Environment

Mar 1, 2018

A spotter’s guide to climate skeptics

David Finnigan has had a number of run-ins while working on his controversial new play about climate deniers. Here, he argues they fall into one of a few camps.

David Finnigan

Playwright and artist

After 30 years of the so-called climate "debate", the climate denial movement has split and evolved into a number of specific strands. While most countries in the developed world have moved on, Australia has proved a fertile ground for deniers of all stripes.

In 2014 I wrote a play entitled Kill Climate Deniers. I'd already had some run-ins with skeptics, but after Andrew Bolt and Breitbart heard about the project and took aim at me (and its deliberately hyperbolic name), I started hearing from deniers across the whole spectrum.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions

24 comments

Leave a comment

24 thoughts on “A spotter’s guide to climate skeptics

  1. Wayne Robinson

    Personally, I divide global warming denial into five (i prefer ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ because it’s more precise. Increasing atmospheric CO2 levels will increase global temperatures):

    1. Global warming isn’t happening. As shown by the global warming ‘pause’.
    2. Global warming is happening, but it’s not due to humans. It’s due to natural cycles, or due to the Earth coming out of the Little Ice Age. Or it’s the Sun.
    3. Global warming is happening, and it’s due to humans, but it’s trivial or it’s going to be beneficial. More people die of cold than heat. The extra CO2 is ‘plant food.’ Pat Michaels is in this group. He thinks climate sensitivity is towards the lower end of the IPCC’s range of 1.5 to 2.5 Kelvin.
    4. Global warming is happening, it’s due to humans, and it’s going to be dire, but there’s nothing that humans can do to avoid it. There’s nothing that can replace fossil fuels. Attempting to reduce the fossil fuels will damage the economy. The best thing to do is to continue what we’re doing and hope to have enough resources to repair the damage.
    5. We know nothing, so we should do nothing until we know with certainty.

    The sign of a fervent AGW denier is one who manages to slide from (1) all the way through to (5) over a very short period, before returning to (1) again. Some of the contributors to Crikey fall into this group. We might see them reappear.

    1. Evil Garry

      Personally I find Wayne’s 5 levels to be much closer to my own experiences with those I talk to about GW. David Finnigan runs the risk of just sounding like a counterpoint to Andrew Dolt.

    2. dennis

      There is 6 Wayne, you forgot religion, the Christians the Muslims, God doesn’t believe it. So there.

      1. Josephus

        Wayne is clear and concise indeed. To be fair the present Pope is a firm supporter of cutting emissions and wanting to protect God’s creation, as he sees it. I find that many believers do manage to accept climate science, as the Pope does . Many believers are flexible. Popular in the 1950s to 1970s, the Catholic Teilhard de Chardin thought God had planned scientific progress such as the invention of the nuclear bomb. He was excommunicated, but not for that.

  2. Roger Clifton

    5 The Reductionists

    The Reductionists believe that the greenhouse can tolerate a certain amount of carbon emissions. The climate scientists are clearly exaggerating on the scale and urgency of the problem. They believe that they can keep the wrath of nature at bay by making token “reductions” and erecting windmills as symbols of their good faith. As long as they don’t overdo the reductions, there will always be some emissions for them to promise to reduce.

    Mysteriously, they are incoherently hostile to all the enemies of natural gas. Coal, oil and nuclear are all serious threats to the greenhouse and must not be allowed to compete with the expansion of the gas industry. Most of them believe that methane is not really a greenhouse gas, that it quickly decomposes, it can be dealt with later, and that it can conveniently provide backup to the windmills until batteries become big enough and world population declines.

    1. Desmond Graham

      Now an article and a play about – climate Zealots [evangelists , sounds more religious]

      1. Graeski

        You mean those who are zealously committed to facts, truth, rationality and science? I think they’re called scientists.

        Or do you mean those who are zealously committed to the health of the planet, its ecosystems, flora and fauna, and its environment?

        Or maybe zealously committed to the future well-being of the human race?

        I think you need to be a little more specific.

    2. Wayne Robinson

      Roger,

      I was expecting an AGW denier to soon appear, and surprise, surprise you appear.

      Climate scientists don’t promise to reduce CO2 emissions. They just point out what is likely to happen if CO2 emissions aren’t reduced to zero rapidly.

      Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. It is oxidised rapidly to CO2 so it’s still a greenhouse gas. It’s not a stopgap on the way to a zero CO2 emissions future. It’s a roadblock.

  3. kyle Hargraves

    Some interesting categories with a good (last paragraph) summary from Wayne Robinson. The “easy” answer is to read authoritative work (journals and texts).

    Many of the PR companies that are engaged in denial had a previous market with (denying) the effects of tobacco or, at last, arguing that the envisaged effects were “unproven”.

    There are individuals that will do anything for money; e.g “cash for comment” in talk-back radio in Oz. On this account, “scientists” are not exempt; ditto for the history of tobacco or probation if one cares to read the history.

    For a one-sentence synnopsis on the matter the signifcant aspect is the RATE of change (the derivative if one prefers) from the Industural Revolution and particularly over the 20th century that defineds the matter along with the chemical (atmospheric) properites of the gasses in the atmosphre that comprise, roughtly, 1%.

    1. Roger Clifton

      Kyle Hargraves speaks of the rate of change of greenhouse gases. Yes, it is serious. Currently we already have 45% more CO2 in the greenhouse than preindustrial. The rate of change in 1957 was less than 0.2%pa compared to preindustrial, now risen to 1.0%pa (based on NOAA data). In other terms, it is an extra mole of CO2 per square metre every year. An observer might feel that close ahead, a disaster is unavoidable. However the momentum is in the actions of man rather than the actions of nature. It can be turned around by revolutionary response.

      Labelling each other as “deniers” may have truth in it, but it is hardly persuasive. Politically, world opinion has a ways to go before we become capable of a revolutionary response.

  4. Stewart Stirling

    This is a pretty sloppy argument. The use of the term “denier” to describe anyone sceptical or unconvinced by climate change/global warming theology is indicative of the increasing intolerance espoused by the true believers. Just to pick up on a couple of points: the “models “may have been improved (about time, judging by how hugely inaccurate they seem to have been so far) but they are still simulations, not reality. Bjorn Lomborg does not claim there is no need for action, just that that action should involve dealing with more immediate issues such as poverty, and at improving renewable energy research, rather than the ridiculous proposition that fossil fuels be abandoned forthwith. Finally, is any true believer able to provide a credible answer to this layman’s question: if we are not able accurately to predict weather conditions a month in advance, how on earth are we able to judge what the climate will be like in a hundred years’ time?

    1. kyle Hargraves

      “This is a pretty sloppy argument. The use of the term “denier” to describe anyone sceptical or unconvinced by climate change/global warming theology is indicative of the increasing intolerance espoused by the true believers.”

      I haven’t a clue as to what might constitute a “true believer” but I’ll make an attempt at edifying a “layman”.

      There may be people who are unconvinced (a respectable but tardy position) but there are also those who deny as they might deny the Copernicus System.

      “Just to pick up on a couple of points: the “models “may have been improved (about time, judging by how hugely inaccurate they seem to have been so far) but they are still simulations, not reality.”

      I could become rather “strong” at this juncture (by typing a common compound noun that conveys disbelief in English) but I’ll take the softly-softly approach. ANYTHING of moderate sophistication requires a model. EVERYTHING from medicines to a good deal of engineering to rocket science are based upon models. The models concerning climate change can “model” – that word – ice core samples for the last half a-million years to within experimental error; typically around 3% and a good deal better than any annual forecast a business might receive from an accountant.

      “Bjorn Lomborg does not claim there is no need for action, just that that action should involve dealing with more immediate issues such as poverty, and at improving renewable energy research, rather than the ridiculous proposition that fossil fuels be abandoned forthwith.”

      James Lovelock (re: the Gia Hypothesis) took the view that it was too late 20 years ago. He ameliorated this position as his death became imminent but I suspect that he adhered to it nevertheless. The “problem” with “renewable energy research” is that every voter has a view; informed or otherwise. The media is of no help. Firstly, the media is utterly ignorant and secondly the media makes money not from objective reporting (seen an example lately?) but from “peddling” 26 views for and 26 against over a 12 month period. Perhaps such is the “new” objectivity!

      “Finally, is any true believer able to provide a credible answer to this layman’s question: if we are not able accurately to predict weather conditions a month in advance, how on earth are we able to judge what the climate will be like in a hundred years’ time?”

      Do google “chaotic statistical conditions or chaos theory”. The example serves as a first class illustration as to the perils of universal suffrage. In a nutshell there is a distinction between weather and climate. The weather patters are chaotic – a formal word with a strict mathematical meaning. In “layman” terms it means that NO amount of prior data can be appealed to in forecasting a future condition with complete accuracy. In other words prior frequencies (of a random variable) are not correlated to the likelihood of an observation. In a county such as New Zealand, with many micro climates, the best one can forecast is about a week (and that forecast is in doubt). In central Australia the period of forecast “improves”; i.e. increases.

      As to climate : …mmm. when you’re next in a queue or on a bus or train ask a stranger for their opinion on xyz (Barnaby for example). The answer may be predictable (more or less – depending upon the question) but not “guaranteed”; there is some possibility that the answer might be extreme (in a particular direction). NOW put the same question to 500 people or 1,000 people (as randomly as possible). The “results” (answers) will become much more uniform. This “uniformity” is analogous to climate. The climate is ABLE to be forecast to within experimental error (c. 3% – 5%) in a century hence. As to the weather in xyz city 90 days from now (rain, cloud cover, sunshine, wind etc) no one can provide a completely accurate forecast unless we’re considering Alice Springs or Darwin; and even there some doubt exists (of necessity) on account of the nature of chaotic systems.

      1. Stewart Stirling

        Your comment on my request: “The example serves as a first class illustration as to the perils of universal suffrage” illustrates that you are a) very much in the “true believer” mould; and b) a pompous, dictatorial tool. Such a shame the masses got the vote, eh? How much better the world would be if were run by enlightened ubermensch like you…

        1. kyle Hargraves

          Be that as it may but do YOU now have a clearer command of the issue?

          As to your remarks, I do advocate that Nietzsche be taught in Australian schools with the basics of the following texts (in about this order) taught at primary school : All Too Human, On the Genealogy of Morality and Beyond Good and Evil.

          Secondly, and much more seriously, there is a latent conflict between those who understand STEM and those who haven’t a clue; the latter, streaking towards post-modernist theory – which does have an association with Cultural Relativism – clam that, very roughly, (1) we can know nothing and even if we make a claim to knowledge (2) it is relative with the implication that (3) another view is EQUALLY valid. This perspective presents itself all over the place and, frankly, seems to have been adopted by the Green Movement world-wide.

          Three major texts (three will do for now) are – in no particular order
          A. J. Ayer Language, Truth, and Logic (1936)
          Thomas S Kuhn The Structure of – Scientific Revolutions (1962)
          R.G. Meyers Understanding Empiricism (1991)
          trash the post-modernist – coherence theory drivel.

          1. Josephus

            A good post Kyle if a tad narrow, but your comment that Greens are all post modernist subjective sophists is total rubbish, as they are well known to plead for reducing fossil fuel use and find alternatives. Wherever did you get your non existent evidence from, please.

  5. kyle Hargraves

    A contributor wrote : “I think you need to be a little more specific”
    ok – why not ?

    “You mean those who are zealously committed to facts, truth, rationality and science? I think they’re called scientists.”

    .mmmm : facts change as knowledge increases or becomes more refined in science for the very good reason that “science” is known as science. As an aside the opposite occurs with “religion”. Rationality ? .mmm – the truth does win but it may require a number of decades. THEN the matter appears “rational” (ergo the Royal Navy and vitamin C, vaccination, relativity and [for the sake
    of a last example] evolution)!

    “Or do you mean those who are zealously committed to the health of the planet, its ecosystems, flora and fauna, and its environment?”

    Historically, over tens of millennium, there hasn’t been any such creed of humanoids with any such intentions. Everywhere where humanoids have tramped the effects on fauna (in particular) have been disastrous. Having written that all animals susceptible to domestication were domesticated at the survey peg of (circa) 4,000 years ago. Similarly, more or less, for domesticated plants and then Mr Kellogg appeared towards the end of the 19 century. Lastly, the (laudable) objectives of the enquiry can ONLY be ensured by due application of science.

    “Or maybe zealously committed to the future well-being of the human race?”

    There was a time when five sets of humanoids were tramping about, more or less, as hunter-gatherers; so much for the first chapter of Genesis! Then from about 120,000 years ago to about
    30 thousand years ago there were two sets of cohabiters [in the strict sense]; then one : sapiens! Our former co-existors prevailed for about 300,000 years. I, for one, would be somewhat amazed
    if sapiens are prevailing in another 150 years! Either way – given a global roll of 7.x billion – ONLY science can satisfy the objective.

    By way of a summary : empiricism prevails over any other form of philosophy; just take a look at your cell phone; yep the one that can display a film when you are taking a soak in the tub. Without the expression exp[i(pi)] + 1 = 0 the damned thing would not work; i = sqrt(-1).

  6. AR

    Although an Opportunist, Lomborg is not a denier – his spiel is that the money invested/spent/wasted on pretending to ‘combat the problem’ would be better spent on education (esp of girls) and amelioration of catastrophes.
    It is unsurprising that those with most to lose are most deranged in their denial – money in the case of the rich, political theology in the case of their Yahoos & toadies (hi, Blot!) – as it means that their comfy life is threatened.

  7. Dog's Breakfast

    One more to add – The Mathematician.

    CO2 is measured in parts per million, how can such a tiny percentage of air make such a difference.

    Then cycle through Wayne Robinson’s well compiled list.

    1. kyle Hargraves

      “CO2 is measured in parts per million”
      or moles per volume; particularly when the composition is changing.

      ” how can such a tiny percentage of air make such a difference.”
      such is just the point and its NOT just CO2; CH4 plays a major part along with other related hydrocarbons!

  8. Juan

    Global warming is real, but it’s largely due to land clearing, which is vast and on the increase. You only have to look at how Western Australian land clearing did to local rainfall patterns with a 20% drop in the 20th century which preceded the CO2 hype. The CO2 modelling is dodgy at best with various fudge factors included to force model temps up. H2O is as effective as a greenhouse molecule compared to CO2 and earth’s atmosphere has on average 10,000ppm of H2O compared to about 400ppm of CO2. The solar absorption spectra is largely saturated with current greenhouse gas levels and hence any increase in gas concentrations only has a marginal impact. The real problem with the CO2 greenhouse hype is that it distracts from the land clearing impacts. This allows developers and politicians to continue with their wanton destruction of the environment and salivate at the prospect of those additional CO2 taxes.

    1. Wayne Robinson

      Juan,

      I was going to answer all your inaccurate statements, but then I realised it would take too long. I’ll just highlight your true statements: ‘Global warming is real.’ Everything else is either inaccurate or just plain wrong.

      Why don’t you try reading a book on climate science?

    2. kyle Hargraves

      Oh – I wish in times like these that I had a favourate deity. We do we obtain our information Juan? I’ll give (donate?) an hour to refuting the majority of what has been asserted and send you on your happy way with, hopefully, sufficient words to google for the purpose of ‘reassessing your perspective’ shall we say?

      “Global warming is real, but it’s largely due to land clearing, which is vast and on the increase.”
      Interesting point! Evidence?

      What about continental drift that defines the location of the land masses and ipso facto the ice sheets (ceteris parabus). Hint : albedo. Other hints: ocean current flow – e.g. 30 million years ago when the Antarctic disengaged from (now) South America. If continents can separate they can also collide as happened 40 million years ago when India struck Asia forming the Himalayas. Of course the weather and climate patterns changed radically. Carbon dioxide was removed by the climate via extensive rain and subsequent reactions with sedimentary rock. The on-going process is responsible for COOLING!

      Then there is such an entity as a “solar constant”. The (nuclear) conversion from hydrogen to helium causes an increase in albedo of the sun (the luminosity of the sun has increased by about 25% over the course of the life of the solar system. BUT the annual values of the solar constant
      are all over the place and the stratosphere (no weather in the stratosphere) is cooling! . mmm..!

      Perhaps the orbit of the earth is changing. Nah – otherwise the solar constant would change in a uniform manner but the obliquity (angle if one prefers) of the earth to its axis will increase by about 1.25 degrees over the next 40,000 years; no great concern there. What about El Nino? Yep; at the end of an El Nino the global temperature is about 0.3 or 0.7 of a degree C warmer. But there is also La Nina and La Nina has the opposite effect – albeit mildly stronger. Over a century there is no net change.

      Then take a look at :
      https://www.mla.com.au/globalassets/mla-corporate/blocks/research-and-development/wa-climate-drivers.pdf
      or this
      https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/uploads/e0d4e50478b96d1a50c821b7b2c022a4.pdf but this link refutes you Juan.
      http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2014/07/14/4044314.htm

      Lastly (on the point) take a look at Carbon Dioxide (dependent) and age (to about 500 million years ago – independent variable). Ditto for Ice (dependent). Superimpose the two graphs (allowing for scale) – observation : Lots of ice : little C02 and conversely; the latter being the point! (see below for more info)

      “You only have to look at how Western Australian land clearing did to local rainfall patterns with a 20% drop in the 20th century which preceded the CO2 hype.”

      Mark A. Andrich and Jörg Imberger (UWA) did publish a paper (Oct 2013) with the title The effect of land clearing on rainfall and fresh water resources in Western Australia: a multi-functional sustainability analysis where they claimed: “that a substantial part of the decline may be due to extensive logging close to the coast to make way for housing developments and the clearing of native vegetation for wheat planting on the higher ground.” accounting
      for a about half the decline in rainfall over 40 years. However, the consensus on this matter is far from uniform. In any event the event is “local” as a thunderstorm is “local”. In other words indiscriminate land clearing may have an effect on local climate but the effect of rainfall is local. The matter under discussion is global. There is a significant difference.

      “The CO2 modelling is dodgy at best with various fudge factors included to force model temps up.”
      oh – indeed ! Evidence ? One verifiable example will suffice.

      “H2O is as effective as a greenhouse molecule compared to CO2 ”
      what do you mean by “as effective”? If you mean : possess similar properties then JUST think about the properties of the respective molecules; in this respect you could not be more wrong.

      Adding to what Wayne has mentioned on the matter some might recall their basic high school chemistry : CH4 + 202 > C02 + 2H20. In other words a mole of CH4 yields
      a mole of C02 and two moles of oxygen disappears from the atmosphere – replaced by two moles of water vapour.

      “and earth’s atmosphere has on average 10,000ppm of H2O compared to about 400ppm of CO2.” probably a bit less for water : 8,000ppm but it doesn’t matter much. What is of significance is that the abundance of C02 was about 280ppm in 1750 (the dawn of the IR). As a rough rule of thumb 40% could be removed in fifty years and a total of 75% in five centuries. No : the decomposition is NOT linear! Google “chemical weathering”

      As to methane (CH4) the calorific value of a molecule of methane is (about – a tad more than) 20 times that of C02. In layman’s terms : “hotter”! The incidence in the atmosphere has increased from 0.8ppm to 1.83ppm (2.3x) over the same interval to time. Causes of methane emissions are human orientated and include bacterial processes (landfill), agriculture (including rice growing) and the petrochemical industry; the latter accounting for about 1/3 (and 2/3 for agriculture). Human-induced – or did it just happen?

      “The solar absorption spectra is largely saturated with current greenhouse gas levels and hence any increase in gas concentrations only has a marginal impact.”

      Nonsense – I’m sorry to say. Just take a look at the Paleocene (Eocene) Thermal Maximum which occurred about 55 million years ago; just after the demise of the dinosaurs. Then, because the time
      allocated has almost expired, take a look (in about this order) (1) global temperatures since the Holocene (or end of the last Ice Age) to the present; then (2) make a graph (temperature as dependent) over the last 100 million years (include changes in oxygen levels just for interest – you’ll be surprised and consider how the dinosaurs came to be in existence in the first place – yep – needed a LOT of oxygen) and (3) global sea level for the 20th century then (4) ocean temperature for the same period or at least from 1950 then (5) cumulative ice sheet loss (or just Greenland) over the same period and (6) confirm by correlating Arctic sea-ice area over the same period and lastly (7) satellite temperature changes from 1980 (the limit) to now and correlate this data with global average temperatures from circa 1880 – when records in most countries began.

      The above activity ought to take an adult a weekend at most; I would allocate a week for a year 11 class. For schools in Europe such an assignment would possess no difficulty at all but the little darlings could struggle in Oz.

      The above amounts to little more than a mud-map but it will get the interested reader “up an peddling”.

  9. DEB CAMPBELL

    and isn’t there another category David – the god-botherers? Those who believe an omnipotent and ‘benevolent’ god just would not punish humanity by taking all the power from oil companies? This category always seem the most delusional to me given world war, plague and famine etc etc but they exists e.g. Tony Abbott.

    1. kyle Hargraves

      “the god-botherers : Those who believe an omnipotent and ‘benevolent’ god just would not punish humanity by taking all the power from oil companies? – snip – [OR] given world war, plague and famine etc etc but they exists”; my edits.

      With all due respect Deb you’re “piling it on” much too thickly. The “power” of the oil companies is on the threshold of disappearing; say over the next 15 years or so on account of automatic navigable and (hence) drivable ELECTRIC cars, buses and trains. G.M. has announced delivery within a year or two. Demand for petrol will go in only one direction. Petroleum reserves, per se, will become a near irrelevance.

      The “relationship” – marriage if one prefers – between the petrochemical industry and the automobile industry is about to disolve on account of the death of a spouse. Of course that leaves aviation and marine shipping but the latter will have to, literally, clean up their act and use fuel (diesel) of a specified quality so as NOT to pollute the atmosphere. Currently shipping companines can (and do) use any “garbage” for fuel irrespective of its effects upon the engines and the atmosphere but I, for one, perceive this aspect changing – for the better!

      Notwithstanding the above those who are in their teens or twenties and expect a rough ride (climate change, population growth, job automation and security, workplace conditions including the effects of globalisation and hence renumeration etc.) over the career or their lives even if the tap was turned off now.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details

Sending...