Top 5 Climate "Skeptic" Red Herrings


red herring

  1. A smoked herring having a reddish color.
  2. Something that draws attention away from the central issue.

Whether it’s in on a right-wing blog, an online forum or at a family dinner, we’ve all heard an array of lame arguments against the realities of human-induced climate change.

Here’s the top 5 red herrings:

1. A group of “experts” signed a letter stating that there is no consensus on climate change

Science is a process of proposing an hypothesis, testing it and then publishing those results in a peer-reviewed research journal. A letter signed by a bunch of people stating that the theory of human-caused global warming is wrong does not prove anything scientifically.

In any major scientific issue there is always a group of outliers and contrarians who challenge the scientific consensus. However, the normal means for such outliers to “debate” issues of science is not to sign letters and go on Fox News, but to do real research and prove the consensus to be wrong.

Published research is the only way contrarians can refute the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing to human-caused global warming. Anything other than research is a red-herring.

2. The climate is always changing – it’s natural

The fact that there has been historical variation in temperature and greenhouse gas levels is well known in science. But natural variation is not what has been observed since the industrial revolution. Check out this graph.

Scientists are observing an unprecedented upswing of greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere and it is not only the never-before-seen concentrations that are concerning, it is also the rate of change. Gradual changes over thousands of years allow species to adapt, but the rapidity of the changes we are seeing today does not allow for such adaptation. Here’s what that looks like in terms of temperature rise.

In other words, the climate change we are seeing today is not “natural,” and to compare it to past fluctuations is like comparing apples to, well, red herrings.

3. Scientists predicted global cooling in the 1970’s

And in the 1950’s scientists were using LSD to treat alcoholism. The body of knowledge gained by science is always evolving, and we use our best knowledge at any given time to make decisions. In 1971 scientists did indeed claim that the earth could possibly cool due the massive increase in the use of aerosol pollution.

However, the claim was very short lived and further research found that any cooling effects of aerosol in the atmosphere would be overwhelmed by the warming effects of human-produced greenhouse gases.

Comparing the massive amounts of scientific research and multiple lines of evidence pointing to human-caused climate change, to the 37 year old short-lived theory of global cooling is nothing but a smelly, old red herring.

4. Al Gore flies around the world in carbon-emitting jets

Al Gore has done an amazing job communicating the science of climate change, and his Oscar-wining film and Nobel Prize prove that. Gore travels around the world raising awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis and his efforts have greatly advanced the issue. Any excessive greenhouse gas emissions Gore uses in these have been outstripped by the amazing work he has done.

What would you have Gore do? Walk to China?

Whether you agree with me or not, Al Gore is only one individual and to hold him up as a reason to not do anything personally to reduce your carbon footprint it a lame excuse for inaction.

5. The Mann “hockey stick” graph

A climate reconstruction published in 1998(pdf) by Dr. Micheal Mann showed a major and unprecedented upswing in temperatures compared to previous 2,000 years. The graph showed relatively flat temperature recordings with a dramatic upturn in the last half century making the graph look like a hockey stick. Here’s the graph.

The Mann Hockey Stick graph featured prominently in the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and has been the focus of attacks by so-called “climate skeptics” ever since. Most of the attack focused on a minor statistical flaw that was uncovered in Mann’s original reconstruction graph. This minor flaw was flogged as somehow proving that the entire theory of human-caused climate change was in question.

The Mann “hockey stick” was one study done 9 years ago that has since been replicated by numerous other studies through multiple lines of evidence. Look at this graph for other comparable reconstructions. In fact, a 2006 report issued(pdf) by the US National Academy of Science stated this of the Mann “hockey stick:”

The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes both additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and pronounced changes in a variety of local proxy indicators, such as melting on ice caps and the retreat of glaciers around the world.”

In other words, the Hockey Stick is just another red herring propped up by those who insist on keeping their heads firmly planted in the nice warm (and getting warmer) sand.

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Kevin is a contributor and strategic adviser to DeSmog. He runs the digital marketing agency Spake Media House. Named a “Green Hero” by Rolling Stone Magazine and one of the “Top 50 Tweeters” on climate change and environment issues, Kevin has appeared in major news media outlets around the world for his work on digital campaigning. Kevin has been involved in the public policy arena in both the United States and Canada for more than a decade. For five years he was the managing editor of In this role, Kevin’s research into the “climate denial industry” and the right-wing think tank networks was featured in news media articles around the world. He is most well known for his ground-breaking research into David and Charles Koch’s massive financial investments in the Republican and tea party networks. Kevin is the first person to be designated a “Certified Expert” on the political and community organizing platform NationBuilder. Prior to DeSmog, Kevin worked in various political and government roles. He was Senior Advisor to the Minister of State for Multiculturalism and a Special Assistant to the Minister of State for Asia Pacific, Foreign Affairs for the Government of Canada. Kevin also worked in various roles in the British Columbia provincial government in the Office of the Premier and the Ministry of Health. In 2008 Kevin co-founded a groundbreaking new online election tool called Vote for Environment which was later nominated for a World Summit Award in recognition of the world’s best e-Content and innovative ICT applications. Kevin moved to Washington, DC in 2010 where he worked for two years as the Director of Online Strategy for Greenpeace USA and has since returned to his hometown of Vancouver, Canada.

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