Bioclimatic envelope models use associations between aspects of climate and species' occurrences to estimate the conditions that are suitable to maintain viable populations. Once bioclimatic envelopes are characterized, they can be applied to a variety of questions in ecology, evolution, and conservation. However, some have questioned the usefulness of these models, because they may be based on implausible assumptions or may be contradicted by empirical evidence. We review these areas of contention, and suggest that criticism has often been misplaced, resulting from confusion between what the models actually deliver and what users wish that they would express. Although improvements in data and methods will have some effect, the usefulness of these models is contingent on their appropriate use, and they will improve mainly via better awareness of their conceptual basis, strengths, and limitations.