Do climate sceptics exist?

June 2016 was the hottest month globally since records began in 1880, and marks the fourteenth record month in a row. For the great majority of people who’ve been following scientific findings on climate, there’s no great surprise there. There is very strong evidence both for the existence of a warming trend due mainly to emissions of carbon dioxide, and for the occurrence of a peak in the El Nino/Southern Oscillation index. Combine the two, and a record high temperature is very likely.

But suppose you were a strongly sceptical person, who required more evidence than others to accept a scientific hypothesis, such as that of of anthropogenic climate change. Presumably, you would treat the evidence of the last couple of years as supporting the hypothesis. Perhaps this supporting evidence would be sufficient that you would regard the hypothesis as confirmed beyond reasonable doubt, perhaps not, but either way, you would be more favorably inclined than before. And, if you were a public commentator, willing to state your views honestly, you would say so.

Does such a sceptic exist? I haven’t seen one, although I follow the debate fairly closely. In fact, in the 25 years or so in which I’ve been following the issue, I can only recall one instance of someone described as a “sceptic” changing their view in the light of the evidence. And of course, his fellow sceptics, who’d been promising that his research would reveal massive errors in the temperature record, immediately decided that he’d never really been one of them. In any case, while Muller was and remains a scientific sceptic, he’s no longer a climate sceptic.

Operationally, it’s clear that the term “climate sceptic” means someone whose criteria for convincing evidence are those set out by the Onion.

I’d be happy to be proved wrong (by counterexample), but as far as I can see, if the ordinary usage of the term “sceptic” is applied, the world population of genuine climate sceptics is zero.

60 thoughts on “Do climate sceptics exist?

  1. @Neil

    Yes, I hold that there is one field of existence; the Cosmos as single, entangled system. This is obviously a Relational Theory taken from the general example of modern physics. All existence is a single, unified system such that the positions and other properties of objects, processes or fields only exist relative to the positions and properties of all other objects, processes or fields. This monistic complex system in turn is found to consist of n complex sub-systems. When we identify any “object” or “process” as some kind of apparently discrete existent, we are really identifying a sub-system of the Monistic or whole system.

    My complex system monism does not assert “no parts”, it asserts connection of all parts in one system. Differentiation and connection can and do exist in a monistic system. Parts or apparently discrete existents, as I asserted above are sub-systems. What then becomes of key importance is the issue of boundaries or interfaces. Interfaces is a better term in some respects. A sub-system retains some differentiation from its surrounding system environment via maintaining a measurably different internal “economy” (need a better word) in terms of matter-energy and information. The boundary or interface is permeable to matter-energy and information transfers.

    I hold that life and consciousness are not special problems relative to what is regarded as inert matter. What separates living systems from non-living systems (and the boundaries are fuzzy of course) are the details of matter-energy and information transfers. In particular, I think there is an importance to the ratio of information transfer relative to matter-energy transfer. One might say life transfers information (using this to effect organisation) in a matter-energy efficient way. Thus a high ratio of information transfer to matter-energy transfer or use is a characteristic of life.

    Mind constructs patterns of “analogic congruence” (Russell called it structural isomorphism) with systems outside itself. It uses these patterns to experimentally and imaginatively manipulate reality economically in terms of matter-energy requirements. The two-way transfer of information (patterns) from mind to exterior-to-mind and the reverse works iterativelt to allow mind to construct an “internal reality” and manipulate “external reality”.

    As I said above, I do not regard mind or even consciousness as special problems. I have no problem with recourse to brute fact non-explanations about existence. Existence is a brute fact. Consciousness within existence or as an aspect of existence is a brute fact. Consciousness is neither more inexplicable nor less inexplicable that all other facts or relations of existence. We would be better off regarding consciousness as a field in the monistic system than propounding that it was of different “substance”. Consciousness certainly shows attributes of a field, associations with electrical activity and so on. As to arguments that we cannot detect consiousness itself (other than self-detecting), I would suggest that the information field of a mind, as its extant emissions of information and patterns through the physical apparatus of the body, is indeed how we detect other minds and consciousness in everyday life.

    With regard to the question “what is the relationship between mental properties and their physical realizers”? I would suggest this. Consistent with complex system monism as above, mental properties and their physical realizers are as interconnected and necessary to each other as say matter-energy and space-time. They are connected co-existents. Any philosophical push for “explanations” and “causes” is essentially pointless and fruitless. There are really no such things as explanations or causes. Explanations get lost in endless regress as Hume pointed out. And explaining becomes explaining away. Likewise with “causes”. So-called causes are really observably dependable laws of relation of process playing out of over time. We cannot discover explanations and causes. We can only discover dependable laws of relation which in themselves turn out to be probabilistic not deterministic. There is something almost of Eastern Philosophy in taking this view of stopping fruitless thought and investigating only that which is existentially accessible and relatable.

    Just a few thoughts I couldn’t help sharing.

  2. @John Mashey

    The “Trump story” I meant was actually Trump himself – the rubes believe he is what he says he is.

    But thanks for the analysis of Salby – not surprising, but informative anyway.

  3. @GrueBleen

    Ahh Trump .. I lived in N NJ 1973-1983, which is essentially a suburb of NYC, so that the NY Times was the main newspaper, and NY TV stations…
    hence, Trump was known.

  4. @Ikonoclast

    Oh, the rest of your life is going to be such fun, Ikono 🙂

    Anyway, when are you going to read Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained so you can then explain it to us all ?

  5. @GrueBleen

    I will be honest. From what I have read so far of Dennett’s work, I don’t think he makes much sense and his writing style is completely unclear. I would contrast that to say George Berkeley, who I don’t agree with in the main but whose propositions and writing style are extraordinarily lucid. Hume is also clear and I happen to agree with a great deal in Hume. Obscurity is acceptable sometimes if the ideas actually are difficult, profound and complex. But a lot of philosophical obscurity is actually woolly ideas and bad writing.

    For a start, if Dennett is really trying to “explain” consciousness he is already on the wrong track in my opinion. Consciousness like existence itself is a brute fact. I suppose it depends on what he means by “explained” in that context. Reputations don’t impress me, especially modern ones. Plenty of people with reputations alive today will be forgotten in short order after they are dead… or even before. Lucid ideas and lucid writing do impress me. I also prefer to attempt nutting things out myself before I go looking too far. Obviously, that is tempered by the need to start with at least some background.

    Everyone who attempts to be a philosopher of some sort is flirting with justified ridicule if they attempt to share their ideas in any manner. I am sure 99.9999% of such people including myself will “suffer” obscurity, ridicule and an utterly pointless life in that regard. So what? A toothache is worse! 🙂

  6. @Ivor

    I think the problem with Tol (I had wondered about correct spelling, too late) is that he tends to use the fact that, so far, attempting to reduce carbon intensity in the face of continuing energy demand growth isn’t bringing down emissions to argue against ongoing attempts to reduce emissions by available means, specifically investment in renewables. That such intensity reduction, both by commitments and by achievements has been deeply inadequate doesn’t alter the fact that it is a key element of a pathway towards zero emissions. Suggesting means that are not available or are, for various reasons, unacceptable or unachievable in the mouths of those dedicated to finding cause to not commit, becomes what I think of as tactical raising of a bar too high in order to create a barrier to ongoing progress. This can also be thought of as using perfect as the enemy of good enough – or of perfect as the enemy of barely adequate or just of just slowing the rate of descent towards much worse.

    I would say that renewables have only just recently passed the significant price points that encourage their mass expansion towards the scales necessary to make a real difference; any analyses that project their future impacts based on what they cost and achieved in the past are going to be in serious error.

  7. @Ikonoclast

    Your points re Dennett are taken as … what’s the term ? Obiter dictum ? Or perhaps, as Stephen Crane once remarked:

    A man said to the universe:
    “Sir I exist!”
    “However,” replied the universe,
    “The fact has not created in me
    A sense of obligation.”

    Nonetheless, I found Dan’s ‘Consciousness Explained’ a good read and full of ‘incidentals’ that made it worthwhile even though he didn’t, IMNSHO, “explain” it at all. But he tried real hard 🙂

    As to the rest of your life: ridicule is a state of somebody else’s mind – it implies no obligation in me to either recognize or acknowledge it.

  8. @Ken Fabian

    Yes, I suppose so. Humanity would benefit hugely from both “good enough” and “barely adequate” means to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

    The Keeling Curve demonstrates that this an urgent present problem that is only getting worse.

  9. I have never really understood the position of climate change sceptics with respect to reducing co2 emissions.

    Let’s assume that the climate change sceptics are right but we have taken steps to reduce c02 emissions what is the economic and social downside? A small reduction in per capita GDP perhaps and the earlier demise of our coal industry which is destined to decline anyway as alternative energies will inevitably become cheaper coupled with a general improvement in our environment. No big deal.

    On the other hand if we assume that the scientists are correct in their forecasts of global warming and the causes what is the potential economic and social downside if we ( all nations) do nothing.
    Nothing less than complete economic collapse, social disruption on an unprecedented scale, massive movements in population and irreparable environmental damage on a scale not seen in human history.

    As far as decisions go this really is a no brainer.

  10. This is an interesting idea from Frank Jotzo and colleagues re brown coal power stations in Victoria.

    “This is how Jotzo’s idea would work. There are four stations owned by three companies. Each would bid competitively on how much money they would accept to shut down straight away. The federal regulator would have a look at the bids, and choose the most cost effective one. The remaining power stations would pay the winning bidder to shut. There is a brilliance to it – the owners know that at some point several of them will close, but no one wants to be first because it would leave the others to make more profit.

    “You can expect that Hazelwood would put in a very competitive bid under that scenario because it is the oldest plant and would have a relatively low remaining lifetime,” says Jotzo. It couldn’t ask for too much money or it might be beaten by another bidder. “It’s not meant as a cure-all or even a medium to long-term policy mechanism. It’s meant as a short-term approach to a very particular short term problem.”” – Guardian.

    This sounds like a sound idea to me IF all stations are fully privately owned.

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