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So you don't "believe" in climate change...

It's something you hear a lot - "Oh, I just don't believe in climate change." At a first glance it does look like a ridiculous notion. The human-industrial era has lasted for approximately 0.00001% of the planet's 4.5 billion year history. Our planet is enormous - the atmosphere weighs around 5,100,000,000,000,000,000 kgs. And there aren't that many people, relatively speaking. Trees outnumber people by around 420 to 1. Are we so self-important as to think we are having a measurable effect on such a system?

I have respect for those who profess uncertainty about climate change. Climate change goes against our experiences - everything else we've created has had a short time span. And the science behind global warming is complex - I don't claim to understand it all. But using the usual Bayesian framework, twenty years of new information has moved me from a skeptic to somebody who is fairly certain the scientific consensus is right.

This is all just a convoluted way to say that I often get in fights with climate skeptics. My vast experience in said arguments has taught me that there is a strong diversity of opinion as to why climate science isn't real. About half of the US population is not very concerned about climate change, but they shouldn't be lumped together into a single bucket. The different groups have forced me to build an argument which can reach people on a continuum of skepticism. My approach involves a series of questions, moving steadily up the climate change scale.

Question 1: Do you think the world is getting warmer?

At the base level of those against taking action on climate change are those who think that the climate is literally not changing. They may have just experienced a colder than usual summer or a snowfall in April. You only have to look back 40 years to see concerns about "global cooling." Even if this long-debunked view was never a consensus, it's easy to understand why non-experts would be troubled by the controversy.

Many people who believe the world is not warming are confusing weather with climate. Weather is what it is like outside right now; climate is the average of weather over a period of time. Some locations are cooler today than they were 50 or 100 years ago. But as the below series of average global temperatures shows, the larger trend is decidedly one way.

Ed Hawkins

Once we are in agreement that yes, the planet is getting warmer, you can move to the next question.