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The legend of the Titanic

Filed under: — rasmus @ 3 May 2012

It’s 100 years since the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic, and it’s still remembered today. It was one of those landmark events that make a deep impression on people. It also fits a pattern of how we respond to different conditions, according to a recent book about the impact of environmental science on the society (Gudmund Hernes Hot Topic – Cold Comfort): major events are the stimulus and the change of mind is the response.

Hernes suggests that one of those turning moments that made us realize our true position in the universe was when we for the first time saw our own planet from space.

NASA Earth rise

He observes that

[t]he change in mindset has not so much been the result of meticulous information dissemination, scientific discourse and everyday reasoning as driven by occurrences that in a striking way has disclosed what was not previously realized or only obscurely seen.

Does he make a valid point? If the scientific information looks anything like the situation in a funny animation made by Alister Doyle (Dummiez: climate change and electric cars), then it is understandable.

Moreover, he is not the only person arguing that our minds are steered by big events – the importance of big events was even acknowledged in the fiction ‘State of Fear‘.

A recent paper by Brulle et al (2012) also suggests that the provision of information has less impact than what opinion leaders (top politicians) say.

However, if the notion that information makes little impact is correct, one may wonder what the point would be in having a debate about climate change, and why certain organisations would put so much efforts into denial, as described in books such as Heat is on, Climate Cover-up, Republican war on science, Merchants of doubt, and The Hockeystick and Climate Wars. Why then, would there be such things as ‘the Heartland Institute’, ‘NIPCC’, climateaudit, WUWT, climatedepot, and FoS, if they had no effect? And indeed, the IPCC reports and the reports from the National Academy of Sciences? One could even ask whether the effort that we have put into RealClimate has been in vain.

Then again, could the analysis presented in Brulle et al. be misguided because the covariates used in their study did not provide a sufficiently good representation of important factors? Or could the results be contaminated by disinformation campaigns?

Their results and Hernes assertion may furthermore suggest that there are different rules for different groups of people: What works for scientists doesn’t work for lay people. It is clear from the IPCC and international scientific academies that climate scientists in general are impressed by the increasing information (Oreskes, 2004).

Hernes does, however, acknowledge that a background knowledge is present and may play a role in interpreting events, which means that most of us no longer blame the gods for calamities (in the time before the enlightenment, there were witch hunts and sacrifices to the gods). The presence of the knowledge now provides a rational background, which sometimes seems to be taken for granted.

Maybe it should be no surprise that the situation is as described by Hernes and Brulle et al., because historically science communication hasn’t really been appreciated by the science community (according to ‘Don’t be such a scientist‘) and has not been enthusiastically embraced by the media. There is a barrier to information flow, and Somerville and Hassol (2011) observe that a rational voice of scientists is sorely needed.

The rationale of Hernes’ argument, however, is that swaying people does not only concern rational and intellectual ideas, but also an emotional dimension. The mindset influences a person’s identity and character, and is bundeled together with their social network. Hence, people who change their views on the world, may also distance themselves from some friends and connect with new people. A new standpoint will involve a change in their social connections in addition to a change in rational views. Events, such as the Titanic, Earth rise, 911, and Hurricane Katrina influence many people both through rational thought and emotions, where people’s frame of mind shifts together with their friends’.

What do I think? Public opinion is changed not by big events as such, but by the public interpretation of those events. Whether a major event like hurricane Katrina or the Moscow heat wave changes attitudes towards climate change is determined by people’s interpretation of this event, and whether they draw a connection to climate change – though not necessarily directly. I see this as a major reason why organisations such as the Heartland are fighting their PR battle by claiming that such events are all natural and have nothing to do with emissions.

The similarity between these organisations and the Titanic legend is that there was a widespread misconception that it could not sink (and hence its fame) and now organisations like the Heartland make dismissive claims about any connection between big events and climate change. However, new and emerging science is suggesting that there may indeed be some connections between global warming and heat waves and between trends in mean precipitation and more extreme rainfall.


  1. R.J. Brulle, J. Carmichael, and J.C. Jenkins, "Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the U.S., 2002–2010", Climatic Change, vol. 114, pp. 169-188, 2012.
  2. N. Oreskes, "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change", Science, vol. 306, pp. 1686-1686, 2004.
  3. R.C.J. Somerville, and S.J. Hassol, "Communicating the science of climate change", Physics Today, vol. 64, pp. 48-53, 2011.

169 Responses to “The legend of the Titanic”

  1. 1
    Dan H. says:

    Brulle’s contention that public opinion was shaped largely by the release of the IPCC AR4 report and the movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” shows up very prominently in his climate change threat index, which rose dramatically from 2005 to 2007. Hurricane Katrina may have added to the public influence, as it was prominently mentioned in the movie, and occurred immediately prior to the large uptick in public perception.

    While public opinion polls do tend to peak shortly after prominent events (the best examples is the convention push in the US presidential election), the real effect will only manifest itself some time later, when the opinion settles into its new level.

  2. 2
    Lou Grinzo says:

    This notion of what moves us is addressed by Paul Gilding in his book The Great Disruption. He argues that if we were open to some big event, like Katrina or the Russian heat wave, triggering an environmental “Pearl Harbor moment”, it would have happened. He says that we will have to undergo a change of heart, so to speak, before some huge event can have that effect.

    Gilding’s view, which I find very persuasive, sounds like Hernes’ argument — we need the emotional foundation in place first.

    Personally, I think the only way we will get there is via the most expensive route possible: A constant drumbeat of “little” disasters that wear down our resistance and our willingness to listen to the deniers, followed up by a big event (insert your own horrifying example here) that finally spurs us to action. The problem, of course, is that collectively we have very short memories, so those “little” disasters have to arrive closely enough that their mental impacts accumulate instead of dissipating in the minutiae of our lives.

  3. 3
    SecularAnimist says:

    Rasmus wrote: “Public opinion is changed not by big events as such, but by the public interpretation of those events … I see this as a major reason why organisations such as the Heartland are fighting their PR battle by claiming that such events are all natural and have nothing to do with emissions.”

    And indeed, as such events rapidly increase in frequency and severity, and public awareness of the connection to AGW also increases, we can observe that the propaganda streaming from Heartland and the rest of the denialist propaganda machine is increasingly focused exactly on denying any connection between global warming and the onslaught of “weather of mass destruction”.

    Indeed, when the Arctic Ocean is ice-free, and the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps are collapsing into the sea, and coastal cities (already depopulated by drought-driven famine) are being evacuated on an emergency basis, Heartland and the rest will no doubt be “arguing” that it’s all “natural” and has nothing to do with CO2 emissions.

  4. 4
    dan bloom says:

    that msnbc fake interview was nothing more than a PR set up by Lovelock’s book publisher to pre-sell and take pre-orders for his new bestseller on climate change due out in 2013, and yu got punked by fake reporter Ian Johnston at msnbc. That was a faux interview, no news there at all, unless you call Pr news. therefore, my polar cities work is still valid and Jim laughter’s new cli fi novel titled Polar City Red tells our story via fiction novel. read it this summer. Pure fiction, nothing to be afraid of. Just a good old fashioned yarn.

  5. 5
    Mark A. York says:

    Indeed. The evidence piles up but many remain unswayed mostly along political party lines, so indoctrination and projection onto the factual side continues. This is why publishers, corporate entities they are, refuse to publish any novel with the facts of global warming in it except State of Fear. They prefer dystopics with unnamed causes, mostly war at the root of the wasted world. It’s a shame but all of the nonfiction science books out there won’t have the impact of SOF. I tried to change that for going on four years now with no luck. Maybe someday.

  6. 6

    We must mention the Onion’s most famous headline: “World’s Largest Metaphor Hits Ice-berg”,10645/

    As we look for metaphors for our condition we might also add Warren Quinn’s (1993) ‘Puzzle of the Self-Torturer’:

    Suppose someone — who, for reasons that will become apparent, Quinn calls the self-torturer — has a special electric device attached to him. The device has 1001 settings: 0, 1, 2, 3, …, 1000 and works as follows: moving up a setting raises, by a tiny increment, the amount of electric current applied to the self-torturer’s body. The increments in current are so small that the self-torturer cannot tell the difference between adjacent settings. He can, however, tell the difference between settings that are far apart. And, in fact, there are settings at which the self-torturer would experience excruciating pain. Once a week, the self-torturer can compare all the different settings. He must then go back to the setting he was at and decide if he wants to move up a setting. If he does so, he gets $10,000, but he can never permanently return to a lower setting. Like most of us, the self-torturer would like to increase his fortune but also cares about feeling well. Since the self-torturer cannot feel any difference in comfort between adjacent settings but gets $10,000 at each advance, he prefers, for any two consecutive settings s and s+1, stopping at s+1 to stopping at s. But, since he does not want to live in excruciating pain, even for a great fortune, he also prefers stopping at a low setting, such as 0, over stopping at a high setting, such as 1000.

  7. 7
    Chris G says:

    FWIW, my thinking is much like Lou (#2). Someone at a climate talk once asked, “Some people tell us one thing; some others tell us something else. How do we know?” Been mulling over that ever since, but I think it comes down to, if you don’t have a firm understanding of the hard sciences, you can’t know. It all boils down to which voices you choose to listen to.

    That is not entirely accurate. You can know when some event or collection of events makes it obvious. It is probable that there would still be arguments about whether or not an atomic bomb was possible, if we had not blown some up.

    Some will see the Russian heat wave as part of the increasing trend of such events; others will choose to believe that heat waves/droughts over the past decade in Russia, Europe, Australia, England, Texas, the Amazon, etc, are all isolated events.

    I think individuals have to be directly hit with some number of these in years not too far removed to really change their mind. Maybe having major crop failures in the US and China in the same year will make enough of an impression to change peoples minds. (Not saying that will happen this year, but if the heat wave trend continues, something like that is just a matter of time.) But, mostly it seems that troubles elsewhere are just that.

    IDK, but I would like to think that sites like this ‘prime the pump’; that is, they prepare people to accept a reality that would otherwise be denied a bit longer.

  8. 8

    My first look through a powerful telescope hit me harder than any photograph. A photograph always seems to me to be an artifact. Someone else’s work and someone else’s perspective.

    The moon through a telescope looks real, alien, and forbidding like a foreign prison.

  9. 9
    Russell says:

    Someone from White Star or Luftschiffbau Zeppelin should ring up the folks who want to use wind turbine masts used as hydrogen storage tanks, before one explodes and sinks an iceberg.

  10. 10

    Typo towards the end: “hence it’s name” shouldn’t have an apostrophe.

  11. 11
    vukcevic says:

    This may be of some interest to your readers, I do hope you do not demote it to the ‘Bore hole’, since it may be worth of a further consideration.
    The Antarctica’s geomagnetic field appears to correlate with the historic sunspot records. and shows relatively good match with the Antarctica’s 10Be deposition records. While geomagnetic changes are of order of hundreds of nTesla
    the heliospheric magnetic field at the Earth’s orbit is of order only of few nTesla
    Inevitable conclusion is that the 10Be Antarctica’s data may be of spurious value, unless ….
    Data from which delta Bz is calculated is accepted as good by most reputable science establishments,

  12. 12
    Nick O. says:

    The problem ties in neatly with ideas that can be traced back to Jung, maybe earlier. I think there is little denying that ‘knowing’ requires a degree of emotional response if it is to have meaning; it’s almost as if you have to “know that you know”. If I can dig out the quotation from Jung’s “Memories, Dreams and Reflections” I will post it later, but basically he says that to really know something we have to feel it emotionally as well as understand it rationally. Thus, when I stand at the top of a diving board, 20 feet above the swimming pool, my rational mind tells me there’s nothing to be worried about, whereas all my nerves are jangling and I feel scared as hell. In the same way, but from a different perspective, people may read and take in all the rational stuff about climate change and it still does not resonate with them; they still do not ‘know it’ to be true, or at least something to worry about. The point about the image of Earth rise taken from Apollo 8 was that it provided very striking evidence to confirm what many people suspected, what they knew rationally, but had never actually seen. Okay, Kubrik put Earth rise in his film “2001 A Space Odyssey” but that was just a film, a conception. This pic., from Apollo 8, was therefore the ‘real thing’, hence its resonance with so many people at the time and subsequently. My guess is that for many people there is going to have to be an Apollo 8 (“A8”) moment, a striking confirmation of some kind that anthropogenic climate change is happening and is serious. What is perhaps more interesting re. Hernes’ and others’ analysis is how much the threshold to an A8 moment is affected – if at all – by the build up, over time, of contributing rational evidence. My hope is that the threshold is lowered, and significantly, although I am not sure how one would test for this.

  13. 13

    “Been mulling over that ever since, but I think it comes down to, if you don’t have a firm understanding of the hard sciences, you can’t know. It all boils down to which voices you choose to listen to.”

    I’ve been saying for a while that IMOP, you can assess consistency. I’ve yet to hear from a complete denier who was not also internally inconsistent. A (fictional) example:

  14. 14
    Chris G says:

    Kevin (#13),
    Possibly, but a) I don’t believe that the ability to judge consistency is that pervasive, and b) limited knowledge often misleads people into thinking that it is the other person who is inconsistent.

    a) I see inconsistencies all the time it the computer programs I work on, and I would think that of all people, programmers are highly trained to think logically and consistently. Yet they still often fail.

    b) For example, there is the ‘GHG theory violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics’ meme. Someone with an in-depth knowledge of thermo realizes it does not, but someone with a limited understanding could be inclined to agree with the meme, and think it is the GHG theory which is inconsistent with known physics.

    You mention _internal_ inconsistency, but it is possible to come up with a model that is internally consistent, but has little bearing on physical reality.

  15. 15
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Chris G., OK, first, any time I see someone who is not an expert in thermo/stat mech making an argument based on the 2nd law of thermo, I am immediately suspicious. The 2nd law is a very subtle concept.

    Second, we know with 100% certainty that greenhouse gasses warm a planet. We know that Earth is 33 Kelvins warmer than it would be based solely on the radiation it absorbs from the Sun. If someone doesn’t believe in greenhouse warming, they have to advance an alternative explanation of that incontrovertible fact.

    This really isn’t that tough. You don’t ask an electrician for advice on cardiology. You go to an expert. Why should climate science be any different. And expertise is easy to judge in a world full of Intertubes–look at publications and citations. Look at what a scientist’s colleagues (read “competitors”) have to say about his work. If you don’t know how to assess science in this world, you might as well be illiterate.

  16. 16
    Alan says:

    RE #12, I think the earthrise in Kubrick’s 2001 is a reflection of society rather than the other way around. Kubrick and Clarke are both prophetic geniuses in my book but the Apollo 8 earthrise predates Kubrick’s classic movie by several years.

    I was a kid at school in Australia during the Apollo project, in the last half of the 60’s every boy on the planet wanted to be an astronaught, now THAT’s influence through events! :)

  17. 17

    vukcevic’s comment above is quite off-topic on this thread. At a minimum, please consign it to the open thread and delete this comment.


  18. 18
    Peter Cummins says:

    I suggest that a significant portion of our population retains a strong tribal instinct and so the “truth” is what other people believe.And,that this tribal anchoring with all its brotherhood and sisterhood aspects is redolent with the bandwagon effect-Groupthink.Moreover,taking AGW on board is a heavy load about which the average punter would feel utterly powerless-latent negative feedback-and this acts as an esttopel device to prevent a mind change.What the tribe really needs is a charasmatic leader to capture emotions first and who then changes the “truth”.

  19. 19
    Radge Havers says:

    Chris G.

    Speaking as a non-expert who has struggled with this, some homework is required to sort it out. It’s not too much to expect from your basic concerned citizen. Fortunately there is a scientific consensus on the broad issues of climate, so you don’t have to bust your brain on a lot of arcane minutia if you don’t have the time or ability for that.

    First, determine who the scientists are (requires finding out a bit about how the educational system works, professional societies, etc.). If you can’t do this, best to just stick to your knitting

    Second, find out what the actual scientists themselves say. If a person can’t figure this out, perhaps they should confine their civic passions to complaining about pot holes.

    Third, compare what the scientists say with what the, um, “critics” say. You don’t have to spend too much time on this to see that the denialists weight their arguments with rhetoric while credible scientists pretty much stick to the science. This isn’t necessarily true in all areas of study, but it pretty much holds true for things like climate and evolution. If you can’t recognize rhetorical tricks or sort any of this out, go back to square one and educate yourself on rhetoric.

    Fourth, your best available option is to go with the science. No, scientists aren’t perfect or always right, they simply present you with the best known options at any given point in time. If you don’t have the sand to accept the situation and take a stand, at least have the courtesy to stay out of the way.

    I don’t see that there’s anything extraordinary about any of this. It’s only a problem because the world is full of distracting jack asses. Don’t let the jack asses win.

    Which is not to say that there shouldn’t be a compelling narrative to help people bridge the noise and logical gaps. A digestable interpretation is certainly one difficulty; getting it out is increasingly another.

  20. 20
  21. 21
    ozajh says:

    Ray Ladbury,

    “If someone doesn’t believe in greenhouse warming, they have to advance an alternative explanation of that incontrovertible fact.”

    They only have to produce this alternative to convince YOU. They don’t necessarily have to do anything to convince themselves. That’s what belief (and hence disbelief) MEANS.

  22. 22
    Mike Flynn says:

    Ray Ladbury,

    I’ll probably get sent to the borehole – but –

    Alternative explanation for the Earth’s surface temperature – started off at several thousand deg C (or Kelvins if you like).

    Cooled. Passed through 500K.
    Cooled. Passed through 400K.
    Cooled. Got to where it is now, whatever that is.

    Moon is smaller. Greater surface mass ratio. Cooled faster – all else being equal. We don’t know the initial temperatures of the Sun, the Earth, or the Moon. We don’t know how long they have been cooling, or at what rate.

    And you know that the Earth’s surface temperature (when you probably can’t even come with a definition of surface that stands up to scrutiny) is “higher than it should be” precisely how?

    No offence intended, but you did ask the question. Is my suggestion based on reality and physics or not?

    Live well and prosper.

    Mike Flynn.

  23. 23
    adeady says:

    “And,that this tribal anchoring with all its brotherhood and sisterhood aspects is redolent with the bandwagon effect ….”

    … but this is always spiced up or leavened, luckily, by the smart aleck effect. Most commonly among younger folks who really don’t have much knowledge, let alone tact or finesse, to back up their various challenges to family, classroom or community presumptions. Unfortunately, a few of them never give up this approach and eventually become graceless, cantankerous and/or arrogant superiority complex exemplars in what should be their mature years.

    We just need to harness the impulse to question and cultivate the capacity to judge who is and who is not trustworthy in technical matters.

    I do get a bit fed up with all these people who have the same lack of expertise as I do insisting that they must personally be able to replicate every observation and understand every equation in every paper from every nook and cranny of every scientific discipline involved in climate. Even the best scientists from some disciplines have to take a great deal on ‘trust’ from experts in other disciplines. They do have the nous to follow when explanations are given, but generally display a lot more circumspection, or just plain manners, when asking for further explication than the blowhards who still struggle with reading a map showing ice retreat.

  24. 24
    Rattus Norvegicus says:


    2001: A Space Odyssey was release in early 1968. Apollo 8 flew at Christmas 1968. Do the math.

  25. 25
    t marvell says:

    Aready (23), Havers (19) – That people should believe the experts: You’re talking about an ideal world. It does not necessarily work in practice, and very likely it is not enough to get people and politicians to act to control climate warming. Climate scientists should be able to deal with the “show me” types. They should provide information about changes that are clear-cut, obvious to ordinary people, and relevant to their every-day lives.

  26. 26
    Lady in Red says:

    Am I still banned…. straight to the borehole…?

    If not, I would say I find these comments sincere, interesting, but I’d say:

    Look beyond RealClimate. Think. Parse information. Refuse to accept party line. Mostly, think and explore.

    Science will win. ….Lady in Red

  27. 27

    #14, 15–Fair enough, but most of what goes ain’t that subtle: modeling is good when it shows less sensitivity to GHGs, but bad when it shows more; the earth is warming at the same rate as Mars, except that it isn’t, because it’s all UHI; mitigation is bad because it will impoverish the poor nations, and because it’s really a disguised form of foreign aid which enables poor nations to plunder rich ones. You know the sort of thing–thermodynamics it most assuredly isn’t.

    IMO, a great many people are quite capable of assessing this, but perhaps some of them need a little reassurance up front that they may not need to understand the 2nd law in depth to spot humbug. And I think it’s important that as many people as possible figure out for themselves what they can–answers are much more compelling when you have had a hand in working them out. As suggested above, then you ‘know you know.’

  28. 28

    #22–“Is my suggestion based on reality and physics or not?”


  29. 29
    Jim Eager says:

    Mike Flynn wrote: “And you know that the Earth’s surface temperature (when you probably can’t even come with a definition of surface that stands up to scrutiny) is “higher than it should be” precisely how?”

    Basic physics, i.e. consider solar output, earth’s distance from the sun, earth’s cross sectional area presented to the sun, earth’s albedo. Do the maths, sweetie. Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier first did them in the 1820s.

  30. 30
    Mickey Reno says:

    The Titanic analogy is appropriate, I think. It was a well-crafted, but still imperfect transportation engine, a technical marvel, built to wow the rich and poor alike, brand new, on it’s maiden voyage, the center of the world’s media attention.

    But she hit’s an iceberg and sinks in two hours, and 2/3s of her compliment dies in the freezing water because of a perfect storm of critical but unseen flaws: running too fast for the conditions (calm seas are bad for spotting ice at night), the rudder was too small, the boat was designed to take damage, but not in 5 adjacent compartments, and then there aren’t enough lifeboats when it’s clear she would sink. All making the hubris of the “unsinkable” consensus even more poignantly tragic. 97% of shipbuilders and passengers who said she was unsinkable were wrong.

    A little less hubris, and a bit more humility MIGHT have allowed her to make a safe crossing.

  31. 31
    Mark A. York says:

    Mike Flynn: We suspend all scientific knowledge now in lieu of your epiphany. No further explanation is necessary.

  32. 32
    owl905 says:

    The title held hope of seeing respect for the latest science, but instead it went classic Titanic myths. Ballard’s recent documentary, “Titanic 100” laid it out – the ship was one sturdy, tough, construction. It stayed level, lasted over an hour longer than the builder’s estimate, and all the theories of flaws and human errors were explored and rejected. The real disaster was the Californian not heeding all the signals Titanic sent.

    And that parallel comes a lot closer to whistling past the graveyard than glass jaws that weren’t, and insufficient lifeboats when most sinkers list and roll.

  33. 33
    Radge Havers says:

    t marvell @ 25

    “Show me” types are a different issue. @19 was not directed at you, nor was it about what it will take to get action (other than to obliquely reference narrative and certain systemic issues). It was about how relatively casual observers who are feeling lost might penetrate the noise — assuming they are willing. Not everybody who cares about climate change is necessarily interested in becoming a climate wonk.

    However since you raise the issue, I’m willing to entertain the notion that information “obvious to ordinary people” (whatever that means) may be hard to come by. I have no doubt that there are areas where communications can be improved.

    But if you are suggesting that tailoring information for some “show me” types will somehow serve to galvanize action, that reflects an idealized view of the world which ignores how systemically disfunctional politics has become. For one thing, CC is only a small part of that whole morass. For another, those types are not likely to be satisfied with simple pre-digested information. It probably also overestimates the number of “ordinary” people who are interested in becoming amateur climatologists.

    Moreover, while many “show me” types are sincere and wholly admirable (and should be very grateful for a place like Real Climate!), I’ve noticed a significant fraction who are just time wasting cranks and involuted knobs. For them there’s a perfectly good place. It’s called The Bore Hole.

  34. 34
    MARodger says:

    So sad. Now is obvious hard times for denialist bloggers with cherry-picked areas of high Arctic Sea Ice melting away before you can tap out a post on it (NSIDC show 1m sq km extent lost in a week), & with RSS showing temperatures rising higher than will be easy for Roy Spencer to explain.
    So what do you do? Of course. You turn to RealClimate for some jovial inspiration.

  35. 35
    Jim Eager says:

    “It stayed level, lasted over an hour longer than the builder’s estimate”

    Thanks not to the ship’s design, but to the ingenuity and sacrifice of the ships engineering staff, all of whom perished.

  36. 36
    Dan H. says:

    Yes, the Californian did not heed the Titanic’s distress messages. However, the Titanic did not heed the Californian’s ice warnings either.

  37. 37
    Donna says:

    My quick read may have missed understood but I think that the dismissal of the emotional events required to get people to change their minds on charged topics is a mistake, I strongly suspect that people’s need for an emotional driver to change opinion is very real. In some ways I suspect looking at why people’s minds in the US changed about the Vietnam War might be more illustrative of the “why’s” for why opinions change and do not change.
    I suspect you have to have a build up of facts that don’t match what people want to believe (why they don’t have to change their minds) and then one or more emotionally charged events that finally let the facts that don’t fit the old model to come through.
    And it likely depends on how much you are emotionally invested in the old to determine how much evidence and how much of an emotional event it will take to get your mind to change.
    Heartland etc have to keep churning out their info because they have to keep a narritive to bury the facts and to try to keep any event from having the emotional impact. Real Climate has to keep putting the evidence out there so that as events occur there is a weight of evidence to help people change their minds. Unfortunately I have no doubt that nature will provide far too many of the emotionally laden events that will provide the final push. Just like now I suspect you will find few people willing to admit that they were ones who thought cigarettes did not cause cancer, there will be a point when people will be claiming that they knew climate chage was real and had significant risks all along no matter what their behavior is now.

  38. 38
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Mike Flynn,
    Earth has been here rougly 4.5 billion years. We know a body at temperature T loses energy via radiation according to the Planck and Stefan-Boltzmann Laws. We can also measure the energy coming up from the core and mantle. It is negligible compared to the energy received from the Sun–and Solar energy received would put us 33 degrees cooler than we are.

    Sorry, Mike, your alternate theory isn’t reality based.

  39. 39
    Ray Ladbury says:

    ozajh@21, OK, to maintain any sort of credibility and to avoid joining the tin-foil-hat brigade, they must advance an alternative explanation.

  40. 40
    Susan Anderson says:

    Dan H.

    The New Yorker says this about the Californian along with their usual well written and thoroughly researched treatment:

    The other was the Californian, a small steamer that had stopped about ten miles from the Titanic—unlike the doomed ship, it had heeded the ice warnings—and sat there all through that terrible night, disregarding the Titanic’s frantic signalling, by wireless, Morse lamp, and, finally, rockets. Not all of this was as inexplicable as it seems: the Californian didn’t have a nighttime wireless operator. (All passenger ships were subsequently required by law to have round-the-clock wireless.) But no one has ever sufficiently explained why the Californian’s captain, officers, and crew failed to respond to what seemed like obvious signs of distress. The second officer merely thought it strange that a ship would be firing rockets at night. If Lord had been given to large interpretations, he might have seen in the one ship a symbol of the urgent force of human striving and, in the other, the immovable resistance of sheer stupidity.

    It’s interesting you heed this on the Titanic but are carefully armed against the truth about global warming, which with the doubting and delaying efforts of people like you is in the process of becoming a much bigger disaster.

  41. 41
    Dan H. says:

    I am not “armed against the truth about global warming,” but rather searching for the truth. On one side are those who claim that CO2 has little to do with the observed warming. On the other are those who maintain, that the full effects of CO2 have not materialized, and more warming is “in the pipeline.” Ironically, those of us who feel that CO2 has contributed to the recent warming and the full effects have already been felt, are branded as both alarmists and deniers. The difference between the global warming and the Titanic would be akin to the Californian radioing that we predict that we will be surrounded by ice if we continue, instead of we are surrounded.

  42. 42
    Chris G says:

    Well, I took Mike Flynn’s model as an example of something that is internally consistent, loosely based on physical laws, and having nothing to do with the real world.

    Ray (#15),
    Agreed, on all points. But, there are great masses of people, (some of them very intelligent, just not very educated), who for whatever reason, do not know how to assess scientific work. I mean, there are smart people in the general population who believe in radiant cold. You can try to explain that there is no such thing, what they are feeling is a lack of radiant heat (and hence an imbalance between their body and that block of ice, or whatever), but they can “feel” the cold, and it is a struggle to convince them. It is this “illiterate” majority that need to be convinced, and this article is discussing what it takes to convince them.

    On an emotional level, faced with a choice, people tend to trust people like themselves more than people they perceive as being different. And there is this stereotype, deserved or not, that scientists are a bit different. If people were more rational, this emotional response would matter less, but by and large, people are feeling creatures that think, not thinking creatures that feel.

  43. 43
    dhogaza says:

    Dan H:

    I am not “armed against the truth about global warming,” but rather searching for the truth.

    This is how you explain your repetitive and boring dishonesty? You’re lying in order to find the truth?

  44. 44
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dan H. “I am not “armed against the truth about global warming,” but rather searching for the truth.”

    Bwaaaahaaaahaaaaa. Oh, stop it Dan! Yer killin’ me! Thanks for the laugh.

    Dude, why not read what the scientists have to say?

  45. 45
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Chris G.,
    Hmm, when I read phrases like :

    “…do not know how to assess scientific work”


    “On an emotional level, faced with a choice, people tend to trust people like themselves more than people they perceive as being different.”

    I tend to say to myself, “I think I see your problem.”

    The latter is a classic example of the ad hominem fallacy–refusing to find a speaker credible because of some class he belongs to or some characteristic he possesses. The identity of the speaker is irrelevant to the truth of what he is saying.

    Of course scientists are different. Ferchrissake, pillowtalk for my wife and I includes puns about statistics! We do integrals for fun–just because they’re challenging. That is irrelevant.

    In my mind, perhaps the greatest value of science is that it gives us a way of assessing truth or falsehood that rises above the “emotional level”. Scientific arguments may be passionate, sometimes even angry. However, ultimately it is evidence and explanatory and predictive power that decide the argument–and whether I win or lose, I am obligated to abide by the decision of the evidence. [EDIT: out of line] because ultimately, if we are to stay scientists, we are going to wind up on the same side. When you depart from evidence-based debate; when the facts cease to matter, ultimate agreement cannot be taken for granted. That is why debates between science and antiscience (climate, evolution, vaccination…) always become nasty.

    That is what science offers. If the majority of humans are too stupid or stubborn to realize its value, then the species is probably to stupid or stubborn to survive in the long term.

    [Response:This stuff is really verging on out of line, and it most certainly is pretty disgusting.–Jim]

  46. 46
    Ric Merritt says:

    I usually skim past Dan H and the numerous replies, so sorry if I missed something, but in this case the point might actually provide some illumination.

    Dan, you actually think that the full effects of CO2 have already been felt?? So, the ocean can’t and doesn’t store much heat energy? Seems less reasonable than usual, even for, um, whatever it is you are trying to be.

    Not to mention, it ignores the future of the Keeling curve, which to date shows no signs of significant bending in the direction of concave down.

  47. 47
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jim, I apologize for any offense given. I’m not even sure what I said that was offensive.

  48. 48

    Susan, the real analysis about Titanic demise is known but not thoroughly completed, I think it incorporates many aspects of human behavior, of which the biggest one is overconfidence; the unsinkable sank, the highly experienced wise Captain was reckless, as presented on NOVA a great educational program which always trumps the New Yorker when it comes to science. The Californian Captain Lord was made the devil, while the devil was really in the details… I am sure NOVA will take on the case of Captain Lord one day. While I must add, you don’t plow a ship full steam in a field of icebergs, Titanic Captain while entertaining the power brokers contradicted the basic tenets of shipping of that day:

    I strongly recommend listening to RMS Titanic commander Lightoller on BBC

    It was known that you don’t go fast in an iceberg zone, yet they did. We also know that we shouldn’t
    add too much CO2 to the atmosphere, but we do, the First class planet Earth passengers, those with money and power always have the captains ear, but they don’t want to slow down, burn less coal and start using sails, wind power. Rasmus analogy is quite good.

    More on this in a while

  49. 49
    Ike Solem says:

    The Titanic analogy that fits here is that by the time they’d spotted the ice and thrown the rudder over, the ship’s momentum was such that they hit the ice anyway, which is the obvious outcome for the next century. Where this analogy fails is that hitting the ice is a single event, whereas the rapidly changing climate will continue to pummel human civilization until the atmospheric composition stabilizes a new equilibrium state is reached. (This is the transient climate change we’re experiencing now).

    What’s the long-term position going to be? Maximal Holocene warmth, no matter what we do, and mid-Pliocene outcomes are probably more realistic, with a 25 meter sea level rise and a 3C increase in global average temps. Even an immediate elimination of all fossil fuel emissions would have little effect on the long-term outcome (due to permafrost feedbacks, etc.), although it might have a major effect on the next century’s warming rate, relative to business-as-usual (which is exceeding the IPCC’s most pessimistic future scenarios).

    However, if you want a marine or shipping disaster to compare to global warming, try the Exxon Valdez or BP Macondo events. In both cases we have massive spills brought on by negligence and corporate greed, i.e. the desire to maximize profits by cutting production costs and stimulating demand. A very small number of extremely wealthy people benefit inordinately from such efforts, and as long as the cost of fines is less than the profits resulting from such methods, they’ll continue, as per the shareholder’s wishes. Similar ‘economic necessity’ arguments are what kept the plantation system of slavery alive in the United States for 100 years – it took a civil war to end it.

    Today, global oil shipping and deepwater drilling continues as before – no real changes have taken place, despite the massive scale of the disasters. How did the fossil fuel corporations accomplish this? Via the manipulation of public opinion, which practically means buying those politicians and academics and public relations outfits and media figures that sing the right song. This effort ranges across ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ media platforms.

    Public opinion is shaped by what people see and read – and most of that information passes through a corporate media filter, with the modern exception of the Internet. Anyone bothering to look up the ownership of major media conglomerates in the U.S. as well as the ownership of the major fossil fuel conglomerates (see yahoo finace, XOM, DIS, CVX, TWX, COP, etc.) will note that most large banks and funds are as heavily invested in corporate media as they are in fossil fuels, with fossil fuels being far more lucrative (see recent record profits).

    Now, do an economic analysis of the effect of a complete switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy in, say, California. All that cash that used to flow to gasoline sales, diesel sales, jet fuel sales, coal-fired electricity sales – eliminated. This is a lot of money – once distributed to Wall Street, third world dictators, shareholders, retirement fund beneficiaries, pension plans, baby boomer retirement packages… all gone. Bye-bye.

    Oh, yes, renewable energy technology is at a state of development where this is eminently possible, no doubts there:

    The result of this economic cartelization – a media system controlled by fossil fuel interests – is that public opinion is easily manipulated, and as long as the public believes what the propaganda tells them to believe, and are incapable of evaluating the arguments for themselves, that will continue. As the Heartland documents show, this effort also extends into schools – brainwash ’em young, they might be yours for life? Truly a disgusting level of cynicism from Heartland and its sponsors.

  50. 50
    t marvell says:

    Havers (33 I agree with almost everything you say. But you seem to be defeatist. At present the notion of “trust the scientists,” is not getting anywhere in the face of the energy interests and the conservative politicians. Global warming is pretty much off the radar in Washington. The issue now is what to do about that situation. The entrenched anti-global warming forces will not disappear on their own.
    I like to draw an analogy to the medical experts, smoking and cancer. The experts all agreeded that smoking caused cancer, but they faced a powerful adversaries in the Tobacco industry. Eventually the experts won, by providing information about the connection that anybody could see. The “show me” types were persuaded.
    To me, human-caused global warming is pretty obvious. But I get nowhere talking to my conservative friends who are skeptics, but otherwise intelligent. (From my experience, practical scientists such as engineers are particularly skeptical. I hear that meterologists tend to be skeptical.)
    I’m politicaly liberal. I think the underlying issue is that conservatives are skeptical of any attempt at more government control. That population is large, and it can probably block any action against global warming without much more evidence that it is a problem – again, evidence that anyone can see.