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Posted on: June 21, 2021

Patrick Belmont: Redefining Climate Change Denial | TED Talk





While I was working on my PhD back in 2005, I had an opportunity to pick up a guest speaker from the airport. It was Dr. Stephen Schneider. He was the lead author on the most comprehensive report to be written up until that time. He gave a phenomnal talk (a reference to Schneider). It changed the arc of my career. Up to that point I had just been studying earth sciences and he convinced me that to solve society’s most pressing problems we have to be studying human and natural systems as integrated parts of a whole. I have been working towards that ever since. Schneider died from a pulmonary embolism on an a flight from to the UK. I was struck by the profound irony that someone who dedicated his life to climate activism died doing one of the most fossil fuel intensive activities any human can do – flying. But that’s just how we all saw it at that point. You had to fly for research you had to fly for meetings you had to fly for conferences. The more successful you were the more flying you did. It’s only recently that I have been reflecting on my own career and the amount of flying I have done as a scientist. Ever had a moment like that when you’re just gobsmacked by the realization that your behavior and your beliefs are not as well aligned as you thought they were?

FAST FORWARD TO 2015: President Obama was making climate a priority. The USA was actively shaping the Paris Agreement. There were reasons for optimism. By 2015 we had known everything we needed to know for decades and actually much longer than that. The first paper that described the global warming problem was published in 1856. 1856!!! by an American scientist Eunice Foote. She laid it all out all the way back then. And Al Gore updated and reminded us in gory detail in the mid1990s.

BY 2015 WE WERE SWIMMING IN OCEANS OF DATA FROM METEOROLOGICAL STATIONS ALL AROUND THE WORLD. We collected thousands of sediment cores from lakes and ice cores from glaciers that allows us to re-construct what past climates have been like. And they are all telling us how much outside of normal conditions we were. What these data tell us is that this is no natural cycle. We are way outside of natural conditions. We had little gadgets we could use to measure CO2 coming out of individual leaves on trees at the scale of entire cities and whole continents. And all of this information was feeding into some of the most sophisticated computer models ever created to help us predict what future climate scenarios will look like.

DESPITE THIS MOUNTAIN OF INFORMATION: that were all pointing in the same direction and screaming at us about what a disaster we had created, in February of 2015 Jim Inhofe brought a snowball on to the floor of the US Senate as evidence that climate change was just a hoax. He brought a snowball. This was his attempt to undermine a century and a half of science. This was his response to the recent observation that 2014 had been the hottest year on record. Well guess what? 2015 was even hotter as was 2016 and 2017 and 2018 and 2019 and 2020. They were all hotter!!! Inhoffe was the definition of a climate change denier at that time. Some call these people skeptics. I don’t think so. Skeptics substantive arguments to the debate. Inhoffe and the other deniers responded to all the overwhelming science. They’re just saying nyaaa!!

Listen to Sen. Inhofe's Response to His Granddaughter Asking Him: 'Why Is  It You Don't Understand Global Warming?' - EcoWatch

And it worked! It was enough to continue to delay action. And we as a society, we just let that go.



So let’s just briefly talk about our current situation. (in 2021): I am sure many of you know the story. Fossil fuels continue to rise. This plot shows global energy consumption from all these different sources over the past 200 years. It shows huge increases in fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas just since the year 2000. If you look around and you see solar panels going up and wind farms and you feel like we’ve got this problem licked, I’m going to burst that bubble for you right now. All global renewables are represented in that thin green band on the chart. Renewables have not offset fossil fuels in any way shape or form. They have only enabled growth in energy consumption.


It is important to point our here that the vast majority of these historical fossil fuel emissions were put in the air by white people mostly in Europe and North America. But people of color are impacted disproportionately by climate change all around the world. So I don’t see how we can look at this as anything other than a form of environmental racism whether or not it was intentional.


JUST WHAT DOES A HOTTER FUTURE LOOK LIKE? We’re already beginning to see hints of the severe implications to come and we’re becoming a little bit desensitized to it. More extreme weather, more floods, more droughts, more wildfires, more food and water shortages. All of these climate change impacts cause political and social instabilities. So we’re expecting 10 to 100s of millions of climate refugees by 2050. Human suffering, eco systems failing. There are instabilities pose threats to national securities for which we are precariously unprepared according to the US military.


We are in a climate emergency. And I am using the word “emergency” very precisely to mean a threat that requires immediate action to avoid catastrophic outcomes. I know there are other emergencies going on right now but climate change is a big one because it multiplies all of these other problems. Mental health, infectious disease, and poverty – they’re all multiplied. Theyre amplified by CLIMATE CHANGE. And so many of the impacts of climate change are irreversible.


WHAT HAPPENS FROM HERE IS UP TO US. Every bit of fossil carbon we put in the air makes it worse and more expensive to deal with. We’re out of wiggle room. We are out of time for delays and half measures. The next 5 years are critical. (but the past 5 years weren’t). We must start to dramatically reduce fossil fuels starting now!


So this all begs the question, “What is a climate change denier in the 2020s???? We still have some of these bonehead deniers. They overtly refuse to accept facts. There is no amount of information that is going to convince them. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism for them. They can’t handle the truth. Maybe they have a financial or political stake in the fossil fuel economy. All we know for sure is that they’re wrong and in denial of reality. Most people choose to acccept facts. 60% to 70% of Americans understand that climate change is happening, they’re concerned about it, they believe it will harm future generations and they think they should be taking action now. But even amont these people, these good well intentioned people, there are passive form of climate change denial. Take for example the VIP denier. These are very important people. Anything they do is so important that the carbon pollution they produce is justified in their opinion. This was me 5 years ago when I used to fly around the world and tell people how bad climate change was. But here’s the thing. We have a small, fixed, and non-negotiable amount of carbon we can put into the air before we reach a critical climate threshold – and the air doesn’t care who burns it. So I burn a bunch of fossil fuels on a flight across the country for a 2-day conference, that’s the fossil fuel that someone in India could have used to feed their entire family for a full year. A full year. We can all rationalize that what we do is important, but when we have a fixed amount of carbon that we can put in the air, EQUITY MATTERS!



There is also the THE TECHNOLOGIST DENIER: Some of them will say “I can burn as much fossil fuels as I want because the next generation will solve the problem. Number 1: we don’t have that kind of time. Number 2: that’s our kids, that’s our grandkids we’re talking about. Haven’t we put enough on them already? Shouldn’t we rather leave them with a better world rather than bigger problems to deal with? Other TECHNOLOGIST DENIERS will say there is a big breakthrough right around the corner. It’s gonna solve all of this. All these problem are just gonna go poof.

YEAH RIGHT! Is there anyone here driving a hydrogen powered car? Anyone have a carbon capture tower in your back yard? NO! We’ve been talking about those technologies for decades and they are still impractical. There will be technological advances no question about that. But we are terrible at predicting when they are going to be ready for use at scale. Reducing emissions right now buys us time for these technologies to come to fruition.

There is also THE OFFSET DENIER. They think “I can burn as much fossil fuels as I want now because I am going to pay somebody $10 to plant a tree and hope it doesn’t burn down. Now don’t get me wrong here! Planting trees is great. But #1, the CO2 accounting at a global scale is pretty unreliable. #2, and more importantly, we simply cannot offset all the fossil carbon we’re taking out of the ground by putting trees on the surface because we will run out of tree habitats. And third, once you bring all that fossil carbon up and put up to the surface, we have to manage it. And we all know tht carbon can be locked up in a tree one minute and back in smoke and up in the air the next minute. The only way to keep the carbon out of the air is to keep the fossil fuels in the ground. So plant trees. I love trees. But don’t use that as an excuse to burn fossil fuels. These offset schemes are more effective in offsetting guilt than carbon fossil fuel pollution.

And lastly, we have the HELPLESS BYSTANDER DENIER. Totally accept the science but totally can’t do anything about it. Climate change is a problem that somebody else needs to solve. In some ways, this may be the worst form of denial because it exudes inactivism. And inactivism is contagious. At this point in history if you are just standing around doing nothing on this you are part of the problem. In the 2020s it’s not just about denying the science. The more common problem now is in denying that it is an emergency. It’s about denying our own power to play a real role in actionable “I can get it done today” solution. So let me redefine what is a climate change denier in 2020. I think a climate change denier at this point is anyone that has a large carbon footprint and is not working every day to reduce fossil fuel use. If you’re wondering whether you have a large carbon footprint, well if you drove here today or you’re watching this on a computer or you fly couple times a year you definitely have a large carbon footprint. Welcome to the club. Now you can’t solve it all yourself. We have a massive global system that needs to be fixed but we have to work on it together and we must work on it every day. So let’s talk about what it means to work on it very day. So many things you can do that costs nothing. Vote for Science. Vote for clean energy. Vote for an economy in which everyone pays for what they get. Another thing we can just do is just talk about it. We need to normalize talking about climate change. Talk about our concerns. Talk about solutions. Speak up to those spreading mis-information. You know we only vote every couple of years when an election rolls around but we can call out representatifes every day. Sometimes I do. Especially the local ones who are most likely to listen. A third thing we can do is just don’t buy so much stuff. (economic contraction??) Think of how much money I just saved you. When we are imbedded in a fossil fuel intensive system, buing less stuff saves a lot of fossil fuel pollution. And when you have to buy stuff, buy from truly sustainable companies. Don’t fall for false promises and half measures. If a company says they are getting rid of plastic bags, that’s great, give them a high 5. Should have done it 20 years ago, keep going. You’ve only solved about 1% of the problem. We need the whole system to be fossil fuel free. I am not going to go through the laundry list of all the things you can do to get rid of fossil fuels. There are lots of Ted talks and other resources out there about climate action. This is a talk about recognizing the passive forms of climate change denial. I am not here to shame you. I am here to motivate you to become part of the solution. every day. There is an active role for everyone to play. Whether you’re a chef or a server, a janitor, a teacher, a business owner, health care worker, truck driver, an artist, whether you’re unemployed or retired, there is a role for you. Whatever your talents, your capacities, your means, there is a role for you to play. Find it. Ask yourself “how can I apply my talents my power? What can I bring to bear to help solve this problem? And start today as a climate realist. Stephen Schneider taught us that we have to fix the system. And fixing the system starts with me and you.

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(1) STEPHEN SCHNEIDER: The Stephen Schneider reference is to “Rasool, S. Ichtiaque, and Stephen H. Schneider. “Atmospheric carbon dioxide and aerosols: Effects of large increases on global climate.” Science 173.3992 (1971): 138-141. Effects on the global temperature of large increases in carbon dioxide and aerosol densities in the atmosphere of Earth have been computed. It is found that, although the addition of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does increase the surface temperature, the rate of temperature increase diminishes with increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For aerosols, however, the net effect of increase in density is to reduce the surface temperature of Earth. Because of the exponential dependence of the backscattering, the rate of temperature decrease is augmented with increasing aerosol content. An increase by only a factor of 4 in global aerosol background concentration may be sufficient to reduce the surface temperature by as much as 3.5 ° K. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease over the whole globe is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age.” LINK: . ABOUT THE LATE GREAT STEPHEN SCHNEIDER


Stephen Schneider’s genius was that he had explained the 1970s cooling in a way that made it consistent with the theory of anthropogeni global warming by way of the greenhouse effect of atmospheric CO2 rise from fossil fuel emissions. His explanation was that the warming effect of carbon dioxide is logarithmic so that the greater the CO2 concentration the less the effect on the rate of warming of increasing CO2 concentration. However, that relationship is exactly in reverse for aerosol backscatter cooling – the greater the aerosol concentration, the greater is the effect of additional aerosol. He concluded that in the long term, CO2 warming will be saturated and more easily overcome by aerosol backscatter cooling so that in the limit, at high atmospheric CO2 levels, the principal determinant of surface temperature will be aerosols.

(2) EUNICE FOOTE; Eunice Foote carried out an experiment in whch she found that a glass bottle with CO2 in it got hotter in the sun than a glass bottle without CO2 in it. This experiment is widely held as empirical evidence of the greenhouse effect of CO2. But the further claim by the lecturer that “By 2015 we had known everything we needed to know for decades and actually much longer than that because the first paper that described the global warming problem was published in 1856. 1856!!! by an American scientist Eunice Foote. She laid it all out all the way back then“. The Eunice Foote experiment cannot be descried as a paper that described the global warming problem that laid it all out”.

(3): JIM INHOFE: In the year 2000, the science of climate science had taken the position that snow was disappearing due to climate change and that our children won’t know what snow is. In their words … “Snow is starting to disappear from our lives. Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and the excitement of waking to find that the stuff has settled outside are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain’s culture, as warmer winters – which scientists are attributing to global climate change – produce not only fewer white Christmases, but fewer white Januaries and Februaries … Global warming, the heating of the atmosphere by increased amounts of industrial gases, is now accepted as a reality by the international community … According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit of the University of East Anglia, within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”. “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is. The comical Jim Inhofe response as a comical chapter in climate denial must be understood in the context of this comical chapter in climate science that was apparently based on mountains of data all pointing in the same direction.

(4): HOTTEST YEAR: It is proposed that the observation that 2014 was the hottest year on record and that the follosing six years 2015 to 2020 were also the hottest years on record provides all the empirical evidence needed for the certainty beyond all doubt that the theory of anthropogenic global warming proposed by climate science is correct beyond all doubt and that therefore to be a denier like Inhofe and to argue against the science is comical foolishness. This argument, intended to defend science, is itself unscientific and it also violates climate science itself. According to climate science, only long term trends in global mean surface temperarure longer than 30 years have an interpretation in terms of AGW. Therefore “hottest year on record” is an event and not a long term trends and therefore it must be understood as internal climate variability that has no AGW interpretation. It is an oddity of climate science that this kind of science denial is actually seen in climate science itself whenever the denial serves their needs of the moment.

(5): ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM: It is proposed that since most of the historical fossil fuel emissions were put in the air by white people in Europe and North America and since people of color are impacted disproportionately by climate change all around the world, climate change is environmental racism. Here we propose that this lecture is a worse form of racism as it is an attempt to use the darkies to sell the white man’s climate agenda. The cruelty and ugliness of this aspect of the white man’s climate movement is described in related post on this site linked below.


(6): INSTABILITIES AND THREATS TO NATIONAL SECURITY: “There are instabilities pose threats to national securities for which we are precariously unprepared according to the US military“. This issue is discussed in a related post linked below where we have listed the forecasts made in 2004 for the year 2020 by the Pentagon. Briefly, we note in the related post that all the forecasts of doom have been a complete and comical failure but the failure did not change the language of these forecasts nor the fear mongering nature of all climate science forecasts.


(7) CARBON POLLUTION: “VIP deniers believe that the carbon pollution they produce is justified in their opinion”. RESPONSE: Fossil fuel emissions were once a pollution issue but the hippie movement against that pollution in the 1960s and 1970s led to the formation of the EPA and the resolution of all pollution problems with fossil fuels. The climate change issue is not a pollution issue. The only role of fossil fuel emissions in this case is the claim by climate science that they cause atmospheric CO2 concentration to rise as explained in a related post on this site: LINK:

(8): DENIERS, BONEHEAD DENIERS, PASSIVE DENIERS, VIP DENIERS, AND CO2 POLLUTION: The extensive vocabulary of describing critical evaluation of climate science, the refusal to respond to their critical evaluation, and then to villify them in this way, though meant as a support for AGW theory, serves only to weaken it because the refusal to respond to ciritical evaluation implies the inability to provide a rational response that would support and strengthen climate change science. Critics are therefore left with the rational conclusion that the refusal to be responsive implies that the response will weaken the case for AGW. With regard to the “carbon pollution” of VIP deniers, it should be noted that the pollution problem of fossil fuel emissions was solved in the 1970s by the EPA that was created in response to the hippie movement against pollution. The new climate change case against fossill fuels is not a pollution issue. Here the issue is not that that CO2 is pollution but that CO2 emissions that meet environmental specifications cause atmospheric CO2 to rise. This is not a pollution issue.

(9): EMISSIONS OF AIRLINE PASSENGERS AND THE PITY FOR INDIANS UNABLE TO FEED THEIR FAMILY: That the speaker was a passenger in a flight acoss the country does not imply that the flight would not have gone if he hadn’t been a passenger and therefore he has no role in the total emissions of that flight and in fact, his contribution to those emissions cannot be calculated becausee the flight would have gone anyway even if he had bicycled across the country. As for the racist pity of poor Indians unable to feed their family and that if he hadn’t taken the flight he could have fed a family in India, this is a pure and disgusting form of racism. I should mention that India has hundreds of airliners making thousands of domestic flights per year. This racist reference to India is a case of incredible ignorance, a mystery here in the age of the Internet. I SHOULD ADD THAT THE FAMINES OF 1769, 1899, AND 1943 in British India, the most famous of which was THE BENGAL FAMINE OF 1943, had created a a phrase in the English language about hunger in India and that phrase has survived to this day but it has no relevance to India of today.

Bengal famine of 1943 - Wikipedia

(10): TECHNOLOGIST DENIERS AND OFFSET DENIERS. The case against these two positions seems rational and I fully agree. For example the unsupported expectation that some magic technology will come along and resolve the fossil fuel emission issue is not a rational argument and the offset case against climate action that some carbon cycle intervention can attenuate the rate of rise in atmospheric CO2 is not credible and the carbon credits market built on that basis is flawed as described in a related post: LINK:

(11): HEPLESS BYSTANDER DENIER: Here the lecture describes a climate action plan to be carried out on an individual basis by people changing their behavior, lifestyle, and consumption patterns and political activities to reduce their personal contribution to fossil fuel emissions. This kind of climate action plan is a fairy tale. Global warming is a Global issue driven by Global fossil fuel emissions and the climate action required is a Globally coordinated program among all nations to eliminate Global fossil fuel emissions. This is why the UN was brought in. It was thought that the UN could repeat its Montreal Protocol success in the climate issue and put together a “Montreal Protocol for Climate Change” (MPFCC). The short of that story is he UN failed to deliver the MPFCC as described in a related post on this site: LINK: . The failure was to be expected since it is not possible to compare changing refrigerants to overhauling the world’s energy infrastructure in the eral of the industrial economy. The failure to put together the UN’s global climate action plan has led to a disorganized mishmash of climate action heroism of nation states based not on eliminating fossil fuel emissions but on something called NET ZERO that uses the offset denier argument. The problem with Net Zero climate action is described in a related post on this site: LINK: . There is no role for Nation State climate heroism because the nation states are connected by trade such that the climate action nation cedes an economic advantage to non-climate action nations such that the emission reduction achived in the climate action nation state is offset by increased emissions in non-climate action states as described in these related posts on this site.





An interesting post. Thank you!

Thank you for you4 kind comment

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