One of many ways climate disinformers mislead

This post by physicist John Cook was first published in Skeptical Science.

In science, the only thing better than measurements made in the real world are multiple sets of measurements – all pointing to the same answer. That’s what we find with climate change. The case for human caused global warming is based on many independent lines of evidence. Our understanding of climate comes from considering all this evidence. In contrast, global warming skepticism focuses on narrow pieces of the puzzle while neglecting the full picture.

What is the full picture? Humans are emitting around 30 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air every year. This is leaving a distinct human fingerprint:

Signs of warming are found all over the globe (here are just a few):

On the question of human caused global warming, there’s not just a consensus of scientists – there’s a consensus of evidence. In the face of an overwhelming body of evidence, the most common approach of climate skepticism is to focus on narrow pieces of data while neglecting the full picture.

Let’s look at an example. One popular skeptic argument has been to cast doubt on the surface temperature record. Skeptics claim thermometers are unreliable because surroundings can influence the reading. They reinforce this by showing photo after photo of weather stations positioned near warming influences like air conditioners, barbeques and carparks. The Skeptics Handbook goes so far as to say “the main ’cause’ of global warming is air conditioners”.

This myopic approach fails to recognise that air conditioners aren’t melting the ice sheets. Carparks aren’t causing the sea levels to rise and glaciers to retreat. The thousands of biological changes being observed all over the world aren’t happening because someone placed a weather station near an air conditioner. When you step back and survey the full array of evidence, you see inescapable evidence of warming happening throughout our planet.

Our understanding of climate doesn’t come from a single line of evidence. We use multiple sets of measurements, using independent methods, to further our understanding. Satellites find similar temperature trends to thermometer measurements. This is despite the fact that no carpark or barbeque has ever been found in space. Prominent skeptic Roy Spencer (head of the team that collects the satellite data) concluded about the HadCRUT surface record:

“Frankly our data set agrees with his, so unless we are all making the same mistake we’re not likely to find out anything new from the data anyway”

Our climate is changing and we are a major cause through our emissions of greenhouse gases. Considering all the facts about climate change is essential for us to understand the world around us, and to make informed decisions about the future.

John Cook, Skeptical Science.

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44 Responses to One of many ways climate disinformers mislead

  1. Jim Prall says:

    Thanks Joe for inviting John Cook for this timely and pithy overview, and kudos to John for all his hard work setting up, a truly one-stop go-to site for answering virtually any objection you may have heard.

  2. Dean says:

    The line “there’s not just a consensus of scientists – there’s a consensus of evidence” is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.

  3. Too few of our species will allow science or evidence to conquer delusion. Skepticism then becomes the false clothing of purposeful irrationality and ignorance.

    Most of us can’t quite understand either compound interest or temperature forcing. We have conquered most everything with our civilization, now we finally face our inability to trust science and the future.

    Quite a battle.

  4. Roger says:

    Try this one on the deniers: “Do you believe in anthropogenic smog?” It’s something they can see, and the older ones can remember when the skies were clearer than they are today.

    My experience with climate change deniers is that they can’t imagine humans affecting something as big as the Earth, but they _can_ see the smog and relate to it better than something invisible — like CO2.

  5. Lindsey Campbell says:

    I feel like people just don’t want this to be true, and that’s the main reason why they deny it. Mostly, I think because they’re scared the world will cease to exist as we know it, and because it might slow down the economy if we have to stop using our current, main sources of energy. OR, they just aren’t looking at the facts thoroughly enough. Take a look at this article I recently discovered on Skeptical Science about how some global warming skeptics are only looking at 2 dimensions of the melting of arctic sea ice. It’s pretty interesting and compliments your point, John.

  6. cervantes says:

    Well okay, but meanwhile it might be a good idea not to locate weather stations near AC outlets or parking lots. It does make for photo-ops.

    Sounds like a good plan to me anyway.

  7. Prokaryotes says:

    “There is an issue which comes to my attention …”

    “It’s increasing lava flows” – actually, Yes!

  8. BBHY says:

    Ocean temperatures are rising. You can’t explain that away with the “urban heat island” argument.

    The deniers are still going strong even though there is not one shred of evidence in their favor.

  9. Spent some time on a denialists blog this weekend. They’re an amazing bunch.
    “Only until one of you guys provides some evidence or argument that has not or can not be discredited.

    After 30 years of research and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, we still only have a loose hypothesis.

    Not much to change the world on.”

    This was the response after links, videos, wikipedia etc. were provided (in good faith) It’s like talking to a machine whose programming is very limited.

  10. Robbert says:

    The ‘Control’ (we’re in charge) mindset drives those who identify with the ‘Righty’ Folks! They will not give ground to Science or give up their life style choices that define the Endless Age of Plunder! Our hope for a sustainable environment for our children is the only smart choice we have. What don’t they get! Selfish Greed wins over Selfless Good … for them!

  11. When you think about it our generation will need to make real sacrifices for a good we’ll never get to see. Has man ever done such a thing?

  12. Peter Mizla says:

    The climate change deniers have a religious or political agenda that ‘allows’ them to ignore the solid empirical evidence for AGW.

    It remains to be seen when they finally disappear into irrelevance.

  13. BBHY says:

    “Has man ever done such a thing?”

    Yes, but only when forced, or highly motivated in the way the people mobilized to win WWII. I don’t think that’s ever happened willingly on a societal level. On a personal level it happens all the time. So maybe there is some hope. people just need to see it as a personal

  14. BBHY
    The people who sacrificed so much for WWII didn’t plan on dying. They hoped to see the end… and win the war.
    I guess I do hope to see progress, but doubt I’ll live to see a real sustainable economy.

  15. Wit'sEnd says:

    This article in The New Yorker about the Koch brothers and their nefarious shenanigans goes a long way towards explaining why the professional deniers succeed in casting doubt on the science – they throw millions and millions of dollars into the effort. The dimensions of the evil these two sickos perpetuate are mind-boggling and hard to read about it one sitting – but when you get to the end, there’s a great quote from JR!

  16. Lobo says:


    I’m a fan of your site, I believe in climate science and work every day to try to get this country to pass legislation on the issue.

    That said, I’m very disappointed and in disbelief that you accepted advertising on your site from BP!! (The ad sends you to this link:

    What’s going on here? Talk about disinformation and propaganda — please redeem yourself by getting this ad off of your site asap. It’s not right — you criticize BP all the time and their horrible deeds and now their greenwashing ads appear on your site!

    Just say it ain’t so, Joe …

    [JR: I asked that all BP ads be pulled the minute I was told about it. Has anyone seen it in several days?]

    [JR: Update — I think I figured out how this mistake happened while I was traveling. I’ll blog on it.]

  17. catman306 says:

    Is there intelligent life in the universe:

    Actually there are many examples of civilizations that had projects taking the life’s work of many successive generations. Our civilization’s project is ‘more of everything’. So we’ve built endless sprawl that won’t last 100 years. The plan was that aged, and unfashionable sprawl would be demolished and rebuilt. Let’s see how far that goes.

    Some civilizations built of stone so we have today the pyramids, temples and cities in ruins, but they are many 1000s of years old.

    Other’s built civilizations out of natural wood in the jungle and all traces of their multi-generational plans are now lost to those jungles .

    A good example for today are the cathedrals of Europe which often took 300 years from plans to completion. Religion was the belief system that made this construction possible.

    We can make changes in our way of doing things that will result in future climate cooling and the reestablishment of an ecosystem that sustain-ably supports humans. Let’s ‘just do it’. Science is the reality based system that can get this job done. But only if masses of people believe in reality.

  18. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    The Libertarians seen so much more concerned with the liberty of their money than of my person.

  19. villabobos says:

    Cook makes some really excellent points. Unfortunately if does now look like the surface temperature record is messed up, at least in Canada. There’s an internal report from Environment Canada that shows they have real problems with the surface network. EC’s internal report was suppressed and had to be pulled out by the press with FOI. In the EC report these words:

    “It is profoundly disturbing to discover the true state of our climate data network and the data we offer to ourselves and the real world.”

    Seems pretty bad, lot of press in Canuck land.

  20. adrian smits says:

    I don’t think any sceptic worth his salt is arguing that co2 isn’t causing a certain amount of global warming.What they are saying is the current contribution of co2 to the overall increase for the past 30 to 40 years might be one third to one half of the total.If this is correct c02 is really a minor player when it comes to greenhouse gasses!

  21. Lore says:

    adrian smits Quote:

    “If this is correct c02 is really a minor player when it comes to greenhouse gasses!”

    Except what they are saying is incorrect. First of all what we are finding is that the atmosphere is much more sensitive then first suspected and that increased carbon dioxide causes an enhanced greenhouse effect. They would have to come up with some other mechanism to provide an answer for why CO2 is not the main culprit, or why the atmosphere is warming in general.

  22. Cicero says:

    So, any comment on James Cameron bailing on his pledged debate with climate skeptics at the AREDAY summit?

    [JR — How’s this: Come back when you get your facts straight.]

  23. Fred Teal says:

    If I refresh this page, I get the BP ad in place of the “not in my America” ad. Also, the dark blue background under the Time quote banner at the top spills down both sides of the page everywhere there is no type. This should be displaying as a plain white background.

    [JR: My apologies. I am pretty certain I understand how this happened while I was traveling and I will have it taken down (again) and do a blog post.]

  24. adrian smits says:

    Lore please look at the UAH satellite temperature record.If you throw out the 1998 and 2010 el nino’s the signal indicates slightly over two tenth’s degree of warming since 1979.The 1970’s just happened to be the coldest decade in the last 80 years.We can safely extrapolate that this amount of warming doesn’nt count for didly scwat when looking back to such a cold decade.Please don’t bother talking about land based temperatures. They have been demonstrably so corrupted by computer adjustments that have never had there code examined they are not worth looking at.

  25. As of 9:40 MST I’m still seeing the BP ad.

  26. Charles says:

    adrian–what Lore said. The sceptics need to come up with another explanation for rising temps; rising temps,CO2, and acidity in the oceans; sea level rise, etc. When they can do that, people will start paying attention. As far as I can tell, the sceptics appear to fail utterly in their inability to come up with alternate hypotheses which pass the smell test. Moreover, they have very little consistency (uh, consensus) in suggesting alternate explanations.

  27. Dibble says:

    That BP ad is very annoying.

  28. BBHY says:

    Ha, ha, typical denier “logic”.

    Adrian: “Please don’t bother talking about land based temperatures. They have been demonstrably so corrupted”, but then he wants to “throw out” any warm years that don’t fit his preconception. Deniers were perfectly happy to include 1998 as a starting point when their favorite meme was that the 2000’s were “cooling”.

    His answer for why the Earth is warming? The 70’s were cold! Well that makes sense. Any time you have a cold decade, you should expect that 40 years later Arctic ice and glaciers should shrink to the lowest level in 1000’s of years. Of course! It all makes sense now!

    There are multiple independent lines of evidence all pointing to the same thing: increasing global temperature.

    Deniers, please don’t bother refuting one narrow line of evidence and ignoring the rest. And please don’t manipulate the data to your advantage and then complain that the data was manipulated!

  29. Edward says:

    What happened to the law that said that it is illegal to put air conditioners, barbeques and carparks within 50 feet of weather stations?

  30. Clive in Oz says:

    I am getting the BP ad too after going out to a link and coming back.

  31. matt says:

    BP ad here as well. Also, the blue background is interfering with the display of text.

  32. matt says:

    Additional: “About Cliamte Progress” links to the current article, the link for about appears as plain type on the blue background, between the white backgrounds of the story and the RHS frame.

    Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 6.0; en-GB; rv: Gecko/20100722 Firefox/3.6.8

  33. Sime says:

    So let’s have a think…

    Companies – Exxon, BP, shell, Q8, etc.

    Funding available from profits – Limitless (especially when combined).

    Requirement – Scientifically disprove climate science.

    Time available so far – 30+ years.

    Ability to build own research labs and hire any scientists in the world to achieve goal.

    Result for oil / coal etc companies on success – Happiness and continued selling of technologically out dated oil / coal products to a greedy brain washed populace hooked on said products.

    Bonus – A fist full of Nobel prizes for the scientific achievement of PROVING global warming false.

    Has this happened – NO
    Will it happen – NO
    Why has it not happened – Science is correct and can NOT be broken.

    Response by involved industries / corporations – Fall black plan use Fear Uncertainty Doubt (FUD) to cause as much delay as possible to protect profits and prevent adoption of new cleaner technologies.

    Their plan will work until such time as people cotton on to the game at which point said companies and individuals concerned will be ripped to pieces especially if the delay has been so long that preventing total collapse of the environment has become impossible.

    People do not take kindly to being lied to en masse by individuals in positions of trust and power… Politicians should take note as should oil executives etc.

  34. Richard Brenne says:

    (#24) – Adrian Smits – And Arctic sea ice decline, 90% of global glaciers melting, higher SSTs, ocean acidification, species die-off, more water vapor meaning more torrential storms with more flooding as in Pakistan and China, twice the heat to cold records in the U.S. during the last decade, etc, etc, etc?

    Clearly it is your comments that are not worth looking at.

    One question: Do you refuse to jump on a trampoline because you might not come back down?

  35. Colorado Bob says:

    Night time high min. temps :
    Total Number of Records for August 22, 2010
    (out of 5,489 stations with at least 30 years of data)
    New: 158 + Tied: 114 = Total: 272

    Night time low max. temps :
    Total Number of Records for August 22, 2010
    (out of 5,496 stations with at least 30 years of data)
    New: 3 + Tied: 0 = Total: 3


    The recent report of declining rice production in Asia got me thinking again about the rising night time temps. The response of plants & animals to higher night time temps is going to take us by surprise.

    ” Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the report analyzes 6 years of data from 227 irrigated rice farms in 6 major rice-growing countries in Asia, ”

  36. Colorado Bob says:

    Joe –
    BP is still there .

    [JR: I think I know what happened. Will need to do a post.]

  37. Colorado Bob says:

    A British oil firm will tomorrow announce that it has struck oil off Greenland, a find that could trigger a rush to exploit oil reserves in the pristine waters of the Arctic.

    Cairn Energy, the first company to win permission to drill for oil in this sensitive environment, will break the news to the London stock market along with its half-yearly financial results.

  38. Dale Sedler says:

    In “Hurricane Watch”, 2000, by Jack Williams and Bob Sheets (former head of the National Hurrican Center) they cite NOAA’s analysis of 5.1 million temperature profiles taken by US, British and Russian submarines since 1950 that were declassified at the end of the Cold War. The analysis shows a warming of the top 1,000 ft. of ocean by 0.5 degree C. during that time period.

  39. Colorado Bob says:

    German scientist hands Putin frosty climate rebuke

    In 2003 Putin amazed scientists when he speculated that a global warming by “two or three degrees” could be a good thing for Russia as its people would no longer need fur coats and its agricultural production could rise.

    A German female scientist working at the station however showed no fear in making her opinion clear to the Russian strongman.

    “The burning of various kinds of fuel has a far greater effect on climate than these methane emissions,” said Inken Preuss quoted by Russian news agencies.

    “Climate change has never happened like now and mankind is making a large impact,” she added.

  40. Colorado Bob says:

    NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) – Thousands of fish have turned up dead at the mouth of Mississippi River, prompting authorities to check whether oil was the cause of mass death, local media reports said Monday.

  41. Whatshisname says:

    I’ll see the skeptics’ thermometers and raise them the three spread across diverse parts of our property here in Central Texas. There’s no AC unit, idling car or wasp nest anywhere nearby, and 15 years of record-keeping show a steady rise in daytime highs and morning lows.

    If the skeptics want to do some meaningful research on air conditioners then they might consider the rising frequency of repairs and unit replacements. Might want to have a look at the water bills too.

  42. dbmetzger says:

    and then there is the realm of oil where we are hearing how the BP oil eruption has magically dissipated. It wasn’t really that bad…
    Gulf of Mexico and Exxon Valdez Spills Compared
    The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, , recently announced that a majority of oil from the BP spill has been captured or mitigated through the federal response effort

  43. Mike Roddy says:

    Adrian Smits is probably Adrian State College, a relentless troll from Dot Earth. It’s best to ignore him or redirect him to WUWT or Climate Depot, where his bullshit will find an audience.

  44. I just did a short blog post on the 70s. Turns out that if you are a real skeptic, you would not say something so ludicrously wrong as ‘the 70s are the coldest decade in the last 80 years’. The 60s, 50s, and 30s were colder. (As are the 20s, 10s, 1900s, 1890s, 1880s — using the NCDC global data.) See Were the 70s Cold? for more detail.