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A Skeptical Chat With…Peter Sinclair of ‘Climate Denial Crock of the Week’

This is a blog series where I interview writers, bloggers, podcasters, etc. about topics relevant to science, skepticism, and critical thinking.

Today I speak with Peter Sinclair about his website at Climate Crocks, and he answers my questions regarding his interest in Global Warming. 

Peter Sinclair will be attending the Michigan Skeptics Association's meet-up on Saturday, December 11th - and will provide a formal presentation on global warming with Q & A afterwards

Hello and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about the ClimateCrocks.com website. Can you start off by introducing yourself to the readers of the Michigan Skeptics Association website, please, about who you are, what got you interested in the issue of climate change, and what led you to inform the public about it?

I grew up in a family that was very active in issues of environment, particularly around the siting of a nuclear plant very close to downtown Midland, where I live.  I learned a lot about the economic and political forces shaping energy decisions, and how important energy was going to be to whether we survive as a civilization. I’ve been reading, thinking, and writing about environment and climate change for some 30 years, but only in the last 3 or so have I actually been interacting intensely with top level climate scientists to understand the big picture in some detail.

I believe climate change is the most critical issue facing humanity, and I have kids.  There’s simply no way I could remain silent about it.

Greenman Studios is a graphic design and production studio. Can you describe what information or material is produced from it?

I was a syndicated cartoonist for a time, then moved into graphic design, illustration and animation. I did a lot of work for local design firms, and a scattering of clients around the country.

How long have you been interested in climate change, and what is your expertise on the subject?

I am not a scientist, but I probably have a better comprehension of the big picture on energy production than most people who are. I was lucky enough to be invited to Nashville to interact with Al Gore and, most importantly, get introduced to world class scientists who have been my mentors over the last several years. In the course of several years of producing these videos, I’ve been hearing almost every week from leading climate scientists around the planet, who watch, share, and even teach using the climate crock videos. I rely on them to tell me when I’ve done well, and when not.

Trust me, they are not shy about it.

Once or twice I’ve pulled videos down when I found out they weren’t up to a high standard of accuracy.

What do you feel is the most difficult challenge in creating awareness about the manmade influence of global warming — the complexity of the subject or the misinformation campaign from climate change denialists?

The complexity of the subject makes it possible for well paid, highly professional cadres of anti science activists, who have been supported by a network of fossil fuel companies, foundations, and wealthy individuals (see the movie Astro Turf wars and Naomi Oreskes’s lecture here) to confuse and obfuscate the issue.  The tactics used are not new, they are patterned after the successful efforts of tobacco companies to blur the science of tobacco effects for 40 years.

It makes perfect economic sense for these big companies. Every week without serious action is billions in the bank.

For some deniers, there are ideological or religious fundamentalist reasons for denying climate change – they all serve the interests of the major corporate funders.

The science is complicated enough so that it’s going to be a tough sell job, particularly since the effects are happening slowly by human scales, and are not always clear cut.

However, with each passing year, mother nature is making the case ever more clearly – for instance, this summer’s drought in Russia and floods in Pakistan, and the continuing series of 500 and 1000 year events in the American midwest.

How often do you engage with climate deniers (either through your website or through other means), and do you have any suggestions or approaches that you find work best? 

I field questions, many of them hostile, on my website daily.  I try to use humor to deflect most of the hostility, and use the attacks as an opportunity to point to information, which I always try to source from generally respected resources like NASA.  Deniers are often intellectual pretenders who have formed their views from sources like oddball websites and talk radio.

Familiarize yourself with resources like

http://climate.nasa.gov/

http://royalsociety.org/climate-change-summary-of-science/

http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard/

http://nsidc.org/

http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/

…and reliable, well-sourced blogs like

http://www.skepticalscience.com/

http://climateprogress.org/

…and of course, my video series.

An awful lot of discussions can be ended by quick referral to a credible source.

I have been telling people who are interested in knowing more about climate change, to not only visit your website, but also to check out your popular YouTube channel. How much time do you spend in obtaining the videos in your channel? Why are videos important to informing the public about climate change?

The best place to go is my youtube playlist and my blog at http://www.climatecrocks.com

I shamelessly rob videos from every where I can find them, under the rationale that it’s better to apologize than ask permisson, and in the hope that fair use doctrine will justify what I’m doing.

It’s very time consuming – but I felt that there was a tremendous amount of misleading material on the internet, with a need for succinct, accurate, and entertaining rebuttals so that people engaged in internet discussion of these issues have something solid to refer to.

One of the links on your website is the Renewable Solution of the Month. Where do you feel the current state of renewable energy technology is at (in terms of capabilities and effectiveness), and how can the public become more aware of its development?

I have a series of videos, that I hope to keep adding to, on Renewable Solutions to climate change. The playlist is here

There are a number of good resources on renewables – the Rocky Mountain Institute has a good website and newsletter, www.worldchanging.com, www.grist.org, www.renewableenergyworld.com and www.climateprogress.org are just a few good sources.

What are some good books, websites, and other resources regarding climate change would you recommend?

For climate change, of course, my videos, which always link to source material – but the best writing on the issue, with access to original papers and sources, is at skepticalscience.com. The blogger, John Cook is a Phd Solar physicist, and prolific poster on the issue, and just about every question you can think of is categorized and answered.

Climateprogress.com is also very, very valuable.

James Hansen’s book “Storms of my Grandchildren”, is highly recommended, as are “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes, “With Speed and Violence” by Fred Pearce, and “Under a Green Sky” by Peter Ward.

Lastly, are you personally or is your website/podcast financed by any companies or institutions relevant to the climate change issue?

I’ve managed to attract a small amount of support from some environmental groups and foundations over the last year, and the site won a small grant from BrighterPlanet.com in an international competition – but this started out and remains by far a self financed operation. I hope in the future I can attract more funding, and perhaps produce a feature length production on the issue.

Thank you so much for the interview.

You can follow Peter Sinclair on Twitter at @greenman3610

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