New Scientist :: countering climate change skeptics

So inel’s post here hipped me to the New Scientist’s feature that details climate change myths, and the evidence that exists to counter these myths. I’ve been meaning to write more on this, especially after exploring some bloggers’ posts who seem to think that anecdotal arguments (see this Urban Renaissance Institute’s article on how the IPCC selection process is supposedly biased because of one entomologist (bug scientists) feelings towards them), and politicians such as James Inhofe (press blog here, his “skeptics” article here) calling all climate change press coverage a hoax, are sufficient “arguments” against climate change.

What I just don’t understand, is where does rationality stop and the concept of “belief” start taking over how you make decisions about the world? We are in a modern world, where belief and “team politics” should be secondary to evaluating information with a critical mind. For more on this topic, and a reminder of how some of the horrors of the 20th century were created and propagated by taking advantage of people unable or unwilling to examine things critically – see Jonathan Glover‘s Humanity, which I initially found in the end notes of Sam HarrisThe End of Faith.

Anyway, back to applying rational thinking to climate change, and following inel’s lead, here’s the start to the New Scientist Article:

Climate change: A guide for the perplexed

* 17:00 16 May 2007
* news service
* Michael Le Page

Our planet’s climate is anything but simple. All kinds of factors influence it, from massive events on the Sun to the growth of microscopic creatures in the oceans, and there are subtle interactions between many of these factors.

Yet despite all the complexities, a firm and ever-growing body of evidence points to a clear picture: the world is warming, this warming is due to human activity increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and if emissions continue unabated the warming will too, with increasingly serious consequences.

Yes, there are still big uncertainties in some predictions, but these swing both ways. For example, the response of clouds could slow the warming or speed it up.

With so much at stake, it is right that climate science is subjected to the most intense scrutiny. What does not help is for the real issues to be muddied by discredited arguments or wild theories.

So for those who are not sure what to believe, here is our round-up of the 26 most common climate myths and misconceptions.

There is also a guide to assessing the evidence. In the articles we’ve included lots of links to primary research and major reports for those who want to follow through to the original sources.

Human CO2 emissions are too tiny to matter

We can’t do anything about climate change

The ‘hockey stick’ graph has been proven wrong

Chaotic systems are not predictable

We can’t trust computer models of climate

They predicted global cooling in the 1970s

It’s been far warmer in the past, what’s the big deal?

It’s too cold where I live – warming will be great

Global warming is down to the Sun, not humans

It’s all down to cosmic rays

CO2 isn’t the most important greenhouse gas

The lower atmosphere is cooling, not warming

Antarctica is getting cooler, not warmer, disproving global warming

The oceans are cooling

The cooling after 1940 shows CO2 does not cause warming

It was warmer during the Medieval period, with vineyards in England

We are simply recovering from the Little Ice Age

Warming will cause an ice age in Europe

Ice cores show CO2 increases lag behind temperature rises, disproving the link to global warming

Ice cores show CO2 rising as temperatures fell

Mars and Pluto are warming too

Many leading scientists question climate change

It’s all a conspiracy

Hurricane Katrina was caused by global warming

Higher CO2 levels will boost plant growth and food production

Polar bear numbers are increasing



  1. Hi Andrew,

    What I just don’t understand, is where does rationality stop and the concept of “belief” start taking over how you make decisions about the world? We are in a modern world, where belief and “team politics” should be secondary to evaluating information with a critical mind.

    Several of us (I can give you a list if you want to check out blogs) have been grappling with this boundary between rational thought and beliefs for decision-making. Of course, the boundary varies from person-to-person, but many people these days who are cool on global warming seem to simply choose the answer that best suits their worldview. They believe what and/or who they want to believe. In other words, there are people who will not naturally think about climate change, and when asked, they go for the easy option which is to agree with someone they respect, perhaps even opting to “do nothing” and maintain “business-as-usual”, until external pressures make them realise they are losing friends or business opportunities, or something else that matters to them. Climate is the least of their concerns. If you want a link to an interesting dissection of what made TGGWS so appealing to many people, take a look at my posts here.


  2. Yes I’d totally be interested in a list of bloggers to read – please email me. Thanks!

    Well I agree to a point, that people will believe in things until they start impacting themselves negatively. Though I don’t think this is always the case, because a few things can weaken an individual’s ability to truly perceive what “is negative”: 1) pressure from authority, 2) pressure to conform in a group, 3) lack of background in critical thinking.

    Fortunately I think with climate change, we can overcome all of these – it’s more just a matter of time. Unlike with the evolution vs. intellectual design argument, no one’s trying to un-seat deep-rooted beliefs from childhood in presenting the evidence about global warming. It’s just lots of new information and we need to help everyone we can, understand what’s going on, in a far unbiased way. What irks me is politicians manipulating this issue for their own short-term goals. So with upcoming elections, I am hoping that climate change does not remain a politically polarized issue when we have true opportunity for non-polarized collaboration, you know???

    Also, in a sense, the exact FLIP of the idea of beliefs is driving many businesses to go green. In other words, they may not care about the science behind climate change, but if increased energy efficiency is a way to drive down costs, then why not become green or carbon neutral? A world of profit is what they believe. In a philosophical sense, it’s the same side of the coin, you know?


  3. with no ozone, days get warmer and nights get colder. Global cooling exists because of global warming


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