Open Mind

Uncivil War

February 9th, 2007 · 39 Comments

I regularly use the tag surfer to see what other people are posting on the global warming issue. Every day, it seems, there are several angry posts about how global warming is a liberal conspiracy designed to topple the economy, send us down the pathway to communism, or knock us back to the stone age. Then there are posts about how the Bush administration is censoring science, ExxonMobil is lying to make huge temporary profits at the expense of our children’s lives, and if we don’t overthrow the denialists we’re all going to die.


I’ve done it myself. I’ve often pointed out the dishonest tactics of denialists. Well, it’s true. But there’s a limit to how useful it can be harping on this point. More important, it’s neither true nor fair to paint skeptics with the same brush one applies to denialists.

I’m coming to the opinion that most people who throw insults at global warming activists aren’t being dishonest, they’re ill-informed, or they’ve been swayed by a clever (but false) argument. They don’t hate the environment, they’re afraid of economic ruin and decline in the quality of life. Most people who throw insults at disbelievers aren’t being dishonest either, there really is a campaign of disinformation funded by the fossil fuel industry. They don’t hate free enterprise or economic progress, they’re afraid of the ruin of the natural world, which after all is the ultimate source of economic prosperity.

My wife and I have been reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. At one point he mentions introducing a bill into the Illinois state legislature to require videotaping of interrogations and confessions in cases of capital crimes. Instantly, right-wing groups objected that it would impede criminal investigations, while some left-wing groups objected on the basis that all capital punishment was immoral. How did Obama respond? He gathered together as many interested parties as he could, to discuss the issue in detail, in a way so rational (and therefore boring) that is was outside of the focus of sensationalist journalism. It soon became clear that there was far more common ground than disagreement. Right-wingers wanted to ensure that those who commit the most heinous crimes are punished with the greatest severity; it turns out that left-wingers were not opposed to that. Left-wingers wanted to ensure that those who are actually innocent didn’t get railroaded by public outrage, and executed before the truth came out; it turns out that right-wingers were not opposed to that either.

By discovering that both groups actually wanted the same things, by listening to the concerns, both ethical and practical, of both sides, and forging the legislation so that it would further both sides, a bill which was initially given a “snowball’s chance in hell” of passing, is now state law in Illinois.

So here’s my appeal to both sides. Activists, accept the fact that most skeptics do not want to rape the environment for money. They do want to maintain the quality of life we’ve worked so hard for. Skeptics, accept that fact that most activists do not want to ruin the economy or destroy prosperity. They do want to preserve quality of life, both economic and environmental, so we can give our posterity (our children) as good a world to live in, or better, than we have enjoyed.

Sure, there are exceptions. The infamous “Luntz memo” proves that. But the exceptions are far more rare than either side will usually admit. If we can get environmentalists and entrepeneurs to sit at the same table and discuss the issue with boring rationality, we’ll find that we both want the same things: a flourishing environment and economic prosperity. As Obama says,

Unfortunately, too often in our national debates we don’t even get to the point where we weight these difficult choices. Instead, we either exaggerate the degree to which policies we don’t like impinge on our most sacred values, or play dumb when our own preferred policies conflict with important countervailing values.

Later he distinguishes between values and ideology thus:

Values are faithfully applied to the facts before us, while ideology overrides whatever facts call theory into question.

Alas, the only “forum” in which I see almost none of the knee-jerk emotionalism that stifles understanding and progress, is the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Maybe that’s one of the reason we scientists are so fond of it.

So, the next time you meet a skeptic/activist and you bristle at their foolishness, before going off half-cocked about how their stupid belief/disbelief threatens our survival/prosperity, take a step back. Give the person the benefit of the best possible motives. Tone down the rhetoric. Argue with logic and reason. Treat your adversary not as an enemy, but as you would your own sainted mother. Keep it civil, and we have a vastly better chance to preserve the health of our planet, our economy, and our civil liberty.

This Obama guy really impresses me.

Tags: Global Warming

39 responses so far ↓

  • guthrie // Feb 9th 2007 at 3:58 pm

    I usually start off polite. The problem is that I have met several people online, ordinary members of the public like myself, who can only be described as denialists. After you’ve linked twice to the NASA GISS data and other sources showing that there is an upwards trend, and they still try and say that its cooling, I can only label them denialist and jump on everything they say.

  • tamino // Feb 9th 2007 at 4:18 pm

    I’ve had the same experience; it’s very frustrating. But I’m beginning to doubt the usefulness of “jumping on everything they say.” In most cases it’s better to ignore them; don’t feed the troll.

  • guthrie // Feb 9th 2007 at 4:31 pm

    Thats the greatest unsolved question of all- is it better to oppose everything they say that is wrong, so as to demonstrate to lurkers and undecided people that actually there is another answer out there? Or should you just ignore them, and hope that said lurkers and undecided get their information elsewhere to deal with the denialist.

    I see it all the time in the Creationism versus Evolution arguments.

  • timethief // Feb 9th 2007 at 5:22 pm

    Agreed

  • John L. McCormick // Feb 9th 2007 at 8:00 pm

    If I am talking with someone who will not yield on their belief the planet is 6000 years old or that Noahs arc was recently discovered on a jagged ledge 13,ooo feet above sea level, I walk away in awe.

    However, if the conversation is about global warming, I talk about our children and the risk they face if the non-believer is wrong. Then, I challenge them to read an article we both can discuss and, if they take up the challenge, we can talk about reactions to what we read.

    Simple stuff and not without possible disappointments. But, that approach leaves them with something tangible and not my disgust.

  • Fielding Mellish // Feb 9th 2007 at 9:49 pm

    I know you all know this first part, but I’ll put it in print anyway. There is a huge number of people whose jobs and/or wealth flow directly or semi-directly from the extraction and use of fossil fuels. They can/do provide a ready pool of FUD and denial that can be disguised easily as lay distrust of the issue. Of course, a favorite denialist refrain is that climate scientists concerned about AGW’s effects merely are trying to preserve/extend their grants. I must say that I personally never have seen a scientist masquerade as a layman while arguing for the AGW conclusion. I personally have witnessed people with industry connections masquerade as uninterested bystanders while arguing against the AGW position, however.

    Beyond the directly self-interested pool, it seems to me that the AGW concept gores a lot of personal heroes, at least in the U.S. Many things we do depend on the ability to externalize costs and waste widely, and it appears to me that it shocks Americans to think that there’s a widespread detrimental effect that we cannot Horatio Alger away, at least not in the familiar way. Further in my view, the threat and then avoidance of Y2K fed the apathy monster here to an unfortunate degree. I wonder sometimes if it takes sensational stories, like the Newsweek hint that China hopes to mine the moon some day for He3, to light the nationalist fervor enough to move the United States of Apathy away from fossil fuel addiction. It seems to me that AGW denial also has an addict’s bargaining quality to it. The implied idea that ‘I or my kids/grandkids will be okay as long as we live in this geography or make these small changes’ underscores for me the failure to appreciate how pervasive full-blown AGW’s effects would be. The sad thing is that, if a person comprehends what the food chain c/would be like after mass extinctions, the denial faction labels that person a Communist, a mad scientist , or–worst of all–an environmentalist. Sometimes I think Americans (I can’t speak for other countries) would rather die than give up their familiar material lifestyles. That’s a scary thought to me, but to paraphrase the guy, maybe Americans will do the right thing…after we’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”

  • Lynn Vincentnathan // Feb 9th 2007 at 10:11 pm

    Re the economic arguments against mitigating GW, I always mention how much money my husband and I are saving by reducing our GHGs, laughing all the way to the bank, and point them to http://www.natcap.org for how our entire society can benefit from mitigating GW.

    I also mention that if we don’t address this issue ASAP, we really may be in economic ruin.

    As for those worried we’ll end up in an authorian trap, I talk about Kyoto and other mild laws meant to inspire people to reduce GHGs as sort of like innoculations (like they use the virus to fight the virus) against a situation in which economic collapse & teaming ecorefugees due to GW would result in totalitarian rule, a warlord world, or anarchy & chaos, or all three (and imagine that world with a bunch of loose nukes around). We don’t want to go there.

    So the very things these people (the economic & political denialists) fear are the very things that will happen if GW is not mitigated. It’s like they’re running frantically from Death, who jumps ahead of them and catches them up the road. Talk about STATE OF FEAR.

    If the economists’ “economic rational man” really did exist, rational arguments would work, but unfortunately there’s something m0re going on at some subconsious level (in addition to ideology mentioned above), and it’s a tough nut to crack to get through to these people.

  • djangone // Feb 9th 2007 at 10:55 pm

    It’s vital, before bringing together disparate points of view, that you make a decision about the honesty of the people you’re involving.

    Case in point, I just watched Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) browbeat Dr. Susan Soloman in yesterday’s US House & Science Committee meeting (State of Climate Change Science 2007, C-Span page at http://tinyurl.com/2246py). Rohrabacher’s performance was an ugly disgrace, all the worse because, unlike Sen. Inhofe, Rohrabacher can string together consecutive sentences without getting lost.

    All too often you’re going to be faced with disingenuousness of this kind. Cooperation only works among people who honestly intend to get to the truth.

  • britandgrit // Feb 9th 2007 at 11:53 pm

    Hi tamino,

    As I recall, it wasn’t that long ago that you admitted much more research was needed on this subject to fully understand it. With that in mind, how can you not see that the politicians have conscripted this issue to their own purposes, and are using it as an excuse to enforce social change having nothing at all to do with science? Remember that Hitler had scientists on call to explain why Jews weren’t really human and needed to be removed from the gene pool. The whole Global Warming thing reeks of war, religious fervor, and burning bodies which, I suspect, will be much worse that anything Nature can do. Thus, when the Green Shirts come and drag me out of my home and pin a D, for Denier, on my shirt prior to taking me to the slave labor camps, I’ll be thinking of you and AlGore.

    the Grit

  • tamino // Feb 10th 2007 at 1:45 am

    Hello Grit,

    As I recall, it wasn’t that long ago that you admitted much more research was needed on this subject to fully understand it.

    There’s a difference between fully understanding a subject, i.e., knowing everything about it, and knowing enough to be able to forecast at least some future developments. For example, it’s not possible to be sure how much the globe will warm due to doubling of CO2. But we do know that it will warm, and that the warming will almost certainly be at least 1.5 deg.C, possibly as much as 5 deg.C or more. It’s like a head-on collision with another car; we don’t know enough to predict how much injury we’ll suffer, but we can be very sure that it won’t be good.

    With that in mind, how can you not see that the politicians have conscripted this issue to their own purposes, and are using it as an excuse to enforce social change having nothing at all to do with science?

    I think you missed the point of my post. If there are politicians who are pushing global warming as an excuse to enforce unrelated social change, they are vastly in the minority. Most who do so are genuinely afraid of the consequences of climate change. Likewise, politicians who truly place profit for the wealthy above public health and the future are in the minority; most who oppose action are not determined to reap profits from destroying the environment, they are genuinely afraid of the consequences of economic change.

    Fear is a powerful motivator, and often transforms values to ideology. And as senator Obama said so eloquently, while values face facts fearlessly, ideology is all too willing to distort or ignore them.

    Remember that Hitler had scientists on call to explain why Jews weren’t really human and needed to be removed from the gene pool.

    This is exactly the kind of inflammatory rhetoric I’m arguing against. I hope you can accept the truth, that there’s no valid analogy between global warming activists and antisemitic war criminals. Only by abandoning hyperbole motivated by fear and hatred can we have any hope of realizing that we both want the same things: a healthy planet, a free society, and a flourishing economy. Then we can try to find a way to achieve them all. I believe it’s possible.

    The whole Global Warming thing reeks of war, religious fervor, and burning bodies which, I suspect, will be much worse that anything Nature can do. Thus, when the Green Shirts come and drag me out of my home and pin a D, for Denier, on my shirt prior to taking me to the slave labor camps, I’ll be thinking of you and AlGore.

    Ironically, when I said that it’s neither true nor fair to paint skeptics with the same brush one applies to denialists, you are one of those I had in mind. So far, I have regarded you as a misguided skeptic rather than a denialist; I hope I’m right about that.

    As for what nature can do, at the end of the Permian era 95% of the species on the planet suffered extinction. And the probable cause of the end-Permian extinction? Climate change.

    If the “green shirts” show up to drag you to a slave labor camp, I hope I’m there — to stop them. I’ll bet that Al Gore would stand with me, shoulder to shoulder, to oppose the mob.

  • Eli Rabett // Feb 10th 2007 at 3:55 am

    One of the difficult things for me is that most people do not perceive what a narrow edge our society balances on, and even if they do, they assume that they and theirs will be safe.

  • tamino // Feb 10th 2007 at 4:48 am

    Eli, thanks for stopping in! I quite agree that the balance of prosperity for the human race is extremely precarious. Very few appreciate just how little change is required not just to disrupt the system, but to throw it into chaos (in the colloquial rather than mathematical sense).

    Perhaps the real pity is that if we had the political and social will, we could change that. But a “robust” social system isn’t part of the consciousness of most people.

  • Dano // Feb 10th 2007 at 8:16 pm

    Very few appreciate just how little change is required not just to disrupt the system, but to throw it into chaos (in the colloquial rather than mathematical sense).

    And the ones that do, hoard power and wealth to weather the storm.

    Best,

    D

  • inel // Feb 10th 2007 at 8:42 pm

    Hi tamino,

    Great exposition. You really impress me. And now I’m going to tell you what I have pondered over for some time in response to guthrie’s question, (because I have struggled to figure out the most effective tack to take—and what is best for me is what I shall explain below):

    is it better to oppose everything they say that is wrong, so as to demonstrate to lurkers and undecided people that actually there is another answer out there? Or should you just ignore them, and hope that said lurkers and undecided get their information elsewhere to deal with the denialist.

    Hi guthrie,

    Good question. This is what I have concluded so far (which means I may change, but this is my current stance):

    We do not need to oppose everything they say is wrong every time they say it. I must admit, being as new to this as I am, I don’t even know who “they” are … so I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Right off the bat, I assume they are asking a genuine question or making an authentic statement and might appreciate an honest answer or clarification.

    When I see a few new posts on “global warming lies/myths/hoax”, I choose one that I might be able to help with, and has not been commented on. I try to help, and tell people they can follow up on my blog if they want further information.

    Most of my visitors come through search engines rather than blogrolls and tag surfing, so I simply put the answers on my blog for all to see and let people take it from there.

    That way, lurkers and genuine fence-sitters can at least find more relevant information behind my comment, but I am also reaching the wider community outside WordPress more directly than I could by commenting on the posts of contrarians.

    Most of my visitors are people actively looking for an answer to a climate change question, especially where it applies to explaining the same to kids or having fun with quizzes and interesting videos and clear images—none of which I can include in a comment stream to respond to someone’s answer on another blog easily!

    P.S. A quote I have used a couple of times in response to people who continue to use scientific arguments against taking action to combat climate change is from the President of the Royal Society, who said recently:

    “We need both to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases and to prepare for the impacts of climate change. Those who would claim otherwise can no longer use science as a basis for their argument.”

  • tamino // Feb 10th 2007 at 8:46 pm

    Well said, inel.

    I would add one point. I agree that it’s important to respond to most false claims, not for the benefit of the entrenched disbeliever, but for the benefit of the onlookers. But then it is even more important to be civil, to stick to the facts, and not hurl insults. Undecided lurkers aren’t the least bit interested in our victory or defeat in a debate. When we become more hostile, we turn them off and discredit our case. When we maintain civil, fact-based argument even in the face of the nastiest insults, it makes our case much more persuasive.

  • Brian // Feb 10th 2007 at 9:23 pm

    Great post and discussion…

    You had this comment in the original post:
    “I’m coming to the opinion that most people who throw insults at global warming activists aren’t being dishonest, they’re ill-informed, or they’ve been swayed by a clever (but false) argument.”

    More and more, I think that last bit about the clever but false argument is one of the big roots of this problem. A lot of people get their viewpoints, wholly or at least partially, from editorialists and/or commentators that they enjoy reading/listening to (we all do!). It’s all to easy for people to agree with the person that they always agree with on other, completely unrelated issues. In that way, people don’t have to sit down and think about it….someone is telling them the situation.

    This is, of course, a generalizaton…not everybody who reads the Op-Ed page is so one-dimensional. I think the comments in this discussion about how ’sides’ get formed by the sensationalist-seeking media are right on. But, even people that are only partially influenced by a mis/dis-informing editorial are influenced nevertheless.

    I have started being much more active in pointing out the inconsistencies and falsehoods put out there to my family, extended family, and friends. I’m glad science-related blogging communities exist to help each other by making sure we all get the best information. And we can get ideas from each other about how best to communicate the correct information.

  • djangone // Feb 10th 2007 at 11:04 pm

    Civility, sure. Then again, there’s something to be said for ridiculing them to the point where they become dispirited and quit trying to spread their dishonest arguments.

  • Dano // Feb 11th 2007 at 12:07 am

    The Dano character, djangone, isn’t afraid to do the ridicule thing, provided the fora are suited to that.

    But my other e-character is more like me and keeps it civil, because the forum dictates what’s acceptable. Certainly both have their place, in my view. But I will say you’ll find ideologues that become dispirited and quit to be few and far between.

    Best,

    D

  • reasic // Feb 11th 2007 at 4:13 am

    Exactly my sentiments, tamino. I have tried to do the same in my on-going debate with the guys at Flopping Aces, and also on my blog. I hope I can keep it up. It is hard to resist when nasty insults are hurled at you. I just try to remember that, to the onlooker, they’re just making a fool of themselves and discrediting their own case for me. You can quickly, from that perspective, how one who is insulting you could actually be doing you a favor. :P

  • Eli Rabett // Feb 11th 2007 at 5:36 pm

    I’ve put up a long response. The bottom line is that one’s response has to be shaped by whom one is responding to, and as the issue begins to drive policy changes one has to consider the irrational as well as the rational. Too many people who have neither the time or the capacity to understand the issues respond to displays of dominance. One must be very carful not to allow civility to be perceived as weakness and in many cases one must respond tit for tat. Clinton was very good at this, Obama also appears to be, however, Clinton did absorb considerable damage from the relentless attack (which we see forming with Obama) and it cost the Democrats control of Congress in 1994 and the Presidency in 2000. So nice is not the sufficient answer.

  • tamino // Feb 11th 2007 at 7:36 pm

    I’ve read Eli’s response. It is thoughtful, intelligent, and probably a good guide to distinguishing the various type of disbelievers, and how to deal with each. I may not agree with all aspects — I’ll have to think about that! But it’s very worthy of serious consideration.

    How refreshing, to hear intelligent discourse on the topic of global warming and policy! Highly recommended reading.

  • Steve Bloom // Feb 12th 2007 at 2:42 am

    Just briefly, also bear in mind that climate change denialism/skepticisn is a cultural phenomenon that has its roots in other things (which is why setting one of them straight on the science so often has zero effect on their views):

    Libertarianism (the Randian flavor, anyway): A philosophy that believes that *all* social problems are best solved by individuals acting in their perceived economic self-interest is going to have a very hard time accepting the existence of a problem like global warming. To the extent they do accept it, they will continually try to shoehorn into their philosphical framework. (And thus in the case of such folks the distinction between denialists and skeptics becomes a little hard to see.)

    Resistance to environmentalism: This has a long and sordid history, but sums up to a belief that those environmentalists have always overstated everything and so should be ignored for as long as possible. At whatever point the problem becomes obvious to non-enviros it can be dealt with. This mode of thinking is how many right-wingers can think of themselves as “environmentalists” (albeit only with regard to those problems regarding which society has already reached consensus, e.g. clean air and water) while continuing to resist further expansion of the responses to those problems.

    The Republican circle-the-wagons mentality: From tiny seeds fifty years ago we now see institutions such as the right-wing blogosphere, Fox news, CEI, etc. These are are a consequence of the right-wing having realized during the ’60s that the heart of their politics (the promotion of the short-term interests of big business) would keep them in a permanent minority unless they exhibited great discipline. This manifested itself in direct ways (e.g. Reagan’s famous “thou shalt speak no evil of fellow Republicans”) and less direct ways such as the targeting of particular constituencies (e.g. southerners and fundamentalists) whose votes were need to achieve electoral majorities and who could be brought into the fold via appeals to hot-button issues even though enlightened self-interest would dictate otherwise. This process also involved the identification of outside enemies, and environmentalism was an easy add to that list since it was so often arrayed against big business. (It’s interesting to consider just how rapidly environmentalism went from being a a mainstream part of Republicanism circa 1970 to completely outside the fold by 1980.) Folks who have spent all or a substantial part of a lifetime within this paradigm pretty much automatically see environmentalists as alarmists who will happily destroy the economy to save a few birds and bunnies.

    Hard wiring: Our species did not evolve to deal with problems like global warming. I’m not sure about this, but I don’t think it’s implausible that there is simply a fraction of the human race race who are quite literally incapable of taking seriously any problem whose consequences are sufficiently far out into the future.

  • Brian Schmidt // Feb 12th 2007 at 6:25 pm

    I’ve been intrigued by the concept of betting over global warming as a way to influence the discussion of climate change. It can get sincere skeptics to re-examine how strongly they doubt the consensus, it exposes insincere denialists, and it reins in the wildest, denialist claims.

    My guess is that in the last 2 years that I and others have been offerring bets, we’ve had a moderate influence - not stunning, but useful. Those in the right-wing elite who might consider taking up the denialist banner may have been persuaded not to, and getting Reason Magazine to be more-or-less on our side is a useful victory.

    And the manner we can offer the bets could be in the “think about it” version for skeptics, and “put up or shut up” for denialists.

    [Response: One of the problem with bets is that many of the outcomes depend on short-term fluctuations rather than long-term trends. In fact, a recent comment on RealClimate from a skeptic, boasted of winning numerous bets that the year’s temperature would not exceed the 1998 record. Of course this is due to the fact that 1998 was anomalously hot because of the strong el Nino; another strong el Nino will break the record (global warming or not), and another Pinatubo will cool the planet noticeably — but both are short-term (a few years) events. Needless to say, there are a lot of scientists who are regulars on RealClimate, and his “bet” was effectively ridiculed.

    There’s also the issue of computing the probability of events, given competing hypotheses; this can involve some complex mathematics. To be fair, either the test must balance probabilities for the competing hypotheses, or the “odds” must compensate for any bias. Out of curiosity, exactly what bets did you have in mind?]

  • Brian Schmidt // Feb 12th 2007 at 11:37 pm

    My bet offers are here:

    http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/2005_05_01_backseatdriving_archive.html#111700433898143899

    The definitive post (so far) on the subject at RealClimate:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=161

    I’ll just throw this out here too for comment, that I’ve received what I consider a serious offer to bet on the following, with me taking the high side and my opponent the low side:

    - Even odds at 0.17C/decade, 2007 - 2017 [ie settle in 2019 on T(2017)
    - T(2007)]
    - Even odds at 0.16C/decade, 2007 - 2027
    - 2:1 odds at 0.10C/decade, 2007 - 2017
    - 2:1 odds at 0.08C/decade, 2007 - 2027

    My potential betting opponent will accept 5-year averaging and some kind of provision for volcanoes.

    I haven’t quite decided what to do with this offer, especially whether the low position is really a skeptical position. Comments are welcome.

  • Hank Roberts // Feb 13th 2007 at 12:02 am

    Tamino, Eli and Steve Bloom — thank you all.

    Most of my education about online interaction, fortunately for me, is lost on mouldering mag tape or floppy disk archives, and was typed at 300 or 12oo baud. I felt like moving from the BBSs to Usenet Newsgroups was only for those who had gotten some sense of what not to waste time on and why.

    I spend a lot of time trying to think about good searches, and how to get people up to speed searching and thinking. That’s not because I think search is the answer, but because you need to have done good searches before you can do the real hard thing — figure out how to ask a question smart enough that it goes through the Net and tickles someone’s brain somewhere, and she or he then types a commentary or answer that’s never been on the Net before, in answer.

    That’s the art here. That I think is what keeps a lot of scientists out of the comment area — they aren’t seeing educated questions from people who are making an effort, so why bother answering.

    Those of us who answer the new kids just learning to type, or their grandparents learning to use computers, or those with little or no science, or those who are pretending naivete to waste our time online, in one sense do something useful.

    In another way though we just ‘feed the troll’ each time, mistakenly or because we got hooked by the bait being trolled so temptingly.

    I keep coming back to Eric Raymond’s piece, written for new computer programmers who’re trying to get help from the hardened hackers (in the noblest and best meaning of the word).

    People who won’t try to ask smart questions — are, I think, mostly trolls.

    People who will read, say what they read, and what they think they understand, and ask for more — aren’t trolls.

    But I think much of the art is teaching honest questioners now to _not_ get hooked by the noise.

    I’ve seen smart high school kids ask interesting enough questions to really catch a scientist’s attention — it’s an art.

    I wish we saw more of it. I wish I _did_ more of it.

  • inel // Feb 13th 2007 at 12:46 am

    I think more time needs to be spent on listening to the views of the general public (as opposed to the denialists and sceptics who undoubtedly influence them), and reflecting back the average person’s concerns in an empathetic way. Then our focus should be on educating, reassuring and encouraging the vast majority of people who (potentially) inhabit the middle ground on the climate challenge: let’s gain their trust, then reinforce their basic knowledge, now that Al Gore has got their attention, so they feel compelled to act and vote for action.

    The only point I can see in arguing with anyone with an axe to grind (whether a denialist or sceptic) is to prevent that person’s damaging view from being passed on to others by attempting to nip it in the bud. So, by all means keep pouncing on contrarians when they pop up anew, but I agree with tamino that nobody should go on and on and on arguing with someone who will not deviate from his or her strongly held beliefs, because that is wasting valuable time which could be better spent motivating, reassuring and assisting much larger numbers of people who are in part ignorant and in part scared of how climate change will affect them.

    Personally, I am a firm believer in “A picture is worth a thousand words” so instead of loads of text or words back-and-forth, I would challenge myself and others to come up with stunning graphics and images that motivate the broader population to take action. We need a message of hope.

  • tamino // Feb 13th 2007 at 1:42 am

    Re: bets

    Even odds at 0.17C/decade, 2007 - 2017

    I presume the bet is designed to compare two beliefs: either global warming will persist, or it won’t.

    The present rate of warming is about 0.17C/decade; let’s say it’s exactly so, and continues to be. Then the probability it’ll actually be more than that is 50%, the probability it’ll be less is likewise 50% (ignoring an exact 0.17C rise). That means that if global warming persists for the next decade at the same rate, your chance is 50-50. If global warming is not correct, and the planet doesn’t warm, then the expected warming is zero, and you’re likely to lose.

    So it seem to me that the bet is “If you’re right, you have a 50-50 chance to win, if you’re wrong, I win.” That doesn’t seem fair to me. Am I missing something?

    A better (but not necessarily optimal) wager to test “warming-will-continue” vs “no-more-warming,” would be to choose as a “critical value” the midpoint between hypotheses. One hypothesis predicts 0.17, the other predicts 0, so if the change in 5-year average from 2007 to 2017 is closer to 0.17 than to 0 (i.e., if it’s greater than 0.085) you win, if not you lose.

    It’s always necessary to explicity define the two competing hypotheses, and compute the probability of possible outcomes for both. Then you can evaluate the chance of winning/losing for each hypothesis.

    I hope I’ve understood your proposed bet properly.

  • matt // Feb 13th 2007 at 1:53 pm

    I believe that inel is right in saying;

    ‘I think more time needs to be spent on listening to the views of the general public (as opposed to the denialists and sceptics who undoubtedly influence them), and reflecting back the average person’s concerns in an empathetic way. Then our focus should be on educating, reassuring and encouraging the vast majority of people who (potentially) inhabit the middle ground on the climate challenge: let’s gain their trust, then reinforce their basic knowledge’

    Otherwise our cosy blogging arguments & discussions are fruitless really. Actions speak louder than words and significant action does need the public on side, otherwise it will be legislation all the way!

  • John Sully // Feb 14th 2007 at 6:55 am

    I think that a better term than “denier” or “denialist” is “cynic”. True the guys from the CEI and AEI and Cato and Marshall, &c, &c. really are deniers, but they are also cynics because they believe that they can manipulate the great unwashed with their distortions and lies. Most of the civilians who I read and have met who might be classified as “denialists” have really been taken in by the more cynical arguments put forth by the deniers (and cynics) at the major anti-AGW think tanks.

    In a way the “conservative” think tanks are being very “postmodern”. They argue that we can’t know anything because of uncertainty, that scientists are just trying to pad their wallets, &c, &c. They never really provide good evidence for any of their arguments, instead relying on the sorts of journals which were involved in “le affair de Sokal” for their ad hominem agruments against scientists working on climate or quotes from marginal scientists who are not winning their argument despite the papers they publish in the peer reviewed lit.

    I just don’t see how, and IANACC, they couldn’t just be motivated by an interest in the natural world? I know I came to be interested in this subject because I was always interested in the weather, whether for sailboat racing, hiking, skiing or whatever. I became interested in climate because of changes in the fishing season — repeated and unusual stream closuers for high temps — which I had not experienced in my youth. I know a lot of scientists and not one of them has risen above middle class (well maybe upper middle), you don’t go into the business to get rich, you go into because you are curious.

  • Andrew Dodds // Feb 15th 2007 at 8:34 am

    John -

    The ultimate irony in this is that in order to get rich out of AGW science, the easiest way is to get a doctorate in a related field and then loudly deny global warming. And the doctorate is optional..

    (Now: A challenge for skeptics - list 5 climate scientists who have achieved the fame and and fortune of the Lomborgs and Critchons of the world as a result of promoting AGW.)

    I really hesitate to use my subjective experiences, but yes, it does seem that in my youth (not very long ago!), every winter would bring at least one or two significant snowfalls that lasted for at least a week. Yet now if we get snow at all, it’s of the ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ variety. And my dad can tell me of winters when the entire country was frozen for months!

  • Craig D // Feb 15th 2007 at 2:09 pm

    @Fielding Mellish

    It is a popular perception among the misinformed that scientists who stand to benefit from grants are more trustworthy that capitalists who stand to benefit from profits. As if interested coporations, agencies, politicians, and academic insitutions are immune to the enormous political and financial benefit bestowed upon them. It is an attempt to place one side of the issue on the good side and the other on the bad side.

  • Craig D // Feb 15th 2007 at 2:16 pm

    Holy smokes, I hadn’t read many of the comments prior to my last post. Deniers, Cynics, Skeptics… I’m just waiting for someone to throw out the word “heretic”. Unreal that so many people who do not appear to understand or care about the data of climate change have the audacity to heap all skeptical thinkers into a single group of calculated lyers. Such comments say as much about your intentions as they do the targets of your criticism.

  • John L. McCormick // Feb 15th 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Steve you said :

    • [Hard wiring: Our species did not evolve to deal with problems like global warming. I’m not sure about this, but I don’t think it’s implausible that there is simply a fraction of the human race that is quite literally incapable of taking seriously any problem whose consequences are sufficiently far out into the future.]

    I believe there is a far greater number than a fraction of the human race—all of us have the same ailment. We are wired to live the moment. Jails and divorce courts were constructed to accommodate parts of that human weakness.

    Having given some time and conversation to the subject ,I am convinced we Homo sapiens do not have the neurological pathway to conceptualize, anticipate, and foresee anything for which we do not have an accessible context.

    ‘Been There, Done That’ is a popular way of saying I will choose not to do that because the consequences or simply the outcome had been imprinted and can possibly be avoided.

    Bush can tell us he will attack Iran and I can play out the scenario down to the headlines three weeks into the war.

    Or, I can be convinced (I am convinced) the Arctic ice sheet will completely melt by the summer of 2040. But, that likely extra-critical event will not get me off the couch to turn off the needless lights in my house. My present view of the world governs my actions.

    Since that cryogenic event has never occurred in my lifetime how am I expected to anticipate and act upon the consequences? Will the world grain basket suddenly turn to desert and the price of beer pass $20 per six-pack? Nobody is asking; so no problem, maybe.

    If this ‘live for today’ were not the case, the industrial world would be nearing panic-mode to prepare for the massive wave of retirees who will have little or no family income, State funds or employment opportunities to maintain good health and a dignified standard of living. (US projects nearly $40 trillion of mandated entitlements for baby-boomers but the cash drawer is nearly empty).

    Or, the peak oil problem would not be left to Exxon and ethanol industry to resolve. And, speaking of refineries and petrochemical facilities around the world; they share one thing in common – they are located at shipping ports at sea level which is rising. How will our great grandchildren cope with simultaneous inundation of the world petrochemical industry? The answer might begin with relocating those facilities today or perhaps bearing down on research to find bio-substitutes for petrochemical feedstocks such as soy beans.

    Hey, what do I know? ….except to hunt and gather because I am hungry.

    Finally, blind faith in technology keeps me stashing bits in the hard drive because I cannot imagine a time when a massive solar flare will radiate all our hard drives and wipe out our credit card accounts. Hmmm….that I could imagine.

  • Brian Schmidt // Feb 15th 2007 at 6:15 pm

    My post on the communication topic:

    http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/2007/02/wisdom-of-crowds-and-why-we-shouldnt.html

  • Steve Bloom // Feb 16th 2007 at 7:24 pm

    OK, Craig D., name me some earth scientists who got rich from doing research. I don’t think you need to bother asking me for a list of capitalists who got rich from doing capitalism.

  • Andrew Dodds // Feb 19th 2007 at 10:33 am

    Steve -

    How about a slightly more revealing list of ‘Scientists and hangers-on who got rich by AGW-denial’.

  • Our species did not evolve to deal with problems like global warming (?!) « inel // Feb 19th 2007 at 3:43 pm

    […] response to John, I would respectfully […]

  • Eachran // Feb 20th 2007 at 3:31 pm

    First time here and because realclimate directed me here.

    I recognise the names of some of the contributors.

    Just one point, you wrote :

    Perhaps the real pity is that if we had the political and social will, we could change that. But a “robust” social system isn’t part of the consciousness of most people.

    I couldn’t agree more, and a good sound bite. The issue here is that societies do change but predominantly from shocks to the system. So long as sociology works as a soft science (no offence intended to any sociologists) shocks will continue to be needed. Against that there are continuing and profound understandings of how the human brain works which may well bring sociology into the hard science fold.

    So the race is between, sociology becoming a hard science or a general public awareness that it will become one and that we should build in some insurance buffers just in case, or perdition.

    I agree with your spirit and support your site : don’t weaken

  • Dan // Apr 2nd 2007 at 3:43 am

    “Sure, there are exceptions. ”

    Like this?
    —————————-
    01/ 10/ 07 2:20 pm

    I completely agree with fourhorses that the ultimate aim is to create a situation where the CPC can say assertively, “The science no longer supports the assumptions of the Kyoto Accord.”

    However, politically this cannot be done overnight without the Conservatives taking what they consider to be an unacceptable hit (do people think they would really lose votes with this statement (from Canadians who would otherwise vote for them, that is?).

    So, the solution put on this site a little while ago by Tina is one I would support as well - namely, they don’t take sides at all and admit they don’t know and so are holding unbiased, public hearings in which scientists from both sides are invited to testify. The resulting chaos, with claims all over the map, will do enough to thoroughly confuse everyone (which is appropriate, actually, since the science is so immature and, frankly, confusing) and take the wind out of the sails of the “we are causing a climate disaster and must stop it” camp entirely, and the CPC can quietly turn to important issues without really having had to say much at all.

    What’s wrong with this approach?

    Sincerely,

    Tom Harris, Executive Director, Natural Resources Stewardship Project
    Web: www.nrsp.com
    http://www.freedominion.ca/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=73474&start=15

Leave a Comment