RealClimate logo

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 ( ‘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. 51
    Susan Anderson says:

    Further to my previous, summer in Australia was January.

  2. 52
    flxible says:

    AnnaHaynes@44 – If you don’t like “Reptilian brain” then call it “the basal ganglia”, which actually does have some control over making the horse drink the water you’ve led it to. ;)

  3. 53
    The Ville says:

    “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.”

    Erm, not sure modern lawns are particularly environmentally friendly.
    They are after all completely un-natural. The other issue is that an electric lawnmower doesn’t reduce carbon emissions, changes in the generation sources and grid do.

    Why mention this??
    Well, because cutting carbon emissions must be based on facts, not on human desires. If a battery powered lawnmower is popular, but fails to cut emissions, then it is just another false path taken.

  4. 54
    Adam R. says:

    “Charging someone for non-pollutants is deplorable.”

    …implying, clumsily, that CO2 is not a pollutant in the grotesque amounts currently being dumped into the atmosphere. The dose makes the poison, remember?

    Really, Dan H., your denier warts are showing.

  5. 55
    SecularAnimist says:

    The Ville wrote: “… an electric lawnmower doesn’t reduce carbon emissions, changes in the generation sources and grid do …”

    That’s true as far as it goes. In my case, my electric mower is charged from wind-generated electricity that I buy through the local utility. With an electric mower, you at least have the possibility of doing that.

    However, even if an electric mower is charged from coal-fired electricity, it might reduce emissions for three reasons:

    First, it’s my understanding that the type of motors used in lawn mowers are extremely polluting, more so than automobile engines. (And they don’t have catalytic converters and such either, so in addition to CO2 they emit a lot more nasty toxic pollutants than modern cars.)

    Second, I believe that (as with electric cars), an electric mower makes more efficient use of energy when it is running than does a combustion-powered mower.

    Third, one of the virtues of an electric mower is that it can be instantly turned on and off (mine has a “dead man” switch built into the handle, so that simply releasing the handle shuts the mower off, and gripping it turns the mower on). Because combustion-powered mowers are such a hassle to start, users typically leave them running even when they stop mowing for a short time, which burns fuel unnecessarily.

    In my case, I must admit that switching to an electric mower may have actually resulted in an increase in my energy consumption (albeit from wind power), because I didn’t switch from a gasoline-fueled power mower — I switched from a human-powered manual reel mower. Which cut the time it takes to mow my lawn from six hours to two hours. Whether the increase in electricity consumption is offset by the decrease in consumption of food calories needed to fuel me while mowing, I honestly don’t know.

  6. 56
    Dan H. says:

    Sorry Adam,
    I could not disagree with you more.

  7. 57
    Richard Simons says:

    Forlornhope @27:

    . . . 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 Centre for Alternative Technology near Machynlleth in Wales has been testing and demonstrating techniques to improve sustainability, including renewable energy sources, without promoting either a simple or a communal lifestyle since 1974. It is well worth a visit.

  8. 58

    55 SecularAnimist

    Good grief! You still think somebody runs out and turn loose a windmill when you mow the lawn, just because they conned you into buying renewable energy? You didn’t. You might have helped finance renewable energy somewhere. But it seems that a new thing called ‘curtailment’ has been invented, which really means the windmill gets a pin put in the gears.

    Even more amazing is that in a world of physicists such as are so strongly represented in the field of climate scientists, you could still make an assertion comparing electric motors to gasoline engines. Surely someone at realclimate should be able to pipe up and explain that such a comparison is gibberish.

    Lawn mower engines are indeed about the sloppiest form of heat engine, so probably for CO2, your electric mower in combination with the relevant coal fired heat engine that runs the power plant, is an improvement.

  9. 59
    David B. Benson says:

    If one must have a lwn then I recommend an old fashioned human powered lawn mower. Better exercise as well.

  10. 60
    Edward Greisch says:

    Compare 34 to 27 response.

    On the reptilian part of all mammal brains: Evolution is “conservative.” That means evolution does not throw away a part that works, even if it doesn’t any more. We still have appendixes too. The mammal brain is a reptile brain with a second layer added. The second layer is the “emotion chip.” Humans have a third layer. The third layer is the reasoning chip or math co-processor. That is only one way to think of the human brain.

    The fact that we have “conserved” brain parts from our predecessors is a proof of evolution. Just adding on to the previous generation computing machine is definitely not the way the new generation of computing machinery gets designed. We start from the ground up with a whole new machine. Life isn’t that way. There was no intelligent designer. Evolution is not intelligent, but it has enormous amounts of time available. Clearly, if there were an intelligent designer, our brains would not have parts that resemble the brains of our predecessors, the synapsids and the other mammals. [Mammals evolved from synapsids, not actually from reptiles. But synapsids look a lot like reptiles.

    Genetic engineering, by humans, would be required to get rid of the problems we have because of the more primitive parts of our brains. Evolution can change the relative sizes and influence of brain parts. In fact, that is one thing that distinguishes us from other primates. We have larger frontal lobes and relatively smaller “back lobes.” How far can that process go? Can evolution proceed far enough in enlarging the front of the brain and shrinking the more primitive parts to get rid of problems like denialism and panic? Can evolution give the average person of the future enough math IQ to exceed the talent of the best mathematicians of today? [Note that evolution does not have a pre-ordained direction. Something has to drive it.]

  11. 61
    Joesixpack says:

    The Ville says
    “Erm, not sure modern lawns are particularly environmentally friendly.
    They are after all completely un-natural. The other issue is that an electric lawnmower doesn’t reduce carbon emissions, changes in the generation sources and grid do”

    Not easy changing the generation sources. There are groups that oppose nuclear, wind farms, solar farms and hydro…what’s left?
    Trimming my lawn is not in my top 10 fun things to do and in fact over 50% of my yard is now rocks, shrubs etc.
    If I lived in a mild climate (I only wish) where I did not have to listen to my furnace run for 6 months of the year I would be very very happy. Anyone want to sponsor me to move to Hawaii?

  12. 62
    Ed Beroset says:

    @58 Jim Bullis:

    I’m not sure why you claim that comparing electric motors to gasoline engines is “gibberish.” Researchers at Tokai University have demonstrated a 100W DC electric motor with 96% efficiency. An internal combustion engine running on gasoline comes nowhere near this (20% is typical), but what we really need to compare is the well-to-wheels efficiency and pollution. I think you’ll find that electric still comes out ahead for lawnmowers, even if the local power plant is burning coal, because of the lack of pollution controls on small engines of the type that are typically used for lawnmowers.

  13. 63
    Luke Silburn says:

    Dan @49:
    There is no EU carbon tax. One is being proposed, but it hasn’t been enacted yet.

    I suspect you are talking about the ETS, which is a pollution permit trading scheme.


  14. 64
    Susan Anderson says:

    seems to me a lawn that takes 2 hours with a powermower is rather large. Could some of that could be replaced with natural?

    none of my business, but lawn-fashion is low-hanging fruit. People with smaller lawns and town ordinances/neighbors can make a tidy border of perfect lawn and use native plants in places that are dry to indicate control for the sake of those who are blind to our impact on the environment but require conformity.

  15. 65
    CM says:

    Lizard brainstems?! Since I just ordered the book, as an admirer of Cook’s SkepticalScience site, I really hope his and Washington’s foray into the social science literature will turn up something better than the pop neuroscience of yesteryear.

  16. 66
    anniet says:

    Has anyone here looked into the (somewhat) recent work done by Kari Norgaard (2006) or Renee Lertzman (2009) on climate change denial? Much of what emerges is that many climate change ‘deniers’ do not actually just ‘not care’ but in fact care deeply and just feel completely ineffective at making any changes. From a psychotherapeutic perspective, this is linked to defense mechanisms that cause people to be ‘in denial’ or apathetic.

    For example: you care about an issue – say, your family or your health or your environment. You recognize that climate change has the ability to negatively impact those things. You have no idea what to do about it. It’s completely overwhelming. It mostly seems to be happening in far away places. There’s no common conclusion about it in the media. Et cetera. You decide (either consciously or subconsciously) that it’s too huge and you can’t do anything about it and so, as a defense mechanism, you begin to deny that it is happening to protect yourself mentally and emotionally from the weight of living in a world that’s going down in flames and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    I find this to be a very compelling argument. And if it’s true, then I think the responding question must also come from a psychotherapeutic perspective:

    While helping people to understand the immediacy of this issue and offering them easy ways to make changes in their lives (but meaningful! not just changing light bulbs while the coal plant next door puffs away), how can we support them emotionally so that addressing it seems manageable? How can we empower them, assisting their understanding of the system, helping them find ways to take action, and helping them to make those actions successful?

  17. 67
    Joesixpack says:

    In regards to lawn mowers, power sources aside, here is another interesting fact (I cannot verify the accuracy of the numbers). Push power is best but electric is still a big improvement.

    The EPA estimates that over 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. That’s more than all the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez, in the Gulf of Alaska. In addition to groundwater contamination, spilled fuel that evaporates into the air and volatile organic compounds spit out by small engines make smog-forming ozone when cooked by heat and sunlight.
    I do not want to wade into the whole ID thing, just an interesting concept

  18. 68
    Dan H. says:

    Interesting theory. Personally, I believe that the people who are denying climate science are those who have a personal stake in the issue, usually financially or politically. There is a lot of money and political clout surrounding this issue, and that usually results in corruption. Just look at what is happening in Europe.
    Both US political parties have taken a stand using selective scientific results to bolster their case. Neither is looking at the issue objectively. Corporations are supporting whatever legislation best supports their bottom line. Enron gambled and spent billions attempting to introduce cap and trade legislation from which they were expecting a huge windfall, and when bankrupt when it failed to materialize.


  19. 69
    Joesixpack says:

    Yet more lawn mower trivia, once again I have not taken the time to verify these numbers as I have to check the stats on my own rechargeable mower:

    “Mowing an eighth acre should take between 20 and 30 minutes. Your average electric lawn mower is about 1/2 hp or 373 watts. That’s about .1 kWh consumed per mowing. Assuming 4 mowings per month, that’s .4 kWh. The average TV in the home consumes four times as much electricity in one *day*. If we assume a high power mower that puts out 2 hp, a month’s mowing still only consumes the electricity consumed by a TV in a day. (Color sets consume about 200 watts and the average American home has the TV on for 8 hours a day.”

    I am also trying to find an estimate on how much power is consumed by computers world wide, or even in North America. How much power are we consuming by chatting on this website on a daily basis?

    When you look at the explosion in electronic devices; ipads, cell phones, black berries etc., the power consumption must be enormous. Are all these things taking over where SUV’s left off?

    I know these are all light weight points (I don’t call myself Joesixpack for nothing) but as pointed out by anniet in a previous post, the average person has a tough time making changes.

    I can buy an electric mower, change my bulbs etc. and start to feel good and not realize that my increased computer/cell phone/ipad use just negated the whole thing. Even the most environmental conscious can be somewhat guilty of this.
    I can only hope that improvements in technology keep coming that I can make use of.

  20. 70

    62 Ed Beroset

    Comparing efficiency of an electric motor to that of a heat engine is like comparing apples to doorknobs.

    Some sort of approximate validity would exist if an attempt was made to compare mechanical power output to heat power input. Thus, the 30% efficiency of the coal fired power plant would be combined with the 95% efficiency of the electric motor, resulting in 27% efficiency for the Animist’s lawnmower. This beats the gasoline engine, depending on which gasoline engine we are talking about. But that must then be adjusted for the extra CO2 from coal per unit of heat produced, dropping the relative merit to about 21 versus your 20 for gasoline engines. (‘Relative merit’ simplifies the units, but is still proportional to actual CO2 emitted.) Not much difference now.

    Now check the effect if the engine were efficient like that of the Prius. Numbers ranging from 35% to 38% efficiency appear in Argonne measure data. This clearly beats the electric system ‘relative merit’.

    The next round of gibberish is the claim that the ‘mix’ of sources that make electricity is not as bad as coal, and that better efficiencies can be achieved and lower emissions come from some of the alternative choices of power production. First, the issue is available capacity, meaning that most of the really ideal things, per example hydro, do not have available reserve capacity, so that does not increase output when new loads are imposed. The only real reserve capacity is in coal or natural gas facilities. Now the selection becomes a choice between these. Bear in mind we are talking about equipment standing ready to run harder, so the choice will be mostly based on cost of fuel. Since even now, the cost per BTU for heat from coal is less than half that for natural gas, the answer is obvious. The only exception is where the rate payers are subjected to extra cost by government forcing the choice to natural gas.

    That of course has happened in California and a few other places, but the ultimate joke is that action by California impacts the price of natural gas, so the intent of Califronia goes wrong because the upward pressure on natural gas price simply provokes less use of that seemingly better fuel by someone else in the world, and corresponding more use of coal. The only accomplishment achieved by charging higher electric rates in California is empty boasting rights.

  21. 71
    Edward Greisch says:

    66 anniet: Thanks for mentioning Renee Lertzman.

    ““dissociation”– our capacities to both know and “not know” and split off our awareness so we can function normally.”
    Going green “is also potentially frightening”
    “Going green, if we really pay attention, is about how we construct meaning in our lives. Until we incorporate the whole picture – opportunity, innovation and creativity, as well as fear, anxieties or losses of cherished identities tied to consumptive (and wasteful) practices – into our vision of being sustainable, we are going to be fighting a battle. Flowing against a current. When in fact, we can be flowing with the current – if we can acknowledge paradoxes, contradictions, and dilemmas these topics can bring up.”

    “acknowledging dilemmas helps disarm the tendency to fill in the gaps in what we don’t say, undermining the power of our messaging.”

    The problem: So what exactly didn’t we say? And how can physicists say it?

  22. 72

    RE Ed Beroset and mine #70

    Yes, the energy of refining gasoline etc. should be included, knocking the ‘relative merit’ for that by a factor of .83.

    Then you need to work out the energy of shipping coal which probably is even lower than that.

    For rough comparisons, it is reasonable to ignore the refining and shipping, though they probably work out in favor of gasoline systems over coal. For natural gas, the refining and shipping factors are minor, so were that to be affordable in comparison, that source of electricity in combination with electric vehicles would come out about even with good gasoline powered hybrids. The cost factor is overwhelmingly against that natural gas choice though.

  23. 73

    Re my previous,

    When natural gas was $3.50 per MMBTU there was some thought of looking at the very efficient combined cycle natural gas systems, and these would push the advantage a little more toward natural gas over coal. Still, not quite, but close enough to generate some interest.

    The main problem with that was that the glut of natural gas came about from aggressive pursuit of natural gas based on a price around $7.50. When the price hit $4 this pursuit was significantly cut back, in fact the number of rigs devoted to this activity by the leading company involve, Chesapeake Energy, was reduced from around 700 to around 400.

  24. 74
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Climate Denialism is probably mostly caused by the timely application of greenbacks.

  25. 75
    Joesixpack says:

    #70 Jim Bullis

    So by your example in California, could this be defined as a positive feedback loop where what appears to help actually hinders?

  26. 76

    66 anniet,

    Most of the things that can be meaninfully done require more than just action by an individual. However, you do explain why some of the wrong answers have gained traction.

    With the help of corporations and promoters, it is possible for individuals to buy electric cars. Much excitement has ensued, since individual action is thus enabled. The fact is that this has a benefit of shifting from oil to coal, which makes a lot of people very excited. The fact that it does very little, and will probably lead to worsening of the climate crisis, is denied by the promoters of course, and also denied by the very people that ardently hope for this to be a climate solution. Promoters have little hesitancy in duping the hopeful, and this has reached a national crescendo of foolishness. Indeed, it seems to be worldwide foolishness. Most promoters have no idea what they are doing in this regard, though some would operate the P.T. Barnum mode, ‘a sucker is born every minute’. Or as W.C. Fields said, “It is a crime not to separate a sucker from his money.”

    Those interested in climate solutions should see that this false solution will poison the future for real solutions. And physicists should be the first to understand this.

  27. 77

    75 Joessixpack,


    That is a good way to say it. In fact, you have the correct sense of positive feedback as Bode used it in discussion of control systems.

    For my own past experience in electronic system design, that kind of positive feedback leads to burned out parts, and a lot of unhappiness.

    Thus, it is a good analogy for what I was describing. Once people realize what suckers they have been, they are not easy to get to go along with better courses of action.

  28. 78

    74 Jeffrey Davis,

    Climate denialism and climate opportunism are both driven by greenbacks.

  29. 79
    Joesixpack says:

    . 74 Jeffrey Davis,
Climate denialism and climate opportunism are both driven by greenbacks.

    Probably….try living without greenbacks for a few months or more and you will discover just how powerful a motivator they are.

    In my opinion some of this boils down to a growing lack of faith in the integrity of Government and other trusted institutes. We have been lied to on a consistent basis and it’s not too hard to find glaring examples…remember WMD in Iraq? Oops

    Take a look at the financial crisis of 08-09. Derivatives, CDS’s and other financial instruments too complex to fully understand were designed by PHD’s in math/finance, run through sophisticated computer models and were deemed to be safe investments with little to no risk of default…surprise!

    A lot of people’s retirement and life savings went up in smoke and brought the entire planet close to financial collapse. Then, to shore up bank balance sheets, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB, another well regarded and trusted institute full of very smart folks) changed the accounting rules to allow these worthless instruments to be valued by mark to model. The result…for two years running Wall St. bankers have given themselves bonuses to the tune of close to 150 billion each year, kindly funded by bail out money. The lot of them should be in jail !! By the way, the debt crisis is no where near being over, it’s getting worse.

    Mr. Bernanke assures us that inflation is under control, just look at the ‘core inflation numbers’ better know as the CPI that the government pumps out. Incredibly they openly admit that their calculations do not include energy or food…uh! Anybody who has to eat, heat their house or basically exist knows this is wrong.
    What has this got to do with denialism?
    Can you really blame people for not trusting what government/media or what any other institute is telling them?
    I am not saying that climate science is corrupt, I am only saying that you might be being painted with the same wide brush of mistrust.

  30. 80


    Hi, Anna. I don’t think it’s the reptile brain per se that is bothered by the term “reptile brain”–it’s not very verbal, so though it may mediate the ‘upsetness’ it’s got to be working with the cerebrum.

    Anyway, whichever parts of your brain object to the term, blame Carl Sagan–he did a lot to popularize it in his best-seller “The Dragons Of Eden.”

  31. 81
    Wes says:

    17 million gallons of spilled fuel from Lawnmowers?
    If the average spillage is .5oz then lawn mower tanks would have to be filled over 4 billion times per year.
    Highly unlikely even if we are talking about the entire world.

  32. 82
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Joesixpack: “Take a look at the financial crisis of 08-09.”

    OK, first, Credit-Default Swaps and other derivatives are NOT to complicated to understand. Second, they were never intended as a way of leveraging capital but rather of mitigating risk. Third, the computer models were trained using data for home owners with good credit, who had put a substantial down payment down, etc. The model was then used (not by the PhDs, I would note) to estimate risk on Liar’s Loans with no money down for people with lousy credit. See a problem here.

    Fourth, now let me see if I’ve got this straight: A bunch of Wall Street bankers lied to you, so you aren’t going to trust scientists anymore?

    Dude. WTF!?

  33. 83

    For all who try to talk about the green movement in such a fashion that there is nothing wrong about it (there is something wrong in all movements, and things to be corrected) – I recommend reading Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand. The author is deeply concerned about climate change and the destruction of our environment. He is also deeply concerned about the state of the green movement of today. He has a long history from the inside, and he can claim doing way more for the green movement than most others. His book is praised by James Lovelock, O.E. Wilson, Mark Lynas and so many more. In stead of debunking the comment by Forlornhope, you might try to find out if there is some truth in it too, all the action by the greens is not helpful. Stewart Brand quotes really many former green movement leaders who have changed their attitudes towards cities, genetic engineering and nuclear power and some other issues.

    [Response: Whether there’s any “truth” in it or not is beside the point–it’s off topic.–Jim]

  34. 84
    Vincent says:

    Well … sorry, but I too suspect that referring to pop pseudoscience from the ’70s (“lizard brainstem”), as well as just making up nonfacts (the notion that “denial is apparently caused by” this structure) might not be particularly helpful when attempting to convert denialists. That said, carry on.

  35. 85
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Joesixpack #79, yep, well observed.

    People have been lied to by politicians, lawyers, used-car salespersons, business folk… endless list. Why should scientists be any different? In fact, many are not, luckily for the think tanks. But the mental jump from that to the contrary observation that science as a process/community nevertheless works pretty well, is something most “Joes Sixpack” don’t manage to make. And few people know any scientists first hand.

    The same applies BTW for the medical profession. And there, the distrust actually kills people on the short term. A sad equation, not easy to solve.

  36. 86

    [OT-take it elsewhere]

  37. 87
    Adam R. says:

    @Jim Bullis:
    With the help of corporations and promoters, it is possible for individuals to buy electric cars. Much excitement has ensued, since individual action is thus enabled. The fact is that this has a benefit of shifting from oil to coal,…Those interested in climate solutions should see that this false solution will poison the future for real solutions. And physicists should be the first to understand this.

    Indeed, genuine progress in reducing emissions must begin with the big targets of power generation and deforestation. Until EVs are powered to a much greater degree by renewable energy, they are of little help.

    They do, however, offer an opportunity for distributed use of PV power for charging stations–supplementary, if not full load–at homes and businesses. EVs need not be 100% fossil fuel free to make a useful contribution to carbon emissions reduction.

  38. 88
    Hank Roberts says:

    wait, can you check the math in the main post?
    “a reduction by 0.7 x 0.8 x 0.3 x 0.8 = 0.13” doesn’t seem the right answer for the cumulative reduction in fuel, for the examples discussed.

  39. 89
    Susan Anderson says:

    There will always be a fascination with the unknowable and beautiful formulations and mathematics, no matter how not even wrong it might be. A proper comparison of the theorists out of touch with the real world in finance and those bent on profiting from it would be with the denial industry and their tame scientists and exploitation of more honest but misguided natural contrarians by politicians and policymakers bent on short-term profit.

    I’m trying to get my non-scientific head around the lay end of physics, with much help from Michael Tobis (though he may not know how hard I’m studying his words to try to get the sense into my stubborn brain). What emerges is a disconnect between what science is able to say and do and what is actually going on. The two are not unrelated, they just occupy different areas of understanding. Science must study the dynamics of cause and effect in a provable way and outliers like the most powerful storms which have more unique dynamics provide distracting noise. However, they must be considered as part of a continuum of extremes.

    It seems so obvious that climate has changed, that it is hard to understand those who hem and haw about it. But my simplistic conclusion is that the undoubted fact that in almost all cases no single weather event can be attributed to global warming, though in clusters characteristic of the expected results, has been distorted by the denial industry to say that NO weather can be attributed to gw/cc etc. They can see that an ordinary person preoccupied with daily issues, of which there are many, finds these statements pretty much the same, while in fact they are opposite. The scientists are being careful and honest, and the denialists are being certain and dishonest.

    The other side of this is that in fact at this point ALL weather is being affected by cc from gw, to a greater or lesser degree. The system has been altered and is not going back in our lifetimes or in fact for the foreseeable future.

  40. 90
    Jim Eager says:

    Dan H @ 56: Sorry Adam, I could not disagree with you more.

    Is that because you think that the word “pollutant” means exactly what you say it does, neither any more or any less?

  41. 91
    Jim Eager says:

    Jim Bullis’s argument on the relative CO2 emissions of electric lawn mowers, and EV cars, rests on the ~50% figure for electrical generation from burning coal. The problem is that is an average percentage, and furthermore it is based on US usage.

    The fact is, there are jurisdictions in which the percentage is both higher and lower than 50%, which means there are jurisdictions where the use of an electric lawnmower or EV would be more or less carbon intensive.

    For example, I live in a non-US jurisdiction where 75% of electricity is generated by other than fossil fuel combustion, and even the remaining 25% that is fossil fuel-generated is mainly consumed during peak summer use periods and is imported from the midwestern US.

    That means in the jurisdiction where I live an electric lawnmower or EV would have a much lower carbon footprint than it would in a jurisdiction where far more than 50% is generated by burning coal. Say, the provence of Quebec (overwhelmingly hydroelectric), or even Ontario (50% nuclear), verses most midwestern US states.

  42. 92
    Joesixpack says:

    #82 Ray

    Fourth, now let me see if I’ve got this straight: A bunch of Wall Street bankers lied to you, so you aren’t going to trust scientists anymore?

    I didn’t say me. I only know that there is a lot of angry folks out there who are simply no longer willing to listen to any type of reason no matter what the issue is. Bottom line is, a group of powerful and trusted individuals knowingly took everyone to the cleaners and were rewarded for it. I am only guessing that this breach (or perceived breach) of trust has a spill over effect where many are taking the attitude of “who else is out to get me”. Note that I say I am only guessing that it may effect how people view climate or other branches of science for that matter…I’m probably wrong.
    Don’t forget that the crisis took down a lot of very well educated folks in finance who you would think would know better or at least seen it coming. Even the Harvard endowment fund took over a 30% hit.

    Yes, the basic function or purpose of derivatives is not terribly complex but the scope and size of these mark to model instruments is pretty scary stuff. As far as managing risk I would have to conclude that they ended up not doing that so well.

    Anyway, in my post about the 17 million gallons of spilled gas due to lawnmowers, I got this info from a site called “people powered machines” who were quoting stats from the EPA. I agree that the figure sounds almost unbelievable. Fact or fiction?

  43. 93

    91 Jim Eager,

    You misread.

    Yes, my argument would be valid if 50% of electric energy came from coal.

    But that argument is far stronger given that 100% of the energy to run the lawn mower will come from coal.

    Your statistics are not meaningful because they relate to the status quo of the power generating mix, and as so are probably correct. However, that is not relevant when a new plug-in load is added. It is the response to new loads that matters, and this is called the marginal response.

    When electricity requirements increase to handle plug-ins of any kind, the nuclear power output does not change, the hydro-electric output does not change, and neither do the renewable energy sources. All of these are fully utilized whether or not any new plug-ins are used. The only possibilities for response are the fossil fuel based systems, namely natural gas and coal systems.

    Please read the last two paragraphs of my #70 above for a discussion of how the fuel for the marginal response ultimately descends to coal, no matter what people would like to think otherwise.

  44. 94

    “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.”

    I am sorry if you find that I was off topic. My profession is futures research and I am very concerned in the quoted issue in this article. I wanted to point out one of the reasons. Much of the mitigation and adaptation effort is not started sue to dogmatic resistance by the traditional green movement as Brend, Lovelock and others say. It is not only the denialists who are responsible for inaction.

  45. 95
    Joesixpack says:

    Hey, I just found a great example

    Yesterdays National Post has the following headline:

    Climate may be changing, just not here, study finds

    The article goes on to say that one of the world’s top science journals says climate hasn’t changed in most of North America, resisting the global trend.
    Scientists from Stanford and Columbia said that while Canadian and U.S. temperatures have changed, they are still within the range of “natural variability” in weather. So in North America, the effects of climate change are practically invisible. The United States isn’t getting hotter, nor are it’s crops decreasing (the study was focused on agricultural output)
    The article is much longer (you have to read it)

    [Response: Give us an actual reference and we will.–Jim]

    and they do state that elsewhere in the world the effects of climate change are impacting agricultural output which is causing food inflation, some economists are blaming the rising cost of food on cost push inflation which is caused by currency devaluation…I suspect it is a combination of the two. The study appeared in Science journal.

    So here is a possible factor in the whole denial debate. People are more likely to believe what they see or experience. If you live in North America, look out your window and do not see or feel any perceptible change in climate, would this not effect your judgement.

    [Response: If you look out your window??? If I live in the deep south and I see the worst tornado outbreak in 85 years, or near Memphis and see the Mississippi crest at it’s highest measured level, or in western Oklahoma and see the longest streak of low-precipitation days in over 100 years, then yes, that’s going to affect my judgement. Then we could also look at temperature trends in Northern, and Western, North America.–Jim]

  46. 96
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Joesixpack: “Bottom line is, a group of powerful and trusted individuals knowingly took everyone to the cleaners and were rewarded for it.”

    Is anyone really stupid enough to trust a banker?

  47. 97
    Susan Anderson says:


    Your statement shows you’ve been taken to the cleaners by the guys who promote that line of talk. You should do a little research and find out what actually happened, not the article of faith careful rendition promoted by the disinformationalists. It was and is a carefully organized campaign, timed to a fare-thee-well, but it is still not real or true.

    A good place to start:

    Gavin Schmidt didn’t seem to get much sleep as this nonsense was put out. You are posting here, and owe your host to find out what real scientists say about this, not the hot air that it was intended to generate.

  48. 98
    CM says:

    Risto Linturi, meet Jim Bullis. Jim, Risto has made “major investments” in flying cars. Risto, Jim has a revolutionary design for a car with an “airship” body. Why don’t the two of you go take each other for a ride?

  49. 99

    89 Susan Anderson,

    Physics might offer logical examples for how to think about climate, but observation needs first to be based only on logic. Then the observations need to be related to science. Fortunately, with physics there are some really solid “laws” that we can rely on without a lot of argument, uh if we correctly remember and understand them.

    So when you say that the impact of global warming on climate is obvious, I say, “Huh?” Yes, it seems so in some cases but many times, not so much.

    For example, I just heard that the terrible tornado season is due to global warming and also that it is the worst tornado season since 1935. What is wrong with this statement?

    Another example is that of the parched earth observations and expectations compared to the corresponding experience with the dust bowl of the 1920s.

    Surely we are not paying attention to the news story showing a woman standing on her porch in coastal South Carolina saying, “I see the effect of global warming every day!”

    I tend to be a believer that arctic ice is diminishing, only partly from observational data which is very hard to precisely acquire and also hard to get confident about; a few years ago arctic sea ice was said to be worse than it had been for thirty years, or some such number – – I think that has been firmed up some. The other reason is that I am inclined to think that we should be expecting more heat is going into the oceans than the modelers are taking account of, and thus, air temperatures might not fully represent the warming problem, but sea ice reduction could be the more immediate response. So observations and interpretations fitting together lead to a belief in how things might turn out.

  50. 100

    95 Joesixpack and moderator Jim.,

    I wrote my last without knowledge that this #95 was coming along.