Peter Gleick on ‘Climate Fraud and Hypocrisy’

This HuffPost repost is by Peter Gleick, Co-Founder and President of the Pacific Institute.

As the Earth’s climate continues to change at an accelerating rate, the juggling and magical thinking and outright hypocrisy of climate change deniers continues to accelerate as well. While there are many examples of the remarkable ability of deniers to hold onto mutually contradictory beliefs and ideas, here are four well-worn arguments regularly put forward by deniers in public forums despite the fact that they’ve all been debunked (over and over and over) by scientists:

Deniers claim that climate models are bad, but they’re happy to rely on far less reliable economic models to argue against taking action: One of the classic arguments of climate deniers is that the multitude of climate models is bad. Yet at the very same time, they promote the conclusions of a couple of economic models that say that doing anything about climate change will bankrupt the global economy. In fact, climate models are far superior to economic models. Climate models are far more rigorously tested, far more firmly based in physical reality, and far more unanimous in their projections than the economic models that have been applied to the problem of climate change. Indeed, you can find one set of economic models that says that mitigating greenhouse gases will be relatively cheap and another set that say it will be extremely expensive. You cannot find a state-of-the-art climate model that says the climate won’t change with growing greenhouse gas concentrations.

In addition, none of the economic models that look at the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions addresses the other, critical side of the economic argument — the vast and exponentially increasing costs to society of doing nothing. What’s the economic cost, for example, of losing California’s snowpack or a species of plant or animal? What’s the economic cost of a one-month acceleration in the timing of runoff in major rivers in the western U.S.? What’s the economic cost of rising sea level or growing heat stress or more intense storms or changing distributions of plants and animals — all impacts that are certainly going to occur? Perhaps we can compute some dollar values for some of these things, but we haven’t yet, and so no complete estimates are included in cost comparisons. In other words, climate deniers and those who argue against action say that the cure (reducing emissions) is worse that the disease (the impacts of climate change), when we have contradictory estimates of the costs of the cure and no comprehensive estimate of the costs of the disease.

Government action is anathema; the answer is let the free market work (oh, but we can’t have markets for carbon): Some climate deniers argue that climate science is wrong because they’re driven by a strict ideology that opposes (rightly or wrongly) growing government regulation, while they simultaneously believe that economic free-market approaches are the only way to handle public policy problems like pollution. This is free-market fundamentalism, and while one might agree or disagree with that philosophy, it has no bearing on the validity of climate science. Yet these same free-market ideologues reject market solutions and strategies to control greenhouse gases, such as carbon markets, trading systems, and classic tax programs that would internalize externalities. Thus we have the odd situation where the Federal government is now being forced to regulate greenhouse gases through the USEPA and potentially awkward governmental mechanisms because climate skeptics and deniers in Congress failed to adopt their own preferred market and economic solutions.

Deniers argue that comprehensive observational data on the world’s changing climate are wrong, but then point to cold weather in this or that location to argue that the world cannot be warming: While the public may not fully understand the difference between climate and weather, or understand how the world could be warming while it’s cold outside, most well-known climate deniers fully understand these distinctions — they just choose to ignore them in order to make false arguments to and score points with the public and gullible policymakers. Cherry-picking selected data that supports a particular point (i.e., it’s cold today), while hiding or ignoring more data that points in exactly the opposite direction (i.e., global average temperatures are rising), is bad science and it leads to bad policy. Just last week Glenn Beck pointed to a snowstorm in Minneapolis as proof that global warming isn’t happening. He knows better, but his audience may not.

Another example was the effort by the Bush Administration to argue that they were taking action on climate change and that the US was doing more and better than European countries, when in fact, the White House cherry-picked the data that showed their position in the most favorable light. All the data, analyzed together, showed exactly the opposite conclusion.

Oh, and by the way, it looks like 2010 will be, globally, one of the warmest years on record, after a long series of increasingly hot years. And the entire decade from 2001-2010 is undoubtedly the warmest 10-year period since the beginning of comprehensive weather records in 1850.

Deniers seize on a few minor mistakes in the IPCC report to claim its overall conclusions are invalid; but then use massively flawed scientific arguments to dispute real climate science: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced a series of reports over the past decade or more, thousands of pages in length, summarizing the scientific understanding from tens of thousands of peer-reviewed reports. It is not new science; it is a comprehensive and clear summary of the science. A few minor errors have been made (and corrected), but none of these affect the conclusions, despite the fact that they’ve been seized upon by climate deniers as evidence that the whole thing is wrong. Yet climate deniers use deeply flawed scientific arguments that have been debunked over and over or have little or no basis in reality. This is a double standard: it is incumbent upon scientists to produce their best work, to acknowledge mistakes, and to correct them. It is time to hold climate deniers to the same standard, rather than letting them repeat long debunked falsehoods.

Want examples? Just wait for the comments to this posting: you’ll find plenty of tired, long-disproved arguments trotted out.

— Peter Gleick

JR:  If you read HuffPost’s comments, put on a head vise, though Gleick shows up there to set the record straight.

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10 Responses to Peter Gleick on ‘Climate Fraud and Hypocrisy’

  1. Esop says:

    Good discussion there.
    The deniers are getting increasingly desperate now that it certainly looks like 2010 will become the hottest year on record in at least one of the datasets, despite their global cooling alarmism.
    Steven Goddard has a new post over at his climate denial site where he accuses Dr. Hansen of fraud since GISS showed a warm anomaly for November. Goddard also assured his readers that 2010 will not set a new record in the UAH dataset. Looking at the graphs, that statement looks strange, but perhaps Goddard has insider information on how the data can be tweaked..

  2. Well, I am not a scientist. But as a human being on this blue marble can see the changes taking place around us and the endless debate on the subject. Instead of seeing the reality and the scientific data some people are taking the matter lightly., Their numbers might be less but powerful and are capable of influencing the political and financial decisions in the world. Why at all, there should be a cleavage between the developing and developed countries. Willy nilly, the 3rd world countries in the past also contributed to the problem. See how moon and other planets are without any life. If the mankind wants to go that way, they keep on arguing without trying to arrest the process.

  3. Mike says:

    The Chronicle of Higher Ed. has an article by a philosophy professor who studies lying, including lying to oneself in order to better lie to others. It does not deal with climate change or even politics but the applications are more than apparent. Scholars interested in climate change communication may find his work of particular interest.

    The Lie Guy
    By Clancy Martin

    You’d think I’d get used to being called a liar. After all, I’ve written a candid, semiautobiographical novel about being a scam artist, been interviewed in the media about my former life of lying, cheating, and drinking, even edited a prominent philosophical collection on deception. But when a colleague recently ridiculed me about being known as a liar, my feelings were hurt. I have a new life. I’ve been clean and sober and “rigorously honest” (as we say in AA) for two years. Still, to tell you the truth (honestly!), I earned my reputation fair and square.

    Here is his webpage:

  4. Mike Roddy says:

    Good summary by Gleick, but he would learn more if he got down in the trenches for a while with denier commenters. Some of us used to do it on Dot Earth and other blogs, but it makes you nuts after a while. They never accept detailed refutations or change their minds. Maybe this explains why:

    The denial machine has two components. One is the tendency of people to be reactionary, and instinctively attack a set of conclusions that would cause them to alter their world view and way of living. We can’t do much about that.

    The second component is more sinister, and has been effective here in the US. Oil, coal, utility, and timber companies systematically poison the public dialogue through spokesmen, financial relationships with media companies, and indirect bribery of politicians. These people must be called to account. The recent horrifying scientific reports about accelerated global warming remain unknown to the American public.

    Climate Progress is a beacon- no denier garbage tolerated here- and many people such as Gleick are doing their best. It’s important that this effort be taken to the next level, however, with a systematic media monitoring service and personal attempts to educate leaders on all levels. And we’d better start moving soon.

  5. Peter M says:

    “These ‘debunkers­’ have not even learned the basis for the ‘Scientifi­c Method’, but instead use what a professor taught me in college- collect junk data, and distort it- and what do you get? Junk.

    Its simply more convenient for these deniers- and the dark forces they represent- to continue to mislead the public- and have an attentive confused and paid off media to air their lies.

    As time goes on however, their credibilit­y will be destroyed, and they will be hunted individual­s for deceiving a globe in turmoil from something they said was a hoax.”

  6. Fed says:

    Deniers also like to argue that observations of changes in climate and responses to those changes that have been documented in the biosphere, cryosphere, lithoshere, and hydrosphere cannot be proven to be outside the realm of natural variability. This argument gets weaker all the time as paper after paper are published extending reocrds further and further back in time.

  7. Robert Nagle says:

    Why are denialists uncomfortable with anything which poses a risk to the economy but comfortable with anything which poses a risk to the physical world? Or to phrase it another way: why does the conclusion that “I don’t know what the risk is” lead to the conclusion that “we ought to continue living with the risk until I know for sure what the risk is?”

    Why do denialists accuse academics or government scientists of having an agenda (just wanting to get research funding) without acknowledging that people funded entirely by industry are even less likely to provide an objective point of view?

    Why do denialists accuse renewable energy companies of just seeking a government handout when fossil fuel industries receive even more?

    Why do denialists focus on isolated instances of conspicuous consumption by Al Gore (and others) while oblivious to the consumption habits of fossil fuel execs? For example, whose home energy bill is likely to be higher: Al Gore or Exxon’s CEO? Why then is Al Gore’s electric bill in the news, but the CEO’s electric bill is not?

    What do denialists focus on the carbon footprint of China when per capita footprints of Americans is up to 10x higher? When one of my denialist friends mentions, “Oh, our carbon usage is nothing compared to China’s; that’s where the real problem is.” My reply is usually, “The easiest and most effective war to reduce the world’s carbon footprint is to change the behavior of individual Texans — not Chinese citizens.

    (By the way, I live in Texas, a place where there is utter blindness about how Texas energy companies contribute to the problem).

  8. spiritkas says:


    The fossil fuel companies are making money hand over fist and money speaks. How many years was it between when the science of smoking and cancer were linked and when the government finally acknowledged that and put waring labels on the packs? Big tobacco isn’t nearly as rich as big oil, big coal, big gas, etc.

    Their money and paid congress people, judges, and an army of state level corruption will continue to speak for a long time. The mock ‘trials’ and investigational panels the republicans will run in the house will be cited as ‘evidence’ and cause even more confusion and delay in the matter. Kyoto was signed how many years ago? We’ve been dragging our feet on the matter since Carter is my eyes and I wasn’t even born then! The hundreds of sane scientists who would like to speak and the many who have spoken in front of congress have gotten essentailly zero media coverage, but these show trials are going to be a bonanza media circus of insane proporsions and we’ll have to waste our time fightin them off on every point again and again and to no purpose because an idea introduced cannot be easily overturned.

    We need to pool the resouces we have and magnify our money 10X through banking. If the government is going to be slow about it we need to create a Green Credit Union, one that takes donations, is a non-profit and exclusively lends money to implement and deploy existing green technologies that have a solid payback curve.

    How about it? The Green Credit Union of America!

    That way my $100 donation gets lent out as $1000 and gets paid back with low interest and used again. It is like the donation that never dies!



  9. riverat says:

    Why are denialists uncomfortable with anything which poses a risk to the economy but comfortable with anything which poses a risk to the physical world?

    They don’t understand that the economy is a subsystem of the larger ecosystem.

  10. Solar Jim says:

    An underlying reason this is such an intractable issue is because climate science ultimately says mined substances from the lithosphere should not be used for physical power, that is “energy.” Of course, these substances are actually defined as Matter, not energy. Yet, explosives like fossil “fuels” denote vast political power, and reserves of these materials create trillions in perceived valuations of transnational corporations and nation states, as well as physically powering their military.

    Imagine the “economic dislocations” and “political dislocations” if we no longer economically valued these “reserves” as “fuels.” The implications of this profound condition encourage vested interests, including nation states that now indirectly finance American politics, to fight for the existing economic paradigm until transformation, of one kind or another becomes, shall we say, inevitable.

    One might think of a scenario of controlled or uncontrolled international bankruptcy. This does not refer to dollars alone, but to sustenance as well. At present, hundreds of billions of global dollars (IEA, 2010) as fossil and uranium subsidies, are subsidizing this entire mining paradigm as “energy.” Some eco-economists call these perverse subsidies. Yes, I would say so. Call it contamination through economic indemnification of “liabilities.”