We originally published this piece in September of 2010, but because we still get comments from climate science deniers, as a service to our readers, we’ve just updated it and published it again. — Editor
We’ve all had the experience: Arguing with somebody who doesn’t believe that climate change is real.
You know there’s no way to win. You’ll never convince a real science denier. He’s got more data arranged in more charts and graphs than Al Gore. And he doesn’t give a damn about your IPCC report, NASA report, Met Office report, European Environment Agency report, blah, blah, blah.
A climate denier doesn’t trust your evidence because he thinks it’s all part of a conspiracy. So — bless his heart — the real skeptic enjoys total immunity from infection by the truth.
Nothing you can ever do or say will convince a science denier that he’s wrong.
And yet, you let him draw you into an argument anyway. Why?
Of course, it feels urgent to debunk science liars, who have helped delay climate action for decades, costing the world valuable time to slow the damage and have a decent hope to save civilization.
Maybe we also let the science denier draw us into his tangled web of fruitless contention because it’s so tempting to try take down his obviously foolish conclusions.
He may say that the science is rigged and that global warming is just a hoax, an excuse for the eco-meanies to take away your Hummer or get big bucks grants for research and activism. Well, you’ve got an answer for that.
Or maybe he says that global warming is actually real, but that it just isn’t that bad. So we definitely shouldn’t try to stop it. Maybe we should even encourage it? Baffin Island — the new Florida — Golf-side villas starting at $199K. Well, you’ve got an answer for that one too.
Or maybe he admits that warming is both real and bad, but then argues that it couldn’t be caused by humans burning oil, gas and that magic new mineral known as “beautiful clean coal.” Maybe it comes from solar flares? Anyway, there’s nothing we can do to stop this natural global warming. And it couldn’t be that bad anyway, because those Little Ice Age people made it through just fine, and this couldn’t be any worse than that. That was the freakin’ Dark Ages, after all.
And damn it, you’ve got an answer for that one too.
As a smart person, you just can’t stand it when someone spouts nonsense. And when a person says stupid things with such self-confidence, then it’s almost impossible to let it ride.
You just want to wipe that smirk off his annoying face. Non-violently, of course. Totally non-violently. With facts and data and stuff.
Angry white men
What’s really impressive is that these skeptics — nearly always white men of a certain age (coincidence?) — all seem to be singing from the same hymnal. They wax eloquently about solar flares. They can cite chapter and verse from the Gospel of Bjorn (Lomborg, that is). And they never tire of delving into the arcana of Climate-gate and how the IPCC is just a harbinger of the black helicopters of the coming New World Order.
Is there some kind of training camp run by the American Petroleum Institute where these guys go to learn their talking points? Or do they just watch a lot of Fox News?
Anyway, we’re all sure to encounter these argumentative folks in the future. How should we react?
Coby Beck at Grist offers a massive series of articles with answers to refute dozens of claims that climate science deniers bring up. But Beck obviously has more patience than I do.
After years of arguing with skeptics with nothing to show for it but spikes in blood pressure, I’m determined to never again have to hear what Richard Lindzen has to say about how the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation shows that mainstream climate science is bunk.
Just say nah nah nah nah nah
I’m afraid my approach to arguing with climate skeptics is much less open-minded: I just don’t.
I’m not going to engage their “evidence” about natural waves and climate cycles. I’m not going to click on their links from the Heartland Institute. And I’m not going to look at their charts of temperature decline. I’m not a snob. It’s just that it’s not entertaining any more.
Also, I recognize that I’m not a trained climatologist. So how can I go through reams of data on ice cores? I can’t even remember the first line of the periodic table. I’m just not Bill Nye the Science Guy.
(By the way, if you’re a fan of Bill Nye’s family-friendly science programming, then you definitely shouldn’t watch this video starting at 10:20 where Nye appears on John Oliver’s show, swears a lot and lights a globe on fire with a blowtorch just to argue for carbon pricing.)
And also by the way, most any skeptic you meet is not a climatologist either. Unless you happen to run into Pat Michaels at Starbucks, in which case please say hi from me, since I’m a big fan of his climate-denier work as Virginia state climatologist until he was hounded out by that nasty liberal former Governor Tim Kaine.
I don’t need no stinkin’ climatology degree
Assuming he’s not a Russian bot on Facebook, your friend the climate skeptic could be a lawyer or a lobbyist or a PR dude. Lots of the paid skeptics are, which is what makes them such energetic, if misinformed, advocates for their opinion.
Or, your skeptic may be an amateur who feels that his background in some technical field gives him authority to argue with established climate science.
Then he’s more likely to have worked as an engineer and he may really know a lot about computer hardware or fiber optics. Or he may be a PhD in physics or chemistry.
But none of that makes him a climatologist. And if he’s not a climatologist, then he’s no more qualified to argue about the details of climate science than you, or me, or Homer Simpson.
That’s why we have scientists. Like the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change. Or the academies of sciences of the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and Japan. And every other industrialized country. Or every major university. They ALL agree that global warming is dangerous, that today’s warming is mostly caused by human activity, and that we’d better do something to save our bacon. Or else it’s us who will be on the menu.
But even if 97% of qualified scientists agree on global warming, skeptics won’t be moved. There are always the Richard Lindzens of the world to give them doubt. And they don’t need no stinkin’ climatology degree to judge the evidence for themselves. They’ve studied it, they’ve listened to Rush Limbaugh, and they can see that it’s clearly bad science.
Now, these same old white guys wouldn’t build their own Boeing 727 in their garage and then try to fly it from Houston to Boca. And they wouldn’t brew up a batch of vaccine for H1N1 in the kitchen and inject it into their kids when they came home from school. But yet, they have no problem saying that 50,000 years of ice-core data just don’t support the theory of anthropogenic climate change.
These guys actually do believe in science. Except when they don’t.
Well, that kind of cherry-picking — I believe the science I like but I reject the science I don’t like — sounds more like faith then science to me. And you can’t argue about faith. That’s just uncivil. No, really, you should just respect someone’s faith.
So, if someone wants to believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, that a massive Jewish conspiracy put out the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or that Taco Bell’s light menu really qualifies as eating healthy, then who am I to kill their buzz?
I’ve got better things to do anyway, like hanging out with Climate Alarmists who want Big Government to force Job Killing Taxes down the throats of Working Families who Rely on Affordable Energy for A Strong America.*
Or, you might say, saving the planet from runaway global heating.
* Note: This statement is sarcasm used for political satire. Climate deniers, if you want to post this “quote” as a gotcha on the website of your astroturf skeptic group secretly funded by the Koch Brothers, please include this explanation. Much obliged!