Jordan Peterson’s ‘zombie’ climate contrarianism follows a well-trodden path

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Canadian psychologist and darling of conservatives and the far right, Jordan Peterson, has been on an all-out attack on the science of climate change and the risks of global warming.

Peterson has 6.3 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, and his videos are also posted as audio podcasts on platforms like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts.

Since December, Peterson has been on something of a crusade posting four interviews, each over 90 minutes long, collectively racking up over 2.2 million views on YouTube alone.

The titles of Peterson’s latest offerings give an idea of ​​the content. “The world does not end”, “Restless: climate and science” and “The great climate scam”.

Last year, Peterson received scathing criticism from climate scientists after claiming that climate models were mostly useless. Peterson had misunderstood how the models work, they said, with one saying, “It sounds clever, but it’s dead wrong.”

The criticism seems to have done little to discourage him from delving further. Peterson’s popularity among conservatives and, judging by many of the comments he receives, his godlike status among his admirers, is helping to expose new audiences to old arguments about climate change.

An interview with retired MIT meteorologist Professor Richard Lindzen, a well-known contrarian veteran among climate science deniers, was published under the headline “Climate Science: What Does It Say?”

Let’s go deeper. Lindzen’s response was predictable. She has been arguing for three decades that there is little to worry about rising temperatures or adding CO2 to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.

During the interview, Lindzen repeated many of his beliefs related to the fundamentals of climate science, such as questions about how much warming adding CO2 to the atmosphere will cause.

Professor Steve Sherwood, from the University of New South Wales Center for Climate Change Research, described several of Lindzen’s arguments as “very old zombie points” that were never fair “and have become much less true over time. “.

‘That is not true’

For example, Peterson argued, and Lindzen agreed, that the “assumed contribution of carbon dioxide to global warming” might be outweighed by the margin of error for the contribution of another major greenhouse gas: water vapor.

“That’s really sad if that’s true,” says Peterson.

“That’s not true,” says Professor Piers Forster, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Leeds. “For more than half a century, laboratory measurements, balloon measurements, and detailed radiation transfer calculations have been able to estimate the greenhouse effect of both CO2 and water vapor to within a few percent.”

Sherwood adds that the effect of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere “was not putative” but was “measurable from space and warranted by simple physical principles that have been understood for over a century and used successfully for many decades.” in all kinds of technological applications such as infrared sensors and telescopes”.

Science from 2001?

Lindzen is referring to the findings of a 2001 UN-backed climate assessment, the third assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), of which he was one of many lead authors, saying it had found that the planet it had warmed 0.5C and that this was “mostly” caused by humans.

This was small, Lindzen claimed, and suggested that the world was not very sensitive to adding CO2 to the atmosphere.

Setting aside the question of why a conversation about the IPCC findings should discuss a 20-year-old report when there have been three more up-to-date volumes since then, Sherwood says Lindzen’s statement about the planet’s sensitivity to CO2 “is utter rubbish.”

“Lindzen and other skeptics have not refuted the extensive evidence-based calculations presented in the most recent IPCC report,” Sherwood said, also pointing to a study he led in 2020.

Lindzen also claimed that there were almost as many temperature stations around the world that were showing cooling as there were showing warming.

This was “completely incorrect,” Sherwood said, while Forster added that “virtually all long-term calibrated stations show warming.”

Rising sea levels

As the oceans warm and ice sheets and glaciers melt, the world’s sea level has been rising. This has the potential to reshape the world’s coastlines and increase the risk of flooding in coastal cities around the world.

But Lindzen said that in the next 50 to 75 years, there could be only a few inches of sea level rise “but there is no evidence that there will be much more.” Young people today will have little to worry about, she said.

But sea level observations tell a different story. Since 1900, the global mean sea level has risen by about 20 cm, and studies show that the rate of rise is accelerating and is now more than twice the 20th century average.

Professor John Church, an expert on sea level change at the University of New South Wales, said that even with the current 4mm annual rate of sea level rise accelerating, Lindzen was underestimating what would be I knew it would come in the future.

The latest IPCC report says the world can expect a sea level rise of 20cm by 2050 from where it was at the end of the 20th century, regardless of how much CO2 is emitted. By the end of the century, the rise could be approaching a meter or more, depending on how much CO2 is emitted and how fast the ice sheets are melting.

That’s more than a few inches.

attack the consensus

There is a whole field of academic study on the social and psychological dynamics of climate science denial. Manufactured doubt erodes public support for climate action. Public awareness that almost all climate scientists agree that climate change is real and caused by humans is seen as an important part of public climate literacy.

So attacks on that consensus have been ongoing for decades. Lindzen was asked about this.

While he said most scientists, including himself, would accept that adding CO2 to the atmosphere would cause some warming, he attacked one of the highest-profile studies of the scientific consensus that found that 97% of climate studies agreed that the global warming was caused by humans.

Lindzen said: “There are some studies like the one by a man named Cook that were just false. They ended up looking at 50 specially selected works…it was silly.”

That “man named Cook” is Dr. John Cook, whose 2013 study while at the University of Queensland evaluated 11,000 scientific papers, not 50, published between 1991 and 2011.

Cook said that of 4,000 studies that asserted a position on the cause of global warming, 97% agreed that humans were the cause.

Cook said: “Lindzen cherry picks out a small part of our data, focusing on studies that quantify the amount of human causation, and then criticizes our study for not including many studies.”

Cook’s study is one of at least seven that have found very high levels of agreement among climate scientists that humans cause climate change.

consistently bad

Cook adds: “Ignoring inconvenient scientific research is a common Lindzen pattern.

“He ignores the many years of scientific research finding that reinforcing feedbacks make our climate sensitive to greenhouse warming. That’s why he continues to make the same debunked arguments we’ve been hearing for decades. “

Forster said Lindzen had been “consistently proven wrong” and since his participation in the IPCC 22 years ago “warming is increasing at an unprecedented rate.”

“Experts have important roles, but science is not just opinion,” he said. “We all need to become fact-checkers and look to credible bodies like the IPCC, which evaluates all published work, including Lindzen’s, and objectively tells you what it’s like.

“There have been three major IPCC reports since [2001]. All the reports tell us that climate change is real, bad, and getting worse.”

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