I am posting this because the contest Jim Steele is presenting is an excellent exercise in true scientific thought (as a contest with a prize).  I have addressed some of his points—especially the improper “Argument from Authority”.  It’s worth thinking through the requirements and seeing if you can come up with a truly scientific defense of global warming/climate change, not the usual angry insults and indignation often seen in discussions of climate change.  

The $1000 Student Climate Challenge Award

Currently children are being asked to lead a political charge for “climate change action”. Climate is very complex, and most adults have a very poor understanding of all the factors affecting climate change.  Thus, many people believe our children must have a far inferior understanding of climate change and are just being used as pawns in the politics of climate change. Many adults see student strikes as silly political theater, not validation of any climate theory or proof of an impending climate crisis.

But perhaps I underestimate the knowledge and intelligence of our student “climate strikers”. So, I am offering a $1000 award to the student who unequivocally outlines why 1) rising concentrations of CO2 are the cause of recent climate change, and 2) why that change is catastrophic.

I warn participants, I devoted my whole professional career towards scientific research and education that promotes wise environmental stewardship. Nonetheless I became a climate skeptic. I observed too many people eager to blame climate change for environmental problems that were caused by other factors and had real remedies. So, I suspect no adult, never mind a child, can meaningfully determine that recent weather or recent changes in a species abundance have been driven by rising greenhouse gases.

But you may prove me wrong.

Furthermore, to encourage good scientific thinking, if there is no winner in this climate challenge, I will still guarantee a $500 “runner-up” prize to the student who demonstrates the best scientific thinking, even if their conclusions are wrong.

Here are the requirements:

1.  The student must be 21 years or younger. Nonetheless I encourage each student to discuss climate change with your parents, teachers and friends as well as contacting scientists.

2.  The student must email their arguments in a document that is no larger than 5000 words. They must state their name and age and type “The $1000 Student Climate Challenge Award” in the subject line. Email the document by December 1, 2019 to

3.  The student must use the foundation of scientific inquiry, the “null hypothesis”.   In other words, the student must show that current weather/climate reflects a change that exceeds natural climate change. That requires choosing the appropriate time frames for discussion.

4. Students must go beyond simple correlations. Correlation is not causation. Although CO2 concentrations are higher today than they were 200 years ago, higher concentrations are not evidence of causation.

5.  Students must address relevant alternative hypotheses. For example, why is Arctic warming the result of CO2 warming and not the result of natural oscillations that drive warmer waters into the Arctic?

6.  Students must address why warming is catastrophic. If warming is caused by rising CO2, why would a longer growing season be catastrophic? Or if there is less sea ice why would the resulting increase in photosynthesis be catastrophic? Or what is the evidence of a trend in larger or more tornados?

7.  Consensus is not evidence.  Consensus is merely political theater. Arguments must be based on evidence. Politically motivated scientists tried to refute Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity using a “consensus” argument and writing “100 Authors Against Einstein”. The consensus was still wrong.

8.  Avoid arguments from authority. As Carl Sagan wisely advised “arguments from authority carry little weight  - authorities have made mistakes in the past.” For example, John Muir’s ideas were published in popular papers and magazines regards the formation of Yosemite Valley by glaciers. The geological authority from Harvard, Josiah Whitney, suggested otherwise and tried to smear Muir as just an “ignorant shepherd”. But Muir was mostly correct! Likewise, I warn that using the word “denier” will not make your arguments more correct.

9.  Students can enter as many times as they want. You may want to change your arguments when new information comes to light. Simply note that your new entry replaces your last.

As student essays roll in, I will periodically report in my What’s Natural newspaper column, and on my blog, regards failed common arguments and why it will disqualify your essay from the award.  That will allow every student to improve their argument and re-submit.

I wish every student the best and hope their sincere essays will promote better scientific discourse and understanding.

Sincerely Jim Steele

Director emeritus, Sierra Nevada Field Campus, San Francisco State University

If you have questions, please go to Jim's website.  Thank you!
You may comment on the contest here if you wish.

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