Most people will have heard from at least somebody that this whole global warming story is just a hoax. If you haven’t, a quick internet search will reveal many suggestions in that direction, including from influential people such as a US senator, bestselling authors, etc. It is all a left-wing conspiracy to make us give up our SUV’s and our corrupted lifestyles, and to give the government more power and an alibi to raise taxes. A somewhat milder version claims that scientists perpetrate the global warming scare for financial gain. People actually use the “follow the money” argument to claim that the scientists are lying. That turns the world upside down of course. We’re not in it for the gold, as active blogger/scientist Michael Tobis writes. No coherent explanation is ever given how you could possibly get thousands of scientists on board to support a theory that they (presumably) know to be false. It must be one of the most improbable conspiracy theories that I’ve ever heard.
There indeed was a hoax!
Last year, a research paper was circulated (via a “skeptical” email listserv) in which it was claimed that the increase in atmospheric CO2 came from oceanic bacteria rather than from human activities. It was made to look very real, including equations and scientific jargon. But it was all made up.
The “skeptical” listserv, via which the article got a wide audience, sent out a “hoax alert” 70 minutes later (after they found out that the alleged authors of the paper didn’t exist). But by then the damage was done. Email chains, websites and radio shows were already trumpeting the defeat of the global warming scare.
The author of the fake paper wanted to show that many people in the “skeptical” camp are willing to jump on anything that supports their point of view, irrespective of whether it’s true or not. An interesting interview with the (anonymous) author is here.
An interesting question now is whether the same practical joke could be pulled in the other direction as well: What if somebody made up a bogus paper that made outrageously alarming claims, which go against current evidence? Eg claiming that CO2 absorbs 10 times more infrared radiation than has previously been found, or what have you. I’m sure that somebody, somewhere, would jump on the bandwagon and proclaim that the end of the world as we know it is near. But I’d be surprised if there would be any scientists jumping on that bandwagon. They would probably be skeptical. In the true sense of the word, that is.
The hoax also shows something else: If the proof against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) would be that the extra CO2 in the atmosphere comes from bacteria, doesn’t that imply that CO2 indeed has a significant effect on climate? Otherwise the source of the increase in atmospheric CO2 would be irrelevant for climate change. It shows that many (not all) “skeptics” are not interested in having a coherent explanation for the observations as a whole. There is no global warming, global warming is due to the sun, or to bacteria, or global warming is good for us. You can hear such an inconsistent set of arguments from one and the same person. Apparently, an argument doesn’t need to fit into the big picture, as long as it can be used to support a predetermined and desired notion.