Climate denial and the ‘white male effect’

In recent months I’ve found myself in a bit of a running battle with some of Ireland’s leading (I use the word advisedly) climate contrarians. It stems back to the inaugural meeting of the so-called Irish Climate Science Forum in a Dublin hotel on May 5th last. I did my bit to draw critical attention to a secretive group with the stated aim of influencing (aka ‘hobbling’) Ireland’s response to climate change.

While barred as a member of the media from attending, I did drop around to the venue, the Sandymount Hotel in south Dublin, to meet one or two of my moles for a post-meeting debrief. While there, I wandered upstairs to see what I could see. As luck would have it, the back door of the room where the meeting was taking place featured a glass panel, so I whipped out a phone camera and snapped the picture below, which subsequently used to illustrate my report.









While it won’t win any photojournalism prizes, the photo does have its value. Notice anything at all unsual about the age and gender profile? Me too. That got me thinking about what exactly would make such a bunch of highly experienced, educated people so suddenly gullible, so giddily susceptible to swallowing junk science on the biggest, most critical issue human civilisation (and I use that term advisedly too) has ever faced?

Then, more recently, I was on the receiving end of a formal complaint from one of the lead contrarians (watch this space for a full account once this process has run its course). Among the smorgasbord of charges he levelled against me was one of…ageism. This came as a genuine shock. I was brought up to respect my elders – which is not the same as blindly accepting something somebody says just because they’re a good deal older than me, or indeed because they have more academic qualifications than me.

I’ve certainly never engaged in any of the assorted activities (harassment, bullying, threatening behaviour etc.) levelled by my contrarian accuser against assorted ‘NGOs and activists’, but what about ageism? Nope, not guilty on that count either. The whole encounter brought a 2011 research paper – entitled ‘Cool Dudes’ back to mind. It teased out the intriguing ‘white male effect’, one most predominant in older males.

Could this help solve the riddle of how long-retired cherry pickers like Richard Lindzen or William Happer could get away with peddling their anti-science spiel to audiences you would think are old enough and wise enough to smell the bullshit? I took that idea to The Guardian a couple of weeks back, and this led to a commission, and the article first appeared in Guardian Environment on Friday last.

It caused a bit of a stir (which is usually what happens when you give the denier hornets’ nest a poke), with over 1,100 online comments – a big number, even by Guardian standards. Next, I had the dubious honour of Spectator blog, entitled ‘Are old white men really to blame for climate change denial?‘ (apparently not). Next up, the world’s most popular denier website, Wattsupwiththat, waded in: ‘Guardian: Climate Denial is the Fault of Old White People‘.

And on it went. A denier blog called ‘Climate Skepticism’ certainly had the best headline: ‘More sexist, racist filth from the Guardian’. Quite. Wondering about the identity of the author, the article engaged in a more authentic brand of racist, sexist filth: ‘Is it John Gibbons the dishy young black transexual who sells her body to elderly engineers in the washrooms of Dublin public houses venting her understandable spleen? Or is it John Gibbons the environmental activist and former environmental columnist at the Irish Times, sacked in 2010, much to the dismay of its highly educated, mainly elderly white male readership? I think we should be told’.

Regular ThinkOrSwim visitors will be relieved to learn that, whatever about my alleged nocturnal activies, I am indeed still a regular contributor to the Irish Times; my weekly environment column did indeed come to an end in 2010, but, after 100+ straight weeks, it had probably run its course by then, and I was certainly happy by then to be relieved of the heavy burden of filing a research-based column 50 times a year.

Below is the full version of the article, which the Guardian trimmed slightly for brevity and clarity:

FROM MY vantage point just outside the glass doors, the sea of grey hair and balding male pates had the appearance of a golf society event or active retirement group. It was instead the inaugural meeting of Ireland’s first climate denial group, the self-styled Irish Climate Science Forum (ICSF) in Dublin last May. All media were barred from attending.

Its guest speaker was retired physicist and noted US climate contrarian, Richard Lindzen (77). His jeremiad against the “narrative of hysteria” on climate change was lapped up by an audience largely comprising engineers and meteorologists – mostly retired. This demographic profile of attendees at climate denier meetings has been replicated in London, Washington and elsewhere.

How many of the people in the room had children or indeed grandchildren, I wondered. Could an audience of experienced, otherwise intelligent people really be this blithely indifferent to the devastating impacts unmitigated climate change will wreak on the world their progeny must inhabit? These same ageing contrarians doubtless insure their homes, put on their seat belts, check smoke alarms and fret about cholesterol levels.

Why then, when it comes to assessing the greatest threat the world has ever faced and when presented with the most overwhelming scientific consensus on any issue in the modern era, does this natural caution desert them and, collectively, they are prepared to quite literally bet their children’s lives on the faux optimism being peddled by contrarians?

As a journalist, I have long found climate denial an intriguing topic, but as a citizen and parent, I’ll admit to being mad as hell about this callous disregard for our future by those who likely won’t be around when the climate hits the fan.

“We’ve been repeatedly asked: don’t you want to leave a better Earth for your grandchildren”, quipped comedian and US talk show host John Oliver. “And we’ve all collectively responded: ‘ah, fuck ‘em!’” This would be a lot funnier were it not so close to the bone.

Short-termism and self interest is part of the answer. A 2012 study in Nature Climate Change presented evidence of ‘how remarkably well equipped ordinary individuals are to discern which stances towards scientific information secure their personal interests’.

This is surely only half the explanation. A 2007 study by Kahan et al. on risk perception identified the “white male effect”, or the ‘atypically high levels of technological and environmental risk acceptance among white males’. An earlier paper teased out a similar point: ‘Perhaps white males see less risk in the world because they create, manage, control and benefit from so much of it’. Others, such as women and non-whites, who haven’t enjoyed such an armchair ride in life, report far higher levels of risk aversion.

The 2011 paper ‘Cool Dudes – the denial of climate change among conservative white males in the US’ observed uncontroversially that: ‘conservative white males are likely to favour protection of the current industrial capitalist order which has historically served them well’. It added that ‘heightened emotional and psychic investment in defending in-group claims may translate into misperceived understanding about problems like climate change that threaten the continued order of the system’.

A paper earlier this year from Vanderbilt University pinpointed what motivates many who choose to reject climate change. It’s not science denial, but ‘regulation phobia’. Most deniers accept science in general, and even pride themselves on their science literacy. However, combatting climate change not alone means more regulations, ‘almost uniquely, it demands a transformation of internalised attitudes’. This, the authors conclude, ‘has produced what can fairly be described as a phobic reaction among many people’.

Facing up to climate change also means confronting the deeply uncomfortable reality that the growth-based economic and political models upon which we depend may be built on sand. In some, especially the ‘winners’ in the current economic system, this realisation can trigger an angry backlash.

“To the extent that assertions of environmental risk are perceived as symbolising a challenge to the prerogatives and competence of social and governmental elites, it is hierarchical men—and particularly white ones – whose identities are the most threatened, and who are thus most likely to form an extremely dismissive posture toward asserted risks”, according to the Kahan study.

This at last began to make sense of these elderly engineers and assorted non-specialists crowding into hotel rooms to engage in the pleasant and no doubt emotionally rewarding group delusion of imagining climate change to be some vast liberal hoax.

In truth, the arguments hawked around by elderly white male climate deniers like Fred Singer, William Happer and Nigel Lawson among others are intellectually threadbare, pockmarked with contradictions and offering little more than a cherry-picked parody of how science actually operates. Yet this is catnip for those who choose to be deceived.

It is, however, deeply unfair to tar all elderly white men as reckless and egotistical. Celebrated naturalist Sir David Attenborough (91) and former Nasa chief, Dr Jim Hansen (76) are examples of courageous climate leadership. But their voices are often lost in a fog of denial.

A century after elderly military leaders cheerfully dispatched millions of young men from the trenches to their slaughter in the First World War, the defiant mood of today’s climate deniers is best captured by the stirring words of Blackadder’s General Melchett: “If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through!”

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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61 Responses to Climate denial and the ‘white male effect’

  1. Sean Condon says:

    Again a shrewd observation on the hypocrisy associated with climate deniers. I think though the concept of “stranded assets” is really what binds all of these deniers together. Look at one of Irelands foremost deniers – Michael O’Leary of Ryanair – he’s male, but not of the age profile shown in your photo. But the business he runs are one of Irelands biggest polluters and has a lot to lose from accepting the damage their business model is doing. Similarly all of these guys in your photos will have assets – big houses, big cars, shares in companies, even their reputations that they think would all be at risk if they admitted the true cost of climate change. Of course these assets are at risk anyway, but it’s always hard to let go. The exception you mention David Attenborough is an example of a guy who knows his best asset is his public profile, and it’s in his best interest to recognize the facts

  2. Michael Clarke says:

    I sent you a tweet recently about the war and the environment but I didn’t get a reply. There is a significant military dimension to the destruction of the environment (mostly by white makes but, sadly, some females seem to be as hung-ho as any white male) but the environmental lobby appears to be ignoring it. There are no references to war in the Paris Agreement, which is extraordinary on one level but not on another. I’m a member of PANA (Peace and Neutrality Alliance) ( We would appreciate an opportunity to meet you go discuss how the anti-war movement could co-operate with environmental activists.

  3. Mack says:

    Looks to me like a small meeting of ,say, the Irish Medical Association…..nothing much to see, except a bunch of white haired chrome domes.
    It’s a whole room full of bone headed doctors…er,sorry…deniers.

  4. My article ‘More sexist, racist filth from the Guardian’ which you quote was a bit of rude, vulgar sarcasm. Replying by calling it “a more authentic brand of racist, sexist filth” is just too tu quoque (or “same to you with brass knobs on”) and doesn’t deal with the point of my post, (which was unstated, because that’s not how sarcasm works) which was the irritation we sceptics feel at being treated to psychological typecasting which recalls some particularly horrifying examples of treatment of other people by those who hold the ideological upper hand.

    You say you have “long found climate denial an intriguing topic” but nowhere in your article do you state what you believe “denialism” or contrarianism” to be. Nor do you seem to have made the slightest effort to find out what the elderly white male engineers and meteorologists at the meeting believe, or why they believe it. The psychological literature you quote may apply to “many elderly conservative white males” but we at Climate Scepticism are neither all male, nor all elderly, nor all conservative (I personally support the French Communist Party.)

    We sceptics (or denialists if you prefer) are always interested in dialogue with those who are interested in us. I once conducted a series of on-line conversations with Adam Corner, psychologist and director of Climate Outreach. We didn’t convert each other, but we had a good time. If you feel like conducting a public discussion on the nature of climate denial (or scepticism) on our respective blogs, drop me a line. And I apologise for the rudeness.

  5. John Gibbons says:

    @Sean I think you’re on the money, if you’ll excuse the phrase. It takes a fairly powerful degree of self-delusion to sit through the gibberish of a slide show by, say, William Happer and somehow manage to think this is anything other than a foolish old man fooling himself and trying to fool others. What’s striking (and I’ve reviewed Happer’s entire Dublin slide set) is just how completely and demonstrably crap it is. The kind of crap in fact that a younger Prof Happer would doubtless have terrorised some undergrad about had they had the temerity to submit it to him when he was still a practising mainstream (and once highly esteemed) academic. O’Leary is our much beloved National Jackass. Every country has one. Look at Boris Johnson in the UK.

  6. John Gibbons says:

    @Michael Apologies if I didn’t reply to your tweet (I like twitter, but it’s not the best place, IMO, for in-depth communications. Could you drop me an email and I will certainly read it and get back to you. The green and anti-war movements have often been interlinked (eg Greenpeace) but I think you’re quite right, the climate movement needs all the allies it can find right now, and if that includes the anti-war movement, then yes, let’s talk. One thing is sure: as climate chaos intensifies, war is going to become the norm, not the exception, as nation states scramble for depleted resources against an ever-worsening backdrop of climate instability.

  7. John Gibbons says:

    @Mack It’s too big a coincidence in my book that so many men of a certain age, educational background and economic status all happen to find the science of climate change deeply unconvincing. That’s what the article was about – asking the awkward question: what on Earth is really going on here? I disagree with you describing this group as bone-headed. There were brains-a-plenty in that room. It’s not about intelligence, I’d suggest, but ideology.

  8. Jaime Jessop says:

    What you simply must do if you cannot effectively engage with the actual arguments of the people with whom you disagree is categorise them, pigeon-hole them, seek to rationalise why they have a different opinion to yourself based purely upon this categorisation. Thus you observe that sceptics are generally white, male and middle-aged. Thus you assume that demographics are all-important in the formation of the point of view of these people; not facts, not observations, not learning. Ideology – not a simple, rational, scepticism of what is in fact very poor science – simply must be the ‘reason’ why these people reject what you like to think of as sound science.

    The ‘proof’ of this is in the fact that ‘all’ sceptics are white-haired, balding white male conservatives whose thinking is therefore contaminated by who they are; they are far more likely to reject climate science because they’re white-haired old men, many trained in the ‘traditional’ sciences. Except that many sceptics are not white, middle-aged males. Some are non-white, some female, some not middle-aged. What they all have in common is the ability to look at the ‘facts’ about climate change and decide that they don’t live up to the billing they get from the people who promote AGW as a ‘serious problem’. What they have in common, more than hair loss, advanced years, maleness and whiteness, is the ability to use their brain to discriminate fact from fiction, reality from hype, good science from poor science, and lastly to discern political advocacy masquerading as science.

  9. Geoff Cruickshank says:

    How the hell can you tell what gender these people identify as – from a photo from behind?

  10. John Gibbons says:

    @Geoff Pretty easy actually. It helped that I got to read the register at the meeting, which included the names of all participants…another useful hint as to the gender balance. BTW, s it really that problematic to figure out that a balding grey pate is, in about 98% of cases, attached to a male head? Also, the shape of the bodies and clothing are other significant hints.

  11. John Gibbons says:

    @Jaime I’ve spent a good chunk of the last 10 years of so studying, writing and researching in this field, so the conclusions in this article are based on observations over an extended period, both my own and from the relevant literature. AS to whether or not I can effectively engage with their arguments, you’re welcome to visit the article archive on this website and decide for yourself. I’ve written over 300 posts on this blog over that period, plus another 150 or so OpEds for the Irish Times, plus analysis/opinion articles and appearances in various other media, from the Guardian to the BBC, RTE and assorted other newspapers and magazines. Perhaps if you had read William Happer’s ludicrous slide show from his Dublin ICSF meeting, you’d better understand that “the ability to use their brain to discriminate fact from fiction, reality from hype, good science from poor science, and lastly to discern political advocacy masquerading as science” has absolutely nothing to do with climate denial, which is primarily a defence of a worldview in the teeth of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    Of course, I don’t expect you to accept a word of the above; that’s the other thing I learned from a decade of engagement with skeptics/deniers.

  12. John Gibbons says:

    @Geof – first off, appreciate your apology for your rude comments. Vulgar abuse doesn’t improve an argument. What you call ‘psychological typecasting’ I would call a legitimate attempt within the literature to try to understand a phenomenon whereby otherwise intelligent people choose to selectively reject the absolutely overwhelming weight of scientific evidence on this particular subject. There is no equivalent rejection, say, of gravity or plate tectonic theory (though the rejection by some of evolutionary theory does have parallels).

    As explained in another reply here, I’ve been on this journalistic beat for a long time, and have spent thousands of hours writing, researching, interviewing and reading on the subject. The “white male effect” is a real phenomenon – if you haven’t already done so, I’d suggest reading the papers I’ve linked to in the Guardian article, and critiquing them if you wish.

    Another thing I’ve come to understand is that some skeptics/deniers (often media folk) are motivated by a belief that they have ‘found out’ the scientists and by a feeling that, in rejecting the ‘consensus’ they are displaying intellectual courage and rejecting groupthink.
    I’m all for arguing with opinions – mine, yours or anyone else’s are fickle, fallible and always worth challenging. On the other hand, picking fights with facts, eg. basic science and the laws of physics, that is the opposite of smart.

    One key area where I find myself at odds with skeptics/deniers is that I desperately want to be proven wrong. The evidence suggesting that the world is hurtling towards a mass die-off event of unparalleled severity fills me with horror. This isn’t just about climate change. Biodiversity is in freewill; ocean acidification, pollution and surface heating is threatening to trigger a global marine catastrophe. Two thirds of all the wildlife that existed in 1970 are now gone. How long before the remainder are wiped out? Atmospheric CO2 levels have risen by over 40% in the last 60 years, and are now at the highest level in at least 3 million years. Global fresh water resources are plummeting. Deforestation continues unabated. Every cubic foot of water in the world’s oceans now contains hundreds of pieces of micro-plastic. The list really does go on and on, and it assuredly does not depend on your opinion as to the moral probity of climatologists.

    I am completely open-minded to reviewing fact-based evidence to the contrary, but sadly, there is little or none that fits the description. The slender output of handful of retired or semi-retired scientists, almost all with financial ties to the energy industry producing error-laden ‘research’ that is constantly being debunked has to be weighed against the evidence being generated by thousands of working, publishing scientists across a range of related fields and endorsed by every scientific academy on Earth (with the possible exception of North Korea). I go with the most plausible, evidence-based explanations, however uncomfortable they make me feel.

    As for ‘conducting a public discussion on the nature of climate denial’, with respect, I don’t think that’s going to be a productive use of the limited time I have available. I’m not trying to be dismissive, this view is based on prior attempts to ‘engage with skeptics’ which I found soul-destroying and utterly pointless, since no amount of evidence will change a mind that thinks it knows better than the actual experts in a given field.

  13. Geoff Cruickshank says:

    Goodness, we old fellows are in danger of being analysed to death. One esteemed gentleman decided we were all conspiracist ideators who believe any old thing, but you have formed the view that there were brains aplenty in that room, led there by unbecoming ideology.
    I would attend a lecture with Richard Lindzen, or Richard Tol, or Richard Betts, or Richard Renshaw, or Richard Jones, or Richard Dumelow – I’m happy to listen to any old Dick and see if I can learn something. Yet photographing me from behind through a glass door does not give you any insight at all into my ‘ideology’.
    For the record, I have no issue with the radiative properties of CO2. I agree with you that ocean plastics are a problem and do what I can about it- not much use but something. About 400 acres of what used to be my grazing land is now re forested. My main concern with the response to expected warming is the proliferation of wind turbines in my own area, where they present a huge threat to biodiversity- in particular Aquila audax tasmaniae, a top predator. Yet my local Green Party cheers them on. I abhor tourism and have never indulged.
    Despite this, you can judge me by my appearance.

  14. John Gibbons says:

    @Geoff First off, it was not my choice to be on the outside of the meeting; I was barred from attending, as were “all media, politicians and NGOs” – an interesting stance from an organisation whose stated aim is to influence public policy in Ireland on climate change. I’m glad at least we agree on the radiative properties of CO2 (there are many deniers who even deny Physics 101) and on the hazard of marine plastics. Re. wind turbines, for me, it’s a matter of the least worst option – any form of fossil fuel burning being the worst, then work backwards from there and see what options remain if you, like me, enjoy the comforts of modern living, such as electricity. I’m not judging you by your appearance, just as well, since I have no idea what you might look like.
    I was making some points about the curious over-representation of well-educated elderly while middle class men among the ranks of climate skeptics/deniers. I often wonder if their laid-back approach to risk management in this one specific instance (these are, otherwise a cautious, conservative bunch) has anything at all to do with knowing they’ll be well gone by the time things get really terrible. I’d hate to think anyone, of any age, could be that recklessly cynical, but am fast running out of alternate suggestions.
    As for the assorted Dicks you mentioned, some are a good deal more slippery than others – I’ll leave you to work out who.

  15. Jaime Jessop says:

    John, I’ve seen your attempt at assessing the severity of and the attribution analysis of man-made climate change and it doesn’t reassure me that you are capable of engaging with sceptics’ main arguments.

    “BY ALMOST any measure, climate change poses the greatest threat to human health and well being in the 21st century. An international scientific consensus attributes the same level of certainty that climate change is both extremely dangerous and primarily anthropogenic in origin as exists linking tobacco and a range of life-threatening conditions.”

    You are plain wrong about the level of certainty.

    Of course, I don’t expect you to accept a word of the above; that’s the other thing I’ve learned from six years of engagement with climate change believers.

  16. Mack says:

    ….” I desperately want to be proven wrong”……
    No you don’t, John. You don’t want to be proven wrong. It would mean that your AGW religion would be destroyed….your life since Nov 2007 (blog start), would turn to crap, along with that of the “greenhouse” science presently promulgated by every scientific institute on the planet.
    The proof that AGW is false could be one click on a link away…..but you would be too afraid to put that link (it’s 5 links) ..up on your site?..yes….no?

  17. Mack says:

    scrap ..”(it’s 5 links)… only 1 link is needed!

  18. John Gibbons says:

    @Jaime I’d be happy to ‘engage with the skeptics’ main arguments’ if only we knew what they were. I’ll take a wild guess and say is’s any one of the 195 denier talking points painstakingly documented (and debunked) by the good folks at Skeptical Science:

    If by any chance you have any peer-reviewed evidence from a relevant journal that would challenge the consensus view on climate change (preferably one with lots of citations, so we know other scientists found it of merit) do please share it. BTW, clips from denier blogs and ‘think tanks’ don’t count as ‘evidence’.

    Very witty, BTW, to use my phrase and invert it. Which reminds me: you are plain wrong about the level of uncertainty regarding dangerous anthropogenic climate change. Check NASA, NOAA (assuming Trump’s trolls haven’t vandalised their wedsites yet), or the AAAS, the UK Royal Society, or any other major scientific academy you could name. Aren’t you very clever to know more about the physical sciences than all these, um, experts?

  19. Paul M says:

    “Among the smorgasbord of charges he levelled against me was one of…ageism. This came as a genuine shock.”

    Really? You write a sneering insulting piece about old people, and you claim to be genuinely shocked when accused of ageism?

    It is true that people tend to get more sceptical about climate change as they get older. Young people are more gullible and are brainwashed with alarmist propaganda. As people get older and wiser, they have more personal experience of scare stories turning out to be unfounded. For example, I am just old enough to remember the 1970s ice age scare, promoted by people like Hubert Lamb, founder of CRU.

    Maybe when you grow up, you will be a climate sceptic too.

  20. John Gibbons says:

    @Mack Yes, I lie in bed every night dreaming, nay, fantasising about a global ecological collapse, leading to the collapse of human civilisation. It’ll be such fun, not just for me, but for my kids, to learn how to eat grass and find shelter in the wreckage of our ruined landscape, but at least my ‘AGW religion’ will survive armageddon, even if not much else does. That’s sarcasm, Mack, just in case I need to spell it out.
    You find “greenhouse science” crap, you find the views of every major scientific institute on the planet crap too, yet there you sit, at your computer, accessing networks built on astonishingly complex technologies developed by scientists and far beyond your comprehension (or mine), to push your opinion that science is crap and scientists are liars. D’oh.

  21. Geoff Cruickshank says:

    So John, we agree about the radiative properties of CO2. You may or may not be interested in how I first came to hear about this. When I was about 16 I had an elder brother who was studying agricultural science at university, who came home once a week telling us how the world was about to plunge into a cooling period. He had full (imaginary) statistics on the U.S. Wheat crop if the growing season shortened by one week in various states etc.
    By the way, this is the 1970s cooling scare that is now claimed to have been a few stories in the press and never part of proper science. Big brother however, was bringing all this home to the dinner table straight from uni. It could be that he was under the tutelage of the only academic in the world who had succumbed to press scare stories, or it could be that there was genuine scientific concern about cooling. Recent peer reviewed papers have ‘proved’ that this was a newspaper meme- but I know different in so far as at least one university. As the dinner table debate went on I learned from my father- a physicist (DSc) at the same institution, that catastrophic cooling was unlikely to occur because of gradually increasing CO2. His opinion was much like that of Arrenius summed up by NASA in this quote “He (Arrhenius) eventually made the suggestion that an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide due to the burning of fossil fuels could be beneficial, making the Earth’s climates “more equable,” stimulating plant growth, and providing more food for a larger population. ”
    So far, over 40 years, Dad has won the argument. More recent ideas are that temperature will run away past some tipping point. I have yet to be convinced of this, but am perfectly prepared to be- but the evidence will need to be pretty good. I note that the most recent IPPC report was less certain than the one previous on the question of ECS- so I await more science.

  22. Jaime Jessop says:

    John, only an activist journalist who was uncomfortable confronting scientific arguments directly would point to Sceptical Science’s ‘debunking’ of 195 ‘denier talking points’. Only a believer would point to the summary statements on climate change provided by numerous academies and equate that with some kind of unquestionable scientific authority. Only an activist unfamiliar with how science works and how it progresses would sarcastically suggest that sceptics are somehow more expert than the combined expertise of all the world’s major science academies. Only an activist journalist totally committed to his cause would be unaware of a very large body of peer-reviewed scientific literature which brings into serious question the basic tenets of consensus climate science. So many studies, I wouldn’t know where to start with your request that I bring one to the table.

  23. John Gibbons says:

    @Geoff – interesting story, thanks for sharing. You’re right, there absolutely was genuine concern in the 1980s about both global warming and global cooling. The clear majority view was with the former, but the latter, resulting from the massive injection of sulphates from coal-fired power plants before they were fitted with sulphur scrubbers, was considered a real, albeit much less likely, outcome. Scientists approach these questions with an open mind, test multiple hypotheses then, slowly and by elimination, settle on the ‘least wrong’ version of reality. That’s how the global warming hypothesis became theory.
    As for Arrhenius, the global warming that has occurred in the last century, he thought would likely take a millennium, hence his sanguine view about the (very long term) future.
    As for the latest IPCC report, on the balance of probabilities, it forecasts average global surface temperatures to rise by 3ºC (1.5º lower end and 4.5º+ higher end are equally unlikely). Problem is, +3ºC equals a global catastrophe. In fact, anything above 1.5º is likely incompatible with human civilisation and our agriculture systems. So, “awaiting more science” is about the most reckless course of action to counsel, given the high probability of disaster ahead.

  24. John Gibbons says:

    @Jaime I guess that’s your long-handed way of saying you couldn’t find a single paper that met my criteria? To simplify, given the “very large body of peer-reviewed scientific literature which brings into serious question the basic tenets of consensus climate science”, maybe you’d identify a single national scientific academy or institute, anywhere in the world, that endorses this doubting of the ‘basic tenets of consensus climate science’. Good luck with your quest.

  25. John Gibbons says:

    @Paul M You huff and puff about my alleged sneering at old(er) white males, yet have this to say about the young: “Young people are more gullible and are brainwashed with alarmist propaganda”. Remind me now who’s being ageist? It’s also an exceptionally lame observation. Top scientists in their field, not unlike top athletes, rarely tend to peak in their 60s and 70s. Einstein was 26, for instance, when he described the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity and the equivalence of mass and energy. Lord Kelvin, one of the most brilliant minds of the 19th century, had as an elderly man, this to say about a new-fangled invention he didn’t quite understand: “X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” There are exceptions to every rule, for course, but while mocking the young(er), remember the adage: ‘There’s no fool like an old fool – you can’t beat experience’

  26. 10 years of writing about this stuff, and you still speak like this. Tells me all I need to know.

  27. John Gibbons says:

    @Shub You’re welcome.

  28. Oh really?

    You say above scientists ‘ test multiple hypotheses.’ What hypothesis testing is possible, in the field of climate science?

  29. Paul M says:

    Mr Gibbon, the difference is that you pretended to be genuinely shocked. I didn’t.

    Shub isn’t white, according to his twitter pic, nor very old. Jaime is female and again not very old (doubts and conspiracy theories about her existence have been dispelled). Geoff is a campaigner for the communist party. So your old white conservative male story isn’t going isn’t doing very well here, is it.

  30. Paul M says:

    Geoff C, as well as Arrhenius, there was also Guy Callendar, in 1938:

    “In conclusion it may be said that the combustion of fossil fuel, whether it be peat from the surface or oil from 10,000 feet below, is likely to prove beneficial to mankind in several ways, besides the provision of heat and power. For instance the above mentioned small increases of mean temperature would be important at the northern margin of cultivation, and the growth of favourably situated plants is directly proportional to the carbon dioxide pressure (Brown and Escombe, 1905). In any case the return of the deadly glaciers should be delayed indefinitely.”

    It was only in the 1980s that the political activists and pseudoscientists started to spin warming as a bad thing.

  31. Graeme says:


    You just have to take a couple of your assertions to see that you are far ahead of the IPCC in predicting disaster: “Two thirds of all the wildlife that existed in 1970 are now gone. How long before the remainder are wiped out? Atmospheric CO2 levels have risen by over 40% in the last 60 years”.

    The last time I checked, the IPCC claim that CO2 has risen approx 40% over pre-industrial levels. You must be very young if you think that 1957 was pre-industrial. And given that the most famous CO2 dataset – Moana Loa – only came along in 1957, where do you derive your certainty that everything is doomed? We know next to nothing about most elements of the climate system. Datasets are only starting to be developed for most of them. If you don’t have good data, how can you make good decisions?

    And what do you mean by saying that 2/3 of all wildlife have disappeared since 1970? Over 200,000 new species have been discovered for example since 2008 – so you cannot be talking about species. There are fewer tigers and rhinos but that does not mean that the same declines can be extended to the insect world. So it would be interesting to find out what you mean by that bizarre example.

  32. John Gibbons
    You accuse Jaime of not being able to find a single paper that met your criteria of “peer-reviewed evidence from a relevant journal that would challenge the consensus view on climate change (preferably one with lots of citations..” and you ask her to “identify a single national scientific academy or institute, anywhere in the world, that endorses this doubting of the ‘basic tenets of consensus climate science’.

    It so happens that demand for proof by number of citations and listing of all the “national scientific academies that supported the consensus” was precisely the kind of argument that converted me from believer to sceptic ten years ago. So if I was coming here as a climate believer now, I’d be converted all over again.

    By the way, you yourself haven’t named a single peer-reviewed paper that demonstrates that the current (on and off and no doubt partly manmade) warming is dangerous. And if you want one that challenges the consensus on climate change, there’s McIntyre and McKitrick (2003) which blew the Hockeystick out of the water, or would have, if IPCC lead authors had not conspired to suppress mention of it in their report.

  33. John Gibbons (September 29, 2017 at 15:41)

    Top scientists in their field, not unlike top athletes, rarely tend to peak in their 60s and 70s.

    But top philosophers do. Kant was over 70 when he was “woken from his dogmatic slumber” by David Hume and set out to replace Scottish empiricism with German metaphysics. The world survived, partly because it found the steam engine a more attractive proposition than epistemology. In a rather similar fashion, the developing world is likely to prefer economic development based on cheap coal-fired energy to the moral satisfaction of a small carbon footprint.

    What we’re doing here, (and congratulations to all the participants for the high level of debate) is closer to philosophy, or sociology of science. With all due respect to Jaime and Shub, we old white males are likely to remain a majority on both sides of the debate for a while, for reasons of demography, nothing to do with our supposed conservatism or dominant position.

  34. John Gibbons (September 28, 2017 at 10:16)

    You say you don’t think that conducting a public discussion on the nature of climate denial would be productive, but your long reply to me requires a response, so it looks as if it will happen anyway, and you seem to enjoy it as much as we do.

    The elderly white male effect is easily explained. People who received a scientific education fifty years ago were overwhelmingly white and male, and now that they’re elderly, they have the leisure to join groups and attend meetings where they will meet people as bald on top as themselves.

    I agree that reduction in biodiversity and fresh water supply and plastics in the ocean are serious problems. Threatened species are recovering in countries like China and Brazil, which have developed to the point that they can afford to address environmental questions, open national parks for tourism where species are protected etc. And if there is less fresh water available, there are also less people dying of thirst. Problems on this scale (and their solutions) are complex and required immediate, detailed treatment, not ineffective unenforceable international agreements to reduce CO2 emissions over the next fifty years.

    Like you, “I’m all for arguing with opinions – mine, yours or anyone else’s are fickle, fallible and always worth challenging. On the other hand, picking fights with facts, eg. basic science and the laws of physics, that is the opposite of smart.”

    So please go to and point out where Jaime or Paul M or I have “picked fights with facts.” Or join us in a healthy debate about opinions.

  35. John Gibbons says:

    @Graeme The Keeling Curve has been recording atmospheric levels on a daily basis since 1957. They began at around 300ppm. Today, it’s touching 410ppm, that’s just under 40% increase – in 60 years. If you’re going to correct me, try doing so with actual facts.
    As for the dramatic decline in biodiversity since 1970, my source is the Living Planet Index (LPI)
    The LPI tracks dramatic declines in species as follows: freshwater ( minus 81%), terrestrial (minus 38%) and marine ( minus 36%) between 1970 and 2012. The The LPI is based on trends of thousands of population time series collected from monitored sites around the world and is the most cited official source. Please provide sources for your “over 200,000 new species have been discovered since 2008”.
    Presume your flinging of unsourced vague statements at me, each of which requires time to refute with actual facts is part of the Fake News tactic of wearing down your opponents by burying them in a blizzard of half-truths, or am I being too cynical, and you are really as naive as your comments above would suggest?

  36. John Gibbons says:

    @Geoff, thanks for the Lewis Carroll lesson in inverse logic. If people who disagree with you ask you for proof to support your arguments, that in itself is reason to reject those arguments. This line of reasoning may work in a Freshers debating society, but it’s hardly going to get you very far here. As for the conspiracy among the IPCC lead authors to filter out junk science and energy industry-sponsored disinformation, that’s something I can live with.

  37. John Gibbons says:

    @Geoff re. your venture into philosophy, “the developing world is likely to prefer economic development based on cheap coal-fired energy to the moral satisfaction of a small carbon footprint”. Oddly enough, the developing world is currently being severely damaged by the impacts of historic and current carbon emissions from the Global North (ie. us). Climate denial is a distinctly Anglophone tic; it’s almost unheard of in Latin America, Asia or Africa, among populations already experiencing climate change. Coal is the number one killer in China, with an epidemic of severe air pollution. So much for “cheap” coal-fired energy. It’s only cheap when someone else pays the hospital bills.
    I enjoy philosophical debate as much as the next guy, but climate change and related crises is best understood though the not-so-subjective filters of physics and physical limits, none of which, sadly, are in any way amenable to a well-phrased argument.

  38. John Gibbons says:

    This is a general posting, to all my new-found skeptic/denier correspondents. I don’t mean to generalise, but some of you are doubtless amazed at how stoopid professional scientists are; they have not been gifted with your extraordinary powers of observation which have allowed you to see through this cunning global conspiracy called climate science.

    OK, that’s one explanation. You’ll find another at the link below, with information on a cognitive bias popularly known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Enjoy.–Kruger_effect

  39. John Gibbons says:

    @Paul M I never said all climate deniers were old, white men, simply that they were disproportionately represented in the ranks of deniers. Still, it’s fun defending myself against a statement I never made. Re. Guy Callendar, he was ahead of his time with his observations back in the 1930s. Generations of scientists have built on these earlier observations, improving some, discarding others, especially as sophisticated monitoring tools unavailable back then became available to scientists since world war two. Science adjusts its position as the evidence unfolds.
    You’re absolutely right, BTW, about there being a conspiracy involving climate scientists back in the 1970s/80s. Exxon Mobil back then employed excellent scientists, and even allowed them to publish their findings, which, broadly, were that unabated combustion of fossil fuels would lead to a global climate collapse some time in early/mid-21st century. Exxon Mobil funded this research, but then buried it, and spent decades and hundreds of millions of dollars funding right wing think tanks and websites to promulgate disinformation about climate change, information that was flatly refuted by the work of their own scientists. And Exxon-Mobil were just one among dozens of energy industry interests prepared to burn the future down to protect their business model.
    I appreciate this may not be the kind of conspiracy that floats your boat, but reality can be awkward like that.

  40. John, what hypotheses can climate scientists test?

    Are you aware that Paul and I are academics, and scientists?

  41. We ask you for some of the physics youy claim to favour, and you throw us conspiracy theory and Dunning Kruger. If I’d had a reference to a scientific paper for every time someone’s mentioned Dunning Kruger on a thread like this, I’d be bigger than IPCC AR5. We are very bored with Dunning Kruger. Please find us another reference. One that provides evidence for your belief in dangerous global warming.

  42. Re. Guy Callendar, he was ahead of his time with his observations back in the 1930s. Generations of scientists have built on these earlier observations, improving some, discarding others..

    That’s funny. Among the observations discarded by Professor Jones at the Climate Research Unit was all Guy Callendar’s notes. They couldn’t be bothered to archive them properly, so they gave them to an American university. Whereas their own global temperature data they threw in the dustbin. Funny thing, climate science.

  43. Mack says:

    Here’s that link proving that “climate change” is crap, John….
    There is one other link in amongst all of this that I , as an oldie with 4 grandchildren, would like you to see….
    It’s where your religion of “greenhouse” and AGW begins, John.
    Please do not go on a rant in reply ..something like ” I only get my science from peer reviewed science papers…not denier blogs like Jennifer Marohasy’s”. or “It’s basic physics… certain as gravity.” or “Every scientific institute on the planet says so”..
    Happy reading and best wishes,

  44. Jaime Jessop says:

    I’m a firm believer in vaccination. John Gibbons has been vaccinated against logic and climate denialism. It’s worked a treat. I can’t think of a way to get around his immunologically boosted defences at the moment, but I’m mulling on it.

  45. I don’t really have a problem with Dunning Kruger. They’re certainly right, and I’m probably one of the people they’re right about. It’s just that anyone who mentions D-K, or conspiracy theory, or the number of national scientific academies who believe in AGW, or the number of official committees which have found the Hockey Team innocent; or anyone who recommends not taking a second opinion on your cancer from a plumber, or who says that reducing emissions is like taking out fire insurance because fire insurance will stop your house from burning down; or who repeats the one about “we’ll have made a better world for nothing”, has either never read a word of the threads where warmists have been fighting it out with sceptics for ten years or more, or has read them, and thinks that repeating the same thing year after year is clever and interesting.

    Either way, John Gibbons is in good company, alongside Brian Cox, Sir Paul Nurse and Lord Deben, to name only three of the thickest exponents. But they won’t talk to us, and John does. That’s a big difference.

  46. I was tempted to get more involved in the discussion here, but having been involved in many before, I couldn’t see much point. It would almost certainly not achieve much and would probably just lead to a rather unpleasant exchange (based on previous “discussions” with many of those already commenting here).

    However, that made me realise that others may not bothering either. As it stands, this is a comment thread that might make it appear that everyone disagrees with what the author has written. What’s more likely, though, is that those with any sense simply can’t be bothered getting involved.

  47. John Gibbons says:

    @Geoff I can see how much you enjoy debating this, not to mention some tantalising flashes of self-awareness (or maybe they’re just to keep me guessing?). Anyhow, it’s been fun, and I applaud you for at least being civil. Over and out. JG

  48. John Gibbons says:

    @And There’s Physics I’m sure you’re right; the enthusiastic debating team that has descended on my blog will disappear again just as quickly. It’s the denier version, I imagine of a trainspotting club. My regular correspondents have probably had a quick look and thought better of trying to engage. Don’t ask me why I’ve let it run this far; anyhow, nearly time to wrap this one up – and thanks for dropping by.

  49. John Gibbons says:

    @Jaime Best of luck.

  50. John Gibbons says:

    @Mack See above.

  51. Dan Pangburn says:

    GCMs don’t have a chance of credibly predicting climate until they at least input WV as an independent parameter and abandon the absurd assumption that CO2 molecules somehow drive WV molecules into the atmosphere.

    After a CO2 molecule absorbs an IR photon it takes about 6 µs for it to emit a photon but it starts bumping in to other molecules, transferring energy and momentum with each contact, within about 0.0002 µs. At low altitude and away from the N & S poles there are about 35 water vapor molecules for each CO2 molecule. Each WV molecule has more than 170 absorb/emit bands at lower energy level (longer wavelength) than CO2 molecules. The energy in EMR absorbed by CO2 near ground level is effectively rerouted up via water vapor. Higher up, as WV dwindles, CO2 participation in EMR rises above insignificant.

  52. John Gibbons says:

    @Dan Perhaps you could point us to where, in the peer-reviewed literature, you’ve had your hypothesis reviewed by the scientific community and published? I note you are a ‘licensed mechanical engineer’. Have you any actual qualifications in climatology, physics etc? The nub of your argument, if I understand it, is that CO2 is irrelevant as a GHG. With respect, how exactly does your training in mechanical engineering make you qualified to overthrow the findings of actual experts in this field?

  53. Here is a paper that estimates the contribution of the different species to the present day greenhouse effect. The result does depend on whether you’re considering the removal individual species (i.e., what would happen if we simply removed all CO2 and nothing else changed) or the addition of an inidividual species (what would happen if there were no greenhouse effect and we simply added one of the species).

    Whichever way you look at it, water vapour does have the largest effect (for single species removal it is 39% compared to CO2 at 14%). However, the really key point is that water vapour precipitates very quickly, while CO2 does not. Without the CO2, the water vapour would relatively quickly precipitate and the planet would cool dramatically. So, even though CO2 is not the dominant greenhouse gas, it is still the control knob, as its presence is what sustains the warming that then leads to increases in the other GHGs, that would precipitate in the absence of the long-lived GHGs.

  54. Mack says:

    The trouble with one-eyed, AGW brainwashed teaching academics like you, Ken Rice…you spout hypothetical tripe like…”What would happen IF we simply removed all CO2 and nothing else changed.”
    It’s exactly the make-believe modelling stuff we get from all you gullible “greenhouse effect” believers…..”what IF the Earth had no atmosphere.” What IF we added in an atmosphere, would be the effect on the temperature of the Earth” Just unreal, speculative garbage.
    Time to come into the real world, Ken….and start considering, what IS.

  55. Dan Pangburn says:

    John – Engineering is the application of physics for human’s use. First engineers have to learn the physics that applies to making stuff work. As an MSME, besides the usual undergrad stuff in thermodynamics and heat transfer, I had 9 units of post grad heat transfer. As a licensed engineer, that means that I am qualified and trusted to design and/or approve things that if done wrong, can result in people getting killed. The message here is that, in addition to what I already knew, from formal education, a successful career, and many years of relentless curiosity, I have the skill to acquire. I have been researching this stuff for more than a decade, first paper made public in March, 2008 is still on line.

    I do not pretend to be an expert on meteorology. In fact I am amazed at their ability to regularly predict weather a few days in advance. I do not even pretend to be an expert on local climate. I have assessed only average global climate, but in the process, discovered the three main factors that explain average global temperature change 98+% 1895-2015. My approach involves an application of the first law of thermodynamics. Perhaps the GCMs will be able to usefully estimate local climate and average global climate after they get modified to account for the 3 main factors.

    So called experts have included mathematicians and astronomers. Is it so surprising they have trouble understanding how climate works?

    As to the ‘experts’ they have demonstrated that many of them got it wrong by predicting average global temperature increase about twice what is actually occurring. Changing the data to corroborate an agenda is science malpractice. I have also seen cases of science incompetence such as plotting a forcing on the same graph as a temperature. That would be like plotting your Watt meter reading on the same graph as your Watt hour meter reading and then asserting they are not related because the traces are different shape.

    As to the fine points of how radiation works in the atmosphere, why is there no mention, except from me, of thermalization, or the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution of energy among gas molecules vs the near Planck spectrum of radiation from liquids and solids? Or, in the range of IR at earth temperatures, of the 170+ absorption bands for WV compared to only one for CO2? If you spend some time with my blog/analysis you might notice the HITRAN graph showing, at ground level, the barely discernible indication of CO2 compared to WV.

    And some appear to be oblivious to the fact that liquid water has vapor pressure depending only on the temperature of the liquid water, irrespective of the presence of CO2 or any other gas. Also, even EPA got it wrong by not realizing that duration in the atmosphere cancels out so their assessment of GWP is grossly misleading.

    Water vapor, by all accounts the most important ghg (IMO it is the only significant ghg), has been increasing at 1.5% per decade (NASA/RSS), about 8% since the more rapid increase began in about 1960. Calculations (with data source links) in my blog/analysis reveal that more than 96% of the added WV comes from irrigation. This increasing WV is countering the global cooling that would otherwise be occurring.

  56. Mack,
    What an odd response. Science involves trying to understand things, including how different atmospheric molecules contribute to the planetary greenhouse effect. Answering that question involves thinking about the hypothetical radiative impact of adding those molecules (or, essentially equivalently, taking them away).

  57. John Gibbons says:

    @And Then There’s Physics Apologies for letting that last ‘Mack’ comment through; just wanted to give him the opportunity to reveal himself as a bad-tempered nutter…and he duly obliged. Since he’s unable to make a point without vulgar abuse, no further Mack postings will be published.

  58. John,
    Not a problem. I’m mostly used to that kind of thing now.

  59. Tim Roberts says:

    John, many of those you call ‘deniers’ are happy enough with ‘agreed’ science. However, we do not necessarily agree that what is claimed to be agreed *is* agreed. ‘CO2 is a greenhouse gas’ – yes. ‘The world has warmed a bit since 1870’ – yes. ‘Much of the warming since 1950 is due to CO2’ – yes (but it warmed a bit before that too). ‘More CO2 will cause more warming’ – yes (other things being equal).

    “Now that I know that, what do I do?” (asks Schulz’s Charlie Brown). ‘ It follows from this that we should immediately spend trillions in the hope of reducing such warming’. No. “Economically superfluous, physlcally pernicious, morally atrocious and politically abominable” (as Peacock’s hero says of taking sugar in tea).

  60. Tim Roberts says:

    Moreover, “The science doesn’t tell you what to do; how hard to do it; or when to start” (Scott Adams, July 2017 – not peer-reviewed, but true nevertheless).

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