How To Argue With Global Warming Deniers

So you’re at a party, and someone says something ignorant . And while you know that they’re in the wrong, and that you could totally engage them and win if you were a bit more prepared, your words escape you. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we’ve compiled a series of handy reference guides with the most common arguments — and your counter-arguments — for all of the hot-button issues of the day. This week’s topic: How to argue with a global warming denier.

Common Argument #1: Global warming? Didn't the northeast just have a historically cold winter?

Your Answer: It was cold as hell, yes, but that doesn't tell the story. In the first place, dramatic weather events we don't typically associate with "warming" can still result from the process — it's the reason some scientists and activists have embraced the name "climate change" instead, because people fallaciously interpret cold seasonal weather as evidence that it isn't happening.

Also, this markedly frigid northeastern winter we've all witnessed was offset by an extremely warm winter season on the west coast. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this winter was actually two degrees warmer than the U.S. average. And, suffice to say, this is a trend — the last fifteen years have boasted 13 of the hottest years on record.

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Common Argument #2: Aren't a lot of scientists skeptical about global warming?

Your Answer: No. In reality, while some number of scientists do contest the overwhelming consensus on global warming, it's a truly tiny amount. While analyses can always be subject to scrutiny and criticism, and forces aligned against the facts on global warming are stout and well-funded (the oft-discussed right-wing billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch loom large, for example), the findings have been quite clear: something like 97 percent of climate scientists agree on global warming, and that human behavior is a culprit.

Common Argument #3: I heard that global warming is all a hoax for scientists to get grant money.

Your Answer: It sounds like you've been listening to Senator Jim Inhofe, or at the very least someone like him. As always, the most compelling fibs contain a kernel of truth — the truth is, securing funding is always an issue, and often a source of frustration within the scientific community. But that doesn't mean every study supported by a staggering consensus is some kind of scheme dreamt up to secure cash. At the point you're arguing this, you could just as easily argue the same for anything that can be borne out by scientific research. Tobacco is harmful to your health? Scam for grant money. Alcohol impairs driving ability? Scam for grant money.


Also, it bears mentioning again that approximately 97 percent of scientists are in agreement on this issue, and that figure represents tens of thousands of people. If this is a knowing hoax, it's one of the best-kept secrets around. It's the same problem posed by almost any grand-scale conspiracy theory, like so-called "9/11 truth." Think about how many people would all need to operate in a cynical and immoral union to make this happen, all without anybody spilling the beans. It boggles the mind, and it's not credible in any way.

Common Argument #4: But there is evidence of that! Have you ever heard of Climategate?

Your Answer: I've heard of the much-ballyhooed, entirely disproven allegations about "Climategate," yes. It's not your fault entirely if you weren't aware how thoroughly the claims were debunked, to be clear. Those initial, headline-grabbing allegations about scientists colluding to distort climate data seemed to generate a lot more attention than their subsequent disproval, a fact which memorably roiled The Daily Show's Jon Stewart back in 2011.

One of the scientists principally accused in the controversy, Michael Mann, was fully cleared of wrongdoing by a Penn State review, and multiple other investigations concluded exactly the same thing. In short, Climategate was little more than a trumped up ploy by global warming denialists, exploiting the general public's unfamiliarity with the science.

Common Argument #5: This isn't fringe stuff, even my TV weatherman is skeptical!

That's not surprising. A shockingly high number of TV weathermen do disbelieve the science behind global warming, a fact which would be a lot more compelling if they were, you know, climate scientists. But it is fair to ask why.

It's hard to say for sure, but here's my take: it's really easy to wrongly think you're well-informed about something if you work in a seemingly similar field. Mix that together with a dash of self-importance — and what about your garden-variety local TV weathermen doesn't scream self-importance — and you're got all the ingredients for a global warming denial goulash. Ex-Bay Area weatherman and right-wing radio host Brian Sussman proved this point by example, going so far as to author a laughably bad book about it.

Common Argument #6: Right-wing? Why make this political? I just care about honesty.

I agree that it shouldn't be political, because that politicization has left us completely unable to deal with a legitimate existential threat — not from nuclear bombs or terrorists, granted, but from the slow creep of the thermometer's mercury, and the rising of the tides. Unfortunately, however, it's become about as political an issue as it gets in the United States, the result of countless conservative groups and Republican politicians fanning the flames of denial in dangerous, disingenuous ways.

Just listen the next time you hear a prominent, ambitious Republican answer a question about global warming. You'll probably hear something like this: "Well, I'm not a scientist." Which, of course, is not the point. Few of us are, but we can read, review and comprehend their work. The reason you get this kind of hedging non-answer is because the GOP knows just how political they've made this issue recently, and they're trying to have it all ways at once.

Common Argument #7: You sound very arrogant and condescending, which is always what happens when I talk to global warming believers.

I realize that's a risk, and like any reasonable person, I don't like thinking I might be hurting people's feelings. It's a similar dilemma with vaccination. With such hugely important issues to society at large, it's easy to be swept up in the urgency and emotion.

The difference, however, is that the facts that are so animating to me are backed by thousands upon thousands of scientists and experts in relevant fields, not crackpot conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and "Lord" Christopher Monckton. There, see? I'm doing it again. It's way too easy to get angry, honestly, especially because it feels so hopeless. No matter the volume of science I could summon to support my position, it won't mean a thing if you think the scientists are out to get you.

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I guess this is the best I can say: every bit as much as you're convinced global warming isn't real, I'm convinced it is. The stakes of either of us being wrong are far different, as well. If I'm wrong, nothing really happens. If you're wrong, the world boils over. Rest assured, though, I'm not doing this for kicks — I really, truly want denialists (or skeptics, if that word makes you feel any better) to come to my side on this. It's people like UC Berkeley professor Richard Muller who give me hope — once a high-profile skeptic of global warming, he did the research, and saw the light. And with a little help and a little good-faith, I truly believe anyone can.

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