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Denial and Alarmism in the Near-Term Extinction and Collapse Debate

Guest article by Alastair McIntosh,  honorary professor in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. This is an excerpt from his new book, Riders on the Storm: The Climate Crisis and the Survival of Being

cover art for Riders on the StormMostly, we only know what we think we know about climate science because of the climate science. I have had many run-ins with denialists, contrarians or climate change dismissives as they are variously called. Over the past two years especially, concern has also moved to the other end of the spectrum, to alarmism. Both ends, while the latter has been more thinly tapered, can represent forms of denial. In this abridged adaptation I will start with denialism, but round on the more recent friendly fire on science that has emerged in alarmism.

Climate change dismissives

One of my more peculiar run-ins with a dismissive voice was through an online debate in 2010 that ECOS, the journal of the British Association of Nature Conservationists, organised between me and an English wildlife ecologist, Peter Taylor. Taylor’s 2009 book, Chill, argued that far from living in a world that’s heating up, ‘the period 2002–07 marks a turning point, then glaciers will begin to grow and ice mass begin to accumulate again, thus levelling off the sea level rises’. He saw the cold winter of 2008–9 as heralding the coming ice age(1). Being an ecologist, this made him a hero of climate change denialism, an avid convert from the other church; and for a time, Chill ranked as number one in Amazon UK’s bestselling league for ‘global warming’.

Invariably I have found myself asking of such figures, who have no credibly peer-reviewed publications in climate science: what makes them think that they know better than experts with a reputation worth not losing? I also ask myself what drives their attitudes. Often, these are a class of people heavily invested in consumerist lifestyles. Their material markers of identity and prestige, and their masks of distraction from what is challenging in life may be at stake. Some just don’t care. I define consumerism as consumption that is in excess of what is needed for a dignified sufficiency of living. However, a handful of the most effective dismissives don’t fit obvious characterisation, being more altruistic in holding their position. Peter Taylor is one such, and my late friend the botanist and TV celebrity Professor David Bellamy was another. Taylor concedes that the heavy impact of climate mitigation measures on nature and landscapes – terrestrial wind farms in particular – has influenced his views. Bellamy, likewise.

At the time of our ECOS exchange, Taylor praised it, saying: ‘I know of no other consistent debate on this important issue.’ Not having been in touch for years, I dropped him a line while writing this book. I asked: given that his forecast ‘chill’ has not materialised, did he think that it was coming yet, for all that? His reply was characteristically warm and cheerful. It left my question feeling almost mean-spirited. He made no reference back to his previous predictions. Instead, to my astonishment, he wrote of ‘record warmth – just as we could expect’, that the current warm period ‘may have two or three centuries to run’, and the next ice age is not just around the corner but ‘three to four hundred years away’(2). It seemed that the denial had full astern gone retrograde. I scratched my head and gave a weary nod to all those hours spent on the ECOS great debate.

Heavy ad hominem artillery

Other run-ins have had a less avuncular if, paradoxically, a more jaunty feel to them. The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is Britain’s foremost ‘climate sceptic’ lobby group. Set up by Lord (Nigel) Lawson of Blaby, Mrs Thatcher’s former chancellor of the exchequer, its website is literally a ‘dark’ web in its presenting colour scheme. Its board comprises a formidable array of heavyweight political figures, contrarian scientists and erstwhile captains of commerce, the media and the civil service. To see power at work – elevated, concentrated and networked – go no further than to take a look online, and gape(3). Most such lobby bodies no longer say that global warming isn’t happening. Instead, they’ll take issue with abstruse elements of the scientific data, with the extrapolated rate of heating, with the attribution of its causes or with the expected impact and anticipated costs – not least the ‘socialist’ taxation and regulatory implications – of actually doing something.

Lord Lawson refuses to disclose the sources of the GWPF’s funding, conceding only that he relies on friends who ‘tend to be richer than the average person and much more intelligent than the average person’(4). Since 2017 its deputy-director has been Andrew Montford, a chemist by original training, turned chartered accountant(5). My encounter with Montford came in 2010 when The Scottish Review of Books asked me to review his investigative work, The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science, which claims to be a ‘demolition of the veracity’ of Michael Mann’s hockey stick curve(6). Like Taylor’s Chill a year earlier, the book quickly achieved cult status amongst climate change deniers. I concluded that at best it might help to keep already-overstretched scientists on their toes. At worst, it was a yapping terrier worrying the bull, one that cripples action, potentially costing lives and livelihoods(7).

Montford runs a blog from which, under the pseudonym of ‘Bishop Hill’, he lampoons the high priests (as he sees them) of climate science and all such hooey as green taxes, subsidies, legislation and self-righteous preaching from the likes of, well, yours faithfully. His Grace, as his congregation deferentially refer to him, responded to my piece with two blogs that had me tossed into the dungeons of the Inquisition for heretical impertinence, an abomination unto the sensibilities of the Lord. A crusade was launched, a jihad ensued, and fusillades were fired from keyboards poised in every corner of his parish. In all, some 150 comments linger as remaining landmines on the good bishop’s website.

‘He is an enemy of the people and the state and is declared anathema,’ said one. I took the humour as a badge of office. Even better, said another: ‘Deploy heavy ad hominem artillery to characterize [him] as a coprophagic protocranial.’ Verily, it’s a sorry day when a literary reviewer has to go and look up even simple dictionary words. ‘Adopt a lordly disdain and ignore him.’ ‘He and his eco-chums are in it for the money.’ ‘Another one of these weird Highlanders who seem to dominate Scotland.’ ‘Alastair, just keep tossing off your caber.’ ‘Yer Grace, show no quarter, none will be given.’ ‘He deserves a kicking.’(8)

I came out of such a Punch and Judy show well able to brush off the laugh. But it was all right for me. I make use of climate science coming from an early background of just a general earth sciences degree. I pitch no claim to be a climate scientist. Others, at the heart of science – whether Mann in the USA, or the English scientists such as Phil Jones caught up at the heart of ‘Climategate’ at the University of East Anglia – suffer for their work. No quarter is the order of their day.

Alarmism, doomism and Roger Hallam

What most scientists had not foreseen with an eye so fixated on the artillery of denialism, was the sustained and one would presume well-intentioned misuse of science from the other end of the spectrum, by those who do accept the reality of climate change. When Extinction Rebellion began in England, it conveyed a sense of being witnesses to the cascade of plant and animal extinctions that are escalating around the world as many habitats become less habitable. There is no scientific quibble with that. However, the narrative soon escalated to human death on a massive and imminent scale. As the prominent co-founder Roger Hallam saw it, the burning question had become: ‘How do we avoid extinction?’

His 2019 manifesto, Common Sense for the 21st Century(9), was written in his own name but widely hailed as representing the views of Extinction Rebellion and heavily promoted by the organisation’s London HQ. Referencing his claim to ‘one recent scientific opinion’, he warns of 6 to 7 billion people dead as a result of climate change ‘within the next generation or two’. The paper cited as his authority in the footnotes makes no such claim(10). It is purely Hallam’s extrapolation of a 5°C world, given what Common Sense calls ‘the central role of methane in a climate emergency . . . with the system spiralling out of our control and the likelihood of global collapse within a decade or two’. He reiterated the mass dieback claim in a BBC News interview feature, trenchantly insisting: ‘I am talking about the slaughter, death and starvation of 6 billion people this century – that’s what the science predicts.’(11)

Climate Feedback, a website more used to taking on deniers than alarmists, invited an expert panel to give their opinions on this prediction. The responses ranged from ‘an illustration of a worst-case scenario’ to ‘wild speculation’. Ken Caldeira, senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution, put it bluntly: ‘I know of no climate model simulation or analysis in the quality peer-reviewed literature that provides any indication’ that there is a substantial probability, above zero, of 6 billion deaths this century.(12)

Jem Bendell and ‘Deep Adaptation’

Meanwhile, a variation of the theme was coming in from Jem Bendell, a business school professor at the University of Cumbria in the north of England. An expert in digital currencies, his staff web page playfully describes how it earned him the moniker ‘Professor Bitcoin’(13). Bendell’s contribution to Extinction Rebellion’s manifesto, This is Not a Drill, tells that he ‘grieved how I may not grow old’(14). The manifesto thesis for which he is now known, Deep Adaptation, anticipates ‘inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change’ resulting in ‘probable catastrophe and possible extinction’(15). This, as he wrote on his blog, could be expected ‘in many, perhaps most, countries of the world . . . within 10 years’(16). He spelt out both the imminence and what it would look like in a roundup of where he considered the climate science stood as of 2018.

‘But when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life. With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death.’(17)

Deep Adaptation was originally an academic paper that had failed peer review for lack of scholarly rigour. Bendell posted it to the web in 2018, achieving an astonishing half a million downloads within the first year. Part of his rationale leans on what he describes as ‘data published by scientists from the Arctic News’. However, Arctic News is no scholarly tome. It is a blog site that, amidst lurid illustrations, invokes the methane bomb and projects a possible global temperature rise of 10°C, by 2026, based on ‘adjusted NASA data’ heralding the ‘mass extinction of man’(18). Again, the pushback comes from within the scientific community itself. A journalist asked Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world’s leading climate experts what he made of Bendell’s paper. Schmidt said, and further pressed the point on his Twitter account, that it mixes ‘both valid points and unjustified statements throughout’, but is ‘not based on anything real’(19).

In a 2019 blog, Bendell responded to criticisms of his slant on the science. He describes his grief at having chosen not to have children, partly because they are ‘the greatest contribution to carbon emissions that you could make’ and partly out of ‘the realization of the world they will have to live and die within’. He concludes that in future he will not be replying to, but rather, stepping away from, such controversies around his scientific claims to focus instead on building up the community around Deep Adaptation(20), the activities of which include workshops, trainings, residencies in Bali, and an annual retreat at a yoga centre in Greece to ‘support peaceful empowered surrender to our predicament, where action can arise from an engaged love of humanity and nature, rather than redundant stories of worth and purpose’(21).

However, within a year of his withdrawal from scientific debate, he wrote a further blog having requested Schmidt to render his criticism specific. Schmidt obliged, providing a raft of reproofs including his assessment that Deep Adaptation’s take on Arctic methane was ‘totally misleading’, and that its pitch on runaway climate change was ‘nonsense’. The professor, whose day job was to teach ‘a sustainability-themed MBA programme’, was unwilling to concede any significant ground to NASA’s top climate scientist. Digging in his heels, the blog concluded: ‘I have identified two minor corrections and two clarifications I will make on the paper. However, none of those are material to the situation we are in and none of the main points are revoked.’(22)

Shortly afterwards, BBC News ran a feature that profiled Bendell and his most ardent ‘followers’ as ‘climate doomers’. It quoted Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford, as saying that he considers Deep Adaptation to display ‘the level of science of the anti-vax campaign’(23). In counterpoint, it also cited Will Steffen, a retired scientist who had served on the Australian Climate Commission, suggesting that Bendell may be ‘ahead of the game in warning us about what we might need to prepare for’. The pity of it all is that Bendell’s core agenda – about the need for resilience, relinquishment, restoration, and recently he has added reconciliation – is both necessary and inspiring. That is why he has gathered such a following amongst people who are hungry for deeper meaning. We need people like him and Hallam who, at their most effective, and if they discipline themselves to the settled science, can take an overview of things, drawing out what most matters, contextualising it and presenting it to the public in ways more digestible than the raw IPCC reports. There is for each of us so much that is good and right to do anyway, without having to overreach our fields of expertise, conflate climate change with other causes and play fast and loose with signs seen in the sky.

Arctic News, McPherson and doomsday 2026

Meanwhile, Arctic News’ chosen doomsday date of 2026 doubles as the apocalyptic year of choice of Guy McPherson, a retired professor of evolutionary and resource ecology at the University of Arizona, and Bendell’s referenced source in Deep Adaptation where discussing fears of an ‘inevitable methane release . . . leading to the extinction of the human race’(24). McPherson, in turn and in a way that starts to feel rather circular, references his claims back to material from Arctic News, as well as to extrapolation from a range of scientific papers and other sources that, he says, ‘even 10-year-olds understand . . . and [that] Wikipedia accepts [as] the evidence for near-term human extinction’. The phrase used there, Near Term Human Extinction, has gathered a considerable ecopopulist cult following, complete with the social media hashtag #NTHE and online mental health support groups for the depressed and suicidal. The professor crisply reiterated and summed up his position in an interview given in 2018: ‘Specifically, I predict that there will be no humans on Earth by 2026, based on projections of near-term planetary temperature rise and the demise of myriad species that support our own existence.’(25)

His website, Nature Bats Last, prominently offers suicide advice on its home page [Ed. which we are not linking to]. While advising against such a move, he counsels that it can nevertheless ‘be a thoughtful decision’, and with this endorsement he bizarrely links to the post-mortem website of Martin Manley of Kansas, who intricately blogged the preparations for his own departure by self-inflicted gunshot in a parking lot(26). For those who believe in the severity and particularly the imminence of their prognostications, such alarmism arguably crosses over into the realm of fantasy. If conflated with reality, this risks its own potentially tragic consequences.

Breakdown to break through?

There are other sides to the position that I have taken here against alarmism. An activist friend put it to me that what Bendell’s work does is that it pushes a point to make a point. It usefully brings people to the state of breakdown, from where they can break through into the new social norms that are demanded by deep adaptation. It also expresses the precautionary principle. My view, is that if a case can’t be made without it being over-egged, either the case is not valid or those to whom it is being pitched are being spun. Exaggeration or invoking fear and panic only entrenches positions and sets up a backlash. The unembellished science is quite bad enough to be good enough.

I get people coming up at my talks, or sending in an email, then being disappointed when I tell them that I only partly buy into the fears stimulated by prominent alarmists. Because I say I’m sticking to consensus science – even knowing that it can never be bang up to date and that its expression will be sure but probably cautious – I suspect they sometimes think that I’m the denier. A climate model researcher in Sweden dropped me a line, saying that he gets the same disappointed reactions, adding that ‘some teenagers are distraught on this, so the alarmism of such actors is taking a heavy and unjustifiable psychological toll on others.’ Those who work with young people warn of the consequences of growing ‘climate anxiety’(27).

None of this is to suggest that what is happening to the planet ought not provoke anxiety. I said to the climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, that I often find myself racked between the deniers and the alarmists, trying to hold on to the humanity of both, recognising their fears or differing priorities, and yet insisting on consensus science. She answered, ‘It is a narrow and lonely place so it’s great to have company!’(28). Michael Mann concurs. He sees ‘doomism and despair’ that exceeds the science as being ‘extremely destructive and extremely influential’. It has built up ‘a huge number of followers and it has been exploited and co-opted by the forces of denial and delay’. ‘Good scientists aren’t alarmists,’ he insists. ‘Our message may be – and in fact is – alarming . . . The distinction is so very, very critical and cannot be brushed under the rug.’(30)

Neither Hayhoe nor Mann are the kind of scientists who take distance from campaigning as ‘climate advocates’, as the former puts it. Both openly support and encourage protest that rests on a firm evidence base. In April 2019, they were amongst the twenty-two lead authors of a letter to Science, headed ‘Concerns of young protesters are justified.’ Along with more than 3,000 other experts who added their names as co-signatories, it stated: ‘We call for our colleagues across all disciplines and from the entire world to support these young climate protesters. We declare: Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science.’

The tension, then, is not between science and protest. The tension is between science and multiplying up its extreme ends of likelihood in ways that are tantamount to pseudoscience: ‘If the worst imaginable happens it is this. And if the worst of that happens, it is this.’ The ancient Celts were justified in their greatest fear that the sky would fall in. The asteroid may be on its way right now. But real science balances up the probabilities.

Millennialism or future possibilities?

Like denialism, alarmism distorts our temporal horizons of what is possible. As the veteran Greenpeace campaigner Chris Rose suggests, its ‘gloom picking’ leads to ‘solutions denial’ that ramps up ‘climate grief’ that exploits the poorly informed(31). In their panic, many of its key proponents advocate potentially disastrous fixes, the magic bullet of geoengineering especially, and that, in the form of solar radiation modification. I agree with those who say: ‘There isn’t enough time.’ And yet, the opposite of one great truth is very often another great truth. As an Arabic proverb puts it: ‘Haste is the key to sorrow.’ If our politics are deep green, we must pay attention to the fact that, already, nativist forms of ecofascism have drawn blood on growing alt-right fringes of drawbridge environmentalism. The ‘Unabomber’ and the Christchurch mosque gunman both appealed to certain types of ‘green’ narrative in their manifestos(32).

All this is why I walk along the ridge of Katharine Hayhoe’s ‘narrow and lonely place’. To over-egg the cake is like those terrorist alerts that remain forever high. Alarmists who extrapolate beyond sound evidence may be right, but if so, by the wrong process. The upside, is that they may perversely hit it lucky and warn of something of which others had been too cautious. The downside, is that in the long run they undermine the very principles of truth that they purport to speak.

Alarmism feeds upon the natural fears and decent trust of the understandably uninformed. It allows the enemies of climate action to paint climate science as the domain of wacky prophets and their followers, who have to keep on revising upwards their forecast date of doomsday. It draws those who have been caught up in such thinking into the cognitive dissonance reduction of looking for, and in a strange way maybe even hoping, that the signs on which they have staked so much are being fulfilled. This chimera of narratorial control affords an illusory sense of agency, and perhaps prestige, to individuals who may lack the humility, or be too captivated by their personal fears, to accept the limitations of their knowing as well as the wider ambiguities of emergent knowledge. Where pronounced, such alarmism can echo a ‘conspiracy mentality’ zeal, such as the philosopher Quassim Cassam characterises in figures who might be ‘quick to denounce mainstream academia for rejecting their theories [yet] crave academic respectability … and trumpet their PhDs, whatever their subject.’(33)

Moreover, in an age of perhaps renewed spiritual searching this can pander to climate change millennialism in a ‘phony holy’ cultic psychology. Certainly, it might correctly second guess the future. But if so, probably only as an artifact of flawed or grandiose reasoning. More probably, it will merely escalate the psychological defensive mechanisms used to maintain ‘cognitive consistency’, and these, much as Festinger and colleagues memorably described in their 1950s doomsday study, When Prophecy Fails.(34)

The only remedy is that in our understandable despair and burning yearning for change, we must keep head engaged, as well as heart and hand. We have no mandate to collapse the possibilities of the future, to contract and restrict our latitude for agency and action. Climate change denial is a waste of time. But climate change alarmism is a theft of time.

  1. Peter Taylor, Chill: A reassessment of global warming theory, Clairview, East Sussex, 2009, pp. 232, 268–9, 301. The ECOS debate in 2010 has since been lost in a website revamp. I retain the email thread.
  2. Emails from Peter Taylor drawn upon here are 31 October 2010 and 18–19 November 2019.
  3. Board of Trustees’, Global Warming Policy Foundation, 3 February 2020.
  4. Bob Ward, ‘Secret funding of climate sceptics is not restricted to the US’, The Guardian, 15 February 2013.
  5. Andrew W. Montford’, Desmog, 2017.
  6. Montford, A.W., published by Stacey International, London, 2010. See also Tamino, ‘The Montford Delusion’, RealClimate, 22 July 2010.
  7. Alastair McIntosh, ‘Review of The Hockey Stick Illusion’, Scottish Review of Books, 6:3, August 2010.
  8. Bishop Hill, ‘Scottish Review of Books’, 14 August 2010; and ‘Did he read it?’ 17 August 2010.
  9. Roger Hallam, Common Sense for the 21st Century, PDF version 0.3.
  10. Xu paper used by Hallam: Yangyang Xu and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, ‘Well below 2°C: Mitigation strategies for avoiding dangerous to catastrophic climate changes’, PNAS, 114:39, 2017, pp. 10,315–23.
  11. BBC News, Roger Hallam interviewed by Stephen Sackur, BBC HardTalk, 17 August 2019.
  12. Scott Johnson (ed.), ‘Prediction by Extinction Rebellion’s Roger Hallam that climate change will kill 6 billion people by 2100 is unsupported’, Climate Feedback, 22 August 2019.
  13. University of Cumbria, ‘Professor Jem Bendell, PhD’, Institute for Leadership Sustainability, Business.
  14. Jem Bendell, ‘Doom and Bloom: Adapting to Collapse’, This is Not a Drill, op. cit., pp. 73–7.
  15. Jem Bendell, Deep Adaptation: a Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy, IFLAS Occasional Paper 2 (Postscript: The link to the original 27 July 2018 version of the paper on this landing site, the version from which I have quoted, was taken down and replaced with a Revised 2nd Edition on 27 July 2020. The original can still be accessed online. The new version came a fortnight after a challenging and much-remarked upon criticism of the science of Deep Adaptation from three scientist members of Extinction Rebellion: Thomas Nicholas, Galen Hall and Colleen Schmidt, ‘The faulty science, doomism and flawed conclusions of Deep Adaptation’, Open Democracy, 14 July 2020. Amongst the changes made, are that a section about Arctic methane has been removed, meaning that Arctic News is no longer cited within the body text although it remains in the references. Most revealing is a welcome change made in the abstract. The original opened: ‘The purpose of this conceptual paper is to provide readers with an opportunity to reassess their work and life in the face of an inevitable near term social collapse due to climate change.’ The revised, shifts from a statement of fact to one of opinion (my italics): ‘The purpose of this conceptual paper is to provide readers with an opportunity to reassess their work and life in the face of what I believe to be an inevitable near-term societal collapse due to climate change.’ Bendell has pushed back strongly against the Open Democracy critique, commencing with his riposte: ‘Letter to Deep Adaptation Advocate Volunteers about Misrepresentation of the Agenda and Movement‘, Professor Jem Bendell blog, 15 July 2020. An extensive debate followed on Twitter, for example, multiple threads down from Tom Nicholas).
  16. Jem Bendell, ‘A Year of Deep Adaptation’, Professor Jem Bendell blog, 7 July 2019. This is also the source of the half-million downloads statistic. Note that the coronavirus is not (in any obvious way) caused by climate change.
  17. Jem Bendell, ‘A Summary of Some Climate Science in 2018’, Professor Jem Bendell blog, 22 March 2018.
  18. Arctic News page linked by Bendell: Sam Carana, ‘Warning Climate Warning!! Alert: Signs of Extinction’, Arctic News, 3 March 2018. I’ve also cited from pages linked thereto. A number of the writers featured in Arctic News, including John Nissen, were associated a decade ago with AMEG, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group.
  19. Mann and Schmidt, Twitter thread, 22 November 2019. Schmidt, first quote in the tweet, second in the Nafeez Ahmed Vice article linked by Mann to whom Schmidt was responding.
  20. Jem Bendell, ‘Responding to Green Positivity Critiques of Deep Adaptation’, Resilience, 15 April 2019.
  21. Deep Adaptation Retreat with Jem Bendell and Katie Karr: Inner resilience for tending a sacred unravelling’, Kalikalos Holistic Network, 2020. Also, with comments at the bottom around the dilemmas of flying to such a location in 2018 retreat) and (2019 retreat).
  22. Jem Bendell: ‘The Worst Argument to Try to Win: Response to Criticism of the Climate Science in Deep Adaptation’, Professor Jem Bendell blog, 27 February 2020.
  23. Jack Hunter, ‘The “climate doomers” preparing for society to fall apart’, BBC News, 16 March 2020.
  24. Bendell, Deep Adaptation, op. cit., with citation to Guy McPherson’s ‘Climate Change Summary and Update’, Nature Bats Last, update 2 August 2016.
  25. Rajani Kanth, ‘On Imminent Human Extinction: [Guy McPherson] Interviewed by Rajani Kanth’, Nature Bats Last, 12 October 2018. Also, Guy McPherson, Twitter, 25 September 2019: (tweet now unavailable, account now deleted).
  26. Guy McPherson, ‘Contemplating Suicide? Please Read This’, Nature Bats Last, 8 July 2014.
  27. Matthew Taylor and Jessica Murray, ‘“Overwhelming and terrifying”: the rise of climate anxiety’, The Guardian, 10 February 2020.
  28. Katharine Hayhoe, Twitter, 19 December 2019.
  29. Michael Mann (on Guy McPherson), Twitter, 13 August 2019.
  30. Michael Mann, Twitter, 16 February 2019:
  31. Chris Rose, ‘Tragedy or Scandal? Strategies Of GT, XR and the New Climate Movement’, Three Worlds blog, 13 February 2020. Full paper.
  32. Likewise, the debate around green Nazism. See Franz-Josef Brüggemeier, Marc Cioc and Thomas Zeller (eds), How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich, Ohio University Press, 2005.
  33. Quassim Cassam, Conspiracy Theories, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2019, p. 25.
  34. Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken & Stanley Schachter, When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the Destruction of the World, Harper, New York, 1964.

205 Responses to “Denial and Alarmism in the Near-Term Extinction and Collapse Debate”

  1. 151
    Al Bundy says:

    Kia: Alarmism: it’s a thing,
    AB: that time and again has proven to be accurate, which makes it a mislabeled thing.
    “It’s worse than we thought. In fact, it exactly tracks Alarmists’ predictions”. THAT is a recurring thing.

  2. 152
    Mal Adapted says:

    Ray Ladbury:

    Science is just the quickest and most reliable way of developing deep understanding.

    Another excellent comment, Ray, but I’d add that without science we couldn’t accumulate a store of justified belief, because we’d have no way to know when we’re fooling ourselves.

  3. 153
    Killian says:

    130 José M. Sousa: As for the consensus science of the IPCC and alarmism, I find this article from James Hansen quite illuminating: «Scientific reticence and sea level rise»

    I wasn’t aware of that paper. but Hansen, et al., have made more limited statements about specific areas/measurements reaching documented doubling times of ten years or less. It was pretty obvious years ago everything is going to keep accelerating, in a sort of punctuated, non-linear fashion, and that whole system doubling in under a decade was not just possible, but likely.

    I said ten years ago 1M almost certain, 2 likely and 3 possible. I underestimated, imo.

  4. 154
    MA Rodger says:

    José M. Sousa @143,
    Following your reference to it @130, your now quote passages from Hansen (2007). Yet these passages follow directly from passages discussing the vulnerability of the West Antarctic ice under AGW and the potential for a rapid 5m increase in sea level, as is argued by Mercer (1978). The “science” being described in your quotes cannot therefore be seen outside that subject matter; there isn’t even a section-break to indicate it is otherwise.

    More broadly, beyond the IPCC’s failure to properly account for the melting cryosphere in past Assessment Reports, there certainly has been a great deal of frustration within the scientific community that the consequences of AGW have not been taken seriously by governments, even ones who profess that they are taking it seriously. The Paris Agreement perhaps caused a pause in the articulation of such frustration from scientists but I still see no reason to believe that anything has changed.

    In my neck of the woods, while fifteen years ago UK government ministers would sit with their eyes glazing over when confronted by folk complaining that they were doing nothing about AGW, they did eventually pass the 2008 Climate Change Act (the Act perhaps down to Tony Blair wanting something done before he left office).
    Today we have a less caring government who wave the 2008 Climate Change Act and its 2019 amendment (the amendment again the work of a PM leaving office) and brag about all those lovely reductions in UK CO2 emissions with zero thought to the future, to the UK still being 90% or 95% dependent on FF power. (Mind, given the present UK Tory government is riven with climate deniers, even getting them to articulate their “leading the world” greenwash is quite an achievement.) Yet I doubt Her Majesty’s Opposition would do things to make me any happier.

    José M. Sousa @145 & @146,
    You continue with your theme of branding all AGW science as conservative-biased by citing Brysse et al (2012) ‘Climate change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama?’ [ABSTRACT] which is the subject of this SkS post. The argument again appears to concern the cryosphere and the resulting SLR, so not greatly broader that the narrow argument set out by Hansen (2007). The quote @146 is from an OP covering the same Brysse et al paper but with a few quotes from frustrated scientists to add to the message of conservative bias.

    I think there is great frustration and understandable anger that governments fail to act on the scientific AGW message. I do not see that such a failure is because of some pulled-punches that can be found in IPCC Assessment Reviews. The problem lies with government and will be harder to fix than any IPCC failing.

  5. 155
    José M. Sousa says:

    More about the IPCC

    This is really alarming, don´t you think so? I am an economist and I am amazed how is it possible that such crap is permitted from mainstream economists into the IPCC reports. What´s alarming here is that these are the views that politicians are following!

  6. 156
    Mal Adapted says:

    Al Bundy:

    Mal: Anyone with living copies of their genes must account for not only their own footprint, but their descendants’ unto the nth generation. That makes me
    AB: unable to get a date?

    Heh. I know that’s the first thing that comes to mind, but no: condoms at first, then vasectomy. I do not avoid women, Al, but I do deny them my essence ;^).


    Mal: Existentially we’re all mediocre
    AB: “We”, Kimosabe?

    Yep. Nobody’s perfect, not even you. Blame it on the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

  7. 157
    Bob Loblaw says:

    Al Bundy @ 142: And yes, plenty of inventors have engineering degrees. But creativity is not required to obtain an engineering degree.

    For a lot of engineering, creativity is strongly discouraged. Professional conduct codes require that engineers apply generally-accepted methodology. When the bridge fails or a product falls apart and kills someone, a good defence in court requires that you be able to show that you followed proper engineering practice that would be used by any reasonable engineer.

    The fastest way to lose your shirt in court is to say “no, I found a neat, new method that nobody had ever tried before, because I thought it might work better and save us money”. You get to walk free if you can quote a standard that says you needed to do what you did, even if most engineers knew that the standard really was inadequate.

    Engineers are taught to use “factors of safety” – defined as design strength/required strength. Make it stronger than you think you need to, so that your errors don’t show. Failure is not an option. Being inventive reduces factors of safety – until experience (AKA observation) brings better understanding and better predictions.

    In science, failure is one of the ways we learn. It’s called hypothesis testing. The process of coming up with an idea (AKA being inventive) is subject to validation before it becomes part of the body of knowledge. If it fails the validation, the idea is wrong – but we have still learned something because now we know it is wrong.

    I’ve known good engineers that understand science and can do it. I’ve known a lot more that can’t, and a few that are absolutely terrible at it. Unfortunately, that last category is also where you find D-K engineers that think they’re better than science.

  8. 158
    Mal Adapted says:

    Brian Dodge:

    When they traded a sharp piece of rock to someone else for a woven basket, they were economists.
    The rest is history. Although, given the fineness and delicacy of some knapped tools, it was also herstory.

    Indeed, there is evidence for long-distance exchange of luxury goods through expanded hominin social networks, i.e. “trade”, as early as 320 kya. If we assume that early traders invested personal or social resources in their inherently risky ventures, then “capitalism” is also that old. IOW, “capitalism” has been with us always, just as “markets” (the social mechanism for establishing “price”, i.e. equivalent value to buyer and seller) have. While I don’t have direct evidence for when seller profit maximization arose, I propose that Middle Paleolithic markets predictably socialized as many production and/or consumption costs as they could get away with.

    I’m therefore pessimistic that capitalism thus defined can be eradicated from the range of human behavior. I’m somewhat less pessimistic about the power of “price” to collectively modify our aggregate behavior in markets, for the net aggregate benefit of a stable climate. As I’m hardly a “free-market absolutist”, I’m not ruling out command and control measures to collectively decarbonize, with or without a carbon price. Nonetheless, what hope I have of avoiding my worst climate fears rests on consumer thrift and the profit motive.

  9. 159
  10. 160
    Mr. Know It All says:

    159 – Tim Shinkle
    “…Why should we not be concerned?”

    Couple of reasons:
    1 – our use of FFs is going to drop off soon either because they become expensive due to most of the easily recoverable reserves are already in the atmosphere, and/or because we will transition to less CO2 intensive forms of energy
    2 – we still don’t know what is causing CC – around the time of the last ice age, temperatures increased 14C in just a few decades which resulted in many meters of sea level rise. The reason for this rapid temperature rise has not been explained, so no use to worry about CO2 since it may not be the main driver
    3 – as the world warms, H2O concentrations will increase in the atmosphere, causing more clouds that shade the planet
    4 – it’s all part of the grand design

  11. 161
    MA Rodger says:

    Tim Shinkle @159,
    The webpage you link-to bases its assertions on a book that dates back over a decade Peter D. Ward (2009)‘Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us about Our Future’. The hypothesis presented within this book apparently (as I have no access to the book’s content) says that episodes of rising CO2 leads to de-oxygenated oceans that spew H2S into the atmosphere and it is the H2S which is the direct cause of past mass extinction events. Note that this hypothesis does not find its way into the literature as anything more than ‘hypothesis’, at least not that I can see.

    The webpage you link-to has Ward’s book saying that “…all major extinctions occurred when CO2 levels exceeded a thousand parts per million (ppm)” and reproduces a version of this graphic from Ward’s book. While the CO2 record is not as clear cut as presented in Ward’s graphic, a more authoritative CO2 graph (eg here) shows that CO2 has been above 1,000ppm for most of the last 500My which may be a simpler reason for high CO2 being present during past extinction events. Of course, the other part of Ward’s graphic is the defining/timing of “mass extinctions” which may also be a subject of debate if the the normal five events are added to (as in Ward’s graphic which shows nine).

    But the thrust of the message in the webpage you link-to is that 1,000ppm CO2 is some sort of threshold that will lead to a H2S induced mass extinction. I see nothing that supports such a view.

  12. 162
    zebra says:

    Mal Adapted #156,

    Dude, get over yourself.

    And there was another article, WAPO or NYT?, which discusses, as have many others, how sperm donors can have multitudinous offspring.

    I’ve come to think of the way my fellow males obsess about their …unh…unh…contribution to procreation as strongly congruent with racism and sexism. Face it; we are redundant, guys. Humanity would do just fine if all of any individual’s seed were “spilled upon the ground”, as they say. It’s that mediocrity principle, don’tcha know?

    Any genetics folk out there willing to hypothesize about numbers, given that this is supposed to be a science site?

  13. 163
    nigelj says:

    MAR @161, the H2S hypothesis may be wrong, and 1000ppm might not be the significant factor, but the webpage link shows an amazingly consistent correlation between peaks in CO2 concentration and multiple mass extinction events. Does that not have you a bit ‘alarmed’ or curious? Or suggest spikes in CO2 is strongly implicated somehow?


    Mr. Know It All @160

    KIA doesnt know what is causing warming because he doesn’t think straight. The past temperature spike he refers to was regional not global. Hes been told this at least twice before.

    Over 90% of climate scientists know recent climate change is caused by human activities. Refer “surveys of scientists views on climate change” on wikipedia. Note that these are actual climate research scientists.

  14. 164
    nigelj says:

    A curious thing is happening. When I post a comment my browser goes to a another page I have recently looked at. Bug in your system?

  15. 165

    KIA 160: we still don’t know what is causing CC

    BPL: You mean YOU still don’t know. The rest of us have known for decades.

  16. 166
    CCHolley says:

    RE. Mr. Know Nothing @160

    2 – we still don’t know what is causing CC – around the time of the last ice age, temperatures increased 14C in just a few decades which resulted in many meters of sea level rise. The reason for this rapid temperature rise has not been explained, so no use to worry about CO2 since it may not be the main driver

    Pure hogwash. As Mr. Know Nothing should well know, the fact that the cause of any past climatic change cannot be precisely determined due to lack of evidence does not mean there is some magical unknown driver of climate change that can be applied to today’s situation. We do know as a fact that CO2 restricts heat loss to space and that it is highly likely that all the warming we’ve experienced is due to an increase in atmospheric CO2 levels. Mr. Know Nothing is a liar.

    3 – as the world warms, H2O concentrations will increase in the atmosphere, causing more clouds that shade the planet

    Maybe, but not so much.

    Can Clouds Buy Us More Time to Solve Climate Change?

    Clouds May Hold the Key to Future Warming–Scientific American

    Under an extreme climate change scenario, the study found that huge tracts of stratocumulus clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere—which help to reflect sunlight away from the planet and cool the climate—could disintegrate.

  17. 167
    Postkey says:

    The Undesigned Universe – Peter Ward
    “ . . . it
    62:26 is these ocean state changes that are
    62:28 correlated with the great disasters of
    62:30 the past impact can cause extinction but
    62:35 it did so in our past only once that we
    62:38 can tell whereas this has happened over
    62:40 and over and over again we have
    62:42 fifteen evidences times of mass
    62:45 extinction in the past 500 million years
    62:48 so the implications for the implications
    62:51 the implications of the carbon dioxide
    62:52 is really dangerous if you heat your
    62:55 planet sufficiently to cause your Arctic
    62:58 to melt if you cause the temperature
    63:01 gradient between your tropics and your
    63:03 Arctic to be reduced you risk going back
    63:07 to a state that produces these hydrogen
    63:11 sulfide pulses “

  18. 168
    Romain says:

    Bob Loblawm #157,

    Very neat explanation of the main difference between engineers and scientists.
    The problem with the CAGW hypothesis is that it is more or less in between the two worlds. The real 100% science is the one behind specific studies about AMO, ENSO, cloud formation, etc…this requires deep scientific endeavor and most engineers are better staying out of this.
    But when it is about getting the full picture, gathering and utilising data from many different fields, dealing with multiple and inter-dependent uncertainties, the approach is then very much engineer-like. So maybe engineers have legitimate reasons to chime in and can add value?
    I sense one of the main issue between scientists and engineers regarding CAGW is about uncertainties. Each come from a different end of the spectrum: scientists issue papers even with unquantified uncertainties in them. It is ok, it is research. It is one proposal, one hypothesis, it might be right, it might be wrong. Time, scientific process and further studies will tell if this direction was worth taking or not. They obviously try to narrow down the uncertainties as much as possible, but if they can’t, not a big deal, it is still worth issuing, nobody will die.
    On the other end of the spectrum, the engineers have to narrow down uncertainties to within the design margin. And they cannot leave something unchecked (to be confirmed later…) otherwise people might die (bridge collapsing? Boeing control system?) or the project might become a disaster.

    So I’d say it’s not completely irrelevant if engineers bring their point of view on CACG. They can help dealing with uncertainties for a starter. No?

  19. 169
    Radge Havers says:

    Zebra @ 162

    Well I ain’t no genetics folk, but…

    “birds do it, bees do it
    Even educated fleas do it”
    and somewhere in the world at this very moment horny zebras are doing it: making babies.

    You don’t need to explain it with racism or sexism. It’s how evolution works, and if you look at nature there are multiple strategies for accomplishing that goal. However that doesn’t preclude cults from trying to turn women into assembly lines of baby-making machines, like Quiverfull for instance. It’s one of the many sorts of thing you can expect to happen when a species gets a big, buggy brain with no owners manual.

    Anywho, I believe an individual’s contribution to the gene pool is effectively defused out by about the 10th generation.

    Let’s not let this derail the discussion.

  20. 170
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Romain: “I sense one of the main issue between scientists and engineers regarding CAGW is about uncertainties.”

    Sigh! And you’d be wrong. Scientists and engineers care about uncertainties in different ways, but to say the work of scientists is indifferent to uncertainties is utter bullshit. Scientists try to quantify uncertainties anywhere they can. Engineers are often content with bounding uncertainties. My, but your ignorance is deep.

  21. 171
    Bob Loblaw says:

    Romain @ 168 “So I’d say it’s not completely irrelevant if engineers bring their point of view on CACG. They can help dealing with uncertainties for a starter. No?”

    That depends hugely on the engineer. I’ve worked with some that have absolutely no frickin idea how uncertainty should be dealt with. They seem to think that as long as they can state “+/- X with k=2 and 95% limits”, then they have uncertainty nailed.

    They’ve had absolutely no clue about the difference between systematic and random error, and no clue about proper sampling design. They may know how to look up beam strength in a prepared table and tell you what size of 2x lumber you need to span this distance and hold up a second floor of a house, but give them a problem that hasn’t already been solved and they are lost. They need a rule to follow, and they have no idea why the rule is what it is. No rule? No clue. I”ve seen some really, really bad work by engineers operating outside their area of actual expertise.

    Many engineers do not have to narrow down uncertainties within design limits. They just have to make sure they are on the right side of the errors. It’s a one-tailed test, not two-tailed. Nobody ever lost a job for making a bridge 4x stronger than it needed to be (unless that meant too costly, or in the case of something like a space craft, too heavy).

    But some engineers are better than others. I will never accept an argument from authority because someone says “I’m an engineer”. They are welcome to make a proper argument, and some of them will. And then I will listen. And if they actually understand the issue, I will respect their argument. And their background may help them understand my arguments (or not). But if all they have is “engineers know stuff”, then my Bayesian prior is to discount their opinion. And if their position is “we know everything, and we’re better than everyone else because we have an iron ring”, then you have to pay me to get me to listen to them.

  22. 172
    zebra says:

    Radge Havers #169,

    “Let’s not let this derail the discussion.”

    Well, I don’t think it is that far off the topic if the topic is “bad science”, and I am not the one who started on the subject. And, sorry, but are you really interested in endlessly killing off KIA zombie memes so he can endlessly resurrect them? I realize this gender stuff may make the typical demographic here uncomfortable, but it is what it is.

    Mal, I believe, has a background in biology, so I’m less inclined to let his error slide… it is an extreme claim colored by social or psychological inputs.

    Racism: Sons often look like their fathers. That doesn’t mean that sons are as smart, or as stupid, as their fathers. But physical appearance as a proxy for unrelated complex characteristics is the essence of racism. For most things, on average, nurture matter much more than nature.

    Sexism: Women do all the work, and they take all the risks, but procreation is the rare instance where we men are all in favor of “equality”, even though our contribution is some cells we are all too happy to get rid of (as often as possible). That women have this monopoly position on creating a population is obviously why they are dis-empowered in a majority of cultures.

    Genetics: My question was about real-time, not the ability to detect the DNA sometime in the future. If you randomly sterilized N% of males, but had the same birthrate, I’m guessing that N would have to be large to change the diversity of the next generation. But I don’t have the background to figure out how large.

  23. 173
    MA Rodger says:

    Romain @168,

    Your comparison of science and engineering are missing some vital considerations.

    Firstly, if an engineer builds a bridge, he deals with uncertainty by designing it out. There may be a chance of a row of heavy lorries, say, combined with snowfall or an extra layer of tarmac that will be required to resurface the road; all these factors are considered (or more normally looked up in a book). Either such circumstances will be prevented from accumulating to overload the bridge or the bridge will be build stronger.
    Given that, you would expect risk-averse engineers to be the first profession signed up to AGW mitigation. But strangely they are not.

    Secondly, engineers are actually problem-solvers but of a specific sort. If you want a river-crossing built, you will approach the appropriate engineer – bridge engineers for a bridge, tunnel engineers for a tunnel, ship-builders for a ferry-link, etc. An engineer is trained to be focused on the solutions he is trained to deliver. This means they are made myopic by their training and thus many provide fertile ground for AGW denialism to run rampant.

    And in conclusion, I think that is pretty-much what Bob Loblaw set out @157.

  24. 174

    Romain says:

    “The problem with the CAGW hypothesis is that it is more or less in between the two worlds. The real 100% science is the one behind specific studies about AMO, ENSO, cloud formation, etc…this requires deep scientific endeavor and most engineers are better staying out of this.”

    ENSO and AMO are largely all fluid dynamics. Who knows how to do fluid dynamics better? Perhaps somebody that works at BAE and understands how to keep a boat right-side up and a plane flying through the air. The point is that the math is the math and no single discipline owns that.

  25. 175
    Gea Vox says:

    The problem with calling it ‘Alarmism’ is that there SHOULD have been a chorus of august voices sounding the alarm, back in the early 1990s. The 1992 Rio Summit SHOULD have been that chorus of alarm, and the 1995 Kyoto Protocol should have been clear and inflexible INSTRUCTIONS, not just some PR exercise by world Governments about de-carbonisation.

    Consequently the cries of alarm now are from those very millions of people who have been desperately trying to ignore the urgency in the message of the 25 COP Summits to date. NOW they are waking up to the fact that this is not simply ‘going away’ and in fact the effects are ESCALATING and are now as blatant as can be.

    The truth is – and probably many wil contradict me – that the outcomes of processes we humans have set in motion will take centuries to play out, many accelerate, conbine and augment impacts, eve as i write…

    Just take Sea Level Rise… Its greatest impact is NOT flooding, but what happens when seawater starts to seep into every sewer, cemetery, every landfill, mass grave, toxic and radiactive waste repository within reach of the coast (by geological fissures, voids etc., as well as by proximity). Pressure-pumped by the tides, in places these will collapse and release MEGATONNES of toxic, teratogenic, mutagenic and pathogenic compunds in solution and supsnsion, redeposited by the Longshore Drift, time anad again, daily, onto reefs, beaches, rocks and cliffs.

    Remember the failure of New Orleans’ levées, as a result of hurrican Katrina?
    Multiply that many, many times and magnitudes, to envisage the effect of SLR in relation to man-made waste voids! Many may appear safe by their distance from teh coast, but we are talking about the OCEANS rising here folk! They will penetrate all and any porous rock, shales, aggrgates, and what of lava tubes, channels, caves, fissurers, chasms…. They will fill and then rise… fill and rise, one oby one… Cenotes, wells, sewers, cess-pits…

    Of course, the OTHER problem is the compartmentalised nature of the Sciences, designed for in-depth study, not concerted ACTION.

    Climatology, Geology and Hydrology, Ecology… each operates in its own blinkered sphere… indifferent to the actual outcomes until even the most exceptionally privileged, well-paid, entitled academics can see their own end in sight.

    A Marine Biologist might consider what the effect of 100,000 leaking landfills containing various heavy metals on coastal marine life with alarm… ask them what effect the breaching of one single toxic repository would be on reefs on that stretch of coastline. Reefs are the nurseries of the sea, destroying marine productivity on already heavily polluted reefs, many of them barely surviving … consider these COMBINED impacts and tell me there is no cause for “Alarmism”.

    FLOODING is the LEAST of our problems!

  26. 176
    Dhogaza says:


    “So I’d say it’s not completely irrelevant if engineers bring their point of view on CACG. They can help dealing with uncertainties for a starter. No?”

    No. Your claims that scientists don’t deal in uncertainties and aren’t trained to do so is false.

    The use of the rather offensive acronym “CAGW” reveals where you’re coming from, of course. The acronym is meant to be disparaging of science.

  27. 177
    Alex Morrison says:

    2019’s alarmism begins to feel like 2020’s sober realism from where I’m sitting.

    My reason for starting to side with the alarmists is the reinforcing feedback effects of multiple individual phenomena.

    Forest fires + extinctions + CO2 emissions + political instability + tropical storms + pandemics + methane emissions from melting permafrost.

    I wonder if the models that look at each one (can) take into account the combinations.

  28. 178
    zebra says:

    Engineer v Scientist, revisited,

    Does anyone have real numbers with different educational levels and specific disciplines? That is relevant both to the distribution/total-quantities of Denialism, and to the opinions about the characteristics of the two categories.

    There are, from a quick look, a lot more people with “engineering” degrees than “science”. I couldn’t find anything on relative numbers of advanced degrees within disciplines though

    I’m in the process of reading Quantum Legacies, by David Kaiser, and just finished the chapter discussing bubbles in physics education…demand driven by poorly understood and interpreted statistics. (He makes the amusing suggestion that the 80’s bubble in physics doctorates resulted in those people becoming Wall Street quants, which then led to the subsequent economic bubbles.)

    Anyway, my point is that the psychology of individuals about which some are offering anecdotal conclusions may have to do with their level of education within a discipline rather than specific discipline, or it could even be just chance.

  29. 179
    Radge Havers says:

    Zebra #172

    Your interpretation of the conversation is novel, and seems to me to be in part between you and yourself. That’s ok, you don’t have to share. Rest assured though, that as near as I can tell, I wasn’t disagreeing with you, I was simply looking at what you seemed to be saying from a different angle.

    Genetics: My question was about real-time, not the ability to detect the DNA sometime in the future. If you randomly sterilized N% of males, but had the same birthrate, I’m guessing that N would have to be large to change the diversity of the next generation. But I don’t have the background to figure out how large.

    Ok. I didn’t see what your question was. I assume you’re talking about humans. I don’t know, but maybe epigenetics would be a factor?

    OTOH, if your talking about males in general, I would guess that it depends in part on the species. For instance, not all species carry the same amount of genetic information in their DNA. There would also be niche specific selective pressures that might come into play.

    Interestingly, Wikipedia has this to say about Zebras:
    “Among plains and mountain zebras, the adult females mate only with their harem stallion, while in Grévy’s zebras, mating is more promiscuous and the males have larger testes for sperm competition.”

  30. 180
    Mike says:

    At Alex at 177: Yes, I have stopped raising the alarm for the most part. We are not flattening the CO2 curve despite all the knowledge and warnings. At the point when everyone agrees we better do something, we will be way past the time when our actions will produce significant relief. I think the relief boat sailed away several years ago, but I still like living as if my choices matter, so I keep working to crank my CO2 footprint down.



  31. 181
    Mal Adapted says:


    Mal, I believe, has a background in biology, so I’m less inclined to let his error slide… it is an extreme claim colored by social or psychological inputs.

    How’s that again? It’s not clear what you think my error is. Whether or not males are redundant in the human population, selection acts on individuals of both sexes. That’s why conjugation is always subject number one. If adaptation is a game, males or females with two or more genetic offspring (nieces and nephews prorated) are winners. Winners get to play the next round. Anyone with no progeny at death loses, permanently. Just or not, that’s the setup. There are no existential commandments, though. Nature doesn’t care about individuals, populations, metapopulations or species:

    So careful of the type?” but no.
    From scarped cliff and quarried stone
    She cries, “A thousand types are gone:
    I care for nothing, all shall go.

    (Tennyson, In Memoriam).

  32. 182
    Mal Adapted says:


    The use of the rather offensive acronym “CAGW” reveals where you’re coming from, of course. The acronym is meant to be disparaging of science.

    Glad you’re back, dude.

  33. 183
    Romain says:

    Ray Ladbury, #170,
    You are attacking a strawman. I did exactly write this: “They [the scientists] obviously try to narrow down the uncertainties as much as possible, but if they can’t, not a big deal, it is still worth issuing, nobody will die.”
    And you interpreted it as “to say the work of scientists is indifferent to uncertainties is utter bullshit.”
    Not indifferent, it’s obviously very important. But less often than engineers do scientists see the direct consequences of their carelessness. The feedback cycle is much quicker in engineering. Wrong uncertainty estimation can quickly lead to big issues. Hence I would say that engineers are more prone to be thorough on uncertainties than scientists.
    Also, there is not one science or one engineering, so essentialising is always tricky. It’s obviously very dependent on the field of research or engineering. E.g. you’d have to be much more careful with uncertainties for particle detection than you are for, say, AMO studies. Same for engineering: building a rocket or an asphalt road does not require the same level of scrutiny.

  34. 184
    Romain says:

    Bob Loblaw, #171

    Thanks for your comment. Not much in disagreement.
    What you say about bad engineers, could you not say it about bad scientists?
    My point is that there is not need to dismiss somebody having issues with the AGW theory (I removed the C, apparently it’s offensive for some) because he is an engineer. On the contrary they can add value.

    MA Rodger, #172
    I did not get your first point. Design margin is here to cover for many different risks and uncertainties. But you still have to evaluate what the sufficient margin should be.
    I did not get your second point either. Engineers do get specialized. An electrical engineer would have trouble solving hydraulic issues. So what? Why would that be a bad thing?
    “This means they are made myopic by their training and thus many provide fertile ground for AGW denialism to run rampant.”
    This does not make sense, sorry. And if anything, the specialisation is even more acute in research. So why a engineer will be made myopic by their training and not a scientist, or anybody else?

  35. 185
    Romain says:

    Dhogaza, #176,

    “No. Your claims that scientists don’t deal in uncertainties and aren’t trained to do so is false.”
    All is good, because I did not claim this. Strawman.
    I take your point on CAGW. Especially on the very thread that talks about denialists and alarmists. The C was unnecessary.

  36. 186
    zebra says:

    Mal Adapted #181,

    You said: “Anyone with living copies of their genes must account for not only their own footprint, but their descendants’ unto the nth generation.”

    Absurd. There is nothing about “Mal’s genes” that determines the survival of any offspring, whether for one generation or n. Mediocrity, remember…the thing you keep pointing out.

    Or are you perhaps suggesting that there are all these women who decided not to reproduce because “If I can’t have Mal’s baby, I just don’t want children at all!”?

    Neither the fertility rate nor the population curve is in any way affected by your choice to not contribute your sperm.

    You are welcome to offer your opinion on what percentage of the male population being infertile would create some kind of genetic bottleneck, affecting the future genome, as in my response to Radge Havers.

  37. 187
    zebra says:

    Radge Havers #179,

    Interesting. I wouldn’t say epigenetics specifically, except perhaps as a consequence of environmental factors influenced by social/economic dynamics. But, those dynamics might indeed have an effect.

    If (say) half the male population were randomly sterilized, and birthrate remained constant, (and there were not a deep-state forced randomization of sperm distribution), then some selection process by females would be involved. Who knows how that would go, eh.

    Two points:

    -Yes, this does relate to an internal line of reasoning I have been following about population and sustainability, which is manifesting over on FR, and would in fact be off-topic here.

    -The wiki article from which you derived your info about zebras also tells us that they are pugnacious and very difficult to domesticate. Just sayin’

  38. 188

    z 187: -The wiki article from which you derived your info about zebras also tells us that they are pugnacious and very difficult to domesticate. Just sayin’


  39. 189
    Bob Loblaw says:

    Romain @ 184: “What you say about bad engineers, could you not say it about bad scientists? My point is that there is not need to dismiss somebody having issues with the AGW theory … because he is an engineer. On the contrary they can add value.”

    OK. Let me be a bit clearer about how I see the general label “engineer” in this discussion. No, there is nothing in the label “engineer” that prevents an individual from learning the relevant parts of atmospheric science that would allow them to make constructive comments on the subject of climatology.

    On the other hand, I see very little in the general field of engineering (education, training, experience) that would give an engineer a step up on someone trained and experienced in atmospheric science. A good engineer will have skills that might make it easier to learn atmospheric science (mathematics is one), but I do not see an engineer doing any better on that than a good scientist. The claim “I am an engineer” is an empty argument from authority, and deserves as much respect as “I am a watchmaker”.

    I would say the same thing about many other areas of science, too. Scientists from other disciplines may have some transferable skills that enables them to learn the essentials of climatology more easily than others, but if they wander in claiming expertise because they did well in some other aspect of science, then I will be very skeptical. For example, just because you have experience in some other area of biology does not make you an instant expert on, say, polar bears and climate change. And bad scientists, even if it is atmospheric science? Well, they’re just bad scientists.

    And if some self-proclaimed expert (based on success is some other discipline) wanders into the discussion, saying things that are clearly wrong, acting as if their unrelated experience gives them some “special knowledge” that an entire scientific discipline has “gotten wrong”, then my crank meter pegs off-scale.

  40. 190
    Radge Havers says:

    Um. I think that young physicists, when they first enter physicist school, should be taught to wear heavy rubber bands around their wrists, and whenever they read a couple of articles from one of the “lesser” sciences and decide that they need to set things right, they should snap the rubber band and say to themselves ‘naughty’ three times. Like this: “[snap] Naughty! Naughty! Naughty!”

    If you want to ask the right questions, it helps to have some background in both evolutionary biology and genetics and understand how this is an area that is particularly, perhaps uniquely, ripe for abuse by those unconsciously looking to draw hasty conclusions about society from it. Some good lessons in epistemology to be had.

    I do think you’re on the right track when you start looking for all the possible variables and potential sources of error, but there are too many to name without context. You really need to start at the beginning and spend some time there, or at least dig into the work of conservation biologists who earn their bread and butter bringing species back from the edge of extinction. I think this particular topic might contain a gold mine of implications for you.


  41. 191
    Mal Adapted says:


    Absurd. There is nothing about “Mal’s genes” that determines the survival of any offspring, whether for one generation or n. Mediocrity, remember…the thing you keep pointing out.

    Well, I was going to congratulate you on “getting” it, as I thought my self-mockery was self-evident 8^)! But then you said:

    Neither the fertility rate nor the population curve is in any way affected by your choice to not contribute your sperm.

    You’re right, of course. Sorry it wasn’t clear: my self-congratulation was intended as comic hyperbole. I actually said so (“Kidding!”). What I’m really talking about is the personal choice a WEIRDo like myself must make, to procreate or not. My reasoning is as follows: If I choose to reproduce my very own unique genetic endowment, I must assume my direct line will subsequently consume, occupy or pollute in proportion to their numbers: I=PAT, where my genetic contribution to P is > 0 over n hypothetical future generations, discounted at a rate assuming random mating in each. In that sense, I am are solely responsible for the impact of my genetic posterity on the biosphere. At this juncture I’m confident my future I will go to 0 upon my death. Even if nobody else cares about my mediocre genetic legacy, I do. But I only care because my ancestors cared about theirs, having begatten and begotten for at least 5957 years. Whatever — the begetting stops here!

    Nor is it clear that any one guy’s genetic legacy always vanishes in the global population with time. Consider the lineage of the C3*-Star Cluster paternal haplogroup.

  42. 192
    nigelj says:

    What a peculiar discussion. No doubt one mans sperm could make many thousands of women pregnant, if done like a factory production line. Most males could be made redundant. Do we set up a few genetically well endowed men or something as global sperm donors? It would cost women money.

    “Imagine having so many children, you could run a factory. That’s what Moulay Ismail’s family looked like. He was a brutal emperor of the Moroccan Alaouite dynasty from 1672 – 1727. And is reported to have had at least 1,171 children.”

  43. 193

    Romain said:

    “An electrical engineer would have trouble solving hydraulic issues. So what? Why would that be a bad thing?”

    hydraulic = incompressible, static. What’s so hard about that?

  44. 194
    zebra says:

    BPL #128,

    So, the male hero puts the uppity female in her place by using his superior strength to expose her body, demonstrating that she is genetically related to a racial grouping considered inferior by the conformist majority.

    I’m not really sure I want to know, but how did you manage to find this? What magic combination ….+….+…. yielded such a perfect example of what I was talking about?

    And I have to say, while I knew of them before, I am truly saddened by these features of a culture that gave us the tea ceremony and other aesthetics I hold dear.

  45. 195
    zebra says:

    Radge Havers #190,

    I assume that was directed to me. And you have cleverly gotten back on-topic.

    The thing about “interdisciplinary” activities, in my experience at least, is that specialists do sometimes get stuck, and it is because they know their subject too well. I’ve managed, a couple of times, to un-stick them, by asking questions that were based in universal principles, even though I came nowhere near their level of specialized expertise. “Fresh eyes”, as they say.

    Anyway, I am far removed from being a young physics student, and I am well aware that I am not going to learn enough biology to definitively answer the questions myself. So I throw out the challenge to see if I can get some free consulting work done. I think conservation biology would require me to go back to the beginning anyway, although I do see the connection you are making.

  46. 196
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Saying uncertainties are no big deal in science is also bullshit. It makes me think you understand neither engineering nor science. Understanding your uncertainties is utterly crucial to science. If you do not understand the uncertainties, then you
    a) Don’t understand your measurements
    b) Don’t understand the implications of your theory.

    Christ-on-a-felafel, dude, the scientific method has only been around for 400 years. Maybe you should learn something about it.

  47. 197
    Bob Loblaw says:

    zebra at 195 “I’ve managed, a couple of times, to un-stick them, by asking questions that were based in universal principles,”

    The key phrase here is “asking questions”. People from outside the discipline that wander in, confidently telling the discipline everything they are doing wrong, are rarely providing constructive feedback.

  48. 198

    z 194: So, the male hero puts the uppity female in her place by using his superior strength to expose her body, demonstrating that she is genetically related to a racial grouping considered inferior by the conformist majority.
    I’m not really sure I want to know, but how did you manage to find this? What magic combination ….+….+…. yielded such a perfect example of what I was talking about?

    BPL: She wasn’t “uppity,” she was physically abusive. I chose it for the mini-lesson about zebras. The anime is called “Seton Academy: Join the Pack,” and in larger context than just that scene, is rather a sly comment on racism in Japan. In fact, it’s main lesson is the opposite of the one you drew.

  49. 199
    Romain says:

    Ray Ladbury, #196,

    You keep attacking a strawman. My words are more nuanced than the extreme position you are attacking.
    And although I appreciate that you took the time to read and respond to my comment, there is no need to pontificate. I jumped into the discussion to suggest that engineers can add value, not to undermine scientists.

    So, just to clarify with an example: let’s take a look at the most recent article on Realclimate, “New studies confirm weakening of the Gulf Stream circulation (AMOC)”
    In the last paragraph, one can read “However, the latest generation (CMIP6) of climate models shows one thing: if we continue to heat up our planet, the AMOC will weaken further – by 34 to 45% by 2100.”

    Would you say that having the weakening range right is “utterly crucial”?
    What if finally this weakening range is wrong and it should in fact be, say, 20% to 30%, or 50% to 60%?
    What are the consequences? Does it change the message? I think not. It is still a useful paper that advances the science. It has the merit to be published for other scientists to build upon or to challenge. Potential mistakes will be corrected in due course.

    Now compare this with, say, a gas sweetening plant that should treat a gas containing 34 to 45% CO2, based on reservoir modelling. So the engineering team put a margin on top, and the plant is capable of 50%. But reality hits, the reservoir modelling had an assumption wrong and the CO2 content goes finally very quickly to 60%. It will cost millions of dollars to correct the mistake. So don’t you think there is a larger incentive to check your uncertainty twice in that case?

  50. 200
    Romain says:

    Paul Pukite,#193

    ” “An electrical engineer would have trouble solving hydraulic issues. So what? Why would that be a bad thing?”

    hydraulic = incompressible, static. What’s so hard about that?”

    It was just an example. Replace hydraulic with multiphase flow or fluid mechanics if you like. Also hydraulic is not always static. And it’s not always simple. Think water hammer.
    And I defy an electrical engineer to do the job of modelling flooding of a river watershed.