Global Warming Deniers Lose Bet and Won’t Pay Up

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One of the problems a lot of people have with understanding global warming is the difference between weather and climate. “If global warming is real, then why did I have to put on a jacket in June?” “Why do I need a portable heater at my desk?” “Why am I buried under 8 feet of snow?”

And for these people, science communicators are constantly trying to teach them that weather is a phenomenon that happens (and changes) on a daily basis, or a minute-by-minute basis depending on where you live. Climate is something that happens across much longer time spans — years, decades, centuries.

I open with all of this because of a mental block that I have when thinking about climate change. Because I spend so much time telling people that climate change is a long game that is hard to notice on a daily basis, I sometimes forget that it’s not actually that long of a game. We can definitely see the changes happening. Here’s a fun/horrifying example: back in 2005, a climate modeller named James Annan made a bet with a pair of solar physicists who are “skeptical” that anthropogenic global warming (that’s human-caused climate change) is real. The physicists, Galina Mashnich and Vladimir Bashkirtsev, believed that solar flares actually played a larger role in climate change and that an upcoming decrease in solar activity would actually lead to global temperatures cooling.

You know how we talk about how 97% of scientists studying climate change are convinced that AGW is real? Have you ever wondered who is in the 3%? Well, meet these guys.

To their credit, they were willing to put their money where their mouths are, betting Annan $10,000 that global temperatures would actually drop in the following 12 years. Specifically, they chose the global mean average surface temperature as measured by the US National Climatic Data Center (now known as the National Centers for Environmental Information) from 1998 and 2003, and said they’d compare that to the temperatures from 2012 to 2017. If the recent temperatures were higher, they’d pay Annan 10 grand. If they were lower, he’d pay them the same amount.

Spoiler alert: Annan was right. For the earlier baseline time period, global temperatures were .54 degrees Celsius above the average for the 20th century. By the time the later period rolled around, temperatures had risen to .78 degrees.

What makes this even more bonkers is that Mashnich and Bashkirtsev got to pick the time spans, and they decided to start the earlier time period in 1998, which was historically hot due to that year’s El Nino. Even though AGW is really happening, there is a chance that cherry picking statistical blips like that can make it look like the earth is cooling. But nope, global warming is so out of control that what was once an unbelievably hot outlier of a year is now cooler than any year since 2012. Guys, we’re fucked.

But hey, at least Annan got $10,000 out of it, right? Oh, except he hasn’t. We’re now nearing the end of 2018 so this bet has been over for quite a while, and it seems like the solar physicists aren’t interested in paying up. Mashnich isn’t even responding to Annan’s emails, while Bashkirtsev is trying to arrange some kind of double-or-nothing bet that he swears he’s going to honor this time. Annan is…skeptical.

So there you have it, those are your 3% of scientists who doubt AGW is happening. They’re wrong, and they don’t even have the guts to admit it.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Minute-by-minute. So you’ve been to South Dakota, I take it?

    But seriously, yeah, the problem is that people don’t understand the concept of scale. Similarly, climate does change even without human intervention, but never so rapidly. It takes a geologic time scale.

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