Dying Denial’s Last Gasps

February 2, 2023

I love it when attention seekers like Jordan Peterson hate being criticized so much that they promote the critique on their social media account.

Canadian Academic (what the hell does he do, actually?) Peterson has a big following among the impotently raging right wing incel crowd, and has recently turned to climate denial, not sure why. Graham Readfearn recently took him to the shed in the Guardian.


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

Peterson has 6.3 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, and his videos also run as audio podcasts on platforms including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Since December, Peterson has been on something of a crusade publishing four interviews – each more than 90 minutes long – collectively amassing more than 2.2m views on YouTube alone.

The titles of Peterson’s latest offerings give a flavour of the content. “The World is not Ending”, “Unsettled: Climate and Science” and “The Great Climate Con”.

Last year Peterson came in for scathing criticism from climate scientists after claiming climate models were mostly useless. Peterson had badly misunderstood how models work, they said, with one saying: “He sounds intelligent, but he’s completely wrong.”

The criticism appears to have done little to discourage him from wading in even further. Peterson’s popularity among conservatives and, judging by many of the comments he receives, his almost God-like status among his fans, is helping to expose new audiences to old arguments on climate change.

One interview with retired MIT meteorologist Prof Richard Lindzen – a well-known veteran of contrarianism among climate science deniers – ran under the title “Climate Science: What Does it Say?”.

Let’s dive in. Lindzen’s answer was predictable. He has been arguing for three decades there is little to worry about from 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 doubts about how much warming adding CO2 to the atmosphere will cause.

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

For example, Peterson argued – and Lindzen agreed – the “putative contribution of carbon dioxide to global warming” might be swamped by the margin of error of the contribution of another important greenhouse gas – water vapor.

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

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

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

Science from 2001?

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

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

Putting aside the question of why a conversation about the findings of the IPCC should discuss a report from 20 years ago when there have been three more up-to-date volumes since, Sherwood says Lindzen’s statement on the sensitivity of the planet to CO2 “is complete rubbish.”

“Lindzen and other sceptics have produced no refutation to the extensive evidence-based calculations presented in the most recent IPCC report,” Sherwood said, pointing also to a study he led in 2020.

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

This was “flat wrong”, Sherwood said, while Forster added “pretty much all the long-term calibrated stations show a warming”.

Raising sea level

As the oceans heat up 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 claimed that in the next 50 to 75 years, there could be only a few inches of sea level rise “but there’s no evidence there will be much more”. Young people of today will have little to worry about, he said.

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

Prof John Church, an expert on sea level change at the University of New South Wales, said even on the current annual rate of 4mm of sea level rise – which was accelerating – Lindzen was underestimating what was known to be coming in the future.

The latest IPCC report says the world can expect 20cm of sea level rise by 2050 from where they were 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 metre or more, depending on how much CO2 is emitted and how quickly ice sheets melt.

That’s more than a few inches.

Attack the consensus

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

So attacks on that consensus have been consistent over decades. Lindzen was asked about this.

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

Lindzen said: “There are some studies like one by a man called Cook that were just bogus. They ended up looking at 50 papers specially selected… it was nonsense.”

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

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

Cook said: “Lindzen cherry picks a small part of our data – narrowing in on the studies that quantify the amount of human-causation – then criticises our study for not including many studies.”

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

more at the link


3 Responses to “Dying Denial’s Last Gasps”

  1. jimbills Says:

    “has recently turned to climate denial”

    Peterson has been in the denial camp for several years:

    I’ve seen somewhere that he’s boasted he’s read over 200 books on ecology and come to the conclusion that the climate is too complex to be modeled, and therefore he sides against ‘alarmism’ and with deniers like Lindzen.

    I take Peterson as the type of person who thinks he’s so intelligent he rarely, if ever, questions his own beliefs.

    Peterson has his ‘tribe’, though, and he’s constantly social signalling to appeal and bolster his own support within his tribe. This recent stuff is part and parcel with that.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    From watching him on YouTube shorts, I have found the sloppy-thinking Peterson to be a stuffed shirt who is wrong, imho, about 85% of the time.

  3. Hi Peter,

    I have a complex view of JP, probably since I’m a natural scientist, but also religious and a political moderate.

    On the one hand, his views about climate change are clearly uninformed. Just because something is too complex to be modeled in its entirety, it does not follow that you can’t find some dominant factors that can be modeled to a degree that is at least useful. On the other hand, I can understand how he got there.

    He first rocketed to fame when he objected publicly to a government mandate that people use others’ preferred pronouns. His objection was NOT that people “shouldn’t” call others by their preferred pronouns. In fact, he said that he would typically try to do so. His point was that the government (in countries that follow the English common-law tradition) have never been able to force (especially politically charged) speech. He granted that the government has always been able to coerce people into NOT saying certain things. Some speech is libelous, some is fraud, some is fomenting violence, and so on. You can’t say anything you want, in other words, but you can NOT say anything you don’t want to. To him, the shift to coerced speech seemed like a very sinister development, reminiscent of the tactics of totalitarian governments.

    Say what you will about whether his argument comes to the correct conclusion, but it’s clearly intelligent and not in the least hateful. And yet, from day one the response from the political left has been to tar him and serially misinterpret him as some kind of hateful bigot. I’ve watched a number of JP interviews in which left-leaning journalists and panelists have constantly put words in his mouth, and essentially ignored him when he tried to correct their mischaracterizations of HIS beliefs.

    Meanwhile, right-wing folks LOVED him. Here was this obviously smart guy taking the lefties to the woodshed! I think this affected him, and pushed him even further to the right, politically. It’s hard not to gravitate toward people who adore you and lap up your every word, and away from those who hate your guts.

    Consider, for instance, how his critics treat JP’s core audience. According to the critics (including you, apparently), his fans are a bunch of fanatical incels. But if you were actually to read his books (like “Twelve Rules for Life”), and really try to understand his points, you would see that if the incels actually tried to implement what JP was saying, their lives would improve immeasurably. My impression is, for instance, that JP’s advice to incels would be to figure out what sort of men attract the women the incels are themselves attracted to, and work on becoming more like that. He even gives them some eminently practical advice on how to accomplish it.

    When someone becomes a “public intellectual,” some of their fans tend to be people who like the fact that the intellectual can stymie political rivals, but are too stupid or mentally inflexible to recognize how some of the nuances the intellectual includes in their arguments should make the fans modify their own positions, as well. The same thing happens with people like Mike Mann (e.g., they take his support of anthropogenic global warming and run with it all the way to “if we don’t hit this particular emissions target, all is lost”).

    To Mike Mann’s credit, he has taken responsibility for that by sometimes publicly correcting the doom-and-gloomers. I think it’s too bad that JP hasn’t done the same thing–or at least he hasn’t done it to the extent I would have liked. Instead, he’s gotten in tighter and tighter with the right-wing crowd, to the extent that he is now associated with the Daily Wire, for heaven’s sake.

    Anyway, my point is this. If you want to do more than preach to the choir, get out of your echo chamber and try to understand your intellectual and political rivals.

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