A Climate Skeptic’s Story

A polar bear on drift ice. (click for credit)

I was recently sent this article, which was written by a student. It’s about how she became a “climate skeptic.” It is definitely worth reading in its entirety, because it demonstrates how critical thinking can overcome indoctrination. In addition, it shows you what this critical thinking can cost, especially at the university level.

Rather than encouraging her to investigate and think for herself, her university “science” classes simply try to indoctrinate her. As she says near the end of the article:

I am disappointed by the quality of the “science” taught at University though — when theory is presented as fact, and computer models are regarded as gospel despite their infamous unreliability, it’s not actual science.

It’s propaganda—dogmatic as any religion.

Unfortunately, I have to agree with her. Even back when I was a university student, I could see examples of my “science” professors pushing propaganda on me. As a university professor, however, I have seen it become worse and worse.

But why did the student first decide to question the propaganda that was being pushed on her in the guise of science? Because of what she was being taught in middle school about global warming drowning polar bears. She was an animal “fanatic,” so she started reading about polar bears to learn more about them. In her reading, she found that they are able to swim 60 miles at a time. She asked her teacher how ice loss could harm polar bears that could swim so far. Her teacher simply told her that polar bears can’t swim that far (even though they routinely do) and then repeated the propaganda.

This caused her to start questioning what her teachers were telling her, and so she started investigating the issue of climate change for herself. As a result, she became a skeptic. Now I am sure that her middle school teacher wouldn’t want to hear this, but I think the teacher did a great service to this one student. Of course, the teacher has probably committed educational malpractice on many more students, but in the case of this one student, by simply denying the science and restating the propaganda, she taught the student to question the pronouncements that come from the high priests of science.

That’s probably the most valuable thing the student learned in middle school!

22 thoughts on “A Climate Skeptic’s Story”

  1. Very interesting. I remember the “Save the Polar Bears” movement a few years ago, and of course one never heard contradicting facts, such as how far those bears can swim, or that ice has been accumulating on the south pole. Yet another reason I appreciate your blog, Dr. Wile!

    Global warming propaganda backfires where I come from anyway, because, after annually enduring below -40 degree temperatures every winter, we Alaskans actually WANT global warming to happen!

    What I like most is that Ms. Masters seems to be getting a lot of supportive comments from like minded individuals worldwide (U.K, New Zealand, Australia) who are also skeptics and critical thinkers. We are not alone!

  2. I also liked the questions she asked in high school:

    “Don’t we breathe out CO2?” and “If we’re worried about CO2 causing global warming, wouldn’t it be much worse if we were all driving cars that had water vapor as their exhaust?”

    I remember seeing a sign a few months back, advertising a “Go Green” Bike-a-thon event type thing, and I remember thinking “Cars produce CO2, plants use CO2 in photosynthesis, so cars help ‘Green’ things.”

    Which makes me wonder, is there any research being done to see if the carbon MONOXIDE we’re emitting is harming the atmosphere/environment? Seems like it should be a bigger concern than CO2…

    1. Since carbon monoxide is toxic in moderate concentrations, there has been a lot of effort to reduce it. This is why, for example, catalytic converters had to be put on automobiles. As a result, carbon monoxide concentrations in the air have fallen 300% since the 1970s.

      1. Ah, so eliminating actual environmental hazards has already gotten boring, hence the move to eliminate imaginary environmental hazards.

  3. But it makes me wonder if that’s part of how the global warming hysteria got started:

    Automobiles produced toxic carbon monoxide

    Steps were taken to eliminate CO

    People and certain scientists associated car exaust with “evil and must be reduced” even long after CO levels were reduced

    Because the public and certain scientists still associated car exaust with “evil” they had to find an “evil” that the car exaust supposedly caused

    A scapegoat was found in global warming

    1. I doubt that’s how it happened. I think there was a genuine concern that the rise in global temperatures seen from 1992 to 2002 was the result of increased carbon dioxide. After all, there is a reasonable mechanism, since we know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. I just think that it became an article of faith instead of a scientific hypothesis, at least for some people!

      1. How does a scientific hypothesis become an article of faith? Why does it happen to some hypothesis’ and not others? Is it random chance? I can understand macroevolution becoming an article of faith, but how did such blind acceptance happen to the global warming hypothesis? Was it fear-driven? And I wonder what other dogmatic “scientific” hypothesis’ we will see in the future?

        1. It’s hard to say, Alaska. Some people will claim it’s the money available from research grants that desire a doomsday result. I disagree. As someone who has received many research grants and worked with others who receive such grants, I have no experience with anyone slanting their results or conclusions because of the grant. I know scientists who slant their conclusions based on their own desires, but not the desires of their granting organizations.

          The problem with science is that it has always struggled with the bandwagon mentality. Just ask anyone who went against the consensus and later had their conclusions vindicated, such as Dr. Daniel Shechtman. A consensus develops, often because of faulty experiments, and it then gets enshrined as “fact,” regardless of how much data are stacked against it. I personally think that’s what happened. This article has an interesting discussion of one faulty graph that seemed to do a lot to move the global warming hypothesis into the realm of unquestionable fact.

  4. Ah, yes, the hockey stick graph. Interesting read, although I couldn’t get any of the links in the article to work.

    I’d like to see the other graph, the one by “Jones, Briffa and others” that competed with Mann’s hockey stick graph. Do you happen to know where to find it?

    I like the story of Dr. Shechtman. Do you know of any other examples of modern day scientists who “Went against the consensus and later had their conclusions vindicated”? (A few ancient ones, such as Copernicus and Galileo, come to mind)

    Thanks for answering my questions.

    1. In this article, you can see the various reconstructions, including two by Briffa and Jones (one is labeled “Jones,” the other “Briffa.”). It also shows the data that were deleted so that they could “hide the decline.”

      The other modern case of going against the consensus that comes to mind is that of ulcers. Two doctors, Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren, demonstrated conclusively that they were cause by an infection and could be treated with antibiotics. They were dismissed as cranks but eventually won the Nobel Prize, because they were right.

      1. Hi, I had another question:

        I found this video of Dr. Richard Muller:

        I remembered your post about Dr. Muller and the hockey stick graph, and in this video he’s talking about “We addressed all the biases,” “We got a nice curve,” “It fit perfectly with rising carbon dioxide levels.”

        This interview was from December 2014, and he addressed the deceitfulness of the hocky stick graph in 2011, so I’m guessing his “Nice curve” doesn’t refer to the hockey stick graph.

        So to what “Nice curve” is he refering? And is his research affirmative evidence for global warming?

        Thanks again!

        1. His mathematical analysis involves trying to correlate carbon dioxide levels to global temperature. The graph he came up with is here. Of course, like all such graphs, his “fit” depends on a model, which can be tweaked with different parameters. Specifically, he used volcanic activity to “mitigate” the effects of carbon dioxide, producing a graph that seems consistent with the temperature data he used.

          Of course, there are two problems with his analysis. Even if we assume his model is accurate (and we have no idea whether or not it is), correlation doesn’t indicate causation, as is nicely shown here.

          The second problem is more serious. He chose the temperature record that is least accurate. Satellite temperatures measure temperature globally. Land temperatures do not. They, themselves, are based on models. Those models continually get re-adjusted, producing completely new temperature records. Satellite records show much, much less warming than land-based records. If Muller is trying to explain global phenomena, he should use truly global temperatures.

  5. Last question (I think): What are your thoughts on ethanol?

    In 2008 I attended a talk by Congressman Don Young, and he said that if all the corn farms in the US grew corn just for ethanol, it would only account for 2% of automobile fuel usage in the US (paraphrased). He also said something to the effect of “It’s immoral to use food to produce fuel for machines when there are hungry people in the world.”

    Currently, in Brazil there are no longer light vehicles running on pure gasoline, and together with the US produces 83.4 percent of the world’s ethanol production, although US makes it’s ethanol primarily from corn, and Brazil from sugarcane (information from Wikipedia).

    Do you think ethanol will have a positive or negative effect over the long term?

    Once again, thanks for answering the random questions that come to my mind when I read your blog 🙂

    1. I don’t think there is any real evidence that corn-based ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions. This article discusses some of the issues. Personally, I think this is typical of government action. They claim there is a problem, then they propose a half-baked solution that has little evidence to indicate it really is a solution. If we are going to use ethanol, we should use ethanol derived from non-edible sources.

  6. Hi Dr. Wile – I teach a homeschool co-op science class using your textbook “Discovering Design with Chemistry”. My students think critically and have asked me a question I don’t feel I can answer well enough.

    Today we discussed spectroscopy and the emission and absorption spectra of elements. In chapter 3 on p. 90 there is a picture of the wavelengths of visible light coming from the sun. The black lines in the picture indicate the absorption spectrum. For example, at one of the characteristics yellow wavelengths associated with helium, there is a black line indicating that helium is absorbing that wavelength, and therefore there is helium in the sun.

    My students asked me how that actually works. Wouldn’t the helium, after absorbing a yellow photon, just re-emit it? Wouldn’t the same net amount of yellow light still come out of the sun?

    My first off-the-cuff answer was that the photon didn’t have to be re-emitted right away, there could be a delay. But that answer can’t be right. The sun has been around thousands of years. The time it takes an individual atom to re-emit a photon wouldn’t affect the average emission of that frequency of light.

    My next thought, that the photon might get re-emitted in a different direction, doesn’t seem very convincing either. Light blasting out of the sun is going in all directions anyway; on the average the effect would be minimal.

    I notice that the helium spectrum (for example) does have several different frequencies at which it can emit photons. Maybe the energy of the yellow photon causes an electron to jump up more than one level, but then later it decays down a lesser amount than it jumped up, therefore emitting a lower energy photon than what it originally absorbed. But that seems like it would cause some brighter lines at the lower frequencies of light in the spectrum, which is not what I’m seeing in the spectroscopy chart – the only feature seems to be darker lines, not brighter ones.

    Absorption spectroscopy seemed simple when I read the explanation in the book, but my students asked some good questions that caused me to think it is more complicated. Can you elaborate on how absorption spectroscopy works?

    David H

    1. Your first off-the-cuff answer is definitely incorrect, David. However, the other two thoughts you have are both correct. Remember that we see darkness relative to the rest of the light intensity. Consider, for example, looking at sunspots. A sunspot isn’t dark because no light is coming from it. It is dark because there is a lot less light coming from it than from the rest of the sun’s surface. Thus, it appears dark. An instrument is the same way. I have to set the instrument to detect the light coming at it. If the overall light levels are high, then low light levels will be “dark” to the instrument.

      So, the absorption lines aren’t completely dark. They are just a lot dimmer than the rest of the light. Why are they dimmer? The biggest effect is the first one you mention. While it is true that the sun is shooting out light in all directions, we see only the light that is headed our way. The light that is headed our way and isn’t absorbed has a certain level of brightness. The light that is headed our way and is absorbed can then be re-emitted. If it were all re-emitted right at us, we would see no dark line, because there would be no loss of light. However, it isn’t all re-emitted right at us. Instead, it is re-emitted in a sphere. Thus, most of it is flying off in a different direction. So…most of the light that we would have seen (had it not been absorbed) gets re-directed away from us. As a result, we see a lot less of that wavelength, and thus we see a dark line.

      The last thought you have also contributes. There are other patterns of re-emission, so light of one wavelength is absorbed, while light of other wavelengths can be emitted. This won’t lead to appreciable bright spots in other parts of the spectrum, however, because once again, that re-emission occurs in all directions, so the level of light from that re-emission that actually reaches us is so low compared to the non-absorbed light, we (and our instruments) can’t really detect it.

      It’s awesome to teach students who think deeply about what they are learning. Good for them…and good for you!

      Please note that there is a website listed in the introduction to the text that allows you to ask me questions and search my previously-answered questions. You would probably get a faster response if you used it rather than my blog.

      1. Thank you! I just now registered at your website listed in the e introduction of your book, and will point my students to that website also.

  7. There was someone on that link in the comments section talking about the opposite (a.k.a. Global Cooling). I know that there was an astrologist named Aden Meinel that was fearful that we would enter into a Maunder Minimum soon. That’s something that I have been praying about (don’t want anything to do with a serious Ice Age).

    1. I don’t think we have to worry about a serious Ice Age, John. True, the sun’s activity is unusually low and has been for a while, but you need more than a cool planet to trigger a serious ice age. You need a cool planet AND a wet atmosphere. Those two items typically don’t go together, since cooler temperatures produce less evaporation. It is possible that the sun’s low activity will send us into a period of unusual cool temperatures, but if that happens, it will most likely be like the “little ice age” that occurred in the 1500s – 1800s.

      1. OK, Jay. Thanks for clarifying. This guy (The late Aden Meinel) did a paper that really bothered him (I think he just studied the sun spots, though).

        And, one more thing: Wasn’t a volcano (Krakatoa, I think) responsible for some of the low temps of that period?

        1. I am not completely sure about the volcano, John, but volcanoes typically affect global climate for a short time – on the order of a few years. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, for example, cooled the northern hemisphere by more than 0.6 degrees, but it lasted for only about three years.

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