Climate credibility fail

datePosted on 07:30, January 19th, 2010 by Lew

fail

I’ve remained largely silent on the so-called ClimateGate thus far, mostly out of an abject lack of expertise to judge the whys and wherefores of it all. It’s science, I’m not a scientist. But given Poneke’s magnum opus on the topic, the likelihood of an IPCC Himalayan glacier retraction and a NZ Herald survey which found that New Zealanders harbour deep doubts about anthropogenic climate change, I thought it apposite to repost something I wrote the other day at the bottom of a very long (but interesting) thread (somewhat edited). It’s something I’ve argued many times in other contexts.*

Climate change is often couched as an important problem of the sort which democracies fail to address — along with things like the global credit crisis, and fascism. But the failure is not with democracy itself, but with the calibre of certain actors within it. Climate change is an issue which should have been hit out of the park by any political movement with any competence, because the magnitude of the stakes and the weight of both reasoned evidence and benign symbolic matter which it embodies yield raw material for the most profound and powerful sorts of political campaigns — the sort which fundamentally change peoples’ beliefs and allegiances and which, if properly conducted, can grant a political movement incredible license to implement far-reaching policy of the sort which reforms society at its most basic levels. The Great Depression was just such an event for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Michael Joseph Savage. The miners strike was for Margaret Thatcher. September 11 was for George W Bush. And so on.

And yet, the skeptics are winning the battle of ideas around climate change. The failure to convince the electorates of the free world of the need for urgent climate change policy, a matter of the most critical and immediate importance backed by the best science available, reflects an utter failure on the part of political and scientific elites whose most important job it is to provide such leadership. The political and scientific establishment has squandered a phenomenal opportunity, with the exception of Al Gore, who with An Inconvenient Truth did more to progress the cause of gaining electorate buy-in to the topic than everyone else has done since. They are struggling and failing, not only to implement reforms of the magnitude which are required, but even to maintain the credibility of the scientific establishment.

Some [including Ag, to whom this was originally addressed] argue that it was always impossible to sell climate change to the electorate due to the vested interests amassed against it, cognitive biases, lack of expertise, plain ignorance, etc. Those are important factors, but other factors are more important and more controllable to boot — after all, people in a liberal society can only really control their own actions, and must be prepared to defend their positions against others.

The scientific establishment failed by allowing a tiny minority of skeptics and raving moonbats and vested interests to frame their establishment as a corrupt back-slapping club funded by grant money; by evading and prevaricating and playing dirty when legitimately challenged on important matters of fact and procedure; most recently by covering up emails and giving the conspiracy theorists grist for their mills. In defending their failures, they blame the heterodox minority, the vested interests, the rapturists and the conspiracy theorists.

Politicians have failed mainly by couching their arguments in favour of urgent climate change policy in terms of hard facts and economic figures, assuming that people could connect the dots themselves rather than spelling it out in terms they could understand at a visceral or intuitive level as well as when they whip out their utility calculators. The politicians blame the same people as the scientists, ignoring the fact that a generation of failure on their part to adequately contest the battle of ideas and to safeguard the political process against the influence of vested interests has allowed such lobbyists to become entrenched.

Part of this is systemic — there are problems with the scientific peer review system which politicians can’t understand; there are ruthless and well-resourced lobbyists with vested interests which have been permitted to entrench themselves in democratic political systems. But none of that is any excuse. They should have been able to drive it home anyway, given the raw material at their disposal. This is not a failing of democracy, but a failing of certain actors within the democratic system: particularly, those who believe so deeply that they are right, so they need not prove their case. People who think that inherent truth of the position will simply shine through. If their position was that strong, then it should have been easy, right? This ignores a fundamental reality of a free society: that people are free to be wrong, and must be brought about by reason and persuasion or not at all. I think it is that strong, and should have been easy.

The world is going to pay for the failure of climate scientists to adequately protect their credibility, and for the failure of politicians and policymakers to adequately sell the most politically saleable concept of the past generation — that the planet is going to get inhospitable if we continue to pollute it, and we don’t have a fallback position — and it’s infuriating that those responsible for this failure want nothing more than to shift blame for their own incompetence.

L

* It should be clear, but nevertheless: I’m not arguing that AGW isn’t real; in fact, the opposite: I am arguing that the problem is real but that the credibility of much of the evidence and the policy agenda is critically undermined. I don’t really buy Poneke’s conclusions drawn from his analysis of the emails, although I do accept that they demonstrate severe systemic and credibility failures which call a lot of the evidence into question. But in order to believe that it’s all a hoax, you have to believe in a scientific conspiracy of unprecedented scale, with no credible payoff. I just don’t see it.

42 Responses to “Climate credibility fail”

  1. Keir on January 19th, 2010 at 12:28

    But hang on. Take evolution. Evolution is possibly the best theory in existence today anywhere in the sciences, in terms of elegance, explanatory power, and support from evidence. But a scary large number people don’t believe in it.

    Is there anything more biologists ought have done? No. Is there anything more they can do? No.

    And the resistance to climate change is very much like the resistance to evolution, crossed with the resistance to the tobacco-cancer links. So why is the best place to start looking at this the climatologists? Surely to goodness the issue here is that there’s a very powerful well-funded lobby that doesn’t like climate change, and is willing to lie and so forth in order to discredit it. And that people like poneke don’t have the chops to realise that the `trick to hide the decline’ line is if not utterly perfect, entirely a normal thing for scientists to say in private conversation.

    Academic politics is bitchy and petty! Film at, as they say, 11. Seriously, the only thing dodgy I see is the bit about the journal, and if they think the journal’s shonky then they are doing the right thing.

    (Poneke also doesn’t understand the notion of a proxy as far as I can tell, given that there’s a naive and a sophisticated critique of the tree-ring discrepancy issue and he’s going for the naive one every time. And he takes quotes very much out of context.)

  2. Ag on January 19th, 2010 at 13:01

    Keir is right. Evolution is surely one of the best supported scientific theories, and probably the best, as Keir said.

    I’d add that many people do not trust either scientists or politicians. I’ve said before that the conspiracy theory is the distinguishing mark of our culture. How often do we see the dramatic device of the experts being overturned by someone’s “gut feeling” or being exposed as a cabal intent on evil? It’s the most overused theme in film and television, and everyone is familiar with it.

    People think that medical consensus is a conspiracy. People think that the mental health profession is a conspiracy. People think that the US government was responsible for 9/11 or that they have captive UFOs and spacemen locked up under the Nevada desert. Religion, the ultimate conspiracy theory, still rules the lives of most of the earth’s population.

    What more could Al Gore have done?

  3. What would Hayek say on January 19th, 2010 at 14:26

    What more could Al Gore have done?

    A lot – lets use the mitigate, minimise and move on frame work.

    Gore first could have mitigated and minimised negative fall out for An Inconvienient Truth through better fact checking to avoid basic errors being picked up. That removes fuel from the debate. This wasn’t done, therefore oxygen was provided to the debate.

    Gore could have moved the debate on – so far An Inconvienent Truth is a 2006 one hit wonder. Its now 2010 and there has been no follow up.

    So the question becomes why no follow up? A possible answer is that it was easy to shout ‘the sky is falling” which makes for a great emotional kick (see Lew’s earlier post on John Key) but it then lacked feasible solution sets that the public could by into. So there was only one half of the political story provided. The rest of the world has had to try and fill in the blanks.

    I’m willing to suggest that the failure of large parts of the left/green movement to move on from a socialist/marxist economic toolkit has robbed the left/green movement from being able to propose to the public feasible political/economic solutions (no slur intended to Pablo I find his use of class analysis to provide an useful framework for considering political change/issues within a society at the aggregate level).

    To say that democracy has failed is a cop out to problems co-ordination. There are many mechanism’s to resolve co-ordination problems but see above comment about failure to provide to the public feasible/economic solutions.

    AGW is so far a political story of either hype and no substance, or substance but no hype. Both are needed for the public sell. For the Elite to say the equivalent of “the peasants are revoluting” and therefore paternalism is justified, is to massive underestimate the public and for the elite to set themselves on a collison course with the public. Pablo might be able to provide some examples of classes between the elite and the public.

  4. Ag on January 19th, 2010 at 14:36

    Gore first could have mitigated and minimised negative fall out for An Inconvienient Truth through better fact checking to avoid basic errors being picked up. That removes fuel from the debate. This wasn’t done, therefore oxygen was provided to the debate.

    You’ve never lived in the US, right? Do you have any idea how Al Gore gets treated by the news media?

  5. Ag on January 19th, 2010 at 14:44

    Climate change is often couched as an important problem of the sort which democracies fail to address — along with things like the global credit crisis, and fascism.

    Will you change your mind about the credit crisis and fascism if Coakley gets beat tomorrow in MA?

  6. What would Hayek say on January 19th, 2010 at 15:11

    You’ve never lived in the US, right? Do you have any idea how Al Gore gets treated by the news media?

    The US does have a black president these days – who would have thought it 40 years ago.

    Don’t blame the tools – use them more effectively.

  7. George D on January 19th, 2010 at 16:00

    The comparison with evolution is apt. There is a “gish gallop”" going on, where climate change deniers put up the same debunked arguments, over and over and over and over again. They are helped by a media that can only be described as willfully stupid, more interested in controversy than accuracy.

    The green movement has lost control of the issue, and did so in about 2005. Ironically, I believe that Al Gore was partly responsible for taking the debate about action on climate change into a place where it could be coopted by elite interests. The major green groups have also done a poor job of directing the terms of debate on the issue, allowing it to be framed by an incompetent media. It is not until the impacts start to have significant meaning in the lives of the mass population will the climate change issue return in some way towards popular control. I don’t predict this will happen within the next ten years.

  8. George D on January 19th, 2010 at 16:03

    The scientific establishment failed by… evading and prevaricating and playing dirty when legitimately challenged on important matters of fact and procedure; most recently by covering up emails and giving the conspiracy theorists grist for their mills.

    They did no such things.

    You have unwittingly bought into the discourse that is willfully smearing honest scientists.

  9. Psycho Milt on January 19th, 2010 at 16:48

    The Great Depression was just such an event for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Michael Joseph Savage. The miners strike was for Margaret Thatcher. September 11 was for George W Bush. And so on.

    AGW is, however, not at all such an event. In the cases you mention, the depression wasn’t something that the citizenry had to take Roosevelt’s or Savage’s word for, they were busy experiencing its consequences; likewise with the miners’ strike and 9/11. AGW is something that people have to just take their leaders’ words for, and few of us actually trust our leaders.

    And from those leaders’ points of view, a sales pitch that consists of “Yeah, I’m going to have put a severe drag on the economy and hit you with a lot more taxes for no reason that’s actually evident to you, but trust me it’s really important that I do,” is pretty much a suicide note. In what sense is it surprising that none has seriously wanted to take that to the voters?

  10. George D on January 19th, 2010 at 17:04

    AGW is, however, not at all such an event. In the cases you mention, the depression wasn’t something that the citizenry had to take Roosevelt’s or Savage’s word for, they were busy experiencing its consequences; likewise with the miners’ strike and 9/11. AGW is something that people have to just take their leaders’ words for, and few of us actually trust our leaders.

    In Australia, the long drought put such a focus on people’s minds. As the drought has eased and the perceived-expected effects of climate change don’t appear all that quickly, the urgency diminishes.

  11. Andrew W on January 19th, 2010 at 18:00

    My biggest criticism is that the lay public have, for half a decade now, been given an impression of an immediacy to the effects of AGW, and now, with no disasters that can with any certainty be attributed to AGW, many people are not surprisingly getting tired of the fuss and are starting to feel that it must all be BS.

    Apart from that I’m with Keir, Milt, George and Ag on this one.

    You can expect scientists to make human mistakes because they’re human, and you can expect people to use their instincts to weigh the importance of a distant possible threat against a certain and immediate cost.

    Also, you can’t realistically expect politicians to implement policies that they believe will get them kicked out of office.

  12. Lew on January 19th, 2010 at 19:45

    What an interesting set of responses. Who would have thought people were so wedded to the idea of a near-infallible political and scientific establishment? I’m not trying to score partisan points here, folks, I’m trying to build a better political culture.

    Responses in turn.

    Keir,

    Take evolution. Evolution is possibly the best theory in existence today anywhere in the sciences, in terms of elegance, explanatory power, and support from evidence. But a scary large number people don’t believe in it.

    I completely agree about evolution’s status as the preeminent bit o’ theory of our times. My wife is contemplating a PhD on evolutionary aspects of cultural practice. But the thing is that evolution is a bit o’ theory which doesn’t require much of ordinary folks in their day to day existence. The only important bit of relevant policy is in teaching it which, while not unchallenged, remains fairly predominant.

    Academic politics is bitchy and petty! Film at, as they say, 11. Seriously, the only thing dodgy I see is the bit about the journal, and if they think the journal’s shonky then they are doing the right thing.

    I think this goes beyond bitchy and petty. People have lost their jobs and careers over it. When the bitchiness and pettiness calls the credibility of the science into question, it’s time for something to give.

    Ag,

    What more could Al Gore have done?

    I think Al Gore did plenty. AIT was imperfect and somewhat vulnerable, but generally pretty sound, and it got the tone right. It provided an unprecedented headstart to anyone who wanted to take up the baton and run with it. Nobody did. Except Dennis Kucinich, and he did more to marginalise the position than to further it.

    Will you change your mind about the credit crisis and fascism if Coakley gets beat tomorrow in MA?

    Absolutely not; she’s one reasonably liberal candidate against another reasonably liberal candidate, and the things I’m talking about don’t rest on a single election.

    For another thing, I made no pronouncements about the ability or otherwise of democracies to solve either of those problems; but now that you mention it, robust and constitutionally sound postwar democracies have a stellar record on preventing the rise of fascism, and of rolling back its early incursions. As to the GCC, this was a function of capitalism more than democracy. I don’t accept your syllogism that the latter can be blamed for the failings of the former.

    WWHS,

    You’re right that this was intended to be read with the prior post in mind. The inability to recognise, contextualise and prosecute this opportunity largely stems from a lack of nerve and political intelligence on the part of the US Democratic party. For the NZ context, substitute both the Labour and Green parties; although the latter came closer, they were too heavy on the vinegar and too stingy on the honey to catch many flies. But fundamentally, the whole world was watching to see what the USA would do.

    George,

    You have unwittingly bought into the discourse that is willfully smearing honest scientists.

    There’s nothing unwitting about it. I have no specialist or inside knowledge, but I have read a very large amount indeed of what is in the public domain about this topic, and while Poneke’s read is very much overblown, I think there’s a nugget of truth to it. As I said to Keir in the other thread: when it comes to something this important, the scientific establishment’s first job is to be above reproach, and they failed at that job. By failing, they jeopardised what might be this generation’s most compelling responsibility.

    Milt,

    AGW is, however, not at all such an event. In the cases you mention, the depression wasn’t something that the citizenry had to take Roosevelt’s or Savage’s word for, they were busy experiencing its consequences; likewise with the miners’ strike and 9/11. AGW is something that people have to just take their leaders’ words for, and few of us actually trust our leaders.

    This is a fair criticism for what it’s worth, but the point wasn’t really about the similarities or differences between the examples — after all, 9/11 was very different from the miner’s strike was very different from the depression. The point is that, for a given situation, there is a certain amount of raw material from which to build a political narrative. Some situations are comparatively weak. Others are stronger. This is largely independent of their specific characteristics. There are lots of issues on which we just have to trust our leaders. Leadership is about gaining trust — and if scientists had dotted their eyes and crossed their tees and politicians hadn’t been so obsessed with solving a tragedy of the commons using orthodox economic policy, material bottom lines and individual self-interest then it might have happened.

    Andrew,

    My biggest criticism is that the lay public have, for half a decade now, been given an impression of an immediacy to the effects of AGW, and now, with no disasters that can with any certainty be attributed to AGW, many people are not surprisingly getting tired of the fuss and are starting to feel that it must all be BS.

    I agree with this, though with George’s caveat above about Australia.

    You can expect scientists to make human mistakes because they’re human, and you can expect people to use their instincts to weigh the importance of a distant possible threat against a certain and immediate cost.

    Two things. I’m not talking about ‘mistakes’, I’m talking about massive incompetence. Mainly a gross misunderestimation of how important the topic was, how closely it would be audited, and the need to keep everything squeaky-clean. Because a bigger strategic problem with climate change, and one I’m beginning to see more strongly in my research, is flagging trust in science — ALL science, not just climate science. If humanity gets into the habit of only believing in science when it’s materially convenient to do so, we are all doomed.

    Second, the main damned problem at a level of political communication was with trying to win the contest for environmental ideas using a predominantly economic and individual-material frame of reference. Works like the Stern Report are important, but they should be backup for a campaign which makes people feel in their guts that things need to change. They are not enough on their own. You can’t win this sort of fight on economic grounds, because the opposition — the polluters, vested interests and their political allies, etc — hold all the cards and control all the terminology.

    L

  13. Phil Sage on January 19th, 2010 at 20:08

    misunderestimation .

    Glad to see the bushism has entered your non ironic vocabulary lew

  14. Lew on January 19th, 2010 at 20:17

    It’s a wonderful word, meaning to misunderstand and underestimate. No other word in the English language quite captures the right degree of failure.

    L

  15. Phil Sage on January 19th, 2010 at 20:39

    ;) Who knew, really who knew that Bush had the intellectual greatness of Dr Johnson to identify and fill gaps in the English language.

  16. Ag on January 19th, 2010 at 21:03

    AGW is, however, not at all such an event. In the cases you mention, the depression wasn’t something that the citizenry had to take Roosevelt’s or Savage’s word for, they were busy experiencing its consequences; likewise with the miners’ strike and 9/11. AGW is something that people have to just take their leaders’ words for, and few of us actually trust our leaders.

    This is one reason why I tend to oppose all government secrecy. I’d personally be willing to take the risk of not having an SIS and having a very very high threshold on confidential government information in order to re-establish trust with the electorate.

    Perhaps people will look back in 100 years time at the Church Committee and wonder if that’s where things started to go awry.

  17. Scott on January 19th, 2010 at 21:06

    There are many reasons why so many people continue to deny the existence of AGW. And I don’t think all the blame for this should be laid at the feet of the scientific community.

    One reason is because the news media often tries to present both sides of a controversy, in the interests of “balance”. Unfortunately, in doing so they create the impression that there is genuine debate as to whether AGW exists. In fact, there isn’t. To believe otherwise is to label the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists as either fools or corrupt.

    Secondly, most scientists are no match for some of the vested interests who are intent on derailing progress on combatting AGW. These are people who have lobbyists at the highest levels, and who will spend hugely to protect their positions. We all know how little money the scientific community has to play with.

    Thirdly, AGW is all bad news. To combat it requires massive expenditure and a complete change in the way we operate our economies. AGW denialism is just like any other denialism. When a problem is too huge to contemplate, sometimes it’s easier just to close your eyes and hope it all goes away.

  18. Bruce Hamilton on January 19th, 2010 at 21:42

    In my world, a better comparison could be with the phaseout of ozone-depleting chemicals in the developed world.

    In the 1980s, the CFC industry was powerful, yet the transition was accomplished without thousands of scientists and associated parasites travelling globally to various meetings every few years.

    A little history ( from memory – so errors probable )… The father of the Gaia hypothesis ( James Lovelock ) invented the instrument that confirmed man-made CFCs were pervasive and persistent in the atmosphere. Others ( Rowland, Molina ) showed that the ozone layer was at risk from CFCs ascenting into the stratosphere, and British Antartic Survey discovered the ozone hole – The USA missed the ozone hole because they programmed their satellite data analysis to exclude all low results as erroneous.

    THe USA scientists found the hole when the data analysis was subsequently reworked to confirm the BAS ground-based data. The science was no more robust that climate science is today, and there were respected vociferous opponents, just as there are in climate science, eg Richard Lindzen.

    Some may remember the claims that the Ozone layer is responsible for terrestrial life because it screens out harmful UV, and humanity will die if we don’t fix the problem during the 1980s. Various future scenarios were offered, most showing that immediate action was the most effective.

    Well, the industry and governments approached the issue on the basis that good industry deeds ( develop alternatives ) would be encouraged, and inertia would be penalised. Also, developing nations would be allowed to continue until substitution was feasible and economic for them.

    The CFC producer and consumer industries quickly developed alternatives, and introduced them over the subsequent decade. Because the introductions were regulation-driven, competitive advantage followed the innovators.

    Most major CFC suppliers saw the opportunity to gain new IP they could protect and benefit from. Yes, the new products cost more, but most consumers didn’t care or notice. Some writers have retrospectively claimed that activists drove the process, but in reality the supplier companies and end-users were guided by their in-house scientists, and welcomed the challenge to innovate into competitors’ market share.

    Similar issues arose with removal of lead from paint and petrol, asbestos, halogenated aromatics ( Dioxin, PCB, DDT etc. ). Virtually in all cases there were some prominent scientists who favoured no action, however the companies saw commercial opportunities given the government incentives.

    There are a few differences, the most obvious being the Internet ( well-written loony opinions can have a veneer of rationality ) and the high weighting that politicians now apply to economists’ opinions and unworldly emissions trading schemes, rather than simply reduce usage and emissions.

    Fossil fuels won’t be replaced until rational alternatives and reduced waste are available, economic, and implemented. Some we can do now – a 1500 kg vehicle to transport 100 person is wasteful, but we have to segregate traffic, otherwise 50 tonne trucks will produce people puree.

    We can also work on agricultural effluents and emissions. Effective actions at local level aren’t beholden to scientific consensus.

  19. Keir on January 19th, 2010 at 21:46

    There’s nothing unwitting about it. I have no specialist or inside knowledge, but I have read a very large amount indeed of what is in the public domain about this topic, and while Poneke’s read is very much overblown, I think there’s a nugget of truth to it. As I said to Keir in the other thread: when it comes to something this important, the scientific establishment’s first job is to be above reproach, and they failed at that job. By failing, they jeopardised what might be this generation’s most compelling responsibility.

    You’re joking right? If they’d been perfect* somebody would have complained that the science was too good and it must have been faked.

    The people they are arguing against are liars. Who lie. They are the people who argued against cancer/tobacco, against banning DDT, etc. etc. It’s corporate FUD, and there’s nothing you can do to avoid it; again, look at evolution. And yes Poneke’s read is overblown, that’s the point. He’s talking nonsense, and there’s nothing the scientists could do to avoid that. I mean, that bit about `trick’? It’s so innocuous it isn’t funny, but poneke now thinks it’s evidence of a mass conspiracy etc etc. How on earth can you deal with that?

    I think this goes beyond bitchy and petty. People have lost their jobs and careers over it.

    Who exactly?

    * which is utterly unreasonable to expect of researchers; they don’t get paid enough for that.

  20. Phil Sage on January 20th, 2010 at 06:11

    blockquote>* But in order to believe that it’s all a hoax, you have to believe in a scientific conspiracy of unprecedented scale, with no credible payoff. I just don’t see it.

    Lew – You are viewing it as black and white. It is shades of grey. Take some useful uncontroversial factoids.

    The Vikings lived and farmed in Greenland around 1000 years ago meaning at least a big part of the Northern hemisphere was warmer then.

    Burning hydrocarbons extracted from the ground has added a huge amount of carbon to the atmosphere.

    Media sensationalism sells. It is easier to sell the idea of a large catastrophic warming than the possibility of a mild warming within the bounds of natural variability albeit caused by man.

    I consider myself a sceptic of the catastrophic scenarios but not a denier of any human impact. I have spent far too much time reading the various blogs out there. try climateaudit, wattsupwiththat, the air vent and drroyspencer for a selection of little guy bloggers battling the taxpayer funded consensus.

    In the same way as the financial community completely missed the growing credit crisis it seems entirely plausible to me that the scientific community has been lead by a herd mentality reinforced by media and the self reinforcing direction of those chasing funding based on more risk = more money.

    I am hugely surprised at the approach of some like Keir who appear too credulous not to ask simple questions. And simply incredulous at the proud ignorance of the so called scientists blogging on sciblogs and critiquing poneke who were too arrogant even to read the emails and make up their own minds but instead content to deny any wrongdoing. There has been fraud and deceit on the part of the so called “team”

    Examine the holocene optimum and ask yourself whether you honestly believe it has never been warmer in past millenia.

    I do not believe there is a huge hoax but it would not be the first time that scientists or financiers or investors have convinced themselves that something of a small value should actually have a much larger value.

  21. Scott Yorke on January 20th, 2010 at 07:13

    In the same way as the financial community completely missed the growing credit crisis it seems entirely plausible to me that the scientific community has been lead by a herd mentality reinforced by media and the self reinforcing direction of those chasing funding based on more risk = more money.

    Phil, you’re not seriously comparing the financial and scientific communities, are you? Only one sector is driven by greed and financial return. Science in general is poorly funded, and people don’t become scientists for the money. To suggest scientists are motivated primarily by the desire for funding is to buy into all the deniers’ arguments.

    I look at it this way: I’m no expert on AGW. But I also trust the scientific process to get it right most of the time. If most of the world’s scientists are saying the impacts of AGW are likely to be catastrophic, then I’m going to take their word for it over the uninformed opinions of people who simply aren’t qualified in the field.

    And in the extremely unlikely event it turns out to have been a giant hoax perpetuated by a cabal of evil scientists (btw, do they have secret ceremonies? a handshake?), well I guess I’ll live with it. But better that than do little or nothing to arrest AGW and then find we’re f**ked.

  22. Phil Sage on January 20th, 2010 at 07:55

    Scott – I am comparing scientists and financiers but not in the way you think.

    I do not believe that US property buyers and mortgage lenders or AIG, Lehman and Bear Stearns employees and shareholders were so stupid as to think they could perpetuate a vast financial hoax and get out ahead of the punters. They honestly believed in what they were doing.

    There is a similar thing happening with global warming. take something that has a decent amount of truth and witness it being pumped beyond all semblance of reality. Once the herd is moving it is very difficult to fight against. Whether the herd be tulips, ninja property lending or scientific consensus that the earth is flat or warming.

  23. Bruce Hamilton on January 20th, 2010 at 08:09

    And simply incredulous at the proud ignorance of the so called scientists blogging on sciblogs and critiquing poneke who were too arrogant even to read the emails and make up their own minds but instead content to deny any wrongdoing. There has been fraud and deceit on the part of the so called “team”

    Just to note that sciblogs is a diverse mix of people. MacDoctor has a different view to Hot Topic on Climate Change causes and remediation. so called scientists was uncalled for, they are. Their community appears to be little different to Kiwipolitico in diversity, and just as staid.

    Most NZ career scientists in the 21st century struggle to maintain reliable long-term funding, because of the stupid competitive bidding processes put in place in the early 1990s. If scientist A gets increased funding, scientist B loses it. Most funding bids are several hundred percent oversubscribed in the first rounds.
    Team leaders have to be alpha males/females to maintain funding, it’s not simply altruistic pursuit of knowledge.

    To clarify my earlier post, Richard Lindzen is one of the most eminent atmospheric scientist skeptics who accepts global warming is occurring, but not the IPCC process, mechanisims, and predictions. He’s not alone, but is fortunately in a position the Team couldn’t assail, unlike others mentioned in the emails.

    Regarding reading all the emails – others have, I choose to accept their perception based on their previous postings. I don’t have to shovel a whole truckload of excrement to learn that it smells.

  24. Phil Sage on January 20th, 2010 at 08:24

    Bruce – I should have been clearer than tarring all bloggers at sciblogs. I was only referring to those commenting at Poneke about their dismissal of the emails without reading them. Anyone who is proud of their ignorance does not deserve the appelation of scientist.

    I agree completely with your comments.

  25. Ag on January 20th, 2010 at 09:44

    The Vikings lived and farmed in Greenland around 1000 years ago meaning at least a big part of the Northern hemisphere was warmer then.

    This has nothing to do with global climate change, since the warming was localized. It’s comparing apples with oranges, or, to be more accurate, the grapes for wine that the Romans were supposed to have been able to grow in northern England.*

    ____________________________
    * People have been continuously growing grapes for wine in England for at least the last 1000 years.

  26. Phil Sage on January 20th, 2010 at 09:55

    What evidence do you or anybody else have that the warming was localised. I have read convincing articles on temperatures in Yangtse and elsewhere to indicate there was at least a general northern hemisphere Medieval warm period but was not even attempting to make that assertion.

    To quote wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_Warm_Period “Temperatures derived from an 18O/16O profile through a stalagmite found in a New Zealand cave (40.67°S, 172.43°E) suggested the Medieval Warm Period to have occurred between AD 1050 and 1400 and to have been 0.75°C warmer than the Current Warm Period.”[22] The MWP has also been evidenced in New Zealand by an 1100-year tree-ring record.[23]“

  27. Keir on January 20th, 2010 at 14:01

    In the same way as the financial community completely missed the growing credit crisis it seems entirely plausible to me that the scientific community has been lead by a herd mentality reinforced by media and the self reinforcing direction of those chasing funding based on more risk = more money.

    See? There’s sfa anyone can do to argue against this; it’s pure crankery, like the Velikovskians or the non-relativists. It’s tempting to go — oh, the scientists ought have done better, but the fact is that every field has crackpots convinced they are all engaged in a giant conspiracy etc etc. The difference is that here the cranks have big buckets of money and PR to play with.

  28. George D on January 20th, 2010 at 14:17

    There’s nothing unwitting about it. I have no specialist or inside knowledge, but I have read a very large amount indeed of what is in the public domain about this topic, and while Poneke’s read is very much overblown, I think there’s a nugget of truth to it. As I said to Keir in the other thread: when it comes to something this important, the scientific establishment’s first job is to be above reproach, and they failed at that job. By failing, they jeopardised what might be this generation’s most compelling responsibility.

    They did no such thing. You have made a serious claim against scientists, and you haven’t provided any evidence.

    In private correspondence, against continuous wilful smears against them and attempts to destroy their career, they express frustration.

    That is all. That’s the entirety of it. In thousands of emails the deniers couldn’t find anything that suggests actual manipulation of evidence*. All they could find was humans who expressed the feeling that they were sick to death of being bullied and attacked.

    *Unless you’ve bought the absolute unmitigated lies that are being told about Climate Research. That a senior editor could push a very obviously flawed paper rejected by reviewers into publication is a serious corruption of the scientific process. It was done by a so-called ‘skeptic’. Yet this episode is being used as evidence of manipulation by genuine climate scientists. It is almost beyond belief.

  29. Ag on January 20th, 2010 at 14:49

    What evidence do you or anybody else have that the warming was localised. I have read convincing articles on temperatures in Yangtse and elsewhere to indicate there was at least a general northern hemisphere Medieval warm period but was not even attempting to make that assertion.

    It’s smoke and mirrors. The fact that climatic oscillations may have occurred in the past does not mean that the current warming is the result of such an oscillation. The graphs certainly look more radical. Then there’s the fact of a massive and unnatural increase of carbon in the atmosphere to deal with.

    But there is no point arguing about it. Either the scientists will prevail and a carbon reduction scheme will be put into action, or they will fail and a few decades from now governments will simply force more radical measures onto the population, whether they like it or not.

    That is, unless elites get serious about it. If I were a climate activist, I would not be bothering with public opinion. I would be convincing the world’s largest corporations of the money they will lose due to climate change, and I would be talking to military commanders about the burdens their forces will be asked to bear because of climate change. If enough influential people push, then voter irrationality simply won’t be a factor. That kind of sucks, but the alternative is worse.

  30. Tim on January 20th, 2010 at 15:26

    To continue a slight diversion,

    What more could Al Gore have done?

    I believe Gore tackled the problem wrongly from the outset. His documentary put the blame of AGW of big business and greedy politicians. Most people walked out angry, maybe looking into their own carbon footprints (or maybe not). So business and politics were blamed (the very groups who have any real power to change things). On the defense, many groups proceeded to bring AGW under the realm of left conspiracy-against-capitalism/profit/business etc. This continued exponentially and now we have the denialists winning.

    Now what Gore SHOULD have done in his doco was to blame us. Tell the world that what we thought was reasonable is actually not, we’re damaging the earth and ourselves. Don’t blame the people who are always blamed (however true it might be) but engage with the world’s mechanics and bring the audience to realise that it’s not OK.

    We came away from the film feeling alone (as we usually do when overwhelmed with such a problem out of our control). If he’d instead given us a story that made us walk out collectively (and not as an individual vs corporation) then things would be very different.

    I suppose Gore was one of the leaders in politicising global warming – intentional or not – which is precisely what has lead to such inaction and counter-action. Perhaps we could have had something similar to the apolitical/logical response that we all wish (wished?) for. Gore did things in earnest and truth, but in a thoughtless way.

    A big pity.

  31. Tim on January 20th, 2010 at 15:40

    Gore could have moved the debate on – so far An Inconvienent Truth is a 2006 one hit wonder. Its now 2010 and there has been no follow up.

    The overlaid story of his documentary was one of self-redemption after disillusionment.

    I suspect what happened and what is happening in the wake of the film has sent him into another bout of disillusionment, one perhaps even more profound than the first. If he now realises or suspects that his film had certain damaging effects on his cause then what’s the chance of a follow-up?

    As I said, it’s a pity.

  32. Lew on January 20th, 2010 at 20:38

    Let me just say to start that I don’t intend to relitigate either the veracity of the research or the content of the climategate emails. It’s been done absolutely to death, and nobody who’s done any substantive amount of research on it is now prone to reevaluating their opinions all that much.

    Scott,

    There are many reasons why so many people continue to deny the existence of AGW. And I don’t think all the blame for this should be laid at the feet of the scientific community.

    I’m not laying all the blame at their feet. As I mentioned in my response to Keir on the other thread, the majority of the blame needs to be borne by the politicians. But it gets a bit more complicated when you consider possible reasons why politicians have been so ineffectual. More on which in a moment.

    I’m very familiar indeed with the various media biases which have been named on this thread: equivalence; bad news; sensationalism; NIHS; etc. These are germane but ultimately aren’t game-changers. They’re known characteristics of the media landscape and as such can (and must) be mitigated against.

    As to the matter of lobbyists: it might be worth me clarifying just who I think should mainly shoulder blame for what.

    Scientists: Failing to keep the quality of their research and conduct absolutely clean and free from any taint of corruption — and/or (depending on who you believe) failing to maintain the appearance of same. At present (for someone not qualified to judge the evidence), the question of whether the research conducted at the CRU is sound or not is a matter of which sources you believe, because certain conduct by the scientists (cherry-picked or not) allowed their detractors to cast doubt upon their integrity. I still trust science, as an institution, and so I still believe that the research is probably legitimate and the matters of conduct are superficial. Others choose differently based on different evidence and emphasis. But it should never have gotten to the point where perception could be mistaken for reality. The work of scientists is making sure reality is accepted as reality.

    Politicians: Failing to adequately develop policy to meet the science; failing to conduct a compelling campaign to permit that policy agenda to be accepted by the electorate; and failing to deploy sufficient resources to defend the integrity of the science in spite of the scientists’ own failures to do the same. You’re right: the job of counter-lobbying is not for scientists. They don’t have the skills, expertise or money for it, and by engaging on a political level they call into question the integrity of their research. I think that one reason the political establishment has not done enough in this case to defend the science behind climate is partly due to their misgivings about the conduct of certain scientists. Even they don’t believe the scientists.

    And in the extremely unlikely event it turns out to have been a giant hoax perpetuated by a cabal of evil scientists (btw, do they have secret ceremonies? a handshake?), well I guess I’ll live with it. But better that than do little or nothing to arrest AGW and then find we’re f**ked.

    Absolutely right. We (as a society of non-specialists) need to put our faith in the expertise of others (especially scientists), and have very little recourse against them hoodwinking us or otherwise abusing their position. But we do have some recourse, and perhaps the best we have is strong oversight and a very low tolerance for misbehaviour. This is why my response to (apparent) shenanigans at the CRU and general laxness within the political establishment is so forceful. Some of you folks seem to think I’m being too hard on them; that I should just give them a break. But what sort of oversight is that?

    I don’t really believe in making excuses in politics, and I’ve seen a lot of excuses from failed or ineffectual left political movements in the past generation. There are a lot of them in evidence here, too:
    * Democracy isn’t suited to this sort of problem
    * The electorate is stupid/cognitively deficient
    * The lobbyists are too powerful
    * The opposition uses dirty tricks
    * Science is hard/complicated/underfunded/poorly suited to political communication

    They may all be true, but it doesn’t matter. If AGW is real, then we need to win the political battle in order to implement policy which meets the needs dictated by the science, in spite of whether it’s fair or not.

    To abuse a sporting metaphor, there is no referee to whom you can appeal for a yellow card except in the most egregious cases, and even while the referee is deciding, the game goes on. If you don’t like how it’s played, take your ball and go home, or find ways to cope. Either is fine, but staying on the field and whining that it’s not fair isn’t.

    Politics isn’t fair, and there’s no sense in making excuses for those who’ve failed at their core tasks. If we coddle them, they’ll have no reason to improve their act. This goes for scientists as much as for politicians. Both those groups had power to influence this situation for the better, and both have failed. I don’t much care for whether they tried their hardest or whether the other team was outgunned; I care for whether they succeeded. They don’t look like they are. I hope they still can.

    L

  33. Lew on January 20th, 2010 at 20:48

    George,

    They did no such thing. You have made a serious claim against scientists, and you haven’t provided any evidence.

    I haven’t made anything of the sort; I’ve formed an opinion based on what evidence is available. One which, I might add, is very simple: the conduct, as distinct from the science, raises concerns. I don’t think the science is in doubt, but I’ll be damned if I’ll allow scientists a pass on the sort of behaviour they’ve been involved in (cherry-picked or not) and failure they’ve been responsible for just because they’re on the right ‘side’.

    The failure I’m talking about is very explicit: the appearance of malfeasance has called the science into question. This isn’t my opinion or some arguable matter of partisan loyalty: it’s undeniable. Actual people who would otherwise simply accept the findings of the scientific establishment on their credibility as the scientific establishment are having second thoughts. That’s a tragedy.

    L

  34. Lew on January 20th, 2010 at 21:07

    Tim,

    Welcome to KP, and what an interesting read of AIT. I don’t really agree, but it’s well-argued and I can see some sense in it.

    The most important thing about AIT was that it made people care about climate change (and environmental topics in general), strongly and in huge numbers. Nothing before and little since has achieved that. Just that fact makes it the most important event in the AGW timeline, from a political communication perspective.

    The argument you make, I think, gets the causality of democracy (and capitalism) the wrong way around. It’s very hard to make corporations and politicians do anything they don’t want to without buy-in from their constituencies. Get the people on-side and the rest follows. I agree that Gore’s strategy caused the greenwash spinmachine to go into overdrive, and this was why a coordinated political effort was necessary. The strategy could have worked, but there was no follow-through. Gore, as a former politician, had (and has) done what he can; the time now is for actual politicians to respond to the groundswell of support which AGW has. It’s a scientific problem with a political solution: it was never going to be apolitical.

    Even despite climategate and the general failure to follow through, public support for the general AGW thesis is still about fifty-fifty in the Anglo world: the game isn’t lost yet.

    L

  35. Lew on January 20th, 2010 at 21:37

    Keir, sorry, failed to address this.

    Who exactly?

    I had in mind Phil Jones. But he’s just standing aside until the investigation is done. I accept that that’s not the same as what I said, so I withdraw and apologise :)

    L

  36. Ag on January 21st, 2010 at 06:04

    They may all be true, but it doesn’t matter. If AGW is real, then we need to win the political battle in order to implement policy which meets the needs dictated by the science, in spite of whether it’s fair or not.

    What if you can’t by normal means? Would you watch the Earth burn?

    I wonder if in the not too distant future it will become viable to claim a right of self-defence against climate sceptics.

  37. Lew on January 21st, 2010 at 07:47

    Violence as the solution to political failure? Now, where have I heard that recently? Oh, yes:

    Republican Scott Brown’s stunning victory in the election to fill the Senate seat formerly held by far-left shyster Edward Kennedy is a decisive indication that the American voters’ honeymoon with Barack Obama is over and they are clamoring for divorce, says SOLO Principal Lindsay Perigo.
    [...]
    “May today’s vote be heard around the world, and obviate the need for another equally audible shot,” Perigo concludes.

    ( http://www.solopassion.com/node/7299 )

    Hardline cleric Ahmad Alamolhoda described opponents of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as supporters of Satan.
    [...]
    “Enemies of the leader, according to the Qur’an, belong to the party of Satan,” Alamolhoda told demonstrators in Tehran in comments broadcast on state television. “Our war in the world is war against the opponents of the rule of the supreme leader.”

    ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/30/iran-protests )

    Edit: Oh yeah, this one’s good, too:

    America’s abortion debate was ignited again yesterday after a judge decided to allow the man who killed an abortion doctor in front of 250 people to make a ‘necessity defence’ in court.
    Anti-abortionist Scott Roeder will be allowed to testify that he believed he was saving unborn children when he gunned down Dr George Tiller in a Kansas church last May, Judge Warren Wilbert ruled yesterday.

    ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1242732/Anger-judge-rules-abortion-doctor-George-Tillers-killer-Scott-Roeder-make-necessity-defence-court.html )

    And I could go on.

    Being convinced of your own rectitude is not enough. You have to convince others of your rectitude as well, or you’re no better than the terrorists.

    L

  38. Tim on January 21st, 2010 at 12:25

    Lew,

    Welcome to KP, and what an interesting read of AIT.

    Cheers, I generally neglect the comments section for no good reason.

    The most important thing about AIT was that it made people care about climate change (and environmental topics in general), strongly and in huge numbers. Nothing before and little since has achieved that. Just that fact makes it the most important event in the AGW timeline, from a political communication perspective.

    Oh indeed – that is the sad fact. Caring was the most important thing, and at some cost.

    The argument you make, I think, gets the causality of democracy (and capitalism) the wrong way around. It’s very hard to make corporations and politicians do anything they don’t want to without buy-in from their constituencies. Get the people on-side and the rest follows.

    As I argued, people came away from the film feeling like the world was against them, or them against the big guys. If people had come out feeling part of the problem – as a more collective whole – then wheels would have turned and business and government would have followed the democratic will accordingly. Firm mandates would have emerged. None of this contradicts your conception of causality as far as I can see.

    What should have happened after AIT is irrelevant here.

    It’s a scientific problem with a political solution: it was never going to be apolitical.

    Fair enough (although I never truly suggested otherwise).

    Thanks for the discussion.

  39. Lew on January 21st, 2010 at 12:54

    Tim,

    What should have happened after AIT is irrelevant here.

    I don’t think so. What I’m arguing is that, even though the course of action for AIT you suggest might have been better (I’m happy to entertain the counterfactual), AIT as it was provided a strong enough springboard for a concerted campaign on the topic of climate change, which was not utilised. The raw material was there, even if it wasn’t optimal.

    Given that, it seems equally likely that any such springboard would have been underutilised given the other prevailing characteristics: a timid, poorly-advised and ideologically confused US Democratic party with ineffectual leadership and no core sense of how to run a compelling campaign on anything, poor links with the wider environmental movement, a massively outgunned lobby detachment, and a scientific establishment who didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Those are the systemic sort of failings I’m really complaining about, not a single choice of emphasis in the one shot of the war which was actually fired in anger.

    L

  40. lyndon on January 21st, 2010 at 12:55

    (just based on a scan, sorry)

    While one might wish scientists might deal with political issues better – it’s not their job.

    That includes the ‘appearance of malfeasence’. The FOI thing was unfortunate-to-tragic and wants (is getting?) investigation and action.

    The rest is, as far as I can tell, appearances. Their job is doing science. Not protecting their brand against things they didn’t do.

    I’m not sure how widely we disagree or if it’s just emphasis.

    And under ‘vested interests’ don’t forget that ‘lots and lots of money all over the show’ thing.

  41. Keir on January 21st, 2010 at 13:54

    I think you hugely underestimate how easy it is to manufacture doubt about scientific work, and how hard it is to rebut. (See, frex, Lancet 2.)

    It is very easy to say: scientists should be like Caesar’s wife. But science doesn’t work like that.

  42. [...] that climate change, having as it does the weight of scientific orthodoxy behind it, should be an easy win in the battle of ideas. That it isn’t, I believe, is due less to the powerful business [...]

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