Big Oil and the Demise of Crude Climate Change Denial

Originally posted at Skeptical Science

From 1989 to 2002, several large US companies, including the oil companies Exxon and the US subsidiaries of Shell and BP, sponsored a lobbying organisation called the Global ClimateCoalition (GCC), to counter the strengthening consensus that human carbon dioxide emissions posed a serious threat to the Earth’s climate. As has been documented by Hoggan and Littlemore and Oreskes and Conway, the GCC and its fellow travellers took a leaf out of the tobacco industry’s playbook and attempted to counter the message of peer-reviewed science by deliberately sowing doubt through emphasizing uncertainties and unknowns. The climatescientist Benjamin Santer accused the GCC of deliberately suppressing scientific information that supported the IPCC consensus.

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The Continuing Denial of the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

Originally posted at Skeptical Science

One of the perennial Skeptical Science top ten climate myths is “There is no consensus” (currently at number 4 in popularity). Consensus means the elements of knowledge that research scientists tend not to discuss or actively investigate any more. Consensus is the stuff that fills textbooks and is the established knowledge that teachers try to cram into high school and undergraduate students’ heads. It doesn’t mean an impregnable bastion of knowledge—there are many well-known examples of consensus-changing revolutions in the history of science—and even school textbooks have to get updated every now and then.

Consensus doesn’t mean unanimity, either. There is always a minority of gadfly scientists who decide to take on the consensus: scientists who challenge the biotic origin of oil or medical researchers who doubt HIV as a cause of AIDS. In such cases, the contrarian scientists don’t typically deny the existence of the consensus; they just think that the content of it is wrong.

Nor does consensus mean that everybody is happy with every single element that others believe to be settled. Consensus in any field has a hard core but fuzzy edges.

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Scientific literacy and polarization on climate change

Originally posted at Skeptical Science

It is not news that people are polarized over their assessment of the risks posed by climate change. But is it true that the most polarized people are those who are more scientifically literate? Counter-intuitive though it may seem, the answer is: Yes, it is. This is the result of a recent article by Dan Kahan and six colleagues in Nature Climate Change (henceforth, the Kahan Study).  This study has received a lot of attention, with blog articles, for example in The EconomistMother Jones and by David Roberts at Grist.

At Skeptical Science, our goal is to debunk false arguments and explain the science behindclimate change. In the light of this peer-reviewed research, we have to ask ourselves: if we are striving to increase scientific literacy, won’t we just be making the polarization that exists aroundclimate change worse?  We will come back to that question at the end of this piece, but first, we’ll look in some detail at the Kahan Study itself.

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Alberta’s bitumen sands: “negligible” climate effects, or the “biggest carbon bomb on the planet”?

Originally posted at Skeptical Science

  • The climate effects of bitumen development are significant once viewed in the perspective of probable emissions over the rest of this century.
  • The climate impact of coal consumption is greater than that of bitumen, particularly when non-mineable coal is considered.
  • Accelerated expansion of bitumen extraction will make climate mitigation efforts much more difficult.
  • Because of its high carbon emissions and high extraction costs, further bitumen development would not be viable if stringent global emissions policies were adopted.

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Changing Climates, Changing Minds: The Great Stink of London

Originally posted at Skeptical Science

Effective action for solving Victorian London’s sewage crisis was put off for decades, due to chaotic governance, concerns about financing, the interference of vested interests and the complacency and inertia of central government. Once the ill effects appeared underneath the politicians’ noses, a lasting solution was quickly deployed. The modern challenge of finding the political will to deal with climate change is analogous, although there are additional factors that make fixing the climate problem much more difficult.

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Changing Climates, Changing Minds: The Personal

Originally published at Skeptical Science

Nobody comes into this world with a fully-formed opinion on anthropogenic climate change. As we learn about it, we change our minds. Sometimes, changing your mind can be easy and quick; sometimes it’s hard and slow. This is an anecdotal and subjective account of the author’s changes of mind.

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World Energy Outlook 2011: “The door to 2°C is closing”

Originally posted at Skeptical Science

If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re heading

These words come from the Executive Summary of the World Energy Outlook 2011 (WEO11), just published by the International Energy Agency(IEA). The study incorporates the most recent data on global energy trends and policies, and investigates the economic and environmental consequences of three scenarios over the 2010 to 2035 time period. This is an important document that should be widely read but, unfortunately, the full report costs €120 for a single-user 650-page pdf.  Some key graphs and fact sheets are provided for free.

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The Ridley Riddle Part One: The Red Queen

Originally posted at Skeptical Science on 30 July 2011

This is a three-part series on science writer, businessman and climate contrarian Matt Ridley. The first section looks at his science books and is critical of his latest book, The Rational Optimist; the second scrutinizes one of his blog posts on climate change and shows that his avowed lukewarmer stance is built on shaky scientific foundations; the final part examines Ridley’s history as a businessman, drawing parallels between his role in the credit crunch and his approach to climate change.

Sometimes, it’s easy to dismiss climate change contrarians as being a little slow when it comes to truly understanding science, but it’s not possible to do that with Matt Ridley, who has a well-earned reputation as a first-class science writer.  He is on the Academic Advisory Council of the contrarian Global Warming Policy Foundation, along with Robert CarterWilliam HapperRichard Lindzen, and Ian Plimer. As well as being the author of several excellent science books, he’s a journalist, a businessman, and has a D.Phil. in Zoology from Oxford. And he runs a blog that, among other things, takes a skeptical stance on the mainstream science of climate change.

Why such a talented science writer should have come to reject the scientific consensus on climate change is the Ridley Riddle that this series of posts will attempt to answer.

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The Ridley Riddle Part Two: The White Queen

Originally posted at Skeptical Science

In 2010, David MacKay wrote a letter to Matt Ridley in response to an op-ed article by Ridley published in The Times. MacKay’s letter and Ridley’s reply to it are both posted on the Ridley’s Rational Optimist blog. In this article, I am going to focus on Ridley’s reply, not because it is a particularly interesting or original addition to the skeptical canon, but because I believe it is revealing about the mindset of a climate contrarian.

David MacKay is a physicist but not a climate scientist. He is the author of the book Sustainable energy – without the hot air, which examines the daunting challenge that the United Kingdom faces in decarbonizing its energy supply. It’s a must-read, entertainingly written, easy-to-understand work, and can be downloaded for free.  MacKay was appointed in 2009 to be Chief Scientist at Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. His letter to Ridley raises points that will be familiar to regular readers of Skeptical Science; he cites recent evidence of climate change and discusses the analogue of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and the central question of the likely range of climate sensitivity. MacKay also mentions that his personal and professional contact with climate scientists bears no relation to the way they are often negatively depicted on contrarian blogs.

There are three main elements of Ridley’s reply that I want to focus on in this article but, first, I’ll simply list in point form some of the other arguments that comprised the rest of Ridley’s Gish Gallop, along with rebuttal links and brief comments.

Giddy-Up  

  • Warming Island. See Andrew Revkin’s Dot Earth article for a good review and anSkS blogpost.
  • Speleothem temperature records (from Watts Up With That).  A rough and ready analysis by Willis Eschenbach that shows that some temperatures over the past 10,000 years were hotter than today. Whether reliable or not, these results are consistent with mainstream science, as reported by the IPCC AR4.

Regional temperature variations from pre-industrial levels plotted against latitude and time before present. IPCC Continue reading

The Ridley Riddle Part Three: Like a Northern Rock

Originally posted on 12 August 2011 at Skeptical Science

This article will look at Matt Ridley’s involvement in the collapse of the British bank, Northern Rock, in 2007. I am not the first to attempt to link this business disaster with with his views on climate change; George Monbiot wrote an articleThe Man Who Wants to Northern Rock the Planet, remarking, among other things, on the contradiction between Ridley’s small-government libertarianism and his begging the Treasury for a bail out of his company.

The rise and fall of Northern Rock

Matt Ridley was the non-executive Chairman of Northern Rock, a British bank that, in 2007, was the first in over a century and a half to experience a run on its deposits. British banks had all survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the end of the British Empire, until Northern Rock failed. Ridley had served on the Northern Rock board of directors since 1994 and was appointed Chairman in 2004. A previous Chairman of the bank was his father, Viscount Matthew Ridley.

Northern Rock’s depositors responding rationally but not optimistically to market signals.Source

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