Saturday, January 5, 2013

Countering climate denial on college campuses

Christopher Monckton at Union College
On March 5, 2012 Christopher Monckton, a self-promoted speaker who questions the reality of climate science, presented his views of climate change science at Union College. Monckton's visit, funded by Collegians for a Conservative Tomorrow (CFACT), was one stop of a nationwide campus speaking event.

You can see video of Monckton's presentation here. You can also read coverage about his visit and the response by Union's community in the Concordiensis. The purpose of Monckton's visit was to muddy the waters with respect to climate change - to cast doubt on the validity of findings that have been overwhelmingly supported by the scientific community.
Erin Delman ('12) and other students

Instead, however, Monckton's visit galvanized students and faculty to highlight the widely accepted facts of climate change and the nature of expert scientific consensus on this topic.
We directly contrasted Monckton's statements with posters and reading materials outside his speaking location, engaged him during the Q&A session that followed his remarks, and most significantly, hosted a "Reality of Climate Science" discussion immediately following the CFACT event. These efforts were detailed in a recent issue of EOS.

Far from casting doubt on climate change, the attention and publicity surrounding Monckton's visit engaged our community in a discussion of climate science to a far greater extent than would have occurred if he had not come to campus.

I was interested in the extent to which his visit and the counter-presentations shifted student attitudes about the realities of climate change. In October 2012 I surveyed members of the sophomore, junior, and senior classes at Union College. 125 students participated, and results showed that students whose opinions shifted were far more likely to have become more convinced of climate change's reality, and the role that humans are playing. (A more complete presentation of results can be seen here, from a poster I presented at the meeting of the American Geophysicists' Union in 2012.)

So, thank you Mr. Monckton, and CPATH, for bringing your viewpoint to campus. Your visit did change students' minds - just not in the direction you expected.
Coverage of Monckton's visit in a variety of media


  1. Mr. Corbin, what you offer is interesting but not of any value to students as it does nothing to verify science. The proper way for your students to assess climate change is for them to compare how the model predictions perform against actual data. That is exactly what the MET Climate Center scientists in the UK did in 2009 when they presented a paper on the IPCC model ensemble decadal forecast compared to actual data for the previous ten years with ENSO removed. The results were 0.0 degreesC increase on a forecast of 0.2 to 0.3 degreesC at the 90% level of significance. Two months ago I wrote the MET office and inquired as to their plans for an update. They wrote back to assure me that they would be updating their own models as well as updating their assessment of IPCC model performance. Yesterday the MET Office released their latest model forecast update and clearly the MET has lowered their future warming values for the next 5 years significantly from their previous forecast. Here is a blink compare of the old forecast vs. the new forecast.

    It is my access to data and conversations with climate centers that drive my view on climate change. None of this has changed my view that CO2 warms the planet and that man is a significant contributor of CO2 yet, but if the model trends continues to exceed the actual data over longer periods of time, I will have to revise my view as to the severity/significance of man made CO2 much in the same manner that the MET Climate Center had to change their model forecast to show less severe future global warming.

    The University I attended taught students to seek data directly to gain knowledge, and that included comparing models and data for correlation with further analysis of possible causality. I think your students would benefit from such an approach.

    1. You mistake the purpose of my post, which is to describe the effects of presentations on student understanding of climate change, not to directly present the details of climate science.

      Of course we extensively cover the science of climate change in our classes and in forums such as the one that followed Mr. Monckton's visit. We present a range of evidence that climate change is real and a significant threat, including the physics of increasing carbon content of the atmosphere - understood since the 19th Century - the long-term ongoing observations that the world is warming - e.g. direct temperature readings, changes in global ice distribution, and extreme weather - and the predictions of climate models.

      I am not clear why the performance of climate models should be "the proper way" to assess climate change, rather than simply one of many ways. In any case, climate models have performed exceptionally well in predicting climate over the last 10 years. I suggest you visit for more details.

  2. Models represent the mathematical/testable theory of global warming, that's why we need to test models. If the models are wrong we can't determine the best policy action. The link that you provided was not a peer reviewed published document showing any test results for climate model performance so it is of no value to me.

    Here is a peer reviewed study outlining some problems with models as they are tested for accuracy. The authors note in the conclusions that models are currently running too hot and forcing errors need to be explored.

    "However, important questions still remain. Although we found a match between modeled and observed geographical patterns of temperature change, there are still noticeable differences in the size of these changes. On average, the CMIP-5 models underestimate the observed cooling of the lower stratosphere and overestimate the warming of the troposphere. Biases are largest over the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere. Results presented here and elsewhere (40⇓–42) suggest that forcing errors make an important contribution to such biases. These results point to the need for a more systematic exploration of the impact of forcing uncertainties on simulations of historical climate change."

    The lead author of this study further stated after the study was released that 17 years of too little LT warming would be problematic for the models which would hurt the theory's forcing estimates. The MET Office data on model testing from 1999 to 2008 was published in the AMS Annual Report also showed models being warmer than measured temperatures but noted that 5 more years (15 years total) of data was needed to falsify the models at the 95% level and that will occur at the end of 2013.

  3. The above linked paper says the following,

    "...The primary components of external forcing over the past century are human-caused increases in well-mixed greenhouse gases, depletion of stratospheric ozone, and changes in atmospheric burdens of various aerosol particles (20, 57). Our fingerprints, therefore, mainly reflect human influences on climate (7, 19, 29)."

    Benjamin D. Santer et al 2012. Identifying human influences on atmospheric temperature. PNAS