Is climate change a hoax?
If so, then it is a “hoax” deliberately and
collectively perpetrated by thousands of active climate scientists from
dozens of countries throughout the world. It is a “hoax” endorsed by
virtually every national and international scientific organization,
including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and
the National Academy of Sciences. In other words, this “hoax” amounts to
an international conspiracy.
What possible motive could unite so many individuals
and nations from so many differing cultures, traditions, religions and
national interests – a motive so compelling that it leads them all to
participate in a colossal fraud? None that I can imagine, save perhaps
personal financial gain, which we will deal with next.
There is, however, another common motive which might
lead all these climate scientists to the consensus that global climate
change is real and largely of human origin: Scientific integrity.
That integrity is achieved through by strict
adherence to scientific method and rigorous peer review prior to
publication. Conversely, a violation of this integrity, for example by
presenting non-replicable “cooked” evidence or purchased conclusions,
can end a scientific career.
Have climate scientists been “bought off” by
If you wish to trade in your scientific reputation
for cash, don’t look to the United Nations, the United States, or other
governments for that payoff. You will do far better if you solicit the
Koch brothers, or Exxon-Mobil, or Peabody Coal. To be sure, a few
scientists have done just that, but not enough to make a dent in that
roster of climate scientists who have joined the consensus.
But bribing thousands of scientists around the world
to affirm a conclusion that they all know to be false? What agency could
conceivably be behind this conspiracy? National governments that are
members of the United Nations? But why would any national government,
much less all governments, prefer a finding of climate change to that of
a steady-state climate?
And what independent evidence exists of this colossal
bribery? If there were any, you can be sure that it would have been
trumpeted by the corporate media. Of these thousands of allegedly
corrupt scientists, have any of them “fessed up” to their crimes? None
that I know of. If they had, we would know of it, believe me.
In one noteworthy case,
Stanford climatologist Richard Muller,
on record as a “climate change skeptic,” accepted a grant from the Koch
brothers to critically examine the validity of the scientific consensus.
Muller’s conclusion: he was wrong and the consensus was right.
Anthropogenic climate change is very real.
Are all these scientists and their supporting
studies simply wrong?
Conceivable, but highly improbable. In fact, the
“conceivability” that the consensus view might be wrong is essential to
the likelihood that it is true. Scientists call this
“the falsifiability criterion.” An explanation is in order.
We can imagine a world in which evolution is false.
In such a world, there would be no fossil record, no DNA similarity
among the species, no random mutations, etc. But that would not be the
world that we live in. Evidence in this “real world” confirms the truth
We can imagine a universe in which Einstein’s
relativity theory is false. In such a world, light from a distant star
would not “bend” in an eclipse in a manner precisely predicted by
Einstein’s theory. Nor would particle accelerators behave as they do,
etc. But scientific experimentation proves that we live in Einstein’s
universe, not another that is conceivably different.
In brief: assertions of fact, if they are to be
scientifically valid, must in principle be capable of describing what it
would be like for such assertions to be false.
Thus the consensus conclusion of 98% of active
climate scientists is that the world we inhabit is undergoing
significant man-made climate change. Moreover, it is easy to image a
world in which this is not happening. In such a world, the Arctic ice
cap and the terrestrial glaciers would not be decreasing, the acidity
and temperature of the oceans would not be increasing, the CO2 content
of the atmosphere would be steady. Sadly, that is not the world that is
measured, confirmed and reported by the climate scientists.
The climate change deniers would have us believe that
despite all the accumulated evidence by those thousands of scientists,
the conclusion therefrom that the global climate is changing is false.
On the contrary, they tell us, the world in which we live has a
steady-state climate, or if not, then climate change is “natural,”
occasional, and of no great concern.
If so, then where is the evidence? And where is the
argument that the data from these field and laboratory experiments do
not in fact support the consensus view?
There are none that survive scrupulous, peer-reviewed
scientific scrutiny. Instead, we get citations of the rare and
insignificant errors in the mountain of confirming data. We get
out-of-context reports, such as “proof” of global cooling taken from
arbitrary data points in a temperature graph that, in full context,
unquestionably displays an upward trend line.
In fact, the very flimsiness of the refuting arguments serve, in the
minds of the informed and critical observer, to significantly weaken the
denialists’ assertions. “If that’s the best that the deniers can come up
with, they don’t have a case.” Unfortunately, this is not the response
of the typical FOX News viewer, or of virtually all GOP members of
And what of that dissenting 2% of climate scientists?
I have not seen a breakdown of that statistic, but I would guess that a
large majority are “skeptics” rather than “deniers.” They have seen the
evidence, might find it compelling, but “are not yet convinced.” That
would leave less than one percent who are “deniers,” and that, in
science, constitutes “proof beyond reasonable doubt.”
Could the consensus be right – is anthropogenic
climate change a reality?
This, by process of elimination, must be the only
plausible explanation of the world-wide scientific consensus.
And yet, as scientists, they are open to the
possibility that they are wrong. Scientific integrity demands this
openness: its called “the falsifiability rule.” All that is required is
scientifically compelling contrary evidence and inference.
So far: nothing.
Furthermore, as compassionate human beings with
children and grandchildren, and with concern for the future of humanity,
these same scientists must hope that they are wrong. Sadly, their
evidence offers them no solace.
Our hypothetical opponent may still be unconvinced,
and thus not quite done with us. Here are a few denialist responses that
I have encountered personally, and which are no doubt familiar to those
who have been following the climate debate.
What do you know? You are not a climate scientist!
Granted. I am not a climate scientist. So I rely on
the findings of those who are.
But neither is Glenn Beck, or Sean Hannity, or
Senator James Inhoff, or any of the denier Republicans in Congress,
climate scientists. In fact, the only Member of Congress to come close
to expertise in the subject is physicist Rush Holt (D, NJ). And he, of
course, believes in climate change.
So you are a victim of the fallacy of argument
Guilty as charged. Almost everything I know is via
someone else’s say-so.
Likewise yourself, gentle reader. Indirect knowledge
(from “authority”) is an indispensable condition of education and of
I know directly that it is sunny outside, that I’d
rather be exploring the Pacific Coast in my sea kayak right now, and
that my wife is about serve me a spaghetti dinner (I just checked).
Virtually everything else – that Barack Obama is President, that the
Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, that water boils at 100
degrees Celsius, and so on ad infinitum – I know “by authority.”
And regarding the boiling point of water: if I confirm that by looking
at a thermometer, I believe it only on the authoritative assumption that
the thermometer accurately measures temperature in degrees Celsius.
So “argument by authority” is unavoidable. But it is
also occasionally fallacious. If my doctor writes out a prescription, I
trust that he is qualified to do so. But if a retired Olympic skating
champion tells me on TV that I should take Vioxx, I should be skeptical.
How do we know how to make that distinction? By examining the
qualifications and motives of the alleged “authorities.”
In short, some alleged “fallacies” aren’t.
Distinguishing sound from fallacious reasoning requires a critical
“case-by-case” examination of the alleged “fallacies.” (See my
So it comes down to this: My hypothetical critic
takes me to task for “citing authorities,” which he says is a “fallacy.”
In return, he cites his own “authorities,” as he must. How do we settle
this “he said - she said” confrontation? By examining the qualifications
of the opposing “experts,” and the empirical foundations of their
research. On my side thousands of qualified climate scientists, with
conclusions following billions of dollars and billions of hours of
peer-reviewed research. On the other side purchased “biostitutes” and
corporate funded public relations campaigns.
Scientists have been known to be wrong in the
Again, true. But how has scientific error been
discovered and corrected? In all cases, this has been accomplish through
So to the deniers, I have this challenge: present
your “better science” if you have it. So far, silence.
In the meantime, the scientific community remains
permanently open to well-founded contrary evidence. As we noted above
(re: “falsifiability”), that is how science works.