Like the debate over Intelligent Design, the controversy over global warming is being fought over in the popular media even though the consensus of the scientists who are actually researching climate change is that humans are having a greater impact on global warming than natural sources. As a measure of the certainty of this, major insurance companies are now revising their business projections to take the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change into account. (Insurance companies know very well how to make money on projections of real future events and they are not going to be swayed by any so-called "propaganda from tree-hugging environmentalists"—if the science conclusions are good enough for the insurance companies, then you may want to think twice, three times, many times, before discounting the IPCC conclusions.)
You can take a look at the carbon dioxide and climate change data yourself from the links on the Online Trends page of the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. Besides carbon dioxide trends, CDIAC includes data on other gases that respond to infrared, role of the biosphere and oceans in the cycling of greenhouse gases, fossil fuel burning emission of carbon dioxide, effect of land use changes (deforestation, paving over, etc.), long-term climate trends, etc.
The overwhelming consensus of the scientific community (i.e., those who are actively engaged in climate research, publish their results in peer-reviewed journals, and allow their conclusions to be tested by others) is that the global warming that is happening is mostly human-caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Despite this consensus there is considerable debate among the general public. There is big disconnect between the scientists and the general public. The popular media is usually interested in fanning the flames of controversy instead of educating the public. Therefore, they will look for opponents of the scientific consensus to provide a "balanced view" and give equal credence to the global warming skeptics. The voices of the few (unqualified) are magnified to be equal to the voices of the many. Sigh!
Rather than giving arguments to counter all of the claims of the global warming skeptics on this page, here are links to those who have already done that work. All of the links to external sources will appear in a new window.
Skeptical Science's Global Warming & Climate Change Myths has a list of over 170 (!) common myths or misconceptions sorted by recent popularity. It clearly shows the great creativity of people...
"How to Talk to A Global Warming Skeptic" by Coby Beck might be helpful in figuring out how to talk with skeptics of global warming. Beck is not a climate researcher; he is an engineer working on artificial intelligence but I think he provides a good layman's take on the debate in the general public.
DeSmogBlog was created to clear the public relations (PR) campaign that is trying to cloud the climate change science. They are very familiar with PR tactics.
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Hot Questions about Climate Change gives quick answers to popular questions about climate change and then provides links for those who want a deeper background on global warming. See also their lighthearted video explaining how the addition of carbon dioxide is the "steroids of the climate system" by using steroids in baseball as an analogy. While one cannot attribute a particular extreme weather event to climate change, climate change does make extreme weather events more common so one has to look at an ensemble of events to determine if something is a bit out of whack. The video is available on YouTube.
NASA's Global Climate Change shows what NASA is doing to gather data from space on all of the pieces of the Earth system that determine the climate.
The National Research Council's America's Climate Choices project is their most comprehensive study of climate change to date. You can download the PDF of their publications for free. The National Research Council is the working arm of the National Academy of Sciences established in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln and whose members serve pro bono as advisors to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine.
The Truth About Denial feature article in the August 13, 2007 issue of Newsweek includes a history of the global warming denial movement. A number of postings in the comments area continue the same old denial arguments illustrating the strategy of trying to win a debate by shouting louder than your opponent. The old denial arguments are central to the "The Great Global Warming Swindle" discussed below.
In March 2007, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) broadcast a show called "The Great Global Warming Swindle" that seemed to counter all that "Inconvenient Truth" stuff from Al Gore, et al with experts (including some with PhDs) claiming that the human-caused global warming was just a scam. Unfortunately, the people who were swindled were the viewers of the BBC GGWS show. Though broadcast overseas, it has been viewed by many thousands of people in the United States courtesy of internet TV (and will probably be broadcast on the Fox channel sometime soon). Needless to say, there were many problems with the "documentary". Here are a few links to critiques of the show:
Christopher Merchant created a video point-by-point critique of the swindle show and posted it to Google Video in 2007. He has since updated his critique and you can download the video (100 Mb) from his homepage. Chrisopher Merchant is a lecturer in Earth Observation in the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests are in remote sensing and modeling of air-sea interaction. Merchant's analysis of the Swindle film shows how the film's editor and speakers use every trick in the book to attempt to deceive the viewers of the Swindle film. One logical fallacy Merchant points out is that the film uses the fact that the Earth's climate has always been changing (a correct statement) to "prove" that humans could not now be cause global warming (an illogical conclusion). There are other errors in logic and rhetorical tricks used by the film makers that Merchant details in his video. He also shows how the film makers used a long-ago discredited science paper from the 1980s to make their case about the Sun being the cause---this paper is still being recycled in the climate skeptics internet postings. If you were to continue the flawed, incorrect analysis of that 1980s paper to today's data, you would see that the paper's Sun's "activity" index went down while the global temperature INcreased---something the film makers conveniently do not show even though the film was broadcast twenty years after the science paper was published.
George Marshall's posting "The Great Channel Four Swindle" examines the credentials and probable biases of the experts using in the Swindle show.
RealClimate's "Swindled!" posting. RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists.
An often-used argument against the claim that the Earth is warming is that the temperature data show that the Earth has actually cooled in the past decade. If you cherry-pick your data, then yes, you can see that cooling trend but if you look at all of the data, the opposite trend appears. Also, remember the difference between weather (short-term wiggles) and climate (long-term averages). Here are a couple of popular examples highlighting the difference between trends using cherry-picked data vs. all of the data called "going down the up escalator".
Cherry-picked temperature data trends are the blue bars: confusion of weather vs. climate. Actual climate trend is the red bar.
Year-to-year changes in the amount of arctic sea ice data taken at the same time each year so one can do a proper comparison.
If you still think the conclusions of the IPCC and numerous other science organizations are invalid, the climate science is flawed, etc., then how about considering economic and national security reasons? Energy from fossil fuel burning (oil, coal, natural gas, etc.) is getting more and more expensive since it is a non-renewable resource that is shrinking while the demand for energy is ever increasing. The US produces about a third of the crude oil it consumes. A sizable chunk of the United States supply of oil comes from countries that are politically unstable or questionable or have "less than warm" relations with the United States. While the top two oil exporters are friendly to the U.S. (Canada and Saudi Arabia), the top 15 exporters list from the U.S. Department of Energy includes countries such as Venezuela, Iraq, and Russia. The other exporters will also feel more and more pressure to export to other countries such as China and India as their energy needs grow as a result of their conversion to a Western-style economic system. If you add in the health costs that arise from the respiration and ingestion of the by-products of fossil fuel burning, the costs will be prohibitive (especially as China and India ramp up to Western levels of per capita consumption).
The world would get warmer even if we were to stop all fossil-fuel burning now because of the time it takes for natural processes to get rid of the human-generated excess of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and halocarbons). Does that mean it is hopeless? No. We can still prevent the warming from becoming catastrophic. We can lessen the amount of eventual warming. No one thing will be the answer that saves us. A number of simple, smaller things added together will be the answer. In the long run, the things we do now to slow the growth of greenhouse gas increases will not only prevent catastrophe, it will save us a lot of money and make the world more politically stable. Consider this like saving for retirement or like investing in the stock market for the long-term: invest some money now to reap a greater reward later.
last updated: January 19, 2013