The Genuine Sceptic View

I get the occasional email asking me to help out with something. This time it was an email from Mike Haseler who is the chairman of the Scottish Climate and Energy Forum. The name of this organisation sounded interesting to me considering the subjects I tackle. I got even more interested when it was mentioned that this was to gather some information about the public debate about climate change.

But I always do a background check on the party that’s asking me to help out with something, no matter how small the request is or the amount of effort required on my side. Who you affiliate yourself with does matter if you want to be taken seriously. When I did a cursory check of the contents on their website any good feelings I might have had about this organisation evaporated.

One of the pages on their website that really set off the alarm bells for me was their video page (archived here). It lists videos with the regular climate science denier talking points. With a couple of climate science deniers also featured there, one of them being Christopher Monckton. I’ve looked into the claims made by Monckton and you shouldn’t listen to him on the subject of climate change.

Though there was one thing that drew my attention and is the reason I’m writing this blog post. It’s the page ‘The Sceptic View‘ (archived here) that says it is the “most authoritative statement of the views of Climate “Sceptics”/”Skeptics” as of May 2012.” What I’m going to do is go through this statement made by ‘sceptics’, but as a real sceptic. Someone who holds to the philosophy of scientific scepticism, a philosophy where evidence matters.

Carbon Dioxide

The list of statements does start off with a something that is factually correct:

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) has been increasing.

But this is then followed by a sentence that is dismissive of this increase.

In 1960 it was 0.032% of the atmosphere, today it is 0.039%.

The amount of CO2 in our atmosphere isn’t what matters, it’s the effect it can have that matters. Small amounts can have really big consequences.

A good illustration of this point is what CFCs did to the ozone layer of our planet. CFCs are such a small part of our atmosphere that they are measured in the parts per trillion, not parts per million like CO2 is. Which means that for example CFC-12 only makes up 0.00000006% of our atmosphere (I used the biggest number I could find and I rounded it up). Yet these gasses are responsible for the ozone hole, if we hadn’t acted to cut our emissions these gasses could have very easily destroyed our ozone layer.

That’s why being dismissive about an increase, no matter of small it is, shouldn’t be done. That kind of dismissal should only be done when you’ve taken a look at the effects it could have.

Increase in global temperatures

The second statement is also factually correct:

There has very probably been warming of average global temperatures in the last 150 years.

Although I find it strange that there was a need to include the word “probably.” There’s no reason to add this as everything we have from measurements to observational data shows our planet is warming.

Greenhouse effect

Although the greenhouse effect is acknowledged:

 There is a greenhouse effect and CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

It’s then followed with a statement that’s such an oversimplification that it’s not true

The best scientific estimate of this effect (for doubling CO2) is about 1C warming.

You can only get that number in a laboratory when you’re measure the heat absorption properties of CO2. This is not the number that you get for a doubling for CO2 when you look at the effects it has on our planet. The detail here is that any warming causes feedbacks to kick in which then strengthen the original warming.

If you look at different studies that look at how our planet has responded in the past a very clear picture emerges that climate sensitivity is somewhere between 2°C and 4.5°C.

Knutti, R., Hegerl, G. C., Nature Geoscience

That’s the best scientific estimate for a doubling of CO2.


Considering what was mentioned as the “best scientific estimate” for a doubling of CO2 I’m not surprised that this is the next statement:

People think there are mechanisms that could increase warming further than the direct effect of CO2. This is not supported by the evidence.

People do not think this, experts have found this to be the case. This is at best a statement made from a complete ignorance of what is in the scientific literature, or at worst a wilful rejection of scientific findings.

Everything we have points to there being a positive feedback to an increase in CO2. Without this positive feedback it’s impossible to recreate past changes in climate. It just doesn’t match what we know has happened in the past.

Urban heating

Here’s where the statements switch from ignoring evidence to accusations towards climate researchers:

Current estimates of about 0.8 C temperature rise in the past 150 years are very likely too high. There is compelling evidence of malpractice, urban heating and poor instruments & siting. A figure of 0.5-0.6C warming appears more likely.

Scientists are well aware of issues that can arise from urban sprawl, relocation of measurement stations, and switching of instruments. There’s a whole list of reasons that can affect temperature measurements, but these are known and corrected for. They’re not ignoring it, and they are certainly not guilty of malpractice.

The temperature records we have agree with each other despite being created from different datasets and different methods. That alone is a hint that it isn’t because of some underlying problem with methodology or with the data that’s being used. It was also confirmed that urban heating doesn’t affect the temperature records in a significant way by Richard Muller who thought this was the case. He created the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST, get it?) to remove any urban heating bias. He said about existing groups that “their work is excellent.”

The following video gives a good summary:

Cause for the increase in CO2

Man-made sources have increased global levels of CO2, however scientific analysis shows part of the increase is natural and no one is certain how much or little of this rise is man-made.

Nonsense, and demonstrably wrong.

There are several lines of evidence that link the current increase in atmospheric CO2 to our emissions. From simple accounting, the decrease on oxygen in the atmosphere, to isotope signatures.  It all points to us being the cause for the increase, not nature.

CO2 Emissions vs Concentration

Water vapour in the atmosphere

Water in the atmosphere is far more important than CO2 in determining global temperature.

This is again a wrong statement. Yes, water vapour is an important greenhouse gas. But without something else already creating a greenhouse effect the water vapour in our atmosphere would just come down  as precipitation.

Water vapour in our atmosphere is one of the feedbacks that ‘The Sceptic View’ document dismissed earlier. It’s a strong and important one, and it’s very real. But water vapour cannot sustain a greenhouse effect on its own.

Weather extremes

The harmful effects of warming have been exaggerated as shown e.g. by the absence of substantial evidence for increasing weather extremes.

Irrelevant, and a misrepresentation of findings.

Even if I granted that there’s no increase in extreme weather events, or that they events haven’t been getting stronger, it doesn’t tell you what is going to happen in the future (besides, the literature says something different). The current increase is just the start, if we continue on a business as usual scenario we are looking at an increase of 4°C to 6°C. An increase in temperatures of 6°C is over half the temperature increase our planet underwent coming out of the previous glacial period.

That’s an amount of extra energy that will have an effect on droughts, rainfall, and the strength of storms. A lot of how this will play out in the context of extreme weather is not known, but what we do know tells us that extreme weather events will increase and get worse.

Possible benefits to global warming

Known benefits have been hidden. It is estimated there are more than 20,000 extra winter deaths each year in the UK and increasing fuel costs will make this worse. CO2 is essential for plant growth and increasing levels are beneficial to plants.

When it’s claimed that’s something is “hidden” it implies a conspiracy theory. But nothing is hidden about potential benefits or damaging aspects of global warming. It’s all in the literature and there’s a lot of debate about the details of what it will cost. But an increase in temperatures of 4°C to 6°C will wreak havoc on our economy. As that kind of temperature increase means that where you can grow what will change. Moving agricultural regions is a very expensive business.

Taking into account the consequences of global warming means it will be much cheaper to act than to do nothing:

Cost of Action vs Inaction

This statement also ignores how dangerous warm weather can be. Warmer winters would indeed mean fewer deaths among vulnerable groups, but the same groups are also vulnerable to heat waves. Those will increase in a warming world and the deaths caused by heat waves are expected to be five times greater than the number of deaths prevented during winter.

Also the increase in temperatures would undo the benefits plants would have from the extra CO2 in the atmosphere. There’s a point where it just gets too hot for a plant to efficiently do photosynthesis; or grow at all in certain regions.

Cost of global warming

Even under the worst case scenario warming, when the usual method of comparing the cost and benefit of policy is used, it is more cost-effective to deal with any problems that occur than to pay to try to stop them.

Wrong, and I already dealt with the expected cost.

Temperature proxies

Climate proxies are not reliable. If we consider all the evidence including historical records, the evidence suggests the world was warmer during the “medieval warm period” as well as being cooler during the “little ice age”.

Again, not supported by what’s in the scientific literature.

Yes, it was somewhat warmer during the medieval warm period, but that was mostly a local phenomenon; the rest of the world was cooler. Because of that the average global temperature was lower during the medieval warm period than it is now.

Same goes for the little ice age where the world was also somewhat cooler. But that doesn’t tell you anything about current temperature increases.

Nor does it say anything about the accuracy of climate proxies. The evidence so far shows that these are reliable and can be used to reconstruct past climates/temperatures.

The cause for warming

Climate varies naturally. Most of the CO2 rise occurred in the latter half of the 20th century. If this change were man-made the global temperature change for the early and latter 20th century should be very different. They are not. This suggests a natural cause for much of the 20th century warming.

You cannot use a temperature graph to tell you what is causing a change in temperature. Different causes can have the same type of response, that’s why you need to look at what is actually causing the change. When you do this it becomes rather obvious that we’re causing the increase in temperature due to our CO2 emissions. As nothing else matches the measurements:

Meehle 2004


IPCC projections

In 2001 the IPCC stated with a high degree of confidence that global temperature would warm. It has not. In science a theory is not valid unless the data supports it. Climate scientists must accept this theory is not validated and acknowledge that the IPCC confidence in warming was greatly overstated.

No, the planet has not stopped warming. What you’re seeing is a slowdown in the increase of global surface temperature. Looking at the energy imbalance of our planet you can see it’s still accumulating heat at the rate of 4 Hiroshima sized bombs per second. The difference is that due to natural variability most of this heat is now going into the oceans. Again something that is supported by measurements.

Also in science a theory is the best explanation we have based on our knowledge, and means it has been repeatedly confirmed through observations and experiments. The word theory as used in this statement is the colloquial usage, and means hypothesis. If you claim to adhere to scientific scepticism this is terminology usage you should be aware of.

Accusation of malpractice

We condemn the many instances of malpractice seen in climate science and those who condone them.

This is most likely in reference to events like climategate. However, every single investigation has shown that there wasn’t any problems with the science. There are a lot of accusations made towards climate scientists of malpractice, or even outright fraud, that aren’t based in reality. Which makes this a statement no true sceptic would make about climate science.


I could have said a lot more about the science and how the statements made in ‘The Sceptic View’ aren’t supported by what is in the scientific literature. But I think that what I did say is enough to show this.

To me it’s also not a surprise that this list of statements mostly consists out of climate science denier talking points. The document states that users who comment on Watts Up With That and Bishop Hill helped with creating this document. It’s never a good idea to try to create a document about scepticism from users who frequent known climate science denial websites.

This also means that those represented by the Scottish Climate and Energy Forum aren’t sceptics, they’re so-called sceptics or pseudosceptics. Which means that they’re either misinformed or actively try to portray themselves as sceptics when they’re not. That it is most likely the latter is shown by an explanatory note in ‘The Sceptic View’:

We encourage debate based on scientific evidence. We particularly abhor any dismissal of potentially good science based on the preconceived prejudice that has dominated climate science and prevented debate.

Dismissal of good science is what this list has done. Scepticism doesn’t start with the viewpoints and claims of others, and being sceptical about those does not make you a sceptic. Being a sceptic starts with examining your own viewpoints, the positions you hold, and the claims you make. Which means that a sceptic wouldn’t have written those statements. A sceptic would have done their homework and would have written something very differently based on the scientific evidence.

To me this list looks like something a climate science denier would write, no genuine sceptic would make those statements. Which makes it sad that a document that rejects valid science is called ‘The Sceptic View’.

Collin Maessen is the founder and editor of Real Skeptic and a proponent of scientific skepticism. For his content he uses the most up to date and best research as possible. Where necessary consulting or collaborating with scientists.