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Why Your "Skeptical" Comment on Climate Change Got Deleted
Alex Steffen, 16 Jun 08

Climate "skepticism" is not a morally defensible position. The debate is over, and it's been over for quite some time, especially on this blog.

We will delete comments which deny the absolutely overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, just as we would delete comments which questioned the reality of the Holocaust or the equal mental capacities and worth of human beings of different ethnic groups. Such "debates" are merely the morally indefensible trying to cover itself in the cloth of intellectual tolerance.

So, if you're a climate skeptic, you may be well-intentioned and you're certainly welcome to your opinion, but we're not interested.

Thanks.

UPDATE: As promised, climate skeptic (and personal attack) comments deleted below (and they will continue to be deleted).

Most of those comments were the usual garbage, but a few seemed perhaps genuinely confused. For those folks, a little refresher on the facts:

On climate change, the scientific debate is long over. If you need a handy guide to understanding why the denialist arguments are bunk, go here.

The "skeptic" position is not an attempt at scientific inquiry, it's a PR scam, funded largely by coal and oil interests and run largely out of American right-wing think tanks.

The point of climate skepticism, politically, is not to engage in fruitful discussion. It is to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about the overwhelmingly clear science on climate change and the moral imperative to act quickly to stave off climate change's worst consequences. By repeatedly posting "skeptical" and confrontational comments about climate science whenever climate solutions are discussed, anti-environmentalists hope to hijack discussion and slow movement toward climate solutions. That's a bullying, dishonest tactic, and we're not putting up with it anymore.

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Comments

It's certainly your right to limit the scope of discussion on the topic iteself - however, what is most troubling is what appears to be a concerted and ongoing effort to portray those who disagree (for whatever reason) as being on the same level as "Holocaust Deny'ers" and "Racists", thus rendering anyone who may disagree (again, for whatever reason) as "evil", on the same level more or less as a committed "Nazi".

Something is rotten in Denmark with that type of approach...


Posted by: nightliter on 16 Jun 08

I appreciate your stand, Alex.

All of us have a limited amount of energy and attention, and there's no reason to allow crank arguments to waste them. There are more important things to attend to.

Besides this is a private site and WorldChanging is under no obligation to provide a platform for everyone under the sun. This is not a freedom of speech issue.

So, yes: Tough Love.

Bart
Energy Bulletin


Posted by: Bart Anderson on 16 Jun 08

Without trying to ask for an intensely pedantic description, I wonder how broadly skepticism is defined? I appreciate the effort to limit debate to positions that are scientifically defensible. And I would state that I have zero concerns now that global climate change is a real thing; but I remain intellectually open to challenges to aspects of causes and outcomes that represent real rigor. How bright is the line and where is it drawn?


Posted by: Glenn Fleishman on 16 Jun 08

Is there another way to maybe deal with this? such as tag skeptic comments etc.? It seems like attracting skeptics and informing them might be better than banning them entirely.


Posted by: andrew on 16 Jun 08

Alex,

I agree that you should be able to limit content as you see fit; that said, by doing so, you would seem to be playing into the hands of those same climate change skeptics (as noted by Nightliter). I wholly believe in climate change and the human component of it; but by going down this avenue, unless very well controlled and thought out, could lead your site into the odd state of being relegated to the same level of derision as http://www.junkscience.com gets (though they actually deserve it for spouting the junk they do on behalf of their Oil company friends).

That said, keep the site going and I look forward to your posts.


Posted by: BlackMacX on 16 Jun 08

I only disagree with two things:

* W. was allowed to be the one to end the debate.
* Unless you're going to say that the blog is sole focused on finding solutions and not on defining problems, this is a slippery slope to censorship.


Posted by: Primus Luta on 16 Jun 08

Don't believe the slippery slope arguments. People are free to start their own blogs to air their thoughts, Worldchanging isn't obliged to host everyone. People come here to see innovative ideas for making the world a better place. If they want to convert skeptics, they can go to RealClimate or any number of other places.


Posted by: Julie on 16 Jun 08

I'm confused.
How is intellectual skepicism "morally indefensible?

It seems like you have a moral problem with anyone who disagrees with you. It doesn't seem to matter what the subject matter is.


Posted by: Flip on 16 Jun 08

Certainly you can do whatever you like, but you may have overlooked a not so small problem, you now have contradictory statements on this web site.

From your About page: "This is a conversation, not a sermon. We encourage not just feedback, but active participation, and, yes, challenge. "

And here on this page you say:

"We will delete comments which deny the absolutely overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change..."

No challenges after all?

Such a quandary you've painted for yourself; by contradicting your own policy, it is highly likely you've made this website irrelevant.

Hopefully, this comment won't be deleted since it does not contain anything that is a challenge to "overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change".


Posted by: Anthony Watts on 16 Jun 08

I'm just glad you said "Climate Change" and not global warming. It's been shown that all of the climate changes present themselves in different ways. Some areas are getting colder, some are getting wetter, some dryer, and some warmer.

The phrase "Global Warming" confused the whole issue.


Posted by: Adam Brown on 16 Jun 08

Alex,
Are you simply a believer or an atheist?
About everything?
Never a skeptic?


Posted by: spangled drongo on 17 Jun 08

i have to echo Alex's sentiment that this is a space to discuss the merits of solutions to climate change.

I work with a community group and we hold open space discussions and forums and we often have climate skeptics participating and while quite clearly their point of view is valid, our forums are not the place for that discussion. We find going round in circles with the same old conversations really draining for our limited resources.

That said i made a post a couple of weeks ago and it was auto-rejected seemingly it had some potential spam content.



Posted by: shane on 17 Jun 08

i have to echo Alex's sentiment that this is a space to discuss the merits of solutions to climate change.

I work with a community group and we hold open space discussions and forums and we often have climate skeptics participating and while quite clearly their point of view is valid, our forums are not the place for that discussion. We find going round in circles with the same old conversations really draining for our limited resources.

I would change you about page to "this site is based on the premise the climate change is upon us and we're seeking to discuss the solutions"

That said i made a post a couple of weeks ago and it was auto-rejected. seemingly it had some potential spam content.

Shane



Posted by: shane on 17 Jun 08

Any scientist worth his salt is willing to chuck any idea once different evidence comes along or a better understanding of the underlying principles. So to say the debate is over is to leave the realm of science and enter the realm of religion. Face it "climate science" is becoming as dogmatic as the vatican. Those with different ideas are burned on the pyres of verbal scorn then ignored. That's not science, that's religion.


Posted by: William U on 17 Jun 08

Controlling the output of greenhouse gases, mainly the breathing out of CO2 and methane, by means of worldwide monitoring, policy making to reduce its output, capping, trading and taxing CO2, and instead neglecting pollution that will cool our planet, neglecting even ground-level ozone, neglecting our rain forest since new forests are better carbon sinks, putting additional stress on the biosphere (including us!)by using its renewable source for energy other than food - all this could be a consequence of plugging ears against "Climate "skepticism" as not a morally defensible position. "Climate Change" is the biggest ever research program on this planet that has turned into the U.N. approach on "global change". I believe it is wrong to marginalize all people as holocaust deniers who are - using your own words - well-intentioned on such an overwhelmingly vast subject on are sceptical about who will run our planet in the future.


Posted by: Markus Massmünster, Switzerland on 17 Jun 08

I agree that it can be annoying to debate the merit of some proposals and then have a comment "It's all made up idiots", including multiple misspellings, expletives, and slang terms. However, this is not a problem of skeptics, but immaturity.

However, banning all skeptics is not a wise decision. It is my conclusion that the human element of climate change has been greatly overstated. While not insignificant, we are a significantly lower influence on climate than El Nino, La Nina, and solar variation. The result of this view has significant effects on what is reasonable to spend on climate change, leaning heavily towards mitigation and not prevention. If my conclusions are correct, then the vast majority of "prevention" items, chiefly sequestration, are completely worthless as they are several orders of magnitude too expensive for the benefit. Thus, deleting all "skeptical" comments will remove a very large and extremely reasonable set of comments from this board.

Perhaps this policy should be revised to delete all "off this specific topic" comments.


Posted by: Ben on 17 Jun 08

You've really upset the "skeptics", haven't you. It's a good decision. There are plenty other places on the internet for them to spout the same disproven rubbish over and over again.


Posted by: George Darroch on 17 Jun 08

If there had been any doubt in my mind about the validity of Worldchanging's new policy, skimming the comments to the post would've removed it.

Good call.


Posted by: Joe on 17 Jun 08

My word, there are a *lot* of "skeptics" in this thread very nicely proving your point for you. The problem is that most climate change "skeptics" aren't - they've made up their mind that climate change is teh evil librul conspiracy and/or scientists (presumably) falsifying research in order to get grant money, and they will mock and demonise anyone advocating for action on the issue.

Damnit, pseudo-skeptics, "the debate is over" isn't a statement of absolute dogma - the debate on climate change is over in much the same way as the debate on evolution is over: real scientists *are* always open to new evidence appearing, but at this point the likelihood of this new evidence completely overturning the current theories is vanishingly small. I'll even grant that climate skepticism is MUCH more justified than evolution skepticism. But that doesn't mean there is any *serious* doubt about whether we need to cut carbon emissions quickly.

Though I do think your phrasing is unfortunate, Alex, because it provokes exactly these sort of pseudo-skeptical comments. But whatever - hey, skeptics, if it makes you happier, try reading the rule as "whether there is a debate or not, this site isn't the place for it".


Posted by: Julius on 17 Jun 08

So, if the debate is over, what is the point of having this blog?


Posted by: G. Allen on 17 Jun 08

OK, I'll bite. If the debate is over please answer these three questions.

1. What is the earth's current temperature?

2. What is the earth's 'correct' temperature?

3. What is the 'correct' level of atmospheric CO2 (in ppm) needed to achieve that temperature?

If you cannot answer those questions then the debate hasn't even started.


Posted by: Greg on 17 Jun 08

Well, Greg, replace the term "correct temperature" in your questions with the term "temperature that our ecosystems have adapted to" and yes, we have hard answers to all three. (For instance, spring is coming two weeks earlier than our migratory songbirds are used to in North America; this is objectively bad because the birds can't adjust their schedules on the timescale in which the change is occurring; they depend on arriving at a specific moment in the germination cycle. When spring comes too soon, they arrive to find they have no food. So, they are starving, and there is a knock-on effect on the rest of the food chain.) All three of your questions are in fact answered in exhaustive detail in the IPCC reports.

However, that's beside the point. Who cares whether the debate is over? Even if there's a debate, it is fair to have a website dedicated to wondering what we should do if the worst-case scenarios come true. That's what WorldChanging is for. So, if you want every posting on this site to begin with, "In case it were to turn out that climate change is actually happening, then..." we can certainly do that; but it would be a bit cumbersome. Better to say, "whether there is a debate or not, this is not the place to have it."

Even more important, however, is that it doesn't even matter whether climate change is an illusion: pretending that it's real provides us with the biggest business opportunity you and I will see in our lifetimes. Seriously, what other potential driver do you see coming down the pipeline that has the potential to radically improve standards-of-living and economies worldwide? The development of the fossil-fuel economy was the last change that was this big; the replacement of that economy with something befitting a 21st century level of technology is the only opportunity as big on the horizon. The scenario of climate change energizes every other driver--nuclear fusion, nanotech, biotech, infotech: they all receive a huge *boost* by assuming that climate change is happening. Why should it be a problem for you if on this site we discuss all the myriad opportunities (business and social) that result from exploring this scenario?


Posted by: Karl Schroeder on 17 Jun 08

Good call. A bit unfortunate that you would mention holocaust deniers. Even if climate could kill a couple order of magnitude more people than that evil in the last century, it's still a sure way to get people all worked up.

It is however funny that all the crazies are out in force. Especially those saying they won't read worldchanging anymore; As if they ever did.


Posted by: Daniel Haran on 17 Jun 08

I applaud your choice to delete comments from nay-sayers. The wisest decisions always come from echo chambers filled with yes-men. Science isn't about documented, repeatable experiments standing up to scrutiny and skepticism, science is about momentum and consensus. Do we now believe in a heliocentric universe because a few skeptics challenged the dogma of geocentricism? Of course not.


Posted by: Charles Z. on 17 Jun 08

All you "deniers" are going to be real sorry when the IPCC's AR5 comes out and global temperatures will be projected to be 12deg C higher than the computer models predicted in AR4!!!!

What are ya gonna say then? Huh? Huh??


Posted by: DJ Meredith on 17 Jun 08

How ironic. Using the mantra of holocaust denial to enforce your facist view. That's a trick right out of the national socialist party's playbook.


Posted by: J Pacheco - biologist on 17 Jun 08

You've clearly hit a nerve. We have to disagree with you that you should censor those who deny man-made climate change. It's the same strategy employed by the Bush admin on our enemies, the policy that Obama is certain to change: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. We just started a series on the topic of debating global warming skeptics. As we'll demonstrate, we all have skin in this game. It's just matter of how you look at it.

But you also have to realize that there are powerful and entrenched interests (namely: coal, oil, natural gas, agribusiness) that are funding the disinformation campaign. Many of the scientists they cite are on the Big Oil payroll. And "it's impossible to get a man to believe something if his paycheck depends on him not believing it."

Still, the challenges are too great to simply discount all of those who don't believe in greenhouse gases, because many have been manipulated into these positions in the first place. And just because you don't believe in man-made global warming doesn't mean you can't get behind the solutions. That will be the topic of our next posts.


Posted by: Max Gladwell on 17 Jun 08

Interesting term "climate skeptic" since by itself it doesn't really mean anything. Do you mean skeptical that most climate change is man-made, that it is natural, that it is catastrophic, that people can or can't do anything about it anyway? To what degree and what direction is allowable skepticism on this site. Perhaps you could put the answer in your mission statement.


Posted by: John Knight on 17 Jun 08

Alex, I admire your general sense of optimism and focus on positive solutions, and I hope you are only deleting comments that are meant to be distracting and destructive, not ones that offer general questions or concerns about current Climate Change assumptions.

Rigorous debate is an important facet of any search for truth, so I hope (for your site and associates' sake) that you're not inclined to simply delete any comment that questions a given scientific study or report on Climate Change, or even general questions about whether Climate Change is ENTIRELY man-caused.

All newcomers to the fields of sustainability have genuine questions and skepticisms about problems and solutions. Dealing honestly with critics is an important part of any search for positive responses.

On a related note, I've often felt your site gives short-thrift to immediate concerns about Peak Oil, possible economic collapse (another often overlooked aspect of sustainability), political ramifications of trade organizations such as the WTO, treaties such as NAFTA, economic entities such as the World Bank and IMF, and other interconnected aspects of the globalized economy driving so many of the sustainability issues behind the scenes. There are plenty of calls to "Change our Political Will" but only vague ideas about how we're going to do that, and oh, reconfigure civilization to be carbon negative when it isn't even clear we can even produce as much energy as the world currently demands.

I recognize your site has an overtly positive focus, but at times it can come across as a form of "Holocaust Denial" itself, to those genuinely concerned about the rapid rate of global economic and natural deterioration we're seeing unfold before us RIGHT NOW. Deleting comments of Climate Change deniers seems unhelpful in this context when it seems like there are a lot of other obvious and addressable problems that receive lttle, if any, attention on your site. This isn't JUST a Climate Change advocacy site, right?

I also have noted in previous posts that you've posted and admiringly commented upon speeches by Clinton and Gore giving an implicit endorsement of democratic American politics, without linking these powerful figures into the broader context of global organizations they advocate, many of which may be seen as large, integral parts of the pervading sustainability debates we face --- see World Bank and IMF austerity measures enforced upon developing countries, NAFTA, WTO, etc.

Politics is obviously a contentious subject when discussing sustainability, but the politicization of Climate Change must be acknowledged, especially since Gore, with his TED talks and mentions on sites such as Treehugger and Worldchanging, seems to be becoming a hero of sustainability advocates everywhere, despite offering few solutions other than buying hybrids, changing light bulbs, and invoking carbon cap and trade mechanisms that seem like hollow rackets to people dubious about the very real problems we face RIGHT NOW.

Blinding fear is not the answer, but neither are hollow, simple solutions and unquestioning political allegiance to whatever faction seems to be speaking to our concerns. This is relevant because many conservatives deny man-made climate change, are wary of NAFTA, but will take an issue like Peak Oil seriously -- presumably because we all use gasoline so prodigiously, and it's hard to ignore the implications of not getting enough of it to meet our demand, or not getting any of it at all.

Without the debate, your site and very admirable work may come off as naive, lefty-partisan techno-optimism. It has to me at times. I know your site and cause are so much more than that, and I often recommend it to others new to the discussion, but I also talk to enough well-meaning skeptics who think Climate Change is a hoax perpetuated by Hollywood and politicians to know addressing these concerns shouldn't be seen as optional to those who want to be persuasive in sustainability advocacy.

Embrace the naysayers. Learn to respond to them. It gets tired repeating the same things over and over, but we need to be challenged, and we need to learn to address the generally inquisitive but skeptical.

Of course this is your site, so you can do whatever you want. =) Keep up the great and worthwhile work otherwise...


Posted by: Brad Bonham on 17 Jun 08

Wow, thanks denialists for making my case better than ever I could for why your participation in the conversation is unwelcome.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 17 Jun 08

Alex.. Brad B pretty much said what I wanted to say. Short of pure trolls and immaturity, I urge you to keep all conversations open - as mandated in your Manifesto, "This is a conversation, not a sermon. We encourage not just feedback, but active participation, and, yes, challenge."

I think your readers are smart enough to see through the occasional groundless blog comment. Rather than censor uninformed comments, take 60 seconds to answer it with a firm, one-line retort and some links to good science.

Now that you've attracted what appears to be a healthy room full of climate change activists (pro, con, and everywhere in between), this would be the perfect opportunity to revise your censorship rule and invite "challenging, active participation."

John L. - Worldchanging Supporter
(whose own opinion is that alternatives to carbon energy cannot come fast enough)


Posted by: John L on 17 Jun 08

What concerns me most of all is this: the family of humanity appears not to have more than several years in which to make necessary changes in its conspicuous over-consumption lifestyles, in the unsustainable overproduction practices of big-business enterprises, and its overpopulation activities. Humankind may not be able to protect life as we know it and to preserve the integrity of Earth for even one more decade.

If we project the fully anticipated growth of increasing and unbridled per-capita consumption, of rampantly expanding economic globalization and of propagating 70 to 75 million newborns per annum, will someone please explain to me how our seemingly endlessly expanding global economy can grow sustainably to the year 2050.

According to my admittedly simple estimations, if humankind keeps doing just as it is doing now, without doing whatsoever is necessary to begin modifying the business-as-usual course of our gigantic, endless-growth-oriented global economy, then the Earth could sustain life as we know it for a relatively brief period of time.

It appears to me that all the chatter, including that heard in most “normal science” circles, of humankind taking a benign path to the future by “leap-frogging” through a ‘bottleneck’ to population stabilization in 2050 is nothing more than wishful and magical thinking.

Unfortunately, even top rank scientists have not found adequate ways of communicating to humanity what people somehow need to hear, see and understand: the reckless dissipation of Earth’s limited resources, the relentless degradation of Earth’s frangible environment, and the approaching destruction of the Earth as a fit place for human habitation by the human species, when taken together, appear to be proceeding toward the precipitation of a catastrophic ecological wreckage of some sort unless, of course, the world’s colossal, ever expanding, artificially designed, manmade global economy continues to speed headlong toward the monolithic ‘wall’ called “unsustainability” at which point the runaway economy crashes before Earth’s ecology is collapsed.



Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony on 17 Jun 08

Ahh... nothing revives a debate more rapidly than declaring it finished!

The only way that a bad meme dies is if everyone DOESN'T think about it. Therefore, the act of declaring one dead is equivalent to re-launching it.

-- Geoff

p.s. I think that we can safely declare the war in Iraq to be over, can't we? ;-)


Posted by: Geoffrey Mantel on 17 Jun 08

Wow, thanks again skeptics, for posting a raft of comments laden with cussing and invective, thus further proving the point. Again, deleted.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 17 Jun 08


Your decision is classic case of a leader doing some new which, virtually by definition, is poorly understood by the crowd. There has been ample time for discussion, now it's time for action.

Bravo Alex - thanks for moving us forward.


Posted by: Mark O on 17 Jun 08

Thanks, again, "skeptics" for even further proving my point about bullying and nonsense by attempting to post scads of sockpuppet comments from the same three IP addresses.

Cutting off comments for now. Word is out, point is made.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 17 Jun 08



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