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Handbook in Denialism

Filed under: — rasmus @ 4 May 2011

It would not surprise me if the denialists would deny the existence of the new book by Haydn Washington and John Cook (skepticalscience.com) ‘Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand‘. Somehow, I don’t think they will read it – but they are not target group of this book either. Anyway, denialism is, according to the book, a common human trait – we should all know somebody who deny one thing thing or another.

Furthermore, denial is not the same as being skeptical, either, and Washington and Cook argue it is quite the opposite. Hence, the term “skeptics” for these deniers can be described as Orwellian “doublespeak”“newspeak”.

Denial is apparently caused by our lizard brainstem. What coincidence then, when talking about fossil fuels from plants from the era of huge long dead lizards (the fossil fuels are not made of the dinosaurs), that denying evidence for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is linked to that lizard part of the brain. So, what about using the labels ‘reptiles’ or ‘dinos’? Washington and Cook opt for ‘deniers’, and so will I hereafter.

‘Climate Change Denial’ is a useful book and resource for those with an open mind – for instance journalists. It reads easy and provides a fairly concise picture of the situation many of climate scientists have to live with.


The book makes many good points, but I’d like to add some of my own thoughts. Many of the deniers dress up in a scientific cloak, but if the criteria of science is Replicability (‘R’), Objectivity (‘O’), and Transparency (‘T’) (remember ‘ROT’), then any rotten argument should easily be discarded. If there is any substance to the counter claims, then there should be no problem replicating these with objective methods, and similar data (science is only interesting if the results are universal). I have tried to get some denialists to show me their method and data, but end up being told that I’m stupid.

One problem is that there is no good public stage for evaluating claims by applying ROT – Internet is just too vast and disorganized, in addition to being limited to people active on the Internet. But books as this are one contribution to examining the claims.

”Climate Change Denial’ discusses the most common set of denial arguments. When Washington and Cook address the precautionary principle, they provide some examples. They could equally have mentioned that the precautionary principle is used very selectively and inconsistently – such as WMD in Iraq.

I think the discussion about the scientific method, consensus, and basic climate science may be useful for many readers. The book explains that consensus arises when there is a most convincing explanation for the conditions we see – this is often twisted and put on its head, and denialists think that the explanation follows the consensus, exposing ignorance about fundamental aspects of science.

One of my own favorite criticisms of the deniers is their use of dogmatic reference to various texts (described as “cherry picked” in the book) and repeat this claim over and over again. Although repeating it doesn’t make it more true, it’s a cunning way to drive in their message in people’s mind – just like cramming or training. This behavior also shows that there is no dialogue, as any counter argument is almost with out exception neglected. This in addition to making completely illogical connections.

The discussion about the climate science is fairly brief, but I think that the book would have been even more convincing by citing more broadly, rather than keeping referring to a handful of central people. It would be good to show the vast volume of work done in climate science supporting the concept of AGW, as some names (and the IPCC) are getting a bit worn over time through having their work (only) seemingly tarnished by the denialist camp.

The discussion about feedbacks provides a useful list of amplifying or dampening mechanisms playing a role for an AGW, but I missed three dampening feedbacks. Furthermore, ‘negative’ feedbacks in various systems work may be either through reducing the effect of an initial forcing (the black body feedback, lapse rate feedback), or by keeping the state near an optimal state (oscillator, ‘Gaia’-hypothesis, thermostat-type).

For either case of negative feedback, I think it would be a challenge to explain how a planet could sustain a GHE if you consider one with no atmosphere and gradually add a greenhouse gas. This way of analysing the situation is a bit similar to some approaches for solving physics problems, such as estimating the velocity of satellites around the earth by assuming that it’s initially very (infinitely) far away and assuming that loss in potential energy equals gain in kinetic energy. Similarly, if the earth starts with as little atmosphere as the moon, and that it gradually gets thicker and more extensive, how sensitive would the surface temperature be to the gas concentrations if the sensitivity was very low? Or does the fact that earth’s surface is about 30C warmer than if it had no atmosphere mean a more substantial sensitivity – even when the forcing is proportional to the logarithm of the CO2 concentrations? And what about Venus’ hot surface?

Some feedbacks are non-linear, and some act with a time delay (in many systems, that often gives rise to spontaneous fluctuations). I found it surprising that the book discussed a runaway greenhouse effect, but this concept is hardly being discussed – as far as I know – in the research community. Again, I think the book draws on a small number of scientists.

Washington and Cook refer to two studies demonstrating the different view of AGW in the climate research community and the general public. Whereas 97.5% of the (active) climate research community thinks AGW is a real problem (Doran and Zimmerman, 2009), only 58% (Gallup, 2009) of the general society shares this view. This is a really serious situation of great concern. They also list a number of reasons why this may be so. I think they do have a point, but I also think that there are other reasons too. In fact, I wonder if this is not what one would expect, given the circumstances? This question is relevant for their discussion of the ‘deficit model‘. The question is whether the society’s knowledge about AGW is really the major hirdle – which Washington and Cook argue that may not be so, but rather due to our denial.

On the other hand, the amount of effort and work dedicated into communicating our knowledge about our climate has been really tiny! Most scientists are mainly doing other things. Communication has perhaps not been sufficiently valued and not been regarded as an important job. Such activities have in the past not been well coordinated and may have suffered from lack of collaboration, as many scientists often compete with one another for the same funding. In other words, too little resources, too little collaboration, and lack of training (The IPCC report do not reach the masses, but seem to be written by scientist for scientists).

The present situation also suggests that the denial campaign have been hugely successful – due to a well-funded propaganda campaign according to Oreskes and Conway. Communication is probably more important than we think – just consider the fuzz around “Climategate”, Wikileaks, Al Jazeera, and the effect of social media in recent days in North Africa.

Although not said explicitly in the book, science must become more ‘domesticated’ in order to make progress. ‘Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand‘ is a step in this direction. Science should be something that everybody feel an ownership to and that is relevant for everybody, not just the elite (this is discussed in more detail by Chris Mooney). The deniers campaign may have been successful at increasing the gap between science and the society even further.

There is also the fact that way too little has been done regarding mitigation and adaptation, and too few people work with these issues. So when top politicians travel around to international climate summits, but provide little funding for work on mitigation and adaptation – that really is double communication. Washington and Cook call it ‘governmental denial’. I see some irony in this – at a recent conference (Carbononiums), the Norwegian minister of environment denied that the AGW-deniers matter, as well as that any influential politician denies AGW.

The last part of the book discusses economy, philosophy, politics, and solutions to the climate problem. I think that this part compliments a similar discussion in Paul Epstein and Dan Ferber’s recent book ‘Changing Planet, Changing Health‘, as I don’t think their list is completely exhaustive. Their message about philosophy seems to be that post-modernism has been widely misunderstood, and I gather that too many journalists have got too strong a dose of post-modernism in their journalism education (balance aspect).

What is really needed, I guess, is that they keep in mind ROT and try to examine the evidence for the different views. Basically, do some work rather than just reporting the disagreement in a superficial fashion. I’d urge journalists to act more like detectives and examine the logic of the claims- what is really behind the argument? I can’t imagine post-modern detectives and lawyers.

The book also discusses overpopulation and geo-engineering – for more detailed discussion on the latter, I’d recommend Flemmings recent book ‘Fixing the sky’. Regarding overpopulation, Washington and Cook refer to Paul Ehrlich’s book form 1968 ‘The Population Bomb’, and states that the impact from overpopulation is the product of population × affluence × technology. The validity and usefulness of this equation is debatable.

The last chapters in Washington and Cook book provide a more subjective and compassionate discussion about climate change – which I think also is important. They argue about the urgency in fixing the world’s climate and environmental problem, and suggest a number of solutions, and touch upon the materialistic values (a bit like TheStoryofStuff), and discuss the need to reset our values (perhaps a bit like “Yes Men fix the world“). Their views are sure to cause provocation in some quarters. Nevertheless, I think that these chapters provide a nice complementation to some of the discussion provided in Epstein and Ferber’s book, who also discuss things like wedges, smart power nets, etc.

None of these books discuss possible ‘multiplicative effects’, where several factors proportionally increase the effect. For instance, if more effective cars only use 70% of fuel, the portion of fossil sources for energy use is adjusted down to 80%, smart planning and collaboration results in 4 people in each car (say 30%), and a ‘smart’ organization of the working week means less commuting (80%; TGIT), then combined effect of this can in theory give a reduction by 0.7 x 0.8 x 0.3 x 0.8 = 0.13. Likewise, a combination of increased efficiency at both ends of energy production and consumption can in principle result in an enhanced mitigating effect. Washington and Cook argue that we really need to get on with this work, as the AGW problem is an urgent problem: The longer we wait – the worse the situation.


190 Responses to “Handbook in Denialism”

  1. 1
    Nathan says:

    Minor nitpick: There is Orwellian “newspeak”, and “doublethink”, not “doublespeak”. I believe you meant newspeak here.

  2. 2
    Chris Colose says:

    I haven’t read the book, but John Cook provides an invaluable and well-organized site in SkepticalScience, a site which now has several contributors (including myself) and in my opinion an efficient review process prior to posts going live. I have little doubt the book maintained high research standards throughout its development. I look forward to looking at it.

    Rasmus, I think there’s a good number of people in the research community interested in the runaway greenhouse effect, although maybe not so many traditional atmospheric scientists. The concept has become particularly important in the search for habitable exoplanets, since the runaway greenhouse (or in some cases a more intermediate “moist stratosphere” case) defines how close to a particular star you can push a planet to dehydrate that planet and terminate any prospet for life. Now that we’ve discovered about 500 exoplanets (growing on a monthly basis and with detection abilities beginning to resolve Earth and Neptune-sized bodies [Kepler launched a couple years ago to detect these bodies around a range of stars]) it is still a fascinating topic. This is a subject that has only been modeled in 1-D and so there’s still a large interest in understanding it further. I had some interest in working with Jim Kasting at Penn State on this in future years but funding opportunities fell through, so maybe in the future. Instead, Gavin will have to suffer with me hanging around at GISS this summer as a student working with Allegra LeGrande :-)

    There’s also a number of interesting applications in the evolution of Earth’s atmosphere that branch off from the runaway greenhouse physics, for example how fast a magma-ocean covered early Earth ends up cooling — you can’t lose heat to space of more than about 310 W/m2 or so for an Earth-sized planet with an efficient water vapor feedback, so it takes much longer for an atmosphere-cloaked Earth to cool off from impact events than a body just radiating at sigmaT^4. In fact Earth may very well have been in a transient runaway state after the moon forming impact.

  3. 3
    JM says:

    Denial is apparently caused by our lizard brainstem. What coincidence then, when talking about fossil fuels from plants from the era of huge long dead lizards (the fossil fuels are not made of the dinosaurs), that denying evidence for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is linked to that lizard part of the brain.

    And, I might add, what an irony, considering the role of denial in creationism.

  4. 4

    Rasmus,

    If I were in the 48 percent who did not believe that AGW was a real problem, I’m not sure that being told that my views were due to my “lizard brainstem” would go very far in convincing me otherwise. While righteous indignation may be fun, it appeals much more to those already on our side than the doubters that need to be convinced. Similarly, critiquing the essentialized “deniers” without differentiating between those skeptics who can be convinced through reasoned argument and those who can’t risks driving the former group further away.

    That said, Skeptical Science has done a wonderful job providing quick links refutations of some of the sillier sophisms floating around the internet. As you mention, for better or worse policy arguements are settled in the public sphere rather than the rarified world of academic literature, and “domesticated” scientific arguements tend to have a much greater policy influence. Resources that allow a (relatively) lay audience to quickly find accurate and accessible answers are essential.

    [Response: Good point! But it doen't follow that the 42% who are not convinced actually deny the fact - they see claims from both sides and may not be in position to judge the different versions in a proper way, and hence may be swaied by on or the other side. I don't call this group 'deniers'. Rather, it is the group that promotes claims which are demonstrately wrong and neglect relevant facts. You can call them the active participants in the debate. -rasmus]

  5. 5
    Russell says:

    1
    Doublespeak seems a neologism neocons should embrace, as Leo Strauss’s acolytes were already practicing it in 1984.

    It will take more than another ice age to bring argument about post-Orwellian semiotics to a close.

  6. 6
    Edward Greisch says:

    “Denial is apparently caused by our lizard brainstem.”

    That would be a good idea to enlarge on. What can be done about it? Does education fix it or is evolution the only recourse? See: The Brain: The Last Frontier (1976 edition only) – Richard Restak, MD to start. Is a smaller brain stem required or do we need larger frontal or prefrontal lobes? Does pure IQ help or does it have to be math IQ?
    The answers to this type of question also answer the question: “Should we try to save the whole earth or just provide a lifeboat for a few?” See: http://lifeboat.com. In other words: Is it possible to convince enough people to take action or is the situation beyond hope? We need to answer this question first.

    The second question is: “What action is required?” At this time we have answered neither question. We are physicists. We should get the “mathematicians” to prove the existence of a solution to the problem before attempting to find the solution. There may be none. Or the only solution may involve violence or some other measure we haven’t or won’t consider.

  7. 7
    Ron R. says:

    and repeat this claim over and over again. Although repeating it doesn’t make it more true, it’s a cunning way to drive in their message in people’s mind – just like cramming or training

    Or advertising. “A lie told often enough becomes the truth”. A tactic of creationists as well.

    I still find myself every now and then humming tunes from television commercials I last heard decades previously. Usually for products I never liked. It’s like trying to get gum off the bottom of your shoe. One of the reasons I despise the marketing industry.

  8. 8
  9. 9
    john byatt says:

    Australia,
    latest poll 3 May 2011
    72% population accept that humans are partly or fully the cause of climate change,

    only 30% accept proposed carbon tax,

    no details of proposed carbon tax yet revealed

    Liberal coalition (conservatives} conducting anti tax campaign

    history of coalition support for action, (reprinted from web article)
    .The Liberals(conservatives) were the first main party to accept the science of global Warming, In 1990 Andrew Peacock, and again in 1993 John Hewson went to the electorate with a commitment to cut Australia’s Greenhouse Gas emissions 20% by 2000. In 1997 John Howard signed the Kyoto Protocol, “a stunning success” as he described it “Australia would make a massive contribution”, In 2002 Howard broke his commitment and refused to ratify Kyoto but was still adamant that all Kyoto emission reductions would be achieved, Four years later in 2006 the Howard government realised that it needed to improve its credibility on Global warming, Malcolm Turnbull(then climate change minister) claimed that Australia led the world in climate change policies, In 2007 The government went to the election proposing an ETS with enormous internal support, After losing the election, under Brendan Nelson the coalition adopted a classic harassment strategy , not questioning the science but focusing on any inconvenience that may arise. Malcolm Turnbull, fully understanding the science fought for the ETS, In 2009 the climate deniers in the coalition proudly declared their own ignorance, Turnbull was ousted because of his commitment to the science and “Climate change is crap” Tony Abbott became the Leader, Greg Hunt(current opposition climate change minister) like Turnbull also understands the science,both now tethered purely for short term political gain

    Tax details possibly revealed in july

    .

  10. 10
    Mike says:

    Typo: The text in the article incorrectly lists John Cook’s site as skepticalclimate.com, although the link correctly points to http://www.skepticalscience.com.

  11. 11
    Jim Prall says:

    Rather than the Ehrlich formula, I would encourage applying the Kaya Identity:

    Emissions = population * GDP/capita * energy / unit GDP * emissions / unit energy

    It is termed an identity as it is true by definition, simply highlighting the connection via unit anslysis.

    A key insight is that each factor has its own dynamics and trend, which can be projected or stipulated independently of the others. Demographics gives us useful bounds on future population growth. Economists have (often rosy or even polyanna) projections of future growth of GDP per capita. This is one that can most usefully be disaggregated by country/region. Energy intensity of GDP has been steadily improving for decades, but not very fast. Emissions intensity per unit of useful energy is the “technology” question ( think ‘breakthrough’ …)

    There is a decent Wikipedia page on this at http://en.wikipedia.org/Wiki/Kaya_identity

    [Response: Of course, each factor *cannot* in fact be projected independently of the others, because of the strong interdependence of population, technology, and wealth.--eric]

  12. 12
    Josie says:

    I think that people are often far too quick to dismiss others as immune to reason.

    People rarely change their opinions quickly, it takes a long time of chipping gently away before the walls start to crumble. That is actually a perfectly rational response – it is often not a good idea to be too quick to change your mind on major issues in response to every new bit of evidence.

    The fact that someone appears to dismiss your arguments – excellent as they undoubtedly are – does not mean that you should give up on them and call them names like ‘in denial’.

    You just need to be patient, and keep going. If they change, they probably won’t do it in a single conversation. You won’t see the effect that you had. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t have any.

  13. 13
    Snapple says:

    You need to correct the address in your post.
    The correct address is skepticalscience.com, not skepticalclimate.com

  14. 14
    Michael Klein says:

    For Josie comment #12 – A well thought-out comment, Josie. Very well said.

  15. 15
    Bern says:

    Thanks for the article – I’ve just started reading the book myself.

    Further to Josie @ #12, I’d also like to say that even some of the most intransigent opponents can be brought around by sufficient reasoned debate. The problem is having that debate in the first place, given they frequently just dismiss out of hand arguments they disagree with.

    I have a friend (scientifically trained, if that’s relevant) who’s a dyed-in-the-wool republican, who follows many conservative blogs. He used to send me lots of links to articles denying global warming, but I countered every single one of them with as much factual science as I could find. I don’t know that he has actually come around to *accepting* the idea of AGW, but his vocal opposition to it has certainly tailed off dramatically over the past year or so.

    My point is that it’s often difficult to get people to change their mind once they’ve made it up about a topic, but it’s not impossible. The same friend above has stated that “I’m always right, if I was wrong I’d change my mind and then I’d be right again!” The real problem is getting folks like that to understand why they’re *not* right on this topic. Challenging, but doable.

  16. 16
    Dan H. says:

    So true Josie,
    Someone is not likely to change their mind quickly into (dis)believing global warming based on the latest evidence. There are compelling arguements to convince the most skeptical, but fervent believers on both sides are not likely to change their views easily.
    Name calling is not a very effective arguement.

  17. 17
    Edward Greisch says:

    According to: http://www.skepticalscience.com/Upcoming-book-Climate-Change-Denial-Haydn-Washington-John-Cook.html
    the book is about refuting denialist arguments with climate science rather than about the psychology of denial itself. We have enough climate science. We need more psychology. While we are at it, we also need a method of turning off panic and anger in ourselves and others. Panic and denial are pointless self defeating emotions. Anger can be pointless and self defeating if continued for too long.
    The method cannot require the taking of a pill. It has to be a remote button on its own box that turns off denial, panic and anger in anybody within sight without turning off vigilance or negating the inputs that caused the emotions.

  18. 18
    Susanne says:

    Typo in link to wikipedia on the Kaya identity. Should be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaya_identity (lower case w in /wiki/)

  19. 19
    Anna says:

    Denialists are much more frightening than climate change.

  20. 20
    MikeA says:

    I’d also like to point out that denial comes in many flavours. I live outside of Melbourne, Australia. I have trouble conceiving that a meter rise in sea-level would drastically change the face of the city. This is a form of denial. We need to be more aware of the psychology of this.

    Long hot and dry periods and water restictions have made me much more aware of the limitations of my local environment, near Ballarat. So I have accepted the fact that in the long term some areas may no longer be viable for residence, including mine. No psychological problem there, I’ve seen the ground looking like Mars too often and I despair.

    So I have two views, one of catastrophic change and the other of denial.

  21. 21

    Zeke (4) and Josie (12): Well said and very true.

    I take Zeke’s point as being that also those who are unconvinced though not “in denial” would typically not be swayed by what he calls “righteous indignation”.

  22. 22
    Magnus W says:

    One thing I think is missing is one of the journalists main goals… to be first with the story. They do not tend to wait 6 months or more to see the response on a new article.

  23. 23

    It is as if all of humanity has cancer – and the prognosis could be terminal. Medical science knows that some cancer patients will completely deny their disease, refuse any treatment and die without facing or fighting their ailment.

    Now we share a similar disease situation. Unlike any other time in history, our species survival requires we ruthlessly examine our plight and start a difficult treatment regimen.

    If we decide that we want to survive, then we cannot accept, respect or tolerate denial, This is because when a significant fraction of the population chooses inaction or distraction then it works to doom us all.

    We all will learn painful lessons, there may be some panic and anger. But to tolerate denial, means that we acquiesce. But to decide on species survival means we are unified behind the science.

    Civilization has to decide. We have to act like a newly diagnosed cancer patient. How much do we want to fight for our future? Is this something we want? Is the pain and deprivation worth it?

    BTW – when it comes to denial, it is time to rewrite a fable http://theboywhodeniedwolf.com/

  24. 24
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Gee, Dan H., I don’t know. Why don’t you guys try finding some actual evidence to base your position on, and then we’ll see.

  25. 25
    Larry Saltzman says:

    I agree with the person who said we need more psychology, not more science to refute the propaganda used by deniers. Remember that the entire field of public relations is a misappropriation of research from psychology and p.r. The p.r. effort to discredit climate change scientists and their research is clever and ruthless. If the science of public relations can be used to spread lies, it can also be used to spread the truth. I would also recommend reviewing George Lakoff’s books. He has some excellent theories that are applicable to why science is losing to public relations,and why our side is so ineffective at presenting it’s case.

  26. 26
    Ed Beroset says:

    It’s probably worth noting that while many people may be convinced through a more thorough education about what is currently known, there really are still some who don’t particularly value science or the scientific method. For those who arrive at a conclusion on AGW via political affinity or because they distrust “eggheads,” logic and facts seem unlikely to be effective.

  27. 27
    Forlornehope says:

    If you go to people and say “Here is a problem, you will have to give up lots of fun things and live a much poorer life to solve it.” they will look very favourably on any argument to contradict you. If, as an alternative, you can say “Here is a problem and there is a solution that will give you a cleaner, more comfortable, more sustainable life for you and your children.” you might be in with a chance. The latter is possible but too many in the green movement have been using climate change as a vehicle to promote their simple life, communal living objectives. What is needed is the re-engineering of the energy infrastructure over the next 30 to 40 years. That will have to be done anyway as the existing kit wears out. It is all quite achievable from an engineering viewpoint but it is being undermined by an unholy symbiosis of green enthusiasts and deniers.

    [Response: I don't see a lot of people trying to force some reduction in quality of life on the world, and if they were, they sure wouldn't phrase it like that. They would point to the many positive aspects that come from reduced consumption, of which there are many. The problem is actually the way people misrepresent the positions of others--as you have done here--and use words to purposely trigger knee jerk responses in people, such as "communal", which to many will bring up images of socialism and whatnot--Jim]

  28. 28
    Dan H. says:

    I agree Paul,
    Referring to physicists or other scientists as having a reptilian brain will not be very persuasive. If one were to use the word denier to include all those who dispute the scientific evidence, then you would have to include those who believe that the data is lacking (due to unknown forces or slow responses), and that their own intellectual calculations are correct.

  29. 29
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    Meanwhile 47% of the population of Detroit are reported to be functionally illiterate.

  30. 30
    John Brookes says:

    I tried to be skeptical about global warming.

    After all, it is difficult to accept that for several decades, each has been warmer than the last. It seems unreasonable to believe that the next decade will be warmer again. It seems all too likely that it will just cool down, and that it will end up having been a false alarm. However, as the warming has continued, it is harder to stay skeptical.

    So this is the extent of my skepticism – just finding it difficult to accept that global warming is real. But still believing that action is necessary to combat the potential threat.

    Denial, as practiced by people who call themselves “skeptics”, is very different. They try to justify their desire to believe something which goes against the evidence, and are prepared to be deliberately dishonest to sway others.

    I’m reminded of a “skeptic” mocking Tim Flannery over Tim’s prediction more than a decade ago that Perth (Western Australia) would run out of water because of reduced rainfall. Now I live in Perth, and while we may have water restrictions, there is still plenty of water. So I started to think that Tim was an alarmist – until someone pointed out that the reason we have enough water is because, after Tim’s prediction, we built a desalination plant.

  31. 31
    Eli Rabett says:

    Having been an early adapter of denialists, Eli has recently changed over to rejectionist. Rejection is active, denial is passive. There is nothing passive about most of the folks we are concerned with. Their rejectionism proceeds from their world view. Nicholas Stern and an increasing number of economists and social scientists have the right of it that the problem of dealing with the coming change is an ethical issue, not a scientific one, and the curses of our children are soon upon us.

  32. 32
    JM says:

    Referring to physicists or other scientists as having a reptilian brain will not be very persuasive.

    The fact remains that they do have reptilian brains, unless someone scooped that part out.

    Physicists who pop off about other scientists’ fields and lend their credentials to a not just un-scientific but anti-scientific movement aren’t just guilty of a reptilian response, they’re being dishonest.

    How are we supposed to “persuade” liars?

  33. 33
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dan H.,
    Newsflash: We all have a “reptilian brain”–that is the portion of the brain that controls relatively primitive functions–fight-or-flight, arousal, anger…

    We also have a cerebral cortex–a thin layer on the outer portion of the brain that controls higher cognitive functions.

    Figure out which one you want to run your life. Frankly, I do not find refusal to consider evidence to be a position deserving of respect.

  34. 34
    pete best says:

    Several things come up here for me. One is that of the medias reporting on sciences that have a political bias and will and need to influence politial decision making in that it must be argued on both sides regardless of the scientific appraisal and position in the subject at hand. I always wonder what would happen if the higgs boson had a political argument and that the only skeptics of its existance are scientists themselves. The media dont give a stuff if it exists are not, or dark matter and energy for that matter. Its only politically relevant science that get argued on both sides!

    The second point is the sheer scientific indifference by the public of its potential impact due to life being so good even though its us who are using up all of the goods, services and hence energy that make it so. We all know many people but denial is high and even for those who know it cant or will not make significant change to their lifestyles in sufficent numbers to mitigate co2 emissions for many a valid reason. Even if our democratic capatalist system does change our energy sources sufficiently it wont be enough until we have changed oue lifestyles to soem degree.

    I read recently that the 300 million people of the USA use up around 50% of the worlds good and services so its a massive argument here and its one that entrenched in left and right view points and in the USA the right are well organised and well funded and unfortunately they dont want to do much about it and seem to want to keep to status quo in regard to energy provision which is a dangerous attitude to take as far as I am concerned.

    Its a political battle that have to take place in the USA so get your sleeves rolled up for so far not much alternative energy relative to fossil fuels based ones is getting done.

  35. 35
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Forlornehope:
    You know, if people had done something about this 20 years ago when the evidence first became incontrovertible, we might have stood a chance of getting through this without a severe decline in living standards. Now it is doubtful, and the toll that denial will take on us is not fully tallied.

  36. 36
    SecularAnimist says:

    Josie wrote: “I think that people are often far too quick to dismiss others as immune to reason.”

    People who are deliberately lying, for money — LOTS of money — and who don’t care about the consequences to others, are immune to reason.

    There is no general “skepticism” of anthropogenic global warming that has somehow spontaneously arisen due to obscure psychological factors.

    That’s not what AGW denialism is. AGW denialism has been manufactured by a generation-long campaign of deliberate deceit, funded by ExxonMobil and Koch Industries and other fossil fuel corporations that collectively rake in one billion dollars per day in profit from the ongoing business-as-usual consumption of their destructive products.

    There will always be people who are for one reason or another vulnerable to being duped by deliberate liars. As someone once said, “there’s one born every minute.” That’s not going to change any time soon.

    What is needed is to confront and expose the deliberate liars for what they are.

  37. 37

    #28–

    “Referring to physicists or other scientists as having a reptilian brain will not be very persuasive.”

    DanH, you misunderstand. “Reptilian brain” isn’t rhetoric intended to demean your opponent; it’s a descriptive term referring to the evolutionarily old parts of the brain, the parts that we actually do have in common with reptiles.

    And I do mean “we”–you, me, Roy Spencer, James Hansen, and every other human on the face of the Earth.

  38. 38
    SecularAnimist says:

    Dan H wrote: “If one were to use the word denier to include all those who dispute the scientific evidence …”

    I use the word “denier” to include people like yourself, who knowingly and repeatedly post distortions, sophistry and outright falsehoods that have been repeatedly debunked.

  39. 39
    J. Bob says:

    #30 John,
    if you really wanted to convince a “skeptic”, you would have at least noted if Perth was using more water, and needed additional water sources. You told only part of the story.

  40. 40
    The Ville says:

    Forlornhope@27
    “The latter is possible but too many in the green movement have been using climate change as a vehicle to promote their simple life, communal living objectives. What is needed is the re-engineering of the energy infrastructure over the next 30 to 40 years.”

    The ‘green movement’ has been one of the strongest proponents of a re-engineering of the energy system. It is made up of a lot of different people, including ordinary people that do not match your stereotypical view.

  41. 41
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “What is needed is to confront and expose the deliberate liars for what they are.” – 36

    But that would be impolite name calling.

  42. 42
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “You know, if people had done something about this 20 years ago when the evidence first became incontrovertible, we might have stood a chance of getting through this without a severe decline in living standards. – 36

    20 years ago, it was all the rage among Conservative Economists to claim that the Earth’s resources were essentially infinite.

    Some still make this claim.

    “There is only one important resource which has shown a trend of increasing scarcity rather than increasing abundance. That resource is the most important of all—human beings. . . . [An] increase in the price of peoples’ services is a clear indication that people are becoming more scarce even though there are more of us.”

    - Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2 (Princeton, N.Y.: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 581.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLQoa_FA_zo

  43. 43

    “But that would be impolite name calling.”-46

    Which many would also claim to be an “ad hom.”

    Well, I’ve been doing my best. Could we rephrase it to “What is needed is to continue to confront and expose. . . ?”

    Although I do think that frequently “No, that’s incorrect and here’s why. . .” may be more effective than the “impolite name calling”–however accurate the name may be.

  44. 44
    Anna Haynes says:

    Kevin #37 (““Reptilian brain” isn’t rhetoric intended to demean your opponent; it’s a descriptive term”) – but what if (as, IMO, is the case) our reptile brain interprets “reptilian brain” as demeaning?

  45. 45
    SecularAnimist says:

    Forlornhope wrote: “… too many in the green movement have been using climate change as a vehicle to promote their simple life, communal living objectives.”

    Examples? As The Ville wrote, that sounds like a stereotype. I’ve been participating in the “green movement” since before the first Earth Day in 1970, and it has not been my experience that the “green movement” advocates “communal living”.

    Forlornhope wrote: “What is needed is the re-engineering of the energy infrastructure over the next 30 to 40 years.”

    The “green movement” has been pushing for the re-engineering of the energy infrastructure for the last 30 to 40 years. Amory Lovins wrote “Soft Energy Paths” in 1976.

  46. 46
    Joesixpack says:

    I only possess a layman knowledge of climate science, I am in no position to debate the science and neither is 99% (I’m guessing)of the general population, we simply have to take your word for it. Unfortunately, pretty much every site having to do with AGW, both pro and con, seems to have way to much content that is condescending, cruel and bigoted. A lot of us are simply tiring of it.

    Just my opinion… feel free to flame away.

    Anyway, this is not what my post is about.

    Last year I bought an electric (battery powered) lawn mower, did I do this because I was concerned about the environment?…NO..although that is a nice side benefit.
    After 30 years of changing oil, cleaning spark plugs, storing gas in my garage and generally making a lot of noise in the early morning I was seeking an alternative that WORKED. I would have done this sooner but good reliable (well priced) non-corded electric mowers were simply not available.
    I am more than pleased with this new electric mower, no maintenance issues, quiet, it does a great job and it was no more expensive than its internal combustion competition. Several of my neighbors have taken notice and also bought electric mowers, no discussion of AGW required.

    I don’t care about the psychology of denial, I don’t want silly punitive taxation schemes, I want good usable alternatives.

    Will Malthus be proven right? Are we to continue our present path believing that advances in technology will not be there to mitigate our plight?

  47. 47
    SecularAnimist says:

    Joesixpack wrote: “… I don’t want silly punitive taxation schemes …”

    I don’t know of any “silly punitive taxation schemes” that have been proposed by anyone.

    I don’t think it is either “silly” or “punitive” to require polluters to pay the costs of their pollution, instead of foisting those costs onto YOU while they enjoy the profits.

    By the way, I also have an electric lawnmower powered by a removable, rechargeable battery, and it is really great in all the ways you mention.

  48. 48
    Radge Havers says:

    Josie. If we’re talking generallities, some people are impervious to reason, others not. Some fall somewhere in between. Some people change opinions quickly, some don’t. Certainly if you’ve been on this planet for very long, you’ll have noticed that some people wear their imperviousness to reason as badge of honor which they fully intend to take to the grave, and damn anybody who gets in the way.

    While this may be a discussion to some, it’s psyops to others; Ideological warfare, not a search for truth.

    As for the term ‘denial’, people in denial are in denial. If that’s the case, it’s not name calling. Claiming otherwise could be construed as tone trolling. I for one am not inclined to pat people on the head, or give them a trophies for participating, and tell them how wonderful they are for maliciously disrupting civic discourse on such a serious matter. It’s not as though even the most benign denialists are offering anything scientific to back up their positions.

    Eli. Rejectionists. Rejects for short?

  49. 49
    Dan H. says:

    Secular,
    You should check out the EU carbon tax fiasco. Coruption is costing billions annually without notiveable improvement.
    I do not think that anyone is arguing that polluters should not pay. Charging someone for non-pollutants is deplorable.

  50. 50
    Susan Anderson says:

    Josie, if you think there’s any innocence about it, I suggest you read the comment thread linked below until you can no longer stomach it, note the patience and tolerance exercised by Schmidt et al. who did not allow stomach-turning content to deter from spending all spare and sleep time dealing with it, and then join the fray. I am all in favor of complimenting people on their undoubted real ability to think past this garbage, in order to encourage them to do so. I do believe they can. But assuming the source of the material is innocent is going too far.
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/11/the-cru-hack/
    (there were several further articles, but this is a start)

    On Perth, a friend living there told me conditions included water rationing, and sent me a neat graphic of Australia that pretty much explains the situation last summer. I hope there has been improvement since then, please take a look:
    http://twitpic.com/3ru077

    search via google, and then choose images: “australia map floods fires” will also enlighten anyone who thinks things are OK around there.


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