main_climate_skeptics

The Climate Deniers vs The Consensus

Monday, December 7th, 2009

A visual map of the arguments for and against human-caused global climate change. I’m fascinated by climate deniers.

How could anyone deny the climate change is happening? What evidence is there? Surely it’s unambiguous? Curious, I investigated the key statements made by climate denialists and sought out the counter-views, as presented by climate research scientists. The result is this image. (This a new and updated version of the spread on Climate Skepticism from my book The Visual Miscellaneum)

Method

I researched this subject in a very particular way. I deliberately chose not speak directly to any climate experts or leading scientists in the field. I used only publicly available web sources. Why? Because I wanted to simulate what it’s like for people trying to learn about climate change online. My conclusion is “what a nightmare”. I was generally shocked and appalled by how difficult it was to source counter arguments. The data was often tucked away on extremely ancient or byzantine websites. The key counter arguments I often found, 16 scrolls down, on comment 342 on a far flung realclimate.org post from three years ago. And even when I found an answer, the answers were excessively jargonized or technical. Most of the info for this image is sourced from Realclimate.org. It’s an amazing blog staffed tirelessly by some of the world’s leading climatologists. Unfortunately, the majority of the writing on there is so scientific and so technical, it makes the website nigh on useless to the casual, curious reader. This has got to be one of the reasons why scientists and leaders are struggling to convince sections of the populace that the threat of climate change is real. Because they’re doing such a terrible job explaining it. (Saying all that, I would like to express my gratitude to Gavin A Schmidt, one of unsung heroes of the web IMHO. His sterling and patient replies to comments, on RealClimate.org in understandable English, have really helped this process.)

Runaway Feedback

This image was a mammoth undertaking, especially for someone like me, unschooled in climate science. So I appreciate your understanding if any errors have crept into the process. If you spot any, please get in touch and I’ll will correct them on the double. In every case, wherever possible, I went back the original data. (I’ve included a ZIP of all the data I’ve collected plus a spreadsheet of all the sources). And all the graphs in the image are generated from the original temperature records and other data sources. Feel free to rifle through and check everything. RealClimate.org are (now) keeping an archive of all the data – if you want even more! http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/data-sources/ UPDATE 1 (12th Dec 09): There have been a few complaints about the legibility of the image. So I’ve created a version on white instead of black.


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Show Comments ( )

  • L Skinner

    Thankyou. What a great effort. I really appreciate the effort and the wonderful result

  • Paul Redfern

    I’m with the consensus overall on climate change. That said, I do have a real problem with ‘deniers’ being used as a synonym for ‘sceptics’ (or even ‘skeptics’) in these debates. The use of the term ‘deniers’ in this context is a crudely provocative attempt to tar climate change sceptics with the same brush as Holocaust deniers. Although you do use ‘sceptics’ in your body headings, ‘deniers’ is present in the head of the document. I know a lot of sceptics are nutters, but there are some genuine sceptics out there too, and to characterise them as ‘deniers’ doesn’t help advance the arguments one bit.

    • George Jost

      The term Deniers is a problem, as Paul mentions. The term Climate Alarmists should be used in juxtaposition. However claims and counter claims are not the Truth. This is no different than Climate Alarmists claiming their Religion (AGW) is the only Truth. To me I don’t know how Climate and Weather differ. Why the Medieval warm period is different from the Arctic melting. Neither side has overwhelming evidence, so the safest course is usually wait and see. I remember the Global Cooling of the 70′s. Follow the money – a lot to be made in Carbon Credits. Like in bundled mortgages, and I don’t want to be left holding the bag (as a tax payer) when it comes apart like credit default swaps.

  • Kathrine O’Leery

    I echo Paul. Just because someone might be a tad bit skeptical doesn’t make them a flat-out denier. I also agree with the article, the scientists are doing a horrible job explaining it.

    How is it that snow proves global warming… and no snow proves global warming?
    How is it mudslides proves global warming… and no mudslides proves global warming?
    Explain why increased hurricanes proves global warming as well as decreased hurricanes proves global warming?
    Hot summer? Global warming! Cool summer? Global warming! Wind’s blowing? Global warming! Not blowing? Global warming!

    Doesn’t exactly scream ‘HEY, I’m REAL!’ — it sounds more like a school-yard game of ‘make up the rules as you go’ where you tack on rules when things aren’t going your way.

    So yeah, where as deniers are skeptics… not all skeptics are deniers. Some are actually willing to wait and hear out this phenomenon of ‘both ways equal proof’ but instead of having it explained in rational terms, we’re told ‘You’re just a stupid denier. You’ll never understand so I’m not going to waste my brain power to try to speak it in such simpleton terms.’ Again, doesn’t exactly scream ‘Hey, I’m REAL’ as much as it does ‘BELIEVE IN IT OR ELSE.’

    • Sonia

      You either believe in science or not. Most often, those who do NOT believe in the scientific process most likely have a vested interest in not believing or ulterior motives.
      If you had studied how snow traps the atmosphe, the basics of normal climate pattern (causes and consequences) and if you had investigated the subject just a bit before reading this document whose purpose seems to be expressing two opposing views, you would not come up with all these simplistic questions. Trying to answer the questions you generate is part of the scientific process. Expecting this site to deliver a clear message to a reader who has no understanding of basic natural mechanisms is unrealistic. You can wait all you want, if you have not done your homework, the lesson is bound to be confusing and very costly!

  • Martin

    This article exactly reflects my own feelings when I tried to research the topic for a presentation! The internet is a terrible place to try and research controversial topics like this.

    People with no experience or real understanding of the matter air their views in exactly the same ways those who have worked in the field for years. It is impossible to sift through thousands of pages, checking sources and comparing to find out who knows what they are talking about.

    Eventually my presentation was a disaster. I had no confidence in what I said. I should have given this image and talked about the difficulties I encountered instead!

  • tony

    Note how throughout this “visualization,” the points on the left are countered by the points on the right. this is not an assessment of the positions taken by either side, this is a softball hit off of a tee by the creator. just asking questions and then presenting their own dogma as answers. nice try. epic fail.

  • Neal Wooler

    I like what you’ve done. I found it absorbing and compelling. I have found that the internet can be a frustrating research tool – but I think your work will prove significant in moving people away from political dogma and towards fact-based decision making.

    Thank you very much for this – please keep going.

  • Alex Reid

    Great graph. My only problem is the use of the term ‘skeptics’. In a sense all (good) scientists are skeptics – they have to be as part of the self improving and recursive process of science. Skepticism is a good thing and this graph makes it sound a bit like a dirty word. The word you are looking for is denial (or ‘deniers’) those are the people on the left of the graph!

  • http://pujckyuvery.wordpress.com Umberto

    Was usefull one, thank you

  • Nils

    Thank you so much! I have been very unsure of what my opinion about the climate change should be, now I can read this and decide for my own. Of course I will check your sources as well.

  • Erica

    My only objection to this image is that both sides are given equal space, suggesting that there are as many “skeptics” who are legitimate scientists as there are on the consensus side. A better representation would have devoted 5% of the page space to the TINY minority of scientists with PhDs in relevant fields who question the fundamental conclusions of the IPCC, and the remaining 95% of the page space to the thousands of experts who feed into the IPCC reports. The way it is now looks as if the scientific community is equally or close-to-equally divided – a dangerous myth that muddies public understanding.

  • Tom Adams

    A great effort. Well presented. Publishing people’s comments also helps highlight possible drawbacks in your presentation. This all helps continue the debate. I am a teacher and have found this resource most useful.

  • Alan Falk

    i particularly enjoy looking at whether the sources of “data” have an axe to grind… and particularly appreciate finding some that don’t seem to.

    http://rps3.com/Pages/Burt_Rutan_on_Climate_Change.htm offers some very interesting reading for those open-minded enough to read ‘em.

    of course, some Warmites as well as some Skeptics come at this from “religious” standpoints, and no data from ANYONE in disagreement is acceptable or believable.

    it’s been fun watching. enjoy the link.

  • Praveen

    this is a BRAIN TWISTING effort. OMG!!!
    Its commendable to even think of coming up with a INFOGRAPHIC for the much contested issue of climate change.

    I guess I’ll try to apply your technique to something as knotty as
    Israel – Palestine.
    Unrest in Middle East.
    Non-Proliferation Treaty
    Indo – US Nuclear Deal

    thanks for the demonstration!!!

  • Petra Liverani

    The website http://www.skepticalscience.com shows many “skeptical” arguments with their warmist counters very succinctly and removes all offensive posts from the Comments which is good.

  • Chris Jensen

    Nice summary.

    Out of curiosity, have you ever considered doing a visualisation of who stands where on the argument?
    Or of the likely scenarios based on evidence/authority of those in the field?
    (authority being number of peer reviewed articles published or something along those lines)

    Suggest you talk to Greg Craven, as he has done the research, but doesn’t have the great visualisation skills that you do.
    http://www.gregcraven.org/

  • Alex

    Love the graphic and show it to people all the time, but someone I showed it to found a minor error and now thinks the whole think is bunk. (Crazy I know) If you look at the zoom in of the second graph pictured on the top the lines and color appear to be switched around. I hope this was just an error of picturing the 2 lines next to each other.

    Once again thanks for the info hope you don’t mind my pointing out an error.

  • Russell

    I find it interesting that the “science” is treated like some kind of election. The argument that gets the most votes wins? History is full of popular scientific theories that later proved to be wrong. Debate the science…not the popularity of the argument.

  • http://www.carboncentral.co SID

    after reading this article i can just say WOW to your efforts. and this debate will go on forever and i hope people get information about it and we take some effort to fight such natural causes.

  • Aslam Mukhtiar

    This infograph is brilliant but deceitful in that it pretends to lay out material “objectively” but in every single instance it puts the “consensus” argument to the right…effectively giving it the last word (I think tony up above has a similar criticism).

    If you swap alternate positions (consensus once on the left, then once on the right, then left…), and if you use neutral colors (why is the consensus position presumed to be “green”? because of their intentions? why do you assume that people who contest the AGW theories are automatically anti-nature?) then I’d believe this was a genuine effort to educate.

    As it stands this is just propaganda. If you have the hard evidence you shouldn’t need numerical superiority to win the argument. But you don’t. Hence the reliance on sociological and political constructs like “consensus” which have limited and sometimes even even negative utility in pure science.

    Now, all that said, AGW may be real. And if it is, then we’re in deep shit. Or, there isn’t and we go about enacting policies that will hurt billions of people.

    One last thing: Why the fruitfly are we more concerned about potential global-warming a hundred years down the road (the mantra) rather than very real and devastating PERMANENT destruction of rain forests and rapid species extinction? We may or may not be able to do anything about how hot its getting. But we sure can do a lot by directly focusing on making sure we don’t further deplete the plant and animal bio-diversity of this planet.

  • http://www.carboncreditsexchange.biz jappan

    i never hurd this before i loved to read this very informative and we should take steps to make our earth a better place to live

  • http://citizenschallenge.blogspot.com Peter

    I like your site and the visual presentation of the information is great.
    In your intro. you mention RealClimate.

    Since then http://SkepticalScience.com has arrived and is doing a spectacular job of presenting “skeptical” arguments, examining them, with many reference to the real science going on by way of links to countless studies. These folks have different difficulty levels, so their information is more accessible to the general public

    Now, hot off the press is a site that promises to be near as valuable as SkepticalScience and RealClimate.

    The following is taken from http://zvon.org/eco/ipcc/ar4/

    Zvon.org guide to Fourth Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) collects and evaluates many thousands articles, books, reports, and other published materials about climate change.
    The guides main features:

    • references by chapters
    • searchable index of report titles (contents)
    • authors’ search (authors)
    • journals’ search (journals)

    - for more details with screenshots see Skeptical Science post
    This guide is intended for an in-depth study of the report. If you are interested in the basic findings the Summary for the policymakers of the Synthesis Report is more suitable for you
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~
    I’ve spent some time on the site and it is really impressive, check it out.

    Cheers

  • Orlando Keller

    Oh, i forgot to say: in a normal warming cycle, the sun heats the earth, the earth gets hotter.

    The oceans warm up, releasing huge amounts of CO2. This creates a greenhouse effect that makes warming much, much more intense

    Together with some other effects it causes the global warming.

  • Brian Williams

    If you are going to the primary warmist site, Realclimate, then it behooves you to go to some of the most respected sceptics sites too. Watt’s up with that, and climateaudit should be investigated. Also Jo Nova provides “The sceptic’s handbook” and she is a scientist, by the way. You may want to investigate how the number of temperature monitoring stations have been reduced year by year, being replaced with interpolation points.

    Regarding “deniers”, even if you leave out the holocaust connotation, it’s extremely rude, implying ignorance on behalf of the sceptics.

    One of the hallmarks of science is not to believe anything until it is proven. Hence Galileo and the Catholic Church. What about Copernicus, who did not believe the “flat earth” consensus?

    What we have at the moment is a “consensus” in an unfalsifiable hypothesis, and that is NOT science. There are at present NO weather conditions that can falsify the climate hypothesis, even though many previous predictions about winters, droughts and floods have crashed and burned. They just change the hypothesis! Even the name has gone through Global Warming to Climate Change and Climate Disruption is proposed!

    The point is they just don’t know. They say the cost of doing nothing is too much, but cannot say why other than vague predictions of catastrophe. On that basis we should be investing in colonising other planets, because we KNOW the sun isn’t going to last forever.

    Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it seems to me that when governments are going to make huge amounts of money in “green” taxation, and ALL climate science is primarily funded by governments, there seems to be the teeniest vested interest.

    Finally, I should say that computer models cannot ever constitute proof. The UK Met Office has been failing regularly to provide anything other than a short-range forecast and is regularly beaten by an astrophysicist called Piers Corbyn. The reason? The Met Office uses the same model that forecasts warming and Corbyn bases his forecasts on solar activity, magnetic fields and the position of the moon.

    • Sonia

      If you take the time to read the IPCC reports, you will notice that some of their predictions, which had been considered as ‘extreme’ and ‘unrealistic’ at the time, have been proven to be underestimations of today’s reality (2012). Now in terms of economics, if you read the reports of the former Head of the World Bank, in other words the ‘Stern report’ on the economic consequences of climate inaction, you will get a glimpse of how much ‘inaction’ would cost you. He later acknowledged that he had underestimated the costs per capita…You can also deny that; but I personaly consider that his calculations are probably more valuable than the short-range perspective of my local banker.

  • http://kasshout.blogspot.com Taha Kass-Hout

    You may find the following blog post of interest: Atmospheric CO2 Levels: Green, Orange, Red… I tried to plot 400k+ years of CO2 data and you can really see how atmospheric CO2 levels ranged; in a cyclical motion, from 182-299 ppmv throughout all those years. CO2 levels then started an upward trend after 1604 and rose above the maximum historic threshold of 300 ppmv in 1912 and it continues to be on the rise: http://kasshout.blogspot.com/2009/02/atmospheric-co2-levels-green-orange-red.html

  • http://www.xonk.de Largos

    Was very interesting! Thankyou…

  • http://blog.jondh.me.uk/ Jon

    Splendid effort, well done. I’m over a year late to this party, but would suggest – if you’re actively maintaining your infographic – that climatologist support figures for each side could be added.

    I’ve not read all the comments, so apologies if this has already been asked. I’m aware too – from some of the comments I have read, here and elsewhere – that popularity is not the same as being right. But if one side of the argument is being put forward by independent climatologists, and the other by scientists working for the oil companies, it would make very interesting data indeed.

  • S. Richardson

    Science does rely on consensus. There might be minority positions, but scientists in the end weigh the amount, quality, and source of funding of data supporting different ideas. The graphic gives the misimpression that the same amount of data support the argument for and against human-caused climate change, when data overwhelmingly support the idea that climate change is happening and that humans are causing climate change.

    An interesting article commenting on coverage of the issue by journalists is “Blinded by Science: How ‘Balanced’ Coverage Lets the Scientific Fringe Hijack Reality”, by Chris Mooney in *Columbia Journalism Review*, Nov/Dec 2004.
    Here’s a link to the article reprinted on the website of *Discover* magazine:
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/01/15/blinded-by-science-how-balanced-coverage-lets-the-scientific-fringe-hijack-reality/

    Another comment: if 2,500 scientists put out a report concluding that there is a “90 percent certainty” that climate change is caused by human activity (as in the IPCC report from 2007), maybe we should consider the odds and start making changes.

  • http://www.argystar.com Philip Argy

    Always worthwhiile to see someone trying to be objective. Heaven knows we need to allow robust debate on the issues around climate change, and this material is excellent.

  • Les

    There is no such thing as “consensus” in science. Something either meets scientific criteria or it does not. We could all agree the Earth is flat, but that does not make it so. We have had 50 ice ages (glacial and interglacial periods) over the last three million years–man had nothing to do with those. Milankovitch cycles are what drive our climate, not SUVs. Nature’s contributions to Earth’s climate overwhelm mankind’s. 95% of greenhouse gas is water vapor (clouds).

  • Graham Peppercorn

    Mate, I admire the effort that you have put in and I admire your zeal for what you think is good right and proper. However, you have been conned or what this whole “movement” is and why it has started.The REAL reason that Global Warming was put on the menu was because of starting the worlds biggest Trading Derivatives Market the world has ever seen.
    It has nothing to do with the environment.
    It is sad but true.
    We, the people are being conned as are many of the Scientists. You will eventually realise that what I am saying is true but by the time you realise it, it will be too late.

  • http://www.rogerhalstead.com Roger Hasltead

    This comment is way late for the article so you may never see it, but I thank you for putting all of this together. My comments may not set well with some conservatives and deniers, but I should hasten to add that I’m not a liberal. Far from it. Although my degree is in Computer Science, I have a strong background in Physics, Chemistry, electronics, (minors in Math and Art) and writing. Particularly putting technical subjects in plain language. I also worked in the semiconductor industry for over 26 years. At that point I quit work, earned my degree and started a new profession. I retired as a project manager approaching 15 years ago.

    It could use a bit of polish, I put this together: http://www.rogerhalstead.com/Warming.htm

    Like you I ran into layers and layers of misinformation, outright falsehoods, and techno-babble. So to help me sort the “wheat from the chaff” I took a course in Meteorology and another in Climatology. They at least gave me a leg up in being able to understand the problem without having to resort to listening to the emotional arguments.

    The major problem, outside of the think tanks paid to put out misinformation, the main problem is not just the majority, but most of the public and even politicians are completely clueless about science. I believe it’s about 30% of the adult population has any advanced education and the majority of that is in Liberal Science, not fields that will put them on track for a job when they graduate. They do not understand science or how it’s done, let alone understand the jargon used in the various fields. That leaves many of them not trusting science.

    As you well know it is very difficult to explain a technical subject to some one with no knowledge in the field. Add to that they have made up their minds on an emotional and often political basis so trying to change their anti science stance is much like challenging their religion. They will do on of two..ok, 3 things. Passionately argue, tune you out and walk away, or fight. Only in the US (that I know of) has it become an arguing point between the Left and Right.

    This article was written well over 2 years ago, yet the deniers still use same arguments which have been proven false time and time again.
    The hockey-stick diagram was proven false, the data was manipulated, or they resort to half truths: Yes the difference this time at the beginning the CO2 went up first where it normally lags, but once the water warms enough it begins to give off more than it absorbs. Of course there’s all that Methane Hydrate on the continental shelves just waiting for a couple of degree rise. They are even resorting to intimidation by taking some of the scientists to court, even though those scientists have been proven correct and their data proper, multiple times.

    Many just resort to calling it a hoax with no references. Rarely do they provide references or links to references. Now we even have politicians writing books that call it a hoax. OTOH it is true that there are those who try to take advantage of the problem which makes it look that way.

  • Christopher O. Young

    Thanks for the great work! This is the kind of clear presentation that we need, not the technical, obscure presentations that are often all that’s available. I’m trying to do my part with a website. But your work is magnificent!

  • planck

    Do you have the absolute numbers of scientists who ascribe to each view? Naomi Oreskes says it is really very few who are used in the media with equal weight to create an illusion of debate within the scientific community. The creation of doubt is an illusion because a tiny number are used as if they are equal numbers with the majority by the Media. It would be like saying KKK members are equal voices with everyone else in the debate about racism and civil rights. But, if we want to create the illusion of debate in the field, we would interview a KKK spokesperson every week along with the other side on national Media. We know for sure that Buckley vs Valeo allows use of unlimited $$$ to pay for propaganda using 501c3s. We also know that owners of Media in USA include Family Offices who also own fossil fuels and natural resource empires. The Koch Bros and Richard Mellon Scaife (Gulf Oil/Hinduja, etc.) are traceable funders of this illusion against American homeowners, voters, and retirement savers.

    I don’t see this cut of data represented here. You seem to treat the opposite sides of the argument as if they are equally weighted. Oreskes work also shows how the provenance of these “scientists” i.e. who pays them, institutions they work for, etc. are other important meta information factors in this “debate”. That would also be good irrefutable information to show visually.

    Thank you for this work. Bare information is beautiful.