Talking with Global Warming Deniers - Some Tips

George Hammer

New Member
I'm new so not sure if I'm allowed to post here but I'll give it a try. Mick says specific examples on major topics, so I'll go with my pet case. Global warming denial.

Generally from my experience the groups denying global warming have two things in common. First the same four objections to global warming. Second, the same set of resources or sources they cite. Let's start with the first.

The four objections most of their arguments are categorized under are usually as follows.

  • The globe isn't warming - or has stopped warming. Arguments include the pause, Arctic ice rebound, Antarctic ice increase along with the more wild accusations of global conspiracies and data tampering.
  • Once overcome this stage you get to the stage of "it might be warming but it can't be little insignificant humans" stage. A lot of arguments fit in here - C02 makes up too small a percent of atmosphere, it's the sun etc.
  • If you can get to this stage without the person storming off or calling you a government shill you probably have a reasonable intelligent person on your hands who has just been subjected to some misinformation out there. Doing well. This point is a little less covered but sometimes they will throw out the saying "C02 is plant food" - kind of implying this will be a good thing. Papers debunking this are WAY easier than proving the other points, if for the only reason this point isn't argued as much
  • At this stage the only argument left is its too expensive to take any action Therefore the mature thing to do is sit back and do nothing. Arguments such as you want to bring us all back to the stone age are what you'll face.
  • There are more fringe arguments. Usually attacking the scientists themselves. Think hockey stick (upheld by all further research), scientists calling for cooling in 70s (also false. Majority called for warming), it's a big scientific conspiracy (exposed by brave patriotic oil companies... Right) - these are fringe arguments as best.
How do you argue these? First off, recognize the fact you have the bulk of scientific research science on your side. The only trick is finding it. Probably one of the best resources out there is skepticalscience.com. They literally have lists and lists of peer reviewed research on every imaginable topic. Go to Google and type site:skepticalscience.com argument

Chances are they'll have a couple of science papers published in nature on this topic in the last 5 years or so. That failing, they actually have scientists who publish this kind of research commenting on their site. You can get some pretty detailed scientific replies. Deniers don't stand a chance there. It's amusing watching them go there thinking they'll prove something. They get destroyed every time. Remember: the science is on your side. You just have to find it. There are other sites but that's one of the best.

Next point. Don't advance to the next point before the previous one had been conceded. For example. I had an argument where we went from "the globe isn't warming because Arctic sea ice increased by 60 percent from its lowest point in history" to the next argument which was it's too expensive. The problem with that is we went from asking is it happening to the solution is too expensive. The person hasn't yet conceded a) it is happening and b) it's us. Without those two concessions discussing solutions is pointless. Something like "I'd love to discuss this part, but first we need to establish the fact that the world indeed IS warming before we decide how to stop it."

If you start going logically and methodically step by step you will do two things..

1) eliminate the people who are just trolling and arguing.
2) set a solid foundation for debate. If a person agrees the world is warming and you're on point 3 and they try to bring up an argument from point 1 - no dice. Remind them you've gone over that and you guys settled that already.

A lot of this is simply keeping the debate structured. Deniers love to jump from one category to another to another to prevent any reaching of actual conclusions. If they're losing on the "its actually warming" topic, jumping to the "its too expensive to fix" topic often relieves the pressure of acknowledging what the science says. Don't fall for it. Stay on the topic of their choosing until resolved. No jumping willy-nilly back and forth.

At this point you will be able to weed out the genuine skeptics from those who simply embrace a position because of their political/ideological affiliation. The genuine people will come back with maybe I should do more research. The ideological people will come back with "you fell for a hoax hahahahahaha" despite the fact they can typically only quote blog posts and tabloids to support their position, while you can quote actual published research.

Lastly is resources. You should base yours on published science. They will base theirs on blog posts and incomplete articles in news papers. Here's an example. They will share an article from a tabloid showing a 60 percent increase an Arctic sea ice. The IMPLIED statement is the world isn't warming. You can answer the topic or the implied statement. Answering the topic would be pointing out that a recovery of 60 percent from the lowest level in history isn't impressive. You could show the level recovered to is still way below long term average. Or you could answer the question and simply show the studies showing temperature trends over the Arctic. Either is enough to dispute a tabloid article.

As far as blog posts go, Anthony watts is the most common one cited. For anyone even remotely familiar with the scientific process this guy is a joke. Rational wiki has a good summary of some stuff. Skepticalscience.com as well. Worth noting to skeptics is watts refusal to take part in the scientific process by publishing research supporting his position. Instead his website hosts cute posts calling actual scientists who do research media whores. Top that off with Watts refusing to accept BEST records after being consulted on their methodology and promising to accept it - we have a ideological based skeptic. Those two cites summarize him better than I can through.

Last but not least is a quote I see frequently on another site I visit... "citation or you made it up". I'm going to be using that here frequently. Hope it doesn't break the politeness rule. It's valuable. Debate is the contest of orators. Science is the contest of evidence. Let's keep ourselves grounded in science.

That's some pointers for a case specific example. Hope the mods allow this as I spent hours typing it on my cell :-(

Cheers!

Bonus points: quickly identify what category of denial there points fit into...

Medieval warm period was warmer - fits in the it's not us category. Reasoning goes if it was warmer naturally in the past, our current warming is also natural. Aside from faulty logic it's also easily debunked.
Antarctica is gaining ice - it's not warming category. Differentiate between land and sea ice and show research showing both temp and sea ice going up for last 30 years. Show land ice loss accelerating. Show overall temp increase. Cite research showing Antarctic sea ice being affected by changed wind/precipitation patterns.
Cooling predicted in 70s - fringe argument... Saying scientists were wrong then therefore wrong now. Horrible logic - someone was wrong before therefore they are also wrong now. Aside from faulty logic it's also bunk. Show paper that majority of scientists accurately predicted global warming since 70s.
Scientists tamper with data until it fits - fringe argument. Use "citation or you made it up"
C02 is plant food - "it's not that bad" argument. Ask for citation (important - most will cite common knowledge. Ask citation again and ask if C02 will offset decreased water and increased heat, also for citation) and show studies on the negative effects out weighing positive.
 
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