Another Conservative Convert

Posted by: Keith Kloor  :  Category: climate change, climate science

Like many conservatives, I was traditionally skeptical of the science supporting anthropogenic global warming. Today, I am skeptical no longer. Like conservative blogger D.R. Tucker, on this issue, I was ultimately “defeated by facts.”

Religion also played a role:

As a practicing Roman Catholic, another critical element for me was the leading role being played by Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church in articulating the moral imperative to address manmade global warming.

But in the end, he says,

my own reading and research made the following conclusions inescapable: today, there is no debate in the scientific community about whether the Earth is warming — it is. There is also a nearly unanimous consensus that human activity is responsible for this warming. Given the foregoing, addressing climate change today is an ethical and moral imperative. Failing to do so is a repudiation of our responsibilities both to each other, and most particularly, to future generations. It is a breach of faith, trust, and duty, of enormous magnitude.

It’ll be interesting to see if more conservatives follow suit.

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39 Responses to “Another Conservative Convert”

  1. Mike Says:

    Hi Keith  — Who are you quoting in the block quotes?

  2. Mike Says:

    Aha, found it… Michael Stafford

  3. Ken Green Says:

    Perhaps environmentalists haven’t thought about how silly this is. A guy walks up to you and tries to sell you a pig in a poke. You refuse to buy it. He swears to you, until he’s blue in the face, that he’s being scrupulously honest. You don’t believe him, and send him away.

    Then, he comes back, and tells you that he has the endorsement of the people who believe in unicorns and faeries. This is supposed to make you trust him more? I don’t think so: it makes me trust him less.

    If anything, what this shows is that some people who claim to be rationalists/empiricists will make common cause with avowed irrationalists simply as a path to power, and heedless of that other group’s previous/ongoing abuse of its authority. It is evidence that climate activism is more about power than about the principle of basing policy in scientific reality.

    Otherwise, you wouldn’t crow about winning over people who are inherently irrational to the cause. “Hey, I’ve got the people who believe that Harry Potter is real to agree with me on a new climate treaty! Want to sign it now?”

  4. Keith Kloor Says:

    Whoops. Thanks, Mike. I also put the link in the body of the post.

  5. Keith Kloor Says:


    Who’s crowing? I thought it was interesting, so I pointed it out. I also don’t for a second believe that two public conversions presage a stampede of conservatives to the pro-AGW position.

    Anymore that I think a few high profile environmentalists (such as Monbiot and Brand) will usher ins a sudden embrace of nuclear power by greens.

    But I’d be curious to hear which part of this conservative’s particular conversion that you object to. He’s simply saying that he accepts the body of climate science evidence and that he’s accepting his religious leader’s judgement that the evidence points to a problem with a moral imperative.

    He’s not following Al Gore’s lead. He’s following the Pope’s.  

  6. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    Thanks for the link Keith.  The thing that’s missing is why he needed to be ‘converted’ in the first place.  IOW, why didn’t he accept the scientific consensus (i.e. IPCC AR1)?  It always puzzles me when people — who by their own admission are uninformed on a subject — nevertheless feel comfortable holding a position that is at odds with the mainstream consensus.  the only way that it becomes possible is by attacking/deligitimizing expert authority (which Dave Roberts talked about a while ago…

  7. NewYorkJ Says:

    While I’d like to say this is encouraging, this individual appears to be unique.
    I’m very fortunate to have acquaintances in the environmentalist movement, and I began discussing my concerns with them last fall. One friend recommended that I read the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggesting that it might resolve some of the questions I had about the science behind climate concerns.
    I began reading the report with a skeptical eye, but by the time I concluded I could not find anything to justify my skepticism.

    The bolded text is key.  I don’t think that most “skeptics” have the desire/inclination to read the IPCC report or any scientific research.  They’d prefer reading canned blurbs on the usual blogs bashing it.    But good on D.R. Tucker.

    I came away from the report convinced that climate alteration poses a critical threat to our health and way of life, and that “policies that provide a real or implicit price of carbon” are in fact necessary, from an economic and a moral standpoint, to mitigate that threat. Such policies—most notably the much-maligned concept of cap-and-trade—should not be considered job-killers but life-savers.

  8. rustneversleeps Says:

    Weak, Ken (#3), very weak.
    Stafford says that he was “defeated by the facts”, by the “body of evidence (that) is extensive, and growing”, etc. Then he says that “Given the foregoing”, it’s a moral and ethical imperative to address climate change. He states that what he got from his religious leanings was “articulating the moral imperative to address manmade global warming.”
    Nothing about faeries insofar has to how he was “defeated by facts”.
    I’ve never been impressed with your comprehension skills, Ken, starting with your big splash on the scene misconstuing the “airborne concentration” for “atmospheric concentration”. But your ability to twist almost anything into partisan rhetoric - on that count sir, you are a true prodigy. Well played, sir, well played!
    (edit: I see Keith reads it similarly…)

  9. NewYorkJ Says:

    Another nice article on Tucker and skeptics in general

    Interesting on a variety of fronts.  To many conservatives (probably most, including Tucker), Al Gore and maybe parts of the environmental movement are probably inhibitors to accepting the science.  To other conservatives, like the Shamels, Gore’s film was a catalyst towards accepting the science.

    After their daughter urged them to watch the film, they began researching climate issues, dropped their affiliation with the Republican party, and started the nonprofit Global Warming Education Network.

    But since then, they have been largely unable to convince their friends and family of the veracity of climate science, and were eventually ostracized. “We found new friends,” Susan says wryly.


  10. Sashka Says:

    So there is this guy who still knows nothing but somehow decided to switch from one set of authorities to another. How is this interesting?

  11. TimG Says:


    You are stuck in this black vs. white world where you assume that accepting the science means accepting the deluded anti-CO2 policies being pushed by greens.

    One does not follow from the other. Your op’s “conversion” was from rational position where he looked at the evidence to an irrational, religious position which he decribes climate change as a “an ethical and moral imperative”.

    If there is a climate change issue it is not helped by religious zeolots of any sort.


  12. Marlowe Johnson Says:


    Out of curiosity, what sort of ‘deluded’ anti-CO2 policies being pushed by greens did you have in mind? Carbon taxes, c&T, efficiency standards?  God forbid ;-) if anyone actually pushes for a public policy that addresses a market failure…

  13. Matt B Says:

    #6 Marlowe:

    The thing that’s missing is why he needed to be ‘converted’ in the first place.  IOW, why didn’t he accept the scientific consensus (i.e. IPCC AR1)?  It always puzzles me when people — who by their own admission are uninformed on a subject — nevertheless feel comfortable holding a position that is at odds with the mainstream consensus.

    I can answer that for myself - the mainstream consensus “converted” me into a skeptic. When I started to look into this a few years back I looked around at a few of web sites, starting with places like RealClimate & Stoat, and then came across the dreaded WUWT. At that time they were heavy in the SurfaceStations project. The issue of the data collection I thought was a great place for work to be done, and clearly there was a lot of iffy data being collected and used. Who knows where this data accuracy question leads to, it may be no big deal, but anyone with a scientific background knows that if you aren’t sure about the quality of your data, then that is step 1 to work on; once you get known quality data then you can get to the work of interpreting that data. 

    I was completely stunned by the vilification of this effort by the leading lights in the field. Instead of acknowledging that data integrity is a problem & working to remedy that with SurfaceStations, I saw nothing but hostility and derision to that effort. The visceral reaction to this project by the “mainstream consensus” community was enough to make me take the skeptical side quite seriously; after all if something clearly beneficial like the assessment of data accuracy is not welcomed by the “scientific consensus”, then what kind of scientists are these people? And once you starting to look deeper, there are other issues of the consensus view handled similarly and I saw this as very troubling.

    I am no climatologist, but I can recognize poor scientific practice. So, I am a skeptic, not of the basic physics but of how the incredibly complex climate system reacts to the clear increase of green house gases over the last century or so. Who knows, the mainstream scientific consensus may actually be correct in their projections and conclusions, but from what I have seen many of their methods barely qualify as science.

  14. NewYorkJ Says:

    Matt B,

    From what I’ve seen from “skeptics”, their rhetoric doesn’t qualify as science.  It’s good political show, however.

    Scientists welcome efforts to gather data on weather stations.  They don’t much care for Watts ignoring any criticism of the provocative but unsupported statements made by him (statements he claimed to be quite certain of), the persistent efforts of him to personally smear working climate scientists, or the routine dismissal of any analysis of his work.  Watts and his adherents play the persecution card very well.  Any criticism is routinely dismissed as mere efforts to “villify” their work, and he’s got much of his crew repeating that mantra.  Roy Spencer does this routine as well.

    But Matt, your approach to the topic is very different from D.R. Tucker’s.  Yours is emotive, focused on perceived tone.  I find it rather selective, as I routinely see your “side” dismiss mainstream science - quite troubling really, but that’s not of great importance.  You haven’t read the IPCC report, but instead have read blurbs from blogs criticizing it.  Like Tucker, you might spend a few weeks reading through it with an open mind, and perhaps subscribe to some science journals.  It’s much more time-consuming but also quite rewarding.  And it’s certainly ok to be skeptical of the skeptics.  The evidence ultimately convinced me.  The poor behavior of the “skeptics” has always been a secondary issue.

  15. Jeff Norris Says:

    I wonder how long it will take Mr. Tucker or Stafford to come out in favor of GM crops since the Holy See is still undecided despite the recomendation from Pontifical Academy on it.
    Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, issued a similar communique, adding that the pro-GM statement  ”cannot be considered an official position of the Holy See.”

  16. Roddy Campbell Says:

    I wish Mr Stafford and others like him would get over the (non)importance of accepting that it is warming and we are a signficant cause, and work out what the impacts are and what the policies should be.
    Otherwise it’s no more enlightening than some idiot realising that, say, fish stocks are being depleted, or Brazilian rainforest chopped down.

  17. Foxgoose Says:

    A bit of background on Mr Stafford might have been helpful.
    “Employment lawyer/amateur blog journalist seeks publicity for first book” seems to fit.

  18. harrywr2 Says:

    So there is this guy who still knows nothing but somehow decided to switch from one set of authorities to another. How is this interesting?
    He is also ‘urban’ from Massachusetts.
    The delivered price of coal in New England is consistently the highest in the nation. So switching to ‘cheaper’ nuclear or natural as won’t be much of a burden on Mr Tucker.
    Mr Tucker is an urban his energy consumption shouldn’t consume much of his income..a small increase in the tax won’t ‘break the bank’.
    Massachusetts is devoid of energy intensive heavy industry(they had a solar panel plant but they already moved to China) none of his friends or neighbors risk having their jobs ‘offshored’.
    I’m always for policies that in no way will have any possible impact on my personal lifestyle.

  19. Ken Green Says:

    RustNeverSleeps: thanks for the compliment! I consider rhetoric to be quite a respectable art. As the unimpeachable Wikipedia points out: “From ancient Greece to the late 19th Century, it was a central part of Western education, filling the need to train public speakers and writers to move audiences to action with arguments.”

    I’m fond of several of the descriptions of rhetoric found here:

  20. Eli Rabett Says:

    Define conservative.

  21. Matt B Says:

    @ NYJ:

    Emotive? I didn’t think I was being overly emotional. (No big deal but you really don’t have to be that condencending).

    But, to your point, the link you show has the paper showing that there was bad siting of stations, many instances of that, and the data once crunched didn’t change things much. That it worked out that way doesn’t take away from the correct idea that investigation was performed, and it appears that they reported the results accurately. You can’t say that Watts routinely dismisses “any analysis of his work” when his own paper doesn’t support the hypothesis, which he did espouse, that the bad sitings were a problem. Watts did real observations and accurately reported the results, which he may not have liked, but he did it.

    So that leaves my original point, why were so many who work in climate science against this project when it was clear that data integrity was a potential problem and should be investigated?

  22. NewYorkJ Says:

    Matt B:Emotive? I didn’t think I was being overly emotional. (No big deal but you really don’t have to be that condencending).

    Your stated that your view of the science was critically shaped by perceived tone and behavior of mainstream scientists - which is an emotive reason.  My suggestion was a sincere one.  I really think spending time reading the science would be beneficial. 

    Matt B: So that leaves my original point, why were so many who work in climate science against this project when it was clear that data integrity was a potential problem and should be investigated?

    Back that up, please.  Cite some who you feel were against the project itself.  Make sure to distinguish between the overall project effort and criticism of the persistent unsubstantiated claims made by Watts and crew regarding its implications.

    There was plenty of analysis of the Watts data, by NOAA and Menne et al. that Watts was hostile to.  In fact, the quote from Watts in 2010 was well after the analysis was out there, but he maintained his certainty among public spheres.

    For years, Watts spread false information about the surface record, based on false representations/assumptions with how the data was gathered and processed.  This is where detailed study might help, but some don’t appear to have the inclination for it.

    So you end up having hordes of amateurs telling scientists their data and methods are all bogus, with a few telling them they’re spreading a hoax, and you wonder why some scientists might get a little irritated in having to respond to that regularly.

    In the end, Watts wanted to get published, and including the same bogus claims in the paper would have precluded that.  So he, along with co-authors, published the paper, but on his blog de-emphasized the key conclusions that practically everyone else had been saying but he had been touting differently for years.

    Also take a look at the claims he made regarding station dropout, which were not only entirely false, but libelous.

  23. Matt B Says:

    @ NYJ:

    A quick check shows Eli was not a fan:

    Now Ho Chi Pielke Sr. is providing reinforcements by getting his irregulars to go out there and take pictures of stations in the Global Historic Climate Network (GHCN). Anthony Watts is setting up a web site for such pictures. The goal, of course is to falsify GISSTEMP

    Look, I agree with you that Watts was picking a fight, and I understand that he & his site are a pain for people in the climate community. But, that’s how these things work. All hypothesis in science are up for rebuttal at all times, no matter how strong they have previously stood the test of time. That’s the business scientists are in. If there is questions about data integrity, you have to get the data and see if it stands up. It was not irrational to question the quality of these surface stations. Watts got the data, and no doubt to his chagrin he reported that it stands up. That is how the hypothesis will progress, and if the foundations of the hypothesis are strong then it will take the bricks thrown at it & use that to make it stronger. 

  24. steven mosher Says:

    “Scientists welcome efforts to gather data on weather stations. ”
    You meant to write “SOME scientists..”
    Thankfully the decision was reversed

    It’s always funny when people who were not there try to remember things they didnt see.
    Of course when this decision was made, I wrote an FOIA  for all the correspondence related to the decision…..
    That’s a untold story
    I’ll suggest you amend your sentence.  
    At the time some of suggested that people like Rabbet and his folks should welcome the effort and join in. Eli was always happy to say that pictures prove nothing.. forgetting of course that hansen used pictures of nightlights to tell “rural” sites from urban sites.
    There was an opportunity to co opt the effort at the early stages. An opportunity to have the observers document their own sites. I urged this and well,  ahem, the rabbet minded folks prevailed.  Missed opportunity.
    It all turned out ok. The effort was instrumental in building a huge web site with a loyal following. Fights always do that. That is why I suggested a different approach. Heck I even suggested that those of us who believe in AGW should have helped. Nah. fighting it, making fun of it, worked waaay better. Nobody even knows that blog today. Find a CWM and kick his ass. that will learn um good. 
    I also believe you’ll find some references in the Climategate mails.   
    Its best to just state the truth about it. Some objected to the whole enterprise. They were wrong.  That’s ok. Learn a lesson and move on. In the end the data was collected. That’s a good thing.

  25. TimG Says:

    #12 Marlowe Johnson

    I have yet to see any anti-CO2 policy that has a chance of actually achieving its stated goal. Believing that they can succeed is no different than believing that the earth is 6000 years ago - i.e. is a fantasy created in order to reconcile ones religious beliefs with reality.

    A pragmatic view of CO2 would accept the risk but at the same time acknowledge there is next to nothing we can do about it.

  26. NewYorkJ Says:

    Matt B,

    Eli makes some good points - first that similar efforts were already being done to improve the quality of the record.

    Watts would also highlight photos of stations that gave the impression of a warm bias.

    Matt B: It was not irrational to question the quality of these surface stations.

    No.  But you seem to think it’s never been done, which I’m sure is the impression being stoked.  There are many studies being done in the peer-reviewed literature and many efforts to improve the quality of the data products. 

    It’s also not irrational to question the veracity of some claims made about the surface stations and the record.  True skeptics should be open to such criticism, and inquisitive enough to want to learn how the current data products are constructed, rather than making unwarranted assumptions and accusations among a crowd that doesn’t know better.  Since Eli’s post 4 years ago, Watts has been telling various media sources, with certainty, that the surface record is wholly unreliable, and that much of the observed trend is due to warm siting biases - drawing a firm conclusion about a hypothesis before even testing it.  I don’t see him making any real efforts to correct that impression.  Frankly, given the events since then, the skepticism Eli displayed of Watts and crew was warranted, and arguably modest.  His project may have added some modest value (even without any groundbreaking findings and assuming the data-gathering process was robust), but it’s exceeded orders of magnitude by his persistent misinformation regarding its implications.

  27. steven mosher Says:

    NewYorkJ Says:
    August 17th, 2011 at 2:30 am
    Matt B,
    Eli makes some good points – first that similar efforts were already being done to improve the quality of the record.
    This distorts the record and misses the point.
    The facts are that photos were supposed to have been taken of sites.
    some were taken but public access was denied.
    The facts are that every site was supposed to be visited once a year. This would have been a great time to actually get the location information corrected and to photo document the sites.
    Ushcrn is a great achievement. It has nothing to do with how the rest of the network was documented.  That is a Eli shell game change the topic.
    And this was all known in 1998.
    “these forms were filed away in various NWS offices and at NCDC and were not readily accessible. Critical information, such as the latitude and longitude of each site, was often estimated by local NWS officials. No doubt, this led to many siting errors. Furthermore, although site photos had been taken, they were not available to outsiders for oversight purposes. Consequently, some sites were located inaccurately, and instruments were placed at some locations that violated siting standards.”

  28. steven mosher Says:

    cause I love revisionist history..
    Fortunately, technological advances in the last decade, such as desktop computers, file servers with on-line memory, the Internet, hand-held global positioning system (GPS) receivers, and digital cameras, are now available to improve the management and oversight of the Coop Network. It would be relatively easy to equip each NWS office with these tools, require DAPMs to locate coop sites with a GPS receiver, and provide panoramic site photos for on-line computer files.

  29. steven mosher Says:

    1998 recommendations.
    Recommendation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, together with other user agencies, should develop standards for sensor performance, maintenance, and calibration based on reasonable trade-offs between accuracy and cost. Data from instruments that meet technical standards should qualify as “official.”
    Up to now, various elements of metadata (site information) have not been available to most users of coop data, or even to most NWS staff. This shortcoming has introduced an element of uncertainty into the interpretation and analysis of long-term climate data. In addition, management of the Coop Program has been hampered by a lack of tools for effective oversight of the network. As a result, the enforcement of standards has been limited.
    Conclusion. New tools, such as the Internet, GPS, and digital cameras, promise to improve the collection, storage, and dissemination of metadata and strengthen NWS management and oversight of the Coop Network. Stronger management will be particularly important if stations from mesonets and other networks are used to augment Coop Network stations.
    Recommendation. The modernized Cooperative Observer Network should adopt the oversight practices made possible by new information technology so that all site information is available in on-line computer files. Each site should be located with global positioning system technology, and digital site photos should be placed in on-line files. Siting standards should be reviewed, updated, and applied consistently.
    So basically, Eli of course criticized taking photos.
    1. initially Watts was criticized for not visiting enough stations. people like eli and others criticized him for cherry picking sites.
    2. then as he expanded the criticized him for invading peoples  privacy.
    3. Then they said photos didnt matter.
    4. Then they said look over here at the ushcrn. ( 114 stations in operation for about 7 years)
    The facts are the sites were supposed to be photo documented. Some were, we dont know how many or how to get access to the photos.
    Facts are the problems were known for almost 10 years before Anthony found them.  he should have been thanked and noaa should have implemented the recommendations made in 1998.
    It is true that changes are being made. For that Noaa needs to be commended and encouraged. Watts was not handled in an optimal fashion. The wisest course of action is to thank him for his service and move on.  You might dislike everything about him, but he and his volunteers did do a service. There was an opportunity to de fuse the entire mess. That was missed. Emotional decisions ruled the day.

  30. Bart Verheggen Says:


    Perhaps sophistry is more apt than rhetoric?

    But since ancient sophists called their art “rhetorica” the words are sometimes used interchangeably. Sometimes with the adjective “empty”.

  31. Brandon Keim Says:

    @Ken Green: Good thing you weren’t around during the days of slavery to tell secular humanists not to work with Christian abolitionists on the Underground Railroad, or during the Civil Rights movement to tell everyone what a yahoo Martin Luther King was.

  32. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    arguments from personal incredulity aren’t terribly convincing…. 

  33. Sashka Says:

    Arguments from personal faith in certain supposedly expert organizations are not convincing at all.

  34. NewYorkJ Says:

    steve mosher: It’s always funny when people who were not there try to remember things they didnt see.
    Careful with that one.
    Your links in #24 involve a legal matter protecting the privacy rights of observers, but I’m not surprised the Watts crowd spun it otherwise.
    SM: The wisest course of action is to thank him for his service and move on.
    Reading some of the actual research might serve you well.  From Menne et al. “The U.S. Historical Climatology Network, Monthly Temperature Data, Version 2″
    The authors wish to thank Anthony Watts for his considerable efforts in documenting the current site characteristics of U.S. HCN stations.
    Menne’s subsequent analysis in 2010 of the Surface Station data was not as well-received by the Watts crew.
    Watts formed firm but false conclusions without gathering adequate evidence for it, or doing any sort of robust analysis, vehemently pushed those conclusion to every receptive media outlet, ignored or dismissed criticism of those conclusions, and smeared the integrity and competence of working scientists and scientific organizations.  In  my view, that’s not particularly worthy of thanks.

  35. Eli Rabett Says:

    1998 recommendations.
    1999 funding - zip
    see a pattern there bucko?
    Eli was skeptical that the Pielke - Watts photo thing would turn up anything important.  Eli was right. Eli pointed out that if you really wanted to do anything like that you had to commit to a series of photos taken over years.  That didn’t happen.  
    Eli also found an interesting quote from Watts that was part of the original call
    “If you have a digital camera, a portable handheld GPS device with accuracy within 100 feet or better, and the ability to follow simple instructions, you can help us demonstrate that many of the assumptions about climate change based on the surface temperature record may in fact be due to faulty data!”

    Makes you really think that those guys were disinterested parties.

  36. EdG Says:

    Hmmm. For me facts defeated any possible acceptance of the AGW story. The more I looked into it, the more it fell apart.

    Never did take it too seriously to begin with. I guess I should never have looked at those ice core graphs or read anything about paleontology or archaeology or history.

    But this guy wasn’t dealing with hard facts at all. The ‘facts’ that apparently impressed him were that ’the debate is over’ and the Consensus and the Pope agree.

    The Pope! Just like Galileo days.

    And most appropriate to use the word ‘convert’ in your title Keith.

  37. Stu Says:

    Eli says:

    “you can help us demonstrate that many of the assumptions about climate change based on the surface temperature record may in fact be due to faulty data!”

    Yeah… So what? People are making assumptions about climate change all the time. The Russian wildfires may have in fact been due to human caused climate change. I’m sure you’ve heard that one before. Anthony had his hypothesis (is the US temperature record reliable?) and he did the work in testing it out. Just because you already had the answer you were looking for is not going to preclude others from doing science. 


  38. Stu Says:

    PS- I would hope my statement above is taken as a symmetrical argument, and not just as an argument in support of the ‘skeptic’ side. I’m sure anyone arguing from the ‘warmist’ side can point to any number of examples where skeptics have gone beyond the science to conclude things for which there is no actual scientific evidence. Point being, anyone can put forward a hypothesis, ask questions etc. They should be encouraged to do so. But the answers must come from science and not emotionalism, appeals to morality or authority, hunches, etc. 

    Let’s put it this way. Thanks to Anthony’s work- shouldn’t we all be ‘warmists’ now? 

  39. Hank Roberts Says:

    > Anthony’s work
    Citation needed.

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