A question for AGW “skeptics”

For better or worse, I have spent quite a bit of time arguing with “humans are causing global warming and it’s a bad thing” deniers/skeptics on the internet. I don’t expect I will ever change their minds, in fact I am increasingly sure that I can’t change their minds, but it’s interesting to have a discussion and see where their objections lie. Then I know more for the next one I meet, and I might be able to convince a couple more observers, who I think are the main candidates for having their minds changed.

For the record, I accept that human emissions of CO2 are changing the climate and that this is a bad thing. I don’t ‘believe’ this. You don’t need to believe in things that can be measured.

Something interesting has emerged from these discussions: I think I have found the denier’s kyptonite.

In all of these discussions, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating to suggest there have been more than a hundred, none of them have even offered a sliver of an answer to the following question:

If the globe was warming due to human actions, what would evidence of it look like?

No one has ever attempted to answer this question. Some have said “well I can tell you what it doesn’t look like” and “the world hasn’t warmed in 15 years” but never has there been an honest attempt to describe something which constitutes evidence that humans are causing the climate to change.

It is incredible that people so well versed in science that they can disregard the vast bulk of scientific work on a topic can’t answer this question. They can describe in great detail why any given piece of evidence isn’t evidence of climate change, but not what would be. This is the very essence of both science and skepticism; once you know a theory you know what will break it and you look for it, constantly.

I am not overly surprised, the skeptics I have debated don’t usually answer any questions at all. I suspect this is because on some level they know that once they offer a position on something they can be disproven, and that’s dangerous territory. Much better to make wild accusations and ask questions, and then you can never be wrong.

I’m not sure what to do with this information; it’s not going to change the politics or the difficulty of achieving global agreement on emissions limits. But I think it indicates a strategy. What if rather than people like Andrew Bolt getting away with nonsense such as “the world hasn’t warmed in 15 years” someone replied with “great point Andrew. You seem to know an awful lot about global warming, what do you think evidence supporting the theory would look like if it were occurring?”

Let’s start asking, not answering, questions from the skeptics among us. They know SO MUCH, and we should try and learn from them.

Assuming of course they have anything to offer.



About evcricket

Extreme gardener, engineer and bird nerd.
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6 Responses to A question for AGW “skeptics”

  1. George says:

    Actually the question is two parts hypothetical
    If the world is warming (and if) due to man made activities. So to answer both posits need to be true. but measured temperatures have not increased in 18 yrs. despite steady increase in CO2.
    Answer there would need to be a temperature rise and a strong correlation between temperature rise and AGHG generation – so far lacking
    Fire up the barbie

  2. Pascal Klein says:

    I am fond of this discursive technique in dealing with naysayers of all varieties — something I should use more in fact.

    There is really only one source of contention I have with the thoughts above, and that rests in a value judgement, which I feel many of us having different responses to:

    > For the record, I accept that human emissions of CO2 are changing the climate and that this is *a bad thing*. I don’t ‘believe’ this. You don’t need to believe in things that can be measured.

    You locate this as an epistemological concern which is to be governed by rigorous empiricism, a la measuring things. The measurability of something along a set of planes and scales we have devised do not in themselves constitute a reason for me to believe in the result of any measurement — we have created many systems with which we measure things and conclude complete fabrications. That said, more specifically I’m interested in the value judgement just prior: a “bad thing” in what sense, according to what values, and, crucially, for whom? I wish to nuance these judgements — I don’t mean suggest any judgement goes and thus slip into normative moral relativism, or even a purely descriptive one; while these judgements differ they can nonetheless be ranked in some form (heck, it’s impossible for us not to; it is similarly impossible to do so in some purely disconnected, disassociated ‘objective fashion’). For me this “bad thing” can only measured insofar as we have defined it — definitions which differ wildly across histories, cultures, and populations today. ‘Power’ plays a huge role here — those with certain investments (meant loosely, e.g. the investment of my habitat, food, technologies, …) will probably emphasise important things of that investment (value judgement) differently to others with different “investments”.

    George Carlin’s “Save the Planet” skit for me makes this point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W33HRc1A6c

  3. Yeah, avoiding offering their view of what it would look like would certainly make them open to being disproven.

    In the circles of anti-wind groups, they’d been criticising ‘literature reviews’ of the evidence, such as the work of the National Health and Medical Research Council, and demanding real-life, empirical research be done.

    Of course, when noise measurements are taken, and they come up negative, the response is anger and conspiracy theories:

    So, presumably, they’d learn from climate skeptics – have you seen Joanne Nova’s ‘handbook’ for climate sceptics? Have some screenshots and discussion on mah blogue:

  4. Sean says:

    Any claim on knowledge that isn’t open to the possibility of being wrong, is simply dogma, and unless it is entertaining has no value.

    It’s a good question, and IF the denier types had any insight they would be able to answer it .

  5. You’ve distilled this for me further here evcricket. I’m using this constantly now and suggest that it is indeed a very effective ‘stop’ to the ranting nonsense one gets.

    I find that you must plant a question like this with deniers. The less ‘hardened’ ones come back days later saying they’re still thinking. Always a good sign that you’ve triggered some deeper thought processes.

    I use the same concept with supply-side neo-con Tea-Party financial illiterates as well; “what is the economy FOR?” (Thanks to Christine Milne actually).

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