Denial in a nutshell.

The late Stephen Schneider discusses the nature of the “debate” about climate change. This video speaks for itself.



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Filed under Climate Change

38 responses to “Denial in a nutshell.

  1. This video speaks for itself” – Since about 1930, I thought they all did that? :-)

    • You know, I was thinking something like that just after I posted. By then it was too late and I couldn’t be bothered changing it. I might start a new category under which to file it. How about “Captain Obvious”?

  2. OK, serious comment this time: I was going to ask when did Schneider die, but the video eventually answered that one – it was 2010. That being the case, I am a little surprised by his dismissal of “no cause for alarm” and “end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it” as being equally improbable.

    The former is the assertion of Richard Lindzen (whose position is that of the conspiracy theorists), whereas the latter is the assertion of James Hansen (who says the runaway greenhouse effect [TRGE] is a “dead certainty” if we proceed to burn all the Earth’s fossil fuels simply because they are there)… Hansen’s position is now endorsed by all sorts of people and organisations, including physicist Richard Muller, economist William Nordhaus, the International Energy Agency, the US Dept of Defense, and the Communist Party of China (i.e. all say costs of inaction will increase exponentially the longer we delay attempting to prevent TRGE).

    However, what few apart from Hansen seem willing to articulate is the consequences of TRGE, which could mean no terrestrial ice left on Earth in 200 years time and no water within 500 years time. That sure sounds like the end of the world as we know it to me… Unfortunately, as with everything else, denying the reality of positive feedback mechanisms, exponential decay of ice volume, and exponential acceleration of sea level, does not make any of them less likely to be already happening.

    • Schneider was always very careful with his choice of language but I think he was very conservative by nature in terms of his assessments. It’s likely in this instance that the thought that we could completely exhaust all fossil fuel supplies was inconceivable. That said, I think his approach is the right one. The message needs to be that it is extremely serious, because it is but also that there is hope. Telling people that the TRGE is certain could have a negative effect on action. If people feel that its a hopeless situation, they won’t act and some will become hostile out of wilful ignorance.

      • I agree. So does Hansen. However, he (and many others) think that we are now very, very close to the tipping point beyond which change becomes irreversible. We are certainly already beyond the point at which the very obvious changes that have occurred in the last 100 years will already take 10, 100 or even 1000 times longer to rectify (e.g. the loss of ice volume in the Himalayas). Even the highly-conservative Geological Society of London has gone on record to say that what humanity is doing to the planet may have effects that will last 100s of thousands of years.

        • Yep, without a doubt. When people talk about runaway warming though I picture Venus and I just can’t see that happening. What we do today may very well seal our fate as a species, along with many others but I just can’t picture Venus on Earth.

      • I know it seems almost inconceivable; and I was very surprised to see this scenario stated as the consequence of failing to stop TRGE establishing itself (i.e. in the final chapter of Storms of my Grandchildren)… However, given that it was this concern that prompted Hansen to switch his focus from Venus to Earth over 35 years ago, if you or I start second-guessing him on this point, we are no better than those who accuse him of peddling nonsense for personal financial gain (and/or having gone insane).

        For the record, I have spent quite a few posts summarising the message of Hansen’s book; and eventually got it down to 100 words:

        The message of Hansen’s book is so unpalatable that denial is an understandable response but… To dismiss the message merely because it is considered too extreme is to invoke the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas:

        • Don’t get me wrong Martin. I’m not advocating anything other than “assume the worst”. To do otherwise is folly. I’m merely commenting on my personal take on what I have read and heard. And it’s from people like Hansen, Alley, Santer, and Schneider. Personally I feel that, hypothetically speaking of course, that even if all the nutjobs were right and there was no warming (end of hypothetical), our very presence has altered this world permanently and for the worst, in that just through our plague-like presence we have caused so many extinctions and caused so much damage. Now, add in the warming we have created and the damage is now irreversible and this message needs to be shouted from the rooftops. The problem still remains though that telling people the end of the world is inevitable, will invoke strong emotions and could actually convince people who might be in the middle ground to jump ship to the wilfully ignorant side and so choose to do nothing because that is the easy option. Humans on the whole are inherently lazy when it comes to choosing between doing what’s right and doing what’s easy. Also the marketplace of ideas actually gains ground when the worst-case scenario is offered up. It actually gives the morons on the right ammunition to throw at the centre to convince them that “those crazy alarmists…….” simply because to the average Joe Bloggs on the street, Venus is inconcievable, and that is not through any fault of his own. It is a product of poor science education combined with human nature. Crikey, I am a scientist and its almost inconceivable to me. I wish someone could just click their fingers and suddenly “poof” global awareness and a desire to act but unfortunately people need to learn to walk before they can run. As I’ve said previously it’s going to take something spectacular to shake sense into people and that will be in the middle of this decade when August ice volume in the arctic is zero. Maybe then the masses will start to be concerned and act.
          Now, for once I have reread what I’ve written and I’ll make a bet with you. A special visitor to my blog with a bee in his bonnet about me will quotemine this entry and paste it in his blog. What shall the wager be?

      • I am not a betting man but… the person in question seems to have a much more irrational insect under his hat regarding your supposedly-suspicious anonymity (which he is conveniently ignoring that you have explained in full)…

        On the subject of the Arctic sea ice being gone within the current decade, I agree with you but, I doubt the mockery and denial will actually then cease but, there I go again being a pessimist…

  3. klem

    Yea, after 250 years of continuously emitting carbon into the atmosphere we have bumped the CO2 concentration to .039 percent. Thats an increase of about 50% over what it was 250 years ago. The atmosphere of Venus has about 95% CO2, that’s over 2400 times higher that earth’s. I think we have some time yet.

    • Timescale is not the important question, Klem. The improtant questions are, is it happening, does it matter, and should we alter our behaviour to try and stop it. Personally speaking, I don’t have to think very hard before answering any of those questions. How about you? If you’re struggling, try this additional question, as posed by me on Climate Denial Crock of the Week yesterday…
      Which is more likely to be responsible for changes in the Earth’s climate that have clearly occurred over the last 50 years:-
      A: a 0.25% increase in total solar irradiance?
      B: a 4% increase in average atmospheric moisture content?
      C: a 40% increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration since 1850?

  4. john byatt

    You would still have to put a hell of a lot more CO2 into the atmosphere after the global temperature reached 3DegC to create a runaway venus syndrome, that is all the worlds oceans boiled off. we just could not be that stupid, could we

    runaway is generally meant to be emissions over which we have no control, eg melting permafrost, more emissions, more warming, more melting, more emissions, we lose control, our own emission abatement would then be useless.

    we will never know if the planet ever got to a point where venus syndrome became reality, we would all be well and truly extinct from the earlier effects

    • Consider this, John: In the last 10 years, we have gone from thinking that Arctic sea ice would last 100 years to thinking it may not last 10 years. This is because, like many other things subject to positive feedback loops, the change is very non-linear. It may seem improbable but are you going to argue with James Hansen (or do you want to agree with the fake skeptics that he is insane, craven, or mendacious)? Please forgive me being so blunt but, what other choice is there?

      To fully appreciate what humanity has done to this planet, we need to stop looking at Keeling Curve style graphs (with an x-axis at 1950 and a y-axis at 280ppm) and view one with an x-axis at 1000 and a y-axis at 0ppm. Thankfully, David MacKay has done this for us:

  5. john byatt

    When we talk of the loss of arctic ice from models, most models are predicting seasonal loss by 2040 and total loss by 2100, this should not be confused with an expected one day or one week minimum sea ice record of zero in the next decade, different scenarios, models do not try to predict which year we may have that one day zero record

    rather than go into a long confusing comment about Hansen, whom i admire , here is a thread on Realclimate discussing Hansen’s Venus syndrome.

    • John. Thank you so much for the link to the Real Climate discussion on Hansen’s assertion that all ice could melt in 200 years and all water in 500 years. I find it hard to believe that Hansen would be so stupid as to publish his views if they were not defensible on the basis of well understood physics (as our atmosphere will probably never get like Venus because of the lower levels of volcanic activity here)… I will read it with interest.

      • john byatt

        No not stupid, but it was a lecture and a book chapter I believe, Hansen may put it in a paper when he has more understanding, melting the antarctic ice sheets in 200 years may even be possible for all i know but there will be no one left to document it

        • 75 metre sea-level rise and +6 Celsius kills everybody…? 100s of millions dead or forced to migrate, societal collapse, and unintended ecocide – undoubtedly!… But no-one left to document it – now you’re the one that is exaggerating!

        • If 6 C rise is sufficient to wipe-out humanity, why is anyone arguing about whether or not Venus syndrome is probable or not?

          We have pretty much guaranteed our own extinction: Even the International Energy Agency accepts we are currently on track for 3.5 C rise; and our governments show no signs of wanting to phase-out fossil fuel use so, even if the oceans are not going to boil away… we would appear to be consigning ourselves to history.

      • john byatt

        We have reached agreement Martin,

  6. john byatt

    Hansen is smart but that does not mean that we accept everything, We will kill ourselves off with a lot less CO2 than required for a runaway venus syndrome

    Chris Colose at 06:02 AM on 27 February, 2012

    Hansen’s argument for why a runaway might occur is extremely unconvincing, nor do I really think he understands how a runaway greenhouse operates. The physics outlined in this post rules out a water vapor runaway because there simply isn’t enough sunlight to sustain such a situation, as has also been outlined in a number of articles on the subject (see some older papers by James Kasting for example, or Selsis et al 2007, as well as Ray Pierrehumbert’s new climate book). Clouds could, in principle, change that argument but if the Earth were relatively prone to a runaway greenhouse effect, it is very likely it would have occurred in many hothouse climates of the distant past, even with a slightly fainter sun during many of these intervals. Even CO2/CH4 feedbacks don’t fundamentally alter that picture, because in the runaway limit the OLR is determined primarily by water vapor and clouds.

    That said, the fact that a runaway greenhouse couldn’t occur is really a distraction from the point that climate sensitivity could be 3 or 4 C per doubling of CO2 (or even higher on longer timescales), and we are more than capable of tripling or quadrupling CO2 levels.

  7. Mike, I am not sure where all the above leaves you and your argument that “we must not alarm people because they must not give up hope”. Therefore, although it is an argument with extremely good provenance (i.e. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” Proverbs 29:18a [King James Version of the Bible, circa 1611]), I find it hard to keep faith with it myself.

    • That’s not quite what I’m saying…it’s more..nevermind. If you feel like giving up, try and look at it like a sport or a hobby. Educating people.. Often its a contact sport where your forehead has to wear the brunt of it but occasionally you get a win. It’s like therapy for me.

      • Therapy? I don’t know how this can be therapeutic. The only good thing about banging your head against a brick wall is that it feels good when you stop doing it. I find it completely draining and/or demoralising but, I suspect the problem is my evangelical Christian background… I refuse to accept that anyone is beyond salvation; anyone can be helped to see the light… In my undergraduate days I used to deliberately seek out members of the Socialist Worker’s Party and take great delight in getting them to admit that the only reason they did not believe in God is that they had made an a priori decision that he did not exist (and were therefore refusing to consider any evidence that suggested otherwise)… I did not know it then but, I now know this to be cognitive dissonance – the primary cause of climate change denial: They don’t want it to be true, therefore it cannot be true; and anyone who says it is true must be a liar.

  8. john byatt

    Never give up trying to get the science out there, I cop huge flak from the deniers, claims of alarmist, bully, ridiculing people, misrepresentation etc on a nearly weekly basis.

    They first claimed that no one could or would debate them.

    I obliged, they then went on to claim that they were being misrepresented, so i then quoted the part of their letter that I wanted to address, they offer three hundred words with about ten different claims, you address one part, so they then claim that you are unable to address the other parts,. they try to get you into a tit for tat encounter. there is so much interesting information you can use to write a letter that people will read, without getting into stuff that is way over the heads of the general public. You have to be careful that you do not end up reinforcing the deniers claim, so I only use a brief reference. You need to reread and have someone else read, to understand what the take away message is,

    We can only try , feedback tells me that I am having a positive effect, blogs are good, especially for chasing up information, the real action however is in hard copy media.


    • I like to copy and paste a paragraph they have written into google and see where they’ve got it from because inevitably they haven’t done their own thinking. If that’s the case I then ask a pointed related question to test their knowledge. 9 times out of 10 they deflect, change the subject go on the attack or whatever. That’s a beautiful thing. It says to me and anyone reading, “I don’t know what I’m talking about.” If I’m not poking holes in the knowledge mask they try to put on, I try to catch them out lying. But for me, its not even about the person I’m exchanging with, because insanity can rarely be cured. It’s about anyone else who might be reading who is a little unsure. If I can demonstrate that the deniers are full of shit and mentally deficient, then maybe those with a bit of intelligence who are reading, will see that as well, and get on board so that we can start to move forward and do what needs to be done.

  9. john byatt

    Yes Mike, found this out with Dr weston allen , he would quote and then reference a paper but the quote always came from NIPCC.
    Another cockup they make is talking of negative feedbacks, to most people negative is bad, I never write of positive feedbacks, always feedbacks that put more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere and further increase the global temperature.
    Having the reader in mind rather than the debater is an excellent point, they often, like Cohenite go on with stuff that is way above the readers head to try to make themselves appear as understanding what they are talking about.

    I laugh when they go on about he said, she said stuff, A classic example was a claimed quote from Mojib latiff. put that into google and Mojib said that the quote was not his, You can then use this as an example of shoddy research and gullibility, another example is their claimed flannery quotes.
    I simple reply with the full quote and ask them why THEY changed it ? make them responsible for the crap they spread . We had one gentleman going on for weeks about a CSIRO paper that was written by a corrupt scientist,
    It took him about four letters till i could track down who he was talking about, forget the guys name but I emailed him with a copy of the letter,

    he replied the next day, have not heard from that denier since, took a bit of a thrashing,