Here’s a challenge for readers: how many long-debunked-but-will-never-die climate denial themes can you spot in the following advertisement from the New York Times back in 2000 (you can read more about it here)

Unsettled Science

Knowing that weather forecasts are reliable for a few days at best, we should recognize the enormous challenge facing scientists seeking to predict climate change and its impact over the next century. In spite of everyone’s desire for clear answers it is not surprising that fundamental gaps in knowledge leave scientists unable to make reliable predictions about future changes.

A recent report from the National Research Council (NRC) raises important issues, including these still-unanswered questions (1) Has human activity already begun to change temperature and the climate, and (2) How significant will future change be?

The NRC report confirms that Earth’s surface temperature has risen by about 1 degree Fahrenhelt over the past 150 years. Some use this result to claim that humans are causing global warming, and they point to storms or floods to say that dangerous impacts are already under way. Yet scientists remain unable to confirm either contention.

Geological evidence indicates that climate and greenhouse gas levels experience significant natural variability for reasons having nothing to do with human activity. Historical records and current scientific evidence show that Europe and North America experienced a medieval warm period one thousand years ago, followed centuries later by a little ice age. The geological record shows even larger changes throughout Earth’s history. Against this backdrop of large poorly understood natural variability, it is impossible for scientists to attribute the recent small surface temperature increase to human causes.

Moreover, computer models relied upon by climate scientists predict that lower atmospheric temperatures will rise as fast as or faster than temperatures at the surface. However, only within the last 20 years have reliable global measurements of temperatures in the lower atmosphere been available through the use of satellite technology. These measurements show little if any warming.

Even less is known about the potential or negative impacts of climate change. In fact, many academic studies and yield experiments have demonstrated that increased levels of carbon dioxide can promote crop and forest growth.

So, while some argue that the science debate is settled and governments should focus only on near-term policies — that is empty rhetoric. Inevitably, future scientific research will help us understand how human actions and natural climate change may affect the world and help determine what actions may be desirable to address the long-term.

Science has given us enough information to know that climate changes may pose long-term risks. Natural variability and human activity may lead to climate change that could be significant perhaps both positive and negative. Consequently, people, companies and governments should take responsible actions now to address the issue.

One essential step is to encourage development of lower-emission technologies to meet our future needs for energy. We’ll next look at the promise of technology and what is being done today.


17 responses to “Whack-a-Mole

  1. I count a round dozen.

    1) Weather forecasts are unreliable, therefore climate is much more unpredictable
    2) Scientists unable to prove either human effect or extreme weather
    3) Climate and greenhouse gases vary naturally
    4) MWP
    5) LIA
    6) Recent surface temperature changes small compared to geological past
    7) Microwave satellite records show no warming in 20 years
    8) Climate change may be beneficial
    9) CO2 is plant food
    10) Science is not settled
    11) More research and time required to see if climate change is real and significant
    12) Encourage technological fixes for future energy needs

    But no mention of sea level rise, polar and alpine ice loss, ocean acidification, Algore (the man, his weight or his house), Michael Mann and the hockey stick, nothing about fiddling with temperature records, and nothing about grants, the consensus and Galileo.

    Maybe ExxonMobil outsourced the last tasks.

  2. Rather than note omissions in this 2000 ExxonMobil advertisment, such as Al Gore (Inconvenient Truth, film, 2006) and Mann’s “hockey stick” (which became prominent in IPCC TAR, 2001), I think it would be more interesting to compare the zombies in this advertisement with what the advertiser knew from its own researchers based on internal Exxon documents that have recently become publicly available.

  3. Bbbbut – I thought this is exactly what the IPCC said? Not the Summary for Idiots (bu idiots) but the meat of the AR4/5 reports.

    • I suspect that the “Bbbut” is a signifier of irony, but if the comment really represented your position, you’d be seriously mistaken:

      #1 Just wrong.
      #2 Mis-stated by using the absolute ‘prove’, as opposed to actual IPPC statements, which always adhere strongly to probabilistic language.
      #3 Trivially true, but misleading.
      #4 The MWP has been shown to be regional, not global.
      #5 (LIA) Sure, probably related to Maunder Minimum (per AR4), but so what?
      #6 Sure, but so what?
      #7 False.
      #8 Misleading: IPPC reports have always noted climate ‘winners’, especially at low levels of warming, but expect increasingly serious levels of harm with greater warming to overwhelm those benefits.
      #9 Sure, but not likely to be a significant effect overall.
      #10 Trivially true, but misleading.
      #11 No scientist ever calls for an end to research. However, already in 1995 the Second Assessment Report had stated that:

      ……the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.

      It was really AR4, in 2007, that got highly definite about attribution, averring:

      …very high confidence that the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming, with a radiative forcing of +1.6 [+0.6 to +2.4] W m–2…

      #12 The IPCC really doesn’t do policy–not even WG III, which is charged with assessing measures for mitigation and adaptation. I think it’s safe to say that, though, that no balanced reading of any WG III report would support the notion that there’s a pure “techno-fix” anywhere on the horizon.
      Not the the ad actually says that; the last three paragraphs are a ‘beautiful’ model for concern trolls and straw man erectors.

      By the way, for those who may be interested, I’ve tried to summarize the history of climate issue reportage briefly here:


      Enough mole-whacking for one comment?

      • Took forever to load, but re-perusing the WG I report from the AR (1995) is interesting. The first chapter, an overview, addresses many of the points above, and is, per vuurklip’s condition, outside the SPM. An interesting sentence in that chapter is this:

        The increased amount of carbon dioxide is leading to
        climate change and will produce, on average, a global
        warming of the Earth’s surface because of its enhanced
        greenhouse effect – although the magnitude and
        significance of the effects are not yet fully resolved.

        (P. 59.) No probabilistic language there, despite what I said above!

        There is also an extended discussion of climate predictability. In part:

        Climate changes arising from changes in
        external forcing can also be predictable, as is evidenced
        from several sources. Firstly, there is the mean annual
        cycle which climate models simulate very well. Secondly,
        there is the existence of the regularities observed in past
        climates which were forced by changes in the distribution
        of solar radiation arising from the variations in the
        geometry of the Sun-Earth orbit. Models show some
        success in simulating these past climates. Thirdly, there is
        the success of climate models in simulating the changes
        due to the effects of stratospheric aerosols from the Mt.
        Pinatubo volcanic eruption. In addition, there is the
        evidence provided by the performance of the models
        themselves in simulating the effects of hypothetical
        situations, such as changes in solar radiation; the resulting
        climate changes are largely reproducible and thus
        potentially predictable.

        I’d say Exxon could clearly have known better than they claimed in the ad; they had 5 years to read up, and as we now know they had scientists on staff or on contract who almost surely had actually done the requisite reading. Were they ignored, or co-opted? That is, did some actually collude in writing this ad’s tripe?

        The pdf is available here:


  4. John Pattinson

    Another fine example of how good science leads to enlightenment while empty arguments can only move in ever deminishing circles

  5. I make it 15 statements of denial with 2 statements of anti-denial juxtaposed and thus which probably should be added to the total.

  6. What’s amazing is, if that was 2000, look at how many of those denial memes are still doing the rounds today, almost unaltered, even after another 15 years of data and considerably more understanding. The lesson is that denial is tenacious and will be hard to overcome. Let’s face it; even people who accept the science seem to lack the urgency the situation demands— the subject is hardly talked about in everyday conversation, such is its sensitivity. To some degree we’re all complicit in the culture of denial.

    • Yes. Denial is a persistent ‘re-bunker’ of debunked bunk. (Though some wasn’t initially ‘bunk’; the idea of CO2 radiative saturation looked pretty good, scientifically, in 1905 and for a couple of decades thereafter.)

      But those sorts of cases just show the bad faith involved: by the time of Callendar, 1938, it was pretty clear that CO2 saturation was wrong, and by the time Plass and Kaplan got done wrangling about it in the 50s, and Manabe started modeling it in the 60s, the concept was at best a ‘beautiful corpse.’ Which, of course, didn’t stop folks from trying to resuscitate it (or perhaps better, ‘reanimate’ it) in the ’90s and in the current millennium.

      “…even people who accept the science seem to lack the urgency the situation demands— the subject is hardly talked about in everyday conversation, such is its sensitivity.”

      Yes again. I do talk about it as often as possible without turning into an utter bore on the subject. But I do reproach myself for a lack of requisite urgency: though I’ve made lifestyle changes to lower my carbon footprint, and though I devote considerable amounts of time to the issue, it certainly does not feel as though I’m really ‘commensurate’ yet.

      • Sorry for the pronominal confusion around ‘it’ in the second paragraph: it’s not really right to imply that Plass, Kaplan, and Manabe were directly dealing with the saturation question. But the new, much more realistic picture of radiative physics in the atmosphere that they were building up excluded it as a possibility.

    • On weakly moderated mainstream media sites I’ve noticed that the more aggressive deniers and fake skeptics tend to target those who regularly post science-based comments on AGW with a predictable range of insults once they run out of fake arguments, e.g. “just copying and pasting”… “gullible”… “cult member”… “your religion”… “communist”… “fanatic”… “useful idiot”. So discussion can require a thick skin and persistence.

      I won’t even bring up WUWT and the like.

  7. Just as bad is the synopsis of Ian Plimer’s new denialist book over at Bishop Hill. It’s so full of non-sequiturs and downright falsehoods as to be almost unreadable. Does Bishop Hill really accept this rubbish? If so, he can hardly complain when people call him out as a denier!

    • Ian Plimer has a new book?? Wasn’t the last one bad enough?

      I’d like to see actual sales figures for books like these, and to see who buys them.

  8. Many of these memes and themes are pushed by the denialist Prof. Richard Lindzen. Here is a thorough debunking of Lindzen’s theory of QBO – http://contextearth.com/2015/10/22/pukites-model-of-the-quasi-biennial-oscillation/
    How could Lindzen have missed the obvious connection between QBO and lunar periods? For the same reason he messed up on AGW and his Iris cloud hypothesis, etc. He is simply not a very competent scientist.

    We need more scientists such as Tamino to root these people out.