Climate

Who are the Denyers and Court Jesters?

court-jester.jpgMy post on the NASA data revision and Hansen’s emails resulted in a tremendous amount of new visitors who provided thoughtful comments on both sides.

Many expressed doubts about the threat posed by global warming because: 1) the warming won’t be very severe, and/or 2) the planet is just going through a “natural” warming cycle, and/or 3) humans can’t do much to change things (because either we aren’t the main cause or the kind of emissions reductions needed are beyond the world’s capability). I won’t rebut those views here — that is the goal of this blog and my book.

These doubters don’t like being called names, especialy Denier/Denyer — and who can blame them? I am trying in this post to be clear about my terms. [Note, I use Denyer with a ‘y’ because that’s what my publisher recommended for my book.]

I do not consider the vast majority of those doubters to be Denyers, and I doubt Hansen considers them “court jesters.” The Denyers are people who actively spread misinformation or disinformation, sometimes with funding from fossil fuel companies, but who in any case do so for a living and/or who do know better — or should.

Obviously, that latter point is a judgment call, but as my many posts about, say, the Denyers at Planet Gore demonstrate, these folks just make stuff up or willfully misinterpret the facts or the research. Michael Crichton, as a professional writer of persuasive fiction(s), is perhaps the archetypal Denyer. Indeed, I would say the defining characteristic of Denyers is that they repeat arguments/fictions that have long been debunked. For them, no amount of scientific evidence is persuasive.

For me, you are a definitely a professional Denyer if you work to obfuscate the climate change issue for an organization that has taken money from ExxonMobil. Another clue is if you follow the detailed rhetorical strategy laid out by conservative message guru Frank Luntz in his infamous memo on the environment.

Most people — including most doubters — are not in a position to render scientific judgments on climate change. They must decide whom they trust. In general, Denyers are conservatives or libertarians from places like the Competitive Enterprise Institute. So it is no surprise that doubters, who are also typically conservatives or libertarians, are more willing to put their trust in the Denyers.

Also, a point I make in my book is that because the solution to global warming requires strong government-led efforts — to put in place a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade system and efficiency standards — people who don’t believe in strong government are much less predisposed to believe in a problem that requires such a solution.


Most of the doubters have gravitated to whatever arguments/myths from the Denyers that strike a chord with them (e.g. natural cycles, Mars is warming, it’s all solar activity, and so on). Most doubters strike me as reasonable people who, unfortunately, are probably beyond persuasion, at least for now.

That may change over the next decade, if one recent prediction — that we are going to warm a remarkable 0.3°C between 2004 and 2014 — comes true, and if that results in dramatic impacts by 2020, such as the Arctic going ice free in the summer or the rate of sea level rise doubling. Sadly, though, even that will not persuade many doubters, since they believe this is just natural planetary warming.

In any case, I just wanted to make clear that I don’t consider someone a Denyer just because they don’t believe human-caused global warming is a serious, but solvable, problem. Denyer is a strong term and should be reserved for professional misinformers and disinformers.

I also sometimes use the term Delayer, for those professional misinformers shrewd enough to concede human-caused global warming is occurring — because the scientific evidence for that is now overwhelming — but who say we can’t act now because we don’t yet have the necessary technologies — I have a whole chapter in my book, Hell and High Water, on this “technology trap.”

I hope some of the doubters who visited in the last few days will stick around. Global warming is the defining issue of our time — and long after people have forgotten about Iraq, historians and our children will judge us harshly — will curse our names — if, as Hansen says, “tipping points are passed, if we, in effect, destroy Creation, passing on to our children, grandchildren, and the unborn a situation out of their control.”

16 Responses to Who are the Denyers and Court Jesters?

  1. Conrad says:

    Why are you ignoring the new Stephen Schwartz paper from Brookhaven that predicts a very low value for climate sensitivity (1.1 C). Both you and Gristmill are ignoring what is potentially a very important result. If Schwartz had predicted a very high sensitivity value — even if not yet peer-reviewed — you and Gristmill would be all over it. But you are ignoring this because, apparently, it does not suit your ideology. Where is the fairness in that?

  2. Joe says:

    I wasn’t ignoring it — I was actually waiting to get a response about it from a couple of climate scientists. But in any case, I don’t post on every study — especially one that is at odds with dozens of other studies which form the basis of NASA’s and IPCC’s work. I am skeptical of some of the research that finds a very high climate sensitivity, but I confess to be skeptical of that paper since it doesn’t look at all of the paleoclimate data that convinces the vast majority of climate scientists the climate sensitivity is higher.

  3. Steve E. says:

    Excellent post, Joe.

    Having read through (with varying levels of patience) the recent 95 comments on another topic, and for those over there genuinely trying to understand the issues, the science, and the politics, I recommend the following initial steps.

    1) We should each take the time to read an excellent basic scientific explanation of what we’re taking about. This was an earlier link provided by Paul N.

    http://bostonreview.net/BR32.1/emanuel.html

    2) I suggest people become as skeptical about big corporations as many individuals are about big government. I recommend renting the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

    3) It is great to doubt authority figures. But the answer is not to simply doubt one side and blindly trust the other. The hard work lies in becoming informed enough that you can sort out the false arguments yourself.

    Personally, I cannot help but recommend reading Joe’s book, “Hell and High Water” (that’s what led me to this website), and then pass it along to someone else who is also likely to read it. Read his source materials as well. Read contrarian viewpoints (not just contrarian, anonymous comments on this board). Exercise independent judgment in the context of the very serious risk analysis which must take place.

    4) Most importantly, we should all track real world events to come to our own conclusions about who is right about the science. The unusual weather we’ve been seeing actually represents the results of carbon dioxide emissions of several years ago. There is a lag time factor going on here. That is, we all need to consider the evidence which corroborates (or, perhaps, fails to corroborate) the predictions of climate crisis experts.

    For those of us who come out a bit concerned about it all, we need to think about gradually changing our lifestyles and our political decisions. If we get some really traumatic extreme weather events, then we’ll have to get more proactive. Some people genuinely believe we’re already at that point. They may be right. Who knows. In the meantime, the worst thing to do is nothing.

  4. Steve E. says:

    Sorry, it was Paul K who provided the link.

  5. Conrad says:

    > But in any case, I don’t post on every study — especially one that is at
    > odds with dozens of other studies which form the basis of NASA’s and
    > IPCC’s work.

    Joe: you would have already posted on this study if it favored your ideological position. There’s no hiding that — everyone here knows it.

    Both you are Gristmill are guilty of ignoring a scientifically rigorous study that comes to a conclusion you don’t like. Maybe it is right, maybe it is wrong. But you’re guilty of not even mentioning it because it doesn’t comply with your preconceived notions.

    Schwartz’ is a serious study, all the stronger because it does *not* rely on computer models.

    If it is so obviously wrong, where is the rebuttal?

  6. Joe says:

    I am NOT ignoring it. I said I was waiting to get some comments. Heck, the study is still in press! Also, you obviously have NOT read the study closely, or else you wouldn’t be touting it so much. The authors pretty much acknowledge their result is wrong.

    I don’t post on every study — including (especially) those that agree with the IPCC/NASA. Why? — virtually all of studies that come out agree with IPCC/NASA. I also often don’t post on people who believe warming will be much, much worse than the consensus (Lovelock, climateprediction.net).

    Tell you what, though. I will get to it this month — this week, if I have time, though I was planning to do a series on responses to the Stern report. Then I will ask Gristmill to reprint it — no guarantees, though, since they don’t always do what I ask.

    I don’t have an ideological position. I have read most of the recent literature and talked to dozens of the leading climate scientists, and combined that with my own background, and come to my own conclusions.

  7. Ron says:

    Here’s a link to a short article concerning the ethical questions arising from scientific mistakes you may want to read –

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/08/nasa_flacks_for_global_warming.html

    Also, if we are recommending movies [I agree ‘Who Killed The Electric Car?’ is a must-see], another good one to watch again is ‘Wag The Dog’.

  8. john says:

    I think you’ve made an important distinction, here Joe– but I don’t fully agree with it, and here’s why:

    Pascal’s wager lays out the “rules” for how to act in the face of uncertainty — if the uncertain outcome is cataclysmic (such as going to hell, whether from global warming or atheism) then a precautionary approach is warranted … For the most part, people adhere to this framework. In fact, Bush, Rove et. al. took advantage of this tendency in the run-up to Iraq.

    Now, I’d wager big money that most of the denyers were all for invading Iraq because “we couldn’t afford to let a mushroom cloud be the first sign.”

    And yet, here we are, facing a potentially far worse outcome with orders of magnitude more proof that the danger is real and imminent, and suddenly, preemption isn’t prudent.

    For that reason, I believe even the amateur denyer is replacing reason with ideology, and ignoring fact. In my book, that puts them squarely in the same camp as the Exxon-funded pros.

  9. DWPittelli says:

    For me, you are a definitely a professional Alarmist if you work to obfuscate the climate change issue having taken money from John Kerry’s wife.

    Of course, the problems I have with Hansen’s intemperate behavior aren’t really due to his status as a professional.

  10. DWPittelli says:

    John:
    Pascal’s wager was about accepting a dogmatic religion. How apt.

    Pascal never considered the possibility that being a Catholic (or any other single religion) might make one as likely or more likely to suffer damnation. Which shows a certain provincialism or narrow-mindedness on his part, especially since the Protestant Reformation was then more than a century old, and other cultures and religions were well known to educated Europeans of his time.

    Likewise, your premise that essentially ending the consumption of fossil fuels is comparatively risk-free shows a certain provincialism. At the least, it would require a massive reduction in global living standards, even if we were to undertake an enormous buildup of nuclear plants (which source of amelioration I would support), and catastrophic results in the absence of the nuclear solution. Such costs (and some risks from nuclear proliferation and waste) would of course be a certainty, whereas your hell of positive-feedback global warming remains a conjecture unsupported by data even if we accept IPCC reconstructions.

  11. tidal says:

    Regarding the Schwartz paper that has surfaced in this thread of comments, James Annan has posted a rebuttal here: http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2007/08/schwartz-sensitivity-estimate.html

    Excerpt: “Via email, I hear that this paper from Stephen Schwartz is making a bit of a splash in the delusionosphere. In it, he purports to show that climate sensitivity is only about 1.1C, with rather small uncertainty bounds of +-0.5C.

    Usually, I am happy to let RealClimate debunk the septic dross that still infects the media. In fact, since I have teased them about their zeal in the past, it may seem slightly hypocritical of me to bother with this. However, this specific paper is particularly close to my own field of research, and the author is also rather unusual in that he seems to be a respected atmospheric scientist with generally rather mainstream views on climate science (although perhaps a bit critical of the IPCC here). However, his background is in aerosols, which suggests that he may have stumbled out of his field without quite realising what he is getting himself into.

    Anyway, without further ado, on to the mistakes:”

  12. Joe says:

    Thanks. I will be rebutting this shortly also, but Annan is one of the world’s expert on this subject and his post was great.

  13. Jake says:

    I just found your website…
    I’ve looked at only a small portion and plan to read more despite the fact I don’t agree with your viewpoint.
    I just wonder why your spelling and grammer is so poor.
    It is properly spelled denier…Denyer is not a word…how do you expect to be taken seriously?

  14. IANVS says:

    Joe,

    The Doubters as you call them do a great disservice to America and this planet. Whether or not cognizant of their manipulation, they perform most of the grunt work for the Deniers & Delayers. They are ubiquitous on the web, in the blogosphere, in magazines and op-eds, etc. enshrouding the general public in a milieu of disinformation and confusion. That and their apparent sincerity make them a most effective tool of the fossil fuel interests. They should be given their due and called out at every turn. Otherwise, their loud voice becomes the one most often heard and remembered.

  15. Ian Denyer says:

    As a Denyer (by name and not nature) I suppose I really ought to lodge an objection to the use (invention?) of the term – on pedantic grounds, if no other.. Small “D” please- if it must be used…..

    But seriously; from a scientifically illiterate layman’s point of this whole subject is really difficult to get to grips with, because so much comes down to “who do you trust”.

    Personally, I think we neeed to alter our behaviour re. fossil fuels anyway, global warming or not; but here in the UK our government is doing the case for action against global warning no good by concentrating on financial penalties (“Green” taxes) – which people cynically see, rightly or wrongly, as just another way of raising revenue – rather than taking drastic, and potentially seriously unpopular, action to actually force cuts in emissions. The problem is here that, so long as government is only tackling emissions by nibbling cash away from people, rather than engaging in the Draconian policies necessary to change behaviour to a meaningful degree, the man in the street will, quite simply, not take this issue seriously…
    Maybe democracy and the kind of radical changes needed just don’t mix; in which case where do we go then…?

  16. Anonymous says:

    fun search test!