Monthly Archives: July 2015

An Open letter to John Sutter

Sent to him, 9th July.

Dear John,

I was interested to read your article,
“We can’t ignore climate change skeptics — even if we really, really want to”
on your CNN blog.

It was encouraging to read your remarks
“My hunch — and my hope — is that by talking with skeptics, and by honestly listening to their life stories and points of view, there will be something to learn about how we can move on as a country together”
and
“My goal, instead, is to understand where they’re coming from — to lend an open, honest ear, to hear their stories”,
since it is quite rare for journalists to express such views.

I have attached my paper, “Why are people skeptical about climate change? Some insights from blog comments”, recently published in the journal Environmental Communication, which discusses exactly the issue you raise, of where climate sceptics come from and what their stories are.

The paper is based on a 2010 blog comment thread, “Reader Background” at The Air Vent blog where over 150 climate skeptics discuss their background and the reasons behind their skepticism.  A more recent thread of a similar type, can be found at Judith Curry’s blog, Climate etc, under the link Denizens II.
I recommend reading the comments on these threads. Of course, these represent the small minority of climate skeptics who actively comment on blogs.  You will note that many of the people commenting there have a strong scientific background.  There is a wide range of views, from ‘lukewarmer’ to more strongly sceptical positions – this indicates that statements such as “xx% of the population are climate skeptics” are misleading and unnecessarily polarising. There is also a very wide range of reasons for becoming skeptical. Some recall previous scares that failed to materialize, such as the 1970s ice age scare (yes, it did happen, despite the attempts of some to write it out of history) when we were told by scientists that we were getting more droughts or storms as a result of cooling of the climate.
Perhaps the most relevant driver for climate skepticism from your perspective as a journalist is the ‘alarmism’ and ‘hype’ associated with the climate change story. As one commenter puts it,
“Then Gore came along with ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ that set off my BS alarm”.
I wonder if you are aware of the extent to which journalists such as yourself, churning out the climate scare on an almost daily basis, are responsible for generating skepticism?

A less encouraging aspect of your article is your quotation of Oreskes and Lewandowsky. These people have no interest in forming a genuine understanding of climate skepticism. Their aim is to smear and abuse climate skeptics, by labelling them as “merchants of doubt” or “conspiracy theorists” or “deniers”.
If you wanted to find out why people don’t believe in God, would you consult the Pope?
Again, these aggressive attacks backfire, by creating sympathy for climate skeptics. I see that your twitter account says you are “Rooting for the world’s underdogs” – in which case logically you ought to be supporting climate skeptics.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me by email or via the blog.


Updates:

20 July: After 11 tweet-less days, Sutter said:
“PS: I’m back from Climate Skeptic Land (Oklahoma). Several people told me they don’t believe in climate change BECUASE @algore does…”
(and then apologised for his spelling).

4 Aug: Thanks to Clivere in the comments for pointing to Sutter’s article Woodward County, Oklahoma: Where no one believes in climate change? It’s quite a long article, but he doesn’t seem to have made an effort to understand climate sceptics, beyond getting a few soundbites like “I think all this global warming crap is overblown”. [For some reason he’s now changed the title to “Woodward County, Oklahoma: Why do so many here doubt climate change?”, a question he fails to answer]