Book Review: Climate Change Denial – Heads in the Sand

Climate Change Denial: Heads in the SandClimate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand by Hadyn Washington and John Cook
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

It takes a while to read a book during your lunch break at work. It can take even longer if the book you are reading is filled with interesting tidbits of referenced information, which then inspires you to read the original research paper. I suppose that is the best thing about Washington and Cook’s Climate Change Denial, it is filled with interesting research and arguments, all concisely expressed for anyone with an interest in the future of our planet.

Usually I have an issue with non-fiction books. Often times the non-fiction genre is filled with work that lacks credibility or validity. Non-fiction is also prone to the shouting polemic, which is all doom and gloom, and short on any solutions. Climate Change Denial is the opposite, with a very well researched base of information, well rounded and reasoned arguments and an entire chapter devoted to the solutions for both denial and climate change.

What interested me was the mindset of denial. I’ve done a lot of reading of the peer reviewed literature on climate change (hint: the world is getting warmer, it’s our fault, we need to take action now) and have been frustrated with the same debunked arguments arising time and again. Now I understand why, well, aside from the massive fear and smear campaign waged by denier groups with oil $$. I also appreciated the candid debunking and slaying of the red herrings (e.g. we need to adapt) and white elephants (e.g. carbon capture and storage) often associated with the climate change debate.

This is a great book for the climate change extension people, for those who are undecided on the topic, and a must read for politicians (this book has been given to every Federal Government minister in Australia). Those who read it now have the job of converting the deniers, logic and science will prevail, but it would be nice to have that happen sooner rather than later.

Also worth reading John Cook’s fantastic site.

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Books you should read: Climate change

I couldn’t even begin to count the number of peer reviewed journal papers I’ve read. According to my Endnote archive I’m a nerd. It also indicates that I read 800 odd papers for my postgrad thesis. Suffice to say, when it comes to science I tend to read journal papers and not books.

Well I have three science books that I think people should read. You know what I love about science books? Well, it is refreshing to read science written in a way that isn’t so boring! Trust me, I’m a scientist and even I get bored with journal papers.

Climate change science is a funny topic. Since anthropogenic climate change was first proposed in 1824 there has been a lot of research done on climate systems and climate change.

  • 2425 peer reviewed papers on climate change
  • 2042 peer reviewed papers that are neutral (i.e. about climate systems)
  • 186 peer reviewed papers that are sceptical of climate change


So how could this even be a topic of debate? The science is well understood by 97.5% of climate scientists. Even the most sceptical group in society – scientists (who have a default position of “prove it to me”) – are between 82 and 91% convinced. Who forgot to tell the rest of the world? And how do we break the news to them about the Easter Bunny?

More doctors recommend Camel cigarettes.

Naomi Oreskes talks about why there is doubt, and it isn’t because of the science. What do you get when you cross a lobbyist with a pile of cash? You get a doubtmongerer. After reading this book I’m heartened to know that with enough cash I could successfully convince people that there is doubt about the Earth being flat and that gravity doesn’t really affect us. Newton wouldn’t know an apple if it hit him on the head.

How do you spot a denialist?

Calling someone a climate sceptic is actually incorrect. When the weight of evidence proves climate change is happening, and we have been presented with that evidence, it means that not accepting it is about denial.

Hansen climate predictions, actual observed temperatures, Lindzen “sceptic” claims.

Haydn and John cover two aspects in their book: denial and common climate denial arguments. As such this is a great book for understanding why the message has been lost on some, and also points out the actual science debunking the denial arguments.

This book makes me feel a lot younger.

Paleoclimatologists are interesting. They don’t think of things in terms of years, or election cycles, or even decades; they think in terms of millennia. I heard Curt speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival and he made some very interesting points. My favourite was that we didn’t have to worry about the next ice age due in 50,000 years time, because our climate impacts have upset the Earth enough to negate that little eventuality. His book has even more of these insights.

Edit: I’ve managed to find a short version of Curt’s talk on YouTube that is worth watching. It is from a seminar he gave in Perth, Australia.

Full version is here.