Converts to scepticism / agnosticism

“…they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Some time ago I mentioned that two prominent climate sceptics, Anthony Watts and Patrick Moore, were originally active believers in the climate change cause and subsequently changed their minds and became sceptical. It turns out that quite a few prominent climate sceptics have followed this course.

This is interesting, because some of the academic literature says that peoples’ climate scepticism is related to their ‘worldview’ or the opinions of their cultural group. Intriguingly, when this concept originated in the work of Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky in the early 1980s, it was used rather the other way round – to provide an explanation of the surge in interest in environmentalism, a point which is now generally overlooked.

Now, it’s probably true that views on other issues and group allegiance may influence views on climate change, but this often seems to be overstated, and is often only stated one way round.  It  doesn’t seem to apply for these people here, who have been concerned about climate change, often as part of a group,  and subsequently changed their mind to a greater or lesser degree. Here are details of some of these converts, in no particular order, starting with the two already mentioned.

Anthony Watts

Anthony Watts is the man behind Watts Up With That?, described as “the world’s most viewed climate website”, which regularly runs articles very critical of the claims of climate science.  It has been running since 2006 and has won various awards.

On his About page, he says that he has an electric car and has solar panels on his roof. There is an interview with him here, where he says: “I started out actually just being a climate alarmist. I got involved with saving the planet by helping other weather forecasters do the same thing through planting trees. Then when I met the State climatologist in California, his data changed my mind and now I’m a skeptic.” He also talks of starting to ask questions about the effect of different coatings on Stevenson Screens, in his pre-sceptic days.

Patrick Moore

Not the astronomer, but the environmentalist and co-founder of Greenpeace who has been in the news recently having reported to a US Senate Committee, discussed by The Independent and by WUWT.  The Independent article says that  having helped set up  Greenpeace in 1971, he left in 1986 after they became more interested in politics than science. It seems that Greenpeace has been re-writing their history, deleting his name from the list of founders on their website some time between 2005 and 2008. 

In this interview he gives more details of how became disillusioned with the green movement as it became more ideological, and goes on to  say that we don’t really understand the factors that affect the climate and that so-called “cures” would cause more harm than the “disease”. Another interview is here, and here is one for Spiked, where he says global warming is a religion that plays on fear and guilt . He has written a book, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout.

Jo Nova & David Evans

Jo Nova runs the most prominent climate sceptic blog in Australia.  In fact, her
blog was identified as on of the three “most central” sceptic blogs globally by a recent study, along with with Watts Up With That and Climate Audit. On her About page she says “A long time ago she was a Green, and still wants to save the world, but with the scientific method”.  She is married to David Evans, who has produced a number of sceptical articles and youtube videos. He used to work for the Australian Greenhouse Office modelling carbon, but during that time became increasingly sceptical.

A transcript of an interview with Jo Nova and David Evans gives much more detail.

David: “I used to work for Department of Climate Change, or as it was back then the Australian Greenhouse Office for about five or six years doing carbon modelling for them and I was out there to save the planet. I was also a member of the Labor Party on and off for 15 years and I was a member of Greenpeace so I was a believer, I thought I was saving the planet and I thought this plan problem was a really momentous one that needed solving straight away. As the years went by I found out more evidence, the evidence supporting it drifted away and evidence started accumulating that the man made hypothesis wasn’t true and so I changed my mind.”

Jo: “I was actually a member of the Australian Greens, it’s the only political party I’ve ever been a member of so … I am concerned about the environment, I’m concerned about doing things sustainably. I worry about the country that we leave for our kids …”

There are video interviews with Jo Nova, David Evans and Anthony Watts here.

Verity Jones

Verity runs a blog called Digging in the Clay. This may not be one of the most high-profile sceptic blogs, but interestingly it was one of the few to get the climategate 2 link in November 2011.

On her about page she reports:  “Climate change came along. I embraced the science and became quite evangelistic about it. But then finally something happened. The scientist in me can’t help but listen to debate, and I didn’t like what I was hearing. The scientists began to sound like politicians and the politicians looked as if they were being asked to kiss babies. And it all became loud and complicated. So I dusted the cobwebs out of my brain and started to read, and learn, and question.”

Judith Curry

Whether Judith Curry is a “climate sceptic” or not depends on how broad your definition of the term is. But via her blog she has certainly raised some awkward questions for climate science and the IPCC, and her views have clearly changed over the last few years. In an interview in May, Chatting With ‘A Climate Heretic’, she said that on a scale from 1 (intense skeptic) to 10 (intensely IPCC orthodox) she moved from about 7 to about 3 since 2009. She cited “Climategate and the weak response of the IPCC and other scientists” as a major factor, along with the lack of a satisfactory explanation for the current pause in warming. Earlier, in 2010, she wrote at her own blog of her transition from a “high priestess of global warming” to engagement with skeptics and a critic of the IPCC.

Graham Strouts

Graham Strouts blogs and tweets under the name Skepteco. His about page starts with radical environmentalism:  “I grew up in the south of England and studied sociology at Essex University 1983-6. Leaving with a radical view of the world and feeling certain that modern society was both unjust and unsustainable- and that its demise would probably be a good thing- I spent the next view years seeking a back-to-the-land lifestyle first in Shropshire, then in Scotland, finally moving to Ireland in 1990” But then he goes on to say “More recently, I have started to question fundamentally many of my previous assumptions. This blog explores my change of direction and tries to separate the science from the ideology within the environmental movement.”

There are more details of his conversion from green ideology  in this post on GMOs, and more on this one, where he writes  “By baring all once again I hope my past delusions may serve as some kind of cautionary tale to the young radicals just getting going in life who may be open to some kind of guidance in making sense of the klaxons of environmental alarm that have scarcely quietened in the intervening years” before reposting an old blog entry  from his former self expressing “peak oil” fears. He has also written some interesting posts on political orientation.

Mike Haseler

Mike runs a blog called Scottish Sceptic, which among other things, recently conducted a survey of his predominantly sceptical audience.

He says:

“I was selected as a Green candidate for the Scottish Green party in 2003”
“I worked in the wind industry in Scotland”

But then goes on to say

“I am an agnostic on man-made warming, a sceptic by scientific training and disgusted with so called climate “science” which isn’t science as I was taught it.”

James Lovelock

Although he can’t really be described as a climate sceptic, environmentalist James Lovelock has been in the news recently for changing his tone on climate, and for plugging his new book, a Rough Ride to the Future. In an interview on BBC’s Newsnight,  he said “Well, take this climate matter that everybody’s thinking about. They all talk, they pass laws, they do things as if they knew what was happening. I don’t think any of them really know what’s happening. They just guess at it. And a whole group of them meet together and encourage each other’s guesses.” This is a big change from his previous apocalyptic pronouncements on climate, as discussed later in that interview and on his Wikipedia page.  See also his interview with ABC, I was alarmist about climate change.

Daniel Botkin

Botkin is an ecologist and environmentalist who has held posts at Yale and other universities and has over 40 years of research experience. He was chosen to give evidence to a US Committee hearing on the IPCC. His written evidence was very critical, saying that warming is not unusual, model predictions are way off reality, and that the IPCC had become politicised and was promoting an agenda.
In the question and answer session he made it clear that he feels that the case for man-made global warming is weaker than it was a few years ago.

Fritz Vahrenholt

Fritz Vahrenholt is a German politician and environmentalist.  He has worked at the German Umweltbundesamt (Environment Agency), and has also worked for a wind turbine company.  But in 2012, in collaboration with Sebastian Lüning, he wrote a book “Die kalte Sonne” with the subtitle “Warum die Klimakatastrophe nicht stattfindet” (why the climate catastrophe is not taking place). It’s been translated into English as “The Neglected Sun“. In an interview with Spiegel, he says “For years, I disseminated the hypotheses of the IPCC, and I feel duped.

Jim Steele

Jim Steele is an environmentalist at San Francisco State University, where he taught classes on plant and bird life at their Sierra Nevada Campus.  He has written a book,
Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism, see also Amazon page, the title of which does not need further explanation.  There is an interview with him here.

Jean-Louis Pinault

Pinault is a French hydrologist with a substantial record  of published research papers.
He has recently written a book, From the melody of the oceans to climate change: a fight against ostracism. On Amazon we can read the first few pages, where he says that following retirement he was able to pursue his interests without any concern about research funding, and writes “This long journey led me to admit that global warming has a natural cause”.

Caleb Rossiter

Rossiter is a statistician and policy analyst who made the news for being dropped from his position with the Institute for Policy Studies for questioning global warming orthodoxy. In this interview he says that about a decade ago he would have agreed with Obama that people who didn’t agree about climate catastrophe were fools, but since then he’s become convinced that claims about cause and effects of warming have been greatly overblown. In another recent interview he describes Obama as “delusional” on climate change, despite being himself on the political left, and criticises the IPCC for its claims of 95% certainty.

Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley is a “Rational Optimist” who adopts a “lukewarmer” view of global warming – future warming will be less than is often claimed and not a serious problem.  In this blog post he says that he he was surprised by the pause in warming and that now he worries that he is exaggerating the likely warming.

Here he says that in 1979 he voted for the Green Party (then known as the Ecology Party) and recounts his increasing disillusion, mentioning ‘ecotoffs’, IPCC exaggeration and the burden of climate policy on the poor.

Update 19 Jan: More from Ridley on his conversion, citing slower warming than predicted, previous apocalyptic predictions, the hockey stick, climategate and the failure of climate scientists to answer doubts as significant factors in his conversion to a ‘lukewarmer’ view.
This article he co-wrote back in 1993 implicitly accepts that warming is a problem, and discusses how to ‘save the environment’.

Margaret Thatcher

In 1989, Thatcher gave a speech to the UN, in which she said

“But the problem of global climate change is one that affects us all and action will only be effective if it is taken at the international level. It is no good squabbling over who is responsible or who should pay. Whole areas of our planet could be subject to drought and starvation if the pattern of rains and monsoons were to change as a result of the destruction of forests and the accumulation of greenhouse gases.”

But by 2002, her view had changed completely, as shown by these excerpts from her book Statecraft:

“The doomsters’ favourite subject today is climate change. This has a number of attractions for them. First, the science is extremely obscure so they cannot easily be proved wrong”
“It would, though, be difficult to beat for apocalyptic hyperbole former Vice President Gore.”

See Thatcher & Global Warming: From Alarmist to Skeptic for more details.

Klaus-Eckart Puls

Puls is a meteorologist and one of the people behind the German climate sceptic blog EIKE.  In an interview titled “I’m ashamed about it today” (In German, but Google translate does a reasonably good job, or see this translation by Pierre Gosselin)  he says that until about 10 years ago he parroted without question what the IPCC said. Then he started to check the claims, and found that a lot of what the IPCC and the media say about climate change is not right and not supported by scientific facts and measurements.

Related blogs:

See also this blogpost from Pointman, which starts off with “One of the intriguing aspects of the climate wars is that you very frequently see people dropping comments on blogs that they started off as unthinking believers in catastrophic global warming but when they actually stopped and looked into it for themselves, became skeptics.” He followed this up with a second post, Sometimes you don’t have to anything but wait, where he talks of people crossing the aisle to the sceptic side, ending with “We don’t have to fight for converts – they find their way to us all by themselves.”

It is sometimes claimed that Berkeley physicist Richard Muller converted from scepticism, but this blog gives comments made by him in 2003 and 2008  showing that this is not true.

Many more converts to scepticism can be found on Jeff Id’s Reader Background thread, Judith Curry’s Denizens thread and My personal path to Catastrophic AGW skepticism at WUWT.


I will add more people who have become more sceptical or agnostic over time, as they come to my attention:

Blair King

Blair King is the author of the excellent A Chemist in Langley blog. The blog started off talking about pipelines and renewable energy, but seems to have got drawn in to the basics of the climate debate. In My Lukewarmer post, or how to lose friends on both sides in the AGW debate he sets out his lukewarm view and says he is skeptical of the political aspects. In this post he talks of his transition from “trust me” to “show me”, mentioning factors such as activist scientists predicting doom and particularly climategate as factors. He says (as many of us have said before) that the real problem wasn’t so much the bad behaviour of a few individuals, but the failure of the climate community to admit that there was a problem or deal with it. As a result of all this he says “I need to be convinced every time a new paper comes out and that convincing means releasing enough information so that work can be replicated” – a very simple point that some seem to be unable to understand.

Eija-Riitta Korhola

Korhola is a Finnish politician who served as an MEP for 15 years. She has recently completed a PhD on Climate Change as a Political Process, discussed at Roger Pielke’s blog and at Bishop Hill.

At the beginning of the thesis she writes some personal notes in the preface: “I was one of the first Finnish politicians to knowingly push the issue of climate change and its threats onto the political agenda. In 1994, I published my first effusions in Vihreä Lanka, a weekly green newspaper, to which I had contributed as a columnist for five years.” Later in the preface, hints of cynicism appear, such as “…during the great climate hype in 2007 when the political agenda changed abruptly. It seemed as if no issue could be promoted without mentioning the threat of global warming”, “the climate scare turned into a climate fatigue” and she is very critical of MEPs and the environmental movement. At the end of the thesis she includes some of her blog posts. Blog 15.49 “Is it true or not” says that temperatures are not in line with prediction, that she was flabbergasted by Climategate and that temperature data may have been massaged. The final blog included in the thesis is Confessions of a climate agnostic, where she writes of the warming pause and misleading consensus claims, and says that politicians should be ‘climate agnostic’.

Christopher Monckton

Monckton is a well-know sceptic of global warming who gives talks on the subject all over the world and has written his own version of the dead parrot sketch in which global warming salesman Pachauri claims that his product is not dead, just pausing. He has recently written a paper on why climate models run hot, along with Soon, Legates and Briggs.

In an interview, Monckton’s Journey From Warming Believer to Influential Skeptic, he says that when he was an advisor to the Conservative Party and Mrs Thatcher (see above) in the 1980s he drew her attention to the problem of global warming. He also says he spoke on the subject on the Clive James Show. Apparently his views changed in 2006 when he looked into the climate issue as part of an investigation into renewable energy.

David Siegel

David Siegel is a writer and consultant. In a blog post How a liberal vegan environmentalist made the switch from climate proponent to climate skeptic he says that as a Democrat and environmentalist he believed the climate change story as presented by the likes of Al Gore and wrote a book about conservation. Recently he was challenged by a friend and went through a familiar process: “As I started to look at the data and read about climate science, I was surprised, then shocked. As I learned more, I changed my mind. I now think there probably is no climate crisis and that the focus on CO2 takes funding and attention from critical environmental problems.”
There is a lot more at his website.

Donald Trump

In 2009, Trump signed a letter from business leaders calling on Obama to strengthen climate legislation, saying that “if we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences”.  More recently, he has described himself as “not a big believer” in man-made climate change, and has said he would like to cancel the Paris climate agreement.


24 thoughts on “Converts to scepticism / agnosticism

  1. And Tobis writes “I am absolutely not interested in so-called “climategate””. Warmists just can’t grasp that it’s not their mind that has to be made up, it’s everyone elses. Blair is trying to express his thoughts and ATTP, Willard and Tobis demand evidence.

  2. I think it’s safe to call it a law of nature at this point:

    The more a scientist examines the alarmists’ “evidence” for herself the more skeptical she becomes of it.

    Does anyone know a single counterexample? It would be a real Man Bites Dog story if a skeptic were found to be “converted” in the other direction by exposure to the “evidence.” The fact that the only such man, Richard Muller, turns out to have been a dog all along pretty much tells us all we need to know about this whole pathetic chapter in the annals of religious fraud, n’est-ce pas?

  3. thanks for the description of those conversion.
    Mine was quite the same.
    I’m pro nuke, I’m pro science, I’m pro technology…
    I was disagreeing with the greens Malthusians but AGW like the science of physics was trusted facing deluded politicians…

    then I read the climategate, I learned more on the subject, and I understood, helped by professional experience in group delusion (Internet, finance, corporate policies, sustainable green washing) I started to understand what was happening, quite classical.

    today I’m working on a very similar scientific delusion, that is officially false, but technically working.

    The AGW groupthink started by rational analysis like all groupthink, then when data started to dissent , because of academic peer pressure, of funding dependency, a groupthink appeared.
    each members starte to terrorize dissenters , to avoid reality, to insult, to hide, to fake, to fire dissenters, .

    This model is well described by roland Benabou (I started to read it for Subprime crisis, when I fall on CG mails, hidden by our French Pravda media who maintained the embargo for one month)

    really a paper to read

    see Semmelweiss/alexander gordon de aberdeen/Pasteur , or Wright brothers, or Wegener, or Quasicrystal real story, or HTSC hidden as footnotes,…

    fraudulent groupthink in science is very common. I would say it is the normal way, and thomas kuhn explained it very well, which explained how he is victim of strawman critic.

  4. This post seems to have had some broad attention given to it. ATTP has a new post responding to this and Blair’s. In essence, the ATTP post says that “real” skeptics investigate the underlying science and don’t let these irrelevancies (like reports of dishonesty and stealth advocacy) influence their conclusions. OK, true enough perhaps. But still, same old denial by omission that there is a real problem that needs to be addressed. If you ignore a problem long enough then you can start saying its “old” science and not interesting any more.

  5. Me, too. In 2002 I was swatted down on a forum for claiming green economics would benefit all, and began to assemble a rebuttal. But the numbers were clear; it was horse pucky. It was clearer and clearer that CO2 was benign, and the battle against it was self-destructive and delusional.

  6. It is widely known that the Greenpeace founding environmentalist Dr Patrick Moore is a climate sceptic.

    Less well known is that the astronomer the Late Sir Patrick Moore was also firmly sceptic, (see the penultimate and ultimate paragraphs in the interview article below)

    That he remained robustly sceptical is evidenced by his lengthy comment postings shortly before he died, still defending the sceptic viewpoint in a number of lengthy and erudite postings toward the tail end of the comment thread on the heated Prof Steve Jones Telegraph piece below

    He was very well aware of the political agenda behind it.

  7. On twitter, Richard Betts has been hounding Matt Ridley, demanding evidence to support Ridley’s statement that, on global warming, I thought it was a genuinely dangerous threat.

    On Jan 21:
    @mattwridley Hi – can you point me to some of your ‘pre-lukewarmer’ writings you mention? Interested to track your change of mind. Thanks!

    Ridley did not reply, but I did, citing this 1993 article, also now linked in the post above.

    On Jan 25 Richard continued with
    Hi @mattwridley ICYMI … can you point to yr old articles on AGW being genuinely dangerous threat? Only found 1 (ish).

    and on Jan 29,
    To explain: @mattwridley says he used to think AGW ‘genuinely dangerous threat’ … I’d like to read what he wrote then.

    He also said the 1993 article “seemed a bit vague”.

    Here are some specific quotes form the 1993 article (jointly written by Ridley and Low):

    Can Selfishness Save the Environment?

    the way to avert global ecological disaster

    The ozone hole and the greenhouse effect are classic tragedies of the commons in the making

    you drive, and the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide is “overgrazed,” and the globe warms

    Even if it proved possible to make ivory so shameful a purchase that demand died, this would be no precedent for dealing with global warming

    Unless we can find a way to tip individual incentives in favor of saving the atmosphere, we will fail

    So must we assume that we are powerless to avert the tragedy of the aerial commons, the greenhouse effect?

    Let people drive gas-guzzlers if they wish, but tax them until it hurts.

  8. Hi Paul

    Don’t see why this is ‘hounding’ – Matt didn’t reply himself, so all I had was the one you sent (thanks for that). I don’t see why it’s a problem to look at the background to his statements – I never take anything as read, but it doesn’t mean I have a pre-conceived idea about it. I just like to understand things properly, including both science and the backstories to the various parts of this highly complex debate.

    I thought checking things out was a *good* thing…..!



  9. I think that repeating the question at least 3 times could be regarded as ‘hounding’.

    I had a look at some old articles in the Economist on global warming from the 1980s when Ridley was their science editor. They are quite interesting, unfortunately not signed so we’d just have to assume that he wrote them.

    There is one from 1986 called “Living in a global greenhouse” that says
    “A series of tomes from America’s Department of Energy, based on five years’ work, establishes the real threat”.
    The article ends with
    “One extra threat remains. Researchers have learnt that other gases being added to the atmosphere as a result of human activities, such as methane and CFCs, will also strengthen the greenhouse effect”.

    In 1988 there’s “Taking the world’s temperature”, citing Hansen and talking of 4C warming.

    And from 1989, “Living in the Greenhouse”, saying “The biggest problem is still carbon dioxide”,

  10. Thanks for the articles, Paul. There’s also one called ‘The Very Air’ from 1987, which Gavin Schmidt tweeted after Matt pointed us to it.

    Having seen all this, I’m perfectly happy to accept that Matt was concerned about anthropogenic climate change back in the late 80’s.

  11. Many roads lead to Rome. In my case via energy. I invented a better supercapacitor carbon, a power dense energy storage material. Supercap uses include hybrid vehicles and wind turbines (blade pitch control and ramp rate damping). So researched the future potential marketplace in depth. Found that hybrids were not only viable, but would become increasingly necessary because of impending peak oil production. Wind turbines were not under most circumstances. They work only with CAGW motivated subsidies. That led to several years of part time research into CAGW, a very long chapter on it in my last book (illustrating all the Arts of Truth tricks [the title is itself an ironic illustration]), the association with Judith Curry beginning in 2011, and my new ebook of essays on energy and climate with a foreword from her. I was just assuming the IPCC had done a proper job of summarizing legit science until the wind turbines issues forced a deeper look at the underlying motivations. I remain a lukewarmer in the Curry/Ridley mold.

  12. A relevant comment from James NV at Jose Duarte’s blog post Nimble Skepticism:

    “I used to firmly believe in Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming. One day I decided to take a closer look at the skeptics arguments, firmly believing I would find fake studies using fake data pumped out by right-wing think tanks…

    I’m still in a semi-state of shock. As a left leaning Canadian living in the “greenest” area in Canada, I lose friends if I express doubts. That surprised me. I look at people differently now. Group-think, mob mentality, mass psychology, madness of crowds… It’s fascinating. And a little scary.”

  13. If I may ask: What about people such as Pielke’s Sr and Jr (but mostly Sr)? Richard Tol, Tamsim Edwards, Claude Allegre?

  14. ClimateOtter, my guess would be that people like Pielke Sr and Tol (who would not describe themselves as sceptics) have not changed their views much over the years, but have become increasingly appalled at the exaggeration and activism shown by so many of their colleagues, and aren’t afraid to speak out about it.

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