Silly Me, the Climate Alarmist

I’ve been spending some time looking at Dr. Judith Curry’s blog, Climate Etc. It’s a haunt for climate skeptics. That appears to be its purpose—to entertain challenges to the theory of anthropomorphic climate change in an objective manner.

Many of the comments appear intelligent and well-reasoned, within the narrow scope of the chosen topic. And I think Dr. Curry is trying to be even-handed, although some of the comments carry the tone of impatience and scorn that marks much skeptic argumentation.

But I can’t quite put my finger on the point of most of the discussions.

Largely, they seem to be of the angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin variety: excruciating, at-length micro-parsings of highly delimited sub-issues, some scientific, some sociological, some political. There doesn’t appear to be any outright climate change denial, but the drift is, people who are concerned about an imminent climate disaster are alarmist. The comments argue from fear that we might do anything to upset the social or economic status quo. To many of the commenters, it’s not clear how bad the problem is, or if there’s a problem at all.

One thing the commenters don’t do is offer any comprehensive theory that ties together the macro phenomena of the disappearing ice cap, the rise in atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial temperatures, the retreat of the glaciers, the lengthening growing seasons, the acidification of the oceans, and the distortions in the jet stream, let alone one that’s more compelling than the greenhouse gas hypothesis. If that were the point, I could understand and embrace it.

TerrainI’m sure some of the more derisive of them would find my Terrain essay contemptible. My pessimism about solving the climate crisis in the face of this contempt is a central theme of the piece.

None of the skeptic quibbles are on the same scale as the planetary manifestations, physically or temporally. The Arctic ice cap has lost 80 percent of its summer mass in less than 40 years. Does one really have to debate whether this is alarming, or that it is very likely to have grave implications? The only way it couldn’t is if there were an alternate explanation that comprehended the other phenomena. At heart, the skeptics are almost debating whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas, or whether humans have increased the atmospheric content of it by 40 percent over the last two centuries. In other words, their arguments fly in the face of the obvious. It’s still denial, tricked out in thin, skimpy veils.

At the end of my essay I say, “I would love to be proven spectacularly wrong, grandiose, and obsessive, to have wasted the balance of my life in thrall to a false and grindingly self-destructive idea. It is a humiliation I would welcome.” But quibbles about how much methane is venting from the tundra or whether Paul Erlich should be taken seriously don’t disprove that we’re disrupting the climate and melting the ice cap, or that we should do nothing about it.

Meanwhile, my alarm stands unabated.

If you’re interested, Scientific American has a great article on Dr. Curry’s controversial interactions with the climate skeptic community.



Filed under Climate Change, Denialism

2 responses to “Silly Me, the Climate Alarmist

  1. Nancy

    You hit the nail on the head. Judith Curry’s position is delaying strong climate change policies that needed to start decades ago. Her interview on NPR’s All Things Considered this week sparked quite a controversy in the comment section, with most listeners appalled that NPR is wasting time interviewing ‘delayers’ rather than talking with climate scientists who are alarmed.

    The media is neglecting this issue and its implications. Every story that involves food or energy needs to mention climate change and how food shortages and energy scarcity will change life as we know it. Energy shortages like those we dealt with in the 70s will cause havoc in our streets. A disruption in food supply…….well, I don’t like to think about that. How will Americans react when their kids are starving?

    I just ordered your book. I wish there were more climate change fiction books and movies. We seem to be living in a Twilight Zone episode, don’t we?

  2. miker613

    Well, I’m one of those skeptics who haunts Curry’s site. I appreciate your comments, but I think you’re out of line in several ways.
    1) “some of the comments carry the tone of impatience and scorn that marks much skeptic argumentation”. And the other side’s comments do not carry impatience and scorn? Tamino’s writings? Deltoid? Desmogblog? Really? And that’s the bloggers. If you’re looking at comments, just go to any Huffington Post blog that mentions climate change, and you will get to experience impatience and scorn, and worse, as far as the eye can see.
    2) “There doesn’t appear to be any outright climate change denial, but the drift is, people who are concerned about an imminent climate disaster are alarmist.” “One thing the commenters don’t do is offer any comprehensive theory” Do you imagine that we are a monolithic, _comprehensive_, group? I think there is definitely some outright climate change denial among some of the commenters; I don’t happen to be among them, nor is Dr. Curry.
    3) “At heart, the skeptics are almost debating whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas” and other quibbles. Uh, no. What about the very important issue of whether the models work at all, or have failed completely on the first out-of-sample data? What about the very important issue of whether climate sensitivity is much smaller than the earlier IPCC estimates, leading to much less warming? What about the very important issue of whether the real disaster scenarios are looking very unlikely, so that this becomes a matter of weighing economics and politics, instead of OMG THE PLANET IS GOING TO BURN UP? The details are the heart of the discussion.

    I’m not a climate scientist, I have the training but not the time to work through the math involved, so I’m in the position of a juror trying to decide whether an expert witness’s testimony is credible. Unfortunately, the public face of climate science has done a awful job, and totally doesn’t understand why. They think they need more PR! Sure, that’s how you convince a juror – convince him you’re a sleazy lawyer. PR is the problem! Every single case I look at, Skeptical Science or Real Climate or whomever, they have managed to convince me that they are political operatives and not scientists. Never admit you’re wrong. Never give credit, if it’s to an enemy. Sneer a lot. Pretend that the most influential skeptics are hired by Big Oil. Pretend that all _real_ scientists agree on everything _important_.

    Curry is one of the exceptions, a climate scientist I think I can trust. Are the rest of you listening? I don’t know most climate scientists; I know the ones I see in public forums. They let you down, and made many of us wonder if your field is humbug. Your post is an example of how most climate scientists I see don’t understand that.

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