July 16th, 2014

What it’s like to be a climate change skeptic

It’s not pretty, even if your credentials are impeccable:

John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, says he remembers the morning he spotted a well-known colleague at a gathering of climate experts.

“I walked over and held out my hand to greet him,” Dr. Christy recalled. “He looked me in the eye, and he said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Come on, shake hands with me.’ And he said, ‘No.’ ”

It’s fortunate for Dr. Christy that burning at the stake has gone out of style.

And Christy isn’t even technically a climate change denier. He might more rightly be called a climate change minimizer:

Dr. Christy is an outlier on what the vast majority of his colleagues consider to be a matter of consensus: that global warming is both settled science and a dire threat. He regards it as neither. Not that the earth is not heating up. It is, he says, and carbon dioxide spewed from power plants, automobiles and other sources is at least partly responsible.

But in speeches, congressional testimony and peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, he argues that predictions of future warming have been greatly overstated and that humans have weathered warmer stretches without perishing.

One can only imagine how many “deniers” have been socially ostracized, not offered jobs, discouraged from continuing in the profession, and a host of other pressures designed to purge the field of anyone who might dissent in any way. After that’s done, the fact that a huge percentage of scientists have reached “consensus” is touted as all the more reason to be certain that “the science is settled.”

I found this passage in the article to be especially interesting:

Dr. Christy was pointing to a chart comparing seven computer projections of global atmospheric temperatures based on measurements taken by satellites and weather balloons. The projections traced a sharp upward slope; the actual measurements, however, ticked up only slightly.

Such charts — there are others, sometimes less dramatic but more or less accepted by the large majority of climate scientists — are the essence of the divide between that group on one side and Dr. Christy and a handful of other respected scientists on the other.

“Almost anyone would say the temperature rise seen over the last 35 years is less than the latest round of models suggests should have happened,” said Carl Mears, the senior research scientist at Remote Sensing Systems, a California firm that analyzes satellite climate readings.

“Where the disagreement comes is that Dr. Christy says the climate models are worthless and that there must be something wrong with the basic model, whereas there are actually a lot of other possibilities,” Dr. Mears said. Among them, he said, are natural variations in the climate and rising trade winds that have helped funnel atmospheric heat into the ocean.

No doubt there are many possibilities, and we don’t know which is correct—that’s why the science is not settled. And one of those possibilities is exactly what Dr. Christy asserts (an explanation that seems quite reasonable to me), which is that the models being used are grossly inadequate.

31 Responses to “What it’s like to be a climate change skeptic”

  1. T Says:


    I offer that:

    1) true science is never settled, and
    2) consensus is not science.

    After all there was a time that the consensus was that the sun moved around the earth as the center of the universe. How’d that consensus work out?

    Although I have not had the time to delve deeply into climate change theory, I rely on Lord Christopher Monckton who seems to have the anti-AGW arguments well in hand, and on the fact that anyone who preaches that “the science is settled” and relies on consensus is nothing more than a snake-oil salesman. To Quote Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber (from SNL):

    Why, just fifty years ago we would’ve thought your daughter’s illness was brought on by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabelle is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach.


    [see 4:35]

    That they may truly believe their claims is irrelevance, not science. As Glenn Reynolds often notes: “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when those who say it’s a crisis start acting like it is a crisis.”

  2. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Dr. Christy is challenging religious tenets and that is always rejected by the most faithful. I strongly suspect that the vast majority of the climate change faithful reject traditional religion and that the majority of them have contempt for religious ‘superstitions’. The irony is truly Shakespearean…

    “When people reject traditional religious beliefs, they merely go on to create some other faith-based schema to believe in; whether it be money or power or the various religions of the left; socialism, communism, feminism, environmentalism or anthropogenicism (who believe that humans are the sole root of all evil and thus are the cause of all earthly problems, from weather and climate anomalies to earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and species extinction) etc. Human nature demands something larger than itself to believe in.” unknown

  3. J.J. Says:

    Wiki lists 54 scientists (Christy is one of them) who don’t accept the idea of CAGW.

    This list doesn’t include the numerous (hundreds) meteorologists physicists, geologists, mathematicians and others who write posts that add to the knowledge which shows minimal evidence linking CO2 and climate “disruption” at Anthony Watts’ blog.

    The concept is simple. CO2 reflects infra red rays of heat. There is CO2 in the atmosphere. Therefore, if the amount of CO2 is increasing, the amount of heat being reflected is increasing. Thus, the argument that any increase in temperatures is caused by CO2 in the atmosphere. The problem arises when the actual amount of CO2 is brought up. It is 400 parts per million (.0004) of the atmosphere. How can it have such an outsize effect? That is where the models come in. The values inserted into the models to increase the effects of CO2 are nothing more than guesses. And that is why the models are consistently WRONG.

    I have a friend who is a Warmer. He is anxious beyond belief. He thinks of CO2 as a horrible pollutant. He believes we are all going to perish. It is a matter of life and death to him. I cannot get him to look at the evidence that adaptation to warmer temperatures would be cheaper and far more effective than trying to force the world to quit using fossil fuels. That notion, stopping the use of fossil fuels on a worldwide basis, is bizarre in itself. He also cannot understand that, if the Warmers plan for mitigation is followed, we would all have to revert to a 19th century life style. He has faith that somehow, some way technology will find a way to make solar and wind practical.

    This issue is very, very important to the future. If the Warmers have their way, it will be worse than living in the old USSR.

  4. Roy Lofquist Says:

    “And one of those possibilities is exactly what Dr. Christy asserts (an explanation that seems quite reasonable to me), which is that the models being used are grossly inadequate.”

    And they never will be adequate – not even in a 100 million years. Earth’s climate can not be modeled. It is chaotic and unimaginably complex. I mean “unimaginably” literally – as in infinitely complex.

    I could attempt to explain but very few of you would understand. That’s not hubris. There are very few people in the world who know how to rebuild a Stromberg SU side draft carburetor as found in 1950s British sports cars. So, perhaps a graphic illustration might give you a glimpse of what I’m getting at.

    The simplest, most stable, most predictable machine that we know is the pendulum. We can model it with 8th grade mathematics. But what if we make a slight modification? Watch this short video:


    If they can model that then I might have to retract my outrageous assertions. Go ahead. I can wait. Well, maybe not this particular me but my immortal soul will check back every century or so the check their progress.

  5. whatclaptrap Says:

    Well this is a direct result of:
    1) Left wing infiltration (and politicization) of our schools.
    2) Acute Scientism and Statism –so acute in fact that have become religious substitutes
    3) Broad intellectual decline in our national life in general, but particularly on campus. It is because of this we allow the proliferation of so call “scientists”, who are generally not scientists at all, and psuedo scientific “disciplines”, of which so-called climate science is one of the more egregious. (I actually contend that, as a scientific “field”, there is no such thing as “Climate Science”, or, if there is, it is so embryonic as not not deserve to be called a full fledged science.)

    4) As mentioned here above, a profound neurosis, perhaps psychosis, on the part of these so called scientists and the “acolytes” which has nothing at all to do with science whatsoever,

    In essence, we are seeing a cultural break down that is the natural and inevitable consequences of the Left and the Nomenklatura that goes with it.

    It is quite hard to see how this goes away. It most certainly has nothing to do with scientific “proof”.

    The most glaring proof of this is the whole business of “greenhouse gas” and carbon.

    There is not really one conclusive empirical proof in all of the rhetoric around that as actually pertains to “climate” the the notion of greenhouse gas in general, and “carbon” in particular are actual scientific facts, and yet we have grand international “policies” and people like Bill Gates, who really should know better, pontificating about the compelling science”.

    Now if a Physicist or a geneticists stood up and made such claims with out sound empirical evidence they would be laughed out of their professions.

    Yes, there are nefarious elements in all of this, but there is some much more profoundly wrong.

    So what we are dealing with here is something quite beyond reason or “science”, or even fraud. The rot is much deeper, and, I suspect, the idiocy around “climate change” is really more of symptom of a much broader problem.

  6. Sam L. Says:

    Reading elsewhere, likely at Maggies Farm, I read that models can be adjusted to match the conclusions already drawn. If a model does not and did not predict or come reasonably close to actual data–it’s wrong.

  7. Kyndyll Says:

    I have used the Kelvin debate on the age of the Earth to try to illustrate the patent absurdity of pretending that science is something that can be “settled” or that is true because most people, or at least the most important people, believe it is true.

    In short, at a time when uniformitarian geologists needed an Earth of a vast age to explain the erosion of features – at least hundreds of millions of years – Lord Kelvin used the then-latest knowledge and theories about earth processes and produced an equation based on an assumption about how long it had taken the planet to cool from its original molten state. He determined that the age of the Earth was between 20 and 100 million years.

    This was dogma for decades.

    And then radioactivity was discovered. Thus, Kelvin’s closed-system equation regarding heat was completely unusable.

    The moral of the story is not that Kelvin was stupid, or that all scientific ideas are wrong. It’s simply that by definition, science is unfinished. It is never settled. It is based on the latest, greatest ideas and knowledge and is sufficiently correct much of the time to accomplish tangible results. But in real science, there is the risk that at any moment some new discovery will overturn what seemed self-evident yesterday.

    The critical issue with the politicization of science is that it forces science away from its reality as an unfinished, always-evolving body of knowledge. If the Kelvin “Age of the Earth” debate were going on in today’s political environment, the discovery of radioactivity would be unfunded and shelved and anyone who knew about it marginalized and bullied into silence, before undermining “that which cannot be questioned.”

    As soon as you turn a scientific idea into a revealed religion that cannot be questioned, it’s no longer science.

  8. Eric Says:

    Neo: “One can only imagine how many “deniers” have been socially ostracized, not offered jobs, discouraged from continuing in the profession, and a host of other pressures designed to purge the field of anyone who might dissent in any way. After that’s done, the fact that a huge percentage of scientists have reached “consensus” is touted as all the more reason to be certain that “the science is settled.””

    That’s it. Shutting down and disqualification go hand in hand and are go-to tactics.

    They don’t aim to convince social consensus from colleagues and the public through critical discourse and debate. Merit is moot. They seek to win consensus through competitive activist maneuvering that seizes dominance of the social political space.

  9. stan Says:

    Global warming has always been about politics. Nothing more. When the USSR imploded, the world’s communists migrated to the greens because the greens were the next best way to fight free enterprise.

    At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, Hugo Chavez received rapturous ovations far larger than any received by any other speaker. He said nothing about science or climate. His speech was nothing more than a rant against capitalism. The global warming alarmists loved it.

  10. Ray Says:

    Michael Crichton wrote a speech on environmentalism as religion. I couldn’t find it on the Crichton website but found it here.

  11. physicsguy Says:

    ““One can only imagine how many “deniers” have been socially ostracized, not offered jobs, discouraged from continuing in the profession,..”

    Each time I publish a letter in the alum magazine, or the student newspaper addressing the false claims of the AGW crowd, there are always alums and students calling for me to be fired. Never a response to the points I raise, just ire at the college actually having someone so evil on the faculty.

    “Global warming has always been about politics.” Absolutely. Just watch Roy Spencer’s recent address linked on wattsupwiththat.

    “The problem arises when the actual amount of CO2 is brought up. It is 400 parts per million (.0004) of the atmosphere. How can it have such an outsize effect? That is where the models come in. The values inserted into the models to increase the effects of CO2 are nothing more than guesses. And that is why the models are consistently WRONG.”

    No that’s not the reason. First of all CO2 does not reflect IR it absorbs and re-radiates in all directions… I know a small, but important distinction. Second, it does contribute to the greenhouse effect, but as you point out that effect is small. What the models do is acknowledge that the prime greenhouse gas is water (by an huge margin compared to CO2). So, what the models do is ASSUME a large positive feedback loop in which CO2 increases drive more water vapor into the atmosphere, which then dramatically increases the temperature. The rub is that since around 1999 the temperatures have remain on average flat, while the models predicted a large temp rise. The models are now failing at the 95-97% level (2 sigma). Any scientist who deserves the title has to admit the models are wrong at this point in time.

    How science is supposed to work:


  12. Eric Says:

    physicsguy: “what the models do is ASSUME”

    Always gotta check the premises. The problem is on most issues that affect many people, only a few have the knowledge to understand the premises to check them, let alone the will and wherewithal to do so, and also possess the activist will and capability to make a social difference with their criticism.

  13. J.J. Says:

    physicsguy, thanks for refining my thoughts. It’s always better to explain it as near to correctly as possible. I will add your corrections to the explanations that I use with CAGW believers.

  14. Ymarsakar Says:

    Remember how the Left likes to make fun of Christians for stuff based on faith?


  15. Matt_SE Says:

    Dr. Mears offers two explanations as to why temperature rise isn’t as high as it “should” be.
    Which raises the question of why these weren’t included in the models.
    And they must’ve been left out of the models, or Dr. Mears wouldn’t be offering them as alternate explanations.

    Which proves exactly what Dr. Christy said; that the science isn’t settled. If the models cannot account for missing temperature rises, then the models are incomplete.

  16. Matt_SE Says:

    Along the lines of what whatclaptrap said, I think culture has eroded the use of independent reason, and love of learning.
    Too many people don’t know enough or care enough to question assumptions or dogma.

    These people are social posers. They care about form before substance. I think the culture made that attitude “cool.” I think the political left has contributed to it through the erosion of schools.

    Who are the renaissance men today? And if you can name any, are they held in high regard?

  17. Donkatsu Says:

    One thing not mentioned yet is the classic left wing use of deconstruction in the climate wars. The leading lights on the “consensus” side have consistently fudged not only the models but the data as well. Just recently, the US Government was caught “adjusting data from the 1920s and 30s up by as much as 2-3 degrees. And then there is the elimination of the Medieval Warm Period by the merry band in the UK and Penn State.

    If the U.S. Government, among others, is willing to change the past in order to make the desired story work better, then we are surely in the realm of theology and politics not science. For the deconstructionists this sets up a classic situation for them where they will force people to conform under pain of loss as there is no evidence that is useful for a refutation.

    OT: Physicsguy, what did you think of the paper by the two German physicists who claim that convection is the real story not absorption?

  18. Molly NH Says:

    I love our Boston based Radio guy, howie carr.
    He has been on the *case* of AGW since the beginning.
    He refers to Al Gore as the Pope in this new *religion* that all the libs demand we accept on *Faith*, or else!
    As Yamar has pointed out, religion is belittled as the
    *invisible magical entity in the sky* but yet they stamp their feet & demand that everybody be on board for something as *settled* (they claim) as this ! LOL
    On a side note Obama mentioned AGW at west point,
    typically when he s teleprompted young people with this topic he gets over the top applause & cheers, but there was Zero, nada, reaction from West point!
    How Sweet was that ?

  19. physicsguy Says:

    “OT: Physicsguy, what did you think of the paper by the two German physicists who claim that convection is the real story not absorption?”

    Convection is extremely important, and impossible to model very well due to its chaotic nature; in a mathematical sense. Out of the 3 modes of energy transfer: conduction, radiation, and convection, in a fluid situation like the atmosphere, it can dominate. Just note the convection waves easily seen on a summer day rising from a concrete or asphalt surface.

    For more reading check what Willis Eschenbach has written concerning the role of thunderstorms as temperature governors, especially in the tropics on WUWT.

  20. NeoConScum Says:

    Dont’cha just love the way the Global Warming koolaid mob has so nimbly changed the label to,”Climate Change”?

    How’d the horrendous outing of Climategate from the East Anglia emails, files, etc. disappear so dazzlingly quickly?

    Have they got those ice stranded ships in Antarctica outta there yet? You remember…The one that went in with Global Climate Change Nutters to see how badly Antarctica’s ice was doing and got frozen in? Then, the rescue ship sent in to retrieve them ALSO got frozen in and stranded.

    Parody, anyone? Clowns ALL, eh?? You simply CANNOT make this s**t up. Actually, they do!!

  21. blert Says:

    I believe in climate change… it’s just that the true believers are 20,000 years too late.

    As you might imagine, increasing global temperatures have done terrible things to the Earth.

    In particular, human population has exploded from well under 50,000 souls to 7,000,000,000. When will this exponential end?


    Still not a peep about Red China’s soot — and its global impact on climate perceptions.


    Still not a peep about NASA’s half-century old research that proved that carbon dioxide is THE rate limiting compound for photosynthesis in the tropics.

    (Water is the rate limiting compound in all deserts — which is why they have such a reputation.)

    Temperature is rate limiting only in the extreme latitudes.

    Phosphorus/ phosphates are only rate limiting in the oceans. (Water dilutes it something terrible.)

    Notably ALL current attempts at bio-Diesel fuels use hyper-elevated carbon dioxide partial pressures — not hyper-elevated solar flux.

    Yet no-one gets a clue.

    So much for popular understanding of bio-chemistry, reaction kinetics, or how to read NASA publications.


    Why does ANYONE waste their time tossing around macro estimates when laboratory studies establish the fundamentals?

    A rise in carbon dioxide partial pressures causes an EXPONENTIAL increase in photosynthetic output.

    For those curious about reaction kinetics:

    Chemical Kinetics, Laidler (1965)
    Library of Congress # 64-66203 ( pre-ISBN)

  22. blert Says:

    There is a deeper irony here: humanity is Dawinianly adjusted towards heat. We’re the only carnivore / omnivore that thrives in pretty hot weather.

    All the rest are running around in fur coats. (!)


    Lastly, even if the Ross ice shelf and the Arctic ice cap were to entirely melt the ocean could not rise….

    Any more than your drink rises when the ice cubes melt. Only the scale is different.

    Yet the popular impression is that New York City is destined to be flooded to the forthieth-floor. (!)

  23. Tonawanda Says:

    Roy @ 2:40:

    Wow. That video seems to be the perfect metaphor applied to any thinking by the Left.

    Speaking of poetry, that video also is extraordinary visual poetry with simple deep meaning, if that makes any sense.

  24. Charles Says:

    So, one professor refuses to shake the hand of another, as if they are 3-year olds.

    That doesn’t sound like anything out of the norm for many college professors. It sounds like the way I would expect most of them to act – like the spoiled children that they are.

  25. Roy Lofquist Says:

    Tonawanda @ 8:56:

    The simple, deep meaning is that the world is overwhelmingly chaotic and thus extremely mysterious. I think Physicsguy would agree that all the wonders that science and engineering have produced have come from tackling the simple problems – those that are computationally simple.

    I have been unsuccessfully searching for a quote from a prominent physicist who was a contemporary of Einstein. I’ll have to paraphrase:

    “When I meet my maker I’m going to ask him to explain relativity and fluid dynamics. I’m pretty sure He can explain relativity.”

    There are many systems that the mathematically unsophisticated have attempted to model with some varied and fleeting success. These include the climate, the economy, the stock market, human behavior, etc.

    So, how to cope with chaos? Experience. There is some degree of order in these systems, we just can’t compute in particular what is going to happen next. A sufficient number of observations improve our odds to guess better.

    This, then, is the essence of Russell Kirk’s conservatism. I commend to you this brief summary:


    Not much theory – just observation.

  26. n.n Says:

    Roy Lofquist:

    A system is chaotic by virtue of it being incompletely characterized and unwieldy. We can characterize its intermittent behavior over an unspecified duration as a random process. This is where the philosophy of science becomes less theoretical and more practical. Unfortunately, the duration cannot be generally specified. Fortunately, based on experience (i.e. observation, especially repeated), we can reasonably assume stability, or rather boundaries, over arbitrary durations for systems and processes with varying accuracy. For example, the evolution of human life from conception to death is a chaotic process.

    Climate “science” makes liberal assumptions of stability and boundaries, over time and space, which cannot be logically supported. They could have credibly specified an envelope constrained over time and space; but, that vagueness must be incompatible with their agenda. Furthermore, they not only misrepresent their skill, but they also misrepresent the significance of their circumstantial evidence, both physical and estimated (e.g. models).

    The value of climate science can be realized as an input to a risk management model. However, the advocates for global cooling/warming/climate change do not present their interest or insight in this context, which ensures that their motives and goals will remain suspect, and leaves science to be corrupted (e.g. blocked) by their special interests.

    Deja vu? And people though that religion (i.e. moral philosophy) was damaging to the best tool we have to understand and exploit our environment, in order to, presumably, improve the human condition.

    Incidentally, the premise for the value of conservative philosophy is that it smooths the artificial chaos in a social system. This philosophy has, unsurprisingly, a scientific basis. That is to say, its goal and application occurs over a constrained frame, which is guided and motivated by logical and repeated observations. This is not a claim to its optimality, but rather to its stability, which is a prerequisite for sustainable development. Unfortunately, minor perturbations are cumulative unless dynamically controlled (e.g. compensated), and the occasional major deviation seems to be inevitable.

  27. Roy Lofquist Says:

    n.n @ 11:10:


  28. Beverly Says:

    I hope Christy has tenure.

    I note that he is a devout Christian — no doubt that has stiffened his backbone. And he doesn’t need a Cargo Cult: he has God and the truth.

  29. OldTexan Says:

    Beverly introduces the interesting aspect of God and truth. Perhaps all this complexity that we can’t start to comprehend has a creator who is also in charge of running things. Maybe it is beyond our capability to wreck this climate thing even if we understood it. Perhaps, if one can accept there is a God and even more so if he sent Christ as many of us believe then some day this human experience will come to an end.

    I think it has always been presumptuous of man to stretch out with his limited knowledge and then bring creation down to a level that fits neatly into that little bit of knowledge. Hundreds of years in the future I would conjecture that historians and scientists will look back out on our assumptions and laugh about us thinking we actually understood our world.

    I gave up on this prediction stuff in the 70’s when I thought the coming ice age, lack of fossil fuel and population explosion with millions dying off was being touted as facts that were bound to occur before the year 2000.

  30. Ymarsakar Says:

    Many of the Left’s ideologies and cults really do look like a cargo cult, don’t they.

  31. NeoConScum Says:

    …AND, in further sublime parody, Al Gore is in Brisbane to blather about global warming and the Australian continent is in the midst of its coldest on-record temps. Can you say Antarctic Vortex, Al?!

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