How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.

Summary:  Climate science as an institution has become dysfunctional; large elements of the public no longer trust it. The politics of climate change are polarized and gridlocked. The weather will determine the evolution of US public policy. All we can do is learn what went wrong so we can do better next time, and wait to see the price we pay for our folly.

“The time for debate has ended”
— Marcia McNutt (editor-in-Chief of Science, next President of the NAS) in “The beyond-two-degree inferno“, editorial in Science, 3 July 2015.

Scientists tell the UN about the coming disaster in “When Worlds Collide” (1951)

Presenting at the UN. From "When Worlds Collide" (1951).


  1. Why doesn’t America lead the fight against climate change?
  2. How do scientists alert the world to a catastrophic threat?
  3. Case study: the pause.
  4. The most incompetently conducted media campaign ever?
  5. My personal experience.
  6. The broken climate debates.
  7. Other posts in this series.
  8. For More Information.

(1)  Why doesn’t America lead the fight against climate change?

Why does climate change rank at the bottom of most surveys of what Americans’ see as our greatest challenges? (CEOs, too.) Since James Hansen brought global warming to the headlines in his 1989 Senate testimony, activists for action on this issue have had almost every advantage. They have PR agencies (e.g., Hansen’s new paper, the expensive propaganda video by 10:10. They have all the relevant institutions supporting them, including NASA, NOAA, the news media, academia, lavish funding from foundations and charities, even funding from the energy companies (also here), They have support from the majority of scientists.

The other side, “skeptics”, have some funding from energy companies and conservative groups, with the heavy lifting being done by volunteer amateurs, plus a few scientists and meteorologists.

What the Soviet military called the correlation of forces overwhelmingly favored those wanting action. Public policy in America should have gone green many years ago. Why didn’t it?

(2)  How do scientists alert the world to a catastrophic threat?

“Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”
— Harsh but operationally accurate Roman proverb.

We have seen this played out many times in books and films since the publication of When Worlds Collide in 1932 — A group of scientists see a threat. They go to America’s (or the world’s) leaders and state their case, presenting the data for others to examine and answering questions. They never say things like this…

“In response to a request for supporting data, Philip Jones, a prominent researcher {U of East Anglia} said ‘We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?’”

– From the testimony of Stephen McIntyre before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (the July 2006 hearings which produced the Wegman Report). Jones has not publicly denied it.

They don’t destroy key records, which are required to be kept and made public. They don’t force people to file Freedom of Information requests to get key information; the response to FOIs is never like this…

The {climategate} emails reveal repeated and systematic attempts by him and his colleagues to block FoI requests from climate sceptics who wanted access to emails, documents and data. These moves were not only contrary to the spirit of scientific openness, but according to the government body that administers the FOI act were “not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation”.  {The Guardian}

The burden of proof rests on those warning the world about a danger requiring trillions of dollars to mitigate, and perhaps drastic revisions to — or even abandoning — capitalism (as in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate and “In Fiery Speeches, Francis Excoriates Global Capitalism“).

Steve McIntyre has documented the defensive and self-defeating efforts of climate scientists to keep vital information secret, often violating the disclosure policies of journals, universities, and government funding agencies. To many laypeople these actions by scientists scream “something wrong”. It’s not how people act when they have a strong case, especially with such high stakes.

Earth Burning

(3)  Case study: the pause

Starting in 2006 climate scientists began to notice a slowing in the rate of atmospheric warming. By 2009 there were peer-reviewed papers about it (e.g., in GRL), and the pace of publications accelerated (see links to these 29 papers). In 2013 the UK Met Office published a major paper about the pause, which shifted the frontier of climate science from the existence of the pause to its causes (see links to these 38 papers). In the past few years scientists have forecast the duration of the pause (see links to 17 forecasts).

During this activists wrote scores, probably hundreds, of articles not only denying that there was a pause in warming — but mocking as “deniers” people citing the literature. The leaders of climate science remained silent, even those writing papers about the pause. While an impressive display of message discipline, it blasted away the credibility of climate science for those who saw the science behind the curtain of propaganda.

Eventually the tension grew so great that public mention of the discrepancy became acceptable, such as this mild note in Nature Climate Change (August 2014)…

“Climate science draws on evidence over hundreds of years, way outside of our everyday experience. During the press conference, scientists attempted to supplement this rather abstract knowledge by emphasising a short-term example: that the decade from 2001 onwards was the warmest that had ever been seen. On the surface, this appeared a reasonable communications strategy. Unfortunately, a switch to shorter periods of time made it harder to dismiss media questions about short-term uncertainties in climate science, such as the so-called ‘pause’ in the rate of increase in global mean surface temperature since the late 1990s.

“The fact that scientists go on to dismiss the journalists’ concerns about the pause – when they themselves drew upon a similar short-term example – made their position inconsistent and led to confusion within the press conference.”

Referring to the “so called pause” is typical message discipline, use of scare quote despite the scores of papers using the term. Another example of message discipline is the successful effort to conceal from the public that most forms of extreme weather have not increased during the past decade (data here, and here).

Know your place

(4)  The most incompetently conducted media campaign ever?

“Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.”
— True when journalist Charles Dudley Warner said it in 1884. Still true today.

A kerfuffle occurred over claims that 2014 was the “warmest year” on record, with harsh denouncing of people pointing to substantial qualifications of that claim in the NOAA and NASA presentations (“it was more unlikely than likely”). Equally successful was the massive media campaign that convinced the public that California’s drought results from anthropogenic climate change, despite numerous studies showing that it is a minor factor. These are two in a long list of information operations by climate activists (see section 7 here).

The goal is always the same: keep the message simple, crush dissent (no matter how well founded). These propaganda successes required the complicit silence or active participation of scientists. This does not mean that the climate change threat is a Potemkin Village. It means that many climate scientists behave as if it is one. Hence the public policy gridlock.

Now many climate scientists and activists are doubling down on these failed tactics. Stronger denunciation of critics. More extreme headlines such as “The beyond-two-degree inferno“ in Science and “Halfway to Hell” in New Scientist. I doubt these change any minds.

Difficult Chess Decision

(5)  My personal experience

I first wrote about climate change 7 years ago, and have written 305 posts since. Most defended the IPCC against Left and Right (see my recommendations here). I found the climate a subject of interest as an important public policy issue and a test of our ability to see and respond to severe but long-term challenges.

In my 35 years in finance I’ve often relied on scientists for advice (in both the physical and social sciences), and developed methods for successfully engaging with them. These failed with most climate scientists. First, they were more reluctant to engage than in any other field I’ve worked with — including those doing secret work in defense and biotech.

Second, and more important, their responses were unlike anything I’ve seen before. A few responded in typical fashion. For example, I ask Roger Pielke Sr. a question and receive a full package of citations — which he’ll explain in detail, if asked. It’s the usual practice of scientists.

But in climate science a more common response is a probe to determine my tribe — us or them? Oddly, either way I often get snark (friendly or hostile, depending upon the how they ID my tribal identity). Probing, however careful, meets with hostility (classification as “foe”). The conversations often quickly became strange, as in the following examples. I could cite dozens more, many longer and odder.

(a)  Climate scientist Bart Verheggen said my finding of a 47% consensus in his paper results from “creative accounting”. He suggested that I consult his paper (from which I extensively quoted). I asked for an explanation. No answer from Bart; vituperation from others. This is the most common pattern of conversation.

Twitter Conversation 2

(b)  We discussed follow-up research to the PBL survey about the consensus in climate science. I suggested adding expertise in social science surveys or public opinion polling to the team. Bart pointed to a co-author of the PBL survey. I showed that he does not have those skills. No reply from Bart. There’s Physics said my comment is “condescending”, and refers to a comment at Skeptical Science about the larger issues about the PBL survey. I ask why it’s condescending. No reply.

Twitter exchange about expertise



(6)  The broken climate debates

“The time for debate has ended”
— Marcia McNutt (editor-in-Chief of Science, next President of the NAS) in “The beyond-two-degree inferno“, editorial in Science, 3 July 2015.

I agree with McNutt: the public policy debate has ended. Climate science as an institution is broken, the larger science community applauds its dysfunctionality, and a critical mass of the US public has lost confidence in it. As a result, the US will take no substantial steps to prepare for possible future climate change, not even preparing for re-occurrence of past extreme weather.

The weather will determine how policy evolves. All that remains is to discuss the lessons we can learn from this debacle so that we can do better in the future.

(7)  Other posts in this series

These posts sum up my 330 posts about climate change.

  1. This post: How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  2. A new response to climate change that can help the GOP win in 2016.
  3. How climate scientists can re-start the public policy debate about climate change.
  4. A story of the climate change debate. How it ran; why it failed.
  5. The 5 stages of grief for the failure of the climate change campaign.
  6. The climate change crisis, as seen from 2100 AD.

(8)  For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change. Especially see these…

To help you better understand today’s extreme weather

To learn more about the state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder, and Director of their Center for Science and Technology Policy Research).

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

92 thoughts on “How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.”

  1. I probably shouldn’t comment, but I’m all for dialogue, even if that doesn’t seem obvious. Here’s the basic point. The consensus position is essentially that most of the warming since 1950 has been anthropogenic. It is very clear that a large fraction of relevant scientists and a large fraction of the relevant scientific literature accept this position. It really cannot be that the level of consensus (amongst relevant scientists or within the literature) is as low as 47%. It’s not possible and it would simply take a few emails to scientists or a brief search of a scientific database to show this.

    It might be possible to massage some survey data to get this number, but it’s clear that this no longer represent the level of consensus. In fact, all it really seems to be measuring is the fraction of those surveyed who think more than 50% of the warming since 1950 was anthropogenic AND who think that this is extremely likely. So, you’re doing a double test when – as far as I’m concerned – the basic test should simply be to ask one question and see what fraction accept it, not what fraction accept it AND think that it’s extremely likely.

    The point that Tom Curtis was making in that comment to which I linked is that attribution studies are real scientific analyses. They’re based on an actual piece of scientific work that produce a result and a confidence interval. They don’t depend on the views of some large group of scientists. Showing that a large group of scientists are not – personally – quite as confident as an actual attribution study is largely irrelevant.

    So, to be quite honest (and this is normally when the dialogue goes horribly wrong), if you’re going to suggest that the actual level of consensus is around 47%, then you really shouldn’t be lecturing others about finding additional experts to do their analysis. Also, if you think that the actual level of consensus is around 47% (which is so far from reality as to be a little absurd) trying to discuss this with you any further probably isn’t worth the effort, which may explain why Bart hasn’t bothered responding.

    1. aTTP’s reply is offensive to the thinking brain. Fabius’ 47% post was explicitly about the consensus around what’s written in the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I.

      No need to re quote the famous text, that includes two precise statements, and that’s why Fabius conducted a “double test”.

      Let’s pretend Professor Ken Rice is simply totally oblivious to all of this, because he hasn’t read the AR5 WG1 SPM and hasn’t read the 47% post. Why wouldn’t he do that, since they’re but a click away, let’s leave it to the private thoughts of all readers.

    2. ATTP,

      “It really cannot be that the level of consensus (amongst relevant scientists or within the literature) is as low as 47%.”

      You have misstated my conclusion. I explained this at some length in the post, and again to you in the comments. If you cannot correctly state my conclusion, I’m unsure how to have a dialog. It’s like talking to the deaf.

      “that attribution studies are real scientific analyses. They’re based on an actual piece of scientific work that produce a result and a confidence interval. They don’t depend on the views of some large group of scientists.”

      You are missing the point. Belief in the accuracy and reliability of attribution studies is measured by surveys of scientists. Attribution studies are science, not messages from God.

      “trying to discuss this with you any further probably isn’t worth the effort”

      That’s my impression of talking with you. You cannot correctly repeat what I say, so your rebuttals range from irrelevant to diktats. My guess (emphasis on guess) is that you’re sincere, but have ideological blinders that prevent you from seeing what you consider heterodox thought — so you reframe it as nonsense.

    3. Fabius,

      You have misstated my conclusion. I explained this at some length in the post, and again to you in the comments. If you cannot correctly state my conclusion, I’m unsure how to have a dialog. It’s like talking to the deaf.

      I’ll state it more clearly then. If you think that only 47% of relevant scientists agree that it is extremely likely that most (more than 50%) of the warming since 1950 is anthropogenic, then you’re wrong. If you’re suggesting something else, then make that clearler. Implying a consensus level of 47% – if applied to relevant scientists or the relevant literature – is absurd.

      Maybe also try reading – and thinking about – the comment I made on the other post. This is more statistically complex than maybe you realise.

      Belief in the accuracy and reliability of attribution studies is measured by surveys of scientists.

      I think this is fundamentally wrong. This is really not what is done. However, even if it were, this isn’t what you’ve tested. You’ve tested their confidence in their own estimate, which was much narrower than “more than 50% since 1950 is anthropogenic”. If they’d been asked “how confident are you that more than 50% of the warming since 1950 was anthropogenic” you might have a point, but they weren’t.

      You cannot correctly repeat what I say, so your rebuttals range from irrelevant to diktats. My guess (emphasis on guess) is that you’re sincere, but have ideological blinders that prevent you from seeing what you consider heterodox though.

      Seriously? Let me quite blunt. Suggesting that the level of consensus is around 47% is bordering on the ridiculous. Why not consider that you’ve blundered spectacularly, rather than suggesting that your critics are ideologically blinded. It’s one thing to dispute that a consensus is correct, it’s another to dispute that it exists.

    4. Rice/aTTP is again beyond belief. The original post makes computations based on the PBL survey – those numbers have not been refuted.

      Rice’s answer (hear the pin drop!) introduces a “only 47% of relevant scientists” that might or might not be cognate to Verheggen’s “1868 scientists studying various aspects of climate change, including physical climate, climate impacts, and mitigation”. This aspect is totally left as an exercise for the reader – aTTP sounds as if he lives in a different universe.

      Once again, it is impossible to talk to the esteemed Prof Ken. With him it’s always a barrage of distortions, manipulations, non-sequiturs, irrelevances with the inevitable ending of faux moral outrage. Or maybe it’s true outrage, caused by inability to read.

    5. “The consensus position is essentially that most of the warming since 1950 has been anthropogenic.”

      Not any more it isn’t. Stop making stuff up. How much longer is it going to be before you and your ilk realise you are part of the problem, not part of the solution? Future scientists will not thank you for your intransigence, not even slightly.

      1. Cat,

        “’The consensus position is essentially that most of the warming since 1950 has been anthropogenic.’ Not any more it isn’t.”

        Please cite the evidence for your assertion.

        “Stop making stuff up.”

        False. Every survey — and their have been many, by different groups — confirms agreement on this point (albeit with varying confidence levels). See these, and this new one.

  2. Who joins a conversation to announce why they’re not taking part in it? Food for the burgeoning #ClimatePsycho industry there I fear.

    1. He said he was for dialogue but he has not read the original post. It’s another example of a scientist behaving as if in a Potent in village.

  3. First time comment here, but have had wonderful interaction with both “The editor” and “ATTP”. Each have something to share which is missing from this observers perspective in the conversations regarding climate. So will offer this suggestion (unsolicited) for all. Please stop drawing lines in the sand.

    Depending on what group is sampled, how the questions are phrased ‘your results may vary’. And this minutia is unimportant and only more of the spitting match. Personally, the “97% consensus” is valid as far as it goes. Equally, the 47% is valid due to following the construct of IPCC. When state (U.S.) ‘climatologists’ are polled a different number is achieved. Meteorologists lead to a different result. So does it really matter who’s ‘right’ and who’s ‘wrong’. Nothing will be gained until some middle ground inclusive interaction occurs.

    The point is when conversation between potentially wonderful participants (and commenters) become mired in that which is largely of lower concern in the scheme of things, heels become dug in leaving no chance for progress.

    1. that’s very good Danny. I usually try to stick to the post’s topic.

      In this case, Bart Verheggen’s accusation of “creative accounting” has never been backed up with actual arguments. Still isn’t. Rice has failed on all fronts.

      1. Hi Omnologos,

        We’ve not met (that I’m aware) so please forgive my asking for clarity w/r/t ” I usually try to stick to the post’s topic.” Not clear if I came across as not doing so as I felt the middle paragraph addressed concerns on the evaluations. (Of course embellished by the further commentary :))

        I wanna play by the home court rules! Thanks,

    2. Apols Danny – I was trying to clarify the gist of my original comment, not being snarky about yours. I can see how my writing could have come across in a bad way.

      1. Not at all omnologos. Many thanks to you and Editor. Any gentle redirection is much appreciated. As a guest in this house, my wish is to if nothing else not bring the conversation down.
        Best regards!

      2. Danny,

        Your conduct has been exlemplary. Better than I often achieve in comments. It’s not a form of dialog I do well, and after answering 39 thousand (mostly hostile, many scary) I do it far more poorly than when I started.

        To see why many (most?) people running websites hate their comment sections (despite the often valuable, even brilliant comments) see the articles I cite here:

      3. Editor,
        Not having a blog I cannot share you pain. However, a personal windmill at which I tilt (most of the time) is when I do participate in others playgrounds I try to include reasonably inclusive conversation (failing at times).
        Our political society has a wide gap between the extremes and I find myself (often lonely) in the middle on many topics. Yet my pollyanna thinking still makes me believe that our best answers to our most divisive issues will be found beginning from that middle and moving a bit then both directions.
        Forgive a personal comment way off topic, just trying to get to know others and have others get to know me.
        Will take a look at your linked offering, and wish to express thanks for your work and the willingness to put it out in a public format, if I agree or not.

  4. ==> “…large elements of the public no longer trust it.

    Since this is a statement of fact, I would think that you have solid, validated, longitudinal data that show that “large elements” of the public have changed in their trust in the “institution” of climate science over time (what does that mean, btw? What is the “institution” of climate science?)… If so, I’d like to see it.

    From what I’ve seen, data show that the scientific institutions that investigate climate science engender relatively high levels of trust among most of the public.

    From what I’ve seen, to the extent that there are some data which show a drop of “trust in science” in the American public (not specific to climate science), it is with a particular segment of the public which can be clustered with views on other, ideological issues. It is entirely unclear to me, therefore, how to interpret that loss of “trust” expressed by that segment – is it really a reflection of those institutions or is it an expression of a broader ideological orientation? Is it an expression of ideological identity-related beliefs?

    What does it really mean when members of the public say that they don’t “trust” science? What does it mean when a group that is largely ideologically aligned, say that they don’t “trust” the “institution” of climate science? Does it mean that they find that expressing a lack of trust in the “institution” of climate science is a way to reinforce their ideological orientation?

    1. Joshua,

      Your motivated reasoning is awesome, as always. The climate science community has been warning of a near-apocalypse since 1989. Public support for public policy action on climate consistently ranks at the bottom in surveys. Q.E.D.

      The reliable guide to people’s beliefs is their actions — in this case, what they support doing among their available choices.

    2. “Since this is a statement of fact, I would think that you have solid, validated, longitudinal data that show that “large elements” of the public have changed in their trust in the “institution” of climate science over time”

      Joshua, perhaps you would be interested in what is – to my knowledge at any rate – the World’s biggest survey of public opinion on the danger of climate change, hence by implication the degree of confidence in the dire prognostications of the climate “scientists” (I’m sure aTTP will appreciate the significance of those quotes).

      This is the United Nations My World survey covering at this moment 7,730,033 respondents worldwide. Of sixteen causes for concern, “Climate Change” came flat last, sixteenth. Pretty unequivocal that, IMO.

      It appears that what the public means when they say they don’t “trust” science is that they don’t trust climate “scientists” – and you can hardly blame them.

      After all, in over three decades, not a single one of their catastrophic prognostications has proved correct. The Arctic ice cap is still intact, costal cities have remained above sea level and there hasn’t been a single landfall by a true hurricane in the USA for almost a decade – despite all the predictions of extreme weather events. And that’s without bothering to mention the “pause” and the utter failure of the computer games climate models to get even close to an accurate prediction.

      So all in all, the public at large has had thirty-odd years to assess the predictive performance of those climate “scientists” you idolise, and Worldwide, the public has found them wanting.

  5. Fabius –

    ==> “Your motivated reasoning is awesome, as always”

    Well, I do aim to please. :-) You made a characterization of a longitudinal trend in public trust in the “institution” of climate science. The data I’ve seen don’t support your characterization. Do you have data that support your characterization? If so, I’d like to see it. As for your follow-up:

    ==> “The reliable guide to people’s beliefs is their actions — in this case, what they support doing among their available choices.

    You have moved from a characterization of a trend over time in “trust” in the “institution” of climate science to discussing levels of public support for policies to address climate change. It’s kind of hard to discuss your comment I excerpted if you keep moving the target. There are many possible explanations for the public support, or lack thereof, of various policies that target preventing climate change – let alone the implementation, or lack thereof, of such policies.

    It would seem, however, that if you’re going to make characterizations related to causation w/r/t public “trust” in the “institution of climate science,” you should use data that actually measure “trust” in the “Institution of climate science.”

    I’m asking you to approach your arguments from a scientific angle. If you are interested in empirical analyses relevant to assessing public trust in the “institution of climate science,” I might suggest this as a place to start: “More on public ‘trust of scientists’“. Relatedly, you might try looking at the work done by Gordon Gauchat, This could serve as an introduction to his work (and some related discussion)… “Conservatives lose faith in science over last 40 years”–where do you see *that* in the data?

  6. While it is important that we have the ‘minority report’ with regard to the climate change issue, I have to agree with the critics of Fabius-Maximus’ posts on the subject. It is exasperating to hear your repeated complaint that the world doesn’t get your point. Over three hundred posts with basically the same complaint and little new information is a bit tiresome. (Full disclosure: I confess to not having read them all.) And yes, the posts and even the comments can be ‘condescending’. Reply #1 by Then There’s Physics makes some good points.

    FM has made an important contribution to the debate about climate change and global warming, so I will try not to be too critical (or condescending) in my comments.

    This post asks the rhetorical question, why has so little been done to address climate change? This is a trick question, and it is not fair. The results of public opinion polls can be misleading; the people have more pressing matters to be concerned with (like finding a job in the midst of the so-called ‘economic recovery’ or figuring out how to feed a family when ground beef costs an arm and a leg.) It is not fair to blame those calling for action to reduce global warming for the failure of government to take appropriate action. This is like asking why single-payer health insurance has not been enacted despite the fact that over 67% of Americans favor the concept, or why the harmful influence of money in politics has not been addressed despite the fact that 87% of Americans — that is almost everyone except the 1% — favor electoral reform. In America there is a disconnect between what should be done and what is actually done by government. There are many reasons for this: inertia, ignorance, complacency (100% of incumbents get re-elected), party politics (gridlock), ‘controversy-avoidance’, the control of choke points in an overly centralized federal government, the overbearing influence of entrenched special interests (the primary reason for all of government’s failings these days), to name a few.

    The statement that it would “cost trillions of dollars” to address climate change is meaningless hyperbole. There is no sound basis for such an assertion. This is standard disinformation from the business lobby — a group which, for reasons I have never been able to fully comprehend, has always been opposed to any public policies promoting sustainable economics, conservation, protecting the environment, worker safeguards, or leaving the world a better place for future generations.

    Economics is basically just the allocation of resources. Priorities change; public policy changes. For example, the president has recently announced a policy change to significantly reduce the use of the fossil fuel coal in power plants, something that is long overdue. Conservatives scream about the costs … but what they are actually concerned about are the profits they earn from coal and disruption of their control over the economy. While there will be economic losses to the coal industry, these losses will no doubt be offset by concomitant gains in other industries. Workers laid off from the coal mines can get jobs making solar panels (an over-simplification, yes, but there are already more Americans employed by the solar industry than the coal industry.) Furthermore, there will be significant savings in environmental remediation. Coal fired power plants are filthy, belching out tons of poisons, pollution, and greenhouse gasses; other fossil fuels (oil & natural gas) are cleaner, and solar is cleaner yet. And what about the cost savings realized in health care by eliminating the nation’s largest source of air pollution, a leading cause of respiratory problems? Losses to the coal industry could, theoretically, be offset by gains in emerging new technologies (i.e., coal-fired power plants could be replaced with nuclear fusion power plants in the near future.) Overall I suspect there probably will be a net gain from replacing coal-fired power plants. It could turn out that there is no *cost*. Coal is just one example; similar analyses could show that environmentally conscious policies will yield overall cost savings, possibly even profits, and not additional expense.

    Arguments against progressive energy policies — and progress in general — are reflections of conservatives’ fears that they might not be the big winners in the emerging new technologies. The entrenched special interests hate progress, for change provides opportunity for others; spreading the wealth is not one of their core values. What we have here is self-interest prevailing over public interest. This is a failing of the American political system. (And, incidentally, this is why 87% of Americana want to eliminate the power of special interests through election reform … something which is about as likely as responsible action on climate change.)

    I think the answer to “why has no action been taken” is simple: entrenched special interests control Congress, and Congress sets public policy. What should be done has absolutely nothing to do with what is (or usually, isn’t) done. We have failed leadership on top of a failed political system.

    The bottom line here is, the costs are impossible to calculate but probably will be minimal — it is simply a matter of reallocation of resources — while the gains will be significant. Whether or not climate change is caused by human activity, or whether or not global warming is occurring at the accelerating rate that some scientists claim, the public policy changes to address the threat of global warming (real or imagined) are policy changes that should be made anyway. Sustainable economics, improved public health, responsible stewardship of God’s creation … these should all be central to America’s public policy.

    “Trillions of dollars in cost” is a questionable proposition at best. In the short term, some industries will experience losses; in the long run, we all profit from progress.

    The climate change debate is reminiscent of the debate about the danger from tobacco use decades ago. Scientific opinion is almost never unanimous, and even overwhelming scientific evidence will be challenged. Rather than suggesting that because little action has been taken to address climate change there must be something wrong with the underlying science, why not address the real cause of a lack of action: failed leadership and a political system that is not up to the task of governing in the 21st century.

    Like most people, I have more important — or at least more urgent — things to worry about. That does not mean I acquiesce to government inaction on an important issue, one that only government can resolve. There are far too many pressing issues where government is not taking effective action. This is why your call for Americans to rise up and take control is so important.

    Charles Sulka

    1. “The statement that it would “cost trillions of dollars” to address climate change is meaningless hyperbole. There is no sound basis for such an assertion.”

      Perhaps you need to relay this Achim Steiner, the UNEP’s head honcho who – as I had noted in a recent post – has declared that (inter alia:

      From climate change to the need for inclusive, sustainable societies, the absence of even the smallest signals leads to investments that degrade the natural systems on which our economy vitally depends. … We need, instead, a very much ‘business unusual’ approach to find and invest the estimated US$90 trillion required between now and 2030 for critical infrastructure in countries that are modernising their economies.

      We will also need tens of trillions more annually to invest in people, and the millions of small and medium sized business that represent the world’s primary source of employment.

      To reach this goal, we must bridge a very wide gap. The UN Commission for Trade and Development estimates the annual financing gap for developing countries is at least US $2.5 trillion. … In a year such as 2015, when securing financing for sustainable development, including climate related actions, is such a critical theme and ambition, […] (my bold -hro)

      I’m sure that your “assessment” will give Steiner food for thought.

    1. justanotherpersonii

      Mr. Kummer,

      While I agree with most of the points you make and appreciate all the work you do on this website, I must disagree with your assertion that Dr. Idso is “a hired gun for the energy industry”. I also can hardly believe you linked to a smear site such as DeSmogBlog.

      Contrary to another statement you made, (“I don’t see any evidence that Idso is an expert in CO2”) I have some evidence that says exactly that (though the phrase “CO2 expert” is rather vague, I am pretty sure the following credentials qualify him to be one). Dr. Idso has published on the topic of CO2 in the peer-reviewed literature multiple times, has a Ph.D. in Geography, (,,,,, was a climatology researcher in the Office of Climatology at Arizona State University from 1999 to 2001, and lectured in Meteorology at Arizona State University and in Physical Geography at Mesa and Chandler-Gilbert Community Colleges.

      There are many scientists, far more credentialed than him, even, who agree with him. I will speak of one of them: Robert Jastrow. He earned (before he passed away in 2008) a Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University, was an Adjunct Professor of Geophysics at Columbia University from 1944 to 1982, a scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study from 1949 to 1950, and again in 1953, was the chief of the NASA Theoretical Division from 1958 to 1961, was the founding director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies from 1961 to 1981, and a Professor of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth from 1981 to 1992. His position on climate change was as follows: “The scientific facts indicate that all the temperature changes observed in the last 100 years were largely natural changes and were not caused by carbon dioxide produced in human activities.” He published in the peer-reviewed literature on the subject of climate change, as can be seen here:

      I will not comment on what Dr. Idso said in the post, nor whether Dr. Idso is talking “real science” to President Obama’s “propaganda”, for it is not my place to judge either one of those things, however, attempting to smear him (no matter what his opinions) will get us nowhere.

      I want to make clear that with this comment I am simply trying to defend Dr. Idso from what seems to me to be a smear attempt. I may be wrong, but I hope you will consider what I say carefully, for this sort of comment, in my opinion, pops up far too often in discussions such as these.
      Thank you for reading.

      1. Just Another Person,

        Thanks for this information. It’s a complete and convincing rebuttal! You are correct, I should not have relied on DeSmog. Their bio looked complete, but obvious was not.

        This kind of correction is imo the most valuable of comments.

        Side note: research for comments is, of course, far less than I put into posts.

    2. justanotherpersonii

      Editor, (or Mr. Kummer, whichever you prefer)
      I appreciate your comment very much and even more so your ability to be reasoned with, which, unfortunately, seems to be absent from many conversations on this topic. I understand your tendencies completely – many people, I would think, wouldn’t do quite as much as I did, (for a comment, at least) even if I do say so myself. Again, I would like to say how much I appreciate the work you do for your readers on this website and the healthy discussion it encourages.

      Thank you very much for reading and responding to my earlier comment.

  7. The irony of all these meaningless “supportive” comments repeating the same words from apparently different accounts, is completely lost on their author(s).

    Charles’ comment ain’t great. It’s basically a long argument based on his ability to know the future.

  8. Some comments:

    1) Some virtual certainties: The CO-2 content of the atmosphere has been rising steadily for at least a century. The many absorption lines in the IR will create greenhouse warming (if nothing else changes.) Human actions (burning) are responsible for most of the rise in CO-2.

    2) Beyond this things get much less certain. It looks like most climate scientists feel that probably AGW is happening but wouldn’t bet their house on only 2-sigma data. (The survey results thus back up the IPCC.)

    3) We need more data! Is there really a tipping point at a 2C increase? What are realistic costs involved in changing energy sources? What are the true costs of relative inaction? What are the costs of prematurely adopting soon-to-be-obsolete technology?

    4) Finally, is there any way to sort refereed publications along the alarmist-skeptic axis? What would this distribution say?

    1. Social Bill,

      All good questions. However, one important point that is often mis-represented. The proposed public policy measures to fight climate change — such as Obama’s — address Greenhouse Gases (GHG), not all forcings. The confidence level in AR5 is not at the equivalent of the 2-sigma level. It’s buried on page 884 (Chapter 10):

      “We conclude, consistent with Hegerl et al. (2007b), that more than half of the observed increase in GMST from 1951 to 2010 is very likely due to the observed anthropogenic increase in GHG concentrations.” {bold added}

      The IPCC’s AR5 defines “very likely” as at the 90% level. The equivalent to the 2 sigma level is 95%, the standard test of significance used in scientific literature and public policy (e.g, drug testing).

  9. Debates? What debates? Although many debates were arraigned, warmists failed to show up or canceled at the last minute for most of them. Only a few number of debates ever happened, and of those the warmists lost the vast majority.

    You want to learn what went wrong, debate with people who don’t support your position. You will learn both the strengths and weaknesses of your position.

  10. Excellent post. I’ve never heard of message discipline before. It seems to be the perfect term to categorize the way the pause has been (not) communicated to the public. My favorite example is this: “Models do not generally reproduce the observed reduction in surface warming trend over the last 10–15 years.” From IPCC AR5 Final Draft 7Jun2013. Omitted from the 27Sep2013 version.

  11. “The ritualistic phrasing of the “so called pause” ”

    The term pause (or hiatus) itself is biased. It implies that the temperature will begin rising again at some point. And we know this how?

    Adding “so-called” adds the hubris of projecting doubt onto the data themselves. So the phrase “so called pause” is just a propaganda phrase masquerading as description.

    “He who controls the language controls the masses”. – Saul Alinsky in Rules for Radicals

    1. Bigterguy,

      “The term pause (or hiatus) itself is biased. It implies that the temperature will begin rising again at some point.”

      It is the technical term used by climate scientists, reflecting the dominant paradigm of climate scientists today. To call it “biased” is a bit odd. They “know” that based on current theory and data. They might be correct or wrong; only time will tell. That’s how science works.

      The public policy debate is a different matter, with different rules and standards.

  12. Editor, You miss the point. Regardless of whether the term pause is the ‘technical term’, it is a loaded term since it implies a know future action. Since “They might be correct or wrong” they are using the wrong term.

    pause – noun. 1.a temporary stop in action or speech. “she dropped me outside during a brief pause in the rain”. synonyms: stop, cessation, break, halt, interruption, check, lull, respite, breathing space, discontinuation, hiatus, gap, interlude. verb 1.interrupt action or speech briefly. “she paused, at a loss for words”. synonyms: stop, cease, halt, discontinue, break off, take a break;

    And I am a PhD with 40 years of experience, 60 patents, and have lectured all across the world. Please tell me again ‘how science works.’

    1. Bigterguy,

      (1) The term “pause” reflects the consensus belief. This belief might be correct or wrong, like all scientific theories. The term is accurate if it expresses the belief of those who use it, which it does.

      (2) A different question is the fraction of climate scientists who believe that warming has paused, not stopped. Almost the entire body of climate science papers state that the warming will resume. Here is a sample (I have not updated it with the Zharkova “mini ice age” paper). Even “skeptics” like Prof Curry believe the warming will resume.

      (3) Thanks for giving the definition of “pause”, but that is both weird (did you believe it was not known?) and shows a drastic misunderstanding of how terms are used in science. That you do so with a PhD and 40 years of experience is odd.

  13. Joshua and ATTP
    Every time I open any site about climate there are you guys, swamping the comments pages, basically saying the same thing over and over. I’ve almost given up reading the comments – how much cut and paste have you got available to take over every discussion? Or do you make it up again each time?(NB stop repeating self) And you’re quick too, you always get there before I even see a new post.

    How about just keeping quiet for a bit, we know what you think, I haven’ seen you say anything new for a long time. If I was conspiratorial I would think you are trying to bore the debate into non- existence.

    1. Michael,

      On the FM website I get to say who can comment, and how much and for how long — doing so in a highly discretionary and somewhat random and unjust manner depending on my mood. Joshua is welcome to comment.

      ATTP is very welcome to comment, as much and at whatever length — as the spirit moves him. His comments reflect his considerable knowledge in this area, and I always find them well worth reading.

  14. The Climate Debate …… did anybody ever see one? I must have been sleeping , or dead or something. But I still can’t figure out this….. if the debate hasn’t started then how come it is time to end it?

    1. Rod,

      There has been a debate in the science literature — for example, see the scores of papers about the nature, causes, and likely duration of the pause. Or the many papers about the sensitivity of the atmosphere to CO2.

      There has been a fierce debate about the public policy response to climate change. One side, lavishly financed — with support from much of academia, the Left, and most climate scientists — wants strong measures. The opposite wants few, and they’ve won so far.

      To say there has been no debate is just odd.

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  16. “On one side you had the alarmists, who had all the politicians in their pocket, a massive PR budget which was usually and still is replenished by governments grants, all the mainstream media including the crypto-state television channels like ABC, CBC, PBS and BBC, pretty much the whole of the journalistic establishment, all the activist prominenti of climate science, the EU, NASA, NOAA, BOM, EPA, IPCC, pretty much anything you can think of which has an acronym, the seamier side of the investment industry, every environmental organisation right down to the smallest fruit loop loony tune outfit, all the major science journals, presidents, prime ministers, the world, his brother, his sister, their dawg and even the frigging cat, never mind their bloody hamster.

    On the other side you had us and we had, umm, well, as a matter of fact we’d bugger all beyond the wit to point out the teensy-weensy cracks, nay yawning crevasses, in the science, and in a political sense, sound the alarm bell about the sort of Armageddon the hysterical bandwagon was slouching towards.

    Given that match up, the obvious question has to be – how the hell did they ever manage to lose and why are we doing so well, while their once soaring ambitions now lay in smoking ruins?”


    1. Pointman,

      It’s a complex situation.

      The “skeptic” activists had some support from the Right. Conservative media provided an essential role in broadcasting their message when the mainstream news media wouldn’t. They funded important “nodes”, such as the Global Warming Policy Foundation and the Heartland Conferences. There was probably other kinds of small but valuable support.

      The debate quickly polarized along partisan lines. So the skeptic activists had the assistance of one of the two major parties in America.

      The “climate activists” produced a large body of professional-quality propaganda. See 32 examples in section 7b here. But in design it was one of the most incompetently conducted publicity campaigns, ever. The reasons for that are well worth examining — and is essential for the Left to do so (but they won’t).

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  23. I had a similar experience with Verheggen. I simply used his numbers (suspending my disbelief in the quality of his work), only to be met by a stream of abuse.
    Editor’s note: Richard S. J. Tol is a professor of economics at the University of Sussex and a professor of the economics of climate change at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. See his Wikipedia entry for details.

    1. Professor Tol,

      Much worse than Bart V’s tweets was his contribution — and that of other climate scientists — to Politifact’s hit job on my article. I don’t see myself as naive, but I was shocked at their deliberately false comments. See the story here.

      Just as interesting, I got several emails from climate scientists agreeing with me. But none would say so publicly.

      Hence my conclusion that only the uncooperative weather has prevented the alarmists from winning. They have the money and organization; they effectively work together. The skeptics have neither, working as Lone Rangers. One or two large weather events — which will, of course, be blamed on CO2 — might panic the public into supporting the alarmists’ agenda.

      On the other hand, there are simple, popular recommendations that could make climate change a winning issue for the Republicans. Details here. I believe (guessing) that’s the only way reforms will come to the institutions of climate science in our lifetime.

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  30. This is the first article I have read here and it was a compelling read. The editors observations mirror my own long held ones. I come from a mindset where debate and nuance are key to understanding any issue, let alone an issue as staggeringly complex as climate change. The climate change discussion is completely broken, as the editor has stated. Whenever the entry price for a discussion is complete agreement with some view, that discussion is warped and totally unproductive. Hey, lets get together in our own little groups and say things we all agree with!

    Its even worse than that: you must completely agree with a bastardized and amorphous argument or you are a heretic and a crank. It a challenge to totally agree with an argument whose parameters are ever shifting and distilled differently for different people. Its even more challenging to completely agree with argument when you only evaluate a couple of its hundreds of premises. As a person who agrees that climate change is a serious concern and requires well measured action, I am still considered a heretic because I think the debate over climate change is broken. When a person like me is an enemy to climate activists, there is something serious wrong going on here. I mostly agree with you (said to climate activists), please stop treating me like an opponent. This has been my experience on places like Quora, at least.

    It is most depressing. I took a number of philosophy courses in college (including one about the philosophy of science) and the climate debate sounds nothing like those balanced and rational debates that we all learned about for those that took similar classes. I have to admit, I am not a climate scientist. Yes, sadly it is true. I am but a lowly, uneducated software developer. Since I am not a climate scientist, my opinion on climate change means nothing. Unless I cite graphs and articles from scientific journals, of which (I admit) I am not qualified to comment on, my opinion is worthless. Of course 99.9999% of people hyperventilating over climate change on the internet aren’t experts either, but that won’t stop the torrent of graphs that are cited in or out of meaningful context anytime climate change is brought up. Such productive discussions: “your not an expert, shut up. I am not an expert, but here are some graphs from people who might be experts, so shut up still.”

    Back to the blog post- my experiences are but symptoms of the greater breakdown of which you speak. Climate activists have made several conscious decisions about the optics of climate change based on their warped beliefs about public opinion and the intelligence of the general public. These decisions have utterly failed. They have failed to such a large degree that you can’t go for a week without reading a casual article on a major news site expounding a potentially new disaster related to climate change- its next to the article about Kim Kardashian and reported with the same vigor, intelligence, research, and attention to detail. That, in a nutshell, is where the climate change debate is today. I love it when climate activists turn on the media and say they are idiots incapable of properly reporting on climate change. They are idiots on your side and mostly of your creation. I love it when they turn on Al Gore too. The irony is just incredible. Climate activists never bothered to consider that the general public might be pretty good at picking out people trying to manipulate them and the media was already compromised in that regard.

    Oh well, good blog, I will continue to read.

    1. “Climate activists never bothered to consider that the general public might be pretty good at picking out people trying to manipulate them”

      After decades of watching commercials by the most qualified persuaders on the planet, I would assume that even the most casual surveyor has a pretty good idea of when they are being sold a bill of goods. After all 4 out 5 dentists, er 97% of climate scientists agree.

      1. Michael,

        I’ll take the other side of that bet. During the last decade or two I see no signs that the US public is good at seeing manipulation. On the contrary, we’re quite gullible. You (and probably you) could easily name a dozen examples.

        My guess (emphasis on guess) is that the climate change campaign was incompetently planned and executed, despite the vast resources expended. See this for a summary.

        A secondary problem is that they adopted the doomster framing that the Left has repeatedly used since the 1970s campaigns against pollution and overpopulation. This overuse and repeated failure of their predictions make this ineffective (much as their cries of “sexist” and “racist” have been overused, and failed to defeat Trump).

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