How can you win the global warming battle in the media?

Bernie Fraser, speaking as the Chairman of the Climate Change Authority, said a little while ago that the ‘good guys’ had lost the battle to win the hearts and minds of the community over global warming. I don’t accept that I am one of the ‘bad guys’, nor do I feel that somehow my agnostic views about AGW and my sceptical views about carbon taxes have somehow triumphed. Nothing like that has happened at all. Nor are any of my sceptical friends organising a ‘victory’ banquet.

What has happened, I think, is that the public has lost interest in the issue, and governments are doing nothing about it, other than saying what they think still has to be mouthed, while dismantling bits of the AGW machine and back-pedalling on possible global agreements. Maybe AGW is going to happen, the majority out there may well be thinking, but it’s a long way off. Anyway, last summer was just another hot one, and over in the US they are having a frigid winter. What’s new? They don’t like carbon taxes, and they’re probably tired of being lectured to. So, as I pointed out in my last essay, the electorate has switched off on this one, and it is relatively immune to preaching about it. Indeed, the more preaching and the more marching by the activists, the more the citizen majority rolls its eyes, and suggests that the ‘concerned’ get a life.

Nonetheless, the scientific establishments have only retreated a little from their official view that global warming is a menace to humanity, and the civil services of Western countries are well supplied with believers, as are the mainstream media and the non-government organisations. They are not accepting that the battle is over, and we are still being bombarded with scary stories and appeals to change our ways, at least every week, if not every day. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) came out yesterday with yet another direful warning, which was short on facts, by-passed the long absence of significant warming globally, and trumpeted that about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening. After a statement so void of meaning, and so easily refuted (see here, for example), why would you want read any further?

Yet faced with faced with this kind of official repetition and ritual, it is easy for the handful of articulate and knowledgeable sceptics to feel that the battle is just too hard. One well-known and resourceful sceptic wrote to me the other day saying, in  part, ‘it gets a bit overwhelming competing against so many multi-million dollar organizations, there are just too many targets. Hard to find the balance…’

One reason is that the orthodox scientists, like Professors Karoly, Steffen, Flannery and Hughes, to name just four in our country, rarely come forward to debate anything with anybody. They preach from their official or semi-official pulpits, gather their robes, and leave. To be fair, I once did engage in a public-private debate with Professor Karoly, who said that he agreed with much of what I had put forward in my paper. He did not, however, say what the areas of agreement and disagreement were, and having had my say before his, I had to leave the floor to others.

How then should sceptics and the puzzled participate in the public non-debate we are having in the media and in the community? Websites like this one put forward questions and doubts about the orthodoxy, but apart from one or two they’re not widely read, and while it is becoming just a tad easier to get dissenting views published in the mainstream media, sceptics are not organised. They have widely different backgrounds, expertise, interests and perspectives, and have no ‘spokesperson’. In contrast, the orthodoxy is organised, has many spokespersons and a supportive culture in the media, government and the community.

A group of sceptics with whom I have lunch occasionally has wrestled with this one, but without generating a strategy. Should they concentrate on posters, or comedy (sending up the orthodox), or short, sharp rebuttals of the hand-waving, or try to get someone to behave so offensively (but carefully) that the matter gets to court (defamation). There’s a version of that going on in North America at the moment, in connection with Michael Mann, he of the hockey-stick. Should sceptics concentrate on the Internet, or the MSM?

My own view is that it will be Nature who decides this one. If we are in for cooling, and there are plenty of signs that a lengthy cooling period may await us, then the heat will go out of global warming pretty effectively (sorry for the pun). Likewise, if there’s no cooling — but no warming of any consequence either. The scare really rests on the notion that as CO2 accumulations rise temperature must rise too. If that doesn’t happen, and it hasn’t for more than a decade at least in all the major temperature datasets, then the control knob image for CO2 doesn’t work.

But it will all take time. I think the orthodoxy is unravelling slowly every day, but there’s an awful lot of wool to unravel from the woolly assertions and half-truths that the orthodox put out. And like everyone else, I like results quickly.

In this domain, unfortunately, we are going to have to accept that it will hasten slowly, until at least the Paris climate meeting in 2015, from which I expect nothing of any consequence to happen. Governments are so embedded in it all, and so much pride and standing is involved, that getting out of AGW will take longer than it ought.

And sceptics need to accept that at least some of the warmists will convert, and become tomorrow’s coolists! It’s the scare that enraptures those people, not the science. Life is sometimes like that.


Join the discussion 22 Comments

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    The conflict of ideas currently waged by “sceptics” against “warministas” has been restricted almost wholly to the intellectual worlds in which they operate. Each side has its supporting web sites where blows are traded either directly or by reference to other publications, reports articles or sites. It is a self-selected world, one not accessed by the great majority of western citizens, and by a minuscule portion of the developing world. To those of us who step into this conflict, even just to observe, it is just another part of life. But the majority of our fellow citizens have little or no idea of what the arguments are about, beyond the general headline levels in the mainstream media.

    I suspect that many sceptics think they should attempt to win this war of ideas (ideas with very tangible consequences) on this battlefield, that they need to change the views of the “warministas”. Indeed, they do need to continue providing counter evidence and argument, for the sake of observers who take an interest,
    and for the sake of integrity and science. But they won’t change the true “warminista”. Forget it. There are deep psycho-sociological reasons for much of the commitment to the CAGW cause – that’s for another discussion. What I am
    getting at, is that it is not on these fields that the battle should be won.

    I don’t accept for a minute that it could not be won in the public arena. That means it has to be taken to the public arena. Yes, it would take time, and resources. Currently it would be a battle that could not rely on the MSM for its carriage. We don’t have to look far to see the power of the internet as a means of communication – think global terrorism, other crime in all its forms, advertising, good ideas, crazy ideas, and even our own powerful sceptic sites.

    Don, it may pan out as you suggest. For one important difference between promoters of causes and those critical of them, is that promoters generally have a strong emotional commitment which leads to both unity and action. Critics are less driven by emotion, far less likely to initiate and fire up the old town hall meeting. Generally, they’re getting on with their lives, and don’t need causes to live by. But if we put our collective mind to it, and took the battle to the internet streets, well beyond the sceptic web sites, we could certainly do a lot.

    And the politicians and the bureaucrats, would have to follow the citizenry.

    • BoyfromTottenham says:

      I agree, Peter, but look what we are up against:

      As a keen student of Cold War history, I find the parallels between KGB agit-prop and the barrage of propaganda and disinformation now spewed out by the pro-AGW crowd to be chilling. The West’s free press and often naive governments comprehensively failed to defeat the vast covert and overt disinformation program (called “active measures” by the Soviet leaders of the time) that supported the global creep of Communism. Likewise our press and governments seem to be sleepwalking towards a dire future for us in the West – potentially made much worse by the recent events in the Crimea where Putin is making Western leaders, who prattle on about AGW and close down their nuclear- and coal-fired power stations instead of worrying about their energy independence, look and sound remarkably like the “appeasers” of Nazi expansionism in the late 1930’s. I hope that I am wrong.

      • Peter Kemmis says:

        Hi BT
        I like your sleepwalking analogy. Sometimes it takes a dreadful jolt to awaken a populace. The invasion of Poland was that jolt for the UK and its dominions. Pearl Harbor was the same for the US. Hiroshima and Nagasaki was for Japan. Was WW2 the final in a trilogy that commenced in 1870 with the Franco-Prussian War, followed by WW1? A 75 year long struggle for territory and resources, expired through exhaustion, that perhaps lay some ground for rational co-existence (no doubt aided by a new common enemy, the USSR)?

        At least Crimea is not Czechoslovakia; we mightn’t like the vote, but it appears the majority are happy to rejoin the Russian fold. The biggest risk for Putin lies within. The Chinese Government recognises this danger for itself, hence its own “war on corruption”.

        The AGW charade is not as cataclysmic as is war – more like a cancer on the body politic. Diagnosed by very few. Nevertheless, and for hip-pocket reasons rather than from sound analysis, I see a slow awakening. Since my post above, I’ve reflected further as follows:

        How can we engage that large part of the populace to look at the actual observational data and the sceptical arguments built around that data? (Please forgive my categories below – very broad, and actually, I’d be hard-pressed to fit some people I know into just one category – but perhaps useful when considering my question about engagement.)

        1. I would not seek to engage those who have a strong emotional commitment to the AGW cause; fact and argument will not sway them, not till their frame of reference changes.

        2. Another group comprises the tertiary-trained but disengaged; it’s quite a large group, without a strong emotional commitment to either side. For the most part, this group has accepted the orthodox view primarily because it is orthodox, and the individuals in the group have learned from birth that to progress well in life it’s useful to listen to and cooperate with authority. This group would be open to fresh information on AGW. They just don’t get to hear it or see it, and they’re often too busy doing other things to ferret out that information. It’s an important group, containing many of the decision-makers and decision-influencers in our society.

        3. Another group is composed of those whose first recourse often is not to the written word, but to what is heard or seen through the media, through conversations with friends and work colleagues, and other social interactions.

        4.There are also many in the Western world for whom it never was or will be an issue; as for the first group above, potential engagement is not a priority. This is definitely not a criticism; many of these people have much higher priorities about maintaining jobs and family and health and schooling and keeping the kids out of trouble and you name it. The recent surveys in the US and Australia’s own one from its CSIRO, give a good indication of those priorities. I see AGW is well down the list in both, for over 50% of both survey groups.

        From my own limited observation, the third group above is now more likely to be sceptical of the pro-AGW claims, as they are starting to recognise that the dire consequences have not so far eventuated. It is a group that is innately suspicious anyway of the intelligentsia, as it likes to call itself – highly presumptious, these days.

        So that really leaves the second group as the one primarily to target, but such efforts would be cheered on by the third group.

        • BoyfromTottenham says:

          Hi PK,

          Thanks for your feedback and insightful analysis. Re AGW, I’m afraid its going to be a slow process to recover the collective sanity on this issue, but there are hopeful signs such as the EU now realising that energy independence trumps “lowering CO2” – even if they are triggered by geo-political events (i.e. Crimea) rather than by the ideological scales falling from their eyes!

          • David says:

            The adjustment cuts both ways. Tony Abbott has gone from “climate science is crap” to “we accept the science” There will probably be a fair bit of re- calibration of views on both sides of the debate for a while.

  • SB says:

    This is a very interesting blog, Don. It must be a considerable effort to publish it and I thank you for that. I agree with you that nature will decide matters. I also agree with Peter that the proponents of AGW are more heavily invested in the debate. It follows that few of them will ever admit error, if that is what nature eventually demonstrates. I guess that is just human nature.

    I’ve followed the climate change debate as well as I can. I don’t like all the aggravation that comes with it. I’m more interested in understanding at least the basis of the scientific arguments than in engaging in confrontational disputes.

    The American Physical Society is reviewing its 2007 Statement on Climate Change and has appointed a sub-committee of six climate scientists to advise it. This link is to a lengthy pdf which contains the transcript of a meeting where the six scientists made their initial presentations.

    I picked this up from Climate Etc. It is a good outline of the scientific debates surrounding climate change and may interest those who would like to move beyond the bluster.

  • NoFixedAddress says:

    Sir, a good article.

    I agree with you regarding Nature.

    If it gets hot, it gets hot.

    If it gets cold, it gets cold.

    That’s life, the universe and everything.

    But ‘elites’ using whichever scenario to manipulate whole peoples are merely seeking new forms of taxation to support their profligate ways.

    Talk about protesting a salt tax!

  • David says:

    Oh, Don that would be fairly easy.

    To win the argument all you would need to find a plausible variable, which has been correlated with CO2 for the years 1720 to 2010, and insert it into the best climate model available (e.g. Muller’s or any other); so that the model’s the predictive power increases and the coefficient on CO2 is rendered statistically insignificant.
    Possible variables ;
    Volcanic activity
    Sun spots
    Moons on Jupiter
    Some other industrial bi-product
    some other variable ?

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Your suggestion is neither easy nor necessary, David. My alternative is both straightforward and demonstrable — that what we have seen in the way of warming lies well within what has occurred in the past, and can be ascribed to natural variability. Since I don’t have an agenda, it is up to those who have one — the ‘warmists’ — to disprove the null hypothesis, that what we are seeing is simply climate variability caused through various mechanisms that we cannot yet explain.

      They think we can explain it through CO2 — fine! Show us. So far the showing has been weak, based on models with respect to the future, and lacking observational credibility. That doesn’t mean that they are wrong, rather that so far they haven’t established a case. It does mean, in my opinion, that there is no need yet for carbon taxes and their accompaniments. Or for global actions of the kind they propose.

      • David says:


        You say that it is up to

        “…….. the ‘warmists’ — to disprove the null hypothesis, that what we are seeing is simply climate variability caused through various mechanisms that we cannot yet explain”

        The null hypothesis is that “CO2 has no effect temperature.” To which the scientist will either accept or reject, based on their analysis of the data.

        You may be correct, but the statement, “that what we are seeing is simply climate variability caused through various mechanisms that we cannot yet explain”” is a statement of faith rather than a hypothesis that can be scientifically tested.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          No, no. You’ve changed the null: the null hypothesis is that whatever warming we are seeing is simple variability, well within the range of what we have seen (or our ancestors). It is not a statement of faith or belief — simply a proposition that can be disconfirmed if climate scientists can do so. If they can do it then, as with Peter Kemmis, my mind would be changed.

          All the sceptics I know accept that CO2 has an effect on temperature: most including me would accept that a doubling of CO2 would mean an increase of around 1 degree C. As I pointed out in a post last year, it might take us around a millennium to get there from now, at the current rate of warming.

          • David says:


            Have a look at a statistics text. The null hypothesis is simply stated as follows.

            H0: coefficient of interest (i.e. CO2) =0

            No more and no less.

            It wont tell you anything about other “various mechanisms” They have to be identified and individually tested for.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Read what I wrote again. The disagreement is not about whether or not CO2 has an effect (it ought to have a small one), but a range of other issues: whether or not the effect is in net terms harmful or beneficial, whether or not we can actually measure the effect and distinguish it from natural variability, whether or not the effect is amplified through ‘climate sensitivity’, and whether or not the proposed measures to counter the effect, if it is indeed large and harmful, will work. Each of these could be expressed in null hypothesis terms. But that CO2 has no effect is not one of them, since very few have put that forward.

          • David says:

            “But that CO2 has no effect is not one of
            them, since very few have put that forward.”

            Yes they do! Every empirical study that seeks to test a relationship between X and Y will explicitly state a null hypothesis that X has no effect on Y. The scientist does not need to have an a priori belief in the null. They are simply testing it. The strength of the relationship will be reflected in the coefficient. The confidence in the result will be reflected in a p-value, which estimates the probability that true coefficient is zero.

            Don in my view you conflate some statistical concepts but it would still be interesting to write an empirical paper with you.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            I’m not sure what you are saying here, David. Let me restate what I wrote. All the sceptics whom I know and whose work I read, agree that CO2 has an effect on temperature, but they disagree with the orthodox that the effect is great. Most would see it at around 1 degree C for each doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere.

            Who are the sceptics who argue that it has no effect at all?

          • David says:

            Yes I agree with you most skeptics do accept some AGW.

            But the null hypothesis is not a reflection of what the scientist believes. Its just the way to set the question up so that they can use a statistical technique to test the evidence.

            I suppose in some sense you could regard the null hypothesis like a “straw man” although I am loath to use that term because does it have a pejorative connotation.

            So, if the data suggest the rise in CO2 is correlated with 1 degree rise in temperature, we can do statistical test to see if should accept that. The statistical convention is that we want to be 95% sure the real relationship is not zero.

            Now you may be right. There may be other unknown reasons why temperature is increasing. But each of those other reasons will at some stage need to be tested before we can really know.

    • Peter Kemmis says:

      There’s quite a difference between proving a point and having it accepted. All of us have built frames of reference which we use to make judgments. After many personal discussions and considerable reading of blog comments, I’ve concluded that very few on either side of the CAGW debate are prepared to change their mind. People who have been taught over two generations that human society has done great ill, especially to the environment, are pre-disposed to accept the AGW/CAGW argument. Throughout human history, we have submitted to fear mongering – think primitive and current religions, xenophobia and racialism.

      To illustrate how shallow is the thinking behind that ready acceptance, why not ask those on the pro-AGW side that you know, what credible information would they require in order to change their view? The common answer I receive is along the lines of “when the IPCC scientists tell us otherwise”. I suspect that the majority of those accepting the AGW/CAGW story, are simply relying on authority. They have barely scratched the surface beyond the newspaper article headings, the sound-bites on the radio, the images on the TV.

      But those authorities, populated with a mix of scientists and would-be scientists, have been asserting for more than two decades the validity of their case. Do you honestly think they’re likely to admit they might be wrong?

  • Gus says:

    Physicists, Geologists and Meteorologists have been always at the frontiers of this battle on the side of the skeptics, because the physics does not add up in the *theory* of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW), geology does not confirm it and meteorology knows the limitation and inaccuracy of weather forecast, as well as past weather parameters and finds nothing unusual in the weather of today.

    The problem of CAGW is, first and foremost, a problem of science. If CAGW is false, there is nothing else to do about it, but seek other explanations for the observed climate drifts, none of which are out of the ordinary, as meteorologists and geologists tell us. If CAGW is true, then the next question is how “catastrophic” it really is. Is it really CAGW or just AGW, and if it’s just AGW, can we live with it and how?

    None of these questions are fully answered, perhaps with the exception of “C,” which seems decidedly out of place, and until they are answered we have nothing to talk about outside of science.

    Consequently, the monstrous, world-wide “Climate Change” apparatus of countless UN and government bureaucrats, economists, activists, politicos, journalists and other social parasites–none of them real scientists–who latched themselves on this international, tax-payers fed, gravy train and have been causing tremendous harm to national and world economies, must be dismantled.

    Just stop the money. Turn off the tap. Sack everybody. Let the vampires go back to their coffins, whence they had crawled. Just think, how much money you’ll save, money you can do some real good with.

    If a small fraction of this money is diverted towards real science of climate, perhaps, with time, we’ll get real answers to real questions.

    In the meantime here are *some* questions that the American Physical Society has asked in its current review of climate science:

    Q: If non-anthropogenic influences are strong enough to counteract the expected effects of increased CO2, why wouldn’t they be strong enough to sometimes enhance warming trends, and in so doing lead to an over-estimate of CO2 influence?

    Q: What do you see as the likelihood of solar influences beyond TSI (total solar irradiance)? Is it coincidence that the statis has occurred during the weakest solar cycle (ie sunspot activity) in about a century?

    Q: What are the implications of the statis for confidence in the models and their projections?

    Q: With uncertainty in ocean data being ten times larger than the total magnitude of the warming attributed to anthropogenic sources, and combined with the IPCC’s conclusion that it has less than 10% confidence that it can separate long-term trends from regular variability, why is it reasonable to conclude that increases in Global Mean Surface Temperature are attributable to radiative forcing rather than to ocean variability?

    … long time no see, Sanity dear. Long time no see, Diligence.

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