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Disproving the Six Main Arguments Against Climate Change
The Global Warming Myth
The debate over global warming keeps getting sillier. As usual, to hear those who are less than convinced by the actual evidence for global warming and the resulting climate change, one would conclude the following gems;
(1), Al Gore always reveals the extent of his own alarmism.
(2), A ship of fools gets trapped in Antarctic sea ice trying to prove global warming.
(3), Sea ice in the Antarctic and Greenland is expanding.
(4), Surface temperatures are decreasing, invalidating the theory of global warming.
(5), It is hubris to believe that humans have such a vast impact on the natural world. And finally;
(6), There is still NO scientific consensus on global warming or climate change.
There are, of course, other criticisms, counter-arguments and verbal assaults upon the integrity of climate scientists, and most of those who attempt to argue in favor of the science have encountered innumerable bizarre claims. But, as far as I have been able to gather, the list above represents some of the most basic anti-climate rhetoric from 2013. In this article, I will address each of these claims, and I will explain the science that ultimately disproves them (in the case of 3, 4 and 5).
Al Gore Freezing
Claim 1: Al Gore, the Right, and alarmism
Al Gore is easy to caricature. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank once wrote that "Gore is usually smart and sometimes prophetic -- but, all too frequently, pedantic." In 2000, he wrote that "Gore is cold. Gore is stiff. Gore is pretentious." This assessment of Gore's character, according to Paul McLeary in Al Gore's press problem, has come to set the News Media's perception of Gore. At any rate, skeptics are united in their disdain for Gore. There are more than a few examples to prove the point;
- "Gore seems to be drowning in a sea of his own global warming illusions. Nevertheless, he's desperately trying to keep global warming alarmism alive today," said Senator James Inhofe, as he stood lambasting Gore in his routine "climate change is a hoax" presentation. This particular event was notable for the fact that Inhofe had brought along an enlarged cover of The Weekly Standard, which had printed a cartoon version of a nude Al Gore.
- The skeptic blog Right Side News wrote that "What the United States and Canada are experiencing right now is making global warming alarmists such as Al Gore look quite foolish." The post then went on to list Al Gore's "stupidest global warming quotes" (sic).
- "In August 2006, the Wall Street Journal revealed that a YouTube video lampooning Gore and the movie, titled Al Gore's Penguin Army, appeared to be "astroturfing" by DCI Group, a Washington public relations firm." Source, Wikipedia, "An Inconvenient Truth."
Google "Al Gore," and one is likely to be exposed to a whole lot of unhealthy images of the former Vice President. And, of course, criticism, very little of it based upon any sound knowledge of scientific fact. Right Side News, for example, makes the age old skeptic mistake of conflating a weather event, i.e, extremely cold weather, with climate change. Gore is the subject of so much ridicule because of the fact that, having been a former Vice President, and the Democratic nominee for President in 2000, he is already a politically divisive figure. Those on the Right largely project their already preexisting opinions of Gore onto his environmental crusade. Granted, much of Gore's activities merit criticism. The man flies around the entire planet on a private jet to warn about the dangers of too much carbon pollution! An Internet event would be more elegant, would it not?
Still, the political Right has a tendency to reveal their extremism when attacking Gore. After all, who can argue that placing a nude cartoon of Gore in a presentation before the Senate, as Inhofe did, is not extremism? Furthermore, one wonders about the mindset of the people who allowed the picture to be placed on The Weekly Standard. Al Gore has been the recipient of scores of ad hominem, well poisoning attacks, and all of them have emanated from the Right. This is a classic case of the skeptics collectively attacking the messenger.
All aboard the Ship of Fools!
Claim 2: The Ship of Fools
Next on the list is the recent story of the Akademik Shokalskiy, the Russian icebreaker that, with its group of 52 climate scientists and a number of passengers, was stranded on Antarctic sea ice. The expedition had been intended to recreate the the Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's voyage to Antarctica in the early 20th century. Instead of recreating the historic quest, however, the ship got stranded. Part of the scientific expedition had been meant to determine the amount of ice melt in Antarctica, if there was any to be found. The Australian Arctic Expedition found itself saying "We got stuck in our own experiment."
Naturally, the skeptics had a belly-laugh at the expedition's expense. Fox News ran an online article about the event, 'Stuck in our own experiment'. (It likely ran coverage of the event on air, but that coverage would have been about as objective.) To the skeptics, the whole affair seemed to be the height of irony. Climate scientists getting stuck on ice? No wonder it seemed amusing to those who dismiss global warming as "alarmism." Many have taken to calling this the "ship of fools" incident.
What seems to have been lost among all the Right wing gloating over the incident is this; it is cold in Antarctica. The southern continent is the coldest place on Earth, and nowhere on the landmass do temperatures ever climb to above 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Any icebreaker could potentially end up stuck on ice while in the Southern Ocean. The presence of sea ice on either of the polls does not, in and of itself, disprove the theory of global warming. The scientists were hoping to add to the worlds knowledge about ice, and to the ice sheets role in the global climate. A ship this may have been, but the people on it were no fools.
And, yet again, here is another example of the skeptic strategy of attacking the messenger. It was only unfortunate that, through what could be called a comedy of errors, the whole thing was so easy for them.
Claim 3: Sea Ice is Expanding
Skeptics have been using the "sea ice is expanding" claim for a while. Is there any truth to it? In 2012, skeptic Steven Goddard wrote a post about the question. As the Greenland ice sheet decreased at rapid and record breaking levels, leading many to predict that the North Pole would be ice free during the summer months by as early as 2030, Goddard provided information showing that Antarctic sea ice had grown significantly. Goddard postulated that the Antarctic sea ice was growing to compensate for the loss of ice in the North. Using the National Snow & Ice Data Center's (NSIDC) results against them, Goddard wrote "Antarctic and Arctic ice move opposite each other. NSIDC's dissonance about this is astonishing."
The NSIDC did not appear to be astonished about anything, at least, not by anything related to either the Arctic or Antarctic ice sheets. Mark Serreze, the director of the NSIDC, said "Antarctic sea ice hasn't seen these big reductions we've seen in the Arctic. This is not a surprise to us. Some of the skeptics say 'Well, everything is OK because the big changes in the Arctic are essentially balanced by what's happening in the Antarctic.' This is simply not true."
It does, however, beg the question; what is going on with sea ice? Ever since 2013, Arctic sea ice has been making somewhat of a comeback. The Greenland ice sheet recovered its expanse throughout the winter of 2012, and the rate of Arctic decline was lower than the record shattering levels seen in 2012. The answer is simple.
As anyone knows, it gets cold in winter, unless one lives in the tropics. In the Arctic and Antarctic, it gets even colder still. Another astonishing revelation of science is that water freezes. Which accounts for the expanse of sea ice. In the summer months, sea ice in the Arctic tends to melt, as do the glaciers that make up the ice sheet, to a certain extent. When winter arrives, the melted ice refreezes. Such is the nature of sea ice. The Arctic Ocean, which is surrounded by land, responds more directly to changes in the temperature of the air and the sea than Antarctica. Antarctica, meanwhile, is affected by wind and ocean currents, possibly vulnerable to its own climate.
When these facts are taken into account, the skeptic's arguments fall flat.
Claim 4: Surface Temperatures Disprove Global Warming
Often, one hears, or reads online or in newspapers, that the recent "pause" in surface temperature increases disproves global warming. It does not. In point of fact, the recent pause in surface temperatures is fairly well understood by climate scientists.
Climate.gov presented an article in 2013 about the differences in surface temperature in the United States during the month of March, in the years 2012 and 2013. The two years provided a "stark contrast"; March 2012 was breaking heat indexes all over the U.S, while March 2013 was much cooler than average. In fact, spring was much too late for my own taste in 2013. And, despite the fact that 10 of the hottest 14 years in recorded history (that is, since any formal records have been taken of temperature averages) have occurred between 2000 and 2012, with each successive year being hotter than the year before, surface temperatures have generally remained flat.
This discrepancy has allowed the skeptics to get away with a lot, because in this one case, they ask a sensible question; where has all the heat gone? Climate scientists have the answer.
The oceans are a natural candidate for hiding all of that missing heat. Oceans are quite responsive to heat, seen in part by sea level rise, as heat causes water volume to expand. So when scientists measured the temperature of the "deep ocean," they were not surprised to find that global sea temperatures were rising. Since water expands when exposed to heat, scientists were able to measure the oceans height in different areas by using satellite measurements and photographs.
Oceans also absorb a very large quantity of greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide. Since greenhouse gasses also absorb heat, they add to the rising temperature of the deep oceans while accounting for the current, five year "pause" in surface temperatures. This is the explanation that the climate scientists have provided. The skeptics asked the right question, but have not yet bothered to come up with an alternative explanation.
Claim 5: It is Hubris to think that Man has influence over Nature
The skeptics usually have either one of two claims in their repertoires; one of these is that the climate has been changing for billions of years without any help from mankind. While technically true, it also ignores some of the pretty obvious impacts of human activity, such as widespread deforestation. The other claim they make is an appeal to nature (or the divine). They claim that climate scientists are ultimately hubrists to believe that human activity could change the very workings of nature.
This is a self-comforting claim. After all, how could mere human beings have such a destructive impact? How could mere human beings have so much power over nature that they could change the very fabric of the atmosphere? They forget that humans already have done so.
Nothing displays more power than an atomic bomb. And atom bombs are not even all that powerful in comparison to other such weapons that have thankfully never been deployed in actual combat. Still, twice was enough, and a single bomb in each case destroyed an entire city. Those who deny humankind's power in manipulating nature should ask Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It is highly unlikely that such weapons will ever be used again. But for a time, during the Cold War, the threat of mutually assured destruction was all too real. Such a war might have brought about human extinction. It might have brought on a nuclear winter. It would certainly have had a deep impact on the natural world, until the processes of nature did their inevitable work.
Carbon dioxide, methane and all of the other greenhouse gasses that are released into the atmosphere have a much smaller, and much quieter, impact. But that impact is cumulative, and has been growing since the Industrial Revolution. Deniers might doubt that humans can change the atmosphere, but most would never deny that awe-inspiring example of human might, nuclear power. Their reasoning is selective, so why should one accept their conclusions?
Claim 6: There is NO Consensus on Global Warming
The last claim skeptics make is that there is no consensus on human caused climate change. This would seem to fly in the face of the facts. Out of all scientists polled, 97 percent of them accept anthropogenic climate change as fact. Among this number are many scientists working for national governments. Others work for Universities or other similar institutions. Some work for private businesses and corporations. But most of them, the vast majority, in fact, do field work. They do not work for any immediate employers, but instead are more independent.
The consensus has been reached, not by any political agreement to recognize it as such, but by hours of painstaking work, by collection of data and information by many different fields of science; biology, geology, paleontology, glaciology, climatology, meteorology, chemistry, physics. No single person came along to say, one day, that the Earth was getting warmer because of human activity. It was only ever a bottoms up approach, made by thousands of dedicated scientists who were connecting the dots.
The scientific consensus is stronger than a word on paper. Will the skeptics ever admit this? Of course not. They have no desire to. It goes against the way they wish to see the world.
Climate change deniers have displayed a rather limited understanding of scientific facts. They have attacked the personal characters of people like Al Gore, instead of questioning the merits of their arguments. They have sometimes willfully misinterpreted information in an attempt to fool the public. Any deep look into their claims reveals that instead of arguments, it is all just smoke and mirrors.
The skeptics have sometimes managed to sabotage the debate on climate change. They have occasionally deflected attention from one issue to another. They have without doubt waged a ruthless campaign to create doubt about climate science. Apparently, judging from polls taken in the United States, they have not been particularly successful. A USA Today poll showed that 71 percent of Americans believed that global warming was real and that it was a "very serious" problem. 67 percent of Americans believed that global warming will threaten their children's future. Americans are divided on whether the government should be involved in solving the problem, or whether businesses would manage better. This is a debate we need to have.
We would be having it, if it were not for the environmental movements decision, as well as that of climate scientists, to do battle with the skeptics. Having been largely discredited, they should be ignored. Instead, proponents of climate change give the deniers oversize power and influence. They have created a demon to fight, and it distracts them from the demon they should be fighting. It is time to begin engaging with Americans on how to solve the worlds myriad environmental problems. Perhaps one day, we will.