The Path of Greater Resistance

Or: A Skeptic’s Journey

We all have our favorite topics, and those of you who have read much of this blog undoubtedly know that one of mine is Climate Change, AKA Global Warming, AKA Global Weirding, AKA Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, AKA Climate Alarm. In this subject I have a minority viewpoint, but one that is, I think it fair to say, well-reasoned and well-supported by data.

I have followed this topic for about as long as anyone, ever since it first emerged as an item of academic interest in the mid-1980s. For years I was very much on board with the narrative of “More CO2 = warmer climate” because it seemed to make sense and, well, we probably ought to be weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels anyway. But my faith in this simple equivalence began to waver as the small but growing, rather vocal anti-carbon movement took on an increasingly strident tone, signaling the ascendance of passion over reason. The apocalyptic rhetoric seemed overblown and far out of sync with reality, at least as I understood it. It just didn’t add up, and so I began to have doubts.

But it’s not enough just to say “I’m not so sure about that,” and let it go. You have to be able to back it up. So I immersed myself in the subject, became familiar with the physics, brushed up on the history and geology, read and researched until it felt like I had a pretty good handle on the thing. Ultimately, the assertion that humans were dangerously overheating the planet simply fell apart under close examination. There was no there, there; it was all smoke and mirrors and hype. I assumed that this would soon become common knowledge, and that as a consequence interest in Global Warming would fade away.

So it was with a mixture of irritation, disbelief, and something akin to shock that I watched the exact opposite happen. In the span of only a couple of years Global Warming graduated from footnote, of interest only to nerds and weather enthusiasts, to MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE EVER! Eventually, absolutely everybody got in on the act. The Drumbeat of Doom, coming from every quarter, was endless and deafening. And as the planet-in-peril narrative hardened so did my opposition to it. Any lingering ambivalence I may have had gave way to uncompromising, flinty resistance, supported by reasoning and evidence of course, but seasoned, admittedly, with a bit of attitude.

The release in 2006 of former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth marked the full emergence of the Climate Alarm movement. A powerhouse of top-notch propaganda, An Inconvenient Truth deftly employed a one-two punch of emotional imagery and scary graphics to push the issue of Climate Change to center stage. It became the most-watched documentary of all time, and almost certainly also the most influential. Millions of fence-straddlers found themselves converts to The Cause after a single viewing. The movie even managed, momentarily, to rattle this writer’s rather hardened cage.

In retrospect, it could hardly have been otherwise because the issue had something for everyone. If you had an axe to grind, Global Warming was your baby. It seemed the perfect symbol of fatal human folly. It made a most excellent vehicle for moralistic bloviation. All things bright and beautiful were threatened by it. Innocent, highly photogenic victims seemingly abounded. Oh those poor baby polar bears! It was made-to-order melodrama; Snidely Whiplash torments Polly Pureheart, endlessly, on the grandest possible scale. The headlines practically wrote themselves: Big Oil Destroys Planet; Wealthy, Selfish First World to Blame. Happy Now? It was fantastic political theater, and everyone got a chance to score easy virtue points.

In the early years there was a sincere, feel-good quality to the movement, a loose coalition of inveterate do-gooders and granola Greens, with a handful of celebrity scientists lending respectability. But somewhere along the line, a really nasty totalitarian faction took charge, and the movement became a crusade, with all the charm and subtlety of the Spanish Inquisition. The new regime neither minced words nor took prisoners. Carbon dioxide was “poison.” The opposition was “evil incarnate.” These are actual quotes. Dissent within the ranks was ruthlessly suppressed, and those not sufficiently militant were denounced. Climate skeptics were publicly equated with Holocaust Deniers. It was seriously suggested that they be jailed and tried as war criminals. It was very Stalinesque. Global Warming became the poster child for groupthink, a secular religion, and a political nightstick, with which the Enlightened very avidly bashed their inferiors at every opportunity. It wasn’t enough simply to have the upper hand; no other opinions were to be permitted.

All of which deterred me only a little because I knew what I knew. Although I never went out of my way to engage others on this issue, to be a skeptical sort is to be cursed with a certain amount of compulsive contrariness. So if you were so kind as to start a debate, I would gladly finish it.

It might have been inevitable that I became a climate skeptic, because by nature and habit I tend to question things, and to reject that which does not add up. This habit formed early in life. When I was about seven years old, for example, I decided after due consideration that my family’s very conventional religion (Presbyterianism) made no sense whatsoever. It didn’t add up, and I said so. To their credit, my family was quite accepting of this apostasy, probably because they weren’t all that into it either. Recognizing a lost cause when they saw one, I was soon excused from Sunday school, and most church-related activities. In much the same way, the evangelical fervor of climate activism, immune to all logic, seemed a red flag, and triggered my natural contrarianism.

Nobody likes a fanatic, though, and I always consciously strove to keep my devotion to the topic within reasonable bounds, so that it did not inadvertently cross that nebulous frontier separating “interest” from “obsession.” If this should ever happen, by the way, please let me know, immediately and in no uncertain terms.

Even at the best of times, to be a skeptic is to go against the grain. Our culture, and perhaps species, is conflicted about skepticism as a guiding philosophy. On the one hand, we respect the mavericks and rebels of the world, albeit with a few reservations. And we acknowledge the inherent good sense of “trust but verify.”

On the other hand, those who persistently resist consensus, conventional wisdom, general accord–call it what you will–are frowned upon. They are seen as antisocial, recalcitrant, retrograde, or just plain irritating; they are outliers, cranks, weirdos wearing foil hats. Dude, what’s your problem? People habitually inclined toward skepticism often learn the hard way to keep it zipped, because to speak freely is to suffer consequences.

When you stake out a minority position on a hot-button issue like Climate Change it doesn’t matter how well-researched your argument, it doesn’t matter how civil your presentation, it doesn’t matter how reasonably you present your case, you will get flak, and lots of it. True believers will all but physically attack you on general principle. Actually, sometimes they will physically attack you, but we’ll set that aside for the moment. They rarely actually bother to consider your arguments, mind you. The moment they detect contrary, forbidden opinions, they instantly, reflexively slip into outrage mode. You’re killing the planet! How does it feel to be a tool of Big Oil?

That’s when they’re feeling charitable; sometimes they treat you to a barrage of abuse instead. Voice your opinions in the wrong group and you will be quite literally shouted down. Leave a skeptical comment on a high-profile site and watch the hate flow. Consider the following comment, by yours truly, and its rejoinder, left in response to a gloomy-doomy article on Truthdig.


Take these dire forecasts with a large allowance. For thirty years now we have been hearing forecast after forecast of imminent disaster, exactly none of which has actually happened. New York was supposed to have been underwater by 2000, The arctic was supposed to be ice-free by 2013, and snow was supposed to have essentially ended by now in the US and Canada.

In reality, the climate models have been miserable failures, with about 95 percent of them substantially over-predicting the amount of warming, primarily because they assume a strong positive feedback from CO2 forcing. In reality the expected amplification has not happened, as verified by satellite data and ground observations. [link added]

Climate is ferociously complex, involving literally thousands of interlinked, highly dynamic variables, only one of which is atmospheric CO2. Our computer models are just not sophisticated enough to accurately predict the behavior of such an intricate system. It makes no sense to place unwavering faith in forecasts for decades in the future based on these unreliable models.

To which one Mulga Mumblebrain responded thus:

Either moronic ignorance, or denialist mendacity. Every one of your assertions is incorrect, as we expect from denialist trolls. Just why are you doing your sordid worst to ensure the deaths of billions? Ot [sic] is that Evil that I can still not yet comprehend.

Ouch! And that’s one of the printable ones. Often they are a lot more–how shall we put this?–indelicate.

As long as your critique is visible, it will continue to draw fire, sometimes for years. Out of the blue you’ll get a notification that someone has responded to a comment you had long since forgotten about, presenting you with a decision: Defend yourself yet again or let slide. With ideology-dominated sites, you typically don’t face that dilemma for very long, though, because they simply delete your comment without explanation, leaving its accumulation of disapproving responses hanging there, testament to a thoughtcrime so heinous that the ultimate penalty of expunction had to be invoked.

Hateful online comments are the least of it. For years, any prominent person brave or foolish enough to resist the Green juggernaut would find themselves instantly crushed by a hail of harsh personal and professional attacks. Numerous organizations and websites exist to do nothing but smear those who have offended the Alarmist Narrative. Careers and relationships everywhere have been destroyed on the basis of some comment innocently made in an unguarded moment. I have witnessed the madness firsthand. My oldest and dearest friend and I nearly came to blows, no exaggeration, when he loudly, in public, called me [“an effing] moron” for my stance on Climate Change. I have lost business and been disinvited from social events when my views became known. And it’s not as though I were in the habit of forcing these viewpoints on the unwilling. Though I have written about the subject extensively, generally speaking I will not bring it up in person unless you do so first. And even then I will probably gauge your receptiveness before proceeding.

Personally, I cannot imagine ever sacrificing a relationship over a mere difference of opinion. But that may be a minority outlook. The willingness to excommunicate those who think and act differently is so widespread, so deep-seated that you have to assume it is of organic origin, a defensive behavior, perhaps, hard-wired into our species.

We humans are social animals, and readily organize ourselves into groups based on some commonality. Furthermore, we derive much of our crucial sense of identity from our membership in such groups. There is an underlying biological purpose to this banding together, of course, because to be part of a cohesive social unit greatly enhances your odds of survival in an uncertain, often dangerous world. So from an evolutionary standpoint it makes sense that when the group’s unity is endangered by some contrary person or bit of information, we respond, individually and collectively, by casting the threat into outer darkness.

Even though Alarmists lean heavily on emotional appeals, there is a certain logic in the way that they frame their case, the better to take advantage of human cognitive idiosyncrasies. Normal but dramatic events such as an unusually heavy rainfall or a F5 tornado or an iceshelf peeling off are played up as harbingers of catastrophe. Look; it’s already happening! But the real threat is always some time in the intermediate future, a few decades away at most; near enough to be concerning, but not so distant as to be an abstraction. And it’s never some minor thing that’s coming, either, such as ring-tailed lemurs having to adjust their diet. It’s floods of biblical scope, dust bowl-grade droughts, Category 7 hurricanes, entire cities washed away by rampaging seas, and acres of drowned polar bear cubs.  In ALL CAPS, as emotive music plays in the background. But because the threats, awful as they may be, are always in the future, they can never be disproved.

Compelling imagery is the key. Humans are visual creatures, and if we witness some catastrophe, even a recorded event on a television screen, then it becomes real to us, and of immediate concern. This is because millions of generations of evolution have conditioned us to react to what we see, in the moment; it’s a survival mechanism. But the primitive, pre-mammalian part of our brains that decides “threat or non-threat?” doesn’t have the capacity to place these alarming visuals in context. So when our various screens show us video of a wildfire or a hurricane or drought or a flood devastating some community somewhere we instinctively feel endangered. The Earth is a large place, though, and by the law of averages some kind of natural disaster is happening somewhere or other pretty much all the time. The higher-functioning parts of our brains know this, more or less, but that’s not the part of the brain that climate propagandists are trying to influence.

Lately though, Climate Change has taken a pretty serious beating, which has Alarmists in something of a panic. Despite intensified efforts to sow panic, the public has turned away from the issue in droves, perhaps out of boredom, perhaps out of apocalypse fatigue. Or perhaps because John and Jane Q have this thing called “common sense,” which has once again reasserted itself after the umpteenth failed prediction of IMMINENT DISASTER! Climate Change, at one time near the top of the list of public worries, has dropped to near the bottom. More than half the American public describes Climate Change as a cult. And scientists themselves are speaking out in increasing numbers as the Green stranglehold on their profession becomes intolerable. All of this is bad news for those living on government grants or selling overpriced green technology or hoping to put those pesky humans in their place. But it is great news for those who support responsible policies that serve the common good, based on realism and sense.

It would be difficult to overstate what’s at stake here. For climate activists, Climate Change is no less than an imminent existential threat; the future of the planet and its inhabitants hangs in the balance. In their view, absent immediate, radical measures, our planet will perish. The End. And they are generally quite firm on this point, with little if any wiggle room.

As you might imagine, skeptics have a rather different take. We also fear for the future, but for entirely different reasons. We see a pretty good civilization threatened by irrational, scientifically ignorant policies which, if carried to their logical ends, could cause catastrophic, basically irreversible damage to the economy, i.e. the system that distributes sustenance, provisions, and energy. Even in its mildest form the Green Agenda would indisputably cause hardship by raising costs, lowering living standards, limiting choices, and restricting freedoms, with absolutely no tangible compensatory benefit. Fully implemented, the Green agenda would radically transform our society beyond recognition. It would also condemn the world’s poor to a life of permanent, abject poverty by eliminating their access to affordable energy.

Nevertheless the question remains: How could a person continue to be skeptical of Global Warming in the face of what is, in fact, pretty convincing evidence?

Trick question. Actually it’s clear that we are in a warming phase, and no well-informed person would argue otherwise. But this isn’t a bad thing when you consider the alternative. After all, only 20,000 years ago–the blink of an eye, geologically speaking–our planet was in the grip of an intense cold spell that caused perhaps fifteen percent of its surface to be covered with glaciers many thousands of feet thick. And for the last two and a half million years or so, but for brief, occasional breaks such as our current interglacial interlude, this type of climate has been the rule. And there is every indication that this pattern will continue for at least the next few million years. We’ve been warm and we’ve been cold, and warm is better, almost any way you shake it.

Having accepted this central premise, three pertinent questions then follow: (1) Are humans responsible? (2) If so to what degree? and (3) Should we be worried?

There is this perception, fostered by Alarmists, that you cannot possibly understand the issue of Climate Change unless you are one of the initiated, i.e. a certified Climate Scientist. Nonsense. You don’t need a graduate degree to be fluent in this subject. The essentials of it are well within reach of any intelligent person. Just focus on the big picture, and leave the minute, distracting details to the quants. Forest, trees.

Perspective is everything. There are many good, capable scientists who lean Alarmist, in part, I think, precisely because they cannot see the forest for the trees, figuratively speaking. Their very narrow specialties lead them to focus not on the overall system but on some minuscule, seemingly problematic piece of it. They see not the forest, nor even an individual tree, but rather a single stoma on a single leaf on a single branch. This stoma, you see, has an irregularity; it does not open and close quite as it should. And this is a problem, because, well, what if all the other stomata were to become so afflicted? Never mind that there is no indication that this alarming potential will ever be realized. Never mind that the condition might be transient and completely natural. Never mind that most all of the billions of stomata on the millions of leaves on the thousands of trees that make up the forest are functioning more or less normally at any given moment. Never mind that the forest as a whole seems to be doing just fine.

To engage with Alarmists can be an exercise in forbearance. You must first get past the deliberate distractions and misdirection they are wont to hurl at you. Their typical first line of attack, for example, is to claim that Skeptics “deny the reality” of Climate Change. Which is just plain nuts because, again, pretty much nobody worth listening to is saying such a thing. But if you are a zealot the last thing you want is for your opponents to appear reasonable, so this inconvenient fact must be suppressed. You must do everything in your power to paint the opposition as basically unhinged. The persistent, purposeful misdirection emanating from the Alarmist camp is your first clue that you are dealing not with logical actors, but with ideologues.

To defeat an illogical, ideologically motivated opponent it isn’t enough to make one or two good points; they will simply talk right over you. BLAH BLAH BLAH [Talking Point] YADDA YADDA [Catchy Slogan] BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH I’m sorry were you saying something? To prevail against such an opponent you must overwhelm them with factual firepower. You’ll know you’re getting somewhere when they stop with the talking points and start with the personal attacks. Fortunately, there is no shortage of ammunition to aid you in this effort, should you be so inclined. Herewith a few key points to get you started:

(1) The question of why our climate is getting warmer is a legitimate one, because if it is a very recent phenomenon, it is at least theoretically possible that there is a human connection. Conversely, if the trend goes back centuries, then it is almost certainly of natural origin, because we have been cranking out CO2 in really large quantities for only a few decades. Here the pattern is clear. Our current warm phase began about 350 years ago, when the Little Ice Age, the most intense cold spell in at least 11,000 years, bottomed out and began to abate. The trend began to accelerate about 180 years ago, as the recovery from the LIA really got going. It hasn’t been an unbroken upward trend, however; there have been lots of little ups and downs. Note that the last “down” cycle, which ended only about forty years ago, also generated a great deal of concern at the time among those prone to worry.

Significantly, the vast majority of the “extra” CO2 beyond 280 parts per million (ppm,) the preindustrial average, was added after 1950. So this point alone effectively eliminates human industrial activity as a major cause of Climate Change. Which is why I put it first.

(2) The current global climate is, historically speaking, anomalous. For eighty five-plus percent of the last 600 million years or so the Earth has been a very warm place, with tropical conditions extending to around 40 degrees of latitude, north and south, temperate conditions reaching into the high latitudes, and no permanent ice. For reasons not entirely understood, the planet began to cool about fifty million years ago. Thirty five million years ago, the trend accelerated slightly. About two and a half million years ago, this downward trend intensified sharply and the Earth entered a period characterized by permanent polar ice caps and frequent large-scale glacial outbreaks, interrupted now and again by brief, comparatively warm interglacial periods.We are currently in such a period, the Holocene (“wholly recent”) Interglacial.

Within this warmer period have been episodes of greater or lesser warmth, each lasting decades to centuries. There is nothing unique about the current warm spell, which is only the latest of ten century-scale episodes to occur since the onset of the Holocene 12,000 years ago. It even has a name: The Modern Warm Period (MWP.) The MWP was preceded by the Medieval Warm Period of a thousand years ago, which was preceded by the Roman Warm Period of a couple thousand years ago, which was preceded by the Minoan Warm Period of about 3200 years ago, which was preceded by the Sumerian Warm Period of about 4500 years ago, which was preceded by the Egyptian Warm Period of about 5500 years ago, and so on.

During each of these warm periods, humanity flourished, only to suffer setbacks in the cooler, leaner times that inevitably followed. This pattern has held for the current warm period, and in recent decades humanity has reached an unprecedented level of prosperity. The Modern Warm Period is notably less intense than its immediate predecessors, however, which may well signal that the benign interglacial interlude we have enjoyed for the last twelve millennia is beginning to decay. Which would be about right, since on average, interglacial episodes last only about 10,000 years. If this is the case, then an unstable but distinctly chillier climatic phase is in our immediate future, trending progressively colder until eventually the ice returns some centuries hence. If you’re hankering for something to worry about, this might be a pretty good candidate.

(3) Nobody is debating the underlying physics. Like other gases, atmospheric CO2 absorbs and re-radiates, in all directions, some portion of the outgoing long-wave radiation leaving the Earth’s surface, in effect creating a weak secondary reflection of the incoming solar radiation. Increase or decrease the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and there will be some kind of effect. What is debatable is the sensitivity of the climate to such changes. How responsive is it to variations in the concentration of atmospheric CO2? A little; a lot? hardly; extremely? The answer is far from obvious.

Since the connection between CO2 and the Greenhouse Effect was first postulated in the late 19th century, the Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS,) defined as the net warming per doubling of the atmosphere’s CO2 fraction, has been estimated at various values. The value is speculative because there is no direct way to measure it; it may only be deduced using statistical methods, based on certain assumptions. Svante Arrhenius, the Swedish chemist who coined the term “greenhouse effect,” estimated a value of 6 degrees C. Since then the estimated ECS has crept steadily downward. In 1979 Jule Charney estimated a value of 3 degrees C plus or minus 1.5 degrees. The most recent IPCC report fixed the estimated value at 1.5 degrees C, plus or minus about half a degree. Other analyses using other methods have yielded even lower values.

By the IPCC’s own figures, 120 ppm of “extra” CO2 is theoretically responsible for a net increase in downwelling radiant energy of around 2.5 Watts per square meter of surface. But the average whole-Earth insolation value (total incoming radiant energy) is around 340 Watts per square meter of surface, an increase of about 0.7 percent, an arguably negligible amount. Energetically speaking, that’s about like the difference between having a chicken salad sandwich for lunch and having the same plus a third of a potato chip.

Despite the obvious complexity of climate, activists fixate on the concentration of CO2, as though it were the rheostat controlling the temperature of the planet. All but ignored is the most important factor of them all, by far, that giant thermonuclear reactor eight light-minutes away at the center of our solar system.

This thing we call climate is the product of innumerable forces interacting dynamically, over time, though enormous volumes of water and air covering highly variable terrain. It is literally the most complex system of which humans are aware. But at the heart of this staggeringly intricate web of interactions is the sun, the energy of which ultimately powers the entire system. The sun is far from static; it’s energy output varies significantly over time frames short, medium, long-term, and very long term. And the Earth has an orbit about the sun that varies continuously, as well as a highly complex mode of rotation, which affect the amount of sunlight–hence energy–reaching the Earth’s surface, and its distribution. The sun’s magnetic field also expands and contracts dramatically with changes in its activity, allowing greater or lesser amounts of highly energetic cosmic radiation to strike the Earth, which in turn affects the rate and amount of cloud nucleation.

Clearly, atmospheric CO2 is only one of many, many factors affecting climate, and is of median importance at most, in spite of what you have been repeatedly told. So it isn’t unreasonable at all to wonder if maybe its influence has been overstated. Think about it: Does it really make sense to think that the modification of just one variable out of hundreds, not a very important one either, by thirtyish percent will cause all hell to break loose?  You have to figure that with hundreds of millions of years of history behind it, the system is a little more resilient than that.

(4) CO2 is, by definition, a trace gas, currently comprising only about 400 parts in every million of the atmosphere (.04 percent.) To visualize that proportion, think of a grid, 100 wide by 100 deep. Four squares of that grid represent .04 percent of the total.

(5) CO2 is in no meaningful sense a “pollutant,” as the EPA has disingenuously categorized it, a nakedly political action, scientifically indefensible, and deeply revealing of the mindset of Alarmism, which may be summarized as: Don’t confuse us with facts; carbon is evil.

In reality, all life depends on carbon dioxide, directly or indirectly, because it is the basic ingredient of photosynthesis; plants require it to build tissue. Furthermore it is the normal by-product of cellular respiration; every living thing on the planet produces some amount of it. Further-furthermore, since the onset of the current Ice Age, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has actually been so anomalously low that it has limited the amount of plant growth that may occur.

Far from being harmful, the recent increase in atmospheric CO2 has been a boon for the planet’s vegetation, responsible for billions of tons of additional plant growth. Our planet has added a continent’s worth of vegetation in the last few decades thanks to the additional CO2. We should welcome the modest increase in this scarce yet essential gas, not be alarmed by it. However, we probably should be alarmed that the Federal Agency in charge of environmental matters, with a staff of thousands and a budget of billions, should develop policy affecting every single American based on an elementary, egregious error.

(6) Alarmists assert that the climate has responded essentially instantaneously to the recent increase in CO2. Yet over recorded history, this effect has not been observed. CO2 spikes have been relatively common, but even if a spike is followed by a temperature surge, that surge is generally modest, and occurs after a lag of several centuries. There is no reason to think this time would be any different. In recent history, CO2 and temperature trends were strongly congruent only for the period 1976-2000. This transient phenomenon was, of course, the foundation for the whole Global Warming movement. But since 2000, the temperature trend has been almost static, while CO2 continues to trend upward.

(7) In reality, temperature almost always rises first, followed by CO2. But why? Because a world that was warmer for any reason would also be one with more atmospheric CO2. At this moment in history there is around seventy times as much CO2 dissolved in the oceans as in the atmosphere. Because the solubility of CO2 in water varies inversely with temperature, when the ocean warms up, some of that dissolved CO2 is released (“outgassed,”) raising the atmospheric concentration thereof. During a hothouse phase the ocean is warm from top to bottom, so its capacity to hold CO2 in solution is significantly reduced, and trillions of tons of the gas are vented to the atmosphere. A warmer world would also be one with more biologic activity, hence more respiration, hence more CO2. Our recent surge in CO2 could largely be the effect of warming temperatures, not the cause.

(8) The overwhelming majority of atmospheric CO2 is of natural origin. Human activity generates around 40 so gigatons of CO2, out of 800 gT that flow into and out of the atmosphere every year. The planet’s 8 billion human inhabitants alone generate around 3 billion tons of CO2 every year. A little more than half of the human total is taken up within a year by natural sinks such as plants.

Speaking of plants, were they suddenly to gain the power of speech, they would say of the recent CO2 surge, “Thank you very much; please send more.” Because from their perspective, there has been an acute shortage of it for the last couple million years or so. The Pleistocene normal has been about 280 ppm. But for the 500 million years or so before that, the average CO2 concentration was four or five times higher. At the height of the Eocene epoch, fifty-five million years ago, it was several times higher than that, and the planet teemed with life from pole to pole. Earth’s plant life evolved for life on a planet with many times the current level of atmospheric CO2.

(9)  CO2 is a relatively weak greenhouse gas, most likely responsible for less than 10 percent of the overall greenhouse effect. The most recent credible ECS is around 1.1 degrees C. The alarming predictions of 5 and 6 degree increases depend on the existence of “positive feedback loops,” in which this modest increase is “amplified” by other processes, primarily increased cloud cover.

However, this presumed positive feedback loop has so far not materialized. Satellite data indicates that the opposite has actually happened. Rising temperatures at the surface cause the atmosphere to churn a little bit faster, causing slightly increased convection, hence slightly increased evaporation, hence slightly more cloud cover. But clouds happen to be highly reflective, so more clouds mean more reflective surface, means more incoming solar radiation simply bouncing off cloud tops and back into space. Furthermore, evaporation at the surface takes up heat, and condensation at the cloud tops releases it, most of which also escapes into space. The small amount of heat added to the system by CO2 re-radiation is removed mechanically, by convection, with the help of a few extra thunderstorms here and there. So the 1.1 degree hike ends up being trimmed to about half a degree. Which most people would probably agree is not that worrisome.

Moreover, the Positive Feedback hypothesis suffers from a fatal weakness. In nature, feedbacks are always ultimately negative, because the echo is always weaker than the signal, and the effect is always of lesser magnitude than the cause. Furthermore, there is no such thing as natural amplification, which is defined as the replication of an existing signal at a larger amplitude, a wholly artificial process. These points are fundamental. Were it otherwise, no complex system could ever exist because any deviation from perfect balance would cause that system to veer out of control toward a maximum or minimum terminal state every single time. Systems could never reach equilibrium. With such an unstable foundation, life would never have been able to evolve, and the Earth would remain a barren rock, if it could even exist at all.

(10)  As previously stated, CO2 is weak greenhouse gas, and is outperformed by water vapor, which has a much broader absorption spectrum and is up to fifty times as abundant in the atmosphere. As the graph shows, CO2 has essentially three absorption bands, all rather narrow. One completely overlaps with water vapor, another largely overlaps with it, and the third exists in a part of the spectrum where there is very little outgoing long-wave infrared radiation (OLR,) and is therefore effectively irrelevant. Furthermore, the greenhouse properties of CO2 diminish sharply above about 40 ppm. To measurably increase the greenhouse effect from CO2 alone, you’d have to flood the atmosphere with many times its current concentration. If this happens it won’t be our doing, though, because there is a hard upper limit to the amount of CO2 humans are likely to put into the atmosphere. It is estimated that burning every bit of carbon in the Earth’s crust would raise the amount of atmospheric CO2 to a little less than 600 ppm. Only temporarily though, because plants, voracious consumers of CO2, would, along with other natural processes, quickly draw that figure downward. So no probable future increase in CO2 is likely to have more than a minimal impact.

(11)  You’ve heard, no doubt, that “97 percent” of scientists agree that Global Warming is real, caused by humans, and likely to cause catastrophic damage. This supposed “consensus,” a key tenet of Alarmism, repeated until it hurts, is a complete fabrication, manufactured by partisans with political goals. It does not exist, never did, and has been abundantly refuted. But it wouldn’t matter anyway because science is not like a high school group project. Science proceeds by evidence and investigation, motivated by a healthy skepticism, not consensus. Consensus is the enemy of original thinking. If science were consensus-driven we would still believe in phrenology and an earth-centered universe. We would still believe that the surface of Mars was laced with canals constructed by a race of super-intelligent beings. We would believe that the continents were fixed in place. We would believe that diseases were caused by foul odors. And so forth.

The false consensus has persisted only because it is so very useful as a propaganda tool. You can quote it ad infinitum without it ever losing its effectiveness. If you say it in a very authoritative tone of voice, hardly anyone will think to question it. Believe in it and you can be part  of the “in” crowd without actually having to think. And those who accept this obviously overwhelming validation are by definition superior to those who do not.

The real consensus, somewhere around that 97-percent figure, is that the climate is a tad warmer now than 170 years ago, and that human activities have played some measurable role in bringing this about. To which the only proper response is, Well duh.

(12) The famous “hockey stick” graph, the centerpiece of the Alarmist message, the silent star of An Inconvenient Truth, which shows temperatures surging upward in the last few decades after a flat thousand years, is a product of flawed methodology and faulty statistical methods. Even friendly researchers were unable to reproduce it. And it has been completely, irretrievably refuted. Furthermore, Michael Mann, the scientist who birthed it and who achieved international fame because of it, is a thin-skinned, brittle paragon of noxious partisanship, quick to personally attack critics in the harshest terms. For years Mann claimed, falsely, to be Nobel prize winner, and sued those who rightly contradicted him. One of them, having won his defamation suit, went on to publish a blistering critique.

(13) The Climate Alarmism industry is dominated by a small corps of activist personalities who feast on media attention. High-profile spokesmen such as David Attenborough and Prince Charles, and celebrity scientists such as David Suzuki, James Hansen, Tim Flannery, and the aforementioned Michael Mann, who haven’t done any real science in years, receive a ton of free publicity, thanks to their regular issuance of dire warnings and somber pronouncements. Andrew Dessler of Texas A&M University, an angry, neurotic hot mess but a favorite with the media, once provoked lurid headlines with his claim that climate change would force humans to live underground. This howler ought to have ended his career, or at least his credibility. Yet his value as a reliable generator of “clicks” and “likes” ensures his continuance on the Expert A-list. Celebrities like Leonard DiCaprio, John Kerry, and Jennifer Lawrence lecture the rest of us about the need to reduce our carbon footprints as they jet about the planet in private planes, living notably extravagant, carbon-intense lifestyles.

The current darling of the Alarmist crowd is an oddity named Bill Nye, a mechanical engineer turned stand-up comic turned children’s science show host turned Global Warming doomsayer. Ask Bill how much of Global Warming is the fault of humans and he will, without a moment’s hesitation, tell you “100 percent,” instantly violating perhaps THE bedrock principle of science, which recognizes the impossibility of certainty.

(14) Climate skeptics are not an isolated group of cranks, as Alarmists are fond of insisting. Recent polls * show that about half of meteorologists and two-thirds of geoscientists (geologists and geophysicists) explicitly reject Climate Alarmism. The typical skeptic is older, professional, and well-educated, with roots in science or engineering. In every field of science serious, well-credentialed, respected researchers continue to oppose the Alarmist narrative, at great risk to their careers. They do so because Alarmist groupthink has poisoned the academic climate, no pun intended, to the detriment of the entire profession. You just don’t hear about it because the mainstream media does not cover it, in the same way that it did not cover the shots fired at John Christy’s office after the March for Science, referenced earlier. Just as a thought experiment, imagine the media reaction had someone fired those shots in the direction of Al Gore or Michael Mann. Or even Bill Nye. The word “frenzied” comes to mind.

But the cost of coming out as a skeptic remains prohibitively high, especially in academia, and few up-and-coming researchers are willing to risk the career suicide that usually comes with it. For this reason the typical academic skeptic is an emeritus type, near the end of his or her career, no longer concerned about being frozen out.

But “skeptic” is too polite a term for hard-core alarmists, who prefer the more damning term “deniers,” a deliberately insulting, inflammatory term intended to imply a link between skeptics and the odious, delusional Holocaust Deniers. There is also an unintentional religious flavor to it, because when you label someone a “denier” you are essentially calling them a heretic. “Denier” is, in fact, the label that the Inquisition applied to those it persecuted. The Alarmist community seems to have finally figured out that this is a bad look, and has begun to substitute the less-offensive but still demeaning term “denialist.” Not everyone has gotten the memo, though. Al Gore, the Grand Poobah of Climate Alarmism, who has profited handsomely from it, who got a C and a D in the only two science classes he took in college, and who is the exact opposite of a real scientist, still uses it regularly.

(15) Climate Alarmists are fond of warning us that we face a potential “tipping point,” which would be followed more or less inevitably by a “runaway” effect, in which the global climate quickly flips to “hothouse” conditions. There are two serious problems with this scenario. First of all, complex systems involving large numbers of interacting variables do not, as a rule, “flip” because one of those variables changes somewhat in magnitude. In reality, the greater the number of inputs to a system, the more that system tends toward stability. And the climate is a system with LOTS of inputs. Second, the current heat budget of the planet places us much closer to “icehouse” conditions than hothouse. There are major ice caps on either pole, and around 400 million cubic miles of ocean averaging a very chilly 39 degrees F (4 degrees C.) We are, in fact, just a couple of degrees of cooling away from another glacial outbreak. By contrast, to bring the Earth to hothouse conditions would require the net inflow of gargantuan amounts of heat to offset the current thermal deficit. Given the tiny overall increase in net downwelling radiant energy, this could only take place over geologic time scales. The likelihood is vanishingly small that such a change could occur over any time frame appreciable by humans. More likely, this tiny imbalance will be swamped by large-scale natural forces far beyond human control.

(16) Global warming alarmists have hugely oversimplified a stupendously complex issue. This is intentional. When they say that the science is “settled,” something that literally cannot be because science by definition is never settled, what they really mean is “Don’t question it.”  Which ought to (a) insult your intelligence, and (b) make you wonder what their real motives are.

(17) Climate Alarmism is rooted in a fundamentally flawed understanding of the nature of our planet, a worldview I call the Fragile Earth Syndrome. Alarmists imagine the Earth to be a delicately balanced system, vulnerable to any disruption, unable to recover from external shocks, such as those inflicted by our species. But if hundreds of millions of years of history tells us anything, it is that the Earth is actually extraordinarily resilient and adaptable. It recovers quickly from even severe injuries. Examples of this resilience are literally everywhere.

In its long and violent history, the Earth has experienced countless traumas far worse than the minor disruptions caused by our species. The idea that this planet could be dangerously destabilized by a modest increase in the concentration of a trace gas–a critically important, life-giving trace gas at that–borders on lunacy. If Earth were as fragile as the more excitable among us imagine, it would have died a long, long time ago of natural causes. Or, more likely, could never even have been born at all.

Climate Alarmism is merely the most recent outbreak of mass psychosis, to which our species is uniquely vulnerable. This outbreak has persisted longer than usual because now there are careers and reputations on the line, because bad news sells really well, because the monied interests have figured out that it is a fantastic profit center, and because the issue has assumed quasi-religious significance for a small but highly vocal fraction of our society. If you doubt the reality of climate doom you are no less than an enemy of Mother Earth. Gaia weeps at your callousness.

(18) Civilizations require energy, lots of it. Cheap and reliable energy, in the form of fossil fuels, makes possible our advanced way of life, which we are extraordinarily fortunate to enjoy. We lead lives of comfort, safety, and unspeakable abundance because of fossil fuels. Wave a magic wand and make them disappear, and civilization collapses in about a week. Restrict fossil fuels or make them too costly, and you condemn billions to perpetual poverty, wreck economies the world over, and make life generally miserable for almost everyone.

Is this system perfect? No, of course not. But its benefits vastly outweigh its risks. Furthermore, regardless of what you have been told, renewable energy cannot, on any reasonable time frame at any reasonable cost, replace more than a small fraction of the energy now supplied by fossil fuels. You want a carbon-free world? Be careful what you wish for. Freezing in the dark, impoverished and starving, isn’t much of a lifestyle.

(19)  A hell of a lot of money stands to be made from Climate Alarmism, almost none from the opposition. The US government annually hands out great gobs of money in grants and subsidies to those who study global warming and its mitigation, or who develop “green” technologies. The total figure for the last 30 or so years is close to 100 billion. With a “B.” By contrast, over that same span, the combined total of monies granted to so-called “deniers” by interested parties, e.g. fossil-fuel corporations, is calculated to be about $25 million. Billions versus millions. That’s a pretty lopsided ratio. You can see this disparity in the media produced by each camp. Alarmist websites and media generally feature high production values, with lots of expensive, glossy special effects, stirring music, and eye-catching graphics. By contrast, skeptical blogs, websites, and media are uniformly bare bones, lightly funded affairs, staffed almost entirely by volunteers, heavy on facts and data but light on razzle-dazzle.

(20) Finally, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and climate Alarmists don’t have it. Literally every single prediction of imminent doom made in the last fifty years has failed to come true. Yet despite this dismal track record, the scolds and killjoys haven’t missed a beat, and Armageddon continues to be always just around the corner. To avoid this supposed threat, hard-core Greens would have us carry out the grandest social-engineering experiment of all time, a radical transformation of our society and our economy from top to bottom, without a safety net, never mind the consequences, while the rest of the world continues with business as usual. That’s a mighty big ask, and it’s completely reasonable to counter with some hard questions.

In reality we are no closer to eco-catastrophe than ever. The changes that have occurred to the climate over the last 170 years or so are minor, overwhelmingly beneficial, and within the range of natural variability. Moreover, humans are prospering as never before in history. And despite a few areas of strain, the planet is, overall, doing pretty well, just as it has for millions and millions of years.

Skeptics are made, not born. Ironically, this writer might not have become one had those seeking to spread alarm not so badly overplayed their hand. But fanatics don’t do nuance. Blinded by a toxic blend of arrogance, ignorance, and totalitarian zeal, they fly the plane right into the ground every single time if handed the controls. By the time it’s over, those who longed to change the world will instead have alienated almost everyone, and wasted the opportunity to effect real and lasting positive change.

In five or ten or fifteen years, when the climate once again turns indisputably cooler and Global Warming is quietly forgotten, how will the apostles of doom react? I suspect that rather than admit error, they will loudly declare victory and get the hell out, shamelessly taking credit as they exit stage left. “We did it; we saved the Earth,” they will proclaim, again and again, to no one in particular, mesmerized by the sound of their own voices.

This essay was originally published in February 2018, but has been updated.



*The original of this article appeared in Forbes magazine, but furious Alarmists successfully pressured the magazine into disappearing it. This happens a lot.




© 2021 By Scott P. Snell

Right of reuse is freely granted with proper attribution.

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  1. Scott, a true tour de force. Thanks for your riveting, rational and realistic reasoning.
    I always greatly enjoy your writings.

  2. Models (including climate models) general model the modellers world view and biases, rather than reality. If you run long term models like the IPCC, then reality will routinely and regularly slap you in the face, which is why they are continually adjusting their models to dial back towards non-alarming (relatively) reality. If they dont they look stupid and what credibility remains is further damaged.

  3. Great Article. Very long read, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.

    So I am a libertarian minded Republican and ex petroleum engineer. I am installing solar panels on my house, not to fend off some stupid “Climate Catastrophe”, but because I want to test the economics. I think everything should be free market, and economics driven in life.

    I have recently been talking with a Prof friend about climate change. He is not an alarmist, but has not given me any good arguments in favor of climate change. It is always, well,”97% agree, or your a flat earther”. Really bogus stuff.

    I hope as more people wake up and see how much freedom we have already lost since the 1970s they will start to fight back against these oppressive notions labeled as climate change.

    Ever notice how attacks on capitalism always end by associating capitalism with climate change? As if the capitalists who have made our life so easy are the evil force in our society? Crazy, and just not gracious either.

    Again, thank you so much, and god bless. PS, if you email me, I was thinking about drawing a nice political cartoon for climate change. let me know, email is in your DBS. Thanks

  4. Thank you Ryan for giving the article a read. It’s long, but to make a comprehensive case it kinda has to be. Not a good selling point in our era of short attention spans and sound-bite journalism. If even one fence-straddler comes over to the side of common sense, the man-hours will have been worth it.

  5. Scott, thank you for the incredible amount of effort you have invested in not only this article but in the rest of your writing as well. I will keep this as a valuable reference for further reading and distribution. I became a skeptic when I first came across info about Maurice Strong, Al Gore, the Club of Rome and connections with the United Nations. Since then, so many issues have become embedded in the fractuous globalist theater of the absurd.

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