Peter Gleick: The Best Argument Against Global Warming

Climate deniers have yet to produce an alternative, scientific argument that come close to explaining the evidence around the world that the climate is changing. Here’s how science works.

Peter Gleick
Dr. Peter Gleick is president of the Pacific Institute, an internationally recognized water expert and a MacArthur Fellow.

Here is the best argument against global warming:

. . . .

Oh, right. There isn’t one.

There is no good argument against global warming. In all the brouhaha about tiny errors recently found in the massive IPCC report, the posturing by global climate deniers, including some elected officials, leaked emails, and media reports, here is one fact that seems to have been overlooked:

Those who deny that humans are causing unprecedented climate change have never, ever produced an alternative scientific argument that comes close to explaining the evidence we see around the world that the climate is changing.

Deniers don’t like the idea of climate change, they don’t believe it is possible for humans to change the climate, they don’t like the implications of climate change, they don’t like the things we might have to do to address it, or they just don’t like government or science. But they have no alternative scientific explanation that works.

Here is the way scientists think science works: Ideas and theories are proposed to explain the scientific principles we understand, the evidence we see all around us, and the mathematical models we use to test theories. Alternative theories compete. The ones that best explain reality are accepted, and any new idea must do a better job than the current one. And in this world, no alternative explanation for climate change has ever come close to doing a better job than the science produced by the climate community and represented by the IPCC and thousands of other reports. Indeed, the evidence that man-made climate change is already happening is compelling and overwhelming. And our water resources are especially vulnerable (see, for just one example, this previous blog post).

But the world of policy often doesn’t give a hoot for the world of science. That, of course, permits climate deniers to simply say “no, no, no” without having to come up with an idea that actually works better to explain what we see and know. That’s not science. It’s ideology.

And in the world of media, it makes some kind of sense to put a marginal, discredited climate denier up against world-leading climate scientists, as though that’s some kind of fair balance. Scientists don’t understand that — and it certainly confuses the public.

Here is the second best argument used by deniers against global warming, (but edited for children) from a message received by a colleague of mine:

“Mr. xxx, this is John Q. Public out here. Perhaps you don’t understand there’s no such thing as man-made global warming. I don’t care if you call it f!@%$#%@ing climate change, I don’t f!@%$#%@ing care what you call it. The same thing you communists tried in the 1970s. I’ve got a f!@%$#%@ing 75 articles from Newsweek Magazine stating we were making the earth freeze to death and we would have to melt the f!@%$#%@ing ice caps to save the earth. You, sir, and your colleagues, are progressive communists attempting to destroy America…Your f!@%$#%@ing agenda-driven, money-f!@%$#%@ing grabbing paws and understand there’s no such thing as global warming, you f!@%$#%@ing idiot and your f!@%$#%@ing colleagues.”

Nice, eh? Unfortunately, lots of climate scientists get emails and other messages like this. Note the careful reasoning? The persuasive and logical nature of the debate? The reference to the best scientific evidence from 1970 Newsweek magazines? Very compelling arguments, yes?

Scientists are used to debating facts with each other, with the best evidence and theory winning. Well, this is a bar fight, where the facts are irrelevant, and apparently, the rules and tools of science are too. But who wins bar fights? As the Simpsons cartoon so brilliantly showed, bullies. Not always the guy who is right.

Peter Gleick

Dr. Gleick’s blog posts are provided in cooperation with the SFGate. Previous posts can be found here.

6 replies
  1. Troy says:

    Perhaps because climate scientists are having diffuculties themselves coming up with solid evidence that humans are actually causing climate change. The climate has changed long before humans existed and it will continue to change whether humans are here or not.

    I LOVE science, but this science is very, very young and A LOT still needs to be researched and learned. But to base HUGE decisions, agendas and claim the science is “settled” is beyond ignorance.

  2. Jan says:

    Another excuse. “The science is young.” The science is not young. We have known the properties of CO2 as a heat trapping gas since the 1800s. We have been monitoring it a Mauna Loa since the 1950s. So just when to those who continue to deny this WILL it be considered not young?

  3. James Reznich says:

    Such a puzzlement. It will be little cosolation when we’re kicked off the planet by the natural systems that govern all life while we were busy arguing over what percent of climate change was caused by human activity.
    I propose a simpler measure. Do only things that enhance the sustainability of the natural environment, humans being an integral part of the system. Things like strip mining and text messages converting to voice don’t make the list (what would we do if we actually had to speak to the person we were with?). I’m certain that natural systems will make mining by-waste fertile enough to grow food, but it may take a few thousand years to remediate.

  4. Dano says:

    The “science is “settled” ” talking point was created by Frank Luntz in 2002.




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