Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Someone should collect these climate conversion stories

There may be some useful common thread to how educated people resist climate science for a while, maybe years, and then come around. And it's probably different than what shifts the average voter who spends very little time thinking about the issue.

The excellent science journalist Dan Vergano gives us his conversion story. Short version is he began as a member of the hippie-punching Cold Warrior tribe who reflexively disbelieved in climate change. His self-image as engineer opened the first crack though, when someone he trusted challenged him to check the data and he was educated enough to understand it. Not enough to be convinced though. 

Convinced happened years later as a science journalist, when he applied the "nut test" to professed experts on both sides of the climate issue. The real scientist acknowledged the possibility of being wrong, while the denialist acknowledged none, and the issue was settled for Vergano.

I still find it somewhat perplexing to understand why people go unpersuaded for years by mountains of evidence and then finally change their minds, but this helps a little. Maybe we need a database about how to shake people from their mental frames.

Ironically, I think solutions work the opposite way for most people who spend little time on the issue and are persuaded by certainty and confidence. "The science is settled" is more persuasive to most people (and also true) than "our horde of scientists are still thinking rationally, while the tiny clique on the other side are controlled by irrational certainty and can't be trusted."

You have to understand your audience. Some years ago at my water district when it considered fluoridation, I was annoyed with the pro-fluoride proponents who claimed certainty that fluoridation was safe. The other side was even worse and I sided with fluoridation, but both were using the wrong arguments with me.

Side note:  here's 10 minutes of pretty favorable coverage of the Pope's encyclical on Fox News Sunday. That type of coverage could help given the network it's on. Wallace trots out a version of the Lomborg nonsense about doing something to help the poor other than fixing climate, and I think the bishop flubs his response, but the back and forth is less important than the overall favorable coverage.


Kyle Splawn said...

Barry Bickmore has a video about how he came around to the mainstream view on climate change from a position of skepticism and embedded in a Conservative background.

I seem to recall Tamino explaining how he became convinced at one point, but can't seem to dig up the right post.

Hank Roberts said...

> I was annoyed with the pro-fluoride proponents who claimed certainty
> that fluoridation was safe. The other side was even worse ...

Oh, yes.

I keep coming across the "tiny bit of something will kill you" versus "tiny bit of something can't make a difference" people banging heads, both of them so very wrong.
It's even worse in the nuclear power conversations, like this for example:

Andy S said...

Here's my conversion story.


Anonymous said...

Admiral David Title:


I will dump all the ones I know as I recall them.

Anonymous said...

Richard Muller:

> CALL me a converted skeptic.


Anonymous said...

Michael Stafford and D.R. Tucker:

> I am a "climate change convert." Like many conservatives, I was traditionally skeptical of the science supporting anthropogenic global warming. Today, I am skeptical no longer. Like conservative blogger D.R. Tucker, on this issue, I was ultimately "defeated by facts."


Tucker's story deserves its own link.

Victor Venema said...

In a discussion at ATTP, I wrote about, Jac. and Mark Ryan were convinced by the shape of the arguments and the tone. Scientists have build a coherent argument. Mitigation sceptics at just trying to poke holes, but cannot offer anything coherent. Scientists ask questions because they want to understand thing better. Mitigation sceptics ask questions in the hope of finding a topic the other does not know enough of and are clearly not interested in the answer, in learning.

Also in this post: BBD checked the information he was served by WUWT & Co. and noticed he was lied to.

At Sceptical Science, D.R. Tucker, Craig Good & Nathan McKaskle were convinced by the evidence.

So it happens. I do not think that this is the solution. There is no way to make the majority of the population study the evidence in sufficient detail. That should be possible, but you cannot make them. They have lives.

As long as so many Americans are able to reject evolution, I do not think that evidence or science communication matters much. The culture will need to change.

Russell Seitz said...

My eyebrows were first raised by Sagan and Ehrlich's stonewalling and P-R campaign on TTAPs behalf, a performance that also inspired Steve Schneider's skeptical inquiry.

It is a testament to the resilience of science that it survived the episode, because the numbers speak for themselve, and then as now intelligent laymen and disinterested climate modelers can recognize cartoons when they see them and cant when they hear it.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

RS: My eyebrows were first raised by Sagan and Ehrlich's stonewalling and P-R campaign on TTAPs behalf, a performance that also inspired Steve Schneider's skeptical inquiry. . . . It is a testament to the resilience of science that it survived the episode, because the numbers speak for themselve, and then as now intelligent laymen and disinterested climate modelers can recognize cartoons when they see them and cant when they hear it.

BPL: Your selfless bravery is exceeded only by your humble modesty.

Russell Seitz said...

Have you quite forgot the constant vigilance ?

Brian said...

Thanks for the conversion stories folks, please keep them coming. I could blog about them some more but I think from the anecdotes there might be something rigorous that could be dug out - a job for an academic.

Hank Roberts said...

Hmmmm, there's a conversion story at Wikipedia's page on nuclear winter/TTAPS:

"During the early 1980s, Fidel Castro recommended to the Kremlin a harder line against Washington, even suggesting the possibility of nuclear strikes. The pressure stopped after Soviet officials gave Castro a briefing on the ecological impact on Cuba of nuclear strikes on the United States."

Russell is also cited, but not as a convert in either direction.

John said...

When I was first thinking about global warming about a decade and a half ago, my chain of reasoning went like this:

1. There is a greenhouse effect, keeping the Earth warmer than it would be otherwise.
2. Human activity (mostly burning fossil fuels) have raised the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide
3. Therefore we get an enhanced greenhouse effect, producing global warning.

The argument has a short and simple chain of reasoning, It's not a long complicated chain of reasoning.
The bare outline above doesn't answer the question of whether or not the global warming will be big enough to cause a problem.

To answer that question, we have to get more quantitative.

A doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels produces a forcing of 4.0 W/m2. The temperature rise will be given by

delta-T = (forcing W/m2) X (climate sensitivity C/[W/m2])

The climate sensitivity an be found from the transition between ice ages and non-ice ages
climate sensitivity = 5 C / 7.1 W/m2

The upshot is that you get a delta-T = about 3 C in agreement with climate models.

This shows that the "lukewarmists", who think the temperature rise will be small, are in conflict with the geophysical record.

Source: Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, by Seinfeld and Pandis, pp. 1101-1102 (Wiley, 1998)

Anonymous said...

Kerry Emanuel:


Anonymous said...


> “I am not a scientist” makes sense as a way to resolve a tension within Republican politics. It may be a political liability for Republicans to openly associate themselves with the kook conspiracy theories popular among conservative ideologues. One solution might be for Republicans to concede that anthropogenic global warming is indeed real, but that any solution is simply too costly. That might allow Republicans to minimize their kook exposure while still hewing to the bottom line party doctrine that individuals and firms ought to be able to dump carbon into the atmosphere for free.


This might have been a small victory for "consensus messaging" that Dan Kahan may not take into account.

Anonymous said...

The Hon. Stephen Harper:

> Many Canadians understandably take a cynical view of Harper’s deathbed conversion to the climate-change battle, and their opinion is shared abroad.


Anonymous said...

A woman who used to listen to O'Reilly and watched a film about glaciers:

> She's virtually in tears. "There must be something I can do," she repeats. "Every human being in the world should watch this movie. Everyone!" She is almost aggressive.


Anonymous said...

Viewers of Peter Hadfield's channel:

> The result has been astonishing. My channel, Potholer54, now has over 27,000 subscribers. The videos have been mirrored by others all over the internet, and several university lecturers have asked if they can use it in their environmental science classes. Most importantly, former sceptics tell me the videos have changed their minds about the reality of climate change.


Anonymous said...

Michael Shermer:

> How the evidence for anthropogenic global warming has converged to cause this environmental skeptic to make a cognitive flip.

86 leasing evangelical Christians:

> Nevertheless, data trump politics, and a convergence of evidence from numerous sources has led me to make a cognitive switch on the subject of anthropogenic global warming. My attention was piqued on February 8 when 86 leading evangelical Christians — the last cohort I expected to get on the environmental bandwagon — issued the Evangelical Climate Initiative calling for “national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions” in carbon emissions.

Tim Flannery:

> Archaeologist Brian Fagan’s The Long Summer (Basic, 2004) explicates how civilization is the gift of a temporary period of mild climate. Geographer Jared Diamond’s Collapse (Penguin Group, 2005) demonstrates how natural and human-caused environmental catastrophes led to the collapse of civilizations. Journalist Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006) is a page-turning account of her journeys around the world with environmental scientists who are documenting species extinction and climate change unmistakably linked to human action. And biologist Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006) reveals how he went from being a skeptical environmentalist to a believing activist as incontrovertible data linking the increase of carbon dioxide to global warming accumulated in the past decade.


Anonymous said...

Rep. Michael Grimm:

> Later, though, he has a heart-to-heart discussion with former Rep. Bob Inglis, a conservative South Carolina Republican who was defeated by a tea party candidate in 2010, in large part because Inglis professed belief in climate change. Inglis encourages Grimm to consider why Republicans "have gotten in this spot of distrusting the scientists" and argues that representing an area devastated by Sandy -- which scientists say because of sea-level rise amplifying devastating coastal flooding will be in even greater peril when the next superstorm hits -- could give Grimm the political "room to move" on global warming, despite widespread GOP opposition.


Anonymous said...

Bjorn Lomborg, Dimitri Medvedev, Michael Hanlon,
Gregg Easterbrook, Stu Ostro:


Anonymous said...

Tony Abbott:


Russell Seitz said...

Never having disbelieved in radiative forcing, may I none the less ask what backcasting might say about the sensitivity of average human lifespan to successive halvings of per capita CO2 emission over historical time ?

BBHY said...

When they accept warming at all, deniers always frame the argument as:
1) The Earth got warmer
2) Scientists were caught by surprise
3) Scientists settled on CO2 as the reason in order to push some nefarious agenda

When in reality:
1) Scientists, recognizing the well-understood infrared absorption qualities of CO2 predicted that increasing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere would cause the world to warm, starting with Arrhenius in 1896.
2) Climate predictions were improved over the years, with Hansen making much more detailed and specific prediction of warming in 1981.
3) The level of CO2 went up and the Earth warmed very much as predicted.

I found the fact that scientists understood the mechanism well enough to make detailed predictions decades in advance and those predictions later came to pass was a powerful argument the said scientists are most likely correct and that their predictions for the rest of the 21st century and beyond should be taken seriously.

No wonder the deniers ignore the predictions, or often downplay them by claiming "none of the predictions ever come true" when that is clearly the direct opposite of reality.

BBHY said...

Even the wording of the Pope's Encyclical;

"yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases"

fails to acknowledge that the climate changes were predicted decades in advance. Yet accurate predictions are so much more powerful than simple explanations after the fact.

BBHY said...

Russell Seitz, I do not think that "backcasting" effort would be useful.

The sun moves higher in the sky in the summer. That does not mean that the summer heat lifts the sun higher into the sky.

Association is not causality.

Brian said...

Libertarian Jerry Taylor's conversion: http://www.vox.com/2015/5/12/8588273/the-arguments-that-convinced-this-libertarian-to-support-a-carbon-tax

Anonymous said...

Someone who once drunkenly howled "I Can't Wait To Feel Your Love Tonight" by Van Halen, laughing like a pirate, late at night in the city of Vancouver:


Anonymous said...

Margaret Thatcher:


Anonymous said...

Liz Neely's father:


Anonymous said...

Coal baron Clive Palmer, perhaps: