Dr Richard Milne – Critical Thinking on Climate Change: Separating Skepticism from Denial



basically this is a very rough impression of some of the areas I'm going to be covering in this lecture I'm not going to be covering them in this strict order because all of these things do overlap but these points will all be touched on throughout my lecture today now main topic of this lecture is climate change now if the scientists are anywhere near correct then this is the greatest challenge facing humanity today it is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced and probably will ever face it is a challenge that if we don't meet it then future generations will have a quality of life way below that that we ourselves enjoy now those of you who are here last week will have seen an excellent lecture by Professor Stuart Hazeldine and the basic subject of was of which was that we have the technology it exists we have the technology that we would need to reduce carbon emissions without losing the energy that we rely on this technology exists it is out there and at the end of the lecture someone in the audience asked a very pertinent question it exists so why aren't we doing it professor Hazeldine gave a very good answer talking about funding and tightness of governments so on and so forth but actually he gave a far more succinct answer it with a throwaway comment halfway through his lecture and that comment was this at the moment it is socially acceptable to put all that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and as long as this remains the case there will never be the political will to spend the money that is needed to develop things like carbon capture and storage to the level that will actually make a substantial impact on climate change why is it socially acceptable given the damage that scientists all say that this carbon dioxide is doing well the reason is headlines like this things like this circulating on the web disinformation 100 reasons by global warming is natural comments like that appear in the right-wing media all the time and to give you an impression of the effect these have I'll show you an opinion poll that was taken about two years ago do you think climate change is man-made 41% of the public said yes 32 said that it is not proven 8% said it's not man-made 15% refused to even accept that it was happening now this sounds bad enough for scientists but as two points I want to make here first have a look at the date November 2009 this was before Climategate this was before glassier gate two events that have eroded public confidence in climate change further so these camps are likely to have expanded and in particular this one the second point is this was the UK now we in the UK have an impartial broadcaster called the BBC other countries are not so lucky other countries have media that is dominated by right-wing viewpoints and probably as a direct result those countries there are even fewer people who believe what the scientists are saying so what I want to do is concentrate on distinctions because you don't need a PhD in climate science to be able to tell who's telling the truth and who's talking nonsense you simply need a bit of science a bit of critical thinking and objectivity but you need to see distinctions between the basic science and the advanced science between real skepticism and denial which often calls itself skepticism between good science and bad science and between science and politics if you understand these four distinctions a lot becomes clearer however there are those who at whose goal is to blur these distinctions because if these are blurred in people's heads then it becomes very different difficult sorry for them to tell who is talking from a point of evidence and who is simply spouting their views I'm going to start with the bottom one politics and science now politics you can take away all the party politics all the sleaze all the naughtiness and what politics should be about and what it ultimately is about is simply one question and only one question what should we do that's what we elect politicians for to answer to to because we want something to be done and we put them in office because we expect it to be done they may not do it but that is what politics is whether you're talking about it in a pub or whether it's in the houses of parliament what should we do and it advances by debate and everybody's opinion matters if we were somehow this room were transported to another planet and we needed to get back we have three different options we would have to discuss it between ourselves what do we do now science is very different science is about a different question what are the facts and it advances by research producing evidence you do not get the answer to a scientific question by debate you get it by looking at the evidence analyzing the evidence and so on and so forth so if I had a question what's 463 times 132 I wouldn't get it by asking for a show hams for different answers I'll get it by doing the calculation scientific questions are always the same to answer them you have to do the research and that means nobody's opinion actually matters in science it is just the evidence okay so that's the distinction now let me give you some examples outside of climate change scientific questions always have a correct and incorrect answer we don't always know what it is but the answer always exists so scientific question are cod stocks declining is aids spread by unprotected sex the mobile phone last call caused illness would a badger cull reduce the incidence of hip bovine TB does the MMR jab cause autism if you want an answer to these questions you have to do the research you have to look at the evidence these questions do not have a correct or incorrect answer I'm not talking about moles here you may think this is right and this is wrong but that's your that's your moral opinion so should we catch fewer fish from the North Sea should we be distributing free condoms now say this question the the answer should be the same whether you're the Pope or the Guru of free love but they may have different opinions about this one should there be mobile phones and vast next to schools is it right to cull badges should all children get the MMR jab now the problem comes when people who have strong opinions about one of these attempt to spread falsehoods about these they want other people to share their political opinion so they try the easiest route to that is often not to debate to their own position but to spread falsehoods about the evidence and the same applies to climate change so these are scientific questions to be answered by evidence how do we affect the climate how fast will the earth warm what other effects will there be what would a 20% cut Eve and then we come to the political questions should we do it how much should we be cutting how should this cutting be done to green taxes work which countries should do most now these are up for debate and so this is where everybody should be getting involved and having their opinion but those opinions should be based on a fair and unbiased understanding of the science some will use false science to try to back up their opinion so to summarize science can and should affect politics politics can never affect scientific facts and it should never affect the reporting of those scientific facts but sometimes it does and that is obviously not a good thing now I'm going to move on now to the distinction between the advanced climate science and the very basic climate science because one of those recent scandals if you understand this distinction you'll understand the scandal and its significance or rather lack of it so if we represent climate science as a tree the evidence that the earth is warming could be the trunk the evidence that we're causing it would be the roots and then as we move out on to the branches we're looking at progressively more advanced science projected future warming projected effects of that Putra more warning we're starting to bring in models now complex models and eventually we're trying to predict the timing of those effects that's the twigs at the very top of the tree and then the leaves reflect research that is ongoing now to further increase our best understanding of what's going to happen now you may recall that hang on something's wrong so the the PowerPoint is not working properly that's okay hopefully that's fixed it you may recall the glassier gate scandal a clearly false statement found its way into the IPCC report that Himalayan glaciers will melt by 2035 this was extremely embarrassing and it should never have happened but this is a mistake in the timing of future effects it's way out there on the twigs of the tree of science so it has absolutely no bearing on the evidence that the earth is warming that we're causing it it is simply a mistake in one of the predicted effects and the mistake is not the weather that's going to happen the mistake was they got the timing dramatically wrong so we can represent mistakes like this as disease on the tree and if a tree is diseased a good gardener will cut off the part that is diseased and this is the role of the true skeptic the skeptic is a seeker of the truth the skeptic will look for errors in the science and he will correct them that is what a skeptic does there is however a very different class of person the denier and the goal of the denier is totally different he wishes to destroy public trust in the whole of climate science and they do it with cup phrases like this we like Galileo a lone voice challenging the evil scientific consensus if you think I'm making that claim up I'm not it was actually made not quite word-for-word by Rick Perry in one of the recent Republican debates this guy was comparing himself to Galileo because he disagreed with an establishment scientists but of course we don't remember Galileo because he disagreed with everybody else we remember him because he found evidence that he was right and that is something that the deniers are consistently failing to do and it cuts exactly to the heart of what science is and what scientists do so imagine you're Galileo you believe passionately in your heart that there are falsehoods in the established science you've got two options you can test your theory objectively if there's hard evidence you find it and then you use that hard evidence to convince the scientific community that you are right and if you really believe you're right then you should believe as hard evidence is there or you can take option to where you don't worry about evidence at all you just use any old argument that might convince the public that you are right and when the scientific community get angry with you you simply ignore them or you attack them so the first root the root Galileo obviously took is the root of the skeptic the second root is the root of denial and manipulation it has nothing to do with evidence it is simply trying to foist a viewpoint on the world and these are also the paths of good science and bad science good science is where you start off with a test and you go where the evidence sends you bad science is where you start off I believe something I'm going to convince people I'm right and we can use a simple analogy to illustrate this point further so we're going to use a detective analogy dr. black lies murdered in a as yet undetermined house room within the house there were six suspects and here they are in walks the detective right I'm going to find out who done this murder in fact I know who done this murder it was that scholar she's a bad sort she didn't agree to go out with me when we were kids and now it's payback time so I'm going to look at all all the evidence and I'm going to sift through it carefully until I find that little piece of evidence that points to Scarlett as the one who done it and then I'm going to take that bit of evidence I'm going to stick it in front of the jury and Scarlett is going down okay so that is the root of the bent policeman now let's see the scientific equivalent here are six possible causes of climate change suggested with varying degrees of seriousness in the past now I'm going to show the public what really caused climate change I don't want it to be this I don't want it to be that I certainly don't want it to be cows because I like my beef so I don't want to change my lifestyle and if it's the Sun I'm not going to have to change my lifestyle so I'm going to sift through all the evidence and I'm going to pick that one little bit that is going to make people believe that it's the Sun what done it and I'm going to put that in all the right-wing press and hallelujah any attempt to make me change my lifestyle is going to fail so that's bad science you start off with an opinion and you only look for evidence that supports that opinion the reason I've represented the evidence as cherry hits carries here and some of you may have guessed is because there's a name for this and it's called cherry picking it is where you only look at evidence that supports your viewpoint and you simply ignore the rest some people do this deliberately there are others who literally they simply are blind to any evidence that doesn't support their personal viewpoint so a good scientist starts off thinking that anything is possible the good scientists considers all evidence equally and thoroughly and objectively and draws a conclusion and finally this is important is always honest about any doubts they may have about that evidence and you'll see this in scientific papers all the time so bad science is not just found in climate change denial it is found in other places too South Africa HIV denial has killed something like 300,000 people refusal to accept HIV causes AIDS evolution denial in America also known as intelligent design is very prominent and of course there is Holocaust denial now climate deniers get extremely hot under the collar about this comparison but I am NOT making a mole comparison here between any of these it is not my place to compare these on a moral level what I'm saying is that the methods employed by all four of these are the same they all use bad science they all use cherry-picking to foist a view that is blatantly not supported by the evidence and there is a rather wonderful fictional example of this as well those of you who know your Harry Potter in book 5 the Ministry of Magic goes to great lengths to convince the world that Voldemort hasn't returned and it uses these same methods to do it so that's the bad science so I'm going to try and do good science here I'm going to take the perspective of a true skeptic and I'm going to look at the basics of climate science now you can build the science of climate change on just four simple facts and two causal relationships firstly carbon dioxide absorbs more heat from the radiated light than air does we've known that since the reign of Queen Victoria it is not in dispute secondly humans have emit emitted well over 1 million million tons of calm the oxide since the Industrial Revolution you can quibble over figures but it's hard to deny that we've been emitting huge amounts of the stuff thirdly we've been measuring the increase in carbon dioxide for certainly we've known it well since 1960 and it been going up this is undeniable for fact is global temperatures have also been going up over this period none of those are disputed by any rational scientist now that is not the whole story because for manmade climate change to be genuine to causal relationships also have to be true firstly the emission of carbon dioxide by humans must be causing the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide secondly this rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide combined with this property of carbon dioxide must be responsible for the increase in global temperatures for facts two causal relationships the facts we don't have to worry about the causal relationships we do need to have a closer look at so first one atmospheric carbon dioxide gone up because of human activity no say the deniers it's not us it's volcanoes well let's have a look oh don't tell me it's stuck again let's see if it working yep okay the reality is we know how much humans emit per year we know roughly how much volcanoes emit and humans emit well over a hundred times more carbon dioxide per year than do volcanoes but this is not even the most obvious reason why this claim is wrong there's a bigger one it is that for this claim to be true all of this carbon dioxide that we are pumping out must just vanish into thin air maybe it falls through a wormhole and reappears on the planet fog and yet simultaneously for this claim to be true they would have to have been an increase in volcanic activity invisible volcanoes that we can't see over just happen to be during the period of the Industrial Revolution and ongoing since that is what would have to be true for this claim to be even remotely accurate this doesn't deter the deniers you take one argument down and they will simply replace it with another one for example the fond of saying human emissions are too small to matter there are only three or four percent of global carbon emissions now that is a deliberate blurring of two economic concepts net and gross we are if you talk about gross emissions everything everyone in this room is bleeding out carbon dioxide where does that carbon dioxide come from it came from the plants that we ate and those plants took it in from the atmosphere so natural sources are in balance between emission and absorption the oceans are actually net absorbers but human beings it's one-way traffic so it's only us that can be causing the increase everything else even volcanoes is balanced by uptake so it's only us that can be causing the increase well the deniers will still say it's something else because they'll just switch they won't listen to what they don't want to hear now say it's something else and this claim a surface from time to time that rising global temperatures are causing the increase in carbon dioxide not human activity once again it runs into this very serious problem that it assumes everything we emit disappears into thin air so clearly that part of it is inaccurate however it does the second part the term these lies in global temperatures are not caused by calm the oxide this is now challenging causal relationship to so we move on to looking at this one simplified down it is that rising co2 levels are causing global warming have we proved this well this is a fair question that a skeptic would ask we know that carbon dioxide has an effect and that the more of it there is the warmer the planet will get because we know the properties of this stuff but it is a fair question to ask could this the vector be small and could something else be having a bigger effect well there are the lights up there that are now measuring light energy that is leaving our planet and we are able to look at the spectrum of wavelengths and scientists have been able to show that these pink areas are where the amount of energy leaving the planet has gone down it's gone down a lot in the methane absorption area and it's gone down a lot in the carbon dioxide absorption area so we know that there is energy being prevented from leaving the planet in these two wavelengths that was escaping 30 odd years ago and the only explanation that makes any sense is that these greenhouse gases are responsible but the deniers will simply switch to another argument and they'll say it's the Sun big hot thing in the sky when the sun's out it's hot therefore the Sun must be causing global warming again it's a very silly facile argument but equally a fair sceptical question is could the Sun be contributing we know from this evidence that calm dioxide is contributing to rising global temperatures but it is a fair question is the Sun contributing to well there are various graphs of solar output over the last 150 years but they all show the same basic pattern no solar warming solar warming in the first half of last century and then from then on no solar warming which means when we look at global temperatures in fact this burst of global warming in the first half of last century the Sun was part of the cause that is what appear to be the scientific reality but from 1960 onwards the Sun has not got any greater in its emissions so there has to be another cause for this warming and the only cause that there's any evidence for is carbon dioxide now the deniers will just switch to another argument and they'll say ah but warming stopped in 1998 there hasn't been any warming this century in fact believe it or not there is an educational charity called the global warming policy foundation dedicated to disinformation on climate change and this is its logo this graph is its logo now this graph is accurate as far as it goes but it is still deceptive and here's why he this is the temperature graph from 1998 to 2008 it's reasonably accurate it's not perfect but what happens if we go a bit further back well go back to 1980 it looks like that go back even further and suddenly it doesn't look like temperatures are stable anymore and basically what we've got here is another example of cherry-picking as particularly using 1998 as a starting point that was a major El Nino year equally if I wanted to really scare you if I wanted to pretend climate change is going faster than it actually is I could cherry pick 92 to 93 and that would give the impression that the climate is warming faster than it is if you want the facts without any embellishment you need to look at the whole graph especially as climate is defined as a trend over 30 years or more so we've seen one denialists trick cherry-picking here is another one digging up discredited data and evidence they will root around in all sorts of sources to try and find something that they can use to spin and make people believe what they want them to believe and there's a rather fine example of this and it concerns warming Ireland for any of you that don't know this is an island off Greenland that used to be under ice it is now not under ice and around 2005 an ocean straight open for the first time however according to a guy called Patrick Michaels it was already in Ireland in 1957 his evidence is this sketch map which was done out of a plane window in a know around 1957 now how accurate is this map well let's put a few labels onto it there's warming Island Strait there's Murray Island and there's Reynolds Island up Reynolds Island isn't actually there but nevermind because a few people are going to read this they're not going to bother to look at the satellite images they're going to think that warming Island is another myth and that's how these people operate and this same guy has written this book meltdown and this demonstrates a very very advanced form of cherry-picking because the book is based on genuine scientific papers um but everything that it mentions are things that make climate change seem less threatening and it fails to mention it says extinction rates so exaggerated it doesn't even mention coral reefs or rainforests which are the two ecosystems most threatened by climate change it talks a lot about negative feedbacks these are things that slow climate change down it fails to mention positive feedbacks if you really want to model due to climate change you have to look at both of these with equal care and so it's cherry-picking there's discredited science in there too and it was funded by a right-wing us think tank so that is another form of denial now a third denialists trick is the use of false experts and now these can take many forms firstly it can be somebody who's just a recent PhD in chemistry or geology or it could be anything paraded in front of the media as a major scientist or it can be somebody who has no expertise in science at all such as Nigel Lawson or Lord Lawson of bleh be as we're now supposed to call him and these characters will turn up in the right-wing media they'll normally use the phrase I'm not a scientist but and by the time you've finished reading you will doubt everything that the scientists are saying but this guy has no training in this science he was a very good economist but he has no training in this reading this guy's views on climate change is similar to listening to these two telling us how to sort out the financial crisis so that is the art of using false experts now while they're on tabloids there is another tabloid related denialists claim and it is oh it's just the latest scare story there was the Million millennium bug there was CJD climate change is just next one and this is basically comes about because of the way certain tabloids operate they want to scare you so there's a wolf your granny is doomed oh all the housewives feel a little more scared than they did before and so that story goes past what's worse than a wolf it's a GM wolf never mind granny we're all doomed huh and the housewives go to bed even more scared but they won't be scared for long because the third in the three-card trick there's no wolf they lied to you those naughty scientists those naughty government advisers who are telling you there was a wolf there isn't a wolf they were lying and that's your tabloid free card trick the and tabloids basically are crying wolf all the time in order to do what they are paid to do which is of course to sale sell newspapers but it so it's tabloids not scientists who like to cry wolf and I also might remind you how the story of the boy who cried wolf actually ends so genuine scientific scare stories are pretty rare these are the two that were most significant acid rain and the ozone hole in both cases these were seeded they didn't just go away they were seeded because we acted we removed sulfates from factory fumes we reduced CFC emissions and the ozone hole began to shrink so it's not that these just go away they disappear because we acted now is one more scare story you may have heard of concerning the 1970s in the 1970s they said we would get an ice age now in this case that they was a small group of scientists and it was just a theory it was not the scientific establishment saying this it was one or two scientists and it was picked up by the media it was based on the fact that during the 70s our emissions from factories and power stations were very dirty and there were three pollutants in these emissions soot sulfur dioxide that's what gives us acid rain and carbon dioxide now these two have a cooling effect but carbon dioxide has a warming effect and the scientists and the 70s they predicted that soot and calm the oxide would have a warm a cooling effect and it would cool the earth to such an extent that we would start to get positive feedbacks growing ice caps whipping us into an ice age now this never became mainstream and more to the point it was never tested because we cleaned up factory emissions we took out the soot we took out the sulfur dioxide and so we'll never know if they haven't acted whether that ice age would have come or not it's unlikely I can't say definitely that it wouldn't have done but it is unlikely the point is that our behavior immediately afterwards made it impossible that that would happen now while we're on the subject of ice ages there is another popular denialists claim it's just part of the Ice Age cycle well to understand what's going on here we have to understand timescales there are lots of natural factors that affect our climate but they work on very different timescales many of them work on time scales that are sort of way in advance of our lifetimes and one of them is the Milankovitch cycles it is these that cause I say cycles tilts wobbles in our orbit that very subtly affect how solar radiation comes to us and when all other things are equal they can tip us into and out of Ice Age cyclic ice ages but these operate over 10,000 years or more so we would not expect any significant effect from these within 150 years which is the timescale we're talking about now there are other things which cause global warming and cooling mountain building gradually consumes carbon dioxide as mountains erode volcanic episodes there have been episodes in the planets history when enormous unimaginable quantities of magma spewed out across half a continent and lots of carbon dioxide with it and those caused global warming episodes the in the positions of the continents affect currents they connect affect circulation they can trigger positive and negative feedbacks in all sorts of ways cooling or warming the planet and the Sun gradually changing over time that has an effect to within smaller timescales there are more things sunspots many of you will know sunspots operate over about an 11-year cycle up and down up and down solar output we saw on that graph earlier that can change over 50 to a hundred years it's just that we know it hasn't changed significantly last fifty El Ninos kur and La Nina one or two years they can warm or cool the surface of the planet sulfur dioxide and dust stays in the atmosphere for a year or two volcanic eruptions short-term they therefore cause cooling but if there's a lot of carbon dioxide they then cause warming carbon dioxide at over up to a thousand years but emitters come the oxide you feel the effects of it within 30 years so basically we can eliminate the ice age cycle because the timescale for it is much too low now a fourth denialists trick is the use of logical fallacies and they use these a lot ok so this illustrates one of them and this is the claim Mars is warming to therefore the cause must be the Sun logic the earth is warming Mars is warming therefore there has to be a common cause the Sun let's examine this logic using an analogy Michael Jackson died in 2009 Farrah Fawcett died in 2009 by the same logic there has to be a serial killer picking off celebrities this commits the fallacy of correlation does not imply causation if you find a correlation as a scientist you look for evidence that a may cause B or that a third factor may be caused in both but in this case if you want to know about solar irradiance you look at the Sun and we have the Martian warming is not proving but in all probability if it is warming it's because its orbit is far more erratic than ours as you would expect it to be because it's quite close to Jupiter and of course it ignores the vast body of evidence that carbon dioxide is causing warming now this is the most popular denialists claim of the lot the climate has changed before and there's two versions of this and they're both based on logical fallacies now this statement is actually accurate it's what comes next that causes the problem so the first version the climate's changed before therefore climate change must be natural so the implication climate change in the past it wasn't caused by us therefore it can't be us causing it now they're looking at this reducing it's simple logic event a climate change can occur without B humans therefore B cannot cause a it seems tempting however let's look at an analogy people died before cigarettes were invented therefore cigarettes cannot cause death that is the same logic as their so they clearly this is false and then there is the other version of the statement the climate change before so it's nothing to worry about once again let's dissect this logic the implication the climate changed in the fast it didn't affect us therefore climate change in the future won't affect us either here is it reduced to simple logic event a did not harm B when B was not present therefore a cannot harm B and some of you have already worked out the little flaw here it's like saying I wasn't there when Chernobyl exploded therefore I must be immune to radiation and here is another analogy which cuts even closer to what the deniers are trying to say okay people here's the situation there's a huge asteroid heading for Earth and when it hits is going to cause a catastrophe but it's all like we've got Bruce Willis and a ragtag team of misfits who are going to go up there and oh hang on hang on I'm hearing from one of my advisers apparently an asteroid this size hit the earth 65 million years ago and how many people died none not a single human being died okay cancel the mission guys there's nothing to worry about so yes the climate has change in the past the causes were clearly natural but there are many things that can affect the climate and we are one of them and there have been in the past major events of global warming and many of them caused massive mass extinctions such as at the end of the Permian and I believe of has a Hazeldine also mentioned the event at the paleocene-eocene boundary which is also global warming and also caused extinctions now another little trick they love the medieval warming period they absolutely adore it but if you look and our best reconstruction of temperatures from the Medieval Warm Period we find that it was actually localized there's an awful lot of anecdotal evidence about how Greenland was a lot warmer at that time and from this we construction you see that's perfectly accurate it was but other parts of the earth were were colder so it's not a global phenomenon and if we compare that graph basically blue is colder than now or red is warmer or not the now actually it's relative to 1960 I believe these are and so basically we compare the last decade through the Medieval Warm Period the redder the hotter and clearly we can see that it's a lot hotter than the Medieval Warm Period another claim they're very fond of also based on the logical fallacy the climate is too complex and chaotic to predict so we should do nothing so here comes the analogy okay you are the owner of a china shop I come in with a very very angry bull I say right I'm going to leave this bull in your china shop for half an hour by you say wait wait no the bull is going to run amok and it's going to smash all my China I say ah but can you tell me which items of China the bull is going to break and in what order you say well of course not I say well how do you know it's going to smash any China at Oh so we don't need to be able to predict exactly what's going to happen because the science is pretty unequivocal that the planet is going to war now when evidence really stacks up against climate deniers when the my weight of evidence is so great that it seems that there is no way that evidence can be resisted they have one last card to play and it's the conspiracy card so all of these scientists who are saying I'm wrong they must be part of a conspiracy and it's worth noting that the British newspaper that's most fond of climate denial is the same one that was very fond of saying that Prince Philip killed Princess Diana read into that what you will but those of us who work in science know that this is rubbish but for those of you who don't it's a fair question is there any possibility that scientists are colluding to deceive the public if you genuinely thought this what would you do how would you test it well I'll tell you how I would do it I would identify a major research institution that was concerned with researching climate change I would hack into their data servers and I would download all the emails by those scientists and I would look for evidence of a conspiracy and as you all know that has happened and the sink the the most incriminating statement virtually the only incriminating statement they can find is this one I've just completed Mike's nature trick of adding in the real temperatures to each series for the last 20 years and from 1961 focus to hide the decline and the deniers simply focused on the word trick and the words hide the decline so a denier would take this and try to spin it a skeptic who wants to get to the truth would want to know what is this guy talking about what does this paragraph actually mean and therefore is there deception here or not so let's delve into this issue and you may be surprised to learn it concerns tree rings and it also concerns what happens at the tree line on mountains it's all about Bristlecone Pines now these are trees that can live eight thousand years they can live longer than some of the Republican presidential candidates probably think the earth has been around for and consequently they are very useful for measuring past temperatures now this is a ring width of trees some way below the tree line and you can see they go up and down like this whereas trees that are actually at the tree line they behave differently and the reason they behave differently is that depending where you are on the mountain different things are limiting you so if you're at the tree line you're being limited by cold and therefore if the climate warms you'll be able to go more if it cools you'll be able to grow less but if you're lower down then other things allow you to be limiting it might be drought to make the competition but your growth rate will track something other than temperature so that's the first point the second point is that we've been able to reconstruct how these things at the very tree line have been growing over an extraordinarily long period of time and compare that to various reconstructions of global temperature and we can see that very roughly the pines are tracking temperature but a problem arises as we get near to the present so this is the period when we have the best temperature records from all manner of other sources and up until about 1980 tree wings there's a bit of a diver a bit of a divergence here but generally tree wings track temperature and then suddenly they don't and this is what is referred to among scientists as the divergence problem three wings stopped being an accurate recorder of temperature in certain localities that have been looked at around 1980 so logically what we believe is happening is that in this time period temperature is limiting but from here on in something else becomes limiting because this data is for lots of sources many many sources this is from just one it could be drought limiting growth it could be seasonal stress it could be global dimming more aerosols in the atmosphere less sunlight we just don't know but that is what this quote actually was about these guys have been asked to provide a graph of Goble temperatures based on tree wings running from a long way back up to the present and they knew that from 1980 tree wings ceased to be a good recorder of temperature and they were forced to insert temperature from another source and they were urged to do that by the publishers but this is not and this is not anything so it's sinister it is just publishers wanting to make things simpler than they really are but let me assure you there has been no attempt to hide this divergence problem this is a review paper from 2008 talking about the divergence problem and there are 13 references cited in this paragraph alone now if you're running a global conspiracy you don't publish 20 20 or so papers about it in the public domain so if this is the closest evidence that they've been able to get to a conspiracy we can safely conclude there isn't one so I want to talk briefly up out the concept of consensus because this is another thing that people miss understand and the deniers like to say that if you don't agree with the consensus you don't get funding well that's not strictly true I'm going to tell you how science should work you've got a lot of guys believing one thing and a few guys refusing to believe it and climate change it could be what's causing climate change most people believe it's humans most scientists believe that cuz that's what the evidence says but there's a very small number of guys on the fringes who think it's the Sun cosmic rays or volcanoes and now this is not unhealthy it may surprise you to hear me say that but this is normal in science that there will always be people who disagree with the consensus it's what they do with that opinion that is important because and then nobody is standing still everybody is trying to find evidence to increase human knowledge and another point to make is that these guys in the consensus they don't all think the exact same thing they're all strongly independent minds and it just so happens they agree on certain things because the evidence for those certain things is so strong but they like disagree on the likely speed the effect of clouds and all sorts of other things and over time science changes and it usually changes because somebody discovers something a little bit new so there's something it supports the general consensus but it changes slightly how we see it and if there's sufficient evidence then that discovery will be accepted by most or all of those within the consensus and scientific opinion will move on that is how science advances now very very rarely something comes along that overturns the consensus maybe once or twice a century something is discovered that is so radical that it completely overturned and it's often somebody who previously accepted the consensus he was trying to find out or about this and instead he learned something that couldn't be reconciled with the consensus and if he has enough evidence and sooner or later that opinion will spread and the consensus will be overturned with a new consensus equally equally rarely a maverick he is actively seeking to overturn the consensus he's seeking that bit of evidence that will prove for example that the son is the major cause of climate change and if he's seeking hard evidence he's following the path of a skeptic and he's hoping that if he finds it then the consensus will be overturned as these guys will make their minds up based on evidence however some maverick scientists avoid proper scrutiny and there's two easy ways to do it one is to write a book and Ian Plummer is probably the worst offender of these and rather than going through peer review you simply put your views into a book and sell it there are plenty of people who will fund publication or you go to the right-wing media and you pervade yourself as a top scientist which they'll be only too willing to do and then they'll believe that climate change is wrong so these mavericks are an important part of science but they have to behave like a skeptic in order to advance science it is how they behave not the views they hold that determine whether they are advancing or retarding science now I'm going to finish by examining briefly some of the causes of climate changed in our in people's minds and the first one is the fear fallacy and I have some sympathy for this but only some something it is a really horrible thing to consider what we're doing to the planet and David Bellamy my childhood hero clearly simply could not accept he spend his life trying to conserve plants and oncome something so big he can't fight it so he seems to have chosen not to believe it now there are two fictional parallels for this one once again comes from Harry Potter Cornelius fudge the Minister of Magic he just cannot accept that what he has built up is threatened by the presence of Lord Voldemort so he actively denies it the other fictional parallel is that fear leads to anger anger please still denial denial is the path to the dark side so that is the fear fallacy and it's probably the reason why a lot of the public simply do not want to accept time-it nobody wants to accept climate change but as a scientist I have to believe what the evidence tells me the second fallacy is the economic fallacy it's too expensive to deal with climate change therefore it can't be a real problem this is like saying I've got two pounds the bus fares three pounds therefore one plus one equals three now economists so interesting because it's a weird science that current economics if you call it a science because what people believe in the world of economics actually shapes reality if everyone believes that Greece is going down the toilet markets will drop and Greece goes down the toilet if everyone suddenly believes that Greece will be okay markets go up and Greece rallies so it's easy to see why economists are seduced by this idea that what they believe can become reality now thirdly there's the political fallacy dealing with this requires regulation and green taxes it's against my philosophy so I deny it and if you look at climate deniers across the media you'll find that with very very few exceptions they are right-wing in Britain it's you kick and the BNP that's the right-wing press and America it's the Tea Party you look at almost any country in the world the most right-wing party almost invariably our climate change deniers and finally there's the astronomers fallacy which is they study astronomy they know that Celestia effects can affect the climate and they then assume that celestial effects must be the only cause that's the logical equivalent of saying a dog has four legs therefore any animal with four legs must be a dog even if it's a cat so that is the astronomers fallacy so I'm going to end by reiterating these distinctions here and adding very briefly two more it's really an extension of this one a scientist states facts about climate change the job of scientists is to tell you what is the job of an environmentalist is to urge action so scientists comes from a merely information giving viewpoint these guys are taking a political viewpoint but in the right-wing media you'll constantly hear them saying that it's environmentalists who originated the idea of climate change it is not it came from scientists environmentalists are simply telling us we should do something about it so keep this distinction as well finally and this is important because many of you will go away and debate with your right-wing uncle's about this it is important to distinguish between those who invent and spread these falsehoods they're generally very intelligent people they know that they're making it up and they're used in making a lot of money but most people who don't believe in climate change are ordinary folk who have read a lot of this and they've believed it often because obviously it's much nicer than not believing it so these people must be treated with respect and so I shall finish with this simple cartoon which I believe represents the current situation we're in and if you want to know more I suggest you go to this fantastic website and what do you know the the PowerPoint is broken again so I'll just and I'm happy to take questions please work okay well you have to just squint to read it because not playing at all thank you very much I promised you entertainment I said that we should have erudite conversation I think we had that we went to astronomy forestry politics a whole range of disciplines in a superb introduction a superb definition of the difference between skeptical science and deception as Richard said we we're happy to take questions the only thing I ask is because the proceedings have been recorded if you can wait for a microphone there are two microphones coming round before you ask your question so can we take the first question please stunned by the presentation here's one what motivates these people um that's a very very good question and I think it probably varies based on the individual those at the very top are motivated by money some are motivated by conviction there's a very interesting bit of research that indicates that people with Lightning viewpoints have a larger amygdala which is the part of the brain which which produces emotion so some people form their views based on emotions whereas others form them based on evidence and and if you form your views based on emotion you're liable to form I I don't like this person so I don't believe what he's saying I like that guy so I believe what he's saying and so I mean there's there's a whole plethora of things in the case of David Bellamy it's fear in people like Nigel Lawson they actually genuinely believe they're acting for the best if you can first convince yourself that climate changes cannot be real then you will passionately believe that you are defending the economy of your country by telling everyone that it's not real and these people can be very convincing I mean I remember it's a bit off topic but I remember watching Tony Blair arguing for the war in Iraq and he clearly passionately believed that it was the right thing to do while I was watching him I almost believed him too and of course once I came away my logical side kicked in and I knew it wasn't correct but the point is that there's two stages to denial and a lot of people the first is the subconscious filtering out of unwanted information and then a viewpoint forms and the person believes they're acting for the best by promoting that viewpoint what about people who believe it's true but fail to do anything Wow well that's now we're into the area of politics rather than science and so it's that's I can only sort of talk about that as a human being rather than as a scientists now as a human being I clearly think that we desperately need to act I want to be a parent one day but beyond that I want to speak for all those people related to me or not will be around in a hundred years time but that is only my opinion but I do believe that the more people believe this that the more like they are to act and I suspect that there's also denial can operate on many levels you can sort of believe something factually but not believe it deep down in your heart and so if you say oh yes I accept climate change but but you just won't allow yourself on an emotional level to think about what is going to happen to the planet in the future and you can sort of separate you everyday life from what you believe in the more academic side of your mind so I think that there's some of that going on but equally going back to the very start of my lecture and professor hazel Dean's comment it's socially acceptable at the moment to pump calm the outside out it's socially acceptable to have a private jet and so I think whether we realize it or not we are all influenced by what is and is not socially acceptable hi and thanks I was a really really good talk um not that I'm accusing your cherry-picking but have you come across any credit credit for evidence and the global warming isn't due to co2 emissions that we've given out not really no I don't you know I accept the possibility that that evidence may one day be found but I've never seen any sort of claim to the contrary that did not fall apart upon scrutiny I mean I there may it may be that this because I've encountered so many stupid denialist arguments and this is an interesting point actually there are so many of these nonsensical out arguments out there that it is possible that someone somewhere has found a real flaw in the science but that flaw is subtle and complicated and nobody's noticed it because of all this nonsense being talked by the louder voices of deniers all I can say is I have never seen anything that casts serious doubt but I'm only one person I can't promise you it isn't there hi how long do you think we have before it becomes socially and otherwise unacceptable to emit carbon and I mean how radically do you think we have to act consensually right well I mean I think it's you know the more we act the better things will be for future generations I don't know I mean there's all sorts of estimates and basically if we do a huge amount within the next 10 years we will still face quite an uncomfortable future the less we do the worse it will get about I don't know exactly how far I don't know anything it there's not agreement on how much we need to do how fast to be honest I don't think there needs to be because the one thing I am certain of is that we will not do as much as the sign to say we need to do there that's why I've never sort of looked that closely at that particular question because what the scientists say we need to do is over here what they're currently doing is way over here and what various global agreements have tried to get us to do and often fail is somewhere over here so the Gulf is so enormous the term uh yeah I mean it's a perfectly fair question but that for that reason I've never really looked at it in that much detail I think that in many ways changing social opinion is the most important thing we can do at present to deal with this problem because then people might start moving towards what the scientists are saying we need to do hi em thank you very much for the talk I was sorry yeah I was very interested in the point that you made about the climate gets scandal where all those m emails were sort of leaked and so this week cherry-picked information was reported in the tabloid media and i just wondering it seems to me that the way to check whether or not the information the tabloid media was true would be if more people had access to peer-reviewed journals but the vast majority of these are pay Canole view and abstract all three and to read the article you have to pay actually quite a lot of money which is beyond the reach of the general public I think that's something that scientists should seriously think about changing I completely unequivocally agree with you about that it's difficult because we'd have to the only way I think to achieve it would be to have a universal levy on scientists probably through universities or governments that sort of supports scientific journals and one way there are some journals where scientists are expected to pay to get their papers into those journals I mean journals are businesses some of them only publish online which makes it cheaper and maybe the more do that the better but somebody's got to edit the journal so yeah but it's it is a question I agree with you I think we have to find a different way of funding research papers hi thanks for the talk is really great but I was wondering when it seems like more often than being asked simply is climate change real or not for the purpose of policy the scientific community has to provide a kind of range of effects they think probable given one degree 2 degree yeah given a certain amount of carbon yeah how do you think how do you think the scientific community should go about presenting that and how do you think sort of skeptics and your tree of science feeds into those more delegated all scientists I mean the whole point of that research on the those far branches is to give the best estimate we can or the data we currently have of what is going to happen the important bit the most important point is that there have to be error bars virtually any scientific estimate of a number will come with error bars so you're a good estimate will have a range so if we take this particular path worst case scenario it with warm by 6 degrees by 2100 best case it will warm by 2 degrees and obviously that's an enormous range and deniers have been known to get hold of these and say my god these scientists have no idea what they're talking about which and I've heard comedians saying a very similar thing or Mock the week but honest science that's how it operates now if I were presented with best case two degrees worst case six degrees I wouldn't worry about the yellow bar I'll be very scared because two degrees is bad and six degrees is Apple apocalyptic so the very best case is that so I mean I think scientists need to they need to present data very accurately it means with big error bars but I think also they need to be perhaps better at explaining why those big error bars are there explaining that they are there because they're taking into account negative feedbacks and positive feedback they're taking into account water vapor they're taking into account clouds these are things that are difficult to predict exactly what they're doing and scientists need to communicate that better to politicians and to the public is that answer your question Oh feel yeah he's also wondering I mean when you you talked about skeptics and then obviously I mean so then with those skeptics then do you think I mean it's often the scientific community is quoted you know there's a whole range of opinions there are yes when the IPCC is that there's a it's not a whole load of people agreeing it's a load of people saying oh it's this it's this is this it's just that nearly everybody thinks that we are warming the planet they disagree about how fast it'll happen they disagree about whether negative or positive feedbacks are going to be more important and so consensus is really them trying to get an opinion that is somewhere in the middle of what everybody is saying and again I don't think that's been communicated well enough the idea that consensus is just a load of people agreeing except for that guy over there who's saying something different and so and of course every scientist is a skeptic every two scientists is a skeptic I believe in man-made climate change because the evidence demands it that is that is the skeptical position as I see it and as I mentioned earlier it is healthy to have people who don't believe the consensus and are searching for evidence that overturns that consensus and again I think the public need to understand that these people are there but if they have no evidence to back their views they shouldn't be writing books or hearing in the media they should be looking for that evidence to prove themselves right okay we've got time for three very quick questions so there's somebody behind you actually I think was there was a lady here and then a lady at the back and then I think and given how well you understand how and why the okay sorry these two microphones are really confusing and given how and why the media misrepresent science how do you feel about the disconnect between the science as you described at the beginning as a independent and pure objective field and the sort of language used by the scientist involving Climategate as using trickery and well I mean the word I mean it's a fair point but the word trick means different things to different people and that it means something different to a magician than to a confidence trick trickster I mean you sometime I mean that the scientists involved use trick as a sort of a way to fix something trying to think of an analogy another use of the word trick but it's not a trick as in a deception it's a trick as in this car isn't working but if I thump it here then it goes again and you could refer to that as a trick and of course what aren't what one scientist says to another in private that email was never intended to be read it was only intended to be understood by the person who read it so it uncovers a thought process but those two men understood trick as a fix to a problem rather than a deception okay okay I'm intrigued by your distinction between a scientist and an environmentalist at the end and I was wondering whether you can suggest an intelligent and safe way of combining the two and if not which camp urine tonight well I mean I'm in both I mean we all wear and many hats in our lives I'm a husband I'm a lecturer I'm a researcher and when I have time I am a environmentalist on the gardener I'm a plant hunter so I think one just has to keep clear in one's mind sometimes the distinctions that we all have different roles that we understand that sometimes I'm talking as this sometimes I'm talking as that okay thank you for the talk and one more question oh here just do believe we can prevent it because you said we are right in the middle from what we are supposed to do and further we are doing now so do believe that the climate change can actually be prevented and if not then what well we can't prevent all of it for the simple reason that the calm the oxide we emit now has starts to have a major effect in 30 years time so even if we completely stopped carbon emissions today the planet will continue to warm for 30 years more what we would do we're trying to slow it down but those of you who are here for professor hazel dyes lecture he showed that we have the technology to actually start putting carbon back underground so it's sir we can't prevent all of it how much of it we can prevent depends on how bold we are how much we're prepared to do and that in turn is going to depend on changing social opinions well thank you very much everybody I'm sorry that not everybody had opportunity to ask a question it's the usual thing er a flurry comes at the end just as we're running out of time in answer to one of the questions actually about journals you might like to know that the and I was desperately looking for the date and having a senior moment I couldn't remember it but the Royal Society of London is actually looking as science as a public enterprise and how we actually get that scientific information out that the public you know through their taxes and other pay for and how we actually communicate not just the data but the information that that science contains and there will be a meeting at the Royal Society of Edinburgh so if you go to the right side of any website there is a meeting shortly looking at that particular issue and there will be a public debate on that so that's worth knowing but that's not what I was primarily standing up to say it was actually to thank Richard I think for a very engaging as well as entertaining talk on what is your probably one of the most serious issues that were actually facing internationally at the moment and I know that that Richards passionate about the communicating this not only because of his natural interest but I think as a as a spokesperson for the generations as yet unborn who actually need people speaking about this now before they face the far more serious effects than we are doing currently so with that can you thank Richard in the usual way this production is copyright the University of Edinburgh

33 thoughts on “Dr Richard Milne – Critical Thinking on Climate Change: Separating Skepticism from Denial”

  1. Yes the trouble we are facing is the fraudulent AGW fund seeking professors ruining the name of Science.

  2. The Scriptures says:
    Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain (I Cor. 3.18-20).
    And:
    For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears (II Tim. 4.3);

    There we are, folks !

  3. Question: Is an electric stove hot the instant it is turned on? Or does the dial setting – at least initially – control the rate of warming? It controls the rate of warming. So does the sun. That is why the hottest part of the day is in the afternoon and not at noon. That is also why the hottest months occur in the Summer and not the Spring when we have the longest days. Your chart of the sun's energy with time at 26:25 whether you realize it or not is making the case for "it being the sun". The sun's output is shown to be hugest in the vary region you are asserting that it is not contributing.

  4. You keep referring to the carbon dioxide dispersing into thin air. Are you even aware of the ~800 GT/yr exchange of carbon dioxide with ocean and land reservoirs? Personally I think we are all suffer from gaps in knowledge though some have greater gaps than others.

  5. This shit was designed by the powers that be to be treated like a religious dogma to control you period.the illuminati are laughing all the way to the bank..nuclear energy is your biggest problem and nuclear weapons. Fools do something about that.

  6. Climategate..climategate…climategate..fools…fools..nieve gullible brainwashing mind control..indoctrination.. Tavistock institute.

  7. Yes lets pull all the carbon out of the air and stop all plant growth that we rely on to survive. Stupid fear mongering.

  8. What the heck is your expertise in climate science Millne? Talk about cherry picking, you choose experts that you can ridicule but they are not experts and the real experts who are skeptical of AGW would make you look like you are..silly.

  9. I'm a skeptic/denier, and I think the science is ALL on our side. Alarmists have made it ALL about politics!

  10. maybe the solar output has something to do with climate. we are in an interglacial period on earth. these are much shorter time frames than glacial periods. why do we expect things to get hotter when historically this is an ice planet that may well be solar driven. a bit out of the box but maybe worth considering

  11. Intelligent design is actually supported by many great scientists, and is growing in popularity due to it being the only direction that objective evidence points, at this time!

    And volcanoes are not the only net neutral. Humans plant more trees, more Co2 equals healthier trees, and round and round it goes.

    I also love how these guys ignore the geological historical record, in which we have had many global climate warming temps and temps that are much colder. But let’s ignore that.

    Or how there have been many times in which temps were far lower w/ Co2 high.. 🤔

  12. Psst- Galileo did NOT have objective evidence – which was the problem! Corpernicus and others had already wrote in detail that our solar system was likely heliocentric- but they knew that they didn’t have the ability to prove it yet. They were Scientists! Galileo didn’t care that he had no evidence, he just knew he was right..

  13. The world's population is in grave crisis due to global cooling and the on rushing ice age. We are facing total agricultural collapse, mass starvation and possible extinction. The biosphere is experiencing a drastic CO2 shortage. There is no blurring, there is no time to shilly-shally around, the time grows nigh. Reducing CO2 is a suicide pact, it's a genocide pact.

  14. Great until you got to the scared housewives part 😡. Bad meme , women are not stupid unsophisticated or stay at home anymore.

  15. This is not about teaching critical thinking, it is pure indoctrination disguised as critical thinking.

  16. If Bill Nye's argument was more convincing, he wouldn't need to endorse jailing people for not believing in climate change. That's what fascists do. That the issue is split left and right politically tells me that the scientific method does not apply. But, much like NIST did not inspect WTC7 for being rigged with explosives and coming down in free fall, the climate scientists ignore any cause for insignificant temperature variance other than by man. Al Gore was brought in to be the face of climate change because someone told him that he had "unspent political capital" from the 2000 election– and Al has acted desperate at times, like a used car salesman shouting my name as I walk off his used car lot of refusing a second look at his rusted, lime green AMC Pacers of climate desperation. And Gore already admitted on Meet the Press in Dec 2017 his predictions didn't pan out. When Chief Meteorologist and RAND Corp consultant Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the climate will kill us all in 12 years,, 97 percent of climate scientists crapped their pants….Even Bill Nye said "whoa, not so fast AOC, just stick to polar bears in trouble for now". 97 percent of the media may also agree that it takes 11 years to forget who said what stupid thing 12 years ago.
    If you want to pass your climate change laws you better start first by telling AOC to shut her well lubricated pie hole. And I'm not sure if Bill Maher is a shill or stooge for the climate scam–thought he was smarter than that. You dems better pull your Marxist heads out of your Lenin asses and start saying a few things that make sense, reinforce tradition and sound like they comport with the law or you will see Trump re-elected.

  17. I made it as far as him saying “Luckily, here in the U.K., we have impartial media sources like BBC “ 😂😂😂

  18. The vital mindset change is simply that the "LUXURY CRUISE LINER EARTH "is fatally overcrowded and facing imminent heat death and inexorably becoming unable to support and feed "civilisation". The only possible chance of survival is "LIFEBOAT EARTH" THINKING AND LIFEBOAT BEHAVIOUR 1
    Everything totally changes the moment you have to take to the lifeboat. Suddenly wealth, class, status ceases to be of any importance. Every person becomes instantly "equal".
    Drinking water, food, protective clothing rudimentary shelter are the only things that matter and all these few essentials are to be shared absolutely equally and ANY selfish transgressions are not tolerated. You cooperate or you get thrown overboard. That's kind of an incentive to cooperate.
    ALL the activities that are destroying the complex biological and physical conditions that allow life to exist MUST CEASE. Get it? This is life or death.
    WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE AN INTELLIGENT SPECIES ARE WE NOT?
    You have to abandon ship when IT CAN NO LONGER SUPPORT YOUR CONTINUED LIFE.
    Thinking of the Earth as our one and only possible "lifeboat" and as our last chance to excape the horrors of climate induced crop failures, starvation the ghastly breakdown of civilisation with cannibalism war and pestilence nuclear meltdown Mad Max become reality… hell on earth.
    You see why a mental lifeboat drill is now desperately needed. It MAY JUST NOT BE TOO LATE.
    How many people does it take to change a planet?
    7,000,000,000 + ? Or will we just do nothing and all go down with ship?????????????

  19. I'd just like to point out that, surprisingly enough, repeatedly attacking and placing all the blame on conservatives probably isn't going to help you to convince any of them, which is a problem considering roughly 50% of the population lean right.

  20. Using a mocking voice is not proof of anything except your bias. There's no science here, just reinforcement of a certain point of view, and how that opinion is right.

  21. Co2 is essential for all life, and is not a toxin. Climate change is natural and is main driven by the sun

  22. What a propagandist 🙂 So Galileo was not taking a chain saw to the trunk of the tree of Flat Earth science? Galileo is only allowed to prune the little branches of the Flat Earth tree, or otherwise he is a Holocaust denier?

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