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Climate Change Denial: Who can you trust when you don’t trust yourself?

June 18, 2011

In a CiF blog thread a poster made some derogatory remarks about “the ease” with which I make my various claims. This was the usual snidery and demands no discussion, but it got me thinking about another conversation taking place between myself and KingInYellow, who pops by here from time to time; the curious left/right political divide along which the climate debate has split.

I started off thinking about relative intelligence – daft to suggest the right or left have any deficiencies on that score. Are the right less interested in science? Nope – another daft idea. In fact, I couldn’t really come up with any convincing explanation for the division, except perhaps that because it is the political right who have conflated science with politics, out of a combination of anxiety and self-interest, the only proponents of the science are those who are…er…left. It isn’t that the left have some more technical leaning, or that Marxists gravitate toward science, it’s that the right have run away from science since it will not support their anxious view. I admit however, in the privacy of this blog, that my ‘explanation’ is not entirely convincing.

KingInYellow meanwhile makes a wry observation, and has his own theory: “The differentiators I can identify so far are knowledge, and education. I think you come closest to whatever is the key differentiator with your comment: “anxiety and self-interest”…but even that doesn’t nail it as self interest instructs me that AGW will harm my own self interest…

I’m not too sure about this. Posters in CiF seem to be pretty well educated, articulate, able to duck and dive in a rhetorical arena, which isn’t all that easy. We quickly weed out the Sun readers and the blank-firing, gun-totin’ cowboys from across the pond, who never last long. What we’re left with are our regular deniers – the usual suspects as it were. These are nearly all retired men, and while I don’t think any of them are paid shills – astroturfers – I do think they’re on a mission (not that this is a criticism as such, since I’m self-evidently on a mission of my own). Their mission is to defeat the notion that climate change is being caused by us; how they do it is irrelevant, which is why the movement is so fractured and diverse, with as many accusations, denials and counter-theories as there are stars in the sky. It is curious that this lack of consistency, often contradictory, does not seem to bother them. If this was my position, the disarray would be disturbing to me.

* * * * *

I’m not sure how it happens, but sometimes one can experience a fortuitous merger of ideas that, until the moment comes, appear unrelated. You see, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about trust. It’s an observation I shy away from in my writing, but I’m going to stop avoiding it and worry about the accusations of naivety some other time.

Let’s start by making clear why trust is important to me; the reason I support climate science is not that I’m capable of analysing it all, evaluating it all, testing it all. Far from it – in fact, the reason I support the theory of anthropogenic climate change is primarily because I trust the science, and particularly the consistency of it, because all the elements of climate science, drawn from so many complementary disciplines achieve an important thing, which science historian Naomi Oreskes describes as “multiple, independent lines of evidence converging on a single coherent account” .

In science, this is really important: no theory can be seen to be credible unless it fits what we already know – which is why we can discount any theory that appears to work in isolation but does not conform to  previously established laws or empirical evidence. All science depends on all other science, and the theory with the best explanatory power is the one that fits best with everything else. This is, for example, the way that the periodic table was developed; the theory not only positioned known elements consistently in the proposed table, but was powerful enough for Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev to predict the position and qualities of elements we had yet to discover.

Trust then is the thing that differentiates me from deniers, because my default position is to trust science and scientists. A great deal of denialism has at root an anxiety, most markedly when the science of climate change becomes, in the denier rhetoric, a tool for left-wing aims, the science ideological, the purpose collusive and anti-democratic. This thinking defines denial, this fearful notion that someone is conspiring against us all, and to the right, climate change is a vehicle for the change they want to impose on us.

The ironic thing is that, as with so much of our experience, there is truth in this. I have never doubted that governments would impose all kinds of taxes, stealthy and otherwise, in the name of climate change mitigation, adaptation, foreign aid – and pocketing the results to pay for regulatory banking failures, Trident missiles and wars on bewildered brown-skinned people. Indeed, here in the UK last week there was discussion about the way climate change money is being channelled into the Treasury when it should be ring-fenced and deployed independently. The deniers are right about the political aspect of all this, and we should be monitoring our governments very closely, but with a common understanding, a mutual trust and respect for science and scientists. Of course, that understanding is impossible when science is viewed as a corrupt endeavour.

It appears then that climate change deniers are trapped in a strange, circular paradox. They do not trust the left, believing climate science is being used as a tool by their political opposites, perhaps because the left are more ardent in their support (and the wealth distribution in support of developing nations, and in the name of climate change, are clearly principles that the left will find more palatable than the right, although much support to developing worlds has always been within the purview of conservative or libertarian governments).

So the politics is evaluated in polar terms, and various agenda are attributed to it. Because the right don’t trust the left, now they don’t trust climate scientists either, because for the left to achieve their aims, they must surely be employing duplicitous means, and that means is science. Therefore…

Perfect, self-reinforcing, circular argument. Complex, impossible to unravel, full of partial truths and partial lies. But at heart, there is distrust, and I personally find the sweeping nature of it to contaminate every part of human discourse. Those who seem so anxious, so suspicious, seem also to embody a distrust so profound I wonder how they can trust themselves. (I also wonder how the right can be so suspicious of publicly funded science, where scientists have little or no vested financial interest, yet so sanguine about commercial science like GM, biotech, pharma and agriculture, where the science is so directly linked to the sale of products and the acquisition of profit).

This, I suspect, is the key point: climate denial is a right-wing phenomenon because those of such a disposition do not have much trust in themselves, or each other, a distrust born of their fear. To trust oneself and one’s ability to assimilate and evaluate information is a key precursor of intellectual independence. Without such trust, it is easy to be overcome by anxiety, prey to all kinds of demagoguery. In the US this fear is clearly articulated, as it is by charlatans like Monckton and rabid demagogues like Beck, Limbaugh and their ilk, who pander to the fear of their audience and seek to heighten it, in order to make a living. Even now, many Americans are haunted by ‘reds under the bed’, and it is this fear that drives such an isolationist, libertarian, fend for ourselves, fuck the rest of you, gun-totin’ outlook. The right don’t trust themselves; no wonder they can’t bring themselves to commit the act of good faith and trust the science of climate change.

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2011 8:53 am

    terror management theory. Yes, can be used as a blunt instrument, explaining too much, but climate change = death, and death is scary, and must be denied until the singularity kicks in and we can all upload ourselves onto a Google Server Farm somewhere…

  2. June 18, 2011 9:39 am

    You say that the “right-wing deniers” are such due to some deficiency of trust in everyone including themselves. I don’t understand how trust in one’s self is a critical variable as the GW “alarmists” if you will, rely entirely on data derived from climate experts. Assuming the vast majority of alarmists as well as leftists are NOT climate experts it’s hard to make the claim that their trust in themselves is what forms their beliefs on climate change. Unless of course your claim is that leftists have some sixth sense making them more sensitive to atmospheric conditions, in which case I can’t comment.

    As articulate as you sound you’ve really boiled this issue and how individuals form their opinions on it down to its simplest form.

    Before you jump to conclusions on peoples’ motives, you may want to consider the uncovered fraudulent and manufactured data your side has based many of their claims on. You may also want to do some research on some of your manmade warming champions. I would recommend cross referencing warming alarmists with the claims of an eminent ice age from back in the 70s. I’m sure you’ll see the connections. Perhaps while you’re at it you’ll be interested to find that had we listened to some of the knee-jerk “experts” back then we might have spread layers of soot over the polar ice caps or detonated nukes to fend of “the big freeze”.

    With all due respect, you can’t throw an entire group of people into a box and then start hanging names on it.
    Well you can, if you’re looking for a shortcut around rational thought and intelligent discourse.

  3. Graham Wayne permalink*
    June 18, 2011 11:31 am

    igetitalready: “I don’t understand how trust in one’s self is a critical variable”

    Because if you don’t trust yourself, it is impossible to really trust anyone else.

    igetitalready: “GW “alarmists” if you will, rely entirely on data derived from climate experts”.

    Where else would you get expert opinion except from experts? And since they are experts, why would you doubt the information they supply.

    igetitalready: “Assuming the vast majority of alarmists as well as leftists are NOT climate experts it’s hard to make the claim that their trust in themselves is what forms their beliefs on climate change”.

    They accept what the scientists are telling them about science. If, tomorrow, scientists tell me that they’ve discovered some other cause of climate change and it isn’t us, I’ll be very happy and I’ll accept that too. Denialism is not driven by evidence or science, it is political and demands beliefs in things that cannot be proven – more on this in a moment.

    igetitalready: “Unless of course your claim is that leftists have some sixth sense making them more sensitive to atmospheric conditions”

    I hope you’re just being facetious, since it’s a silly suggestion and doesn’t lead to constructive discussion. The converse aspect of your remark is exactly what I’m talking about – that the left have no predisposition to understand or evaluate the science any better, or more accurately, than the right. In which case, one must ask why the right so resolutely refuse to accept what science says, their refusal not based on better science, but a curious mixture of contrarianism and suspicion.

    igetitalready: “Before you jump to conclusions on peoples’ motives…”

    I’m really not trying to assign motive, nor ‘jump’ to any kind of conclusion. I’m trying to figure out how such a polarised debate has become split not across scientific lines, but across political ones. Considering that the important issues in regard to our reaction to the science are political, it is curious to me that deniers disenfranchise themselves from valid debate by attacking science on political grounds.

    igetitalready: You may also want to do some research on some of your manmade warming champions.

    * * * * *

    I don’t usually bother with the crass end of this debate, but I’ll make one exception here since I’m discussing the mechanisms that lead us inexorable into a morass of denial and disinformation. Here is some:

    igetitalready: “…you may want to consider the uncovered fraudulent and manufactured data your side has based many of their claims on”.

    Unfounded allegation, no evidence offered and none exists. There is no manufactured data. If you want to post here again and make such claims, you better provide clear, unambiguous evidence or your post will not survive long. I will not tolerate this kind of obfuscation, which is as cheap as it is baseless and dishonest.

    igetitalready: “You may also want to do some research on some of your manmade warming champions”.

    Denialism in a nutshell. Not for you, the research into science. Instead, you advise me to research people, their motives, their probity and their diligence. These kind of inferential attacks, this personalisation, are exactly the tactics that makes denialism so suspect, because it is quite clear you cannot take issue effectively with the science, so you go after the scientists instead. It’s just a cheap shot in lieu of real argument.

    Anyway, if we’re going to cast these kind of aspersions, then let’s also research the connections between the tobacco lobby, the fossil fuel lobby who seem to be using the same lobby organisations, creationists, troofers, and the pundits too numerous to mention in full but including such luminaries as Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, Cheney, Bush II, Murdoch, Booker, Monckton, virtually the entire collection of US right-wingnuts, Saudi Arabia and Nick Griffin, leader of the UK’s only mainstream Nazi party. Or we could just read Oreskes ‘Merchants of Doubt’ and save time. Frankly, every scumbag on Earth seems to be vying for the role of denier spokesperson, so I’d start by examining the effect on stone throwing on the greenhouse effect if I were you.

    igetitalready: “I would recommend cross referencing warming alarmists with the claims of an eminent ice age from back in the 70s”.

    And this is where your scurrilous tactics implode. Instead of researching your confused reference to ‘warming alarmists’ who you think advocated an ice age, how about researching what science actually said. If you did that instead of trying to attack people, you’d find some interesting things out about this stupid denialist cliché: that 7 papers were published inferring cooling, while 42 were published in the same period inferring warming. If you bothered to research this instead of spreading disinformation, you would soon find Peterson 2008, and this result:

    Figure 1. The number of papers classified as predicting, implying or providing supporting evidence for future global cooling, warming and neutral categories as defined in the text and listed in Table 1. During the period 1965 through 1979, our literature survey found 7 cooling papers, 19 neutral and 42 warming. In no year were there more global cooling papers than global warming. (Source: Peterson 2008)

    While you and people like you concentrate on attacking scientists and advocates of science, you do so at the expense of facts, of proper research – as demonstrated here with your ill-informed remarks about previous climate studies – invoking in your own actions all the traits and failures you ascribe to others. Denial is entirely personal, because it depends solely on opinions stated as fact, when they are nothing of the sort. Science does not require such investment of faith, of belief in arguments that have no merit and nothing to substantiate them. In the context of this article, you might like to consider whether your own anxieties are causing you to accept and propagate disinformation, cod-science and all the other propaganda you seem to believe, rather than just trust the scientists and get to grips with the political consequences of what they are telling us.

    And the ice is still melting, a point I like to end with to remind us of the real context of this debate, and the reality of the empirical evidence that science provides, and deniers…er…deny.

  4. The King In Yellow permalink
    June 18, 2011 2:18 pm

    Interesting observation.

    WRT my comment on knowledge and educashun (!):
    I have no doubt that many of the regular deniers at CiF hold good degrees and more advanced qualifications. However, my anecdotal experience is that unless people regularly study and receive formal education or training, the skills they learnt to get those qualifications atrophy remarkably quickly. They are then less able to critically analyse information that is handed to them by the media, and their horizons narrow, reducing their knowledge and even willingness to do research in the dim and dusty reaches of libraries or online. This links in with your observation that many deniers seem to be older, and no longer active in science, or employment (Its also worth noting that many of the ‘scientists’ on the lists regularly trotted out denying AGW are also retired, have not published in a while, if at all on the subject of climate science).

    I guess as their horizons diminish, they are then less trusting to sources outside their confines, and less trusting of their own ability to actively research outside those confines as it is outside their comfort zone.
    And when they see or hear stuff that requires them to move out of their comfort zone, then that is when denial sets in.

    Though the deniers are right in one aspect – that science is and will be used by governments of any stripe to rake in a few more taxes. But that doesn’t mean the science itself is wrong. It just means the self serving politicians are wrong.

    All the best.

  5. June 19, 2011 1:52 am

    I think it was Feyerabend who said that scientists are a minority who should enjoy the same rights as all other minorities. You are quite right that trust is at the heart of the issue: who and what do I believe to be true? This is “the problem of knowledge” and its study “epistemology.” Saying this doesn’t really help anyone who doesn’t have several years (and the ability and inclination) to grapple with some mind-boggling texts. Which is most people.
    So, then most people are left in the state of being supplicants to experts who claim to have mastered this problem, which means that the social structures which validate certain persons’ claims to be experts cannot be ignored. Which is, as far as I can tell, what (post-)structuralist/modernists are on about. (I think they’d call it a discourse).
    And then one must consider that most people, though they are serious about knowing the truth of their world, and are equipped with a brain whose principal evolutionary driver has been the detection of deception intrinsic to the power of language, will find the previous paragraphs (and this one) opaque and jargon-ridden.
    And because the destruction of cherished beliefs is one of the more unpleasant sensations to the human mind, it is very hard to change those beliefs, disproportionately more so among the less educated. Doing so does indeed cause anxiety and hostility. Perhaps the best thing I have read about the politics of this situation is Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians freely downloadable here: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/ He also has some pointers about how these issues should be addressed.

  6. Graham Wayne permalink*
    June 19, 2011 7:26 am

    If anyone is wondering, igetitalready came back to me with Hal Lewis, Mike’s nature trick, Inhofe’s list and Watts. Needless to say, you won’t be seeing anything else here from a poster who announces on his own blog that “From Al Gore’s now debunked hockey stick fraud to the hacked IPCC emails implicating literally dozens of the world’s best and brightest “unbiased” minds in fabricating information in their findings.” These are not debating points, they are the cliches of denialism and are utterly without merit. I will not waste time discussing this rubbish, since as I pointed out, it’s entirely about attacking scientists, and not about the actual science at all.

    There are many places on the web that people can post this kind of irrational stuff – but this isn’t one of them. I’m not going to spend any time discussing what a colloquial phrase is, arguing about emails or asking for something more reliable than claims that have Inhofe’s plagaristic fingers all over it, let alone a venal little scumbag like Mike Morano.

  7. June 19, 2011 9:34 am

    The thing I’ve noticed is that _personal_ accusations from many of these people are as confused and self-contradictory as their ‘arguments’ against the science. Just as it can’t be both ‘the sun’ and ‘it’s not happening’, so I find it very impossible to be both gullible and dishonest. And difficult to understand how anyone could be both of these things. And the same goes for the incoherent assemblage of political views I apparently espouse. It’s bad enough when this comes from a piling on of several posters, but when it all comes from one person only , what are we to think?

    But I agree it’s all about trust. When I raised trust as an issue in another forum, the whole thing just died. The view I expressed was that I’m willing to grant a measure of trust to people who are expert in something I know little about. I’m also willing to change my mind when such people explain that there’s a newer or better or more comprehensive explanation available. A couple said something like, “Really?!?” The rest just disappeared.

    I find that many of these people have a real problem with withholding judgement. I’m quite happy to say I don’t know and the science at the moment isn’t definite – and that I’m interested to see how it will turn out. (Whatever ‘it’ may be.) That seems to make some people very itchy.

    Can’t help with suggestions for dealing with them, but I do think Bob Altemeyer’s piece is worth revisiting from time to time to get clear about understanding at least a few of them.

  8. June 19, 2011 9:35 am

    Huh, very impossible. That’s a new one. Never mind.

  9. Graham Wayne permalink*
    June 19, 2011 11:48 am

    adelady – you make several important points in my view. The whole point of trusting in science is to accept that it is a constant process of refining, redefining and re-evaluating what we already know, primarily driven by something I learned when I was young: that the more you know, the more you realise how little you know. Science is forever fascinated with the next discovery, not the last, and each new discovery has the potential to change our understanding of many things, not just that under investigation.

    Withholding judgement, as you put it, can also been considered as a desire to appear to know things in a milieu where everyone wants to seem like they know things – cynicism as a front – a product of poor education (which most of it is) and access to the internet – the latter being like a massive library in which most visitors only read that which they already think they know about. This Dunning-Kruger effect seems to materialise at a rate inversely proportional to our understanding of the world around us; the more complex and fast everything becomes, the more disenfranchised from the workings of the world we become. I suspect that part of our collective opinion about science is shaped by our resentment at the way scientists are perceived to be the only ones who understand the complex world they created, as if they did so in order to elevate themselves to the ‘elitist’ position of lofty disdain and arrogance they are so often accused of. It would also be the case that this disenfranchisement would make some of us more anxious, and less trusting.

    So returning to the matter of trust, I think that those who are constantly seeking affirmation, confirmation or support for views they hold, have not formed those views out of knowledge and diligent self-education, but out of laziness and complacency. I trust myself and my views because I know how hard it was to form them, how much work it took just to understand the basics.

    In my own life, I have mastered two things; 20th century music – making it, composing it, arranging, performing and producing it – and computer hardware (a paradoxical pairing of accomplishments, I will admit). Knowing what mastery is, knowing how long it takes to achieve it, knowing I have achieved it through measurement and critique of my actions; these are the dues I paid to ensure my membership was valid. I trust myself because I know I did the work (and interestingly, no argument can ever diminish my accomplishments, for the proof is, as ever, in the work itself). And I recognise in others the same trust in themselves, and inevitably I find it common in professions whose entry fee is so very expensive, whose learning curve is so steep.

    That trust helps to address your last point, which is the willingness to embrace change. Reactionary, or anxiety driven certainty, brooks no modification because it’s a house of cards. Even those who fool themselves into thinking they know ‘the truth’ – and inevitable claim in most cases – have some instinct that warns them not to start examining the construct too closely, else the faulty logic be exposed, along with the self-inflicted humiliation that comes when you find out you’ve been kidding yourself all along. Loss of face, even in the mirror.

    An early observation I made about the polar positions in climate change (and other debates) is that one side seeks to prevent change, while the other seeks to embrace it. A broad generalisation might be that the right – reactionaries – want a business as usual paradigm to apply to everything we do. There is something backward looking, nostalgic, about libertarianism – a frivolous example would be the way right-wing Americans still want to be cowboys, hanging on to their six-shooters. The left has always been interested in, and indeed born out of, a desire to improve things, to change things, to challenge the established order. The right seem to want to spend all our efforts and resources patching up the established order, while the left want to get rid of it. Unfortunately, the left’s tendency towards authoritarian paternalism and the one-size-fits-all convenience that robs us of our individuality, is where they fail when they get the chance to materially challenge the existing order.

  10. June 19, 2011 11:49 am

    This reminds me of a point I have made a few times on forums with deniers.

    I am very concerned about the policies and strategies that are taken or will be taken to mitigate and adapt to climate change. I, do not want to pay more tax. I do not want my travel costs to rise. I still want to be able to afford foreign holidays. I must be like most deniers in this. If we are paying more in taxes or if money is being diverted from one area to another because of climate change then the discussion we should all be having is whether these policies will work. Will they be effective, good value for our money, or just some political fudge paying lip service to to the need to do something. This is the debate we need to be having now.

    The problem is that deniers, mostly the politically right, don’t want to have this discussion. They have their heads buried hoping that all the science is wrong, or worse if they can convince enough people that it is wrong, it will be and the need to actually debate solutions will also vanish. For me that is the real problem with climate denial. While denial or disbelief in climate change still accounts to a sizeable minority of the population, instead of having people arguing what is the best and most cost effective solutions to adopt, we have people harping in from the sidelines that there is no problem.

  11. Graham Wayne permalink*
    June 19, 2011 11:56 am

    Lazarus – exactly so. The strange thing is that they avoid constructive discussion about the very thing they fear most – abusive of the tax system. I too am like you – I really don’t want to pay more taxes, and generally suffer a reduced standard of living (I wrote about this in my post “You’d be mad to support climate change science (so count me in)“. I will accept these things if – and only if – it is clear that the measures taken really will address the issues (irrespective of how well – that’s something we only find out by trying). As it is, I think I’m going to experience all the downsides of state-enacted mitigation, but in a situation so badly managed the sacrifices will be largely in vain, taxed in the name of the climate while the money pays for the next generation of Trident nukes.

  12. Graham Wayne permalink*
    June 19, 2011 12:01 pm

    adelady – forgot to ask – if we do the difficult at once, while the impossible takes a little longer…just how long does the very impossible take?

    🙂

  13. The King In Yellow permalink
    June 19, 2011 1:36 pm

    adelady – you make several important points in my view. The whole point of trusting in science is to accept that it is a constant process of refining, redefining and re-evaluating what we already know, primarily driven by something I learned when I was young: that the more you know, the more you realise how little you know.

    I think this hefty dose of humility is also notably absent from many of the deniers.
    I’ve been fascinated by the Russian Civil War for best part of 30 years and thought I knew a lot about it, especially the history of the White forces. Then I picked up Jamie Bisher’s “White Terror – Cossack Warlords of the Trans-Siberian” (you won’t find that in your average library of book store) , and found out new things I’d not heard of, which was reinforced when watching the Russian film: Kolchak, which featured the Kappelevsky. So even now I am finding out piles of history on a subject I know more than most about.

  14. The King In Yellow permalink
    June 19, 2011 1:53 pm

    The left has always been interested in, and indeed born out of, a desire to improve things, to change things, to challenge the established order. The right seem to want to spend all our efforts and resources patching up the established order, while the left want to get rid of it. Unfortunately, the left’s tendency towards authoritarian paternalism and the one-size-fits-all convenience that robs us of our individuality, is where they fail when they get the chance to materially challenge the existing order.

    Hmm, well I could disagree on a few points there. However, the broad point that the right generally want to conserve the status quo is broadly true. And that is what I find very ironic about the deniers – by denying the science behind AGW and insisting on business as usual they will be the ones that end up destroying the status quo as the climate changes, peak oil and a tsunami of irresistible change overwhelms our way of life.

    Its also just occurred to me, that much like the majority of the White generals in the RCW, the deniers strive to restore/retain the status quo. By refusing to make any compromise the White generals condemned their cause to failure as they alienated all the moderate forces – refusing to co-operate with the Right-SR and their Komuch regime – the fringe nationalities that resided behind their backs – blocking land reform (and even trying to let land owners take back land that had been seized). And when they did realise this, it was too late, so Wrangel’s reforms in the Crimea though genuinely progressive had been OBE….

  15. The King In Yellow permalink
    June 19, 2011 2:34 pm

    adelady – forgot to ask – if we do the difficult at once, while the impossible takes a little longer…just how long does the very impossible take?

    Longer than it takes a denier to understand science ?
    😉

  16. oakwood permalink
    June 19, 2011 10:09 pm

    I’m pretty sure you would consider me a ‘Climate Change Denier’. But, I am not right wing. I have only ever voted Labour or Liberal, and could never vote Conservative. I grew up a Thatcher hater, but having voted twice for Blair, now hate him more than Thatcher due to his warmongering lies. I am male, but not retired, having a good 15 years left of work. I have young children, so consider the future important. I am an ‘outdoor’ person believing strongly in environmental protection. I have degrees in Geophysics and Hydrogeology. I have supported WaterAid for many years. I often choose to cycle to work instead of driving. I am a working scientist, well respected (and paid) for the quality of work I do. The real world needs scientists as much as academia. Academics do research and write papers. This does not make them gods or infallable. Working scientists apply science, do studies and write reports for their clients and employers. We cannot afford to get it wrong (too often at least). Why am I an AGW sceptic? I believe the world is facing many big problems, for which actions to solve them I wholeheartedly support. But having read the reports, looked at the evidence and listened to the experts, I find the AGW case remains unconvincing. And I consider the efforts, time and money spent on solving a non-existant problem impact on our chance to address the real problems. Its is because I care for the future of the planet and humanity that I criticise promotion of this issue which has now become much more about politics than science.

  17. June 19, 2011 11:36 pm

    When it comes to right v. left arguments, I think the ‘left’ – very generally grouped – make one huge mistake.

    They constantly talk about ‘conservatives’, and they allow many commentators to describe themselves as conservative. Make no mistake. The great majority of what we currently see on the right is far from conservative. It’s radical.

    Old-fashioned conservatives have a major focus on social, political and economic stability, along with a not unpleasant fondness for the past as viewed through rose-tinted glasses.

    The modern, radical right have no such concerns. Their economic and political vision is revolutionary. They seem to think that they can tip over the economic apple-cart, destroy government functions and maintain social stability all at the same time. I’ve never understood how that might work, but that’s clearly what they have in mind.

  18. Graham Wayne permalink*
    June 20, 2011 6:53 am

    oakwood – interesting to see you here, and I hope you are the same oakwood I meet in CiF, or my next comments will be irrelevant.

    I’ve read your posts on environment and to start with, when we’re not on climate change – energy instead for example – I often agree with you, and think you make sense even if I don’t. My issue with the way you seem to debate climate change – and why I do think of you as a denier – is that your scepticism (as expressed here) becomes an agenda, where you seem to be driven more by a desire to win the argument than merely to express scepticism.

    I zipped over to your profile in the Guardian to find an example of what I mean, and the first comment listed immediately demonstrated what I mean. This is what you said about an article by Bob Ward (who is the policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics):

    The article might have some logic if Bob Ward were any less one-sided or biased than the Daily Mail.

    It doesn’t even matter, for the purposes of my argument, what the article was about. Instead of discussing what Ward said, you just mounted a personal attack – and a failed one, since what Ward said was perfectly logical and seemed factual enough to counter any accusations of bias. Your attack isn’t sceptical, it isn’t good debate, it isn’t factual or good argument, it is an ad hominem. These are the tactics of denial, where the argument itself or the issues it addresses are sidelined in favour of tactics that are dishonourable and weak, where personalisation, slights, inference and slanders are a substitute for issue-based discussion. You didn’t seek to say what you disagreed with, merely to slight Ward, to imply his work was biased without providing evidence or examples, and for this reason I have to assume the fight is now more important to you than the issue you’re fighting over.

    I cannot take issue with your views – if you remain unconvinced that the political and economic measures are proportionate to the problem, that’s fine with me. But why is it so hard to understand, as KiY and I both comment from time to time, that you disenfranchise yourself from discussing those issues when you attack people in a grubby way, and align yourself with the very demagogues whose mission is founded on an agenda of deceit and disinformation. Many deniers evidently believe that the means justifies the ends. This is one of the most amoral and intellectually irresponsible ways of approaching public discourse. It took us into Iraq by a man you claim to hate, but whose methods you seem to admire. You must make up your mind what you really want – a discussion of those matters we can influence, or a battle to ‘beat’ climate change by methods that leave you as tainted as those you accuse.

    I also seem to have strayed from my own topic (guess I better moderate myself, eh?). Of course there are people on the left of the political spectrum that feel as you do. It’s just that you are outnumbered by the right, and I’m trying to explore why that might be, why there is more denial on the right than the left – or even if that’s true. Perhaps the left have an equal number of people in denial, for example about the failures of socialism to produce anything worthy and lasting.

  19. Graham Wayne permalink*
    June 20, 2011 7:02 am

    adelady – labels, generalisations…always a bit suspect, one way or another. It’s just difficult to know how else to discuss the broad social phenomena in a way everyone understands, at least the terminology, if nothing else. But you’re right, small ‘c’ conservatives are not the same as, for example, the neocons and their paradoxical aims.

  20. Graham Wayne permalink*
    June 20, 2011 7:08 am

    KingInYellow – “By refusing to make any compromise…”

    That’s the point, isn’t it? Denial is such an entrenched, hardline position, that discussion is impossible. Deniers just want to tell me why I’m wrong, why science is wrong, why ACC theory is wrong, all framed in opinions that I’m supposed to accept as fact, opinions quite often driven by, or justified through, a conspiracy theory for which no evidence is ever produced. It’s why they attack any science that dares to mention climate change, because for their hardline position to work, all climate science must be wrong, and this blanket dismissal of absolutely everything leads to a position that is as illogical as it is irrational.

  21. The King In Yellow permalink
    June 20, 2011 1:21 pm

    When it comes to right v. left arguments, I think the ‘left’ – very generally grouped – make one huge mistake.

    adelady + Graham Wayne….

    I agree, labels and pigeonholing often leads to pigeonholing (hence I occasionally take umbrage at being called a lefty for being a green 😉 ). It also, does not help that the simple left/right dichotomy is dreadfully out dated and simple. Hence, I use the Political Compass: http://www.politicalcompass.org/analysis2.
    And as you will see, there are a surprising number of ‘left’ wing politicfians who are actually ‘right’ wing. hence, Oakwood may well think of himself as ‘left’ wing, when in reality he is ‘right’ wing.

    More food for thought.

  22. The King In Yellow permalink
    June 20, 2011 1:42 pm

    Deniers just want to tell me why I’m wrong, why science is wrong, why ACC theory is wrong, all framed in opinions that I’m supposed to accept as fact, opinions quite often driven by, or justified through, a conspiracy theory for which no evidence is ever produced.

    That’s the most frustrating thing. All they have is opinion, no scientific facts or Evidence(TM). I’m not dogmatic, and really wish that the AGW theory was wrong, but am never shown any compelling Evidence(TM)*

    As you say this outright denial is illogical (Captain**), when based on no actual evidence.

    All the best.

    * For those readers who do not use CiF, I have trademarked my request for Evidence, as I have asked sooo many times….to no avail…and it is a bit of a joke**

    ** Which reminds me, why are deniers so po-faced ?

  23. Graham Wayne permalink*
    June 20, 2011 3:24 pm

    KIY – I was delighted to find that, on the Political Compass test I stand right between the Dalai Lama, Mandela and Gandhi, which isn’t a bad place to find oneself. Less pleasant was the shock of finding out I’m an anarcho-syndicalist, a group I have taken the piss out of for years based on the utter pretentiousness of the title. Now I’m having a political identity crisis… 🙂

    As for deniers and their lack of self-depreciating humour, it was one of the first things I ever noticed about them, this propensity to take themselves so very seriously. Later, I realised that when one’s opinion is so vital to the credibility of one’s position, and science is to be dismissed on the basis of that opinion alone, self-importance is a mandatory part of the world view (which may also explain in part why that view becomes unassailable).

  24. The King In Yellow permalink
    June 20, 2011 4:53 pm

    KIY – I was delighted to find that, on the Political Compass test I stand right between the Dalai Lama, Mandela and Gandhi, which isn’t a bad place to find oneself. Less pleasant was the shock of finding out I’m an anarcho-syndicalist, a group I have taken the piss out of for years based on the utter pretentiousness of the title. Now I’m having a political identity crisis…

    Yes, equally humiliating, was for me to find myself closest to the Lib-Dems, Simon Hughes et al… :-/

  25. The King In Yellow permalink
    June 20, 2011 4:57 pm

    As for deniers and their lack of self-depreciating humour, it was one of the first things I ever noticed about them, this propensity to take themselves so very seriously. Later, I realised that when one’s opinion is so vital to the credibility of one’s position, and science is to be dismissed on the basis of that opinion alone, self-importance is a mandatory part of the world view (which may also explain in part why that view becomes unassailable).

    Indeed, having your world outlook, and your way of life challenged in go, probably is a serious problem that the deniers shrink away from.

    All the best.

  26. The King In Yellow permalink
    June 20, 2011 5:19 pm

    Indeed, having your world outlook, and your way of life challenged in ONE go, probably is a serious problem that the deniers shrink away from.
    All the best.

  27. oakwood permalink
    June 20, 2011 8:02 pm

    The Political Compass is an interesting exercise. There are some strange questions, some clearly loaded ones, and sometimes difficult when there is no ‘don’t know’ or ‘indifferent’. You are forced to at least say ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’.

    I aimed to answer the questions as honestly as possible. My result was:
    Economic Left/Right: -3.25
    Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.54
    – which like for gpwayne, seems to put me somewhere between Dalai Lama, Mandela and Gandhi, but slightly more libertarian.

    What that means……? I don’t know.

  28. oakwood permalink
    June 20, 2011 8:03 pm

    Yes, I am the same oakwood, gpwayne assumes.

  29. The King In Yellow permalink
    June 20, 2011 10:27 pm

    oakwood PERMALINK
    June 20, 2011 8:02 pm
    The Political Compass is an interesting exercise. There are some strange questions, some clearly loaded ones

    I see, so you disagree with AGW science, and now you disagree with political science.
    There’s an interesting pattern appearing here.

    All the best.

  30. Graham Wayne permalink*
    June 21, 2011 6:30 am

    oakwood – you know, I was glad that you popped in and commented. I hoped that perhaps we could discuss method and means a bit, to try and clarify where we differ and where we agree, but although you’ve popped back, you haven’t taken up any of the issues I’ve raised, which I regret.

    If you do have time, could you elaborate a bit on what I perceive as a difference between scepticism (and debate) and denial, with what I regards as its concomitant propaganda. I want to know why a reasonable chap might employ methods that seem to me illogical, and why they may not seem that way to you?

  31. oakwood permalink
    June 22, 2011 7:57 am

    I’m busy following the IPCC-Greenpeace-Lynas-Hickman debate at present. Interesting stuff. Will get back.

  32. June 24, 2011 5:59 pm

    This is also a propos of the current discussion, though it’s discussing multilingualism, not climate change:

    http://beingmultilingual.blogspot.com/2011/06/how-do-we-know.html

    “I sometimes wonder whether the questions we’re asking ourselves aren’t more like “What do we want to go on believing?” than like “What do we know?” and “How do we know it?”. Sometimes, it may well be the case that we don’t want to know.

    Quotes American sociologist Charles Wright Mills:

    “The first rule for understanding the human condition is that men live in second‐hand worlds. They are aware of much more than they have personally experienced; and their own experience is always indirect. The quality of their lives is determined by meanings they have received from others […], crowds of witnesses they have never met and never shall meet. Yet for every man these images – provided by strangers and dead men – are the very basis of his life as a human being.”

  33. June 26, 2011 8:57 pm

    Hi folks,

    Been a while since I’ve popped in here, and good to be able to identify another debater (Hi Oakwood!) as a human being! There is clearly so much astroturf in places like CiF these days that it can be hard to tell what’s what and who’s who. Turning Tide likewise – a commentator I disagree with utterly on AGW but the other week we were swapping gardening ideas on a totally unrelated thread. Kinda makes it easier to chat when you know someone is real – and yes one may battle on one topic but can calmly discuss another!

    On Graham’s post: I often wonder if the roots of the issue stem back to the period of ca. 1955-75.

    That was certainly a Cornucopian festival, with the news (and, later, Tomorrow’s World) promising a pretty unlimited future. People in their 20s-30s then must have been filled with incredibly optimistic visions of the future (despite the Cold War). My parents certainly were. But these self-same good folk are now between 60 and 80 years of age and they look back at the system to which they unquestioningly, for the large part, dedicated their working lives. To be told that such a system was after all so flawed that it might well decimate life on Earth within a century or two, if taken to its conclusion, must seem a hell of a slap.

    I’m pretty convinced that is a big element.

    The answer, to me, is that the motivation and sheer human innovation that got us to where we were in the 1950s need not stop – we take that spirit on into the future. As different as the step from the automobile to launching space vehicles, it CAN be done.

    Hope that makes sense!

    Cheers – John

  34. June 28, 2011 5:20 am

    “To be told that such a system was after all so flawed that it might well decimate life on Earth within a century or two, if taken to its conclusion, must seem a hell of a slap.”

    I’m one of them (60+). And that’s not a full description. Yes, we really did think that increasing scientific and technical expertise would show the way.

    And. We. Were. Right. – until recently.

    Landing people on the moon – within a 10 year time limit. Astounding achievement. Vaccination – the greatest achievement of 20th century science – eliminating smallpox, and now the merest smidgin away from eliminating polio. (For those of us terrified in the 50s by all the newspaper pictures of iron lungs, this is marvellous.) And of course, computers and telecommunications. Cancer detection and treatment. (And baking paper.)

    Acid rain – identify the problem, work out a solution, do it. Asbestos, ditto. CFCs and the ozone hole – ditto. Lead in paint and petrol – ditto. Climate change?

    Well, people like me saw it in much the same light as those others. President Carter put a solar hot water system on the White House roof and all of us modern, baby boomer, technical types just thought this was a first step along a logical path. The beginnings of a new and exciting technology that would take us into the future.

    We laughed like drains when Pres Reagan announced that trees caused more pollution than cars did.

    We were wrong.

    That was when the wheels started to fall off.

  35. June 28, 2011 8:30 pm

    My experience is that at least one of the (*cough* arbruthnott *cough*) long standing CiF ‘skeptics’ is just your plain, common or garden nasty bullshitter – the sort that systematically reports all your posts as abuse if you disagree with them and present a pro-science point of view.

    Wanker.

    Appreciate being able to get that one off my chest. Carry on…

  36. June 29, 2011 6:47 pm

    adelady – Those achievements are all wonderful, game-changing things, but the truth is that even without climate change, the period 1950-1970 set a new global course (or a new radical acceleration on an old course) that was inherently self-destructive. This can be examined through a variety of lenses: the rise of consumer capitalism, the development of industrial agriculture and the green revolution, the explosion of deforestation and habitat loss, the development of persistent toxins, and so on. Climate change or not, technology was never going to dig us out of all the various holes we were (and still are) digging (though it still delivered some amazing transformations).

    BTW, having again taken the political compass, I ended up just to the left of Ghandhi.

  37. David Socrates permalink
    July 6, 2011 11:37 am

    Adelady, hello again. We met on one of Graham’s other blog trails a while back, when you suggested he should “calm down” a bit after one of his more robust responses to me. (Graham, don’t you dare take Adelady’s well intentioned advice. It’s your blog and your robust responses speak from the heart, as do mine!)

    Adelady, I too am 60+ (going on 30) and remember well the excitement and promise of new technologies in the 60’s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. You say: “Yes, we really did think that increasing scientific and technical expertise would show the way…And. We. Were. Right. – until recently.”

    Well, I think you are being a bit selective. There were many failures and cul-de-sacs then, supersonic air transport being one obvious one that springs to mind. Likewise cold fusion. And the success/failure story continues ever onwards. It is the human condition.

    Looking to the future, on the plus side I believe biotechnology has a long run ahead of it, helping to cure many diseases. Similarly, as an electrical engineer and computer scientist, I cannot be anything but optimistic about humankind solving the ‘energy problem’, initially via safer nuclear fission and eventually via fusion. I know that’s a controversial viewpoint and I could well be wrong. But that’s my vision. On the down side, having looked in detail at the technologies involved in wind power, solar and the other renewables (appealing though they are psychologically to me), I now feel that they are never in the forseeable future going to be the big players some people had hoped. I could be wrong over that too, but that is my current considered belief. However, what I am absolutely certain about is that the option of reversing the technology clock and using significantly less energy is simply not on, because that would be flying in the face of human nature. (I am, of course, in favour of using energy more efficiently, which is an entirely benign and useful development but we should not kid ourselves that this will do more than a very little to solve the ‘energy problem’.)

    I’m sorry if I am being disruptive by casting a more cheerful light into this current blog-of-gloom. I make no apology for feeling very positive about the fate of the human race, even though Graham and most other respondents on this blog seem nowadays to be expressing general pessimism. I think this is mainly because they feel they are ‘losing their battle’ over climate change…

    …My position on climate change as you probably already appreciate from my previous comments in the other blog trail is that we all have a duty to be alert to the possibility that the world mean temperature curve will continue rising alarmingly, as it did in the 30 years to 2000, even though the skeptics have had a field day this last 10 years, during which time the temperature more-or-less flatlined. If it does indeed resume that alarming upward trend over the next 10 to 15 years then I think we will find that humanity will be forced to take action very rapidly. If however the temperature rise continues to abate, leaving us following the historical long term trend of around half a degree Celcius per century, I think it will be increasingly hard to justify the huge economic and societal changes that are currently being proposed.

    Where I deeply take issue with Graham (whilst completely respecting his position) is that leaving it another 10 to 15 years will be a catastrophic mistake. I also disagree with the implication that he has a more comprehensive grasp on the basic science than me – but at the same time I would not be so presumptive to assume I know more than him. Perhaps we both have some gems to contribute.

    What I have uncovered, looking deeply into the physics of global warming over several years, is a surprising amount of sloppy thinking, arm waving, and scientific obfuscation on both sides of the debate. As a result of that, I am profoundly uncomfortable about the increasing polarisation of people, who might otherwise contribute usefully, into two extreme camps. Surely what all people of goodwill should be doing is constructively debating on the middle (non-extremist) ground, ignoring the incompetent, ignorant, and possibly evil people that may well be out there at the extremes. The vast majority of people are not at those extreme fringes. They are clustered in the middle of the usual ‘bell shaped curve’ of opinion. They are not even deeply engaged intellectually in the same way that we are. They need clear facts and simple explanations but, in my view, they are not getting them – nowadays they get just a lot of political arm waving from both directions. They will certainly not be helped one jot as spectators of the internecine warfare now going on between extremists. We forget at our peril that at the end of the day, at least in the world’s democracies, they are the ultimate voters on this issue.

    In particular, I would appeal to Graham to please, please allow reasonable people on this blog to keep a polite and constructive debate going that focusses on the science, seeking out what we can agree and what is still in contention, rather than trying to close that scientific debate down. I think that intelligent, concerned people like us owe a bit more to the world than cries of unmitigated despair. Neither ‘side’ has yet ‘won’ and there’s still a long way to go before the scientific issues are settled.

    So I would like make a proposal: that Graham sets up a new trail on this blog that has strict rules about only addressing the science, with Graham strictly rejecting all blog responses that cover non-scientific issues. I would be more than happy to contribute. Last thought: why let the extremists go to war when we, as responsible intelligent people, can meet on middle territory and debate and perhaps even influence the outcome?

  38. July 8, 2011 4:49 am

    David – as for the flatlining, that seems to have been down to the Indian and particularly the Chinese rapid expansion of not-too-clean coal fired power stations. As they move to retire or clean up these monsters, the CO2 they released at the same time as all those aerosols will bare their nasty teeth.

    As for technology. There are always failures, that’s a given. There are often frauds as well. But by and large, the optimism I referred to was about the combination of technology advancing, faults found, action taken. The ozone hole _is_ closing. Acid rain is declining. Asbestos and lead are mostly under control. All thanks to the combination of good science and good politics/diplomacy.

    The problem with power generation and transport technology is that the faults were identified a long time ago. We started on what I think of as the usual course. Think of a solution, try it out, expand and get an agreement. We’ve not got a lot further than thinking of solutions – which is very different from CFCs, asbestos and the like.

  39. July 8, 2011 4:03 pm

    The ozone hole _is_ closing.
    Actually, it’s just stopped expanding (which is a very good thing!). It won’t start decreasing in a statistically significant way until around 2024. But I take your point.

  40. David Socrates permalink
    July 18, 2011 7:38 pm

    Adelady (July 8, 2011 4:49 am), Thanks for your reasoned and rational response to my comments of July 6, 2011 11:37 am.

    You say: “…as for the [temperature record] flatlining, that seems to have been down to the Indian and particularly the Chinese rapid expansion of not-too-clean coal fired power stations. As they move to retire or clean up these monsters, the CO2 they released at the same time as all those aerosols will bare their nasty teeth.”

    I agree this is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis, consistent with the behaviour of the real temperature record to date. (Although I do seriously wonder if you have quantitative evidence to support it?!)

    But as you know, the alternative hypothesis that I have proposed is that the “flatlining” simply reflects the beginning of a natural downturn in the historically well established ~67 year natural cyclic climate oscillation.

    The issue is: how are people to decide which hypothesis is correct? Answer: by looking at the world temperature data. But as I have stated previously, this will take another 10 to 15 years of real data to convince people one way or the other. At the moment it is just not possible to be certain which is correct.

    You say: “…The problem with power generation and transport technology is that the faults were identified a long time ago. We started on what I think of as the usual course. Think of a solution, try it out, expand and get an agreement. We’ve not got a lot further than thinking of solutions – which is very different from CFCs, asbestos and the like.”

    True, but surely the reason for the problem you identify is simply that it proved much harder than expected to find cost-efficient engineering solutions. This is despite a phenomenal investment effort by governments around the world over the past 30 years in alternative energy. In comparison, ozone, acid rain, asbestos and lead were comparatively easy engineering problems to solve, so solutions were quickly found and acted on by governments without serious economic harm to their electorates.

    Because cost efficient solutions have not yet been found in the case of alternative energy supplies, it has obviously been that much harder for governments to persuade their electorates to agree to massive investments in non-cost-efficient solutions (nuclear power, wind power, geothermal, solar, etc.) that do exist. This is hardly surprising is it? I really cannot see that it is due to any reluctance to solve the engineering problems, as you seem to imply.

  41. September 12, 2011 10:31 pm

    the reason I support the theory of anthropogenic climate change is primarily because I trust the science

    That is how I started. I trusted the science, and then I tried to edit wikipedia: simply to add a link to an article on peak oil I had found interesting and thought good enough for others to want to read who had an interest in energy.

    Then I met the Wikipedia “scientists”. (I now know that these are a group of climate insiders) I really can’t understand even now why the link was refused. But somehow this clique decided that it would and nothing I could do could change their view.

    Then I began to be interested in all the other debates. As a believer in global warming I thought I could be quite neutral because I was quite willing to allow all sides to be heard. But I really was naive. There wasn’t the slightest interest in “letting the other side be heard” … not by the sceptics, but by those pushing global warming. And the more I saw their tactics, the more I checked up on their endless links, the less I realised that there was anything substantial behind the links, and eventually I realised that I’d never actually ever seen the “evidence” proving manmade warming.

    So, I decided that as a person with a science degree and enough knowledge of energy to be influential, I’d better make sure that what I was saying was backed by the evidence.

    It took me several months of tracking back papers, of following links to “the evidence” only to find papers with “links to the evidence” and statements of “certainty” without any clarification of what was certain. But, eventually I did find the papers, and to say I was less than impressed in a complete understatement.

    There certainly is next to no evidence behind all the “effects” of warming. I was certain of that because none of the papers dealt with this issue in an impartial way. The “science” behind manmade global warming almost as suspect – more in the way of bland assertions rather than testable science.

    I have to say that since that time I have seen more and more and more evidence against the exaggerated claims.

    I’ve no problem accepting that CO2 does cause warming. But that is not the issue. The problem is that there is next to no evidence that the positive feedbacks necessary for the “doomsday” warming exist.

    At first I tried to push to make the Wikipedia article cover the issue fairly. Then I realised that those involved were entirely biased. Then I tried to make others aware. But how can one individual make any difference against the whole bandwagon of global warming?

    But, we are now nearing the end of that process. There are more and more papers presenting real evidence on the subject … all of it supportive of the sceptical view against exaggerated warming.

  42. Ken Dunstan permalink
    September 13, 2011 5:05 pm

    Graham, you last posted in June. I guessed that you were fed up with dealing with the rabid right and the ad hominem route to hiding from science. But I miss your patient logic and your willingness to explain, point by point -as, for example, in tacking the second comment in this thread. Any chance that we might have some more small epiphanies? Please?

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