Climate Conversations, Importance and Deniers

The subject of climate science has essentially three discussions going on at the same time, all of which feed into the decision-making processes that will ultimately determine the use of climate science as it is applied (or not applied) to controlling global warming. Because these discussions often reach just about anyone who is connected to the communication systems of the world, it is important to understand how each operates and how they can and will determine the decisions of politicians, industry leaders, and even how the decisions will enable or disable climate research.

My favourite is the logic of evidence and the relationship of that evidence to making useful predictions about the impacts of global warming. The purpose of making these predictions is so that they can serve as the basis for equally logical policy based on strategic deductions from the understanding of the most likely impacts of global warming under various scenarios of action by people. Ultimately my interest, and I know that is also the interest of most other people, is to ensure that the world we pass on to our future generations is able to sustain them in a comfortable, economically sound, sustainably resource-rich and healthy environment. Global warming and the added greenhouse gases as well as the land use approaches, have already progressed to the point where it will not be possible to reverse all of the impacts.

The timeline for reaching global warming tipping points is still under the control of people, although the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. If we hit 2050 at 2.5C warmer and 500ppm CO2, the window is probably still open a crack, but if society allows the world to reach 2100 at 4C to 6C warmer and 650ppm CO2, that window is closed without massive intervention using major coordinated geo-engineering efforts. This discussion with mainstream scientists commenting on and making direct recommendations for strategies is growing rapidly. At the same time, the unknown consequences of intervening on a global scale with untested technology must be approached with caution. The balance is going to be gauging the risks associated with global warming against the combination of risk and benefit using untested geo-engineering techniques. The world authorities in the United Nations have specifically banned large-scale geo-engineering research at the present time.

There is also a discussion going on about the actual science of global warming and its attendant climate changes. This is the mainstream science that is currently focused primarily on filling in the gaps of understanding the underlying mechanisms that are not easily contained in the climate models, primarily abrupt changes such as major degeneration of ice, regional and local impacts, and climatic effects on timescales approaching decades.  .

Both of these two discussions feed into a very important debate pitting the true climate expert against a widely diverse array of people who have no expertise to those who have a great deal of expertise, but who doubt the mainstream science. It is rare but conversations that involve an intelligent and informed doubter with an expert in climate science can and do occur. These are mostly conducted where science and logic are an essential part of the discussion.

However, most of the rest of this type of conversation is quite different and at least one side of the debate does not necessarily obey the rules of logic, science, or evidence. I do not pretend to understand the wide array of motivations for this activity, but although they are often portrayed as shills for some financially vested interest, this is definitely not always the case. In most cases the positions they take relate more to the community of ideology than a financial stake. Here are some examples of the debating techniques used.

The Galileo gambit: It only takes one concept (however bizarre) to destroy everything climate science has ever stated.
The Auditor: Every new paper is scoured for tiny mistakes in wording or data that are not shared to demonstrate the paper's conclusions are false.
The Political Scientist gambit: As soon as you say anything that smacks of an action or policy - you are labelled as a political science hack so have no further credibility as a scientist.
If IPCC said it, therefore it must be wrong: Beginning with the political role of the IPCC and ending where "peer review" really means "pal review."
The Armchair Skeptic: Everything must be proven from first principles, no matter how trivial, or it is not allowed in the discussion.
Uncertainty Gorilla: We cannot take action until we are 100% certain of everything that will happen. Just wait a few more decades then we can see if anything is going to happen.
The Deflector: Every time a point is defeated, it is never rebutted or acknowledged, but a new topic is brought up - The Wack-a-Mole game.
Hockey Stick graph: Every graph is traced back to Michael Mann's hockey stick graph and immediately discounted.
The Conspiracy theorist: New World Order, Agenda 21, Communist plot, all designed to enslave everyone and take our money with green taxes.
Celebrity Role Model: The riches of Al Gore, Leo DiCaprio etc. mean they are not honest about their support for anti-global warming initiatives. If you don't live in a cave and eat roots, or worse take an airplane to a science conference, you are the same hypocrite.
The Magic Technology: Don't worry someone in a garage somewhere - just like Steve Jobs - will come up with the magic technology to save us all.
The Puny Human argument: Humans are to insignificant to make any impact on the climate. A single volcano will wipe out anything humans ever did.
The Last Resort "****tard" Epithet. When all else fails, the troll uses coded slurs and condescending insults to presumably make him or her feel better about losing the argument.

I imagine there are lots more, but this is a start on figuring out how trolls manage a climate science argument.

By recognizing the techniques, it is often possible to engage these people, but rarely possible to win a debate in a single encounter because of how important it is to belong to a community of thought and ideology - a tribe. If the conversation can carry on long enough to develop some trust, the end is usually a relaxation of the polarization in which both sides come a little closer to a mutual understanding.  When the ideology has a significant impact on the actions of others and deleterious effects on the environment, we need to understand how to react in a fashion that frames the conversation in a non-hostile manner. It is a mistake to engage in the troll-style tactics and reduce the whole argumentation to name-calling and threats. Many climate scientists have received threats of violence and even death threats. Counter attacks lead to increased polarization and even more aggressive behaviour. In the end everyone loses credibility, but the scientific credibility loses the most in these types of arguments.