Copenhagen flop: skeptic arguments 101

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Back at the start of the decade, Coral List (a list-serv email discussion run by NOAA) had some great topics up for debate amongst the coral reef scientific community. These days Coral List continues to make for a fantastic place for information and discussion, yet the intense debate of old seems increasingly thin on the ground. Every once in a while though, there are some pretty fantastic debates, like the recent ‘Copehagen Flop’. The original post debated the relevance of an article in a Danish newspaper (“Climate summit flop feared“) citing multiple hotel reservation cancellations in Copenhagen as evidence of a poor showing for the upcoming UN climate change conference in December 2009.

After this topic was debated a while, another post came up questioning the rational of the Copenhagen as temperatures have been dropping whilst CO2 is rising, sunspots are overdue, climate change is a growth industry, and how geologists know better. Enter John Bruno, who i’m guessing is long tired of the same old ‘skeptic’ arguments. See below for the entire article in it’s entirety – it’s one of the most concise and well written critiques i’ve read in a while. Posting from Brisbane Australia, where it’s pretty freaking hot too (last week we hit an August record of 35.4°c – in the middle of our winter).

From: John Bruno <>
Date: 29 August 2009 9:48:16 AM
To: coral-list@coral.aoml.noaa.go
Subject: Copenhagen flop: skeptic arguments 101

Climate change skeptics have a basket of well-worn arguments for why humans are not in fact changing the earth’s climate.  Gene deploys many in his wonderfully cranky and cynical post.  I have found it entertaining and even useful (when arguing with skeptics) to become familiar with the most common skeptic arguments.  Most skeptics use the same pool of 3-5, although the most popular change over time.   The fantastic web site SketicalScience tracks, ranks, outlines and debunks the most popular:

Also see:

Currently, the most popular argument is the well-debunked “it’s the sun stupid” argument, which Gene includes in his post.  Read up on this argument at these links:

The second most popular skeptic argument is that “climate changed before”.  I am pretty sure you don’t have to have a PhD in geology to be aware of the fact that the earth’s climate fluctuates.  My kids learned about ice ages and geological eras in kindergarten.  And the reality of past natural climatic fluctuation in no way refutes evidence that current trends are strongly influenced by human activities.  In fact quite the opposite; the relative speed of the current changes compared to the many past cycles suggest something is different about this cycle.  Also see:

Gene alludes to the third most popular, “there is no consensus” argument:

And also the very popular (currently at position #4) “the earth is actually cooling!” argument.  This is of course nonsense that is is based on cherry-picking small periods in the longer-term climate record.  The most popular this year is choosing 1998 (by chance? – I doubt it) as the beginning and examining how global temperature has change since then.  Indeed, by some (but not all) measures there is a slight cooling since 1998.  But such cherry-picking is (to anyone trained in science) a silly and disingenuous way to test for trends in the longer term climate record.  We have blogged about and made fun of this skeptic argument pretty extensively at ClimateShifts:

Also see:

Gene also works in the “models are unreliable” argument (the 5th most popular)

and the “global warming stopped in 1998” argument (currently ranked in 8th place), which is related to the “the earth is  actually cooling!” argument

and very frequently tied in with the “it’s freaking cold!” (15th place) argument

AKA “it’s cold today in Wagga Wagga”:, where Gene, like so many skeptics, confuses local and short term weather for climate.

Additionally, as the National Climatic Data Center recently reported, ocean temperature this July has been the hottest in the last 130 years of record keeping:

And as I recently blogged about, a new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters (Easterling and Wehner  2009) demonstrates that short term periods of no-trend or even cooling (nested within longer term warming) are in fact predicted by Global Climate Models;

Finally, Gene takes a slightly new angle on the well-worn “climate changed before” argument.  Most skeptics are not geologists; most skeptics (including about half of all adult Americans) are not scientists of any type.  Moreover, most geologists are not skeptics as is evidenced by the various briefing articles and position pieces published by the American Geophysical Union, e.g.,

titled “Human Impacts on Climate” which begins “The Earth’s climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming. Many components of the climate system—including the temperatures of the atmosphere, land and ocean, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, the sea level, the distribution of precipitation, and the length of seasons—are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th century.”

Cheers from Chapel Hill, where it is freaking hot!


John F. Bruno, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Marine Science
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-330

Update: I thought to better put this in context, I’d add the post I was responding too.  Gene Shinn is a well-known carbonate geologist. (John Bruno)

I read all the responses about the Copenhagen flop on the list
with great interest and feel they skirt the underlying issue. I serve
on a large global climate change committee and am exposed to the
research and opinions from both sides of the issue several times each
day.  Most of the skeptics are geologists that look to the geologic
record for guidance. The warmers look to mathematical models that
project far into the future. Those on the pro warming side of the
issue often work for companies, government agencies, or Universities
involved (think paychecks) in CO2 sequestration projects or involved
in the cap and trade business. The other side, mainly geologists, are
well aware of former climate changes  before humans arrived on the
scene. The public does not know who to believe.
     I suspect the real reason attendance will remain low in
Copenhagen (unless the climate starts warming again) Is they are
skeptical, or unsure, of what the climate will do in the future.
Temperature has been dropping (abundant low temperature records were
set in July) and many researchers have shown temperature has overall
been  flat since 2000.  At the same time temperatures have been
dropping (over the past two years)  CO2 has continued to rise!  It is
hard not to  notice that temperatures have fallen. Just read the news
papers. I suspect this observation  has not gone unnoticed by a
growing body of scientists,  politicians, and investors.  Investors
are no dummies.  Clearly climate change is a huge growth industry.
Does anyone not believe that many of the attendees will be there
looking for a way to make money? I doubt they will be there because
they fear the earth will burn up! Have coral-listers really looked
into the money already being made on cap and trade and the sale of
pollution credits? The next few years will be the proof of the
pudding and Sunspot cycle 24 is still overdue. Gene PS: There is a
Foundation  cranking up for the "preservation of CO2." It's all about
increasing agriculture production. They will be looking for your tax
exempt contributions.  Ain't this a great country or what!

No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
Marine Science Center (room 204)
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
eshinn at
Tel 727 553-1158

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