A few words for global warming skeptics

[Updated 2013-06-26.]

If you’re still considering yourself a ‘global warming skeptic’ in 2012, then we need to talk.

Let’s start off by looking at Wikipedia’s summary of scientific opinion on climate change, and look at the list of statements by dissenting organizations. It notes that since 2007, no national or international scientific body has made any statement rejecting the reality of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change. The last organization to express ‘skepticism’? The American Association of Petroleum Geologists, of course.

The consensus among climate scientists—that is, scientists who have actually published peer-reviewed papers on climate science—is overwhelming. But let’s take a cue from the Petroleum Geologists, and look at how the petroleum industry sees the world today. And rather than ask the scientists (who might be biased, right?), let’s ask the money men, the CEOs who stand to lose out if we try to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the people who are most likely to be wary of admitting that global warming is real.

Remember, the oil companies are going to be some of the first businesses hit financially by any serious reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It is absolutely in their best financial interests to pretend that global warming is a myth, and for years they did—but now, even they have conceded that the evidence is too strong to ignore. Think about that for a while.

Maybe you think the change is all because of solar activity? That hypothesis was abandoned by scientists years ago, and a new round of study by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project has been converting even former skeptics:

Although the I.P.C.C. allowed for the possibility that variations in sunlight could have ended the “Little Ice Age,” a period of cooling from the 14th century to about 1850, our data argues strongly that the temperature rise of the past 250 years cannot be attributed to solar changes. […]

How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried.

Note that this was an independent study partly founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, with a multidisciplinary team of scientists including a Nobel prize winner — it wasn’t government funded, and it wasn’t performed just by climate scientists. So the argument that global warming is being hyped up by climate scientists to increase their government grant money no longer stands up either.

Maybe you think scientists are faking the figures anyway for some other reason? You maybe recall the so-called “Climategate” controversy, which led to allegations that data was being systematically manipulated. There was NASA’s correction to its data after finding a bug, which seemed to suggest shenanigans too, right? Well, you might not have heard that the complete source code to the GISTEMP software was released to put an end to the conspiracy theories.

More than that, a team of completely independent software engineers, working for free, then reimplemented the algorithms from the ground up, using a different programming language, and not implementing any data manipulation until they understood what it did, and that it was legitimate. The result? Their code gives exactly the same output. Same graph. Same global warming. Oh, and their code is also open source, and you can download it yourself, read the overview of what the code does, and look at the comments that try to explain clearly what’s going on in each step.

In spite of all this work, there are still people who claim that the data is being manipulated. But then again, there are people who claim that Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim, and that his birth certificate from Hawaii was faked. I think those two claims are about equal in plausibility at this point, as both require some sort of global conspiracy to support them. And it seems that people who refuse to believe in anthropogenic global warming also tend to be the kind of people who believe in other conspiracy theories.

The ccc-GISTEMP project is an example of how science works: people publish their data and explain how they processed it, and other people then examine the work, point out flaws, try to reproduce it, and so on. This brings up the question: Where are all the scientific papers with evidence that global warming is not happening? Sure, there’s a scientific consensus, but that doesn’t stop dissenting opinions from being published.

Or perhaps you think it does? Maybe you feel that scientific evidence against global warming is somehow being suppressed from all the journals? Again, I’m afraid that’s a conspiracy theory quality explanation. In reality, it has never been easier to get dubious claims published in scientific journals. The rate of retractions is at a record high. Even outright doctored data is slipping through the net. Papers challenging consensus aren’t rare in any other field; just look at some of these:

Fact is, scientists love overturning consensus and discovering new things that don’t fit theory. Consider the hunt for the Higgs Boson, where as one paper put it, the nightmare scenario is that the Higgs Boson is discovered—and nothing else is. Scientists want to test exotic and controversial theories like string theory, and if they find any data to support those controversial theories you can be sure it’ll be published. There aren’t any recent papers outlining evidence that no man-made global warming has occurred, simply because nobody can find any evidence to support that conclusion.

So if you’re still a ‘global warming skeptic’ in 2012, you’re pretty much in conspiracy theory land. Even the Flat Earth Society believes in global warming. It is undoubtedly real. It’s almost a certainty that mankind has caused most of the recent change. It’s time to accept that and start asking yourself what we should do in response, especially given that things might be a lot worse than was believed back when it was possible to think nothing was wrong.