Thongchai Thailand


Posted on: July 31, 2020




2012 SkS Weekly Digest #48






THE AUTHOR IS DAMIAN CARRINGTON, the Guardian’s Environment editor




The four types of climate denier, and why you should ignore them all, by Damian Carrington: (1)The shill, (2)The grifter, (3)The egomaniac and (4) The ideological fool. Each distorts the urgent global debate in their own way. Serious debates about what to do about the climate crisis are turning into action. The deniers have nothing to contribute to this.

  1. A new book (on climate denial), described as “deeply and fatally flawed” by an expert reviewer, recently reached the top of Amazon’s bestseller list for environmental science and made it into a weekly top 10 list for all nonfiction titles.
  2. How did this happen? Because, as Brendan Behan put it, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. In an article promoting his book, Michael Shellenberger – with jaw-dropping hubris – apologises on behalf of all environmentalists for the “climate scare we created over the last 30 years.
  3. Shellenberger was named a hero of the environment by Time magazine in 2008 and is a loud advocate of nuclear power, but the article was described by six leading scientists as “cherry-picking”, “misleading” and containing “outright falsehoods”.
  4. The article was widely republished, even after being removed from its first home, Forbes, for violating the title’s editorial guidelines on self-promotion, adding further heat to the storm. And this is why all those who deny the reality or danger of the climate emergency should be ignored. Obviously, I have broken my own rule here, but only to make this vital point once and for all.
  5. The science is clear, the severity understood at the highest levels everywhere, and serious debates about what to do are turning into action. The deniers have nothing to contribute to this.
  6. However infuriating they are, arguing with them or debunking their theories is likely only to generate publicity or money for them. It also helps to generate a fake air of controversy over climate action that provides cover for the vested interests seeking to delay the end of the fossil fuel ageBut the deniers are not all the same. They tend to fit into one of four different categories: the shill, the grifter, the egomaniac and the ideological fool.
  7. The shill:  is the easiest to understand. He, and it almost always is he, is paid by vested interests to emit clouds of confusion about the science or economics of climate action. This uncertainty creates a smokescreen behind which polluters can lobby against measures that cut their profits.
  8. The grifter: A sadder case is that of the grifters. They have found themselves earning a living by grinding out contrarian articles for right-wing media outlets. Do they actually believe the guff they write? It doesn’t matter: they just warm their hands on the outrage, count the clicks and wait for the pay cheque.
  9. The egomaniac:  The egomaniacs are also tragic figures. They are disappointed, frustrated people whose careers have stalled and who can’t understand why the world refuses to give full reverence to their brilliance. They are desperate for recognition, and, when it stubbornly refuses to arrive, they are drawn to make increasingly extreme pronouncements, in the hope of finally being proved a dogma-busting, 21st-century Galileo.
  10. The ideological fool: The ideological fool is the fourth type of climate denier, and they can be intelligent. But they are utterly blinded by their inane, no-limits version of the free-market creed. The climate emergency requires coordinated global action, they observe, and that looks horribly like communism in disguise. They could explore the many credible climate action plans being pursued, including by those on the political right. But their cognitive dissonance forces them to the conclusion that because state intervention is wrong, acting to avert climate danger cannot be right. Intellectual gymnastics to “expose” climate alarmism then follow naturally.
  11. But why do I say ignore them all? The climate crisis is urgent, and we need debate to drive action. However, vigorous debates over action are already taking place in good faith all over the world, from the tops of governments to the smallest local action groups.
  12. Every nation in the world signed up to the 2015 Paris climate deal, pledging to keep global heating below 2C and ideally to 1.5C. The IPCC involves thousands of international scientists and is arguably the greatest scientific endeavour in history. It has spent three decades spelling out in painstaking detail how humanity is causing global heating, how catastrophic that threatens to be – and how drastic action is required to avert the worst.
  13. The world of finance and business is catching up fast with the science, and almost all the technology needed already exists. In short, no sane or serious actor can countenance denial of climate danger. Bad-faith arguments motivated by greed, egomania or ideology have nothing to add.
  14. Which brings me to the US president, Donald Trump. Political leaders are the exception to the rule. Their climate idiocy should be challenged, as they hold actual power. But even in this case, reality is fast debunking their proclamations.
  15. In the US, coal is dying, because green energy is cheaper and cleaner, however great Trump claims he will make the miners. Even if Trump, and Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, persist, other nations will begin to ostracise them via trade sanctions and border taxes.
  16. As for the shill, grifter, egomaniac and ideological fool, the reality of increasing climate impacts and successful action is fast exposing them as well. Those willing to employ the shills and the grifters are dwindling.
  17. The book I started with has now been knocked off the environmental bestsellers list, fittingly enough by one published by the environmental hero Rachel Carson, in 1951. I can’t profess to know what Shellenberger’s motivation was, but one thing is clear: the egomaniacs and ideological fools will get the place in history they so lust for. It will be a small footnote marking the useful idiots of the climate war.
  18. We’ve never had a better chance to make a greener world. Covid-19 has delivered unusual environmental benefits: cleaner air, lower carbon emissions, a respite for wildlife. Now the big question is whether we can capitalise on this moment. The Guardian aims to lead the debate from the front.
  19. In the weeks and months ahead, our journalism will investigate the prospects for a new green settlement. We will showcase the big thinkers and protagonists and amplify the arguments for authorities everywhere to consider as they lead us out of coronavirus. Our credentials suit us well to the task: we are independent, we have no owners, no paymasters or oligarchs pulling the strings. We have committed to carbon neutrality by 2030, divested from the oil and gas sectors and renounced fossil fuel advertising. But at this crucial moment, news organisations like ours are facing a daunting financial challenge. As businesses everywhere feel the pinch, the advertising revenue that has long helped to sustain our work has plummeted. We need you to help fill the gap. You’ve read 52 articles in the last nine months. Our journalism is open to all because we believe everyone deserves access to factual information, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay. If you can afford to, we hope you will consider supporting our journalism today.
  20. The Guardian believes that the climate crisis we face is systemic. We will inform our readers about threats to the environment based on scientific facts, not driven by commercial or political interests. We will keep reporting on the efforts of individuals and communities around the world who are fearlessly taking a stand for future generations and the preservation of human life on earth. We want their stories to inspire hope. We need your support to keep delivering this kind of open, committed independent journalism. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable.




  1. This piece by the Guardian was motivated by the Shellenberger book and starts out as a critical analysis of the book with vague statements and charges that include (1) deeply and fatally flawed according to an expert reviewer, (2) the author is an advocate for nuclear power, (3) it is not credible because it relies on cherry picking. (4) the content of the book is misleading, (5) It contains outright falsehoods, and (6) the book is guilty of self promotion. This is all the Guardian has to say to discredit the book in terms of climate denialism. No details for these charges are provided and no argument against those details are made.
  2. Yet, only on the basis of these vague unspecified charges against the Shellenberger book, the Guardian leaves the Shellenberger subject altogether and turns to the subject of climate denialism in general to classify four types of climate deniers as (1)The shill, (2)The grifter, (3)The egomaniac and (4) The ideological fool with no connection or relevance provided for the Shellenberger book that he had started to write about. At this point we have left the Shellenberger book, which apparently has served its purpose, to launch into an attack on climate denialism with climate denialism defined as anyone who disagrees with climate scientists, the UN, and the IPCC. At this point we have completely left the topic of Shellenberger’s book against which many charges have been made without any supporting evidence or commentary for any of those charges. The topic is now changed to climate denialism.
  3. Climate denialism is then attacked in terms of the description of climate deniers as either shill, grifter, egomaniac, and ideological fool without providing any details of denialist claims and why those claims are wrong. Name calling is apparently all the evidence the Guardian needs to prove deniers wrong. The statement that “the science is clear” is too vague an argument against climate denial. Some specific charges are necessary to show why they are wrong.
  4. As for the reliance on the statement “the science is clear”, perhaps the Guardian can explain or contest some of the oddities in the clear and settled science. For example, climate science says that the global warming we see is a creation of the industrial economy such that the amount of warming caused by the industrial economy must be measured from a reference pre-industrial temperature that existed prior to the industrial revolution. Yet, the clear science is vague on what this reference temperature is and in which year it was measured. Here the question is “in what year did anthropogenic global warming driven by the industrial economy start? The answer to this question is provided by climate science as follows:
  5. Callendar 1938: It started in 1900 and warmed steadily from 1900 to 1938 with the warming driven by rising CO2 which in turn is attributable to fossil fuel emissions.
    Hansen 1988: It started in 1950 because in the 30-year period 1950-1980 there is a strong measurable warming rate with 99% probability for human cause.
    IPCC 2001: It started in 1750 when the Industrial Revolution kicked in and atmospheric CO2 began to rise.
    IPCC 2015: It started in 1850 by when sufficient fossil fuel carbon had entered the atmosphere for a measurable response of temperature to CO2.
    NASA 2020 : It started in 1950 because from then the relationship between CO2 and temperature we see in the climate models closely matches the observational data.
    Climate Scientist Peter Cox 2018: It started in the 1970s because it is since then that we see a measurable responsiveness of surface temperature to atmospheric CO2 concentration according to the theory of the greenhouse effect of CO2.
  6. What we find in this case is that though the science is clear, it is a science in which the “pre-industrial” reference plays a crucial role but given its uncertainty, it is not clear exactly what that role is.
  7. Yet another critical issue is the basis for planning climate action to attenuate the continuation of future global warming so that we can limit the temperature rise to a temperature that is below critical and dangerous level that may cause mass extinctions and the collapse of civilization. The important question in this regard is the the critical amount of warming that can occur before the horrific impacts of climate change that must be avoided. Surprisingly, the answer to that question is not as clear as assumed.
  8. In the IPCC 2001 report we were told that: Fossil fuel emissions is causing atmospheric CO2 concentration to go up and that in turn is causing global mean temperature to go up. If we don’t take climate action to reduce and eliminate emissions, the temperature will continue to go up and when it warms 5C above pre-industrial, warming will become irreversible and out of control making it impossible for us to save the planet.
  9. In the IPCC 2007 report we were told that if we don’t take climate action to reduce and eliminate emissions, the temperature will continue to go up and when it warms 4C above pre-industrial, warming will become irreversible and out of control making it impossible for us to save the planet.
  10. In the IPCC 2013 report we were told that if we don’t take climate action to reduce and eliminate emissions, the temperature will continue to go up and when it warms 3C above pre-industrial, warming will become irreversible and out of control making it impossible for us to save the planet.
  11. In the IPCC 2015 report we were told that if we don’t take climate action to reduce and eliminate emissions, the temperature will continue to go up and when it warms 2C above pre-industrial, warming will become irreversible and out of control making it impossible for us to save the planet.
  12. In the IPCC SPECIAL REPORT OF 2018 we were told that if we don’t take climate action to reduce and eliminate emissions, the temperature will continue to go up and when it warms 1.5C above pre-industrial, warming will become irreversible and out of control making it impossible for us to save the planet.
  13. The large uncertainty in this crucial value that forms the basis of the climate action being promoted by the Guardian does not support the assumption by the Guardian that the science is clear and that we  therefore know how this climate change will evolve and what we must do in terms of climate action to control it.
  14. Yet another consideration in terms of the degree of clarity in the science that the Guardian says is clear, is the significant issue of climate change impacts in the form of extreme weather and forest fires. These impact claims serve the important function in climate science of providing the incentive for us to take climate action. The causal connection between anthropogenic global warming and extreme weather events is made post hoc (after the fact) using a procedure called “Event Attribution Science”that clearly suffers from an extreme form of conformation bias that would renders its findings as something other than science. However, the greater issue with Event Attribution Science is that the study involves extremely short time spans of a year or less and an extremely localized portion of the globe that is usually less than 1% of the globe. The issue here is that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is a theory about long term trends (longer than 30 years) in global mean temperature. Its interpretation in terms of such localized events over brief time periods is not possible because under these conditions the internal variability of climate, unrelated to AGW, dominates. As explained in a related post [LINK] , “Internal variability in the climate system confounds assessment of human-induced climate change and imposes irreducible limits on the accuracy of climate change projections, at regional and decadal scales”. The relevant implication is that extreme weather events cannot be understood in terms of AGW climate change because of the internal variability issue.
  15. Finally, we address the scientific method of inquiry that requires data analysis and their hypothesis tests to be constructed from the point of view of a denier. In hypothesis tests, the null hypothesis is the that of the denier. Unbiased and objective data analysis must show the denialism null hypothesis to be wrong with sufficient statistical power to accept the alternative hypothesis that forms the basis to prove the denier wrong. This is how science  works. In the absence of denialism and in the context of the 97% consensus valued by climate science, the critical and denialist approach in the scientific method becomes corrupted by confirmation bias.
  16. A specific example is that of the injection of relatively small quantities of fossil fuel emissions into nature’s carbon cycle that involves a number of different CO2 flows that are an order of magnitude larger than fossil fuel emissions and with very large uncertainties in their flow rates. The assumed effect of fossil fuel emissions on atmospheric composition can be ascertained only if uncertainties in carbon cycle flows are ignored and that mass balance does show that half of the fossil fuel emissions accumulate in the atmosphere. However, when uncertainties in carbon cycle flows are taken into account, no impact of fossil fuel emissions can be detected [LINK] . The absence of critical evaluation of data made from a denier’s perspective required by the scientific method is absent in the way climate science carries out this test such that the procedure does support the climate science position that atmospheric composition is responsive to fossil fuel emissions. [LINK] [LINK] .
  17. These serious issues cannot be evaluated in terms of the Shellenberger book and cannot be appreciated from an activism point of view that sets out to prove the catastrophic global warming hypothesis as the null hypothesis. In its extreme eagerness to push the idea of climate action against fossil fuels, climate science has had to overlook or bypass the scientific method and to vilify the critical evaluation of climate science as an undesirable activity called climate denial.


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  • Ruben Leon: Who is the science denier? The person who watches H2O with an atomic weight of 18 precipitate out of the atmosphere (with an atomic weight of 14.3)
  • Irving Prentice: If we want to err on the side of caution and try to reduce manmade CO2 emissions, let’s not “throw the baby out with the bath water”. There may
  • chaamjamal: Thanks. A specific issue in climate science is correlation between time series data where spurious correlations are the creations of shared trends, s
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