"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Okies from Muskogee

Sometimes, I feel it's all my fault, mine and the original gang's (Eli, James, William, BobG, and even on occasion RayP). We were on usenet (on the sci.environment list) in the early 90s, and we saw the ideological opposition to climate science emerge. I was confident, truth being more or less on our side, that we would prevail.

Little did I understand that we were just target practice, that great swaths of the society, and ultimately one of the two major parties in America, would simply reject science wholesale. Was engaging the proto-denialists in those days a mistake? It didn't seem like it. Their noise and nonsense had to get answered after all, even if there were only a few hundred people reading.

But we've been there from the beginning, watching the catastrophe unfold. We knew it was a tall order getting people to understand the nature of the situation well enough for good policy to emerge. I don't think we envisioned the success and extent of the polarization, which bodes ill for practical solutions.


So it's not all our fault. But we failed. We failed, along with the scientific mainstream, all the national academies, all the universities, all the professional groups that have come to understand the daunting implications of the growing human interference in the flow of energy through the climate system.

We all failed horribly. The closer you are to America and to climate science, the bigger your share of the failure. We screwed up. We fell into a bunch of polemical traps.

As of today, it is official. The US House of Representatives today voted down 240-184 an amendment from Henry Waxman (D-CA) that stated:
Congress accepts the scientific findings of the Environmental Protection Agency that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.
This is to say that even the agreement in principle that there is a problem has been roundly defeated in the congress, 19 years AFTER the US agreed with the rest of the world on exactly this point, since which time North America has ignored the progress in the rest of the world in coming to terms with its implications. That is to say, the present Republican caucus voted nearly unanimously against the underpinnings a treaty signed by 2/3 of the senate and a Republican president in 1992, despite the fact that the supporting evidence is dramatically stronger than it was then, and that obvious, non-subtle consequences of climate change are starting to occur, just about on schedule.


This is despite the fact that, as Joe Romm points out,

Last year, the U.S. National Academy of Science, the equivalent of the Supreme Court of science — a body that is ultra-conservative from a scientific perspective — reviewed the scientific literature in a major report and concluded:
A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems….

Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.
There's a lot of headscratching this week. Keith Kloor is justifiably gobsmacked; many of his readers and their sock puppets, as one would expect, are not. Quoting Chris Mooney's observation that
If, as we suspect, skeptics invoke climate frames that resemble abortion politics, this has serious policy implications. As long as members of the skeptic movement are included in the policy debate and sway the opinions of some lawmakers, their discourse is critically relevant.
he muses:
I might have dismissed this rationale two years ago, before the rise of the Tea Party and its dismissal of climate science spread like a contagion throughout the GOP. Now I’m inclined to think that another form of culture war is underway that is definitely not healthy for a constructive dialogue on climate change. I do hope that the reasonable climate skeptics that visit Collide-a-Scape understand this.
Little Green Footballs finds an interesting letter to the editor as a specimen, backing up Chris's speculations (h/t Brian Dupuis):
If you want to save the planet, forsake your arrogance and defiance of God and ask for His forgiveness. Put prayer back in the schools. Put the Ten Commandments back in public view. Stop killing His gift of children; killing infants in the womb is not a God-given right.

Wake up to the fact that God has said the wisdom of our wise men is foolishness. In other words, our wise men don't know jack.

If we turn from our wicked ways and seek God with all our hearts, God will forgive our sins and heal our land.
With all this going on, John Abraham has coauthored a piece on political site The Hill with Democrat congresswoman Betty McCollum. Their conclusion is solid:
Every single member of Congress has a choice: deny the science of climate change or take real steps to confront a changing climate. Congress must accept scientific reality and act on climate change.
Well, yeah. I wish, though, that they had not coauthored the piece. Let me explain why.


We can easily define the practical problem as the near-unanimous agreement of a major political party in a view of a crucial issue that is based in utter fantasy. People who stick their necks out in this way are unlikely to reverse themselves. The possibilities, short of the severe decline of world which we need to void, are the severe decline of the United States, or a sharp separation of the points of view of the supporters of the Republican party from those of their representatives. Even a sharp decline of the Republican party, which seems likely given the trail of destruction their zealots are leaving in the congress and the state houses these days, will not suffice. It is absolutely crucial that the voters who had been inclined to support Republicans understand these issues better, so that whatever responsible conservative force emerges to replace the current batch of detatched-from-reality conservatives, whether within or outside the Republican party, takes real, honest science seriously.

By publishing a piece where a scientist and a Democrat speak together, their article, however cogent, reinforces the incorrect idea that climate science is an interest group with a political alliance. Indeed, it is possible that our problems stem from widespread opposition to Al Gore; this would explain the difference between America and the rest of the world, where the spokesmen for the problem are not closely associated with a political party.

I have been a great admirer of Mr. Gore's for many years, indeed, since his days a a senator. Despite the mockery, we would likely not have the privilege of this conversation were it not for Gore's perceptive support for a widely accessible "information superhighway" system. The absurd tragedy of his bizarre defeat in the election for president was a strange and bleak turning point in history. And his return to the climate issue was a natural process. But it is flawed because he attached a party and a cluster of identity issues to climate change. He reinforced the dull earnestness of kind, well-intentioned, none-too-smart schoolteachers that drive people to rebellion. He was everything that a happy redneck loves to hate. His associations with the rich and educated fed the bizarre paradoxical association of "liberal" and "elite" in the backwoods worldview. And so, climate change became an identity issue.



So every time we play into that framing, every time we rub people the wrong way by being rude or smarmy or superior or (let's face it) fun-hating, we reinforce that image of liberal as fun-hating freedom-hating authoritarian. It's so bizarre. It's so backwards from the rest of the world's idea of liberalism and conservatism, including that of American liberals.

(Let me tell you about being 13 at Expo '67 sometime. Big liberal fun. Federally funded Disneyland. A future so bright...)

But when you look at the big picture, you'll see these climate horrors are a sideshow. The extent to which the country is being mauled and wrecked by people with a grade school understanding of economics is so astonishing and terrifying that the climate fiasco is beside the point. More to the point, if the Republicans are so much under the control of a cultural thread that is juvenile and arrogantly stupid that they really believe a 30 billion dollar cut infederal expenditures in a weak economy is appropriate, the rank stupidity of their approach to climate issues not surprising. In fact, they embrace that foolishness happily; it is emblematic of their rejection of the sense that emerges from centuries of accumulated experience and decades of individual study.

Again, it is to the genuine conservative that we must appeal. Everybody else understands the situation; perhaps not well enough to decide well, but at least well enough not to be obstructionist. But the way to do that is still not to reinforce their suspicions about science as an interest group dominating the function of science as collective perception.

I'm not sure there's any way out of this awful mess anytime soon. Some people seem to be gearing up to blame God for everything awful that is coming, even if all the fairly clear predictions really do end up corresponding well to how the climate will shift, tilt and crack. It will be all the worse if it cracks some other way we haven't foreseen!

But the wrong thing to do is to have science look like ideology, for scientists to be seen to cozy up to people with ideological and political agendas. This is because it is not important for Democratic voters to look good. It is important for Republican voters to look twice.

I think I'm starting to get what Randy Olson is saying:
I had given my talk which includes a section on the importance of the “voice” of the messenger, based on the 4th chapter of my book, “Don’t Be So Unlikeable.” To make the point I showed portions of two BP commercials from last year about the Gulf oil spill. The first one is Tony Hayward, C.E.O. of BP and with a foreign accent that automatically conveys condescension. The second one, produced after their communications folks realized they had blown their mass communications, is a homeboy from the Gulf coast with a thick southern drawl, pronouncing “oil” as “all.” First guy terrible, second guy okay. It’s not frickin’ rocket science. People listen to voices they like.
The trouble, of course, is that scientists bond better with pedantic patricians like Mr. Gore than with good ol' boys like a well off Texas-born-and-bred BP engineer. You need to talk to rednecks, so get a redneck, and if you can't, at least get somebody who likes and respects rednecks and who rednecks like and respect in turn.


Andy S said...

Viscount Monckton seems to be able to communicate effectively to red necks without modulating his accent, as did Margaret Thatcher. It's the content that matters.

Steve Bloom said...

MT goes off the rails: "(I)t is possible that our problems stem from widespread opposition to Al Gore(.)"

Sure, and we could experience Pliocene-like conditions with no increase in GMST.

In a pig's eye.

I hate to be rude, Michael, but I don't think the hair shirt/mortifying of flesh routine, either directly or via the Gore proxy, is either apt or helpful.

Consider how it is that we would have come to the present pass with regard to acceptance of the clear implications of the science by the public and politicians regardless of anything Al Gore or scientists said or did. Indeed, you more or less admit that this must be the case, contradicting yourself, when you talk about similar things going on with regard to economics, evolution and abortion (unless you want to postulate that climate science somehow drove those issues, which I doubt you do). Hey, it's a larger pattern! Climate science is really just an innocent victim who happened to wander across the road at the wrong time (although under any circumstances a substantial degree of resistance was inevitable due to the scale of the changes being asked for).

More later, but for now a parting thought: America has always had ~30% yahoos, and periodically we have yahoo outbursts, e.g. the Great Revival, the near-contemporaneous know-nothings, and McCarthyism. This one too shall pass, at which point progress can be accelerated (albeit not easily). As MiddleMan didn't say, hwinnem (sp?) the future!

Steve Bloom said...

Also, David Brin has been working this territory for a few years now. I don't agree with every aspect of his analysis, but IMHO he's reasonably on target.

Andy, you missed the point. Thatcher/Monckton did/do most of their talking to people with the same general accent or who reside in former colonies where the response to such accents is favorable. The question is how well the Potty Peer did speaking to American audiences. Not all that well, I think, although YMMV.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. You might want to read the Bookseller of Kabul by ├ůsne Seierstad.

Life goes on even if the illiterate throngs come and burn your books.

Your post was good but it could have been excellent (facebook spread material) if it wasn't too long and included some shooting from the hip. What Steve Bloom said.

Andy S said...

Steve my impression is that Monckton is more respected in the US and, maybe, Australia than he is at home. The BBC documentary certainly seemed to show him successfully pandering to crowds in both countries. Monckton even got to testify to Congress, I believe. I don't think any British politician would risk the ridicule of calling upon Monckton as an expert witness.

Having said that, my guesses as to what motivates skeptics and what they are shamelessly capable of doing next keep getting trashed by reality.

Steve Bloom said...

Well, those were some rather select crowds, Andy, although perhaps a bit less so in Oz if the scale of the tour was anything to judge by. Re the Congressional testimony, the Republicans have invited some other witnesses with less-than-standard credibility. Anyway, in the U.S. at least I don't think whatever appeal he has is to rednecks as such (who I think would respond viscerally to his accent) but to a somewhat more educated crowd.

Steve Bloom said...

Be of slightly better cheer, Michael.

Nick Palmer said...

Well, I'm glad that Beck is going but that 240-184 vote suggests America just took a big lurch towards becoming the most powerful enemy of humanity there is.

I have quite high hopes for Richard Alley's new three part series “Earth: The Operator’s Manual"
reviewed on Skepticalscience here

This guy is clearly brilliant, he has conviction, he can use rhetoric, he can communicate in ordinary language but most significant he is an uber-nerd/geek - the type of schoolkid who was always at the top of the class by a long way.

These kids got bullied, they irritated many but the whole class knew they were almost certainly right when they stated something.

Steve Bloom said...

Nick, the Repug all-in strategy will work right up until the moment it doesn't. This vote was both symbolic and purely political (motion made by a Democrat to embarrass Republicans), so don't take it as an indication that every single one of those votes rejects the science. My guess is that only a minority, probably even a small minority, actually thinks that way. The real rubber hits the road in the negotiations over EPA funding and authority, and I don't think this vote says much about how that's going to go. After that we see the extent to which the Democrats are willing to use this issue in 2012.

Rich Puchalsky said...

Steve Bloom: "I hate to be rude, Michael, but I don't think the hair shirt/mortifying of flesh routine, either directly or via the Gore proxy, is either apt or helpful."

I was there in those early sci.env days as well, and I think that Steve Bloom is right. Remember Thomas Gale Moore from back then? He's still cranking out global warming denialism. Is that because he was angered by Al Gore? No, of course not. It's because industrial interests fund the Hoover Institution and Cato Institute.

Climate change denialism in the U.S. is a propaganda line funded by interested industries, and operates among its target audience more or less as a proxy for racism. It's no longer socially acceptable for white conservatives to come together around how much they hate black people, but they can still do so over this in a tribally coded fashion.

You can't wish that away by imagining that someone with a different accent became the public face presenting the science. Those people would be instantly discredited on some pretext or other. The only reason that Gore stands out is because he's an ex-pol with too much power for them to jeer off the public stage.

So really you're part of the problem with this kind of post, ready to attack the people on your own side because you don't want to believe that there are sides. Well, those sides existed long before you came on the scene, and you don't get to choose, as an individual, the political reality that you live within.

Unknown said...


Stop the presses: i agree with the thrust of Steve Bloom's take in this thread.

While it's true that I see climate change becoming another proxy in the never-ending culture wars, especially because of the Tea Party influence, I'm not so sure the movement has a long shelf life.

Additionally, as Bloom pointed out, the Waxman amendment you're gnashing your teeth over was purely political (and clever, too, as it puts the House Repubs on record).

I attempt to make a connection between the Beck news from yesterday and the failed amendment here:


Michael Tobis said...

gl, Yeah, it's stream of consciousness. Too long. Sometimes I feel a need to capture what I'm thinking and put it here whether people read it or not. In general, my favorite pieces, the ones that guide my subsequent thinking, are not the favorites of my readers. But if they like some of my shorter pieces, they benefit from these stream of consciousness ones anyway.

But it's not going viral if I polish and trim anyway. The only piece I had go viral was the Beeville story, which attracted thirty times my usual readership. I think this means there needs to be human interest in a story to really capture the public imagination in the short run. Note though that the Beeville story did not have much impact on my long term readership.


Andy, the Monckton and the yahoos contradiction is one I've thought about. But though neither side knows it, it's obvious they wouldn't get along very well at a picnic or a pub.


Steve, the number of times I've heard people say "you guys may have a point but you need a better spokesman than Al Gore" is substantial. And I think it makes sense. This is nothing against Mr. Gore. As I have said, I admire him. But he makes for an unfortunately useful target.

I am very distressed that this has become a wedge issue. I think wedges persist.

It may be good for the Democrats to be obviously on the right side of a question where there is substantive objective truth to be had. But it is not good for the stable resolution of the problem.

It is therefore far more important to convince Republicans and people who might vote Republican that these matters are real, serious, and imminent, than it is to support Democrats because they get it.

The successful association of this issue with party identity in America is a disaster of major proportions. I mean this seriously and literally. I think I'd take another nuclear meltdown over this.

John played into this dynamic. It needs to be resisted, not pandered to.

Arthur said...

In my view there's *way* too much of people going around telling other people what they should or shouldn't do, or can and can't say. Live and let live! If John Abraham wants to be clearly aligned with a Democrat, why not? Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't, but I don't see how you could before the fact tell whether it could possibly be harmful or helpful.

Of course, this sounds like me telling MT not to say something - but I'm not, I'm just making an observation :) Perhaps we'll see if MT's comments here do any good or not, and if they clearly do some good we can replicate the success...

The only things I think we do need to decry are clear lies and deceptions, or repetition of long-debunked claims. SkepticalScience is great at this, I love the new pages on politician quotes (soon to be expanded to many more countries, I hear).

Keith - congratulations, I actually found your latest post interesting. It made a connection I hadn't. Not sure it's right, but it's interesting, so thanks.

Anna Haynes said...

It is *very* hard not to slip into us-v.-them primate mode, when the person you're talking to is in that mode full bore, and has inhaled the anti-science Kool-aid(sp?). Or at least, it takes a conscious effort.
(which, already this morning, I regret to say I've neglected to make...)

Robert Nagle said...

Rednecks go to church and are generally religious. For better or worse, Democrats are viewed as "less religious." Gore was a religious figure, despite the fact he was so polarizing. Organized religion really hasn't done an effective job in speaking out against climate change. (There have been several initiatives, but none have really worked out -- I had a bumper sticker on my car saying "What would Jesus Drive?" The redneck initiative needs to begin at church.

I'm not a scientist, but I pretty much accepted global warming and its implication after reading Al gore's Earth in the Balance book in 1993. Then after Senate didn't ratify Kyoto, I pretty much decided that it would be a long uphill battle. Then when Bush won, I said, wait until Bush is out and then we can get something done. Then in 2009 I caught up with the science by reading lots of things -- and frankly was frightened to death. So I am pretty much a climate change activist and will always be. My point is: despite my support for climate change legislation as early as 1993, I pretty much zoned out for long periods of time while the science was accumulating to wait for the opportune political moment. To your group of scientists who never zoned out but continued to prepare the world for this debate, the world should be eternally grateful.

Rich Puchalsky said...

"I am very distressed that this has become a wedge issue. I think wedges persist."

But it became a wedge issue before you even started in sci.env, Michael. Long before Gore, global warming denialism had been adopted as the preferred line of certain polluting industries. It's just bad political understanding and bad historical understanding to think that people reacted to Gore.

"The successful association of this issue with party identity in America is a disaster of major proportions. "

Already happened, and it's not going to un-happen, whether you get a public face of the science with a Southern accent or not. Now it's just a fact of the political scene that you have to deal with. Which means that the people who give credence to this kind of corporate-propaganda-using-tribalism will never be won over. There are only three ways of dealing with it: defeating them politically, getting the corporations to stop funding the propaganda, or waiting for other countries to gain power relative to the U.S. so that they can make us do it (which is inevitable if we keep screwing up as we have been).

Unknown said...


Backhanded praise, with a grin, no doubt.

I suppose it's a good day when I can capture a few people who aren't my intended audience.

Anna Haynes said...

> "I feel a need to capture what I'm thinking"

Any thought of capturing it using a tool like Wrangl?
(thus capturing arguments and counterarguments, & helping those with shorter memories not to repeat themselves)

Michael Tobis said...

Rich, it's not the northern accent, it's the superior attitude.

"It's not what you say, Colonel Travis, it's just the way you say it sometimes..."

-The Jim Bowie character in the 2004 Alamo movie, explaining to the young ambitious and loyal colonel why everybody hates him.

(Yes, I know the whole movie whitewashes the Texians and isn't much worth watching if you aren't Texan yourself. I still like the line, and it's exactly on topic.)

And if you don't get it, understand that there is something you don't get, please. This word "elitist" is horribly mangled in redneck-speak, but they are trying to say something.

As for whether this has been going on all along, yes, Oreskes shows this pretty clearly. What is new is the unanimity of the Republican party, as Keith notes. This is a very big problem.

I am trying to raise an important point on the political axis: winning over liberals and chasing away conservatives may be a winning strategy for liberals. There are more single issue voters on the green side than the anti-green side on this issue. But this allows the right to paint it as an identity issue, moving it out of the realm of rational discourse.

Abortion really is a wedge issue, as it depends entirely on ethics and hardly at all on supporting facts. However tragic and unhealthy the wedge is, it doesn't actually amount to misinformation.

But allowing the right to define climate change as a wedge is disastrous. That moves it out of the realm of something worth thinking about and into something only worth feeling about.

Thus, those of us who put this issue at the top of our priorities should resist its association with liberals and against conservatives. I think it's a mistake to reinforce the wedge.

Arthur, yes of course I can't tell everyone what to do, but if I think something is counterproductive, I can say so in hopes of discouraging more of it.

Michael Tobis said...

Anna, I like text. Also, at first glance the software you recommend divides everything into pro and con, which is exactly what I'm trying to get past.

Rich Puchalsky said...

"But allowing the right to define climate change as a wedge is disastrous. "

Already happened. It's -- to coin a phrase -- an inconvenient truth. You can no more go back and de-wedge it than you can decide not to have released the CO2 that we already released.

And come on, really, you're saying the problem is that some people project a superior attitude? When you're also saying that this is an issue to be thinking about, not feeling about, and that really it's a matter of objective truth? (For the science, not necessarily for the form of response.) Of course that's a superior attitude. You're right and they are wrong, objectively wrong, And actually you're superior. Anyone can see that, and it doesn't matter that you dress it up with a lot of good-old-boyism. You can't jolly people out of ressentiment, not when the issue really comes down to "this is a matter for thinking, not feeling, and you're really wrong." Believing that you can do is, in its own way, more condescending than just telling them that they're wrong and they'd better find some way to get over it.

Michael Tobis said...

Rich, maybe. But surely you'll admit that some people would do a worse job of it than others.

It helps if you genuinely see something of value in their world view. It's hard to fake.

steven said...

"He was everything that a happy redneck loves to hate. His associations with the rich and educated fed the bizarre paradoxical association of "liberal" and "elite" in the backwoods worldview. And so, climate change became an identity issue."

Yup. don't tell willard that I'm finding points of agreement with you. more to come

steven said...

"So every time we play into that framing, every time we rub people the wrong way by being rude or smarmy or superior or (let's face it) fun-hating, we reinforce that image of liberal as fun-hating freedom-hating authoritarian. It's so bizarre. It's so backwards from the rest of the world's idea of liberalism and conservatism, including that of American liberals. "

yup. In Lisbon the leftists were gobsmacked that climate skepticism was a issue for the Right. They thought they were being anti authoritarian in europe by opposing it.

(Ps I liked the worlds fair in 67)

Steve Bloom said...

Oh, good, now we get concern trolling from Mosher. Does that not tell you something, Michael?

OK, I'll hit the nail on the head: A major sector of the propagandists for the other side (as represented by Mosher) like what you had to say here.

Steve Bloom said...

Still not quite there, though. More cumin, perhaps?

Florifulgurator said...

Indeed the baffling stupidity in U.S. congress embraces more than just science. There's also economics and health care. Dunno what more - I watch from Europe in bewilderment.

It seems that after that presidential icon of stupidity (GWB) things only got weirder.

But I suspect it's more corruption than stupidity. It takes a lot of money and "good friends" in your back to exhibit so much bullshit without any shame.

Michael Tobis said...

Steve Bloom, I will not reject any assertion according to the prior history of the person who asserted it, and I will not reduce the entire universe of discourse to two dots.

In fact, that's the whole damned problem.

If Steve Mosher has something to say here, let him say it.

I will not countenance further attacks on the centennial and millenial record guys on my blog; that's been done to death and then some. Whatever the monor transgressions, they have been excessively punished already. I can't forget Mosher's role in those events, and he probably can't back away from it. So we'll never be entirely comfortable with each other.

But outside of that turf Mosher has been known to say interesting things, some of which I agree with. If he stays away from the stolen emails and the echoes of that, he's here on the same terms as everybody else here: be interesting and don't pick fights.

Hank Roberts said...

One suggestion:


Hank Roberts said...

Oh, a brief quote from that link:

--- excerpt follows ---

Lundborg: You depict a mutated ant supercolony that grows out of control.

Wilson: The supercolony is us and it’s real life, not a DreamWorks film. It has an advantage over other species and pushes them out, but ultimately it’s unsustainable. The ants strip everything bare.

Lundborg: We’re threatening our own survival?

Wilson: Yes. Wilson’s Law is if you save the biofilm, the ecological system, in a sustainable way, then you automatically save the physical environment. If you just save the physical environment, you’ll lose them both.

Lundborg: You’re about to stir up a little trouble with your coming article in Nature. Tell me about that.

Wilson: I think there’s going to be blowback. For 40 years the kin-selection theory has prevailed as the dominant explanatory scheme accounting for the evolution of advanced social behavior, including altruism and the division of labor.

That’s all wrong. With Martin Nowak’s mathematical analysis, we show that altruistic social behavior can evolve outside of kinship.

---- end excerpt ---

Michael Tobis said...

Wilson, from a Baptist family in rural Alabama, did cross my mind as I was writing this. Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

I agree with MT on the Gore issue. Not that Gore caused anything, but that the top spokesman for climate change was a single justice's vote from being a Democratic president made creating that political wedge easy. I'm sure it would have happened anyway, to some other elite figure, but Gore was absolutely perfect for this particular framing.

But the real issue is that an entire policical party with money and power is ideologically against science. This party's money and power are now behind an anti-intellectual movement, and that controls the primaries, and that will control their agenda. The HoR has a big election every two years, meaning it's always election time, always primary season, especially with the ability to distribute media through several outlets, all susceptible to the money.

But if they want to make it an ethics issue, or an issue that speaks to future risk, I say let it happen. I think independents will side with science, and real conservatism.

We won't get a checkmate, but we can move the pawns out of the way.

Anonymous said...

The reason for the right-left confusion is that the US only looks at the right wing and left wing of Classic Liberalism. The political discourse happens on a very small section of the political spectrum. Europe sees a larger spectrum, as right as One Nation Torism and left as real socialism, although the terminology is dissimilar.

Robert Grumbine said...

Maybe some wrongly-aimed gloom, if not entirely incorrect?

As far as sci.environment went, it was never a place that could have moved mountains or even been a place you could have used as a fulcrum for your lever to move the world from. On the other hand, it did serve as a place from which I wrote an article later picked up (I rewrote) by the Bulletin of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, and even later cited in the professional scientific literature. Didn't do much in the big picture of who believes what about sea level change, but it was a starting point.

That, and Jan Schloerer's articles introducing climate issues still pick up regular readership*. So they still contribute a straw or two towards what is supported by science, and support those interested in pursuing further what science has to say.

A different constructive, perhaps, thing of the sci.environment days is that the science-types who spent much time there in the 90s are active bloggers (at least) in the 2000s and on. You should add also, for instance, Coby Beck. Having been primed on the nature of the hostility to the science, we (I'll suggest) took the matter of that hostility more seriously and earlier than most.

Blogging, for different reasons, is also not going to save the world. So if that's your criterion for success either for sci.environment or for blogging, then they will indeed both be failures. I just don't think that was ever a reasonable prospect, nor my intention in participation in either medium.

Also courtesy, though, of 1990s usenet reading, adding in talk.origins, I saw back then the tremendous overlap in style and method (even personnel) between young earth creationists and the climate-focused antiscientific crowd. Same foundation, really -- being antiscientific, just a different target. Also same vigorous declarations of how big a fan the antiscientific is of science. It's an interesting shibboleth in that way. At any rate, you can morph an awful lot of young earth creationist arguments in to climate change denial arguments with only minor word changes.

One key conclusion of that is that scientists are irrelevant to the matter. People are young earth creationists for reasons other than their study of the science. Many people, notwithstanding their protestations of practicing creation science, er, challenging the mindless herd of IPCC conspirators, aren't there for any more scientific reasons than the young earth creationists are. Given the failure of evolutionary biologists to get their point over in 150+ years, climate types are not going to be vastly more successful in vastly less time. imnsho, of course.

On yet another hand (I'm part octopus), I don't believe that agreement about elementary scientific points like there being a greenhouse effect, CO2 being a greenhouse gas, its level having increased markedly over the past 150 years, the source of that increase being human activity, and the expected result of that being a warming -- still, doesn't dictate what, if anything, should be done in response.

This last, I find irritating from many directions. I believe that there are many possible directions of response, from largest to smallest scales. A major problem is that, with Sherwood Boehlert's (R-NY, former chair of the house science committee) retirement, we have one of our major parties bereft of any people who are willing to start their discussion of what, if anything, to do in response to climate change from a basis of what, if anything, we understand about the science on climate change.

What I'd like to see is serious discussion of policy responses given our best understanding of the science. In that, I agree strongly with Boehlert. What responses exactly should be implemented, I don't have so much confidence that I know. That discussion currently has absolutely no prospect of being conducted.

* at my personal web site http://www.radix.net/~bobg/

Unknown said...

I think the backstory on your post can be found in "Albion's Seed" by David Hackett Fischer. A truly illuminating book, it explains why the US is shaped the way it is politically. Part of the front story is in the film "Inside Job," about the tie between Wall St. and universities (even fancy universities that believe wholeheartedly in climate change! Princeton, I'm looking at you. voila). The opportunistic interaction between elite monied interests on the coasts, and the reactionary voting base in the middle, makes politics in the US veer to the right and often take everything else in the national dialogue with it, including common sense.

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks, Bob, well said.

In fact we did see this coming better than the rest of the community, which regarded our services as a vaguely disreputable hobby. Now that the necessity of what we were trying to do is better understood, it appears our fifteen years of experience doesn't count for anything and we have to watch the earnest newbies making the same old mistakes. I imagine Morano gets many a chuckle out of it.

as for "What I'd like to see is serious discussion of policy responses given our best understanding of the science. In that, I agree strongly with Boehlert. What responses exactly should be implemented, I don't have so much confidence that I know. That discussion currently has absolutely no prospect of being conducted." yes. Your pessimism is well founded at least insofar as conversation among the major parties is concerned. But we can try to work around that for a while.

King of the Road said...

I think it has to be admitted that there are intelligent AND SINCERE people on "the other side." Glenn Beck, not so much. Michael Medved? Yes. The fact of the matter is that much of what "they" say is, in my opinion, correct. The sincere ones start from a position of personal responsibility, the idea that "the larger the state, the smaller the individual" the concept that health care is not a right, it is not a privilege, it is a responsibility, equality of opportunity, not result, etc.

I was startled to read Rich Puchalsky's comment characterizing climate denialism as covert racism. It may be sporadically true that some denialists are racists just as it may be sporadically true that some who are non-denialists (don't know of a good word here, not wanting to use "believers") are authoritarian Marxists. Characterizing either this way generally is false and destructive.

I am conservative, in that I believe in those values in my first paragraph. I'm also a non-denier. Such a thing is possible. When conservatives have, in my opinion, gone "off the rails" I've posted about "Embarrassed to be conservative" or similar.

I think Michael's point is valid but the "redneck," "backwoods," etc. references are neither accurate nor helpful. Several very conservative people (in the sense of the tea party) work for me. They are not stupid. They read a lot (though you don't want to know what they're reading). They possess a coherent, though distorted in my opinion, world view.

That view involves disdain for people who, in their opinion, think they know what's best for everyone else and want to impose their preferred solutions. The solutions, in the opinion of these conservatives, invariably involve taking money from those who work for it and constraining their freedom to act in their own best interest.

The insincere subset of the denial movement has been extremely successful at convincing those described above that the climate realists (still struggling for a good noun here) are just such people.

Perhaps they can be approached by characterizing climate realism as an effort to preserve such freedoms as we have. There is truth to that - freedom is an early victim of chaos.

How to do this? I don't know, but "we know better than you, do as we say" is not the answer, even if we do know better. It is too late, given the success I referred to above, to simply get the accurate message out.

The equating of scientist with elitist and elitist with condescending closet Marxist is another terribly sad symptom of the decline of our civilization. And, to a large extent, I blame baby boomers (me) and liberal thought (via the immutable law of unintended consequences). I'm guessing many readers of In It won't see it this way though.

Steve Bloom said...

(This didn't post at first and so appears slightly out of order.)

Michael, it occurs to me that I should mention that while I've been an environmental activist and member of the intelligentsia in the central SF Bay Area for lo these many years (I'm close to your age), I come from a small town in Iowa. Back in '72, just before leaving (for the Navy), not knowing any better, I even walked precincts for Nixon/Agnew in '72. So I *know* those people in a way that I think you don't. Broadly speaking, are they nice to their kids? Yes. Do they fail to kick their dogs? Sure. Is there a fair amount of neighbor-helping-neighbor community volunteer stuff? You bet. Are they insular to the point of low-key paranoia and lacking in a fact-based sense of how the world works, preferring instead comforting platitudes and the customs of their anceastors? Absolutely. Is spending time admiring the former characteristics going to help with the latter? Um... no.

Greg said...

I realize that this isn't the main topic, but m.t. mentioned budget cuts in the main post, and a couple of commenters have followed up on it.

The motivation behind the desire to cut billions from government spending in a weak economy is not stupidity. In a reversal of the usual truism, it's malice. If the Republicans can cause a second dip to the recession, then they have a better chance of retaking the White House in 2012. It's that simple.

Oz Mike said...


Last week I shut down my blog "Watching the deniers" because I felt there was nothing more to be said about the "denial" machine.

I'd come to he conclusion the debate was fruitless.

Even calling the "deniers" to account and pointing at their many errors, failures of logic and lies (yes lies) was pointless. The truth is, large sections of the population do not want to hear about climate. They do not want it to be true. It is willful blindness, and the Republican/Conservative war on science is simply a manifestation of a deeper urge to turn away from the truth.

We have, as a species, thrived by ignoring our problems. It worked well enough when the impact of these problems was small scale and local. Deplete an area of resources? Then move on or conquer a new area.

Despite our cities, global information network and trade we are at heart hunter gatherers.

Nomads who lacked boundaries and constraints.

We hunted, we ate and we depleted.

We then moved on to greener pastures.

When we entered new lands the first thing to go was the mega-fauna. Then we reshaped the local landscape itself. We thrived in climates that guarantied abundant food supply for little gain. When the local environment "collapsed" or changed, then those societies collapsed as well. Angkor, the Anasazi... Rwanda.

But our global spanning civilisation has now brought under control every open space, every hunting ground and every piece of viable farm land. There is nowhere for a resource and energy intense civilisation run by nomads to go. Once, the waste we produced polluted the local stream. Now it pollutes a planetary atmosphere.

Collapse is no longer a local isolated event, but cascades. Everything is connected. Positive feedbacks loops amplify the magnitude of collapse.

Witness the collapse of the Roman trading network during the 3rd and 4th centuries. At one point silk from China could make it's way to Roman nobles in far off England. Roman diplomats made it to China via the Silk Road. But this remarkably sophisticated and "global" network collapsed due to political instability, plague and internecine conflict. "Global" networks have existed before, but also withered away.

How different is ours?

In thousands of years, archaeologists will find one vast midden heap of refuse, junk and waste scatted from pole to pole.

I think at this point, all we can do is manage how "hard" or "soft" the descent.

Michael Tobis said...

oz, true in a way, but a hard sell. We can "descend" to somewhere nice.

Rob Hopkins is right about that much. All we have to (heh *all*) is explain it.

I think there's still a chance of avoiding some sort of actual severe global decline. Anyway we have to avoid the hard crash (mortality spikes, unplanned mass migrations, wars). We really have to...

steven said...

Thanks MT,

Many people don't know but you and I do share some commonalities that on occasion drive me to find more commonalities with you. Our University, our support of open source, and now montreal in 67. It's not such a bad thing to point out our agreements and shared experiences even if they may not be relevant to the topic. I'm not in any mood to discuss emails or reconstructions and won't here. Kinda bored with that. but I'm always interested when people try to look at things differently. even IF they later find out the insight doesnt hold up. So, you put down some fresh thinking, or what appeared to me to be fresh thinking for you. It's that step I find interesting, even if you step back from it later.

So the comment about being anti authoritarian struck a chord. I've wanted to talk about that since Lisbon, but we do get trapped by what we ordinarily talk about. I don't take offense to the predictable response to my presence here and I do thank you for your kind words.

As far as pieces go, I like this prose a hell of a lot more than some of your other stuff. Can't put why I do in words, I think it seemed a lot less self conscious and not so over wrought.

seamus said...

Two things:

1) Al Gore was attacked because his message was effective.

2) I'm not so sure we need to educate and convince the right-wing voters about the reality of AGW.

The Republican politicians, we can give up on. How does it go? It's hard to make someone understand something when his paycheck depends on him not understanding it.

However, Republican voters can make a difference, but they aren't going to listen to reason or pay attenton to science. They just don't trust any of that "liberal" stuff.

What are they? Afraid, mostly. It's not so much that they're afraid of losing personal freedom, that's what they've been taught to say. They're really afraid someone's trying to take away their lifestyle. So stop telling them the answer to climate change is to take away their cheap coal-fired energy and replace it with windmills and solar panels. Stop talking about energy conservation.

Assuage their fears with an energy plan that promises more energy, not less. Tell them, for every coal plant we shut down, we're gonna build a nuclear power plant. Yep. If Democrats and environmentalists start talking about nuclear energy, they will get more support for de-carbonizing the economy. Because everyone (especially rednecks) instinctively knows you can't run an advanced induustrialized society on windmills and solar panels! (Renewables have great potential, but let's not pretend they can replace baseload coal.)

So the problem isn't convincing rednecks that AGW is real. The problem is convincing "greens" that nuclear energy is a actually lot safer than they've always assumed, and it's educating liberals about the benefits of fast neutron reactors.

When scientists unlocked the secrets of the atom, they realized this was a source of energy that would bring about great things for humanity.

If we don't progress*, we will end up in decline. I refuse to accept that, not just because it's gloomy, but because humans have potential: the only direction is onward and upward.

*Whatever progress is, it means nothing without achieving sustainability and preserving biodiversity.

Michael Tobis said...

I don't object to "progress" as measured in well-being, health, experience, community, happiness. I would like it if that word came back into fashion.

I do object to "growth"measurein money as a goal, and I vehemently object to confusing the two. We are confusing the hell out of ourselves with a game we have set up that used to correspond to reality very well and no longer does.

Just like Easter Island.

steven said...

More I agree with from Olson

"I had given my talk which includes a section on the importance of the “voice” of the messenger, based on the 4th chapter of my book, “Don’t Be So Unlikeable.” To make the point I showed portions of two BP commercials from last year about the Gulf oil spill. The first one is Tony Hayward, C.E.O. of BP and with a foreign accent that automatically conveys condescension. The second one, produced after their communications folks realized they had blown their mass communications, is a homeboy from the Gulf coast with a thick southern drawl, pronouncing “oil” as “all.” First guy terrible, second guy okay. It’s not frickin’ rocket science. People listen to voices they like."

please note, these comments have nothing to do with science. They are just my impression based on either personally meeting with people or seeing them on TV. voices/persona I like.

Tim Palmer.

Hans Von Storch.

Ben Santer.

Peter Webster.

Richard Alley.

Gerald A. Meehl

Michael Tobis said...

Seamus, to your main point about nukes, I'd have been easier to convince a month ago.

Michael Tobis said...

Well, look. I'm sure I would adore Betty McCollum D-MN. But I'm not representative of the people who need convincing.

That was my point.

I'm not sure the list of who appeals to Mosher matters that much. I'm pretty sure it's different strokes for different folks.

Everybody seems to underestimate the scale of the communication problem.

Dol said...

MT: "Everybody seems to underestimate the scale of the communication problem."

Just as a baseline for how far communication can get without changing underlying educational levels:

"In a poll conducted by Gallup in 1999, 18% of Americans said that they believe the Sun orbits the Earth. In two polls conducted in 1996, 16% of Germans,and 19% of Britons responded that they also believe the Sun orbits the Earth."

It's actually worse than that: 3%, 10% and 14% in US, Germany and UK respectively said they "didn't know."


steven said...


I thought you made a point about doing a better job communicating with rednecks. So, I'm telling you from a redneck perspective which voices and persona amongst scientists are mots appealing to this redneck.

Please note, I was civil enough to avoid explaining why certain high profile people were horrible spokespeople. The communication problem is not that hard

Unknown said...

As much as you want to paint the Republican party as the boogeyman, you need to take note of:

When Clinton-Gore were in office, they didn't even bring the Kyoto treaty to even a symbolic vote in the Senate.

Before the recent 2010 election, Democrats had large majorities in House and Senate and Pres. Obama, and still could not get any action on the climate.

The subject has now become so toxic that Obama didn't even mention it in the last State of the Union.

It's not the politics, it's the proposed "solutions" that drive the opposition. If there is even a whiff of long held green agenda items proposed as a solution, there will be knee jerk opposition.

Greens are more or less trusted with exposing environmental problems, but nobody want them to implement the solutions.

Michael Tobis said...

Steven, we both went to Northwestern. I live in Texas and you live in San Francisco. So what exactly are your redneck creds?

I am not dismissing the question of whom you as a technically educated guy in San Francisco find effective. I am restating my position that this has to be done retail, and that different people will be more effective with different groups.

Gore was and is, in fact, very effective with his target group. Many people find him and his presentations compelling. Others find him off-putting. The trouble is that it feeds into polarization.

My point is that the people Gore has already won over should not be the focus of our communication efforts.

Now others will suggest you are concern trolling, so let me just ask the obvious question? Why should your list (of all people's) of spokespeople be of interest to the community?

Unknown said...


Do you believe most liberals could really be completely rational about a subject whose biggest spokesman was GWB?

Even to the point of publicly supporting it?

Do you believe this would have no influence on potential supporters who were liberals?

Gore was the best and worst thing that ever happened to AGW.

The first step to better communication is to give a little respect to the opposition. The belittling strategy does not appear to be working.

Many skeptics such as myself are technically skilled and agree on many of the points you support. The divergence occurs as to proof of man being a major influence, and more specifically the efficacy of the climate models. The future of the climate has been remotely "proven".

My judgment is that we do not have the capability to forecast climate successfully, which leads to a position of no action until they are validated.

Being ridiculed for different value judgments hardens positions. I'm not particularly persuaded by arguments to authority.

Write about the weaknesses of climate science and what is being done about them, not the strengths. e.g. Why should I trust climate models? How can we validate them without waiting 30 years?

Michael Tobis said...

Tombo, you are quite confused on some major scientific points, as a bit of serious research outside your epistemic borders might indicate. To address them all in a comments section is asking a bit much.

I do intend to take on this sort of question fairly soon, as I believe I have some things to add. if you'd like to see my version of all this, please stay tuned and be patient. What you are asking for can't be tossed off in an instant, precisely because climatology is a real science.

Meanwhile there have been many earnest attempts to answer all of those questions. I suggest you go looking outside of snarkville for them.

Thank you for confirming that the involvement of Mr. Gore was not helpful in convincing you. I think many people who understand the science and its implications don't understand that.

Gore is right, of course, that the science part should not be a partisan issue. But it isn't clear that he's the right person to say it.

steven said...

"Why should your list (of all people's) of spokespeople be of interest to the community?"

Does somebody here want to say that Ben Santer wasn't a great witness before congress? I thought he was a great presence. Not so much what he said, but how he presented himself. That's not concern trolling. That's my professional assessment of his performance. Same with the others I mentioned. You want the opinion of somebody who spent some time in PR having to decide who was going to represent? cool. Of all the people I have met in person or watched, I gave you my list. I find those people to be personable and good on camera. no more, no less.

why should that interest people?

I dunno, It seems to me that a discussion about how and who presents the story should get down to particulars. There's not much point in generalized discussions about it. So, I throw out a list. Somebody else could also start the discussion. But particulars are way more interesting than generalities. So, instead of explaining what I dont like about XYZ (which would make everybody defensive) I figured it was best to start with personalities I like or one that I believe other people would like. You don't like Tim palmer? suggest another personality type. I think he's a very likeable sort of person. Hans Von Storch, the appeal is a bit different. Alley, the appeal was his passion and love and exuberence.

get it yet?

And no, I'm not trying to trick you into anything. Not trying to get you to say "I dont like XYZ" You can just ignore it, or add your own, or agree. But it is interesting that you have such a hard time discussing specifics.
I did not anticipate that.

Steve Bloom said...

Tombo, note that Jim Hansen says it's paleo, obs and models, in that order. Models are needed to tell us about the timing and distribution of effects, bearing in mind that there's no close paleo precedent for the transient forcing we're currently applying to the climate system, but even without the models we would still know we had a very large problem. The paleo refers to the deep-time stuff, not the late Holocene "hockey stick." This material sees little discussion on "skeptic" sites. More unfortunately, it gets very little discussion in the media notwithstanding the quite horrific implications.

A good place to start is the seminal paper of a few years ago (note how recent! -- this is because it took a long time for the paleo evidence to be gathered and analyzed), Hansen et al.'s "Target Atmospheric CO2." You can find a free pdf via Google Scholar, then check the citations for more recent stuff.

Add to the paleo work the ongoing research trying to characterize the feedbacks associated with the fast melt of the cryosphere, already underway, e.g. a paper from just a few weeks ago showing that a runaway melt of the permafrost likely has already started. That will probably only amount to a direct injection of ~100 ppm CO2 equivalent this century, but worse things cannot be excluded.

seamus said...

Tombo said: "It's not the politics, it's the proposed 'solutions' that drive the opposition."

And I would say that it's not climate science that drives the opposition either. But the opposition tends to paint with a broad brush.

I have to agree with Tombo on one point at least. The green agenda goes way beyond clean energy.

Was there really any question that many on the contrarian side reject AGW because "if Al Gore says it, I'm against it"? Would a conservative figure do any better? I imagine the moment such a person dared speak the truth, they'd become an instant pariah.

(Aside: I find it annoying that "skeptic" has become synonymous with "preclusive", "insular" and "parochial".)

Steve Bloom said...

Speaking of deep-time paleo, here's the press release for a fresh paper on early Pliocene climate in the Canadian high Arctic. CO2 at the time was no higher than currently. The high temps found, extreme though they are (well, if you like ice at the poles), aren't really a surprise; the important thing is the neat confirmation of the isotopic analysis methods since these will have wide application at numerous other sites.

People sometimes ask where the Feynmans are in climate science. The team leader for this paper, Aradhna Tripati (Santa Cruz PhD at 22), is certainly one of them.

dhogaza said...

This is kinda a personal question for MT:

Do you have *any* reason to believe that *anything* Mosher says is sincere?

If snakes and coyotes really had the kind of morality displayed in years past (and not so past) as "Piltdown Mann" Mosher, I'd actually transform my morals and shoot them on sight, rather than cherish them despite their at times annoying actions.

Kissy-up with Stephen "Piltdown Mann" Mosher is useful?

Get real.

He's on record (and making money on) the position that the most visible parts of climate science is a fraud.

dhogaza said...

"Please note, I was civil enough to avoid explaining why certain high profile people were horrible spokespeople. The communication problem is not that hard"

Actually it does become hard when people like yourself try to categorize them of being emblematic as to why all of climate science is a fraud.

For profit.

Mosher's recent attempts (over the last year or so) to try to appear as a neutral observer is sickening.

Oh, and ... Mosher, do you still believe that we owe nothing to future generations, and shouldn't take their needs into consideration?

(and, MT, this is not a "are you still beating you're wife" ploy, if SM denies, I'll do the google until I find his quotes)

Michael Tobis said...

dhog, many people have warned me not to trust Mosher. And I don't.

But if he were truly a psychopathic liar, why would he admit that we owe nothing to future generations? (I remember that assertion as well.) A psychopath as smart as Mosher would lie or duck the question.

I think he is one of those odd fellows (they are usually male) with a strong and well thought out but bizarre and idiosyncratic morality. Note that Julian Assange is in the same category (at least when he is not around women). So, less obviously but more clearly, is Richard Stallman, to whom the whole of civilization owes a great deal, even if we find ourselves unwilling to follow his example.

As a pragmatist this is the opposite to my type and would be threatening even without the astonishing history.

However Mosher is not boring. Unlike most of them. Lucia, for instance, is being particularly tedious in my direction this week.

You may not like the way Mosher thinks, nor the way he has behaved. I don't. But I invariably find him interesting. My intent is to make my web efforts interesting as well as informative. If Mosher (or someone doing a good job pretending to be Mosher) wishes to contribute, I can't really stop him anyway. All he needs is another identity.

In short, in any practical sense I can only moderate the words in the submissions. I would like more interesting challenges. The pickings on the other side tend to be rather thin, and the few smart opponents tend to wander off.

I welcome the challenge, not that I want him dating my sister.

Oale said...

Minor correction on Mooney... "Now I’m inclined to think that another form of culture war is underway that is definitely not healthy for a constructive dialogue" on anything.

Is this the mess you predicted to come about?

Steve Bloom said...

Speaking of deep-time paleo, here's the press release for a fresh paper on early Pliocene climate in the Canadian high Arctic. CO2 at the time was no higher than currently. The high temps found, extreme though they are (well, if you like ice at the poles), aren't really a surprise; the important thing is the neat confirmation of the isotopic analysis methods since these will have wide application at numerous other sites.

People sometimes ask where the Feynmans are in climate science. The team leader for this paper, Aradhna Tripati (Santa Cruz PhD at 22), is certainly one of them.

steven said...


Oh, and ... Mosher, do you still believe that we owe nothing to future generations, and shouldn't take their needs into consideration?"

Actually, what I argued was that my obligations future generations were discounted by time. Simply, that my obligations to my children are larger than my obligations to my grandchildren, and they are larger than my obligations to my great grand children, and so on. Simply, by the time one looks far enough ahead the obligations are effectively zero. And I beleive I suggested that this was a position not unknown in the literature on intergenerational justice.

So its best to go back and read what I wrote EXACTLY and pay attention to the exact words
Let me quote for dehog

""Mosher has proposed another escape, which is that our ethical responsibilities have a sort of a discount rate; that we have no ethical obligations to distand [sic] descendants. "

well,our obligations most certainly do. You can google intergeneration justice for starters and see the rich set of positions on our obligations to future generations, discounts usually apply for those systems where ethical decisions have a cost benefit component, or even I think I could argue, in a rawlsian egalitarian approach. Or, you could apply the golden rule and say I have no obligation to people born after I die. I cannot do unto others if they cannot do unto me.
One could, some have, made those arguments.
What you need to note here is that our ethical obligations are far less certain than the science we are arguing about. And somebody who argues that I have ethical obligations to the humans of 2300, is as strange to me as someone who argues that a mother has ethical obligations to a clump of cells growing in her uterus.Or somebody who argues that infanticide is ok ( See singer)

So, while I think we do have ethical obligations to humans living now, I think those obligations carry more weight than my obligations to those living in 2100, and they have more weight than those living in 2300, and I have no obligation to those who may be alive when the sun burns out. Which means I have no obligation to bear the cost of finding those creatures a new planet to live on.
I have no obligation to the humans who will be living in the US when Yellowstone blows. So, I would expend no money to try to prevent or adapt to that disaster."

You will note that I say "one could make certain arguments" You see, you might think it is an ethical certainty that I have moral obligations to people alive in 2100. I don't find that to be an ethical certitude. For me it is far more certain that I should alleviate suffering today. This is why, for example, I would choose, as I do, to volunteer my time and resources to people unrelated to to me today, rather than, for example, putting resources ( money) away for my grandchildren or great grand children. The idea that we have ethical obligations to living humans that differ from our obligations to humans who are not born yet, for example, is something that seems intuitive to some people.

steven said...


I agreed with MT not to discuss certain issues here. I will not discuss those issues in particular
but i will point out your errors.

"Actually it does become hard when people like yourself try to categorize them of being emblematic as to why all of climate science is a fraud."

1. In my first ever comment on the web about climate science that I have been able to find ( on RC) I made it clear that I accept the fundamental science of AGW. Nothing has changed that.

2. I was very clear in my book to say that the mails do not change the science.

3. I limited my critique to 3 or 4 individuals. I was explicit in arguing that we were talking about a few individuals and a couple of PROCESS issues.

4. I have offered some remedies that others have found reasonable, primarily the investigations.

5. I wrote a piece that was published on a right wing blog that explained that the behavior I was concerned about was not fraud and did not change the science.

Now, Perhaps we can return to the discussion MT wanted to have. I could very easily as he notes disguise who I am. Here is something funny. For 4 years I have spent a good amount of time explaining to skeptics that AGW science is solid. And yes, I've said some critical things about some individuals. Now, I'm saying some nice things about other individuals. Tim Palmer struck me as a fine human being> after watching hours of his presentations I'm impressed with his presentation skills, his on camera persona, his carriage, his wit and of course his expertise. And I liked Ben Santer's fire and his earnestness. I said so at the time I watched him. I also liked Alley, a lot. Go ahead and tell me I'm wrong about them. This isnt a game. there is no gotcha.

Anonymous said...

Reality paging MT! Reality paging MT!

MT, this is really going off the rails. If you seriously think there's a 'similarity' between someone who co-authored high-quality software and gave it away for free, and someone who co-authored a book filled with misrepresentation and made-up 'facts' -- because both have "idiosyncratic" moralities -- then your brand of "pragmatism" has serious issues.

Really, is this what your search for 'common ground' has descended to?

And if you think cosying up to your adversaries, while actively pushing away your would-be allies at every possible turn, is a recipe for "victory" -- then your brand of "pragmatism" has really, really serious issues.

-- frank

steven said...


yes, I get Julian. I also get RMS.
Having had to work a bit with the
latter, I found no issues understanding him completely.

Anyway, rather than discussing my ethical idiosyncratic views, why not discuss the voices You like.

steven said...

OK, I'll hit the nail on the head: A major sector of the propagandists for the other side (as represented by Mosher) like what you had to say here.

SteveB. There is much MT said that I disagree with here. I considered discussing that. Instead, I thought it would be nice to find points of agreement. You know, there is much that say, zeke and I disagree about, but we just choose not to talk about that stuff and we just choose to talk about the stuff we do agree about. I thought MT has put enough hard work into his endeavor that I owed him civility in his own damn house, this blog.
I don't ask him to pull any punches about what he or his readers say about me. but I'm here, I'll try to find points of agreement. If that's unsettling to you, well, then its unsettling to you. Not much I can do about that. I won't, as I promised him, discuss certain matters, except if people misconstrue my position. Seriously, the discussion will go better if people just focus on what MT said.

Anonymous said...

Guys, if you try telling a scientist not to...
a) highlight data that they think is interesting, important and correct
b) not to write something which they think is interesting, important and correct
... you're asking them to break their professional ethics
... because of the involvement of some individuals you don't like
... don't do a) because it's from person c)
... don't do b) because person c) likes what you wrote
... or even b) is wrong because c) likes it... what nonsense is that?
... what do you think their reaction will be?
The archetypal truth-seeking-wherever-it-may-lead brutal honesty (you liked that when it came to Curry, right?) is why the public rank trust in science above certain professions where the type of dishonest soccer team cheerleading PR you're asking Michael to engage in is known to be more frequent or has more exposure.

Anonymous said...

Steven Mosher is correct...

"the discussion will go better if people just focus on what MT said"

... asking who makes a good communicator... is a more interesting discussion than... asking what a bad person Mosher is
... it is also a more useful discussion for 'our side'
... note that the one derailing this useful discussion for 'our side'... is not Mosher the "propagandist"

Anonymous said...

Steven wants to discuss names, so let's do so. I think Alley is the best communicator, and Santer has different qualities, but you are very correct about his passion. This might be useful. But tell me; what happens when these people stick their necks out too far? We already know what happened to Santer when it turns out he was smart enough to find human fingerprints on the greenhouse back in the '90s. It's also more pertinent, in this conversation, to mention what happens more recently when you all decided to "audit" Santer's work and he refused to provide access to his email account. It sure turned out that he was into the bunker mentality, right? What happens when a request for Alley's data can't be fulfilled? Does he get the same treatment as fellow glaciologist, Lonnie Thompson? Or does this only happen when their work turns out to be iconic, like Mann's? Or Hansen? Is there a scale where iconic status = amount of abuse? Tell us, since it is undoubtedly up to your peer-review-group, who is listened to by this undefined group of 'rednecks' for who is dismissed as obstructionists, liars, bunker mentality-types; who is perfect enough to fit the bill? Who, when audited or has an email hack or whatever, will be used as a poster boy for the scientific destruction, and whose minor mistakes will be dismissed as being human, like you, and me, human, like, imperfect, and prone to poor errors of judgment, especially under unique circumstances. Who gets the pass? Who gets assassinated? How about Steig? No, he's a sandbagger. So my question to you, McIntyre, Lucia, Watts is very simple. Since you all are the trusted names that will be the gatekeepers to who these people (rednecks?) trust or not -- who are the great communicators, who are also angels, and who also cataloged all their data going back to the pencil paper days? Those are the names I'm interested in. But we all know these names don't exist. Because someone will find something. Some people are very much aware of Alinski's rules for radicals.

So really, don't expect anyone here to believe that these perfect people exist, or if they do, don't expect them to act magnanimous, or crawl out from under the bunker, or stick their neck out too far. There's a long track record for those that do. They become part the "communication problem" Unfortunately, it's the people that do this that deserve our highest respect, especially now, especially when they are very aware of what will happen when they do, and also have a good idea where and who it's going to come from.

Anonymous said...

"People listen to voices they like"

I like Stephen Pacala talking about uncertainty to a room of engineers. Punchy, funny, politically incorrect, shoot from the hip style.

Generally, confidence, concision, and voice modulation work for me.

"the wrong thing to do is to have science look like ideology, for scientists to be seen to cozy up to people with ideological and political agendas"

Listening to scientists from outside the home country may help, from India and China as a curveball for Morano, to screw the political radar, to negate local snobbery/competition, and to emphasize the international nature and the scale of science.

Anonymous said...

On a sad note, Grypo raises a good point; how bulletproof can/need they be?

Marion Delgado said...

I think failed is pretty strong. What happened is, "we" (meaning reality) "won" on ozone depletion (and I was involved with helping scientist friends on that). I think that's where the first climate practice was. They tried to leave a lingering sense of obligation: "yes, we were overpowered by the greenies on that one, so next controversy, give our side first, and you should make concessions right away to the lobbyist version of reality."

We could have done even worse. Had the anti-AGW-reality people not overreached, I mean. They set out to attack all science, period. Attacked peer review, attacked consensus, attacked data gathering, attacked modeling.

I still buy Joe Romm's idea of how we can wedge ourselves out of the ditch, even though thanks to science denialism and delayism we've been spinning ourselves down deeper.

I also think eventually we'll get support for cartoonish, unscientific reasons reminiscent of "The Day after Tomorrow." The wheel's starting to turn finally.

Out in the real world, I find people vastly more responsive to science facts now than they were 5 years ago. That may be an artifact of where I live, I suppose.

Joshua Stults said...

Let me just tap my inner redneck.

Climate scientists ain't got no PR problem. Nothing wrong with over-nourished, unkempt-yet-well-off white dudes with douchey facial hair or John Mayer complexes posuering as mad-as-hell-warriors in a grand, Science-y Climate Crusade. Keep huggin' that tree (pumps fist)! Git'r'done with those natural fibers and flowing locks!

Michael Tobis, sorry you didn't make the list. That 10-gallon hat is not nearly urban-coast-or-uber-hip-in-an-ironic-way enough. No "Rock the General Circulation Model" for you this year.

Michael Tobis said...

Not ironic? The hat? You have no idea.

Somewhere in the world I have seen a picture of a fourteen or so year old Leonard Cohen in what passed for western gear in Montreal in the fifties.

Apparently his first musical experiences were in a cowboy band. I doubt they got many gigs, but if they did they presumably would be at bar mitzvahs.

If I recall right saw it in a score book. If I could identify the book I'd buy it just for the picture. You can't get more ironic than that in a cowboy hat, but I try.

Robert Grumbine said...

late response, but I've been off doing other things ...

To the extent that anybody ever mentioned my usenet activities, they were puzzled that I was doing so, but were glad that I was. Not many such events.

Newcomers pretty much always insist on making their own mistakes. I was 5 years ahead of you (apparently, I started in 1990) on sci.environment, and you went ahead with things I thought were mistakes. For that matter, you still do. And I go ahead with things you think are mistakes. Or at least we both rate priorities differently. Que sera, sera.

I do periodically recall the idea we'd mentioned back then. I still think we were right not to pursue it, and that this hasn't changed with the invention of blogs. That was the idea of showing what a real scientific discussion looked like. No doubt there are real topics we disagree on, but from a standpoint of the real science, rather than you being a liberal or me preferring baseball to hockey. Still, I sometimes wonder if we were wrong about not pursuing it.