Climate Debate with a Believer

On an email list maintained by NOAA, a little debate erupted recently over how to argue and convince the rest of the community that anthropogenic climate change is a significant threat. I offered some advice, namely that they should stick to science, use relevant arguments, and avoid hype and hysteria. The reaction was hilarious. Read the exchange with professor Risk for yourselves!

On 2010-11-23, at 08:48, Melbourne Briscoe wrote:

Isn’t the point that what we are doing is not working? So, we do not stop trying, but we have the CHANGE what we are doing….what do we change?

Constant repetition of facts is demonstrably an unsuccessful strategy. Get over it. What do we do instead?

On Tue, 23 Nov 2010 10:28 Ulf Erlingsson wrote:

As long as there are serious scientists who are not convinced, it will be hard to convince all of the non-scientists.

I propose to try to debate with and convince those who consider that the case has not yet been made.

Listen to their arguments. Meet them. And DON’T CALL THEM NAMES.

I think the debate went seriously wrong at the moment when proponents of the hypothesis lost their temper. Bad idea.

Also, look for common ground instead of seeing conflicts. Example:

Nobody is denying that pollution is bad. So why not focus on decreasing the air pollution? After all, the methods are rather similar: Decrease the burning of fossil fuels. What does it matter to nature WHY we decrease it?

There is a difference, but put the difference aside and work for results rather than getting hung up on that difference.


On 2010-11-23, at 11:11, Michael Risk wrote:

Ulf: That won’t work. Many (but not ALL) the scientists on the denial side are well-funded by oil companies. Unless and until someone can break that chain, reason will lose out to self-interest. Examples:

Gene Shinn is an honest man who enjoys keeping the rest of us honest.

Tim Ball is a hack who gets tons of oil money.

Which of these two will “recant” if shown the data?


On Tue, 23 Nov 2010 11:37 Ulf Erlingsson wrote:

The thing is that the MAJORITY of people in my scientific discipline and network are not yet convinced.

Why do you call us deniers? From our point of view, it is you who are acting in an un-scientific way, using hysteria rather than solid arguments. Most importantly, those on your side IGNORE the counter-arguments, and use irrelevant arguments (such as name calling, threats, hysteria) rather than relevant scientific arguments.

At least that is how I experience it. If you are right, then your side needs to improve the communication skills… 😉


On 2010-11-23, at 12:58, Michael Risk wrote:

Hello Ulf.
I know better than to try to convince anyone in this debate. Positions have hardened.

There is NO ONE in my field of research who does not accept the consequences of increased CO2. To me/us this seems so obvious as to need no debate.

All the various arguments erected by deniers (and that is what they are) have been shot down repeatedly.

-yes, CO2 lags temp during interglacials. Because the ocean degasses.
-yes, water vapour is a potent gh gas-it is an effect, not a cause.
-yes, the climate has changed in the past. This is beyond bullshit. OF COURSE it has, we all know this. Some of us even have a handle on rates.
-yes, there is a real hockey stick.
-no, the leaked emails do NOT amount to a climategate, they simply show us that scientists are people. Although the TIMING of the release is suspicious: whoever the hackers were, they held the emails almost a year, until just before Copenhagen.
-yes, of course it’s getting warmer. There are now three huge independent data sets, open to all, that say the same thing.

…and on and on.

As you may or may not be aware, much of the denial material is managed and processed by the same consultants that worked for Big Tobacco, telling is cigarette smoke did no harm. Those same ad agencies were picked up holus-bolus by Big Oil. So you are on shakey ground when you insult me, personally, in this way, accusing me of using hysteria. You are the one who is in bed with the snakeoil salesmen.

If you read some of my papers, you might change your mind-but I doubt it.


On 2010-11-23, at 1:23 PM, Ulf Erlingsson wrote:

What is being predicted? On what assumptions? Are those assumptions realistic? What if the predictions are correct, is that really significant?

Those are the questions that I still haven’t seen answered, after years and decades of debate.


Ulf Erlingsson

On 2010-11-23, at 13:58, Michael Risk wrote:

Ulf, I will do you the favour of not lumping you with the Dollar Deniers, of whom there are plenty. But that still doesn’t get you off the hook. In some ways, you are the worst sort of denier, the logical-sounding scientist who simply wants all the doubt to be removed before he acts. You cannot allow yourself to see the forest for the trees.

These are facts:
-the globe is warming.
-the oceans are warming, and growing more acidic.
-sea level is rising.
-atmospheric CO2 has risen.

You had better have a good story to tell your kids to explain why you didn’t act. This exchange is over.

Dr. Michael J Risk
Professor of Biology and Geology

On 2010-11-23, at 2:22 PM, Ulf Erlingsson wrote:


“This exchange is over”? ROFL

Admit it, you ran out of arguments. You used a plethora of irrelevant arguments towards me, but the one who has to be prepared to explain his actions, or lack thereof, is YOU, professor Risk.

In the last country where I worked in the field, about 2/3 of the population lived below the poverty line. Fully 1/3 suffered from some degree of starvation. Still, that is not their biggest problem: their biggest problem is the rampant violence with a murder rate higher than that in Baghdad in the height of the insurgency – and this violence is fueled by cocaine-users in the United States of America.

And you seriously think that a temperature change of a degree or two several generations into the future should be my main concern?

Your arrogance is mind-boggling, professor Risk. Absolutely mind-boggling. In fact, so mind-boggling that I will write about this on my blog. I just feel sick to my stomach from what you wrote.


Said and done.