Dilbert, first published when I was about two years old, always got a chuckle from me as a lad because the pictures were silly, but it later became newly revelatory after I began to live through the tedium of elevator small talk, witnessed firsthand the omnipresence of miscommunication, and stared down the specter of utter misunderstanding between two or more departments that handled more-or-less the same material. Scott Adams, Dilbert’s creator, has injected doses of sanity into general office culture where little sanity exists. He is, in addition to Mike Judge, one of the true Bodhisattvas of the corporate world, offering comedic salvation from what is otherwise a paradigm that induces near-constant existential crises for the jaded (me) and the less mentally resolute (also me).
As a young man I even bought a copy of Adam’s God’s Debris, a really wonderful book that introduces the reader to a lot of strange Philosophical ideas with a supremely gentle touch. I had long been an Adams fan – and still am – but I found out recently that he is a climate change denier, masquerading as a simple skeptic of the science behind climate change. I’m sure my frustration will be evident throughout.
Adam’s himself wrote a blog post wherein he claims that he sides with a majority of scientists “until they change their collective minds” – but the issues he then raises with the scientific status quo he says are “what it would take to convince skeptics that climate science is a problem that we must fix”. These, unfortunately, are points that only a climate change denier would put forward as counter arguments to what is an overwhelming and well-supported scientific opinion.
I’ve been told in other mediums that “denier” is a dirty word and it’s wrong, or at least unhelpful, to paint those who do not believe in climate change (as it has been presented) as such. The issue I have with this, however, is that a “denier” of climate change rarely challenges the science behind the consensus or approaches the science itself with a very fundamental misunderstanding of basic science. I am not a scientist by trade, but I have studied a wide variety of mathematics and understand the basis for many of the theories of climate change, insofar as the mathematical modeling is concerned. Plus, one of the most common defenses I see for climate change deniers is that they will demand that anyone commenting on the topic be an expert and, yet, when the expert presents their opinion – that man-made climate change is real – they’ll call them a shill, or a lackey, or sell-out, I assume to Green Industry.
I think I should also say that I expect this piece to be rather ineffective; since climate change denial is literally based (by and large, and I would love to see a cogent argument as to why this is untrue) on a distrust of the scientific community, I doubt that my appeals will reach many. I think fundamentally, that the approach by Bill Nye et al is hamfisted; the people who they are ostensibly attempting to convince will never, ever believe them. Instead, perhaps a more helpful consideration is that the United States Military, among others, have been talking about man-made climate change for over a decade and deem it a real national security threat. Climate Change is absolutely real, and you should care about it if only because it puts the security of the US at risk.
Without Further Ado: A Point-by-point refutation of Adam’s Climate Change Skepticism from the post linked above:
1. Stop telling me the “models” (plural) are good. If you told me one specific model was good, that might sound convincing. But if climate scientists have multiple models, and they all point in the same general direction, something sounds fishy. If climate science is relatively “settled,” wouldn’t we all use the same models and assumptions?
And why can’t science tell me which one of the different models is the good one, so we can ignore the less-good ones? What’s up with that? If you can’t tell me which model is better than the others, why would I believe anything about them?
What, precisely, sounds fishy about a number of models pointing in the same general direction? The models overwhelmingly agree on the future state of the climate. If anything, this is MORE disturbing because it means that regardless of how generous or free-handed we are with the variables involved, we still end up in a place that is severely detrimental to human civilization. If you had a hundred models, ninety-nine of which agreed it was going to rain tomorrow and the only difference was how much, would you not bring your umbrella?
2. Stop telling me the climate models are excellent at hindcasting, meaning they work when you look at history. That is also true of financial models, and we know financial models can NOT predict the future. We also know that investment advisors like to show you their pure-luck past performance to scam you into thinking they can do it in the future. To put it bluntly, climate science is using the most well-known scam method (predicting the past) to gain credibility. That doesn’t mean climate models are scams. It only means scientists picked the least credible way to claim credibility. Were there no options for presenting their case in a credible way?
Just to be clear, hindcasting is a necessary check-off for knowing your models are rational and worthy of testing in the future. But it tells you nothing of their ability to predict the future. If scientists were honest about that point, they would be more credible.
Specialized predictions in Economics and Finance are inherently flawed because they are experiments in mass psychology. An economic model must assume some level of rationality for consumers, which can never be completely accurate. In the natural sciences, however, you’ll find Carbon Dioxide doesn’t have feelings and the temperature of the ocean doesn’t care if the Fed lowers interest rates. The issue is that EVERY science uses the same or similar methodology (differential equations, exponential growth, game theory, Markov chains, probability) but you must look at the SUBJECT MATTER of each experiment: if it involves economics, you immediately have a less reliable model than a similar model in the natural sciences. Again, go ask a molecule of Carbon Dioxide if the amount of heat it can hold in the atmosphere varies based on housing prices in Cleveland.
3. Tell me what percentage of warming is caused by humans versus natural causes. If humans are 10% of the cause, I am not so worried. If we are 90%, you have my attention. And if you leave out the percentage caused by humans, I have to assume the omission is intentional. And why would you leave out the most important number if you were being straight with people? Sounds fishy.
There might be a good reason why science doesn’t know the percentage of human-made warming and still has a good reason for being alarmed. I just haven’t seen it, and I’ve been looking for it. Why would climate science ignore the only important fact for persuasion?
Today I saw an article saying humans are responsible for MORE than 100% of warming because the earth would otherwise be in a cooling state. No links provided. Credibility = zero.
What source are you going to believe, Scott? Who is omitting this information? Is this the article you saw? If links aren’t provided – on the internet and on a random website – I’d say your refusal to do just a bit of legwork to track down a source tacitly illustrates your true position.
4. Stop attacking some of the messengers for believing that our reality holds evidence of Intelligent Design. Climate science alarmists need to update their thinking to the “simulated universe” idea that makes a convincing case that we are a trillion times more likely to be a simulation than we are likely to be the first creatures who can create one. No God is required in that theory, and it is entirely compatible with accepted science. (Even if it is wrong.)
Fine, but this assumes that people who believe that there is evidence for Intelligent Design would be able to accept that ANY intelligence might be able to create our universe, not just the God of a Messianic faith. I’m sure scientists would be willing to admit this possibility if ID’ers are.
5. Skeptics produce charts of the earth’s temperature going up and down for ages before humans were industrialized. If you can’t explain-away that chart, I can’t hear anything else you say. I believe the climate alarmists are talking about the rate of increase, not the actual temperatures. But why do I never see their chart overlayed on the skeptics’ chart so we can see the difference? That seems like the obvious thing to do. In fact, climate alarmists should throw out everything but that one chart.
To which “skeptics’ chart” are you referring? Which sources are you going to believe? There are many sources for global temperature data. The temperatures AND the rate of change are at issue, because with a higher rate of change, temperature becomes harder and harder to reverse.
6. Stop telling me the arctic ice on one pole is decreasing if you are ignoring the increase on the other pole. Or tell me why the experts observing the ice increase are wrong. When you ignore the claim, it feels fishy.
WHO IS TELLING YOU THIS? There are myriad sources which would explain this to you and the reasons why, if you bothered to look.
7. When skeptics point out that the Earth has not warmed as predicted, don’t change the subject to sea levels. That sounds fishy.
Again, which sources are you referring to? Who is telling you this? I cannot counter this information if I don’t have it in the first place.
8. Don’t let the skeptics talk last. The typical arc I see online is that Climate Scientists point out that temperatures are rising, then skeptics produce a chart saying the temperatures are always fluctuating, and have for as far as we can measure. If the real argument is about rate of change, stop telling me about record high temperatures as if they are proof of something.
The argument is about both. Why would a record high not be of concern? Even if temperatures fluctuate over time, to have a record high still means that fluctuations were sufficient enough to put global temperatures off the charts, and that only happens if there is a steady increase in rate. Rate and maximums are MATHEMATICALLY related, especially in that you’re going to reach maximums much more quickly at a greater rate.
9. Stop pointing to record warmth in one place when we’re also having record cold in others. How is one relevant and the other is not?
They are both relevant and this has been widely discussed in the literature. Again, who is suggesting this isn’t important? I have no idea what source this is coming from, or are you pulling from a comment section somewhere?
10. Don’t tell me how well your models predict the past. Tell me how many climate models have ever been created, since we started doing this sort of thing, and tell me how many have now been discarded because they didn’t predict correctly. If the answer is “All of the old ones failed and we were totally surprised because they were good at hindcasting,” then why would I trust the new ones?
Have you done any research yourself or are you content to look at the comment sections of articles? This is a copy of one of the first models of global warming. This is an interview from decades later with [one of the] scientist[s] who created it, who suggests that modeling has been improved over the years, but the fundamentals of the models remain the same. To put it bluntly, increases in greenhouse gasses increase the greenhouse effect, period. Manabe’s interview is a perfect example of questioning the science of climate change scientifically, though you will at no point hear him deny that increases in global warming since industrialization is anything other than human-influenced.
11. When you claim the oceans have risen dramatically, you need to explain why insurance companies are ignoring this risk and why my local beaches look exactly the same to me. Also, when I Google this question, why are half of the top search results debunking the rise? How can I tell who is right? They all sound credible to me.
This is utter laziness or willful ignorance. I’m not sure what you googled, but there are many, many, many sources that talk about insurers taking climate change very seriously and adjusting their risk assessments accordingly. Which sources, specifically, are debunking the rise of sea levels? There is a difference between local sea level and the Global Sea Level.
12. If you want me to believe warmer temperatures are bad, you need to produce a chart telling me how humankind thrived during various warmer and colder eras. Was warming usually good or usually bad?
You also need to convince me that economic models are accurate. Sure, we might have warming, but you have to run economic models to figure out how that affects things. And economic models are, as you know, usually worthless.
Extremes of temperature are bad, not just warm temperatures – how do you think humanity fared during the Ice Age? Was it better or worse than in an environment ideal for agriculture? It’s not the effect on humans that is detrimental (necessarily) but rather the effect temperature may have on our food sources and our other resources, like standing water. As you said before, if the RATE of temperature change is at issue (it certainly is) then the ability for humans to figure out ways to help their food and resources adapt to rapidly changing temperature is the true problem.
Economic models, despite their shortcomings, are deadly accurate in terms of two concepts: supply and demand. Anyone – ANYONE – could tell you that the less fresh water their is, the more demand for fresh water there will be. Likewise, the price will rise. Supposing that extremes of temperature would affect this – I think most would understand more heat means less water – then what other evidence do you need? I am at a loss as to how else to communicate this.
14. If skeptics make you retreat to Pascal’s Wager as your main argument for aggressively responding the climate change, please understand that you lost the debate. The world is full of risks that might happen. We don’t treat all of them as real. And we can’t rank any of these risks to know how to allocate our capital to the best path. Should we put a trillion dollars into climate remediation or use that money for a missile defense system to better protect us from North Korea?
You’ll notice I haven’t retreated from any one of these arguments. Most I find minimally compelling, but you’ll find that people are assessing risk all of the time, if not at the scale that you’re demanding. Look at your earlier example of insurance companies: they ARE responding to climate change on scales that typically fly under the radar, but this is nonetheless precisely contrary to what you suggest. As I mentioned earlier, the US Military is well aware of climate change and is running its own risk assessments: which are surely being considered in juxtaposition to other threats, like a North Korean nuclear strike, for instance.
People ask me why I keep writing on this topic. My interest is the psychology around it, and the persuasion game on both sides. And it seems to me that climate scientists are the Hillary Clinton of scientists. They think facts and reason will persuade the public. Even though science knows that doesn’t generally work.
And yet, you ask for facts and reason? Do me – do us all – a favor: what would actually convince you that climate change is a real threat? Why would anyone make this up? Are scientists who are making 40-50k at Universities and Agencies the world over in on the conspiracy? If so, why are they not rich? We don’t have too much time left to argue.