Climate change, scepticism and elitism

By Legal Eagle

Half the harm that is done in this world
Is due to people who want to feel important.
They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them.
Or they do not see it, or they justify it
Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle
To think well of themselves.

(From The Cocktail Party, T.S. Eliot)

In June, I participated in an episode of Insight on SBS. The theme was “Climate Sceptics”. The premise was that the audience would be comprised of people who were sceptical about climate change to a greater or lesser degree. On the stage, fielding questions from the sceptical audience, was Professor Stephen Schneider, a climate change scientist who participated in the IPCC report. (Very sadly, 3 weeks after filming, Professor Schneider passed away. My condolences to his family.)

The episode is finally screening on SBS on Tuesday 7 September at 7:30pm. I must confess that I’m a little scared. I think I would have been okay if they’d just aired it reasonably soon after filming, but the World Cup then the Federal Election interrupted screening.

Why would I be scared? When someone says the words “climate sceptic”, the instant stereotype which springs to most people’s minds is that of a right-wing Holocaust-denying lunatic who is immune to reason. And I assure you, I am none of those things. But once you “out” yourself as a sceptic, you get tarred with that brush. I worry that my colleagues, my friends and my students might judge me, because I didn’t really get to put my views across properly (in fact, I don’t speak until half way through, presuming they even put my bit in!). I don’t like the term “climate sceptic”, to be honest; I prefer to think of myself as a climate agnostic. I haven’t made up my mind yet.

The people in the audience included environmentalists, people who worked in sustainability and agriculture, scientists and a bunch of regular people who had no particular specialisation or expertise in the area, but were just worried.

It really annoys me that I should feel scared to express my opinion. I strongly believe that progressive people should be able to raise doubts without being accused of being tantamount to Holocaust deniers, without being ostracised by their neighbours, without having someone spit in their coffee and without feeling scared that they will be labeled as a fascist. I admit that some people who fall into the sceptic camp are a little scary, but not everyone is. Ultimately, I think that deriding people who raise doubts (1) shows a lack of understanding about scientific method and (2) serves to fuel scepticism rather than to allay it.

Elitism, scepticism and risk analysis

One of the participants in the Insight program made an interesting observation to me beforehand. He said, “I’ve noticed that scepticism tends to be class-based. Middle-class, university educated people are far more likely to accept that climate change is happening. Working-class people are far more likely to be sceptical and concerned.” There is a deep elitism at the heart of the writings of some who suggest the shape of the policy responding to climate change (eg, Clive Hamilton, George Monbiot). The sly inference is that working-class people are stupid bogans who don’t know any better, and that they should let their betters guide them in what is to be done.

Noel Pearson, one of my favourite Australian commentators, wrote an excellent piece in The Australian last year. He envisaged a box divided into four segments. The horizontal axis represented left-wing to right-wing. The vertical axis represented economic security, from economically secure at the top to economically insecure at the bottom. Now, as he notes, not all sceptics are right-wing. I would count myself as a rare leftish-wing sceptic, whereas SL is more right-wing than I, but not sceptical about climate change. Nonetheless, it’s a convenient generalisation. Pearson then says:

Most of Australia’s climate change action policy advocates come from the top left-hand box. They believe that climate change is real, is caused by humans, and that urgent and dramatic action must be taken to reduce carbon emissions. They are also economically secure. All of the media and the legions of educated people who believe in global warming fall within this quadrant.

Yes, there are also believers who are economically insecure but they are not the heartland of climate change activism. If they also dread climate change, their relative economic insecurity nevertheless affects the kinds of policy responses they may support or reject.

Pacific Islanders and other such people who are directly confronted by rising sea levels and believe in climate change causation comprise those in the bottom left quadrant who are economically insecure but believe in the need for action on climate change.

The top-right corner is occupied by the economically secure who don’t believe in (or even care about) climate change and resist action. Capitalists whose pursuit of self-interest has transmuted from natural calling to German social theorist Max Weber’s iron cage of an endlessly unfulfilling accumulation and consumption, and who are at least honest enough not to cloak their economic security under a mantle of moral worthiness like the wealthy Al Gore, occupy this corner. There is much scope for cynicism among this mob, but it is a toss-up as to what’s worse: climate policy activists who want others to pay costs of ameliorative action but who will ensure that any cost they themselves bear will not be a great burden, or those archetypal cigar-chompers who don’t give a damn. One is blatantly selfish, the other more subtly so.

I am on the upper side of the economic security axis. Though almost all my relatives and the people most dear to me are economically insecure, and though I intimately know and work with people in poverty, I must confess this: I have no idea what it would mean for electricity bills to go up by, say, $50 a month. I think I could easily afford such a rise. And if I were asked to pay this increase in return for saving the planet, then I would probably readily consent. In fact my altruistic sacrifice number is probably significantly higher than $50.

Like many educated, middle-class professionals who earn a good salary, I have lost a real understanding of what an increase in the cost of living such as this means for lower-income people. Growing up in an extremely low-income family does not guarantee this empathy.

There is a policy issue here: it is easy for people above the income security line to devise and advocate climate action policies that allocate costs that are affordable by us but that are a big deal for the percentage of society for whom $50 a month makes or breaks a family budget or for whom any greater scarcity of employment is a life disaster.

That is what I saw on the Insight program: ordinary people who would struggle mightily if energy prices were raised by $50 a month. And they were scared. On the one hand, you have this disastrous prediction of what will occur as a result of climate change. On the other hand, you have the certain prospect of having to pay more for fuel which will necessarily have a massive impact on your life. As one woman said, “If we do things about this, it will have a huge impact on the economy and our whole country, so I think it’s really important to know whether it’s really necessary or not.”

As Professor Schneider said, one’s reaction to the scenario depends in part on one’s risk analysis. He said that all a climate change scientist can say is that on the preponderance of evidence climate change is occurring. This is a proper scientific approach. One can never prove one’s hypothesis incontrovertibly. One can only say that on the evidence available, it appears that the hypothesis is confirmed. (Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to discuss this on the program, but one of the best ways of confirming a hypothesis is to attempt to disprove it.)

For a person who is economically secure, an extra $50 a month for fuel and added costs of various commodities isn’t going to be a tremendous burden. It might hurt a little, but it isn’t going to break the bank. Thus, it’s understandable that most people who are middle-class and educated want to take action on climate change — for them, the risk of possible environmental catastrophe is far greater than the risk of paying a bit more for every day items. However, for a person who is less economically secure, an extra $50 a month for fuel and added costs of commodities is going to be a tremendous burden. I’m not talking people on the poverty line here (who would probably be covered by government rebates). I’m talking about working people who are not really well off, but who are not poor enough to be helped by the government. I’m also thinking of people whose business is going to be badly affected by any change in the structure of our economy. For them it’s a balance between immediate incontrovertible financial pain versus speculative future pain. This is why it’s a “wedge” issue for parties like the Labor Party in Australia. They just can’t please everyone.

The politicisation of climate change

It’s natural that people should wish to question climate change science when it has a large impact on them, but somehow climate change science has become politicised. Generally, as Pearson notes, those on the right are sceptical, while those on the left are “believers”. (As I said above, I am a rare exception to that rule, although I met others on the Insight program – it’s nice to know I’m not alone!)

When an issue gets politicised like that I get very worried. I must confess that I don’t really understand why the Left has decided that it will swallow climate change policy whole (which is distinguishable from the question of science). I know that one of the ideas of climate change policy is the idea that we should consume less and be a less capitalist society (which clearly fits into many leftist ideas). But surely another concern of left-wing people should be the perpetuation of the class system and the deepening of the divide between rich and poor. To me, it seems that anyone who is left-wing or progressive should also be concerned about potential effects of some suggested climate change policies on less privileged members of society, and that they should be concerned about the possibility of an elitist society if we institute the suggestions of commentators such as Clive Hamilton or George Monbiot. If we implement any policy, I believe we have to be really careful that it doesn’t create a more unequal society.

One of the audience members of the Insight program said her worry was that climate change science is being used by some to stifle development in poor countries so that they are kept “carbon neutral”. It’s a form of elitism, perhaps even an environmental neo-colonialism – “We know what’s best for you poor brown people, you have to stay in mud huts because it is a carbon neutral way of existence.” It buys into the whole myth of the “Noble Savage“. That’s not a fault of climate change scientists, as Professor Schneider pointed out in response.

Some sceptics are concerned about the way in which science is being used to push various political barrows in ways that might disadvantage those who are less economically secure or vulnerable. That is a progressive concern.

Climate change detracting from other environmental issues

There is also a perception that, if you’re a sceptic, then you must not care about the environment. This is false in many cases. There was a feeling among many of the environmentally-minded people in the audience that the focus on carbon emissions as the primary environmental “issue” of our time took the focus off other equally important issues which were perhaps more immediate, such as deforestation. In addition, the panicked nature of the debate was leading people into making unconsidered decisions which may actually be bad for the environment as a whole. I’ve written before on some downsides of the push for bio-fuel. If people are cutting down rainforests to plant bio-fuels, then you really have to question how environmentally effective this is. Yes, the IPCC says that climate change may radically affect the Amazon, but we shouldn’t destroy the very thing we are attempting to save in our attempts to mitigate climate change.

I strongly believe that we should be environmentally responsible, and that we should research and begin to rely on efficient alternative fuel sources. But in the process of this, we should not to ruin our economy, and not to send people who are less economically secure into the wall. It’s all very well for the likes of Gore and Monbiot to say “we” have to stop using aeroplanes and cars. When they say “we”, they mean the hoi polloi, not the intellectual elite. Of course, they still use aeroplanes and cars. I’m sure Al Gore has far more air miles than 500 of me.

What would it take to get me to be less sceptical?

There was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald a while back by Dr Simon Niemeyer, a political scientist who was seeking how to effectively communicate the message about climate change to the community. He said:

The solution is not to dazzle unbelievers with science, but to engage everybody in a mature debate that recognises uncertainty and the role of our values in determining our beliefs.

So the task now is to see if a more considered approach to debate is possible in the wider public sphere and to engage with people with different views rather than try to harangue them.

Certainly, having a scientist quote all these facts and figures didn’t change my position. I am a lay person, not a scientist. I can’t make any effective judgments about the science behind Professor Schneider’s figures and projections. I don’t have the scientific or the statistical capacity to judge the various accounts as to what is going to happen with our climate. I don’t know who is right or wrong about the ‘hockey stick graph‘. I accord all due respect to Professor Schneider for coming and talking to us, and respect him for treating us respectfully, but his facts and figures didn’t change my mind.

If I’m not a scientist, why am I a sceptic, then? Well, there are two reasons why I’m sceptical. First, I believe that a level of scepticism is essential to proper, rigorous scientific method, and thus people ought to maintain scepticism about any scientific hypotheses. Einstein himself said, ‘No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.’ A hypothesis is strengthened by the failure of ardent attempts to disprove it. And I don’t really see the kind of mentality in climate change which allows for someone to attempt to disprove them.

Further, the kinds of hypotheses involved in climate change science are not analogous to saying:  “My hypothesis is that if I add iron to copper sulfate solution, the copper will precipitate out.” One can make an observation as to the correctness or otherwise of the latter hypothesis instantly, just by adding some iron filings to copper sulfate solution. By contrast, the climate change predictions reach years into the future, and it’s certainly true that the predictions have substantially changed since the first IPCC report. There’s an immense amount of argument out there about whether the predictions since the fourth IPCC report have been met or not — it’s not just a matter of observing the precipitate — and the results are heavily contested.

I do worry about the heavy reliance on modelling which underlies the various predictions, because with a very complex system, it’s very difficult to model accurately. What if the model is wrong, but we end up changing our whole society based on it? Much is made of the fact that the models can be used to explain what has already happened in the past, but my understanding is that this doesn’t establish that the model is necessarily accurate with regard to the future. Similar modelling is often used in share trading, but it is not always correct in predicting what will happen. Joe Cambria made the following observation about trading models in a guest post here a while back:

Trading models were basically useless as they were essentially trend following in various degrees. They made money when the trend was in full swing, but they gave all the money away when there was no trend. …

Why then are we relying on models to predict climate change and adjust our way of life as a result? Are they more accurate than financial models in figuring the impact of GHGs in climate for a period of 100 years? The IPCC has handed out confidence levels of 90% as a result of models suggesting global temps will rise around  2 degrees over the next 100 years.

This is one reason why I am an agnostic.

Secondly, I get really worried when people say you can’t question something and that the science is ‘settled’. Just because there’s a broad consensus about something doesn’t mean that it’s right: sometimes the 1% of scientists who put forward an unpopular hypothesis with which 99% of scientists disagree happen to be right. Think of Alfred Wegener, whose theory of continental drift was rejected by most scientists at the time. Or think of Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, who were in a minority of those who believed peptic ulcers were caused by a bacterial infection, and who turned out to be right. If we didn’t allow people to question the status quo, we’d never make scientific progress.

In part, I worry that people who attempt to question the status quo with climate change won’t be published in refereed journals and won’t get grants for their research. I hate the way that it’s “Us” and “Them” on both sides of the debate.

Paradoxically, I’d be less sceptical about climate science if it were portrayed as less ‘certain’, and if I could be assured that people were able to question it more. I think there is a lack of civility on both sides of the whole debate which makes it difficult (and Professor Schneider certainly agreed with this).

In that regard, I saw that Sir Muir Russell’s investigation of the “Climategate” e-mails (a series of leaked e-mails between prominent climate scientists) has concluded that the “rigour and honesty” of the scientists concerned was not in doubt, but that there was a failure to display “the proper degree of openness”. Climate scientists complain about the conspiracy theorists in the sceptical camp, but unfortunately, a failure to be open breeds conspiracy theories. Look at the number of conspiracy theories about secret societies like the Masons.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I emphatically do not believe that climate change is being used by the UN impose a communist world government via climate change treaties (cf, for example, prominent sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton). Nonetheless, the lack of willingness to allow questioning and the “siege mentality” evident in the Climategate e-mails worried me. As far as I can see, if you are confident about your results, you should allow them to be questioned. You provide people with information when they ask you nicely, you allow competing reports to be taken into account. If you don’t want to do that, it suggests that you’re hiding something…even if you’re not!

Why such passion on this issue?

I’ve thought long and hard why people get so dogmatic on this issue. In my experience, it tends to generate “threads of doom” on blogs like few other issues (apart from Israel/Palestine or abortion). I find fervid “believers” of either extreme a little scary. When I first got interested in this topic, I visited a few blogs run by “climate change sceptics” and “climate change believers” and I was really freaked out. Basically, they just shouted at each other in a way that was not conducive to dialogue. I was scared to even contribute to either side.

I think people get so aggressive about the position they’ve taken on climate change because they have a desire to be consistent. In Influence at page 57, Robert Cialdini says:

A study done by a pair of Canadian psychologists uncovered something fascinating about people at the racetrack: Just after placing a bet, they are much more confident of their horse’s chances of winning than they are immediately before laying down that bet. Of course, nothing about the horse’s chances actually shifts; it’s the same horse, on the same track, in the same field; but in the minds of those bettors, its prospects improve significantly once that ticket is purchased. Although a bit puzzling at first glance, the reason for the dramatic change has to do do with a common weapon of social influence. Like the other weapons of influence, this one lies deep within us, directing our actions with quiet power. It is, quite simply, our nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.

Once people have bet on a particular horse, they become convinced that the horse will win (whether it be the “sceptic” horse or the “believer” horse). But the fact of the matter is that neither position is certain. I think that many people on both sides could do with standing back a little and taking it a bit less personally. (Update: It is this phenomenon that I am referencing with the T.S. Eliot quote at the start, and to me, the quote illustrates the problems of being too dogmatic whatever side one is on — one can cause unintended harm.)

Conclusion

There is a suggestion that after “Climategate”, members of the general public have become less trusting of the orthodoxy on climate change.

It may seem counter-intuitive that if you want to get people to trust your message, you have to allow people to try to shoot it down. Funnily enough, however, that’s the way the law works when parties present evidence. The witness gives an examination-in-chief, the opposing barrister attempts to shoot it down with a cross-examination, questioning that version of the facts at each juncture.

That should also be the way in which science works. Think of the famous Solvay conference, where Einstein challenged the hypotheses of Bohr. Einstein’s queries and thought experiments caused Bohr to refine his hypothesis and make it more accurate and subtle. Gradually, too, Einstein redefined his position in response to Bohr’s responses.

This is the kind of mentality which needs to be brought to the climate change debate: a mentality which allows civil debate, but which allows scientists to challenge the orthodox hypotheses. By the same token, we should not just angrily deny the hypotheses of climate change scientists — that is as bad as simply accepting them without question.

Further, ordinary people should not be criticised for being sceptical. If you are asking people to change the way in which they live fundamentally, in ways that could impact them greatly, you should not ask them to be unquestioning. There is a real arrogance on the part of the likes of Hamilton and Monbiot which makes me recoil from their agenda.

Update:

In discussions with SL, she has boiled down my position to the fact that I rate equality in society as more important than the environment. With characteristic insight, she’s pretty much hit the nail on the head. I think the environment is important, but I also want an egalitarian society where people are going to be treated equally. If, to battle climate change, we have to create a deeply unequal society, I’d prefer to try and mitigate the effects rather than to create an unequal society with a giant gulf between haves and have nots.

Update 2:

On LP, people are again mixing up SL and me. GRRR!

And what was I saying about the lack of civility in the debate on climate change? It started with Robert ending his piece:

I for one will continue to look more than a little askance at somebody who declares that they’re both a progressive and a cilmate skeptic.

I would NEVER look askance at someone for believing differently from me on climate change, whether they were certain it wasn’t occurring or whether they were certain it was.

Take a look at some of the comments:

  • There’s always a certain brutishness and coarseness to climate sceptics or agnostics, I think. Can anyone name one such person – with evidence – who has ever otherwise shown the slightest sense of inter species empathy or identification that does not involve forms of selfish bodily self-gratification.
  • the legaleagle article is disturbing in that it’s essentially poorly reasoned rubbishyet comes from someone who is no doubt educated and reasonably bright.
  • Deniers have a right to be ignorant, and they have a right to be ignored. If being labeled a denier makes you feel angry, marginalised, ridiculed, disliked etc, then feel free to educate yourself.
  • If they don’t accept that, then I often wonder what they accept, do they believe in electricity? Or gravity? What about radiation?
  • LE is not championing the cause of equality at all, she’s just another member of the white, educated, middle class evoking the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, as a way of justifying her own ignorant stance. It’s no more noble that those she decries in her post, in fact her view is considerable less noble because “trying to mitigate the effects” [of climate change] as she prefers, will leave many more people, much more vulnerable to the whims of the ‘elites’.
  • On the assumption that I’ll get no takers, I do find deniers more than intellectually lazy. They’re fraudsters willing to lie and present made up crap. I’m not sure why – various reasons including notoriety. And the victim card is pathetic, as well as intellectually lazy, but played so often by these peddlers of made up stuff. Creationists and Young Earthers play the same crud.

Basically the thread consists of lots of people slapping themselves on the back as to how they are not intellectually lazy or stupid, and bullying someone who has dared express an opinion that differs from their own. I expected better from LP, although Kim is trying her best to keep it civil.

They should all go read this post at wandering stars (via Cast-Iron Balcony).

Update 3:

A few other posts around the traps…mostly around the response to my post at LP.

Still Chaos: Another Little War in Ozblogistan.

Catallaxy: Climate Fascists.

Tim Blair: Solidarity Breached.

Hoyden’s: Ozblogistan spats: this time it’s climate change.

The Insight Episode is here. I just wish to say again that I was very appreciative of Professor Schneider’s courtesy and I’m glad I got a chance to tell him that. R.I.P.

Uncivil dialogue does not achieve anything. It doesn’t convince anyone and it just gets people’s backs up.

Update 4:

More debate at Deltoid.

40 Comments

  1. Sock Puppet of Satan
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    “Personally, while all that is being debated, I am all for looking at how we can mitigate the effects of rises in temperature, and researching alternative fuel sources”

    There’s no progress on researching alternate technologies.

    And mitigation is going to be more expensive and involve more societal change than reducing emissions. I can and have whipped up a conceptual design to capture CO2 from a power plant for sequestration using technology that’s been around since before World War I. Without a price on CO2 it won’t progress much beyond the conceptual design stage though.

    Deciding what the South-Western US’s water infrastructure looks like if the Sierra and Rocky snow-pack melts six weeks earlier each year is a bit more tricky, but it probably involves use of the phrase “Arizona is f**ked”.

  2. Steven Sullivan
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    And Skeptical Lawyer, to write “In this debate, you either win the empirical argument or we policy wonks will assign you to the outer darkness.”

    suggests that you don’t know what ’empirical’ means. Climate science isn’t divorced from observational data. Far from it. The scientists are the ones collecting the measurements of the physical world, doing the analyses of the data, building and testing models based on those data, and reporting those results. This is what scientists do.

    That the climate is changing globally towards warmer, and that humans are a significant contributor to the current warming, are very little in doubt among scientists, including so-called ‘skeptical’ ones, though you’d hardly know that from the despicable noise barrage thrown up on the Internets. The ‘debate’ is more rightly about what’s to be done about it, i.e., policy.

    As for writing people off, no one is saying that climate science shouldn’t try to communicate its findings to laymen. I’m guessing you’ve probably heard of those reports that the IPCC puts out every now and then — IIRC they do get s bit of news coverage — which in large part they exist to explain the science, and the predictions, to ‘policy wonks’.

    I’m saying that not every climate scientist should be expected to give a dazzling performance to a lay audience, every time he/she publishes a paper that sets the blogosphere buzzing.

    If climate scientists ‘lose’ because ‘you’ policy wonks fail (or simply refuse, for ideological reasons, or because you just don’t like their ‘attitude’) to understand or accept what they’re saying, *you’re* the one willing to ‘write them off’. Casting them into ‘outer darkness’? Really? That’s really intelligent behavior — like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    Good for ‘us’, then, that ‘you’ policy wonks aren’t the *only* policy wonks out there.

  3. Steven Sullivan
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    “Anyone that uses realclimate as some sort of authority on this subject can’t be serious, so this humor business you’re wanting is actually occurring in reverse. Realclimate is just a fright site. That’s all. It’s run by a bunch of dudes scaring the shit out of one another.”

    And that’s arrant bullshit.

  4. Steven Sullivan
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    JC sayeth:
    “You keep sending me to sites that are essentially advocacy ones and just simply alarmist. I only opened one of those idiotic links of yours and quickly clicked the return button to get the hell out of there.”

    Funny how you keep defining sites that don’t pass your purity tests as ”advocacy’ or ‘alarmist’. Through your lens, I bet Nature magazine is an ‘advocacy’ organ.

    Anyway, try this one if you dare. It’s hard core climate science.
    http://scienceofdoom.com/about/

  5. Michael Hauber
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Reading both sides of the debate certainly resonates with me. I have spent far more time reading on skeptic sites than AGW sites as I have always tended to believe AGW, but was unsure for a long time, and believe the best way to try and prove a theory is to try and disprove it.

    If you are still looking at reccommendations for reading material, then from the point of view of finding the best possible counter arguments, I would suggest:

    Stoat as someone who most people would consider very pro-AGW, but if he disagrees with something he will say so.

    Rank Exploits, basically believes that AGW is true, but the warming rate overestimated.

    Climate Audit – perhaps one of the smartest bloggers to criticise climate science, highly technical, very difficult to penetrate what is going on, and focused largely on issues of past temperature reconstructions, which I would argue are not relevant to the debate of whether Co2 will cause warming.

    WattsUpWithThat – I believe the most popular anti-AGW blog.

    Weather forums provide another alternate to looking into the AGW debate, and are the closest thing to neutral ground. I pretty much single handedly represent the pro AGW side at Weatherzone.com.au, and there used to be some smarter skeptics, but I either scared them off or convinced them. Netweather forums in UK has some reasonably smart people on both sides of the debate, and probably has some of the most thoughtful criticisms of AGW that I have seen, and some of the most polite debating that I have seen.

    Personally I am quite interested in further exploring the view that the science is accurate, but the dangers exagerated. I am convinced that consensus AGW is our best prediction on what is likely to happen. And the best way to convincingly prove that AGW is dangerous is to try and prove the that AGW is happening, but is not dangerous, and the only views I come across are those that have already said ‘well AGW is not happening, but even if it were happening Co2 is plant food and ice ages are bad….’

  6. Posted September 9, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    thanks for the article LE.

    I’ve only skimmed the comments but didn’t spot anything much along the lines of the connection b/w the science and politics of AGW and/or climate change (they are not the same thing, AGW is a subset of climate change). You can accept that humans are influencing the climate in important ways but not accept the need for the alarmist policy response of brute force reduction of CO2 beyond certain levels in a certain time frame. I think the scepticism ought to be directed at the linear model of science that assumes that strong scientific evidence of various types must be followed by policy decisions based on that evidence.

    Politics is a different domain to science and must take into account different factors such as the will of the people. I think the surveys show that most of the population agree that climate change is a real issue but also don’t agree that we ought to dramatically alter our standard of living in response. So, it would be better to take policy action such as ramping up R&D into energy alternatives that are a better fit with what people want at a policy level. This is just a thumbnail of a position that has been consistently articulated by Roger Pielke jnr on his blog and books.

  7. snide
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    One of the things I find totally unedifying about this debate is the way in which advocates for either side say that one should just read their stuff because the other side is biased, untrustworthy, unprofessional and has a vested financial interest in presenting a particular point of view.

    As a skeptic, you are free to evaluate the evidence, but if you are an interested amateur like me, when it comes to AGW the evidence very quickly becomes unintelligable. I simple do not have the skills in mathematics, chemistry, physics and statistics to be able to make an informed opinion.

    However, the IPCC report is the case for AGW, and you should at least read that.

  8. Posted September 9, 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    hi legal eagle,

    Firstly, thank you for putting your views so articulately.

    My own observation is that whilst some aspects of the science definitely aren’t settled, there is a significant risk that we are in deep trouble and that is why some of the ‘believers’ are truly scared for the inhabitants of this planet (and sometimes rush around like mad people.) If you truly thought that there was a real and present danger to your family, wouldn’t you do the same?

    The plane crashing scenario is used by some people to describe risk (eg if there was a plane that had a 50% chance of crashing, would you fly on it?) but I think this misses the point. This is not about personal risk: it’s about the whole planet, with all the species and ecosystems, including little ol’ us.

    I don’t think we’re made to be able to think about this kind of stuff – it’s too huge, but it’s what we’re potentially facing. Ironically, perhaps it would be easier if it was only a 1% chance that something bad would happen.

    You make a powerful point about equity, but I guess it’s all relative. A ‘battler’ in the outer suberbs of Sydney is like a king compared to most people in Bangladesh. It’s also interesting to me why we are supposedly the wealthiest we’ve ever been (in one of the wealthies nations) and yet there’s still so much poverty, inequity and struggle.

    I find it depressing that the government doesn’t seem to have the intelligence to formulate smart policies that may address equity and climate at the same time (like Hanson’s tax and dividend approach.)

    Anyway, personally, I hope you change your mind about the science because I think we need to bring everything we can to bear on this problem, and I think the only way we will really be able to solve it will be with a diversity of thinking.

  9. JC
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Steve C.

    Knock the you’re scared for the planet stuff as it’s just irrational bedwetting laughable nonsense. Grow a set and act a little more manly.

  10. Posted September 9, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    JC – grow up, idiot.

  11. JC
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Sorry LE.

  12. Posted September 9, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I think that Bill Kerr (#254) is spot on when he says ” I think the scepticism ought to be directed at the linear model of science that assumes that strong scientific evidence of various types must be followed by policy decisions based on that evidence.”

    This issue has been obscured by the debate about the science. Acceptance that there is scientific evidence of AGW does not entail the conclusion “we must therefore act to slash carbon emissions right now”.

    Tonight’s (Melbourne) Monthly Argument debate looks like being very relevant to this issue . There will be some speakers arguing that what we should or should not do about climate change does not flow directly from the science .

    Details of the debate can be found
    on the Monthly Argument website

    And it’s also worth reading what Sceptic Lawyer had to say about it a few days ago.

    Melbourne readers of this thread ought to come along!

  13. Posted September 9, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Well …. you could come along and gesticulate …..

    But seriously, it sounds as if you need a rest!

    Real pity you can’t make it though. Hope you feel better soon.

  14. Posted September 9, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    The plane crashing scenario is used by some people to describe risk (eg if there was a plane that had a 50% chance of crashing, would you fly on it?) but I think this misses the point. Th

    Wrong analogy. Death by a Thousand Cuts. There are a hundred and one more pressing environmental concerns that are directly relevant to human health now. For example, there is now very strong evidence that the so called diabetes epidemic is being driven in no small part by persistent organic pollutants. Yet I am probably the only person on this forum aware of that. Why? Because in these days everyone thinks about AGW as THE pressing environmental issue. It isn’t, not by a long shot. Even if AGW is a furphy we have irrevocably change the planet. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing but to argue as some do, that because “unintended consequences” we should not tinker, is to deny what human progress is about.

  15. kvd
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Probably directed at you LE more than most here, because I think your position remains closest to my own. I’m wondering if you have the time to watch this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7jvP7BqVi4

    through several times until you get the sense of it, and if it affects in any way your thinking?

    I guess JC will jump in (please spare me the “gets all his science from Youtube” just this once), but I am simply taking the base scientific data as “true”. Anyway, exits pursued by a bear, as they say…..

  16. JC
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Kvd

    Why do you assume I don’ believe there is AGW. I have said I find the science credible enough. It’s not my intention to dispute the science of AGW in the least, as I think it is a pretty big long term problem we need to deal with.

    However part company with the rest of the believing community

    1. In accusing others of being monsters that don’t believe in AGW or are like LE agnostic
    2. I think it’s a long term problem
    3. We don’t as yet really know the rate of change, as the science is not settled in that area by any long stretch.
    4. The way we arrange our affairs in how we deal with AGW while ensuring the long term GDP growth continues to point higher instead of lower as a result of attempts by trogs to de-industrialize of civilization.
    5. I believe disagreeable anti-growth, anti-development trogs seem to have taken over a large part of the debate.
    6. The current crop of the top echelons of this science and their hangers on need to be swept aside.

    Lastly I don’t fear change as I think we’re fully capable of dealing with this problem and convert over time to nuclear technology, which is really the only method that is open to us in allowing our industrial civilization to flourish.

    I also don’t like seeing people getting taken in by the snake-oilers selling junk technology like wind and solar and essentially stealing our treasure.

    If one truly believes in AGW the only way forward is ramping nuke tech both in implementation and R&D, as I believe the cost of nuclear power would fall below the cost of coal fired plants before too long making the switch a no brainer.

    I actually believe that AGW is a sign of humanity’s success rather than failure. It’s success in terms of more and more of us are living lives filled with the latest gadgets etc making our lives more comfortable instead of extreme poverty. The more that join us the merrier. We have no problem in dealing with AGW if we’re rich.

  17. kvd
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    JC agree with you re wind and solar, and the need to discuss nuclear. Don’t know about the upper echelons – sounds dramatic. I think I am becoming more urgently/actively pessimistic than I have been to date. Fear change? No, but way less confident than you express. Please accept my apologies for thinking/assuming you might immediately attack the data – which I repeat I am accepting as accurate with no independent proof of same.

  18. kvd
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Discuss nuclear should be start implementing nuclear. A typo not a change of opinion.

  19. rog
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Trust JC to claim victory by backing all sides;

    “I have said I find the science credible enough”

    and

    “The current crop of the top echelons of this science and their hangers on need to be swept aside.”

    and then

    “I actually believe that AGW is a sign of humanity’s success rather than failure….The more that join us the merrier. We have no problem in dealing with AGW if we’re rich.”

    It’s a “Trust me and we will all be winners” sort of game

  20. JC
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    LE;

    You’ve asked me to behave and I will, but you should ask Wodge the reisdent clown to either do the same or piss off because he seems to grudges from one site to another and only inflames discussions without adding anything.

  21. JC
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    KVD

    25% of the world’s energy production is nuclear. I really don’t know what needs to be discussed.

    As far as the top echelons go.. Take James Hansen for instance, He’s the first one that ought to be fired for suggesting senior executives at mining companies ought to be arrested and placed in jail for crimes against humanity. He’s also called people Nazis.

    That turd ought to have been fired long ago and Schneider was being might disingenuous with LE for suggesting he agreed with her about the level of abuse when he’s remained silent about remarks by people like James Hansen. Where are Schneider’s public utterances recorded telling Hansen he was behaving and acting like a prick?

    There’s nothing to be pessimistic about, KVD the world is a great place and we can deal with these issues without the need for these huge attempts at playing god.

    As for picking winners there are no winners to pick other than nuclear power at the moment if you want emission free energy.

  22. PAUL WALTER
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Its been a good thread.
    LE, hope your nasty bug leaves you alone directly and you get to write many more thread starters.

  23. JC
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Trust JC to claim victory by backing all sides;

    Victory? Where have claimed any sort of victory, Wodge, you unrequited little clown?

    Point to any comment I’ve made, you intellectual handicap. As for backing all sides….

    “I have said I find the science credible enough”
    and
    “The current crop of the top echelons of this science and their hangers on need to be swept aside.”
    and then
    “I actually believe that AGW is a sign of humanity’s success rather than failure….The more that join us the merrier. We have no problem in dealing with AGW if we’re rich.”

    Only a mediocre toolie like you, Wodge with intellectual pretensions would find a problem with those comments suggesting they’re would cancel each other out. You’re even stupider than I ever thought you were, which takes some doing because you really are dumb.

    It’s a “Trust me and we will all be winners” sort of game

    Umm.. Which has been a pretty good game plan for the past 250 years. But if you have something better to offer that can lift livings standards faster/better, then present those facts, Wodge because somehow I don’t quite see you as the character in the movie about the genius janitor meeting Einstein’s niece. Some how you don’t strike me as being anything like that character, Wodgie.

  24. JC
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    oops I got in before your last comment. you can delete if you wish.

    Sorry to here you feel so unwell.

  25. Posted September 9, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Right. {rubs hands together} I have gratuitous Monty Python youtubes and I’m not afraid to use them!

    Until then, there’s this

  26. snide
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Permalink


    JC, I was just about to ask Rog to behave himself. You have long stated your views, and you’re as entitled to them as Rog is to his

    Everyone is entitled to their own views, no one is entitled to their own facts. 😉

    Snide, yes, I have read the IPCC report online.

    I don’t know which person you were on the show, but IIRC, the report already covered every objection raised. Except the lunatic conspiracy theories, and other wackiness.

  27. Posted September 9, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    As far as the top echelons go.. Take James Hansen for instance, He’s the first one that ought to be fired for suggesting senior executives at mining companies ought to be arrested and placed in jail for crimes against humanity. He’s also called people Nazis.

    The claim that someone called his opponents Nazis is toxic in any debate. I’ve never heard of Hansen doing so.

    In the meantime, SL, here is the material I know of that may have been twisted in the above way.

    23 June 2008, testifying before Congress http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/TwentyYearsLater_20080623.pdf and coverage at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jun/23/climatechange.carbonemissions

    Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming.

    CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.

    In an interview on 2 December 2009 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/02/copenhagen-climate-change-james-hansen

    In Hansen’s view, dealing with climate change allows no room for the compromises that rule the world of elected politics. “This is analagous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill,” he said. “On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can’t say let’s reduce slavery, let’s find a compromise and reduce it 50% or reduce it 40%.”

    He added: “We don’t have a leader who is able to grasp it and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual.”

    Pertinent to the above charge is also Hansen’s “death train” reference http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2007/IowaCoal_20071105.pdf

    Coal will determine whether we continue to increase climate change or slow the human impact. Increased fossil fuel CO2 in the air today, compared to the pre-industrial atmosphere, is due 50% to coal, 35% to oil and 15% to gas. As oil resources peak, coal will determine future CO2 levels. Recently, after giving a high school commencement talk in my hometown, Denison, Iowa, I drove from Denison to Dunlap, where my parents are buried. For most of 20 miles there were trains parked, engine to caboose, half of the cars being filled with coal. If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains – no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.

    So, how many of the exterminated species should be blamed on the 297,000,000 tons of CO2 that will be produced in 50 years by the proposed Sutherland Generating Station Unit 4 power plant? If the United States and the rest of the world continue with “business-as-usual” increases in CO2 emissions, a large fraction of the millions of species on Earth will be lost and it will be fair to assign a handful of those to Sutherland Generating Station Unit 4, even though we cannot assign responsibility for specific species.

    While I find Hansen’s extreme imagry unhelpful in the debate, I think it’s important to note the context, where he calls for the trial of CEOs for their role in spreading disinformation and that he recalls Nazism not to call the opponents Nazis but to characterise AGW as an issue where you just can’t compromise.

    I don’t care if anyone wants to condemn Hansen for any of the above, but if anyone wants to condemn him, then he/she should do so for what Hansen actually says.

  28. JC
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Snide:

    Pertaining to your comment regarding my response to rog, which “facts” are you alluding to that I may have got wrong.

    Are you perhaps referring to the whoring from the altmerative energy schelps and their good little germans in the enviromental industry helping them propagandize their lying?

  29. Posted September 9, 2010 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    he calls for the trial of CEOs for their role in spreading disinformation and that he recalls Nazism not to call the opponents Nazis but to characterise AGW as an issue where you just can’t compromise.

    The behavior of these corporations is not unusual, it is increasingly the status quo…

    The Haunting of Medical Journals: How Ghostwriting Sold “HRT”

    Dozens of ghostwritten reviews and commentaries published in medical journals and supplements were used to promote unproven benefits and downplay harms of menopausal hormone therapy (HT), and to cast raloxifene and other competing therapies in a negative light.

    http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000335

  30. JC
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    Blue

    While I find Hansen’s extreme imagry unhelpful in the debate, I think it’s important to note the context, where he calls for the trial of CEOs for their role in spreading disinformation and that he recalls Nazism not to call the opponents Nazis but to characterise AGW as an issue where you just can’t compromise.
    LOl
    ‘sactly. I’m sure Himler felt the same way about Jews. We just can’t compromise of ridding ourselves of the dastardly Jews fellas, he must have said.

    So now spreading disinformation or rather defending your own position is considered a capital crime is it? Remind yourself that every time you flick on a switch Hansen could be after you next.

    I don’t care if anyone wants to condemn Hansen for any of the above, but if anyone wants to condemn him, then he/she should do so for what Hansen actually says.

    ‘sactly, which is why I think he ought to be fired, as he adds nothing but venom. And so much for government paid scientists being just casual observers of the political process.

    Oh please spare me. He’s said exactly what I’ve say he’s said about people who supply the energy you need to flick the switch on every time it gets dark. The “big polluters’ are you and me and everyone else that turns on the lights or uses appliances. Divorcing this from reality is cognitive dissonance.

  31. Steven Sullivan
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    JC bbeing a bit losoe with the facts again:
    “As far as the top echelons go.. Take James Hansen for instance, He’s the first one that ought to be fired for suggesting senior executives at mining companies ought to be arrested and placed in jail for crimes against humanity. He’s also called people Nazis.”

    execs at mining companies ought to be arrested? There’s a few important qualifiers there you left out. Here’s what Hansen actually said (in 2008):

    “CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”

    So, it’s people at the very top whom he believes are purposely spreading disinformation — not ‘mining executives’ generally — who he considers criminals.

    If *you* thought someone was willfully spreading dangerous lies, wouldn’t *you* call for them to be prosecuted? Isn’t that what Mr. Cucinelli is doing in VA — with far, far more clout to actually do it, than Hansen ever had? Isn’t that what the denialists have demanded be done to Jones, Pachauri?

    It really comes down to whether the accusations are *true*, doesn’t it?

    Re: ‘called people Nazis’. No, Hansen called no one a Nazi. He compared global warming as an *issue* to Nazism and slavery as *issues* — existential and moral issues — in terms of the response it calls for:

    “This [climate change] is analogous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill,” he said. “On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can’t say let’s reduce slavery, let’s find a compromise and reduce it 50% or reduce it 40%.””

  32. Steven Sullivan
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    Wow, JC, do you even realize what you just did there?

    You slammed Hansen for supposedly calling people Nazis. After it was explained to you that you’re wrong, you slammed Hansen for daring to compare AGW to Nazism (and slavery) in requiring a no-compromise response. The way you did that was to…compare Hansen to the famously genocidal Nazi Heinrich Himmler.

    *Incredible* lack of self-awareness there. Who is calling who a Nazi now?

  33. Posted September 10, 2010 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Godwin’s

  34. Posted September 10, 2010 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Gah… it’s not my thread to close, but now it’s hit Godwin we may have to. When LE surfaces she can make a final judgment call.

    Still, 280+ comments BG (before Godwin) is pretty good.

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