Thanks for the question. Skepticism is the basis of science, so I somewhat* respect your point of view.
Note: I’m an adaptation specialist and I manage parts of USAID’s climate adaptation program in over 25 countries. This means I help governments around the world with policies that deal with inevitable impacts from climate change. Basically, I help with natural disaster planning using a bit of climate science, city planning, and environmental law. So, if a city is going to flood, I help a government plan to prevent the flood. If a country’s farming economy is going crash due to drought, I help the government shape a response to prevent crop losses. See what I do, here. Thus, I do not work on carbon or energy policy. I am not an activist. I do not advocate for emissions policies. I’m about as interested in “preventing climate change” as I am interested in becoming the next Dali Lama. That said, this is a very rare instance where I answer a question about carbon, GHGs, and energy. Ok, on to anon’s nice question:
The short answer, anon, is to go here, and probably here. The long (and basic) answer is that you have to contemplate the reason why the earth is warm (vs, say, the moon). The reason is that greenhouse gases (GHGs, e.g., carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, etc.) hold a good amount of the sun’s radiation, thus keeping the earth nice and cozy.
Without these gases, the earth would be like the moon - a dead rock that’s freezing and boiling at the same time: +253F (+123C) during the day; -387F (-233C) at night.
There is no disputing this (deniers [unwittingly] admit this when they make arguments about cycles). When there are more gases in the atmosphere, more of the sun’s radiation is held within the atmosphere, creating a warming effect (and very strange changes in weather events).
The vast majority of climate denial arguments have been debunked years ago. For example, here’s a list of common arguments still used today, but answered back in 2004.
In sum, your starting point is: Why is the earth warm? It’s warm due to GHGs in the atmosphere. And humans are adding a never before seen amount of carbon into the atmosphere, which in turn will wreak unbelievable havoc. Deniers bear the rather obscene burden of showing that GHGs do not keep the earth warm, and that increases in carbon do not influence climate.
I hope those links above help.
All the best,
*A legitimate skeptic applies critical thinking to systematically pick apart arguments. Skeptics do this by analyzing evidence. No one disagrees that GHGs cause warming (even all oil companies on earth admit this, and are searching for solutions to lower GHG emissions). The burden is on you and other deniers to show that greenhouse gases do not influence the earth’s atmosphere. Frankly, in my opinion, this is a rather boring subject. The more interesting subject is that deniers actually do not comprehend their own arguments. In fact, they’re really arguing against *the solutions* to reducing or preventing climate change, which are to raise the costs of fuels and not pay for environmental harm. This gets into societal ethics, personal responsibility, and market capitalism, which are far more (well, marginally) interesting topics.
Good question, but deniers don’t phase me (reactionary environmentalists grind my gears though!). I’ve argued on this blog that I’d rather have climate deniers state their case on the record now, for posterity. My previous post shows this as well - that climate deniers do not have any evidence, but they sure are masters of smoke and diversions.
It’s the same as getting politicians on record as racists and bigots - it will be used against them time and again. Eventually they’ll come around, you just have to be persistent, even keeled, and take the long view (often beyond your generation - the essence of sustainability, right?).
I’d also like to mention that I consider myself a steward rather than an activist. See here for what that means.
Light always leads to truth. I’m trained to convincingly argue the other side of nearly any issue - and deniers simply do not have a single, coherent argument against climate change.
But man, deniers do have very, very powerful arguments against taxation! That is, they deny climate change exists and their reasons almost always are: Big bad government shouldn’t punish energy companies by taxing carbon. After all, where would we be with out them? After all, you have to admit that reading this blog post on your computer or phone cannot happen with out the miracle of fossil fuels. After all, plastic and metals and economic development require burning fossil fuels. After all, socialism doesn’t work. After all, alternative energy is a waste of tax payer money. Most powerful is taxing carbon will raise the cost of gas and electricity - this appeals to everyone.
Do you see what just happened there? If you found yourself arguing against these points, then you’ve fallen into their trap. Don’t fall for it. Instead, paraphrase their argument so as to establish understanding of their point of view and then demand evidence for their points.
Climate change, aka the greenhouse effect, has been known since the 1800s. There is no sky with out greenhouse gasses. To deny that emitting greenhouse gasses does not thicken the sky is to say that the air around us - the atmosphere - does not exist. It is an absurdity.
In fact, every major oil company has a climate change division. Most have active climate change plans aimed at reducing emissions, managing environmental risks, and experimenting with alternatives to reduce climate impacts. Importantly, these are voluntary efforts.* The companies chose to manage and discuss climate risk.
Here are links to the biggest oil and gas companies’ climate pages:
See also, Skeptical Science post Big Oil and the Demise of Crude Climate Change Denial.
The question is: What - exactly - do deniers know that these companies do not? And why are these companies not listening to (or hiring) deniers?
There are more “sophisticated” denier arguments. “It’s snowing,” “the climate has changed before,” “that Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick graph is a hoax,” “it’s the sun,” “it’s the moon,” “the earth is cooling,” “computer models are unreliable,” etc. You can read over 150 of these here.
But none of them have data to back these arguments up (again, see here for a list of common denier arguments and why they’re all wrong [e.g., no evidence]). Most interesting is that almost all of these lead to the same conclusion: big bad government should not tax oil and gas companies (bizzare, right?).
So, to me, when I read a climate denial I mainly see that they’re concerned with taxation - a legitimate concern and a more interesting conversation.
The trouble is falling into traps - avoid responding to their points and learn how to tactfully demand evidence.
* If you are discussing this with an informed denier, they may counter that oil companies were forced by the U.S. federal government to create these climate divisions. Thus, 1) Demand for evidence or stfu (remember: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and the burden of proof is always upon the claimant). For example, to say that the U.S. forced, say, Petrochina into managing climate change issues would require the denier to show the agreement and/or documents. 2) Most oil companies are not publicly traded on the U.S. boards. Publicly traded companies are required to disclose any environmental risks to their share holders. They do this on a form called a 10-K. In 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) *asked* corporations to *voluntarily* disclose any climate risks to their share holders. Most companies hired experts to examine their operations. The resulting reports showed that many companies are not at risk, and they say this on their 10-Ks. Oil companies did the same, and found their operations are in fact at risk. So, they voluntarily disclose this information, and they did so publicly. In fact, some companies went further and opened up R&D to help reduce emissions and expand into renewable energies like solar and wind. So, don’t get pulled into the counter-argument that companies were “forced” to acknowledge 10-K disclosure. They weren’t.
Thanks for your note and absolutely not! The earth is at its hottest point in over 11,000 years.
Your client believes a rumor from the 1970s, one that won’t die apparently. It was dismissed, debunked, defrocked, and deblorgged decades ago, but has resurfaced as a rather brilliant right-wing political talking point.
97% of climate scientists agree the earth is warming. This is the highest agreement in any of the sciences in all of history. Second, the vast majority of scientists in the 1970s agreed global warming was occurring, that humans are causing it by emitting greenhouse gases, and that the earth is in big, big trouble.
Back in 2005, climate scientists at Real Climate took the time to discuss the origins of the rumor, show who restarted it, and describe why it’s completely false. You an read their post, here.
In 2008, the American Meteorological Society published a special article on this myth. It’s a great read, very short. It describes the history of the myth (it also gives a glimpse at how scientists suck at PR).
Lastly, Skeptical Science ranks it as the 11th most discussed myth. They published a simplified, easy to read summary of the myth called: “What were climate scientists predicting in the 1970s?”, which shows that scientists back then were very worried about warming.
At the end of the day, your client is acting as proxy for the fossil fuel industry. This may sound crazy, but his/her’s real argument is that oil and gas should not be regulated, that they should be able to pollute without regulations. People who argue that that the world is cooling, instead of warming, are really saying that there is no need to regulate pollution or emissions.
What’s even more bizarre is that they may not even realize this.
Naomi Oreskes discusses how this happened in her book, Merchants of Doubt, which shows that oil and gas industries hired the same public relations experts that defended the tobacco industry in the 80s. Recall that the tobacco industry - and the politicians they donated to - denied that cigarettes caused cancer (seriously), and they successfully perpetuated that myth for decades.
And that, my friend, is how an industry and politicians manipulate public opinion.
Thanks for your nice note.
I love good arguments. I went to law school and am trained to argue “both sides,” which can be really fun. In fake court, I once successfully defended Exxon Mobil against impoverished indigenous Alaskans who’s island is sinking due to sea level rise. They’ve since made a movie about Kivalina v Exxon.
The point is you have to understand the other side - empathy is key.
There are a lot of arguments against climate change. Most are terrible. The common thread, though, is very strong and really difficult to argue against - that new regulations will cost families’ money.
You have to be empathetic to this point. Their argument is really about stopping the cost of electricity and gasoline from going up.
Look, we enviros can dream and be idealistic about raising the price of a barrel of oil. But in reality, higher prices are terrible, terrible options for families, especially the 47%.
Challenge a fellow enviro how they square raising the price of electricity via free markets with government subsidies for education, PBS, and Planned Parenthood, etc. Why is it OK to raise energy costs, but not OK to take away services? It’s idealism vs reality, and many activists (in my experience) don’t understand this.
Energy is expensive, and families (the 47% who already depend on gvt assistance) really do suffer if the price of energy goes up even a little bit. Navigating this in school is exhilarating, but it utterly falls apart in the real world. So, yeah. It’s an up hill battle if you’re stuck discussing solutions with your friend.
Besides hurting families, some of the best arguments I’ve heard deal with: the history of the planet, sun spots, something called ‘oscillations’, and the tried and true big winter snow storm.
"The planet’s climate is cyclical! We’ve had ice ages and heat waves many times before!" is a powerful argument and trips up most environmentalists. After all, if this current trend is a “cycle” then why regulate fuel at all? Clever stuff.
This is the bottom line: your friend has only one task - prove that carbon atoms do not trap heat. That’s it. That’s the only thing s/he has to prove. All of the other arguments fundamentally depend on this premise being false.
Get your opponent to stay on point. Get them to argue hard facts and stay out of the trap of debating bleeding-heart fantasies.
They absolutely must prove carbon does not trap heat in order for every other argument against climate change to be true. To do so, make sure they agree first that earth is warming (they will). Where you’ll disagree is why it’s warming - earth cycles or humans. Again, if it’s cycles, then there’s no need to regulate energy. If it’s humans, then there is a need to regulate energy, but then you run up against the families argument…
If your friend can prove that carbon does not trap heat, not only will they win a Nobel, they can then go on to blame it on cycles, sun spots, earth’s rotation, the Myans, god’s jealous vengeance, etc. So, get your friend to research what carbon atoms do, and try to have fun with it.
OK, OK, on to your question. The best resource for these types of short-term bursts is Skeptical Science’s “Arguments from Global Warming Skeptics" page. They’ve been cataloging skeptic/denier arguments for several years now, and their database of arguments is the best I’ve ever come across. I’m sure that several arguments from their pages will look very, very familiar to you. In fact, I’d bet that your friend has repeated a good handful of them!
I also put together a store of 100% climate change books. I update it often to help everyone from beginners to advanced researchers.
Hope that helps!