We were unable to load Disqus. If you are a moderator please see our troubleshooting guide.

Ralph Morris • 7 years ago

Chemists (and physicists, cosmologists & mathematicians et al) are SCIENTISTS in the traditional, and true, sense of the word. They doubt everything until there is irrefutable evidence to prove the case. Then they set up a Null Hypothesis experiment to prove the evidence wrong. When they can't do that, they accept the inevitable. That's what differentiates scientists.
Eco-campaigners are not scientists. They have a history of making crude, gross assertions to promote their political careers (or pseudo-religious beliefs). They are known for ignoring or dismissing any evidence which counters their claims. In the case of the IPCC contributors, any researcher who had the temerity to question the base premiss was excluded from the survey(s). So 61,000 researchers were whittled down to 75 - of whom 97% supported the claim that climate change was due to Man (as other respondents have pointed out).

dcm5150 • 7 years ago

Most scientists, I would think, are doubters by nature. So if the evidence that you have seen does not convince you of something, I can see why there would be doubt. And of course doubt or disagreement can often lead to scientific breakthrough.

"the 3% of the world’s climate scientists apparently still undecided " - this is just an urban media legend. The story is discussed here


and the "97% consensus" stems from this study: Doran and Kendall Zimmerman, 2009: A poll performed by Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman at Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicagoreceived replies from 3,146 of the 10,257 polled Earth scientists. Results were analyzed globally and by specialization. 76 out of 79 climatologists who ”listed climate science as their area of expertise and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change” believe that mean global temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and 75 out of 77 believe that human activity is a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures. Among all respondents, 90% agreed that temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800 levels, and 82% agreed that humans significantly influence the global temperature. Economic geologists and meteorologists were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively, believing in significant human involvement.

Pretty ridiculous, is it not ? I am a "climate sceptic" myself, and would still have "agreed".

It appears to me that Philip Ball and many others do not really understand what is the real issue - in short it is around claims of all kinds of catastrophic effects of carbon dioxide.

Paul Matthews • 7 years ago

There is an interesting blog posting at

where climate sceptics comment on their background.
There are 12 PhD chemists there (and about another 12 BScs), more than for any other field.

Nullius in Verba • 7 years ago

If you check the literature, you'll find that there's rather more than 3% of the world's climate scientists who are sceptical, too. That figure is actually the number for top climate scientists with lots of cited publications.

Doran and Zimmerman found only 82% of 3146 respondents agreed that human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures. It was only when they whittled their survey down to a sample size of 79 (!!!) that they got that 97%.

Anderegg generated a list of 903 for the consensus and 472 against, although the sampling was by no means uniform. That would be 65% for the consensus.

Von Storch and Bray did a couple of very good surveys, showing that the degree of consensus depended on what question you asked. For some questions there was consensus, for others not so much. On the usual question about whether warming was mostly anthropogenic, figures came out around 53% for and 29% against. (They did another in 2010 that I think got around 85%, from memory.)

(Summary here: http://blogs.nature.com/cli... )

There are a few literature surveys around, that purport to measure the proportion of published papers in favour or against, but besides various procedural problems with them, these are not a uniform sample of scientists opinions - those with many papers are weighted more heavily, and there is a well-known publication bias.

Surveys in other sciences (geosciences and meteorology) have found similarly low numbers.

So I'd say chemists were actually pretty typical, and the reason is simply that they are scientists. Scepticism is part of the job description.

Not that opinion surveys and 'consensus' should have any determinative role in science, anyway. Argument ad populam is a fallacy.

Dodgy Geezer • 7 years ago

...Could it be that chemists are somehow more prone to climate scepticism than other scientists?...

Not really. The answer is more mundane. It is that the chemical industry was not initially involved in the work which started this scam - it was the 'soft sciences' like environmentalism and specialisms like radiation physics which started getting the grants and the contracts. Then the engineers, the politicians and the financiers got in on the act. But chemists, by and large, missed out - even the income from abortive CCS schemes has been minor compared to the taxpayers money extracted by wind farm enthusiasts. So chemists have had no reason/opportunity to sell their integrity for money.

Philip Ball seems to have unwittingly revealed his colours in the last few sentences of his piece:

...Chemistry has a huge part to play in finding solutions to the daunting problems that the IPCC report documents. A vocal contingent of contrarians won’t alter that....

That's a call for chemists to get stuck in to the trough as well, and pretty cynical, given that the last IPCC report has been downplaying all the 'daunting problems' that the earlier reports exaggerated. The scam is essentially over by now, though there may be a little work in combustion chemistry if the US EPA modifies its restrictive regulation a bit. The days when the money flowed like water are coming to an end. I would advise chemists to stick with the scams they know, and have made their own - primarily those in the medical field, such as developing salt substitutes or hypertension medications.

Disclaimer: my own field is philosophy. This means I get no money from anyone, which does help in achieving a clear and undistorted view of the way humanity works...

Anon • 7 years ago

The letter you quote is interesting,

' the debatable belief that atmospheric carbon dioxide is the main driver of climate change rather than the result of it'

So, is carbon dioxide concentration a result of higher temps or the cause of higher temps? Does anyone know?

Philip Haddad • 7 years ago

If you will check out "A Paleo Perspective on Global Warming" http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/pa..., you will see that during this period of 400,000 years there are four cycles of rising and falling temperatures (Malenkovitch cycles) caused by increased solar insolation due to shifts in earth's orbit, tilt, and wobble. Notice that temperature and CO2 rise together but temperature falls faster, by decades and centuries faster than CO2. It is clear that CO2 did not support temperatures. NOAA tried to claim that CO2 was the cause and stated that the data could be the basis for determining " climate sensitivity" to CO2. Other publications have shown temperature to rise before CO2 citing higher temperatures for releasing absorbed/adsorbed CO2. Models based on this "climate sensitivity" should be viewed with skepticism.

The Engineer • 7 years ago

I agree with Ralph Morris. There does seem to be a dogmatic belief system amongst the soft sciences - you know journalists, historians, ecologists (??) and science writers.

Of course all biologists and such - even though they know nothing about it believe in Anthroprogenic Global Warming. They always seem surprised when you point out that there is in fact no measurable evidence that human emissions of CO2 are responsible for even 1/10 th of a degree of warming.
Co-incidence is not causality.
Both the 400.000 and 800.000 year ice-core investigations show CO2 lagging temperature by 800 years (on average).
And why did CO2-levels start rising LONG before human emmissions got large enough to explain the change ??
PS The earth was warmer 1000 years ago and 2000.

ZT • 7 years ago

The first book focused on chemistry was the Skeptical Chemist (by Robert Boyle in 1661). Boyle debunked various unverifiable beliefs that were masquerading as science at the time, much to the annoyance of political activists...

Carrick • 7 years ago

I've think you've conflated and confused a number of issues in this article, and seeing this issue from a very polarized perspective:

People can accept that global warming is real, that humans are playing a role (esp CO2), could even decide that reducing future CO2 emissions would have a net effect, but might still reasonably conclude there is no viable political path to this type of intervention.

Put another way, somebody deciding that *proposed* remediation schemes would be ineffective doesn't imply they don't accept the physical basis for GW nor AGW.

People might even decide that remediations proposed would be effective but that the costs outweigh the benefits.

I would dare say most chemists (and physicists and other physical scientists for that matter) would fall somewhere between the extremes on this issue. A very few might reject the body of evidence and theoretical understanding entirely, a small number might be so convinced of the gravity of the problem that any solution, no matter how expensive, would be welcomed.

For most of the rest of us, it's just not this black and white.

Philip Haddad • 7 years ago

I am not a denier of anthropogenic contributions to global warming. On the contrary. I believe that combustion of fossil fuels contributes 80% of the heat going into global warming. However, I believe that it is the HEAT, not the CO2, from this combustion that is the problem. Knowing the annual consumption and heat of combustion of these fuels the heat emitted per year has been, or can readily be calculated. Since we are concerned with how much the atmospheric temperature is rising, we note that the mass of the atmosphere is 1166x10E16 pounds with a specific heat of 0.24. Calculations show that the available heat from our energy use is four times the amount accounted for in the actual measured rise. Check it out. For example: in 2008 energy use was 16 terawatts or 50x10E16 btus a year, enough to raise the temperature by 0.17*F, with actual rise ~0.04 *F. Where did the rest of the heat go?, and what was the separate contribution due to CO2 ,if any? If heat is the more likely cause of global warming nuclear energy cannot be considered as an acceptable energy source in that it emits twice as much total heat as its electrical output. Furthermore carbon capture and storage, CCS is more than a waste of time and money. Conversion of CO2 to trees and crops through photosynthesis removes 5000 btus of solar energy per pound of CO2, that would otherwise become heat. There are many renewable energy sources that suffer from variability of sunlight, wind velocity, etc to require stand-by fossil or nuclear support. Maybe chemists/engineers can develop inexpensive and reliable storage systems of energy to provide a stable supply.

ChemChem • 7 years ago

Have you considered heat radiation into space in your calculations?

Philip Haddad • 7 years ago

If heat is radiating to outer space, shouldn't it radiate whether the rise in temperature is caused by heat emissions from energy use or due to the greenhouse effect? If glacial melting is keeping temperature low enough that radiation loss is minimal we stiil suffer the damage caused by the heat. The question is "Is it CO2 or heat emissions?". I can account for it by calculating the increase in energy heat release since 1950. It has increased almost tenfold. On the other hand CO2, the minor component in greenhouse gas, has risen about 16% and I have no way of determining for myself, the effect of this small increase.

John Michael Crofford • 5 years ago

It looks like you need to account for the heat capacity of the oceans.

writerr • 7 years ago

RSC is not ACS; SI units please ;)

Philip Haddad • 7 years ago

If the units are not familiar you should be able to convert them .I don't know what RSC and ACS stand for. I retired from industry 21 years ago and would appreciate your clarifying these acronyms.

writerr • 7 years ago

rsc=royal society of chemistry; acs=american chemical society (i.e. only the latter are likely to be interested). With respect, few people are likely to bother with conversions; the majority on this planet use SI. A pity but impatient...as soon as the first imperial measurement was mentioned ignored the rest! Sorry!

Philip Haddad • 7 years ago

Writerr: Thank you for your response. I am not submitting my hypothesis for publication as it is too onerous a process and I am unlikely to find a peer reviewer that has not already accepted the CO2 hypothesis. I blog and hope that the use of btus is more readily understood by the reader than is joules, and at least gives them an alternate explanation to accept the almost unassailable conclusion that global warming is indeed anthropogenic. I believe that HEAT is the problem and that the CO2 is beneficial. If you are truly interested I'm sure you can, with patience, find similar data expressed in SI units.

writerr • 7 years ago

You should be aware of the existence of open access publication and find such an outlet to disseminate your work.

Philip Haddad • 7 years ago

Thanks for your suggestion. I will look into it.

Alessandro Demontis • 6 years ago

Funny you quote Arrhenius who was strongly favorable to CO2 emissions... and, as both a chemist and an environmental technician, i sincerely cannot understand how a chemist could believe the bu****ts written in IPCC's reports.

Badger badger • 7 years ago

And of course many chemists work for the oil supermajors - BP, ExxonMobil and the rest. Those that don't are likely to have friends or former colleagues that do.

A very good friend of mine - someone I studied chemistry with at university - now works for 'big oil'. I find it very hard to reconcile my knowledge of climate change with his choice of employer. What will he tell his grandchildren about his working life? I wonder. I don't doubt that our friendship would benefit considerably from a little more 'fuzziness' in my thinking in this area.

Philip Haddad • 7 years ago

In defense of people who work for the supermajors: their companies are only supplying us with what we demand. We will continue to expect the lights to go on when we flip the switch and will pay whatever price is most competitive to the extent that we can afford it.

Badger again • 7 years ago

'We're only giving people what they want,' say the chemists working at the supermajors (while enjoying - I might add - much bigger salaries, better pensions and higher levels of job security than their more environmentally concious peers).

That's the same defence used by pay day lenders, cigarette manufacturers and tabloid newspapers. Would you work for them?

In any case, it isn't true. The demand (as you suggest) is for energy. And the public would prefer it to be cheap and its supply secure. The public doesn't ask for fossil fuel energy per se and - although it might be hard to imagine right now - we can imagine one day meeting the expectations of the public without fossil fuels.

Philip Haddad • 7 years ago

Badger: The goal of cheap and secure energy is certainly the ultimate goal, and it looks like great progress is being made in solar and wind energy installations, particularly in other countries. During this transition we should keep in mind that natural gas can improve our own energy and financial security by displacing imported oil. This will neither help nor hurt the global climate. When we reach the point that our own hydrocarbon energy needs are met we can hope that these resources can be converted to new consumer goods. There is a patent, U.S. 4687570, that teaches "Direct Use of Methane in Coal Liquefaction". This offers a way of creating a pool of new chemicals from which can be extracted straight-chain chemicals, like propane,etc, for making polypropylene type plastics, to cyclic compounds, like styrene,etc for polystyrene type plastics. Imagine running gas pipelines to existing coal mines and producing chemicals there. So I believe we can have renewable energy and still can utilize the hydrocarbons without burning them for fuel.

ChemChem • 7 years ago

Shell, one such oil major, is involved in the two biggest Carbon Capture and Storage demonstration projects in the world - QUEST and Boundary Dam. That's a lot of money on the line to reduce CO2 emissions from a supposedly evil corporation.
I'm afraid the world simply isn't black and white and that's why we must make best judgement as individuals

Badger again • 7 years ago

Shell? Is that a joke?

CCS is the best that company can offer, and that's the environmental equivalent of trying to solve the European debt crisis with a loan from Wonga.

Oil sands in Alberta, human rights violations in Nigeria, drilling in the Arctic - if you're looking for a company that's putting anything at all 'on the line' for the environment, and the people that depend on it, you'll have to look elsewhere. Shell is about oil and gas and making lots and lots of money for its shareholders. And plenty for its employees as well.

ChemChem • 7 years ago

CCS is part of a transitional solution to achieving a low carbon economy. We aren't going to wean ourselves off fossil fuels overnight and we need to do so in a way that tries to protect quality of life as much as possible. If we are going to be burning some fossil fuels in the next 20 - 40 years at least, why not do it in the lowest carbon way possible?
Shell have a lot to answer for (and of course their primary motivation are profit & market share as for all businesses), but they are developing these projects where others (the EU, UK, etc.) are sitting on their hands. In reality, if you want to be working on real industiral solutions to climate change from an engineering or science point of view, most opportunities are to be found in oil and utilities. There are a lot of people doing good work within these companies that is simply not supported anywhere else to commercialise and realise low carbon technology. Being purely idealistic is fine, but to me it seems to result in a lot of hand-wringing and not much real action, far better to put a liberal pich of pragmatism into the mix to actually make a step forward (rather than just dreaming of a perfect future without plotting the route there).

Kari Hänninen • 5 years ago

Yes that´s true: The drivers (and indications) of (climate) change are less clear.

Let us take the ozone issue, an iconic starter indicator of climate change. At the moment the ozone issue is not dealt with, it is rather not even remembered.

Actually the ozone layer has been thickening during the last 15 or so years. We may be reasoning that there is a natural variation in the thickness of ozone layer around the earth. Something that needed be afraid of.

One of the basic chemical reactions of ozone which Sydney Chapman suggested was O3 + O3 ==> 3 O2. The meaning of this reaction has not been taken into the consideration in the present day ozone studies. This reaction happens automatically all the time when two ozone molecules collide.

Since ozone is made up from three oxygen atoms, it is heavier than that of the mixture of O2 +N2, basic air components which I here like to call as air.

One cubic meter of ozone weighs about 2.10 kg while one cubic meter of air weighs about 1,24 kg. Compared to air, ozone is so heavy that it lacks buoyancy in the air.

An important issue which have not dealt with in the ozone discussion of Antarctic ozone hole is the fact that during the Antarctic winter there is a time frame up to six months during which the Sun is not shining.

No we are able to do the following reasonings:
1) During the Antarctic winter no new ozone is formed.
2) During the winter the ozone in the Antarctic ozone layer is depleted because it descends (as the ozone has no buoyancy in the atmosphere).
3) During the winter ozone in the anatarctic ozone layer is depleted because it is consumed by the reaction O3+O3 ==> 3 O2.

We may now further reason that the ozone hole situation in the Antarctic is a natural phenomen. It occurs every winter. One of the greater local natural cycles in the Earth´s atmosphere.