect a continuing temperature rise over decades.

When I read that, I toyed with the idea of parodying how climate-change denialists might respond, something like —

Aha! So what NASA is saying is that 2010 was the hottest year on record and 2011 was only the ninth hottest year on record. But 2010 was the hottest. Therefore, obviously, the planet is cooling off. From 2010 to 2011, the temperature dropped, meaning all this talk of “global warming” is a myth!

But I resisted, thinking that was maybe an unfairly absurd caricature.

I was wrong. That argument is ridiculously absurd, but it’s not a caricature.

This is actually what climate-change denialists are now saying — see, for example, David Rose in The Daily Mail. Rose argues, simultaneously, that the climate is not getting warmer and that it is only getting warmer because of sunspots. He supports these contradictory claims with graphs designed using Darrell Huff’s How to Lie With Statistics as an instruction manual.

Kevin Drum points, laughs, mocks and debunks Rose’s silliness in a post aptly titled, “Lying With Charts, Global Warming Edition.”

That follows up on Drum’s post from last week — “Climate Change Goes Back to Square Zero” — responding to a Wall Street Journal op-ed he calls “the ur-text of modern-day climate denial.”

That op-ed is one of those strange little essays of unspecified origin. It’s signed by 16 scientists — not climate scientists, mind you — who were willing to endorse it, but it’s not clear who actually wrote the thing.

I’m guessing Dan Brown wrote it. He’s the author of the best-selling Da Vinci Code and its sequels, so he might have been able to concoct the kind of preposterously vast and insidious global conspiracy that the op-ed hints is behind the hoax of climate change.

But then I’m not sure Brown could have pulled this off, the full scope of the climate-change conspiracy required for the claims in this op-ed to be true would far exceed even the most feverish imaginings of his novels. As Drum writes of the WSJ op-ed:

This all fits in with the paranoia and conspiracy theorizing of the conservative base these days, which is pretty much identical to the paranoia and conspiracy theorizing of the far right since at least the 1930s. Climate change isn’t merely wrong — that would be boring — it’s an immense conspiracy being waged by a group of nerdy scientists (who want funding) and tree huggers (who are desperate to control everyone else’s lives). And it’s a damn successful conspiracy, too. Despite the fact that it requires thousands and thousands of participants from nearly every country in the world, with new collaborators earning PhDs every month, not a single one of them has broken the climate omerta yet and blown the whole thing open. But someone will, any day now. Just you wait.

See also:

Update: One more from Phil Plait: “While temperatures rise, denialists reach lower

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  • Mike

    It’s a shame that those involved in the conspiracy didn’t channel their energy and considerable resources towards something constructive like world peace or finding a cure for the common cold.

    Also, if the nerdy scientists are so desparate for funding, how are they financing their global conspiracy?

  • Michael Pullmann

    “We could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy.”

  • Anonymous

    I’m guessing Dan Brown wrote it.

    The science in his books is bad enough to support this conclusion.  I stopped reading Dan Brown books after I decided that Deception Point had cost me a minimum of three IQ points.

  • Rob Brown

    I usually don’t need an excuse to quote Kurt, so now that you’ve got the ball rolling…

  • Anonymous

    This makes me feel angry! In 1997 there was a little thing called “El Niño” 
    which anyone who cares about climate change SHOULD know. El Niño is a natural occurrence unusually high air pressure in the west-Pacific and Indian Ocean warms a huge band of water while unusually low pressure in the East-Pacific draws a current towards the coast of America. This causes: high levels of rain, low fish harvests and… higher global temperatures since the huge amounts of super heated water are dispersed throughout the Pacific Ocean. 1997 featured one of the strongest El Niños on record, and the global temperature should have been ONE OF THE HIGHEST ON THE RECORD for reasons that have nothing to do with climate change one way or another. Take out 1997 (which any honest person studying climatology would) and Rose’s own chart shows temperatures going up. In fact, temperature in years without El Niños are starting to surpass 1997.

    GRR! People be lyin’, people be lyin’.

  • Jenny Islander

    It’s amazing who’s in on this!  The USDA is deliberately LYING, LYING I say.  They just published a new set of hardiness zone maps for gardeners.  My island has been reassigned from zone 3 to zone 7.  I repeat, from zone 3 to zone 7.  And every single gardener in town is in on it from the master gardener who has a column in the paper to the kids planting beans in paper cups in school.  They all insist that the new climate zone is TRUE and keep showing me vegetables that should not GROW HERE to PROVE IT!!!!!!  Why do they keep doing this when everyone knows we are in Zone 3 and have always been in Zone 3?????????  Who sells them these fake vegetables?  How can they sell them on at farmers’ markets and have people buy these fake imported FOREIGN vegetables?/111? 

    Ouch.  I think I hurt my head.

    You know, if people keep telling you that your butt is on fire, and there is a burning smell in the room and a crackling sound just behind you and your butt really hurts . . . it doesn’t matter how inconvenient it would be if your butt really were on fire, or how much you dislike the people who keep on telling you that your butt is on fire.  Your butt is on fire!

  • I keep wondering why climate change denialism is so heavily filled with ad-Goreiums and conspiracy mongering, and I think it has more than a little to do with the fear of losing social status. of losing the idea of a single true American dream existing though all time. 
    There is a sense here that the preverbial boy raised by wolves will one day be filled with am instinctive desire for a big house in the suburbs and a big car to drive him there.  There are many social conformists who are heavily invested in the thought of acheiving these things as proof of their own moral goodness and social worthiness.  They therefore resent any suggestion that these things which they have invested most of their concious lives in attaining, these things which they have always been taught that everyone is supposed to want, are actually harmful to their environment and their own societies. 

    They are suddenly being told that what had been taken as proof of their own goodness is actually immoral, of course they are loath to accept this. So they are attracted to narratives of climate sicentists and ‘activists’ acting dishonestly towards illigitimate ends because these narratives satisfy their sense of being cheated, of having the rules suddenly changed on them in the middle of the game.

    At any rate, here in Lincoln Nebraska we have had a total of maybe fourteen days with a high below freezing since December 1st.  I’m sure it means nothing.    

  • Jack Heron

    This should be made compulsory watching for everyone everywhere:

  • So good, so good, so good…and then rape joke.

    Why can’t we have anything nice? =(

  • Amanda

    Thanks for that reminder about the USDA hardiness zones. I’m about to move into a new house, and would like to plant some fruit trees. I’m going to have to check on when they last estimated our chill hours, since according to this link you gave I’ve gone from zone 8 to zone 9. I might have to plant trees that have lower chill hours than what everyone’s saying should be planted here, if the local county extension agent hasn’t updated their info lately.

    I used to have a plot at a community garden, and I met several old-timers there who were absolutely sure that global warming was true. They said they had been doing this for decades and were definitely noticing things like trees blooming earlier.

    I also know some birdwatchers who are convinced that the old field guides are wrong, and birds that should not be this far north are now being seen regularly.

    So I guess what I’m saying is, if it’s a conspiracy, peach trees and Mexican green jays are in on it too. I don’t know how those liberal elitist global warming conspirators managed to convince them to bloom earlier and fly farther north than they’re supposed to, but that’s what they’re doing.

  • Anonymous

    Daily Mail

    I think I pinpointed the problem.

  • Matri

    Climate-change denialism outraces parody

    Whenever the right-wing is concerned, parody was never even a player.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    The Saudi Arabian Government is worried about climate change.

    Yes, Saudi Arabia is more reality-based on this than the USA.


  • Anonymous

    I was in Chicago over the weekend, and for most of it, I could walk around comfortably in a light fleece jacket. In Chicago. In January. But climate change is a hoax, yep.

  • Anonymous

    You don’t need an enormous conspiracy for an unpleasant truth to be steadfastly denied. All you need is for each denier to have a strong incentive to deny and they’ll all cooperate.

  • Anonymous

    I live on Lake Erie and was walking around today in nothing more than a tee-shirt. We should have two feet of snow right now.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Colorado, here. I think we’ve had two snowstorms so far this year.  We’re expecting a third later this week, which is a relief, but right now it’s sweater-weather outside when I should need a parka.

  • Ima Pseudonym

    Because Soros. No, that’s really what my teabagging relatives said.

  • Amanda

    Well, if we’re going to be comparing odd weather, I’m a Texan so I’ve got five words: Worst Drought in Recorded History. We’ve been behind on rain since 2010, and they don’t expect it to let up any time soon. Last year my outdoor thermometer hit 113 at some point (I have a digtal thermometer that records the highest and lowest temps it’s ever had).

    We’ve had some winter rain, but we’re still behind, and probably won’t catch up before summer, when it’ll probably stop raining and get into the 110’s again (I really hope I’m wrong!). We’ve also only had like 3 frosts in my area of the state this winter. I have sunflowers that grew from spilled birdseed in my yard that are in bloom right now. Sunflowers are a summer-blooming flower.

    Maybe I should give up on peach or apple trees and look into planting figs or dates or or something like that.

    Though, I warn you, the “we should have snow right now and I’m wearing a t-shirt” is a dangerous road to go down, argument-wise. Last winter we had record low temps for a few days. All the deniers used that as evidence that global warming is BS. That’s why long-term climate data is so important.

    (Though I’m reminded of something I heard a climatologist say that really scared me. He said that the weather isn’t just going to get steadily warmer, we’ll have more frequent record-breaking heat, but also more record-breaking cold, and record droughts along with record floods. The climate system will just become more irratic and unstable, which is actually WAY worse than if it just got steadily warmer. For example, I seem to remember in the summer of 2006, it literally rained EVERY DAY where I live, all summer. Last summer it went that same period of time without a drop.)

  • Shallot

    Though, I warn you, the “we should have snow right now and I’m wearing a
    t-shirt” is a dangerous road to go down, argument-wise. Last winter we
    had record low temps for a few days. All the deniers used that as
    evidence that global warming is BS. That’s why long-term climate data is
    so important.

    This.  I’m also on Lake Erie *waves at Loki100*, and in our case, the warming trends are causing more snowfall.  Every storm system that blows in from the northwest picks up moisture from the unfrozen lake (it used to be frozen by now) and drops it on us.  We haven’t dropped below freezing much this year so there’s no snow, but last year, I ground my teeth repeatedly at the “two feet of global warming” jokes.

    As for gardening, I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m weirdly happy that I could grow figs here now.  The old folks used to bury the trees in trenches to keep them alive over winter, but now I think I could just plant it near the brick wall and mulch well.

  • Atwinters

    “Also, if the nerdy scientists are so desparate for funding, how are they financing their global conspiracy?”

    With the funding. It’s turtles all the way down.

  • Anonymous

    Hey-oh Shallot! I minored in geography in college and took classes in meteorology and climatology and, Shallot is right, our specific location is supposed to get more cold weather rather than less. Less ice cover in the Arctic Ocean causes more warm water, which creates stronger wind currents in the polar air cell, and dumps cold, arctic temperature air right on the boarder between America and Canada. As these winds cross the lake, they pick up water vapor (due to Erie being a shallow lake with a lot of surface area) and dumps it along the coastline as massive snow.

    This particular season has the third lowest ice coverage on record, but we are currently in a positive Arctic Oscillation, which is where a low pressure belt is keeping the polar air trapped. Which means that so far this winter we’re experiencing, more or less, what climate change would be like in this region were it not for our unique geographic position. And eventually what our weather will be like, in the fullness of time.

  • P J Evans

    I live in zone 9. Apricots should do fine, but you’ll need low-chill-hours varieties for apples and most other stone fruits. 9 is borderline for daffodils, tulips are an annual, and geraniums and paperwhites are perennial weeds. Grapes will grow fine too, if you don’t get a hot spell that bakes the fruit to death.

  • P J Evans

    Southern California. I think I remember what ‘rain’ is. We aren’t getting any, if so.

  • P J Evans

    The climate system will just become more irratic and unstable

    It’s like pumping a swing: you put more energy into the system, and any variation (in direction, for example) gets multiplied until it’s out of control – or until you stop pumping and let the energy dissipate.

  • Anonymous

    It’s like pumping a swing: you put more energy into the system, and any variation (in direction, for example) gets multiplied until it’s out of control – or until you stop pumping and let the energy dissipate

    The major problem is that it is really, really, really hard for energy to dissipate in our system. In fact, there are only two ways that I know of.

    The first is to radiate that energy into space, which is rather difficult as it can only leave our planet in some form of light waves. And while heat obviously generates all manner of lightwaves, it’s not going to radiate it off the planet faster than the heat occurs in the first place.

    The other way involves plants sucking up all that ambient carbon dioxide. Specifically what is known as the Azolla event. That was catastrophic towards the global climate, and set the planet into an ice age. And honestly, we might be in for a repeat of it as huge sheets of fresh water from glacial melt in Russia are getting trapped in the Arctic Ocean.

  • Rob Brown

    I was in Chicago over the weekend, and for most of it, I could walk
    around comfortably in a light fleece jacket. In Chicago. In January. But
    climate change is a hoax, yep.

    And here’s a report from the Toronto area: this winter there have been some days where it’s been very, very cold…and then there have been other days where it’s felt almost like spring.  I’ve been living here my whole life and I don’t think we’ve had a white Christmas in at least fifteen years.

    When summer rolls around, it’s usually scorchingly hot.

    Even based on nothing more than me going outside and seeing what the elements do to me, I have got to conclude that something is not right here.

  • Rob Brown

    Clarification: when I say “scorchingly hot” I mean regularly over 30 degrees Celsius, or 86 Fahrenheit.  A hell of a lot hotter than it used to get when I was growing up, and not what you’d expect in the Great White North, even the southern part.

  • Anonymous

     Also Colorado, and I have yet to need boots this winter.  And I’ve barely needed my big winter coat, despite being a lizard.  (When your friends routinely make jokes about getting you heating rocks, you’re clearly not a mammal, even if you’re supposed to be.)

    Granted, my location seems to be just right for missing the snowstorms (I know Denver’s actually had snow – not a dusting to maybe a couple of inches, which is all we’ve had.) but I’m pretty sure this is the least wintery winter we’ve had since I moved here.

  • Halfway through the Northern California rainy season – which should give us our whole year’s worth of rain – and we’re barely damp.

    For contrast, check out the recent @RealTimeWWII weather tweets.

  • Donalbain

    But Al Gore is fat.

  • guest

    Here’s someone who talks about that and refers to books worth looking at:

  • guest

    I’m in northern England, and my daffodils started coming up before Christmas.   A friend laughed when I told her but I’m frightened–how are we going to grow our food?

  • Dan Audy

     I actually just finished a fantastic book called “Mistakes were made (but not by me)” which covers how people rationalise, dismiss, and mislead themselves and others even in the face of overwhelming evidence.  Definitely worthwhile though a pretty challenging read for anyone intellectually honest who is going to start recognizing when they engage in these behaviours themselves (though typically on a smaller scale).

  • Beleester

    Cincinnatian here, and I can’t tell if the weather is any weirder because it’s always weird here. At the moment, February feels like April, so I predict our April will be like February.

  • What gets me about the climate science conspiracy is that scientists are often intensely interested in knowledge outside their own specialisation. They’re quite adept at smelling bullshit, as the famous Sokal hoax demonstrated. So it’s not just climate scientists, but all scientists, because any scientist outside climate science can subscribe to journals or read others’ research and understand it, so they must also be in on the conspiracy.

    So we get to the question of incentive: what reason would a, say, physicist, or mathematician, whose university doesn’t have client scientists, gain from being part of the conspiracy? Why would the entirety of science distort itself to defend climate science when they haven’t being willing to do that for any other field which has fallen to gimcrackery?

    Essentially, it’d require scientists to not act like human beings in order to be true, which when one gets right down to it is the usual problem with conspiracy theories.

  • Anonymous

    depizan, I’m glad I’m not the only cold-climate-dwelling lizard around. XD
    This winter hasn’t been bad as winters go, but dry winters tend to equal “major wildfire hazard” in summer, so I can’t actually cheer that very much.

    I would like to point out: $SMALL_TOWN used to be in gardening zone 3.
    We are now in Zone 6. I can grow fruit trees, and huuuuuge squash, and soft fruits that I could not have grown twenty years ago. The growing season is a solid two weeks longer. The rain is coming more and more often here, and harder and harder; on the flip side, we’re getting dust storms the likes of which I never saw growing up here.

    Regardless of what it says about global climate change, $SMALL_TOWN’s microclimate has changed dramatically and shows no sign of stopping.

  • Storiteller

    Blarg on mobile phones reloading pages and erasing my comment…

    Anyway, climate change is one of my big activist issues. When I did work on it in the UK, we used the phase “climate chaos,” which I think much more viscerally describes the increase in extremes and unpredictability. When you explain to folks who are sort of on the fence, that actually gets folks much more concerned and engaged than “warming.” It might seem alarmist, but I think it’s appropriate language in the right context. The swing metaphor is an excellent one and I’ll have to remember it. As for the straight-up denialists themselves, some can be convinced to support GHG reducing policies if they can see the direct personal benefit for themselves. I actually wrote a post on this for Slacktiverse a while back:

  • Storiteller
  • Shallot

    I don’t have anything of substance to add, but that’s really freaking cool.  I only had the basic information that I picked up from living around here, so I’m thrilled to learn more details.  Especially the Azolla event.  *science squee*  Thanks!

  • Amandarh

    I had never heard about the azolla event! Cool, I learned something new. I knew what azolla is though, but it seems like such an innocent little plant…

  • Amanda

    Yeah, there are some low chill apples and peaches I’ve been looking at. I heard that my area is supposed to get 400-500 chill hours, but now I’m not sure if that data is still accurate. After all, a lot of stuff still says I’m in zone 8, not 9. There are a couple of varieties of apples from Israel I’ve found online that only need 300 chill hours.

    I didn’t think of apricots, though there are some peach farms around here, so I figured peaches would be a must-plant. It also looks like I can grow Asian pears, but not regular European pears.

    Growing grapes might be fun. I didn’t think of that either.

    Also, I just got reminded of a story I heard on NPR about how vineyards in France are starting to have to change to growing different varieties of grapes because of global warming, and how they’re not happy about that because wines are named after the grape variety they’re made of, and they don’t want to switch to Spanish or Italian varieties that like a hotter climate, but that nobody’s heard of.

    On the other hand, German vineyards are getting so that they can grow more than just Riesling.

    Obviously those snooty wine-drinkers are in on the conspiracy as well!

  • Consumer Unit 5012


    What gets me about the climate science conspiracy is that scientists are
    often intensely interested in knowledge outside their own
    specialisation. They’re quite adept at smelling bullshit, as the famous
    Sokal hoax demonstrated.

    Not _always_.  That cranky old bastard James Randi has made a career out of spotting phoney psychics in ways that scientists wouldn’t normally catch, because he’s a professional stage magician and they’re not.

  • P J Evans

    I expect climate change to kill me. And a lot of other people. Because we aren’t even trying hard to deal with it now, and it’s going to get much worse. (A few years back we had a week when the highs were in the rage of 110-120F – that’s 45 to 50C.)

  • P J Evans

    The grapes I’ve had for the last several years are one each muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel. The Zin has the most trouble with the weather – it’s the last to leaf out and bloom, so it almost always gets fried in the June heatwave. The others are a little earlier, and seem to handle it better.

    I’ve been growing rhubarb, too, but it really needs higher humidity. (If I had a dryer vent, I’d plant it there.)