There is no Consensus

This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


Climate is complicated and there are lots of competing theories and unsolved mysteries. Until this is all worked out one can’t claim there is consensus on Global Warming Theory and until there is we should not take any actions.


Sure there are plenty of unsolved problems and active debates in climate science. But if you look at the research papers coming out these days, the debates are about things like why model predictions of outgoing longwave radiation at the top of the atmosphere in tropical latitudes differ from satellite readings or how the size of ice crystals in cirrus clouds affect the amount of incoming shortwave reflected back into space or precisely how much stratospheric cooling can be attributed to ozone depletion rather than an enhanced greenhouse effect. No one in the climate science community is debating whether or not changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations alter the Greenhouse effect or if the current warming trend is outside of the range of natural variability or if sea levels have risen over the last century. This is where there is a consensus.

Specifically, the "consensus" about anthropogenic climate change entails the following:

  • the climate is undergoing a pronounced warming trend that is beyond the range of natural variability.
  • the major cause of most of the observed warming is rising levels of the greenhouse gas CO2
  • the rise in CO2 is the result of fossil fuel burning.
  • if CO2 continues to rise over the next century the warming will continue
  • a climate change of the projected magnitude over this time frame represents potential danger to human welfare and the environment

While theories and alternate view points in conflict with the above do exist, their proponents are in a very small minority. If one requires unanimity before being confident, well, we can’t be sure the earth isn’t hollow either.

This consensus is represented in the IPCC Third Assessment Report, Working Group 1 (TAR WG1). This is the most comprehensive compilation and summary of current climate research ever attempted, and is arguably the most thoroughly peer reviewed scientific document in history. While this review was sponsored by the UN, the research it compiled and reviewed was not, and the scientists involved were independent and came from all over the world..

The conclusions reached in this document have been explicitly endorsed by:

  • Academia Brasiliera de Ciências (Bazil)
  • Royal Society of Canada
  • Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • Academié des Sciences (France)
  • Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (Germany)
  • Indian National Science Academy
  • Accademia dei Lincei (Italy)
  • Science Council of Japan
  • Russian Academy of Sciences
  • Royal Society (United Kingdom)
  • National Academy of Sciences (United States of America)
  • Australian Academy of Sciences
  • Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts
  • Caribbean Academy of Sciences
  • Indonesian Academy of Sciences
  • Royal Irish Academy
  • Academy of Sciences Malaysia
  • Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand
  • Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

in either one or both of these documents: [PDF] [PDF]

In addition to these national academies, the following institutions specializing in climate, atmosphere, ocean and/or earth sciences have endorsed or published the same conclusions as presented in the TAR report:

If this is not a scientific consensus, then what in the world would a consensus look like?

[Addendum: One could quite legitimately argue that such policy statements by necessity hide possibly legitimate internal debate while trying to present unity of position. Science is really determined in peer reviewed journals. Fortunately, there is a bit of research one can turn to that looked specifically at this very question, and this is the subject of another guide entry. Please see this article.]

This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.

“There is no Consensus” was first published here, where you can still find the original comment thread. This updated version is also posted on the Grist website, where additional comments can be found, though the author, Coby Beck, does not monitor or respond there.

176 thoughts on “There is no Consensus

  1. Because half the time he does not even cite, I cannot verify Monckton’s work.

    But first, you commit:

    Are *you* saying Monckton’s arguments are correct? Do you believe there are *no fundamental flaws* in his argument?

    Commit, my good fellow, and we can talk.


  2. One can only assume the math is correct, therefore Skip my boy why do you suggest we must act now as there is no time for delay.

    Would it be better to spend the next few years in developing alternative energies that actually work to replace coal, oil and gas? Rather than this ham fisted tax on carbon dioxide that does nothing to reduce our emissions?

    Quotes from people with a vested interest:

    “The warnings about global warming have been extremely clear for a long time. We are facing a global climate crisis. It is deepening. We are entering a period of consequences.”

    A Gore

    “We simply must do everything we can in our power to slow down global warming before it is too late. The science is clear.The global warming debate is over.”

    The terminator

    “Today we’re seeing that climate change is about more than a few unseasonably mild winters or hot summers. It’s about the chain of natural catastrophes and devastating weather patterns that global warming is beginning to set off around the world.. the frequency and intensity of which are breaking records thousands of years old.”

    Barry Obama

    “All across the world, in every kind of environment and region known to man, increasingly dangerous weather patterns and devastating storms are abruptly putting an end to the long-running debate over whether or not climate change is real. Not only is it real, it’s here, and its effects are giving rise to a frighteningly new global phenomenon: the man-made natural disaster.”

    Sigh Barry again

    “Two thousand scientists, in a hundred countries, engaged in the most elaborate, well organized scientific collaboration in the history of humankind, have produced long-since a consensus that we will face a string of terrible catastrophes unless we act to prepare ourselves and deal with the underlying causes of global warming.”

    A Gore

    “The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril. There may still be disputes about exactly how much we’re contributing to the warming of the earth’s atmosphere and how much is naturally occurring, but what we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return. And unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe.”

    Woops Barry nearly spilled the beans there.

    And lets not forget Gordon Browns chilling words before COP15 “We have only 50 days to save the planet”

    The point of all these quotes Skip is to highlight the lengths that some will go to to convince you that the only way out of this roller coaster ride to hell is to pay a tax, a tax that will achieve nothing but make some rich.

    So go ahead avoid Monktons math and believe.


  3. Would you agree, this is where the uncertainty lies?

    They are much more common at regional scales than at the global scale, but can be global. State changes have triggers, or “tipping points,” that are related to feedback processes. In what’s probably the single largest uncertainty in climate science, scientists don’t have much confidence that they know what those triggers are.

    Clouds. Clouds have an enormous impact on Earth’s climate, reflecting back into space about one third of the total amount of sunlight that hits the Earth’s atmosphere. As the atmosphere warms, cloud patterns may change, altering the amount of sunlight absorbed by the Earth. Because clouds are such powerful climate actors, even small changes in average cloud amounts, locations, and type could speed warming, slow it, or even reverse it. Current climate models do not represent cloud physics well, so the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has consistently rated clouds among its highest research priorities. NASA and its research partners in industry, academia, and other nations have a small flotilla of spacecraft and aircraft studying clouds and the closely related phenomenon of aerosols.


  4. Matt, how are you long time no see. I have asked on more than one occasion for any one to check the maths. If the maths are correct and we warm by a paltry 0.5C max in 23 years then the above quotes (which are just a small sample) are totally incorrect.

    Also if the math is correct then what is the hurry, as many have said here before lets develope the technology required to replace fossil fuel and stop emissions rather than simply slapping a tax on it which we all know will achieve nothing.

    Surely you Matt would agree with that..yes?

    Now it is hard to imagine what tech advances will occur in 20 years but i would think battery tech would increase substantially, photo-voltaic cell efficiency will sky rocket making them a more viable alternative for base load replacement. Who knows what advancements in nuclear fusion may take place. I see hydrogen cars are gaining a foot hold in the US they seem like a good idea and with increased battery tech (fuel cell) they may be the ideal replacement for the internal combustion engine.

    As i said it all depends on how much TIME we have before the above quotes come true. Do we have 50 days as the now defeated British PM thought or is Monktons math correct and we have a few decades to think it through and apply the right and correct approach rather than a slash and burn taxation policy.

    It would appear that Gov. around the world are starting to accept this as we see the Australian and German gov. shelving their ETS schemes, NZ gov has now begun softening its ETS by removing the agriculture sector. Of course these decisions were made after the Spanish gov financially destroyed itself in chasing the green economy dream and low carbon legislation in the US is stuck in the mud and has been for some time.

    As i and others have said, applying a tax to this will not work but do we have the time to do it properly? Well according to Monktons math we do. Therefore his logic here is sound, however if you or anyone else can show his math to be flawed then yes we have no alternative but to follow Spain off the cliff.

    PS Are you the same Matt Bennett from JO Nova fame?


  5. crakar, how about move this over to the new Monkton Matters thread and us, reviewing that post’s material, why you are comfortable “assuming” his math is correct? And as an added bonus tell me why it is worth anyone’s time to take anything Monkton says seriously.

    The man has been shown a fraud over and over again, sorry not interested in biting on this.


  6. Trying to catch up on the forum while doing end-of-the-semester grading . . .

    Thanks for y’all’s contributions.

    God damn it, Crakar, you retarded-brilliant, charismatic-repugnant, illiterate-poetic, lucid-insane SOB . . .

    Of course these decisions [to soften carbon emission reduction strategies] were made after the Spanish gov financially destroyed itself in chasing the green economy dream and low carbon legislation Crakar

    I know Spain is one of the PIIGS, but what is your basis for the presumption that going green was the cause? I actually trust you enough on political analysis to ask . . . sheep shagger.

    Well according to Monktons math we do [have time to act on climate change “properly”]. Therefore his logic here is sound,

    And here again, my very dear Crakar, you are placing the future of climate and the planet on a proven charlatan. Duane Gish would love us both. There is no way in bloody hell I’m wasting my semi-valuable time chasing down the specific refutations of this quack.

    But on that note, why don’t you and I go debate on the Flat Earth forum? (Btw: the last thing I saw on Flat Earth was by “Pancake Productions” out of Oz. No sheep involved.)

    Only this time *I* get to be *you* and argue the earth is flat. Oh no! I called it first! Dibs, mate!

    Seriously, it would be fun for both of us.

    (I personally have a vested interest in a flat, young earth. It means I am a direct descendant of Adam. Great consolation for a humble social scientist who just got a nasty peer review on an article submission.)

    And how ‘bout an answer to my Big Question, Crakar:

    Do you believe *you* are qualified to critique the climate science consensus?

    I would ask Maxwell the same question, but he’s taken one of his hiatuses.


  7. I’ll save Crakar the time. This is quite well known in the denial-o-sphere like here:

    Job Losses From Obama Green Stimulus Foreseen in Spanish Study

    By Gianluca Baratti

    March 27 (Bloomberg) — Subsidizing renewable energy in the U.S. may destroy two jobs for every one created if Spain’s experience with windmills and solar farms is any guide.

    For every new position that depends on energy price supports, at least 2.2 jobs in other industries will disappear, according to a study from King Juan Carlos University in Madrid.

    U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget proposal contains about $20 billion in tax incentives for clean-energy programs. In Spain, where wind turbines provided 11 percent of power demand last year, generators earn rates as much as 11 times more for renewable energy compared with burning fossil fuels.

    The premiums paid for solar, biomass, wave and wind power – – which are charged to consumers in their bills — translated into a $774,000 cost for each Spanish “green job” created since 2000, said Gabriel Calzada, an economics professor at the university and author of the report.

    “The loss of jobs could be greater if you account for the amount of lost industry that moves out of the country due to higher energy prices,” he said in an interview


  8. I actually tracked down Calzada’s report, Paul.

    Click to access 090327-employment-public-aid-renewable.pdf

    I admit it made me think.

    The essential premise is that subsidizing wind and solar in Spain turned into a bubble because of the “retributive” incentives built into it: Because the government subsidized the creation of the green industries it siphoned money from other sectors of the economy and those incentives are dying now because Spain is insolvent.

    However, let the record show he is full blown climate denier–appearing at the ICCC along with other flat earthers Monckton, Spencer, etc–which creates a major credibility drain, although the article seemed well researched and was articulate.

    It also had the ring of truth to me anyway because it made a plausible argument: you can’t fantasize your way to climate change action; you can’t have it both ways, deficit spending to fix carbon emissions *and* make jobs, *and* find Jesus *and* ensure the Lakers don’t win the title, etc.

    But I would respond that I never denied this. Even if Calzada is correct in his analysis (and again he might very well be) the only lesson we can take from this is that that *type* of action on climate change/green tech is a poor idea. It does *not* mean that not acting is a good idea. If anything its a backhanded vindication of what I’ve been arguing for for years now: sell the public on a progressive taxation system. Gradually tax fossils until (a) oil pays its own way, because right now it does not (b) the incentive system gradually forces consumers and businesses to adapt to lower levels of use (c) green technologies can improve and eventually be made cost-effective and replace an increasing share of the base load.

    Because Paul (and this is an argument I never get a straight answer to) it *has to happen anyway*. Assuming we don’t destroy ourselves, someday, someone will *have* to live on something other than fossil fuels. Its a mathematical certainty. So when I hear these arguments about how weaning ourselves off fossils is too “costly”, it pisses me directly off, because its a cost that the arguer has no problem imposing on future generations.

    As my alter ego D. Nyer once put it when I posed him that point, he said, of our descendants whose oil we’re burning in our Hummers, “They will adapt to what is.” So its ok to make *them* adapt, but asking *him* to adapt is too “costly”. Again it irks me.

    So even if your man is right in his economic analysis (and we have every reason to suspect he has an ideological bone to grind) it does not follow logically that *any* action on climate change is ill advised.

    Yes, Paul, it will “cost”. So did beating the Nazis.


  9. Because Paul (and this is an argument I never get a straight answer to) it *has to happen anyway*. Assuming we don’t destroy ourselves, someday, someone will *have* to live on something other than fossil fuels. Its a mathematical certainty. So when I hear these arguments about how weaning ourselves off fossils is too “costly”, it pisses me directly off, because its a cost that the arguer has no problem imposing on future generations.

    Ok, now what is our best choice to replace fossil fuel?
    Hint, the answer is easy. If you really want to save the planet, that is.

    [btw, it shouldn’t piss you off. It is costly because of the compressed time frame required and dismantling perfectly functioning existing infrastructure.]


  10. from Clamate Progress,

    NASA: Easily the hottest April — and hottest Jan-April — in temperature record
    Plus a new record 12-month global temperature, as predicted
    May 16, 2010

    Isn’t this just weather?


  11. If you’re thinking going nuke, Paul, then I admit I don’t object in principle, but it is also a short run solution. Uranium is also a finite resource. (I know there are different schools of thought on ore reserves but more cynical estimates say nuclear might replace base load for at most a century. Then we’re right back where we were (or more accurately, our descendants will be right back where we are).

    One thing strikes me as a certain discussion ender–the Fusion Trump Card. I suspect if we had a Manhattan Project to solve that riddle we could all go home. In the mean time be willing to drive a Prius and set your winter heat to 67. Is this asking too much? Grandma worked the graveyard shift building Shermans while Grandpa manned an AA gun at Okinawa without ever bitching about “cost”.


  12. I’ll have to check the uranium issue. If it’s finite I’d agree. Thanks for the heads up.

    I don’t think a Prius and 67 is gonna cut it.


  13. Skip 159,

    Lets assume for a moment he does not have an axe to grind just like you haven’t. The problems begin with gov subsidies allowing these cottage industries to develope. Once the subsidies are removed the cost of the power goes up and it becomes quite expensive. It is quite simple really when you think about it.

    So you say if we are to learn anything from Spain it is that we must act now but act in the best way possible. This of course makes perfect sense, but how do we do this?

    You say it has to happen anyway so why not do it now, ok if you accept the IPCC’s over cooked sensitivity figures then we only have a short time to save the planet, thus why not do it now rather than passing this on to the next generation.

    So far so good.

    However to do it right we only have one viable option and that is nuke power but then you say this will only last 100 years so it is no good. Why is it no good? In 100 years we will have solved the fusion issue or come up with something even better, surely nuke would give us 100 years of breathing space yes?

    Mind you any government here in Oz or for that matter NZ that allows the building of nuke plant would be in opposition for the next 100 years so that might be a propblem.


  14. Paul 161,

    No, no, no, no, no this is not weather this is all part of the long term trend of CO2 induced climate change. Just like the Nth hemi experienced its snowiest winter ever recorded and the past decade has been the snowiest ever are also “signs” of climate change.

    Its funny because i have always associated snow with cold temps.

    There is a difference between heat and temperature.


  15. Skip,

    I did not know who Duane Gish was so i looked him up on google, i think between the two of us we would give him a run for his money, i would go in first and rough him up a bit, then you would come in with knockout punch :-)))

    Post 157,

    Do you believe *you* are qualified to critique the climate science consensus?

    I see where we are headed here Skip and congrats to you as you have finally phrased the question where i have no wriggle room. Looks like the cunning fox has finally caught his chicken.

    So in answer to your question “Do you believe *you* are qualified to critique the climate science consensus?” I would have to say no.

    Luckily for you for all the scientists that disagree with the consensus are buffoons, nutjobs and deniers thus blunting any possibility of me asking the same question of you.

    PS I will look at that website you mentioned and yes it would be fun to swap sides for a while, i will have a look tonight.

    PPS So your grandma built Sherman tanks did she? Do you know why they are called tanks? The Poms first came up with the idea to counter the German trenches, the design was so secret they told the workers they are building water tanks.


  16. Luckily for you for all the scientists that disagree with the consensus are buffoons, nutjobs and deniers thus blunting any possibility of me asking the same question of you.

    Yeah, well . . . all I can say is it sucks being on the wrong side of the evidence. I was there myself back when I was a creationist-fundamentalist in my formative years. Books and an inquisitive Irish mind happily cured me of it.

    I will look at that website you mentioned and yes it would be fun to swap sides for a while, i will have a look tonight.

    Fine. But like I said, I have dibs on defending the flat-earth dogma. I want to see it from your side of the fence and this might be my best chance. In the mean time you be safe. Back to my wine . . .


  17. Skip,
    Confirmed your comment on 100 years uranium. Worse still, it’s at present consumption rates. However thorium and breeder reactors are also mentioned.

    Biggest disappointment is that it’s not mentioned in the “pro nuclear” discussions.

    Personal opinion here > but’s it’s certainly one of the solution starters.

    Also, as far as running out of things, see here.


  18. However to do it right we only have one viable option and that is nuke power but then you say this will only last 100 years so it is no good. Why is it no good? In 100 years we will have solved the fusion issue or come up with something even better, surely nuke would give us 100 years of breathing space yes?

    Crakar, Skip,
    In the end it doesn’t really matter.
    Look at the task at hand. Globally.
    Money aside, there is simply not enough skill, manpower and facilities available to do what needs to be done in the time frame allowed by the alarmists.

    The only hope is that the sensitivity figures and feedbacks or whatever you want to call them are wrong, much lower then, than what the IPCC predicts now.

    And, counter intuitively, to some, to have a chance to make the shift, we need to burn as much fossil fuel as quickly and cheaply as possible.

    Ironic that the “greenies” will be their own biggest impediment.


  19. Re: New Article on Freeman Dyson

    (The same issue of the *Atlantic* also has an article on the future of clean coal but I’m not finished yet.)

    My take if anyone is interested:

    Freeman Dyson has made his name as something of a hero for the denier movement. Although he accepts the basic science of AGW he disputes that its particularly threatening, and that various adaptive mechanisms and the social and technical evolution of humankind will address it. With a Mozartian IQ (as a prodigious teenager he was helping OSS plan British bombing raids during the war) and an amazing list of scientific achievements, he is regarded as an ace in the hole for climate change deniers.

    Posted above is article from this month’s *Atlantic* about him, written by an old acquaintance. Although the article is weak on the specific sources of dispute against Dyson (i.e. the overwhelming scientific evidence for the potentially massive threat posed by climate change), it does attempt to disentangle why Dyson, who does not study climate, would so eagerly position himself against a consensus on a subject on which he himself is no specialist.

    Among Brower’s guesses are:

    1. Contrariness: some people just like getting jazzed being different and bucking the trend. When challenged with facts it only makes them more recalcitrant. Brower senses an element of this:

    It is clear to me that he has been stung by the criticism of his musings on global warming, and is digging in his heels.

    He Doesn’t Really Mean It: Dyson has at times shown a frivolous side, and he’s just talking out his genteel ass when he calls concerns over AGW the paranoia of environmentalist “religion”.

    Brower says no. On this Dyson has made it clear he is dead serious.

    Educated Fool He’s a nutty professor, able to unlock the deepest mysteries of the physical universe but no more able to understand the basics of climate science than to shoot a duck.

    Brower says there is an element of this with Dyson but some of his colleagues have identified a supreme engineering practicality to accompany his stellar theoretical IQ. Jury out.

    Old Age: The old man is just losing it.

    Brower says Dyson’s intellectual powers are as keen as ever. Not the answer.

    The one Brower also tends toward is

    Collision of Faiths:

    Dyman has a view of humanity as an animal of destiny, able to control our physical world and even adjust ourselves as social animals through technology and enlightenment–this in sharp contrast to a conservationist worldview that values other species, living within nature’s strictures as much as possible, and conserving the physical world and its resources:

    In the worldview underlying those opinions, however—in the articles of his secular faith—he makes a kind of good vicar for a much more widely accepted set of beliefs, the set that presently drives our civilization. The tenets go something like this: things are not really so bad on this planet. Man is capable of remaking the biosphere in a coherent and satisfactory way. Technology will save us.

    It was overall a good read, but the “Contrariness” explanation is incomplete, because it lacks (perhaps because Brower wanted to offend an old friend as little as possible) any explicit reference to the obvious role of *pride*.

    Freeman Dyson is not used to thinking of himself as wrong about things, and being told by a body of scholars–the vast majority of whom have a fraction of his intellect–that he’s “wrong” about climate change and its likely implications is impossible to swallow.

    “Wrong? Wrong? I am Freeman *F–ing* Dyson. I designed the flight patterns that got your grandfathers through Messerschmitts and AA flack while your grandmothers carried your dads in their shit-filled diapers from the ration line to the bomb shelter. I won the Lorenz and the Planck when you were sticking toothpicks in potatoes in a bowl of water in middle school. Don’t tell *me* I’m wrong.”

    I believe this because I’ve seen a similar mentality from far lesser minds, with far less basis for such hubris, who think they’ve got the goods on the AGW “hoax”. If these mediocrities can believe they’re above refutation its very easy to believe Dyson might.

    I won’t mention names.


  20. Question for Snowman coming over from “The Case against Fluoride”.


    Have *you* read Plimer’s book?

    If so, what are the *good* arguments that you suggest we consider?


  21. Sorry for the delay, Skip. I have been away from the computer for most of the day.

    I had rather hoped your question would not be such an obvious one, but I am afraid you have disappointed me yet again. My disappointment is all the more acute as I know you like to present yourself as a ruthlessly logical fellow.

    No, I haven’t read the book, but that is very far from being the point. I have no idea if his work is full of insights or full of junk. My argument was that people have no right to condemn a book without reading it.

    (I have, by the way, been to hear Prof Plimer speak in London. I found him rather disappointing.)

    But anyway, Skip, I am getting a little weary of trading insights in this strange virtual world. Do you ever stop to think about the oddness of it all? Here we are (and we are hardly the most aggressive) working ourselves into a state of high dudgeon over remarks by someone on the other side of the world whom we will never meet and know nothing about.

    What do I know about you, for example? Well, I know that you live in Nevada, that you teach at a university, that you are a football fan (mainly college football, I believe) and….and that’s it. I have no idea if there is a Mrs Skip and little Skips. I don’t know if you are a Republican or a Democrat (I suspect the latter, but I could be wrong). I don’t know if you are a native Nevadan (is that the word?) or if you grew up somewhere else. In short, I know none of the really interesting things that make a person what he is.

    But why am I rambling on this way? I must be in a mellow mood this morning.


  22. Coming back after a bit of a while …
    Has anything worth noting changed ? Have any of the pros recanted, have any of the antis subsided ?

    I might have guessed.

    You people are just like the ones on the “Does God exist ?” forum.




  23. Hum …
    It seems the conversations stopped back there in 2010 … strange…
    What happened there ? Premature end of the world ? Giant wave killing all coast-dwelling humans ? (yuk yuk)

    Anyway, happy 2012, may it be a warm and sunny year for all of us.




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