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.

49 Comments

  1. Miss Candy
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    SL, I like your arguments on injunctions. I think our approach to the issue is similar, although I have nowhere near the sophisticated grasp of equity that you clearly do.

    However, I don’t believe I contradicted myself – I was applying legal principles, but criticising legal practices as models for pursuing any debate in this area (ie adversarialism).

    LE I find your point about polarisation interesting. I see some polarity in the climate change activists that I hang around with in order to work in the area, I do. But in the general population I see very nuanced consideration of the issues, and no such polarisation. In fact, thoughts on the issue are characterised by doubt and uncertainty, as well as real (and I believe sell-founded) fear of the potential consequences of climate change.

    I maintain my support for Julia Gillard’s approach to climate change for this very reason. It diverts the polarisation and looks for an evidence-based, bipartisan middle ground. If climate change is a real threat, this approach might be the best chance we’ve got of democratising the issue without polarising it. That’s why I think Abbott’s “what is the parliament for?” point was easy to make but wrong. If he had acted in a consensus-building way on the issue he might have had a leg to stand on.

    On haste: there’s a difference between acting hastily and responding urgently.

    [email protected] – that’s far too simplistic an argument for somebody who is apparently intelligent. The issue isn’t warm/cool. The issue is rapid and chaotic change that the earth and its inhabitants simply cannot keep up with. If the issue was warming I’d move to Tassie and be done with it.

  2. Posted September 7, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Financial models suffer the same problems as meteorolgical models or climate models.

    Yeah there was a post that said the same thing on this blog.

    It’s interesting how you get a mind that can raise their eyes to heaven at computer generated climate forecasts but have complete confidence in the same technology for the same sort of unpredictable chaos and vice versa.

  3. Roger Jones
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    LE, Yours is an honest post of enquiry, so I’m sorry it hasn’t been accepted by all in that light.
    I’m a climate scientist working on the relationship between science and risk and how that relates to policy. Will be watching Insight tonight, though with Steve Schneider’s death so recent, it won’t be a comfortable experience.
    You state that you’re agnostic as to the science but concerned about the risks of climate policy on the poor. Climate policy as communicated by the media is very skewed – there is actually a rich dynamic globally between poverty, development and climate change. It isn’t that well understood or communicated in the public debate on climate policy in the western media. It’s reduced to a pro-anti dialectic reported pretty much like the last election, with the medja reporting the sallies from warriors on either side. Climate change has been overwhelmingly communicated as an environmental risk with mitigation policy requiring binding international commitments to avoid dangerous climate change. Neither the risk nor the policy have to be looked at in that way.
    The following is based on some of my own work and I’m interested as to whether people from a range of viewpoints see it as helpful or not.
    When risks are complex, the science-risk interface can be divided into three parts instead of a linear process that goes from science to risk analysis to risk management. When the values around framing the risk are contested, one of the first steps is to attack or defend the science contributing to that risk depending on one’s viewpoint. This is neither useful or helpful.
    The first part is the science, which is supposed to be value neutral (but it is neither perceived or practised as such, however does have claims to objectivity). When science is communicated – salience, legitimacy and authority all have an impact on how it is received.
    The second part asks what is at risk? Risk analysis assesses the likelihood of reaching a given level of harm. For climate change this is often assessed at different levels of warming: 1°C, 2°C, 3°C and so on. The environmental risks are most well known but the social risks point to the poor being hardest hit. The links between environment and development have become central to assessment and policy. There was a chapter devoted to it in the last IPCC report and it will be more strongly represented next time.
    The third part looks at policy measures – both mitigation and adaptation. Your primary concern is that if climate policy is developed to mitigate climate change as an environmental problem, it will be socially regressive. This issue is written into the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and was the less obvious part of the Kyoto Protocol. Globally, we have an adaptation fund and a least developed countries fund – international transfer of funds to better run these programs was agreed to at Copenhagen. What failed were the binding target commitments for developing countries insisted on by the developed countries. About half of what was needed to avoid committing Earth to a roughly 50/50 chance of avoiding 2°C warming was agreed to. My view is that a learning by doing approach with binding targets for developed countries and voluntary targets for developing countries is sufficient. Working out what is progressive and what is regressive before developing blanket policy seems like a good idea. According to the planning literature, this is also a better way to do complex policy than top-down command and control.
    In Australia, as a developed country, we have to make sure that policy isn’t socially regressive while being effective. The CPRS, as complex and badly communicated as it was did have compensation for low and middle income households, where small price rises can have a serious marginal effect. Government propaganda here: http://www.climatechange.gov.au/government/initiatives/cprs/who-affected/households.aspx By all means, be sceptical, because I think that climate policy is so complex, that it needs to be rigorously tested. A tax, rather than a market mechanism, with appropriate compensation would probably give less chance of unintended consequences.
    As to the science-calculated risk and science-perceived risk relationship this, to me, is central to your enquiry (and an area that I personally feel is really interesting).
    You ask why part of the left has taken specific policies on uncritically. One reason might be that the socially constructed and “scientifically rational” pathways combine. The science says climate change causes these risks, we value the systems at risk very highly so will agree to policy that removes that risk. Scientists also like rational policy because that’s the way they think. The policy literature and experience say that doesn’t work, rationality is not a good test for assessing what “good” policy is.
    On the other hand, there are a whole lot of people who fear loss from climate policy. Rationally, it shouldn’t make any difference to the science, which is policy neutral, but does make a difference to how the science is perceived. Part of the perceived risk from climate policy is because it is unfamiliar, and unfamiliar risks are rated much more highly than familiar risks. This is one reason why learning by doing – taking small steps (hastening slowly) – might be better than looking for one-shot binding targets. The fear from the pro-climate lobby is that this will be insufficient in the long run, but change can potentially be very swift.
    On the other hand, science is being attacked by those who wish to negate the risk. A few right wing libertarians have come out and accepted the science publicly. The responses are ferocious and after reading those responses a dousing in antiseptic is in order. Puts LP in the shade. The left though tends to accept science (e.g., genetic manipulation, nuclear, though not so much some medical science) and debate the risk. Elements of the right in recent years are directly attacking well-founded science (e.g., evolution, climate change) to negate the risk.
    For this reason, I think it’s good to separate scepticism of science and scepticism of policy because one is more about evidence and the other more about values. However, overwhelmingly people tend not to do this. You mention Pearson’s 2×2 matrix – you may be interested in some work on cultural theory and risk in the US that examines scientific beliefs within a similar framework and can be found here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract-id=1017189
    I’m happy to discuss scepticism, risk, science and policy further and can be tracked down at Vic Uni. My interest is in how people frame the debate so your post gave food for thought. Didn’t participate in the LP thread (which is where I found it) because of the direction that discussion took.

  4. Posted September 7, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    This really has been one of the best threads on climate change that I have read. (I particularly liked Roger Jones’ contribution.)

  5. Roger Jones
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    LE, I don’t think tribalism can ever be overcome entirely but mainatining a spirit of open enqiury can be difficult sometimes.

    As an insider, I can give the background to some of what was said in climate so-called Climategate emails – it’s not as bad as it might seem. The keeping papers out of the IPCC reference was to an error-riddled paper published in Climate Research that should never has passed review. It was published due to bias in the editorial process and the Editor-in-Chief and four Associate Editors resigned as a result. Poor papers tend not to be assesed by the IPCC in any case – there just isn’t room to assess literature that’s not relevant. The “trick” referred to was a legitimate “clever” thing to do – not a deception. I don’t think the hockey-stick stuff is all that important scientifically in any case – it has become a bete noir for a group who want to discount late 20th century warming as anything exceptional. The supposed non-release of climate data was because some of it was being used under licence, so McIntyre was instructed to gather it from countries of origin, where the licences originated. He didn’t accept that and began to send FOI requests to the Climate Reseach Unit (CRU) which they were ill-equipped to deal with. By mid 2009, he had a request on his blog for people to send FOI requests to CRU for data from five countries each selected at random. This amounts to a denial of service attack. CRU has always passed data on to what they called “bona fide researchers” – this is now changing to a more open process. McIntyre had also asked Keith Briffa for tree ring data he already held, which had been collected by a third party. The CRU people had never struck this kind of behaviour before – it was taking them away from their everyday research, they’d been doing this on a shoe-string for years and what you see in the emails is frustration at that.

    So you have a community with a high degree of connectedness that passed on data with three levels of security – open source data, proprietary data owned by countries held under licence, and data collected by individuals where that was not passed onto third parties without contacting the originator. Into this you have a guy who is very brusque, demands things so he can check them, but isn’t doing any research – he’s just looking for errors. The emails are some of the fallout from this.

    The reason the science did not need to be checked in the enquiries into Climategate is because there are similar data sets developed independently that yield similar results. I have confidence those results because in the 1990s I analysed historical data in southern Australia so am familar with the techniques. There are now one or two amateur efforts up to reproduce the data – they are also confirming the global temp record as reproducible. Technical protocols are developed by the World Met Organisation on an ongoing basis. If it was dubious, it would have been picked up on a long time ago. So the process and the results are two different things.

    There’s no doubt the campaign to discredit climate science, helped by several errors and perceptions around the stolen emails dented the science.

    It was really poorly handled by the science community who were unprepared for that type of campaign. This includes the IPCC, which is pretty quiet between reports. A recent review has recommended changes to better allow for mistakes made, to improve responsiveness to new issues and mprove communication.

    The emails said some stupid things, which Phil Jones apologised for but there was no organised campaign of deception – it was frustration at being kept away from their work. The University of East Anglia was criticised for not giving them more support under the EoI process.

    The lesson for scientists is to keep both their public and private communication respectful. People do get tribal on occasion but I didn’t think it affected the science in this case. Climate science is actually one of the most open areas of scientific enquiry because of it’s international focus (ecology is another).

    According to recent polls about the issue in the US, trust in science dropped by about 15% after the release of the CRU emails, the Himalayan glacier melt error and Copenhagen, but has since recovered (as of June this year). Even in the US, public opinion is sitting at about 75% confidence in the science – it seems that many people trust the science even if they don’t always agree with its conclusions.

  6. Posted September 7, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Roger – Can I just ask how in general this shitfight has effected your work?

  7. Posted September 7, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Can I third LE and Lorenzo on Roger’s contribution? The first comment (which shows, among other things, a deep awareness of the ‘planning fallacy’ that Hayek spent his life researching) is a reminder that (a) public policy is hard and (b) even so, it is still possible to do it properly. I especially like this:

    You ask why part of the left has taken specific policies on uncritically. One reason might be that the socially constructed and “scientifically rational” pathways combine. The science says climate change causes these risks, we value the systems at risk very highly so will agree to policy that removes that risk. Scientists also like rational policy because that’s the way they think. The policy literature and experience say that doesn’t work, rationality is not a good test for assessing what “good” policy is.

  8. Posted September 7, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Yeah for enthusiasts of things organic the Greens have a lot of trouble with organic concepts of economics.

  9. Marco
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Allow me to correct one point of Roger Jones: Phil Jones referred to two papers he ‘wanted to keep out’. One of those two, in Climate Research, was indeed riddled with errors. However, it was not that paper that caused so many Editors to step out (but it was the same Associate Editor who handled that infamous paper…). In case anyone is interested: Phil Jones referred to Michaels&McKitrick, while Roger refers to Soon&Baliunas.

  10. Posted September 7, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    LE, You are looking for reasons, why “believers” (I find that term offensive, as it implies to accept something without looking into the hard evidence) are often hostile in the debate.

    Let me give you a few examples.

    Lord Monckton is a prominent skeptic, giving highly publicized speeches (lauded by the skeptics-in-name-only ) on the subject of climate change. Yet there is that devastating take-down of his presentation by Professor Abraham, where he does not berate Monckton, but simply demonstrates where and why Monckton gets things wrong.

    http://www.stthomas.edu/engineering/jpabraham/

    None of that seems to phase skeptics-in-name-only. Or more simply, have a look here on how Monckton misrepresents what the IPCC actually says in order to make his point. Compare his depiction of an IPCC scenario to what the scenario actually is.

    http://bluegrue.wordpress.com/2010/08/14/ipcc-a2-co2-scenario-a-la-monckton/
    This is the elite of the skeptics.

    Or let’s see Professor Ian Plimer, I’m to understand that he as well gave a tour and published a book on the subject.

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/05/ian_plimer_lies_about_source_o.php

    see also my comment #25 over there. Like my example for Monckton, this isn’t even at the level of science, it’s simply incompetence or deliberate distortion of data. Your run-of-the-mill-skeptic-in-name-only will ignore this and point to all the other points Plimer is raising in a Gish gallop.

    This is why the debate is so toxic. Instead of talking about whether we want to tackle the problem of leave it be, and if we want to tackle it how, anti-science is spread accompanied with a liberal serving of character attacks on leading scientists in the field.

    My position is pretty harsh: If you want to “debate” the science, you need to educate yourself to a level that you are able to actually debate the science. Otherwise all you can do is talk about science as it is presented to you. The actual science debates are done in the presentations and small group discussion at scientific conferences, visits to institutions, published papers and e-mails. If you want to take part in those, pay the price and take the years it takes to get the necessary level of education and work in that field.

    And before you ask, I’m squarely in the “talk about” camp. I consider myself not qualified to debate climate science, despite being a physicist. I can spot a lot of nonsense that skeptics-in-name-only throw at me, but I am not at a level of understanding, where I could contribute to the advancement of climate science.

    @Martin,
    you raise very good and valid points.

  11. Posted September 7, 2010 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    This issue is very often discussed in blogs worldwide. There are many people (mostly ordinary people) who want to react on climate changes. Everyone can see that there are millions people who were personally affected by some sudden weather changes and they suffer more than if they had to pay more for bills of electricity or fuel…
    Everything that is made by human can harm nature but we can not stop the evolution. So what to do now? We can hardly predict what can mitigate the human’s impact on nature. But we should definitely try to start to do small steps (to separate the waste) and loudly call on politicians to take higher responsibility for their decisions about our (and our children) future…

  12. JC
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Oh Please Roger, stop it with the nothing to see here folks routine as we travel past a train wreck.

    1. The climate emails fiasco showed total perversion of the peer review process to the point where anything coming from that side of science these days can’t be trusted.

    2. The refusal to comply with freedom of information requests is a serious breach.

    3. The IPCC allowed NGO’s to put their bit in, such as the end of the Himalaya ice disappearing in 20 years coming from an environmental magazine

    4. The head of the IPCC, the soft porn author, is a total and complete fraud.

    Stop it the freaking excuses. If you think there’s nothing wrong you need to get some fresh air.

    I think there’s a problem with too much smoke billowing and eventually causing us long-term problems. However unlike you I don’t make excuses for cheats and frauds that either needs to be fired sent to jail or tarred and feathered in other ways.

  13. JC
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    McIntyre had also asked Keith Briffa for tree ring data he already held, which had been collected by a third party. The CRU people had never struck this kind of behaviour before – it was taking them away from their everyday research, they’d been doing this on a shoe-string for years and what you see in the emails is frustration at that.

    Oh please. they could easily have placed ALL their data, not just selectively on a website with all the background information such as codes readily accessible.

  14. JC
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    On the other hand, science is being attacked by those who wish to negate the risk.

    That’s not true. There are people that accept the science and don’t accept the solutions. There are also other that accept the science but dispute the level of seriousness which is also where the tire meets the road in the scientific community and you neglected to mention that. The rate of change is nowhere near established.

    A few right wing libertarians have come out and accepted the science publicly. The responses are ferocious and after reading those responses a dousing in antiseptic is in order. Puts LP in the shade.

    Like who? Name them. Reason the Libertarian journal par excellence had it science writer come out and argue that he believed the science of climate change and I can’t recall ANY ferocious beat up against him.

    The left though tends to accept science (e.g., genetic manipulation, nuclear, though not so much some medical science) and debate the risk.

    Please. The left has had a grubby history relating to science going back the the era of the modern left which was the French Revolution. It’s understanding how best we understand how we organize our selves has been shall we say less than stellar. Perhaps you can explain the anti-science displays about Nuclear energy and that the Greens are actually trying to prevent the use of nuclear medicine in this country. What a grubby argument you’re putting up. Remind me from which end of the political spectrum did Lysenko science appear from?

    Most important science is done in private firms too. Iphones, Ipad to give the most recent examples. Or how about the catalectic converter or fuel injection?

    Elements of the right in recent years are directly attacking well-founded science (e.g., evolution, climate change) to negate the risk.

    Okay, name the prominent right wing leader in the world that believes in a 6,000 year earth? This is just made up bullshit from the left. Jews don’t believe in evolution and yet the hold the most Nobels of any group in the world.

    Believing in a 6,000-year earth doesn’t stop you from doing your job if you worked in an engineering firm for instance.

    This is just leftwing jive made to sound reasonable.

    Here’s one for you. The prime concern we have as human beings is human well being.

    Sterns report said we need to lop off around 1% of annual global GDP for AGW if it’s unmolested out to 2100.

    If we take annual global GDP is around real $65 trillion and the expected growth rate this century could be as high as 4% we would end up with an unmolested GDP of 2,217 trillion in 90 years.

    If we take Stern’s advice that 1% difference over oceans of time is really big. In fact it’s huge. It will mean that instead of seeing that sort of growth in GDP we’d see $900 trillion. That’s a huge lick to give up.

    Richard Tol has done great work in the area and he’s only a little less negative than I am.

    My point is that there actually another option which is to do nothing and watch even if you believe it is happening or at least mitigate at a very low cost in order to ensure the growth rate compounds at a higher rate. That means nuclear energy. Period.

  15. JC
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    I want to clarify and add a little to the lat part.

    Stern suggested that if we didn’t act on climate change we’d see Global GDP 5% less than if there was no warming.

    And he advocated 1% cost of annual GDP to be used to mitigate.

    So lets do the numbers again.

    Unmolested GDP in 2100 with AGW would be US$2,217 Trillion less 5% and would = US$2106 trillion.

    If we take Sterns advice GDP molested for AGW would be $US 929 trillion.

    So the real cost of mitigation would be higher than the cost of not acting by US$1,177 trillion.

    So where’s the case for mitigation rather than waiting?

  16. Posted September 8, 2010 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    Where are you getting this $50/month figure? I don’t know about Australia, but the proposed climate legislation in the USA (including a carbon cap and trade system) would have cost about $3 per person per month, according to every independent economic analysis (CBO, EIA, EPA, Peterson Institute).

  17. Posted September 8, 2010 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    My position is pretty harsh: If you want to “debate” the science, you need to educate yourself to a level that you are able to actually debate the science. Otherwise all you can do is talk about science as it is presented to you. The actual science debates are done in the presentations and small group discussion at scientific conferences, visits to institutions, published papers and e-mails. If you want to take part in those, pay the price and take the years it takes to get the necessary level of education and work in that field.

    My position is that science and policy must be kept distinct, and that scientists need to understand that what works in science may not work in public policy, which is Roger’s point above (I’ve quoted the relevant par in my last comment). I am a policy wonk with some influence in a UK political party; anyone presenting with bluegrue’s attitude will be shown the door, even if he is right, for the simple reason that political parties, governments, civil servants and lawyers have to value many different constituencies. Robert Merkel’s cavalier attitude to feminism (above), for example, is a serious black mark against his advocacy for climate change mitigation, not because the two issues are intimately linked (they probably aren’t, although that said, much of the modern success of women is dependent on industrialisation and labour-saving devices) but because it evinces an inability to appreciate that governments govern for all of us; if they don’t, they are voted out.

    Disrespecting, deriding or dening the legitimate concerns of your constituents leads to political irrelevance quick smart. I sometimes get the impression that some people in this debate would enjoy a return to the 18th century, where only certain people could vote.

    They’d restrict the franchise to a different class of voters, but the effect would be the same.

    And another thing: Once again I’ve had to let a large number of people out of the spammer, which risks reducing the thread to incoherence. We are doing the best we can, but even allowing for the fact that we straddle different time zones, we still miss people sometimes.

    And thank goodness it’s the vac.

  18. PAUL WALTER
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    I know this thread has been banging on for a while.

    Coming back I find a rather interesting idea from scepticalawyer proposing that science and policy are kept separate. I would have thought science informs policy, and if not, why not? Gunns old growth logging and its proposed pulp mill are an example of what I’m getting at- if the science and policy are not compatible, the science goes?

  19. Posted September 8, 2010 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    anyone presenting with bluegrue’s attitude will be shown the door, even if he is right, for the simple reason that political parties, governments, civil servants and lawyers have to value many different constituencies

    Guilty as charged. I hope I would keep myself at bay in a setting like that. LE wanted to know, why people on the AGW side react so fiercly and I wanted to give a clear answer. I fully agree, that the science and the policy ought to be kept separate.

    I’d like to highlight another part of Roger Jones excellent comments and ask for advise:

    When the values around framing the risk are contested, one of the first steps is to attack or defend the science contributing to that risk depending on one’s viewpoint. This is neither useful or helpful.

    Now, the science of current climate change, as well as the attribution to mankind, is being attacked, rather than the proposed policies. For the sake of the argument, assume that everything Roger said about the attacks is true, that the findings of the IPCC are correct, that the people attacking the science either don’t know better or are being mislead and that a vocal, influential minority is deliberately distorting the science. Assume that we need to stop CO2 emission from fossil fuels to limit both the warming/change of the climate and the pH-change of the oceans; and fast. What would a successful policy look like? I know I’m asking miracles, but pointers are welcome.

  20. PAUL WALTER
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    The other thing that touched me was the concern for the poor, should climate mitigation or other forms of environmental salvage be implemented. Some might have taken this as some form of subtle arm twisting, but I am confident this was not the meaning of such commentary. My solution, less middle class and corporate welfare and if that doesn’t work, up tax compliance for the rich.

    They don’t really need exotic sports cars and flash mansions for mere survival. Am on a db pension and if I can manage on that, surely a cake walk for the wealthy who are so much brighter than I. Not that the wealthy would need reminding that to pay their dues might help alleviate ecological degradation and ease global poverty both, since its the poor, apparently, who will be stung for cleanup costs.

    We know rich people on the whole would rather die than have the poor suffer for them, for their sins. And the rest of us would really love our planet (it is our world, also) back, since we live here, too.
    ok, ok.

    Above means you (both) will resent me, which is a shame, since you seem like civilised, intelligent people apart from the article, which I’d prefer to regard as something from the”rush of blood” category. Like yourselves, I had to pluck up courage to write this, knowing how unpopular science and ecology are in some quarters.

    It’s your kids that will grow up in the world of the future, not mine..

  21. Steven Sullivan
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    JC wrote:
    “Jews don’t believe in evolution.”

    Hah. *Which* Jews don’t ‘believe in’ evolution? Ultra-Orthodox? Orthodox? Conservative? Reform? The Jews on this rather incomplete list?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Jewish_American_biologists_and_physicians

    Please specify. It’s ignorant of you to lump them all together. Would you write that Christians don’t ‘believe in’ evolution because *some* fundamental sects reject it?

    As for right-wing leaders who are *young earth creationists* — I see what you’re doing there — YEC is just one, the certainly most ignorant, species of evolution ‘skepticism’. And you vaguely demand we come up with a ‘right-wing leader’. By what definition? Would the President of Iran count? Or do you mean only American politicians?

    If the latter, does it count if a right-nik refuses to say how old they think the earth is, while speaking to an audience of YECs? Or is that just ‘good politics’?

    http://barefootandprogressive.blogspot.com/2010/06/rand-paul-refuses-to-say-how-old-earth.html

    How about right-wing presidential hopefuls supporting the teaching of creationism in public schools alongside reality-based science, does that count?

    http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/32848_Ask_Bobby_Jindal_About_His_Creationism

    http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/32863_The_Top_3_GOP_Governors-_All_Creationists

  22. snide
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    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.

    For a lawyer, I would have hoped for a more logical argument. You readily admit you do not understand the science, and cannot, but then reserve the right to be sceptical. If you are going to be sceptical, you have to do the hard yards and evaluate the evidence. If you are honest with yourself, you should admit to wanting to be sceptical, but not capapble of it. Since you are not really being sceptical, you should adopt the rational position of deferring to the experts.

    As a comic on radio once said, if you want some entertainment, go and watch someone represent themselves in court.

  23. Posted September 8, 2010 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Most “skeptics” agree with the science. I do not count people who do not so much as bother to read the literature as being skeptical.

    True skeptics who do the sort of intellectual heavy lifting needed to defend a contrarian position are free to publish it in journals. That is the way science is done. Not by vulgar “debate”.

    Your article would seem to imply that the journals are closed. Nonsense. There’s no evidence of that at all. It appears instead that the contrarians have no argument–save to Make Stuff Up and through lies and cute-sounding fallacies (which a scientifically literate person could only argue if being deliberately deceitful) convince people incapable of judging science that the people who actually do have scientifically sound positions are wrong.

  24. Steven Sullivan
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    So is it more import to ‘look like’ an expert in front of highly inexpert questioners, or to actually *be* one?

    Not all scientists are good a public speaking or writing for nonscientists. Scientific expertise is acknowledged based on their research success. Nor btw are great communicators of science necessarily the ones who do the best research. The combination is pretty rare, actually. And not just in science, of course. Do you think Immanuel Kant was as good at working an audience as Richard Feynman?

  25. Steven Sullivan
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Some scientific debates are ‘closed’ because the evidence on one side is simply too overwhelming to waste time keeping them ‘open’. That’s not ‘censorship’, it’s sensible time/funding management. Even such a ‘closing’ still provisional, though; strong NEW evidence or analysis brought forth to re-open a debate, will re-open it. Not zombie arguments (‘skeptic’ talking points that have been debunked over and over).

  26. Posted September 8, 2010 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    The notion that the toxicity of the debate is all the sceptic’s fault is nonsense. As I noted in my first comment above, I have seen all the same de-legitimising dissent tactics before and it was from progressivist critics of economic reform and advocates of (disastrous) indigenous policy. They really get in the way of good public policy, for reasons I discuss here.

    And I am not impressed by “not used to this” claims about the CRU. If you are going to make scientific claims of such extraordinary importance, then one must not only be open about the data, one must be seen to be open about the data. They failed on both, rather miserably. A failure that created many rods for their own back, in giving sceptical views things to focus on.

  27. Steven Sullivan
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    What does it say about someone who is ‘turned off’ by a factual argument because the *tone* annoys them? They certainly aren’t being *skeptical*.

  28. Posted September 8, 2010 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Immanuel Kant was (a) not a scientist and (b) spent a great of his time complaining about masturbation and the morality thereof. If you’re to be nasty you’d write him off on the basis that he was egregiously ignoring practical applications of his work.

    In this debate, you either win the empirical argument or we policy wonks will assign you to the outer darkness.

    Writing people off as vulgar is the same as assaying that women and working men should not have the vote (believe me, I’ve seen those arguments before, as has anyone with any knowledge of political history). If you need those sort of elitist arguments to make your case, I would rather consign you, your science and everything you stand for to the outer darkness, and I don’t care how right you are.

    Platonic Guardians. Do not want.

    And as Roger understands, science and policy are not the same thing.

  29. Grendel
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Apart from the intermittant rants by characters on the ends of the spectrum of views on this issue, this has been one of the better discussions on climate change online for a while. I agree that it is good to keep the distinction between the science and the policy. However, we need to affirm the use of science in the creation of policy as non-evidence based policy is quite often then ideologically driven, from one direction or another.

    As also not-a-scientist I choose to trust those who are and I think the evidence for global warming is more convincing that the non-evidence of a global scientific conspiracy to get grant money, which appears to be a common theme at the extreme end of the discussion.

    Thanks LE for opening up the discussion. It was informative and useful.

  30. rog
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Absolutely Grendel, policy must by evidence based

  31. PAUL WALTER
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I’d love to query SL further on186, but for once am at a loss for words, which is probably fortunate.
    Legal Eagle’s point about scepticism is fair as far as it goes, but you’d have to give some credibility to global warming before you’d embrace either a cabon tax or carbon crediting. A denialist would probably say, since it ain’t true, full-steam ahead on global warming, deforestation, soil and water degradation, fisheries collapses and so forth.
    A sceptic might say, let’s not move out of the cities and into the caves just yet with basket weaving and handlooms gear, but surely would not want to hold back that which could be reaonably done before hand, in the event that it does turn out to be true.
    And a sceptic would be charry of both global warming and claims against it and be sceptical of all the different people touting a viewpoint within that field.
    Someone mentioned the grants industry on one hand , while others have talked of being sceptical of big business attempts to ameliorate of theimpact of global warming for business reasons-lots of funny motives inevitably colour things further.

  32. Posted September 8, 2010 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    How do you respectfully counter mean-spirited, unfounded attacks on the integrity the scientists, like the smear campaign against Prof. Phil Jones? How do you deal with outright deniers like Monckton who poison the mind of the public with lies? How do convince people, who declare that listing facts and reasoning won’t convince them because they don’t understand them, but also declare that they have no intention of bringing themselves up to speed on an important subject they want to decide on. Believe it or not, I’m genuinely willing to help people who want to learn about the subject. However this is very tough going, if people are unable to distinguish between Prof. Schneider’s expertise and Monckton’s bluster and are unwilling to educate themselves.

    An example from the transcript, look at Dr. Ian Rivlin. Schneider is answering his question when he is rudely interrupted by Rivlin. He is unable to grasp the simple concept, that if you put in a bucket and a bit of water into a basin, take out a bucket and repeat the process, then you will accumulate a substantial extra amount of water, no matter how small the individual bits are. Instead he invokes a fantasy homeostasis out of thin air. Please help me out. How does one effectively deal with nonsense like that?

  33. Posted September 8, 2010 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    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,

    We on the other hand are white educated middle-class people ignoring the needs of the poor and disadvantaged ’cause, like, that’s soooo 1930s man.

  34. desipis
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    As I said above, I think scientists have to get used to entering into dialogue because important questions of policy are being decided as a result of this. Thus, it’s important to both *be* an expert, and to be seen to be an expert.

    I’m not sure lumping that additional responsibilities onto the scientists. I think there’s a unfilled role here that needs to be considered in its own right, if we’re going to achieve a genuine evidence based democratic process. The scientists have enough work to do, doing the science and communicating the results to the relevant people who are already educated and informed enough to understand it.

    The roll of communicating the science and educating the general public to the extent they can reasonably judge the policies on offer is something that seems to be missing from the system as a whole (and this isn’t just an issue on climate change). I think this roll is both far too important and far too extensive to simply be lumped onto the scientists.

  35. Posted September 8, 2010 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    A good reference for answers to popular skeptics talking points is John Cook’s
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/

    I’d also recommend giving Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming a try.
    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.htm

  36. Posted September 8, 2010 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    SL, there’s a comment with hopefully helpful links waiting for you in the moderation queue.

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