Tag Archives: phil plait

Can the Left adapt to the Trump era? Watch their climate activists for clues.

Summary: Much depends on the Left’s ability to resist Trump, making arguments that mobilize public opinion. Their actions since the election suggest that will not happen soon. Climate change is both the Left’s signature initiative and its greatest failure (failing to change the US public’s policy priorities). How (or if) the Left changes their climate advocacy will show if they can adapt to the Trump era.

Climate change activist

London, 6 December 2009. Photo by Franck Robichon/EPA.

Astronomer Phil Plait writes at Slate, one of the Left’s better-known climate propagandists. His recent columns at Slate show why the Left has failed to mobilize public opinion — and that they have learned nothing from the election.

There were no questions about climate change in the presidential debates. Clinton said little about climate change during the entire campaign. Accordingly, Gallup found that environmental issues were not in the top 12 issues people associate with Clinton. There are good reasons for this. Climate change has consistently ranked near the bottom of the US public’s major policy concerns. Gallup asks people “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” In October only 3% listed an environmental or pollution-related issues (including climate); economic issues were #1, totaling 17%.

His November 28 column at Slate, Plait discussed Trump’s plan to get NASA out of climate change research. He played the same song climate activists have sung for a decade. He began by invoking the consensus of climate scientists, which he should state (but doesn’t). As expressed by the IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I

“It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”

This is important. But the relevant public policy question concerns future warming: what are the odds of various amounts of warming during different time horizons of the 21st century? There is no easy answer to this, let alone a consensus of climate scientists about it. So climate activists either ignore the research (such as the 4 scenarios described in AR5) or focus on the worst of these (the truly horrific RCP8.5), ignoring its unlikely assumptions.

Continue reading


Science into agitprop: “Climate Change Is Strangling Our Oceans”

Summary:  The public policy debate about climate science shows the dysfunctional nature of the US media. It’s one reason why making effective public policy has become difficult or impossible. Here’s another example of how propaganda has contaminated the news reporting of this vital subject, looking at stories about a new study of our oceans.

Oxygen loss in the oceans

Image courtesy Matthew Long, NCAR. It is freely available for media use.

NCAR’s press research accurately describes the paper: “Widespread loss of ocean oxygen to become noticeable in 2030s” (although it omits a crucial detail, mentioned below). Phil Plait at Slate turns this into agitprop:  “Climate Change Is Strangling Our Oceans“. His conclusion: ““messing with {the ocean} habitat is like setting fire to your own house. Which is pretty much what we’re doing.” Maddie Stone at Gizmodo also has a sensational headline “The Oceans Are Running Low on Oxygen” (the paper says nothing like that; for example, “detectable change” does not imply a “low” level).

To see how science becomes sensational propaganda let’s start by looking at the paper — “Finding forced trends in oceanic oxygen” by Matthew C. Long et al, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, February 2016. Ungated copy here. It is interesting and valuable research about climate dynamics. The abstract…

Continue reading

A powerful story about global warming in Alaska that has set Twitter aflame

Summary: Let’s review the story that today set Twitter afire with panic about global warming. It’s a story of science, skillful writing, and a very gullible America. The 21st century might prove unpleasant for America unless we tighten our game.

See and freak out! Click to enlarge.

See and freak out! Click to enlarge.



  1. NASA’s photo of the Day
  2. Plaiting the facts
  3. One step more, into agitprop
  4. The rest of the story about warming Alaska
  5. For More Information


(1) NASA’s photo of the Day

Let’s review the story that today set Twitter afire with panic about global warming. But first let’s rewind the tape to see the source of the story.

NASA Image of the Day Gallery: “Rare Clear View of Alaska“, 19 June 2013 — Photo above.

On most days, relentless rivers of clouds wash over Alaska, obscuring most of the state’s 6,640 miles (10,690 kilometers) of coastline and 586,000 square miles (1,518,000 square kilometers) of land. The south coast of Alaska even has the dubious distinction of being the cloudiest region of the United States, with some locations averaging more than 340 cloudy days per year.

That was certainly not the case on June 17, 2013, the date that the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this rare, nearly cloud-free view of the state. The absence of clouds exposed a striking tapestry of water, ice, land, forests, and even wildfires.

… The same ridge of high pressure that cleared Alaska’s skies also brought stifling temperatures to many areas accustomed to chilly June days. Talkeetna, a town about 100 miles north of Anchorage, saw temperatures reach 96°F (36°C) on June 17. Other towns in southern Alaska set all-time record highs, including Cordova, Valez, and Seward. The high temperatures also helped fuel wildfires and hastened the breakup of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea.

(2) Plaiting the facts

Nothing remarkable in this story. But in the hands of skilled alarmists it becomes: “A Clear View of Alaska — and Maybe Our Future“, Phil Plait, Slate, 20 June 2013. Plait is an astronomer who worked for 10 years on Hubble Space Telescope data, and now writes about science — with a side line in climate alarmism (e.g., calling people “deniers” who cite science research he doesn’t like). Plait connects the NASA story with some current research, ignores contrary research, and produces a standard example of climate propaganda.

Continue reading

Secrets about global warming that you must not know, lest they ruin the narrative

Summary:  The climate refuses to continue warming and much of the US public refuses to believe forecasts of climate catastrophe. As a result the tone of the propaganda becomes increasingly hysterical, the disdain for science increasingly obvious. Here we contrast current agitprop with actual words of climate scientists. Read for yourself and decide.

"Earth On Fire" by Phil Plait

“Earth On Fire” by Phil Plait.



  1. An example of hiding the science
  2. The UK met office says the decline might continue
  3. James Hansen sees the pause
  4. For More Information


(1)  An example of hiding the science

Debunking the Denial: ’16 Years of No Global Warming’”, Phil Plait (bio here), Slate, January 2013 — Opening:

The difficulties in debunking blatant antireality are legion. You can make up any old nonsense and state it in a few seconds, but it takes much longer to show why it’s wrong and how things really are.This is coupled with how sticky bunk can be. Once uttered, it’s out there, bootstrapping its own reality, getting repeated by the usual suspects.

Case in point: The claim that there’s been no global warming for the past 16 years. This is blatantly untrue, a ridiculous and obviously false statement. But I see it over and again online, in Op Eds, and in comments to climate change posts.

The good news is, Kevin C. from Skeptical Science has created a nice, short video showing just why this claim is such a whopper.

The video Plait considers so definitive was produced by Keven C., a computational scientist (see bio here). Also, it does not disprove the pause, it explains the cause (an astronomer like Plait should understand the difference):

… the following video clarifies how the interplay of natural and human factors have affected the short-term temperature trends, and demonstrates that underneath the short-term noise, the long-term human-caused global warming trend remains as strong as ever.

What Plait doesn’t mention is that the pause in warming has been affirmed by a wide range of experts:

  • by the IPCC,
  • by Phil Jones (Director of UEA’s Climate Research Unit), James Hanson (Chief, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies), The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (links here).  by Judith Curry (Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology),
  • by (again) Phil Jones, and the UK Met Office (links here),
  • by a large body of peer-reviewed research (examples at both links), as well as graphs of the major temperature data series — which clearly show the pause.

Below are updates about the pause from the UK Met Office and James Hansen. Plait probably doesn’t want you to read them.

(2)  The UK met office says the decline might continue

The UK Met Office has previously discussed the pause in warming since roughly 1998. Their decadal forecast shows no statistically significant change as the most likely result forecast for the next five years (2013-2017).

Continue reading

Fierce words about those “wacky professional climate change deniers”

Summary:  Adversity tests one’s character.  As the global temperature pause continues into its second decade, we can learn much the reaction from the reaction of laypeople committed to belief in a coming climate catastrophe.

Lies do not help the Earth

Lies do not help the Earth



  1. Fierce words from Slate about climate change
  2. The truth is out there
  3. Key things to remember about global warming!
  4. For More Information
  5. A sad photo of a polar bear floating away

This is another in our long series about our leaders’ — Left and Right — discovery that we are easily led by propaganda. When we change so this is no longer true, then reform will become possible for America.

(1)  Fierce words from Slate’s voice about climate change

Debunking the Denial: ’16 Years of No Global Warming’”, Phil Plait (bio here), Slate, 3 December 2012 — Opening:

Oh, those wacky professional climate change deniers! Once again, they’ve banded together a passel of people, 90% of whom aren’t even climatologists, and had them sign a nearly fact-free opinion piece in the Financial Post, claiming global warming isn’t real. It’s an astonishing example of nonsense so ridiculous I would run out of synonyms for “bilge” before adequately describing it.

The Op-Ed is directed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who has recently, and thankfully, been vocal about the looming environmental catastrophe of global warming. The deniers’ letter takes him to task for this, but doesn’t come within a glancing blow of reality.

The letter itself is based on a single claim. So let’s be clear: If that claim is wrong, so is the rest of the letter.Guess what? That claim is wrong. So blatantly wrong, in fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone could write it with a straight face. It says: “The U.K. Met Office recently released data showing that there has been no statistically significant global warming for almost 16 years.”

This is simply, completely, and utterly false.

Here we have a man whose gods have failed him. A core element of his faith appears false, leaving him no recourse but to denounce those who reveal this unpleasant truth to the world. A thousand words would be insufficient to deconstruct the lies and misrepresentation in Plait’s article.  Most obviously, the letter does not claim that “global warming is not real”, let alone deny that climate changes.

(2)  The truth is out there

Going to the core of his message — despite Plait’s hysterical denials, all the major temperature datasets show the pause in warming.  Many major climate scientists have discussed the pause. Its causes and implications are actively debated in the peer-reviewed literature.  For links see:

Continue reading

Lessons the Left can learn from the Right when writing about climate change

Summary:  A trick of propagandists is giving rebuttals to theories held only by a few extremists, and ignoring the far stronger theories held by thoughtful opponents. That gives the illusion of strength while marginalizing opponents. It works only when your side dominate the media.  Which neither Left or Right does in America today. Here we see how this works for climate change propaganda.


Rebuttal to a theory held only by a few extremists



  1. Epistemic closure on the Right
  2. Epistemic closure on the Left
  3. Conclusions
  4. For More Information about Climate Change Propaganda


(1)  Epistemic closure on the Right

Julian Sanchez, 10 March 2010:

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. … This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile.

… If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely— maybe even when it comes from the New York Times. And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation.

(2) Epistemic closure on the Left

Sanchez’s description appears true of the Right, IMO. But also true to some degree of the Left as well.  In, for example, many of their writings about climate change.  As in these two articles.

Powell tests this hypothesis (red emphasis added):

Continue reading