Skeptical of Climate Change Skeptics


The sun has been shining on us much of the summer in a town an author once fictionalized as “Rain City,” but these environs and just about every place on earth are coming to face the gathering consequences of climate change and a warming planet.

“The world just sweltered through its hottest August on record,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last week, citing 174 years of records. Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which traps greenhouse gases, have jumped from 280 to 424 parts per million since the mid-1800s. Carbon dioxide levels are now more than 50 percent higher than they were before the onset of the Industrial Age.

NOAA just announced a new record of climate catastrophes. With nearly a quarter of the year left, the United States has already experienced 23 disasters costing at least $1 billion. Two recent events made for the record, the wildfire that destroyed Lahaina on Maui and Hurricane Idalia that took on strength in warm Gulf of Mexico waters and struck northern Florida.

In the face of mounting evidence, however, blowback has come from climate skeptics and outright deniers in science and politics. Even after the Gulf-fueled hurricane, the Sunshine State’s dour Gov. Ron DeSantis snapped that it is “time to stop politicizing the weather and stop politicizing natural disasters.” Fox News went into ecstasy.

Skeptics are of various stripes, but they seem united in the view that dangers of global warming are being exaggerated – often deliberately. They specialize in explaining that each climate catastrophe is not caused by climate change. Some go further into celebrating all the positive properties of carbon dioxide.

“There is no climate emergency,” said a statement from 1,609 members of the scientific community, released in late August by an outfit called the Global Science Intelligence Group. The statement added: “Scientists should openly address uncertainties and exaggerations in their predictions of global warming.”

No one has been more outspoken than John Clauser, a theoretical physicist who shared the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in quantum technology. There is, in Clauser’s words, “no cause for panic and alarm,” and that the public has become worked up by “misguided science” that has “metastasized into massive shock journalistic pseudoscience.”

“There is no statistical evidence that global warming is intensifying hurricanes, floods, droughts and such like natural disasters, or making them more frequent,” Clauser argues. Familiar words in these parts. In his weather blog, UW atmospheric sciences professor Cliff Mass regularly declares that the latest climate event to hit here, whether atmospheric rivers or hundred-year fall storms, is not the result of climate change.

“Climate change plays only a small role, if any, in major wildfires such as the Maui fire,” Mass argued last week. He has lately taken after The Seattle Times and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist David Horsey. Fairview Fannie has deployed “hype and exaggeration,” in his words, unnecessarily scaring people. He once targeted Craig Welch’s much-praised investigative series for the Times on ocean acidification.

Cliff has also sought to straighten me out, writing recently: “You are making a fundamental error in saying that we are in crisis. The truth is clear. The planet is slowly warming from increases in carbon dioxide. There is no crisis caused by it . . . The world will not become uninhabitable. And new energy sources (e.g. fusion) will solve most of the problem by mid-century.”

Climate skeptics also claim they are being silenced by climate scientists and activists. They claim, using innuendo and rarely producing evidence, that scientists are tailoring their findings on global warming to fit the fashions of the moment. They have particularly targeted the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The International Monetary Fund recently withdrew a speaking invitation to Clauser. Cliff Mass claimed to be the victim of bullying and persecution, within his own department, in the wake of his opposition to Initiative 131, the carbon-fee measure rejected by Washington voters.

About three years ago, as host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd announced he would no longer invite guests who dispute global warming. Such was the scientific consensus and imminent danger, said Todd, that climate consequences could no longer be treated as he said/she said.

Skeptics have found a political home in the MAGA wing of the Republican Party. Ex-President Trump has called global warming “a hoax” even as one of his golf courses takes measures to hold back rising sea levels. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, ran outside the U.S. Capitol during a winter storm, bringing a snowball onto the Senate floor to make the “hoax” argument.

As chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Spokane Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., has emerged as a Rachel Carson-in-reverse. She has sponsored and managed GOP energy legislation that encourages drilling and mining on public lands, eases power plant permitting, and continues subsidies for Big Oil.

Last week, McMorris Rodgers was managing a bill by House Republicans that would squash California’s efforts to phase out gas-powered vehicles in the next decade. Times have changed. The California Air Resources Board was established by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, and as President the Gipper agreed to a federal freeze on emission levels of nitrogen oxide.

I’ve found climate skeptics to be a touchy lot. They complain of being picked on, constantly stretch credentials to get themselves taken seriously. If you knew what we know, you wouldn’t believe all those alarmists, they say condescendingly.

The observant lay person, looking in, becomes skeptical of the skeptics. If storms are not intensifying due to global warming, how is it that Hurricane Idalia ballooned from a Category 1 to Category 4 storm as it moved through record-warm water in the Gulf of Mexico? How do you explain away millions of acres of forests killed by the pine bark beetle, where warming winters have produced infestations?

Catastrophic forest and wildfires fires have become “the new normal” across North America. Sure, we’ve mismanaged forests, as Cliff Mass points out, but the fire season across our continent has grown by weeks due to warmer temperatures and earlier snowmelt. How, then, can you claim that climate change hasn’t played a major role?

Skeptics make their case using models and computer simulations, and by challenging reports from the IPCC. Many skeptics don’t leave the ivory tower and strike out to witness what’s going on in the world. Witnessing, in these parts, is to be done in the mountains.  The evidence is that climate is a crisis now. Follow Psalm 121 and lift your eyes unto the hills.

“Glaciers were melting before we could have been the cause: We are just adding to it,” Cliff Mass wrote to me. Largely true, although the Coleman and Roosevelt Glaciers on Mt. Baker were robustly advancing during the 1960s, growth measured by UW engineering Prof. Art Harrison.  However, the speed of the glaciers’ retreat in my lifetime, as CO2 has built up in the atmosphere, is phenomenal.

Above my stairwell at home is a picture of the glacier-clad summits of Mts. Hinman and Daniel, on the Cascade Crest in eastern King County. I took the photo 30 years ago from above the Robin Lakes. Since then, the ice atop Hinman has melted completely. Only the Lynch Glacier remains on Daniel, likely soon gone.  A slide from backpack trip shows a healthy Anderson Glacier in Olympic National Park, where Seattle PI colleagues went to practice self-arrest in preparation for a Rainier climb. The Anderson Glacier and Lillian Glacier in the Olympics have disappeared. The U.S. Geological Survey started studying the remote, high elevation South Cascade Glacier in the 1950s. It has largely melted.

Glaciers are always pulling forward and back, but not at the damaging pace at which this is happening. There are damaging consequences for the planet. The two greatest rivers of China, the Yangtze and Yellow, rise from receding glaciers of the Himalayas. Ice from Canadian Rockies glaciers sustains summer flow in the Athabasca and Saskatchewan River systems.

Gary Paull is not a climate scientist, but a climate impacts witness. He is longtime trails and recreation director of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, someone I met in the 1970s as a UW student working for an Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.  Now retired, Paull has set out to regain summits he scaled way back then. Here is what he’s finding:

“Basically, if these current summers keep going the way they have been there will be no glaciers left in the Cascades except for the upper portion of the tallest peaks. Late summer stream flows are way down from what they used to be. Many new lakes have appeared as the ice tongues have retreated or disappeared altogether (Hinman and White Chuck). The glacier above our house on Whitehorse is now the smallest it has ever been.”

The Northwest depends on its glaciers. The melt sustains summer stream flows: If less glacier, less melt. We need the river flow for irrigation, hydroelectric power, salmon and fish habitat, as well as recreation. Rivers are life sustaining, the essential resource that provides the good life in this privileged corner of the planet.

Skeptics offer a variety of explanations for what is warming the planet and causing climate extremes.  Two critics of IPCC, Stephen Koonin and Judith Curry, see causes for this summer’s record heat. One is the ocean warming of El Nino. Another is that an underwater volcanic explosion is to blame for increasing upper atmosphere water vapor, which acts as a greenhouse gas.

“Deaths from extreme weather events are down 90 percent in the last century,” Cliff Mass wrote me. He’s right on hurricane forecasting as one new factor in the decline. Residents along the Gulf Coast, for instance, opted to ride out Hurricane Camille in 1969, not realizing it would come ashore as a Category 5 with a 24-foot surge. The storm killed or drowned 296 people.

This month, however, we have seen a climate catastrophe, the storm off the Mediterranean which caused two dams to breach and killed 11,000 people in the Libran city of Derma.  The dams, built in the 1970s, were faulty in design and poorly maintained in a country battered by civil war.  But climate change comes into play, having made land “drier, harder and increasingly shorn of vegetation,” the New York Times reported. Water from a powerful storm poured down denuded hillsides and overpowered the dams.

Pope Francis is not a climate scientist but a student of injustice and suffering. The pontiff has focused on spreading desertification and drought in Africa, which has caused hundreds of thousands flee to toward Europe. Nearly 2,000 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean this year. “When we look, what do we see?” Francis asked last month. “Many are being devoured in conditions that make it impossible to survive.”

What is the end game for climate skeptics? They’re playing several games. Some sincerely argue that efforts to de-carbonize the economy are overly ambitions, setting goals that will cause more pain than gain. A mini-version of this argument is in play here, made by those promoting an initiative to repeal Washington’s new cap-and-trade law.

Big Oil is a big player. The industry knows that the market for electric cars will rise and that demand for other products of the carbon economy will slow. But it will profit and prosper if demand stays higher for decades longer than goals set by IPCC and the Biden Administration. Debate, doubt, and skepticism are instruments to these ends.

And the cost of delay? Impacts of climate change are intensifying everywhere. The impossible seems suddenly plausible. The atmosphere’s CO2 level topped 400 parts per million well ahead of predictions. An all-time high of 38.4 degrees Celsius (103 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded this summer at Fort Smith in Canada’s far north Northwest Territories, where the NWT’s only city, Yellowknife, had to be evacuated because of an advancing fire. .

The heart of Canada’s Glacier National Park is one of North America’s stunning places. I hiked up Mt. Abbott a few years back, looking out over ice of the Illecilewatt Neve to arrowhead-shaped 10,818-foot Mt. Sir Donald. A fast-flowing namesake river flows from the glacier. I had a recent exchange with a friend in his mid-20’s who lives in nearby Revelstoke. Keenan Simpson is not a climate scientist, but a world-class kayaker and student of rivers.

“I try not to think about it,” he wrote. “The Illecilewatt River, which flows from Glacier Park to Revelstoke, will run empty in the fall once the Illecilewatt Glacier melts.” Huh? The glacier is receding but flows out of an icefield in a region of peaks as high as 11,000 feet. But Keenan responded by holding to his prediction: “Yeah, no time soon, but I reckon before I croak, the Illecilewatt will melt.”

What type of world are we leaving my friend and those who come after? What price do we pay for uncertainty and delay? A famous phrase of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of “the urgency of now.”

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. Part of what fuels resentment and resistance to the climate change narrative is the technocratic class bias at work in the solutions. Banning gas-powered vehicles for instance: $53,000 for the average electric car. The national median wage for a person with some college but no degree is $38,900. On this wage how many years of paying usurious rates on car loans would an electric car require to pay off? High school graduates with no college make only $33,996. Electric cars are for the elite.

    Electric cars also require charging (hydroelectric comes from where….the melting glaciers?) and are made, like solar panels, with toxic non recyclable materials and rare earth elements often mined with near-slave labor. We have a class war on cars in the cities, as urbanists push for building density with no parking— while transit systems don’t actually take people where they need to go. And where is the lower class serf living in a micro apartment supposed to charge the electric vehicle? On the streets, where it risks nightly dismantlement or theft by the even lower classes?

    The example of cars is just one of many solutions being proposed that are as problematic as they are helpful. It would help turn the tide on the climate conversation if the solutions presented were more thoughtful, if the promoters of new technologies were more open to critique, and if they took into account the effect of the dark, bleak vision of the future they are using to sell us windmills. Young people are desperately depressed about the future. Artificial intelligence alone is predicted to force 40% of the currently employed out of a job. People need hope, not dogma. They need to feel like there is something they can do that makes a difference. Asking them to embrace new technologies that will take away their livelihoods and bankrupt them along the way might not be the best persuasion.

  2. I have been Reading Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” as he writes about geology and specifically along the AT. He made me think again about global warming and whether our trillions of dollars, which could be spent on health care or feeding the hungry, or paying a living wage, make a real substantive difference. (Of course they wouldn’t be spent)
    I do believe our climate changes. And we have had an effect, negative in our time frame but in our earth’s time frame?
    What we are doing is comparable to using a grain of sand to prevent beach erosion.
    Should we try? Sure. And be sure to the word “justice” whenever you speak of “climate” But will the trillions make a difference in geological time? Highly unlikely. Like trying to save the planet by passing the Endangered Species Act and removing a few dams to save fish.
    Certainly will make us feel better.
    But our time on earth – individually or as man kind – is a nanosecond at best.
    So when we think of global warming let’s also remember our Geology 101 class and read the geology of the Aderondacks as Bill Bryson discusses in “A Walk in the Woods”

  3. As a lawyer and lobbyist, I recognize the naysayers’ highly tested boilerplate immediately above. Your argument and writing (go Irish!) are terrific, heartfelt and not cynically focus-group tested, unlike the drivel of the cretinous professional BS “artistes” paid to try, in vain, to refute them.

  4. About 250 million years ago, a massive volcanic eruption, caused by the mantle plume that now underlies Iceland, took place in what is now Siberia, leaving a geological formation that bears the name “Siberian Traps”. The eruption took place over about two millions years, and it deposited, each of those years, about 0.25 billion tonnes (metric tons; Gt) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, much of it from the carbonate rock underlying the volcanic activity that was decomposed and made gaseous by the eruption’s hot lava.

    The Siberian Traps eruption coincided with the Permian-Triassic extinction event, also known as the Great Dying, during which (for example) 81% of the marine animal species capable of being recognized in the fossil record were lost. It is estimated that the annual mean temperature of the equatorial regions of the Earth reached 40 degrees Celsius (approximately 100 Fahrenheit), and these equatorial regions were essentially inhospitable to life. Most of the other “Big Five” extinction events in the history of life on Earth have similarly been linked to events that boosted carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere.

    The mean annual carbon dioxide emission of the Siberian Traps eruption (0.25 Gt/yr) is two whole orders of magnitude less than current anthropogenic carbon emissions (37 Gt/yr in 2021). The 6% reduction in carbon emissions realized in 2020 was, if I recall correctly, on the order of the reductions that the IPCC considered minimal, each year for the next 50 years, to achieve any significant knockdown in atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulation.

    And that reduction in 2020 was met by universal screaming. And a prompt restoration of carbon outputs and the underlying industrial, commercial, and personal activity. Lest far worse befall.

    Pay no attention to what people say. Pay attention to what they do.

    Iskra’s comments, above, are meaningful, and, I think, close attention needs to be paid to them. I wrote in a comment elsewhere within Post Alley that the argument is not about the climate, it is about the climate power, and Iskra has nicely detailed some of the specifics.

    No one wishes to accept declines in their standard of living. Indeed, the pushback from those who have, in the last few decades, accepted such declines willy-nilly, is becoming more strident. It is unclear whether we will be able to ‘tech’ our way out of the current climate situation. Even if solutions are feasible (and, once again, Iskra’s points are cogent), the will to spend to realize those solutions is highly unlikely to be there … you will spend the money on *me* and not your machines!

    From this chair, it appears that we have reached the point, either of accepting massive clawbacks in personal standards of living (not to mention number of persons), or of having those massive clawbacks imposed on us – and on most of the rest of the biosphere. A year or so ago, I read that the ‘tipping point’ for initiating the environmental cascade leading to anoxic oceans was likely to be reached in this decade, leading to (faster) accelerating and irreversible global warming, etc. I am not aware that this finding has been falsified.

    Meanwhile, half of us have already made up our minds who will be the next President of the United States of America, regardless of any data whatsoever. Konrad Lorenz called this sort of thing “militant enthusiasm”. Those who have studied the matter, if I recall correctly, have written that reason cannot reach those who have made up their minds. There is only power …

  5. Nut stuff! Pretentious rubbish!

    I mean, just look around. We’ve had 23 climate disasters causing in excess of $1 billion, in the United States this year. This has hurt a lot of peoples’ standards of living.

    The shrinking of glaciers, from the Himalayas to the Alps to the Andes, has cut into river flows for which people (many of them villagers in, say, South America and Central Asia) depend to grow crops, irrigate lands, generate power and support fisheries resources.

    The “drunken forests,” caused by melting Arctic permafrost, are not just strange to look at, but emblematic of the release of methane into the atmosphere, a far greater farming agent than CO2.

    Drought and desertification are causing hundreds of thousands to flee Africa. Pope Francis has written movingly of their poverty. I believe the greatest sacrifice in level of living has been caused among the thousands who have died trying to cross the Mediterranean.

    The people who make a living through forestry will not maintain their standard of living if millions of acres of forest are destroyed in fire, and forest land is transformed to grassland.

    In the meantime, the affluent have been able to insulate themselves. Multi-million dollar yachts are plying the Mediterranean where people are dying when jammed, decrepit fishing boats overturn.

    Just look at the world around you and believe your eyes. Or read the thermometer or measure the snow pack and river flow, or the extent of the Arctic Ice pack. Those who create doubt are harming, as described in a prayer I say in church, “the good earth that God has given us,” asking that we have “the wisdom and will to preserve it.”

  6. I observe a parallel with the much-ballyhooed “obesity epidemic” in these Untied States.

    Simply put: you eat more than you burn, you get fat.

    There are those who deny that this is the case. This denial rejects the math and other evidence that rigorous analyses accept as fact. Nevertheless, this is rational behavior, because the consequences of denial are remote and uncertain, and meanwhile the denier gets to enjoy life as dey chooses, and is spared the daily experience that is the lot of five of eight of deir fellow travelers on this planet, which is to go hungry on the regular.

    There are those who accept “the facts”, but seek to avoid going hungry on the regular. Such folk are attracted to technological solutions. Billions of dollars are made annually in the Health and Wellness Foods market in the USA. Many of these “solutions” have been found to be problematic, not uncommonly to a greater degree than that posed by the original problem; witness the checkered history of sugar substitutes. Meanwhile, the slope of the curve tracking the increase in obesity from 1975 to 2016 is unchanged. The few who have succeeded use their exotic (and costly) vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, yada, food choices as a group identifier, and as a club with which to beat the uncoverted, ya greasy fat slob.

    And there are those who recognize “the facts”, and that the only way to address them for real is to adjust your diet so that you don’t eat more than you burn. In other words, you count kilojoules – OK, calories. This is the only way to address the facts, but it is unacceptable. It’s hard work, especially if, in the counting, you make sure to include representatives from all the essential food groups. It means saying “NO”. A lot. It means going hungry on the regular. And it puts Mickey D’s out of business. We’re talking JOBS here! So you say ‘meh’, throw up your hands, and go with the flow.

    And we keep getting fatter. Until the four horsemen finally succeed in shutting down the food supply chain. Then everybody goes hungry, and dies wondering what the [deleted] happened.

  7. For the city of Seattle to achieve its climate goals, it needs engaged stakeholders. Seattle’s most pressing climate goal is to reduce emissions 58% by 2030.  These goals are aligned with the latest climate science.* We need leaders in city departments, businesses, developers and building owners, trade associations, labor unions, other Seattle institutions and people in our food system to educate their members and work together collaboratively to achieve Seattle’s climate goals, as well as solve our other pressing problems of austerity budgets, unaffordable housing, homelessness, public safety and Downtown revitalization. As you write Joel “… these environs and just about every place on earth are coming to face the gathering consequences of climate change and a warming planet.” With urgent, aggressive climate action Seattle can serve as a role model for cities throughout the United States and elsewhere. Seattle and its stakeholders must commit to achieving Seattle’s science-based climate goals as mandatory, not optional, to assure a livable climate for our children.

    *“Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health (very high confidence). There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all (very high confidence). … The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years (high confidence).” IPCC AR6 2023 Synthesis Report


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