In comments under his article How to destroy the claim that the west must cut CO2 emissions, Robin draws our attention to an article in The Conversation, claiming:

Climate change: multi-country media analysis shows scepticism of the basic science is dying out

Well, maybe it is dying out, or maybe it is being wiped out. For there is a difference between changing your mind and not being willing/allowed to speak your mind, I think you’ll agree.

The article gets off on the wrong foot as far as I am concerned with its reckless use of the pejorative “denialism”. It even has “climate change denial” as one of its tags. The author, James Painter, describes how he and his team watched TV, scouring news coverage for any sign of climate scepticism. Well, they found some, although the spin they are putting on it is that the deniers have given up arguing that climate change is not real, happening now, and human-caused (note to Painter: this denier has never denied that). Instead they/we have switched to denying that the proposed actions to “tackle” climate change have any merit. The deniers argue that such actions will have marginal benefit and eye-watering costs. With good reason in my estimation. And in particular they engage in “whataboutism” by pointing to China and making the claim that, since China is refusing to join the decadent West on its self-destructive path, we ought to pull on the reins a little. In the realm of the climate enthusiasts, this rejoinder is considered a logical fallacy, which can therefore be summarily dismissed.

We found a wide variety of claims, but the most common concerned the high cost of taking action and “whataboutism” (typically questioning the need to take action when other countries such as China were not doing enough).

In the source article that Painter is promoting, this is said (quotes below are also from this paper or its SI):

The two main discourses on right-wing channels were economic cost (6 out of 11 programs—55%) and questioning the need to take action when other countries such as China were not doing enough (6 out of 11 programs—55%), often described colloquially as “whataboutism”

Don’t get me started on “right-wing” channels. OK, do. In the UK, four channels were surveyed. Three in the “mainstream” – BBC, ITV, and Channel 4 – and one “right-wing” – GB News. There is apparently no such thing as a “left-wing” broadcaster. In the article’s SI, of the mainstream channels, it is said:

The three stations are regulated by Ofcom for impartiality.

No such disclaimer is applied to GB News, a potentially misleading omission. This “right-wing” channel employed some guy called Farage and had some denialist organisation called the GWPF on one day:

In March 2022 Farage called for a referendum on the UK’s Net Zero Policy. In its first week, the channel gave space to groups exhibiting climate skepticism including representatives of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, who stressed the costs rather than the benefits of taking climate action.

Wow. On one rainy Tuesday, someone stressed the costs of climate action. How very farouche of them. How about every channel regularly discussing the costs AND benefits of climate action rather than ignoring the former and exaggerating the latter?

I could go on, but I won’t. I will close this part of my diatribe by clipping out a frankly hilarious development in denialism – the denialism of silence:

It is also worth highlighting that Fox News unexpectedly displayed a relative absence of coverage [of IPCC AR6 WG1]. This finding is supported by other research, which suggests that other right-wing media outlets in the USA were unusually quiet on the report. Qualitative (interview) work would be needed to corroborate whether this “denialism by silence” was an intentional editorial policy.

LOL, as the young folk have it.

Anyway, back to whataboutism. Enthusiasts do like to accuse sceptics of this, often puffing out their chests, having scored a telling rhetorical point. Unfortunately for them, “whataboutism” is not always a logical fallacy. Take the climate sceptics’ favourite proposal/whatabout pair:

“We should be doing more on climate change.”

“What about China?”

Is the rejoinder valid? This is an important question, since the sceptics’ reference to China is typically labelled as whataboutism as an attempt to invalidate their argument without having to actually discuss it. The result sceptics fear is irrational policies crashing through with all opposition silenced.

Here’s another, similar couplet, proposal and whataboutism response:

“We should be doing more on workers’ rights.”

“What about the slavery of the Uyghurs in China?”

Valid retort, or not valid?

Well, since we can do nothing about the Uyghurs, it sounds like the sceptic here is arguing that it is right that we should do nothing for our workers’ rights either. That is clearly nonsense, because we (as a nation) can only benefit from improved workers’ rights as they apply to our workers. In other words, our actions benefit us in this example if they are good. Our workers’ rights can be discussed in isolation of the workers’ rights of any other country.

Now back to the climate whataboutism. Here, the sceptic’s rejoinder is valid – obviously so. This is because our action on climate does not only benefit ourselves, but the cost is all ours. Whatever (I think hardly measurable) climate benefit our individual action achieves, it will be spread across the surface of the globe. Thus China will benefit from our actions, and we will benefit from China’s. (In fact, it’s obvious that China will benefit more from our actions than we will!) It is therefore valid to demand either that similar actions to ours are taken globally, or that we reduce our own ambition to match that of the international community. If we take radical action to reduce a small part of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions, this will result in a tiny and probably too-small-to-measure climate benefit, which will nevertheless be distributed among all peoples, whether they are the subset suffering the concomitant pain of these actions or not. It is obviously only fair if we all move together to the same target at a similar pace.

Taking a third example, whatabout local pollution, like phosphorus? Phosphorus is mined and used in fertilisers and then for one reason or another ends up polluting watercourses.

“We should take action on phosphorus pollution in our rivers.”

“What about China?”

In this case the criticism is not valid, because we benefit from our own actions to reduce pollution locally. We both bear the cost, and reap the rewards, of our policy. Therefore, if the policy offers a net benefit, we should adopt it. The retort makes no sense.

Perhaps you are wondering, why didn’t Jit use the example of CFCs? They spread generally, like CO2, and yet they were banned under the terms of the Montreal Protocol, so would our sceptic have been right in 1986 to respond to the proposal:

“We should take action on the ozone layer.”

With the whatabout:

“What about China?”

Well, yes: if China was planning on greatly increasing its use of CFCs while the UK was planning on adopting the ban unilaterally. But even if that had been the case, the sceptic’s whataboutism would still have been weak here, because there are adequate replacements for refrigerants like freon, so that unilateral adoption by the UK would not have mortally wounded us. But China, like all countries, signed the Protocol, and CFCs were banned, and the ozone hole disappeared, and Greenpeace members hung up their placards and took up gardening, or something.

In other words, it will always be legitimate to point out the slackers in a communal effort, no matter the scale. The closer to a “tragedy of the commons” situation we get, the more valid the whataboutism. At the other extreme, if we bear all the costs and reap all the benefits of a policy, whataboutism is not at all valid.

So, whataboutism is a valid criticism of policy under some conditions. To fail to see that takes some effort by the climate enthusiasts. Wielding the term as a pejorative feels to me to be an attempt to dismiss an argument with an arm-wave, to declare it not valid, and move on as if the criticism had never been made. I have the sense that for some folk, there is no possibility that a criticism of climate policy can ever be a valid one. That does not make for good policy.

An entire branch of science seems to have sprung up, devoted to rubbishing the arguments of climate denialists by hook or by crook. One only has to skim through Painter et al’s references to see that. One does wonder whether perhaps the denialologists could be doing something more useful.

Do let me know in comments if my reasoning is faulty.

Featured Image

The featured image is what Dall.e came up with for “tragedy of the commons.” One might also see it as a portent about what life might be like in the UK in 2050 if we stay on the Net Zero course.


  1. Climate fear, to me, seems to be the central and most enduring of the anti-scientific claptraps of our woke dark age. The smugness of the climate hype Inquisition, as spotlighted in your excellent essay, is clearly that of the propagandist, not the intellectual. The reactionaries who write these wordy Pravda style articles that pretend to praise the success of censorship ultimately convince no one. Except to convince those who know the climate fear, and resulting hurtful policies, are infact destructive mind viruses run rampant. Thank you for profiling this particular example of execrable mind numbing trash.


  2. Very good analysis JIT. Ranking whataboutism with cost/benefit analysis might be a milestone right up there with the Dunning-Kruger effect. If there’s a formal science (even an informal one) to logical fallacies, this should be an important contribution. I’ve always suspected these lists of logical fallacies like Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit were far from definitive.


  3. As ever when a debater attacks your point obtusesly INSTEAD of directly
    then that is a Logical Fallacy
    ie if they just call you an idiot (ad hom)
    or say top expert X disagrees with your opinion (Fallacy of argument from authority)

    However if they tackle yourargument directly
    and then call you an idiot then that is OK

    Whaboutery is when they fail to address your point about X
    and say “what about Y ?”

    However If they put up of a drought river photo in the Guardian
    and I point out that is a low tide photo
    and then say “and WHAT ABOUT this BBC drought story that uses an old summer drought photo, to imply the same reservoir is low now ”
    that is NOT whataboutery
    cos I am not DEFECTING, I am adding more info,


  4. The worm is turning.
    Globally, ever-decreasing numbers believe climate change is a serious problem, now down to less than half:

    Concern about climate change shrinks globally as threat grows, survey shows
    Fewer than half of those questioned in global poll believe climate change poses a ‘very serious threat’
    Concerns about climate change shrank across the world last year, with fewer than half of those questioned in a new survey believing it posed a “very serious threat” to their countries over the next 20 years.
    Only 20% of people in China, the world’s biggest polluter, said they believed that climate change was a very serious threat, down 3 percentage points from the last survey by Gallup World Risk Poll in 2019.
    Globally, the figure fell by 1.5 percentage points to 48.7% in 2021. The survey was based on more than 125,000 interviews in 121 countries.

    Concern about climate change shrinks globally as threat grows – studyConcerns about climate change shrank across the world last year, a survey shows, with fewer than half those questioned believing it posed a “very serious threat” to their countries in the next 20 years.

    Fewer in U.S. Say Climate Change is Driven Primarily by Human Causation

    Less than half of U.S. adults think climate change is mostly or entirely caused by humans, according to a report published April 10 by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

    Agreement that climate change is happening has remained relatively steady in the past seven years: 74% (2023), 75% (2021), 71% (2018), 72% (2017), 77% (2016). Mostly the changes in polling data have been the result of shifts in views regarding the cause of climate change.

    The percentage of respondents who say climate change is mostly or entirely the result of human activities has steadily declined in recent years, falling from 60% affirmation of this view in 2018 to 54% in 2021 to 49% in 2023.


  5. If we are to “do something” regardless of what China may or may not do, and if we also wish to find common ground between the climate-concerned and skeptics, it seems to me that one approach would be to take the money that clearly would be thrown away on mitigation and simply spend it on adaptation. After all, I think both sides agree that climate, being climate, will change. Preparing for change with, for instance, stronger infrastructure seems a good plan no matter how you look at it.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Considering that these people are supposed to be experts on critical thinking, and quick to detect a logical fallacy, they do seem remarkably adept at missing a point. Reference to China is not an example of whataboutism in the sense of the tu coque fallacy or simply trying to change the subject. No one is trying to exonerate the UK from taking action by changing the subject to China. We are simply pointing out that if you want to solve the problem, then nothing that the UK can do will make any substantial difference. To solve the problem, one needs to look to those countries who are currently contributing most to it.

    It’s like someone saying ‘You need to lose two stones, so get a haircut.’ You reply, ‘What about going on a diet?’ To which they reply ‘Don’t change the subject’.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Very well said John. In the TC article to which Jit refers, the author, James Painter, criticises Nigel Farage for saying ‘whatever we do here [in the UK], it’s China that needs to do far more than us’ – obviously true and neither whataboutism nor denialism. But James didn’t like it so it had somehow to be damned. It epitomises what we’re up against.


  8. No Jit, your reasoning is not faulty.

    BTW I found this interesting. Re climate whataboutism you say:

    ‘If we take radical action to reduce a small part of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions, this will result in a tiny and probably too-small-to-measure climate benefit, which will nevertheless be distributed among all peoples, whether they are the subset suffering the concomitant pain of these actions or not.’

    Now compare that with this extract (page 7 (S2)) of the Climate Change Act 2008 Impact Assessment (LINK) dated March 2009:

    The benefits of UK action will be distributed across the globe. In the case where the UK acts in concert with other countries then the UK will benefit from other nations reduced emissions and would be expected to experience a large net benefit. Where the UK acts alone, though there would be a net benefit for the world as a whole the UK would bear all the cost of the action and would not experience any benefit from reciprocal reductions elsewhere. The economic case for the UK continuing to act alone where global action cannot be achieved would be weak.’

    Precisely your point: surely the Government was not indulging in whataboutism?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Robin, from your link:

    “1.1 Objectives
    1.1.1 The Climate Change Act is intended to create a legislative framework for the effective
    management and delivery of policies to tackle climate change, in particular by:
    • establishing an economically credible emissions reduction pathway to 2050, by
    putting into statute medium and longterm targets and a system of carbon budgets
    which will constrain the total amount of emissions in a given time period;
    • providing greater clarity and predictability for UK industry to plan effectively for, and
    invest in, a low carbon economy;
    • providing a strong evidence base and expertise to underpin statutory targets;
    • establishing a duty on the Government to regularly assess the risks to the UK from
    climate change and draw up a programme to address them; and
    • creating a power for the Government to require a range of public authorities or
    statutory undertakers to assess and address the impacts of climate change.
    1.1.2 In addition, the Act is intended to strengthen the UK’s leadership internationally to help
    raise the ambition and urgency of collective action to tackle climate change.”

    Net Zero is demonstrably not an economically credible emissions pathway. Greater clarity and predictability for UK industry is not being provided; quite the opposite, in fact. The ‘strong evidence base’ underpinning statutory targets is non existent. The UK’s ‘leadership’ ambitions have failed to materialise in the form of collective action. The Act has demonstrably failed in most of its main objectives. It should be scrapped.


  10. The Act was clearly implemented solely on the basis of the ‘settled science’. The ‘settled science’ was the IPCC AR4 WG1 report. If the ‘science’ was indisputable then, on the basis of the IPCC AR4 report, then it is by definition indisputable now and there was never any need for further IPCC reports. The function of further UN reports has clearly been not to support or enhance the alleged ‘non-debatable’ scientific evidence base, but to increase international alarm about climate change, and to raise the carbon reduction ambitions of developed nations.

    “1.2.1 There is an overwhelming body of scientific evidence highlighting the serious and urgent
    nature of climate change, largely due to emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs2) as a
    result of human activities such as the combustion of fossil fuels and changing patterns of
    2 A glossary of terms is provided in Annex A.10 land use. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, in 2007, shows conclusively that the debate over the science of climate change has moved on from whether or not it is happening to what we need to do about it. 3”


  11. Jaime, you beat me to it.

    An excellent article by Jit, with sound reasoning, exposing the lack of reasoning in the alarmists’ position; followed by an excellent find by Robin, demonstrating that in Westminster’s own terms, given how things have panned out since the Climate Change Act was passed, it is flawed and has failed in its own terms.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Robin – thanks for a link back (2009) to how this madness all started.

    Ministerial Sign,off For final Impact Assessment:
    I have read the Impact Assessment and I am satisfied that, given the available
    evidence, it represents a reasonable view of the likely costs, benefits and impact of
    the leading options.
    Signed by the responsible Minister Ed Miliband
    Date: 9 March 2009

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I think you put your finger on it Jit, when you brought up the “tragedy of the commons”. I gather that we should respond by cheerfully doing more in the Shire to lower our hobbit carbon footprint, and eventually the Orcs of Mordor will realize what good chaps we are and follow our example. If you don’t think that’s plausible then clearly you’re beyond the pale.


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