Why climate skeptics will lose. How they can win.

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by Fabius Maximus

Summary: With declarations of a Climate Emergency and advocacy for the Extinction Rebellion, the climate wars have begun a new phase. Here is why the skeptics probably will lose, and how they can win.

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They have spent a lot for little gain

Climate activists dominate many of the power centers in America and the West. Almost every professional association of scientists. Most western governments, as seen in their dedicated websites: CanadaAustralia, the European Union, and the United States (the EPANASADoE, and many more Federal, State, and local units). The major international agencies, such as the UN (and its many agencies) and the World Bank. The major news media, such as the New York Times and The Guardian – and alternative media (e.g., Take Part). A large fraction of the West’s non-governmental organizations (e.g., the WWFthe EDF, and Greenpeace) and science-related institutions (e.g., science museums, such as the American Museum of National History). Many of the world’s churches, such as Roman Catholic Church).

They are opposed by a few climate scientists, a rag-tag collection of mostly self-funded amateurs, and some light-funded organizations.

Gallup’s data as of March 2019 shows the result in America from 30 years of bombardment by lavishly-funded propaganda of climate activists. The result: a modest increase in concern since 2001 (see detail about 1998 – 2016 here and here – and from 1990 here). But their results stalled in 2017. These are small results from a vast expenditure of money and work.

Global Warming - Belief and Concern

But the believers are hard-core indoctrinated. Gallup asked Americans about the 2018-19 winter. Parts of America had a warmer-than-average winter; some had a colder-than-average winter. They asked what caused it.

  • 19% said that their winter was colder than usual, due to climate change.
  • 14% said that their winter was warmer than usual, due to climate change.

The cage match continues. Who will win?

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
— Yogi Berra about baseball’s 1973 National League pennant race.

The skeptics’ websites look (and are) amateurish, supported by advertising and donations — unlike those of activists (glossy, well-staffed, often professionally written). They’re astonishingly effective (especially Anthony Watts’ website) given their tiny funding, but they reach only the tiny sliver of the public listening to the skeptics. Also, they lack leadership and organization – unlike alarmists, who move together like a school of fish. That so many believe they are winning reminds me of the French at Dien Bien Pfu in 1954– confident of victory while the Viet Mien slowly massed artillery in the surrounding hills. It did not end well for them.

So why have the alarmists failed to panic Americans into supporting their policies, such as the Green New Deal?

First, our confidence in America’s institutions has been falling for 40 years. Our institutions are falling like dominoes, becoming dysfunctional. Our government officials lie casually and frequently, even about matters of great importance. In this instance, we appear to have finally learned to be skeptical.

Second, the public policy campaign has been conducted incompetently, marked by exaggerations and misrepresentations beyond that supported by science (e.g., using RCP 8.5 to predict nightmares). — allied with doomsters who have a near-perfect record of being wrong. Worst of all, the natural and inevitable questioning of the warnings were met with contempt and ridicule – instead of working to answer them.

The third and perhaps most important factor: the weather has supported the skeptics during the past two decades. Many kinds of extreme weather have remained stable, diminished in frequency or intensity – or both. Predictions of drastic increases have proven wrong. Such as more and stronger hurricanes after Katrina in 2005, and the “end of snow” in England predicted in 2000.

What might change public opinion?

Skeptics fail to understand the first rule of insurgency: defenders of the status quo need to win every day while insurgents only need win once. Public policy measures are difficult to enact but are also difficult to reverse. What might defeat the skeptics?

First, we might get one or more major extreme weather events (not just a fraction of a degree rise over several years in the global average temperature). For example, a massive hurricane might hit a city on the US East Coast or  East Asia – of course attributed to CO2 (whether scientists’ analysis eventually concurs is politically irrelevant). This or other extreme weather could stampede public opinion into supporting the Green New Deal, no matter how weak its foundation in science. I believe (guess) that this is the most likely outcome.

Or, a realignment election in the US could put the Democrats in power. This could happen in 2020 or 2024. The next recession, if occuring at a politically sensitive time (in the year before the election), could do it. Although Democrats seldom talk about climate change during campaigns, expect radical action from them once in power.

What skeptics could do while they still can

Skeptics should use their political strength while they still have it. The 2020 campaign provides an opportunity that might not come again. Their political supporters have only weak answers when asked about climate change. They give half-understood technobabble (any technical reply is babble to the general public), mumble about a conspiracy of scientists, and wave the uncertainty flag. Senator Inhofe tossed a snowball on the Senate floor to show that the Earth is not warming. These are pitifully weak rebuttals to the well-polished arguments of those advocating for strong action to fight climate change.

There are clear, powerful answers that skeptics could give their political allies. For example, they could advocate for a fair test of the climate models that provide the predictions of climate catastrophes. This would force their opponents to explain to the public why the models should not be tested. Here is a description of such a testthis explains why it is needed under the norms of science and by the words of major scientists.

Denial is not enough, Skeptics must offer a way to end the debate. Or they can continue on their present course, and probably lose, eventually.


This is my 400th post about climate, ending this long series (as usual) with a prediction and recommendation. This post goes on my Forecasts page, and will eventually move to the list of hits or list of misses. My success rate is quite high, as such things go, and I am confident this will add to that list.



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