"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Is suppressing Frank Denial Authoritarian?

Is Systematically Suppressing Frank Climate Science Denial Authoritarian?

Australian Attorney General George Brandis argues that it is:
The great irony to this new “habit of mind”, [Brandis] says, is that the eco-correct think of themselves as enlightened and their critics as “throwbacks”, when actually “they themselves are the throwbacks, because they adopt this almost theological view, this cosmology that eliminates from consideration the possibility of an alternative opinion”. The moral straitjacketing of anyone who raises a critical peep about eco-orthodoxies is part of a growing “new secular public morality”, he says.
Judith Brett argues cogently that it this is not a workable answer.

I'll just leave you with the flavor of it; go follow the link.
I doubt that Brandis believes that all alternative points of view are deserving of respectful consideration. I doubt that he believes that the Earth is flat or that carrot juice can cure cancer. I’m sure that when he boards a plane he believes that the science of aerodynamics is sufficiently settled to get him to his destination. In many areas of life, he accepts, as we all do, that the science is, broadly speaking, settled. So to support his position on the virtues of scepticism about climate-change science, and his accusations of religious zealotry against those who believe that the science is settled, he needs to claim that there is something particular about this area of science. He has not done this. 
Of course, what is particular about the claims of the climate scientists is the huge implications for the way humans generate and consume energy.
[Fiona] Stanley, a grandmother, referred to the poem ‘hieroglyphic stairway’ by the American social activist Drew Dellinger. It sums up how many of us feel, that now is the time for urgent action.

it’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling? 
Brandis could answer, I defended the right to deny it was happening.
I also really liked the very next sentence: "The narrow focus on freedom of speech distorts a complex debate, pulling it into the political class’s familiar boxing ring of left versus right."

Yes, how true, and how bloody tedious. I am sitting out the Austin climate march tomorrow. I went to the last one, and I thought I'd been baited and switched. I went to support a 350 ppmv CO2 target. I got counted as a supporter of a huge grab-bag of leftish posturing, most of it unrealistic and some of it quite silly.

We have a very hard problem and we cannot solve it by breaking into teams and throwing poop at each other.


Susan Anderson said...

Sigh, I think it's wrong to stay home, but sympathize. I went to the New York march (and Fergus galvanized his local Green party after going to Scarborough and taking over there) and it was great to be part of 400,000 people no matter how tatterdemalion they might have been. Some of the costumes were gorgeous, and there was wonderful as well as silly (an ark on wheels with a shofar, for heaven's sake). There was a difficult moment when I was listening to a guy lecture a policeman about methane, and I was tempted to intervene and tell the poor guy he was being lectured by a guy who had jumped the shark, but credulity is part of the human condition. We need to avoid circular firing squads.

I have felt awkward sometimes doing the familiar call and response stuff on an Occupy march (their encampment was just up the street from me in Boston), but was startled later to discover that the bicycle policeman I kept grinning at and including in the "whose streets?" "our streets" chants is now our commissioner.
But I digress. The neverending diversions are tactical. It is impossible to have a straight conversation, since anything you say about the facts is either "deluded" or prejudiced or exclusionary. For example, the whole bit about not using denier is quite intentional. I am capable of some quite sharp language, but to claim that all I do is insult people is simply not true. We are too flexible about giving people the benefit of the doubt when they pull this stuff.

Point is, doubt and delay is easy. Action is hard. Diversion and division are intentional.

Well, words always produce more words, so here we are again. Sometimes I think they are happy enough to just tie us in knots trying to get through the miasma.

I keep trying to find ways to get people to open up. Where's their curiosity. They appear, en masse, to have been warned to take anything from anyone with true authority and knowledge as part of the conspiracy, and their own inconsistencies and bias are invisible to them.

Tom said...

Your views won't always be in the realm of accepted wisdom. Best protect, nurture and encourage the minority opinion.

Tom said...

Hi Susan, I hope you are well.

I doubt if you mean anything untoward by your use of the term denier. It's a mortal pity that a legitimate word with a useful purpose was corrupted by those who deliberately sought to associate skeptics with Holocaust deniers.

But they did. James Hoggan of DeSmogBlog in 2005 in tandem with Fenton Communications promulgated it to dozens of journalists who began using pretty much the same quote: Climate change deniers are like Holocaust deniers. Due to the miracle of syndication and the somewhat larger miracle of the internet, their statements reached millions and materially affected the conversation on climate change. It was picked up quickly on climate blogs and intentionally used as an insult.

You have a legitimate beef. That beef is with those who trashed the word, not those who object to what they did.

Kevin O'Neill said...

Thanks for including the Dellinger lines. It poetically sums up the question I asked at Stoat's - which future generation can we complacently disregard?

Mal Adapted said...

Tom: "I doubt if you mean anything untoward by your use of the term denier. It's a mortal pity that a legitimate word with a useful purpose was corrupted by those who deliberately sought to associate skeptics with Holocaust deniers."

As always, Tom, you can assert your ownership of "deny", "denial" and "denier" as often and as strenuously as you wish, but no one is obligated to honor your claim. They are still legitimate words to describe, not only those who deny the scientific case for AGW, but also those in denial that such people are legitimately called AGW-deniers.

Undeniably, deniers of AGW-denial do mean something untoward by their attempts to hijack our language. They mean to give legitimacy to pseudo-skeptics, who wish to continue externalizing the climate-change costs of the material prosperity gained by burning "cheap" fossil fuels. Nevertheless, AGW-deniers and AGW-denier-deniers are entitled to the same constitutionally-guaranteed freedom enjoyed by every American, to spread pernicious nonsense.

BBD said...

Brett writes:

For Brandis, concern about climate change becomes just the latest example of the left’s authoritarian political correctness, a medieval retreat into a religious anti-intellectualism.

It's always conflation, false equivalence. Physics will deliver the bullet, but politics will pull the trigger. Which has doubtless been said before.

Unknown said...

Susan: "Point is, doubt and delay is easy. Action is hard."

This made me think about speech acts. As regards carbon output, no-one is able to simply delay and do nothing - we all take part, in one direction or another.

So there's a difference between defending someone's right to say what they like versus, say, not allowing a surgeon to operate if she's suggesting the patient's blood should be replaced with motor oil. The latter isn't censorship - she can go to a bar and express the same opinions openly. She just shouldn't be allowed to practise.

Climate change is completely different, though, isn't it? Those realms where we implicitly understand speech acts must have power and structure (medicine, the military, peer review) have clear boundaries. Now, everyone's words and actions thread through the fate of the whole biosphere.

Which does complicate things. I'd like to know more about the history of concept of free speech, particularly in the U.S. It's always seemed built on the idea of building a perfectly open, neutral arena that remained solidly untouched by the cut and thrust of argument, change coming about in constitutionally defined ways.

In that arena, left or right-wing blocs could build their own worlds and co-exist. (The whole point of liberalism being: 'how do we create a system that allows fundamentally opposed philosophies to live jeek by jowl without resorting to slaughter'). That was always a stretch, but climate change totally buggers it up - or at least it does while all political colours haven't formed a version of their outlook that includes 'how do we also keep a human-friendly atmosphere?' (I think Klein's wrong that there isn't a capitalist variant of that, though full-on libertarians might struggle...)

Steve Bloom said...

"(P)ernicious nonsense" nailed it.

Susan Anderson said...

Dan Olner, that's interesting. I'd like to be able to do this one:
declaratives = speech acts that change the reality in accord with the proposition of the declaration, e.g. baptisms, pronouncing someone guilty or pronouncing someone husband and wife

btw, in the range of egregious, Lamar Smith has upped the ante here:

I'm asking for votes on this NYTimes response, though it's a minor subcomment in a large section, as well as any improvement on how I've put it, for future use.

"Standoff over government climate study provokes national uproar by scientists"

I see he's still at it. This is more than disgusting. The satellite record they are talking about is the "lower tropospheric stratosphere" which is quite high up and does not say what they claim it does.

"Figure 6. Globally averaged temperature anomaly time series for the Lower Tropospheric Stratosphere (TLS). The plot shows the cooling of the lower stratosphere over the past 3 decades. This cooling is caused by a combination of ozone depletion and the increase of greenhouse gases. During the most recent decade, the rate of cooling has reduced substantially. (Click on the figure to go to the time series browse tool.)"

Now I look again, the previous figure (5) does not match the information from other sources, and I'm not sure exactly where the "lower troposphere" is. Anybody?

Tom said...

Susan: "Point is, doubt and delay is easy. Action is hard."

"We must do something. This is something. We must do this."

Balance is difficult.

BBD said...


Now I look again, the previous figure (5) does not match the information from other sources, and I'm not sure exactly where the "lower troposphere" is. Anybody?

This does sound a bit muddled. I've just seen your comment at Eli's but I'll post a link to the good explanatory guest post there for the thread.

Susan Anderson said...

Yup, I'd already seen that and am using it for those technically inclined: I'm math challenged, never did like epsilon. "I'm not a scientist". But I'm a lot happier now the NYT has covered the issue, if inadequately. I'm not sure if my poking and prodding resulted in anything, but I did work on it pretty steadily, and I rather like Schwartz's attitude. But have you seen the latest?

Meanwhile, exactly where is the lower tropospheric stratosphere? A measure in kilometers would be helpful.

Susan Anderson said...

Odds and ends. In September 2014, Fergus went to Harrogate not Scarborough.

We had about 1000 in Boston. Interesting conversation with fellow marcher, who was resisting pipelines and ignorant about climate change. Shocking, I guess.

And this, in response to Tom:

Shall we argue against the necessary because it is impractical?


Tom said...

Hi Suan,

No, we should not argue against the necessary because it is impractical.

Nor is it specious to argue that establishing a concrete floor for well-being of those in the developing world is of equal importance if not greater than pulling down the ceiling of CO2 emissions. The children of the poor in India and the Philippines will be tomorrow's environmental activists.

I am not advocating the abandonment of efforts to mitigate the effects of human contributions to climate change. But the next generation cannot help today's poor. That is our responsibility.