Climate Tribes

By Keith Kloor | March 6, 2009 7:35 am

Is your stance on global warming shaped by influential pundits or politicians who share your worldview?

In light of the recent George Will/Al Gore/Andrew Revkin blogosphere controversy, kudos to John Fleck for revisiting this important 2007 Yale study.

Still, I’m not sure what to make of the study’s essential finding– that your position on say, nuclear power or nanotechnolgy, is influenced by credible individuals who share your political beliefs. There are several ways to look at this. To me, one of the more interesting implications is that a credible person who adopts a view at odds with his own politics or worldview will be taken seriously by members of his political tribe.

So, for example, I could never prove this, but my gut tells me that Andrew Sullivan’s blogging over the last four years has  influenced the way many conservatives came to view the war in Iraq and George W. Bush. (Of course, to many others, he has committed blasphemy.)

On the other hand, John McCain’s staunch anti-abortion record would seem to put him in high standing with religious conservatives, so that when he called out a few of their leaders in 2000 as “agents of intolerance,” he should have been viewed credibly. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Then, related to the policy and political debate over global warming, there is the curious case of Roger Pielke, Jr., who last June said this on his blog:

Let me emphasize that anthropogenic climate change is real, and deserving of significant attention to both adaptation and mitigation.

Yet, there seem to be a number of prominent climate scientists and influential bloggers who view him as an agent of climate change deniers.  (More on this perception in a future post. In the meantime, see this reasoned assessment.) Thus, he is unable to make inroads with a significant portion of the environmental community which, nonetheless, shares his view that global warming is a problem in need of a solution.

Conversely, despite Pielke’s stated belief “that anthropogenic climate change is real,” he has what is thought (but I don’t know if this is true) to be many admirring blog readers who, to put it charitably, are dubious of global warming as a serious environmental threat. (I’ll point out that this general characterization of his blog’s readership seems based on an interpretation of the commenters, which, valid or not, is still a skewed metric.)

At any rate, even if we take this characterization of Pielke’s reader demographic at face value, following the logic of the Yale study, why then isn’t Pielke Jr. convincing these skeptics (who evidently view him credibly) to abandon their erroneous stance?

Perhaps all this means is that some people are willing to see more than one side of the debate.

At the very least, what I like about Pielke Jr and Andrew Sullivan is their willingness to defy tribal categorization. Independent thought should be valued above party politics or ideological purity.  I’m not sure if it makes them more or less persuasive to members of other tribes. But to me it sure makes them more edifying, more interesting, and less predictable to read than many others in the blogosphere.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: global warming, ideology
  • Steve Bloom

    Keith, that quote from RP Jr. actually helps describe the problem in that 1) “deserving of significant attention” is a very weak phrase and 2) adaptation is listed before mitigation.  His views are not fundamentally different from those of Lomborg and other “denier-eq’s” (to borrow Joe Romm’s formulation).

    These views by themselves don’t entirely explain either the fan club or the somewhat visceral hostility from scientists and environmentalists, so add in his attacks on scientists.  He doesn’t do that so much with environmentalists, but they tend to see attacks on scientists as attacks on themselves.

    One area where RP Jr. goes beyond Lomborg is in advising scientists on how to interact with policy-makers.  No scientist that I’m aware of actually gives any weight to this stuff, but fair to say it’s seen as unhelpful.  Note in particular that the choice of the term “honest broker” has a necessary implication that those who fail to behave consistent with it  are being dishonest.   

  • http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/ Tim Lambert

    RPJr isn’t convincing the skeptics of the errors of their ways because he isn’t trying to.

    For instance, he’ll criticize Gore, but he he won’t breathe a word of criticism for George Will.

  • Thom

    What does it take? Keith, help us understand you.

    I read The Daily Dish.  I live in DC.  I’ve met Andrew Sullivan.  Talked with him on  a couple of occasions. 

    RPJr….even on his best day……………..no Andrew Sullivan.

  • Thom

    One more thing.  Your understanding of Sullivan’s influence on conservatives is completely off.  I know, because I deal with these people.  Hint: take a trip to DC before you start commenting on national politics and Beltway conservatives. 

    Give that same hint to Pielke.  Give that same hint to Revkin who keeps mining Boulder, Colorado for the “pulse on national science policy.”

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Steve-
    Your parsing of Roger P’s choice (and order) of words strikes me as thin gruel. I have no idea what a denier-eq is, but coming from Joe Romm, it must be gospel.

    Tim-
    If this is true–that Roger doesn’t dish out the criticism equally to both sides–then I can understand why he elicits such anger from the left and numerous climate scientists.  Your example (that he’ll criticize Gore but not Will) would seem to have merit. I’d like to see Roger address it himself.

    Thom-
    I’m enjoying your one-liners. Keep em’ coming.
    Also, being in D.C., you must really have your pulse on the Republican electorate beyond the beltway.
    Read my post again: I wasn’t commenting on beltway conservatives or national politics through a DC prism.
    And good for you that you met Andrew Sullivan and even talked to him a few times.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/ Tim Lambert

    BTW, I don’t find Pielke Jr unpredictable at all. It was entirely predictable that his reaction to the Will affair would be to go after someone on the other side.  For an earlier example, see his reaction to the fuss about Pat Michaels’ fradulent presentation of Hansen’s graph — he concoted arguments as to why Hansen was wrong even though his projections turned out to be right.

  • Roger Pielke, Jr.

    Keith asked me to respond to Tim Lambert, at (2) above and I’ll address (6) as well. 

    1. The question of why I don’t cheer-lead for a side in the climate debate has come up before.  Here is what I wrote on our blog about this, and it can be applied to sea areal extent and George Will as well:

    sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/why-don%E2%80%99t-you-write-about-__________-4006

    Question: Why don’t I write about glaciers, solar variability, Fred Singer, or Pat Michaels?
    Answer: I don’t know anything special about glaciers, solar variability, or the issues which are often discussed by Fred Singer or Pat Michaels. By contrast, I do know something about disasters and climate change. In fact, I know a lot, perhaps as much as only a few dozen people.
    On disasters and climate change I can speak with authority, because I know the literature deeply and I have conducted a wide range of original studies in this area.”

    (2) There is another reason why I’d don’t cheer-lead in the climate tribal wars — I think it is counter productive to the cause of moving forward on climate policy.   I have written extensively on this (see esepcailly Dan Sarewitz’s excellent paper, “How science makes environmental controversy’s worse.”

    Tim Lambert is disappointed that I do not cheer for his team, I can understand his disappointment.  Tim then thinks I must be on the other team.  I can understand this reasoning as well.  However, I guess I see that there are more than two teams, and in fact, I question the wisdom of dividing the climate debate up into two teams to begin with.  However, if you see the world as comprising two teams, none of what I have said will matter and people like Tim will shape their interpretation of events to fit this Manichean framing.  I understand this, but this behavior can fixing the facts to the desired interpretation . . .

    Please pay close attention to this, Lambert accuses me of “going after someone on the other side” in the “Will affair”.  However, what Tim has forgotten or misrepresented is that my criticism of Al Gore appeared BEFORE George Will published his column.  I was not a participant in the “Will affair” (for reasons mentioned above).   My criticism of Al Gore’s misrepresentation of the science of disasters and climate change at AAAS occurred because Al Gore misrepresented the science of disasters and climate change at AAAS.  It was not based on a decision to take sides in the “Will affair.”  Tim’s suggestion that

    “It was entirely predictable that his reaction to the Will affair would be to go after someone on the other side.”

    is telling about his worldview.  Tim is either viewing the world through a prism that distorts reality or he made this statement up to try to get my actions to fit his frame.  What is a fact is that Tim has misrepresented my behavior as anyone can plainly see.

    (3) On the evaluation of Hansen’s 1988 forecasts I will maintain that Hansen’s forecast has (a) in the past been arguably “right” (when temperatures were higher), (b) is now arguably “wrong” (with lower temperatures), and (c) Hansen got the underlying individual forcings wrong, though some of these errors cancelled out.   All three of these things have been discussed on blogs and are perfectly appropriate things for people to discuss — i.e., how accurate was a forecast and why was it accurate or not?  I thnk that (a) and (b) can be judged in either direction based on assumptions and semantics, but I think (c) is not controversial, even with Hansen.

    Tim may disagree with my conclusions (a), (b), and (c) above.  This is fine, and the sort of thing that people disagree about and openly discuss, especially in academica.  When people do agree on substantive matters they often make appeals to texts and data.  But look what Tim does, he insinuates something about my motives and character when he writes, “he concoted arguments as to why Hansen was wrong.”

    Unfortunately, there is really no way forward to have a discussion with someone whose mind is made up and wants to attack your character rather than exchange ideas in a good faith manner.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    For those of you who have had trouble highlighting links, you can now do so by using the familiar icon in the toolbar. So here is the archival post in Prometheus that Roger was referencing.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Okay, the link is there under “archival post” but still not highlighted. Most frustrating. Will work on fixing that today.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/ Tim Lambert

    Roger, in the other thread you insinuated that I don’t know how to adjust economic data for inflation, but when challenged you didn’t support your claim but tried to change the subject instead.

    1. Your explanation would be plausible if you just stuck to climate and disasters but in the Michaels vs Hansen thing you weighed in on forcing scenarios, and in this flap you were comparing modeled temps with observations.

    2. I described your behaviour correctly – you only criticize people on one side of the debate.   If this was wrong, you could have easily provided a counter-example.  Your post on Gore appeared on Feb 15, which was after Will’s column was published and after criticism of it started to appear.

    3. Hansen was not predicting the forcing for each individual greenhouse gas.  I quote:
    “However, we anticipate that the climate response to a given global radiative forcing ΔT0 is similar to first order for different gases, as supported by calculations for different climate forcings in paper 2. Therefore results obtained for our three scenarios provide an indication of the expected climate response for a very broad range of assumptions about trace gas trends.”

    I think it is fair to call your criticism concocted ecause you are saying that he is wrong on somehting he wasn’t predicting, instead of comparing how temperatures compared to his scenarios.

  • Thom

    RPJr: “I don’t know anything special about glaciers, solar variability, or the issues which are often discussed by Fred Singer or Pat Michaels.”

    But Roger has little problem inserting himself into controversial scientific issues such as proxy studies and the work of Michael Mann. 

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000435is_the_hockey_.html

    Oddly enough, the discussions inevitably become shaded in such a way…of course…oh, but of course….as to call into question and create doubt about the need to take action on climate change.  And of course….oh…oh…oh…but of course….to make Roger Pielke Jr. the center of attention in an arena for which he has no expertise.

    But of course!

    Kloor: “Read my post again: I wasn’t commenting on beltway conservatives or national politics through a DC prism.”

    Keith…but I was.  Still not getting it, are ya’? 

    Roger Pielke Jr.’s constant media whoring from Boulder, CO is a distraction to constructive climate policy being hammered out in DC and foreign capitals.   His opinions on the matter (read his extensive  CVand mostly you’ll find opinion with a smattering of peer-reviewed pubs) are about as important to the discussion as the comments of a clothing saleswoman in Dallas, Texas are to the New York fashion world.  About as important as the movie critic in East Falls, Idaho is to Hollywood movie making.

    They’re just….not…there.  Neither in substance nor understanding of the process.

    So RPJr. regularly gins up phony  controversies about climate change to get a little  “Honest Broker” press time, and place himself in the center of the debate.  He  then paints any critic as “on the left” or on some “team.”  It’s a Roger Pielke Jr. trademarked tactic.

    Predictable?  Yes. 

    Honest?  Come on.   Quit funning with us.

  • Thom

    Update:  beyond proxy studies, to see another example where RPJr. weighed in with exaggerated expertise on another matter for which he has no expertise, see Lambert’s comment (#10).

  • Roger Pielke, Jr.

    Tim-

    1.  I have studied predictions for many years, including how to evaluate them.  So yes I continue to be interested in the evaluation of climate forecasts.  I do count this as an area of my expertise.   I expect to continue researching and discussing the production, use, and evaluation of predictions in many areas.

    Like most bloggers, while blogging I don’t always stick to my areas of core expertise (but disasters and predictions are), but how about you? 

    BTW, what is your area of expertise?

    2. You said I was taking sides in the “Will affair”.   This was wrong. 

    Clearly, in my blog post on Gore at AAAS I was commenting on Gore.  At the time that I made the comments about Gore I’ll take your word on it that Will was being criticized in the blogosphere, and so what?  A linkage between Will and Gore in the Revkin article had not appeared.  In fact such a linkage was based on my original post!  So it would have been impossible for me to “take sides” in this flap when I criticized Gore.  Why can’t you just admit this?

    I have already said that I understand that you wish I cheered more for your team.

    3.  On Hansen’s 1988 predictions, yes it is the case that you and I disagree about how to interpret them.  It is OK Tim that people disagree.  I don’t see malice and fraud lurking in every disagreement as you seem to.  We’ve gone around on this before, and here is what I said to you on my blog almost three years ago:

    sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/scenarios-scenarios-hansen%e2%80%99s-prediction-part-ii-3847#comment-4810

    “Tim Lambert-
    Thanks for your comments. But we’ll simply have to agree to disagree when you write of Hansen’s paper, “his paper was not a prediction of the changes in each individual forcing.”  It surely was according to Hansen’s own words in the paper.”
    Your incessant reference to this disagreement every time we interact on the net is a bit odd.  Yes we disagreed, however, the fact that someone holds a different opinion than you do should not be surprising, or is it?

    As I have pointed out to you before Hansen himself has said that forcings diverged from those in his model:

    Hansen, J., and M. Sato 2004. Greenhouse gas growth rates. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 101, 16109-16114, doi:10.1073/pnas.0406982101.
    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/101/46/16109
    “Growth rates of climate forcings in the past several years have fallen below all IPCC (2001) scenarios (Fig. 4). Forcings for observations and scenarios are calculated with the same equations (table 1 in ref. 13), so the gap between the IPCC scenarios and observations is not an artifact of calculation uncertainties. Scenarios and observations include CO2, CH4, N2O, MPTGs, and OTGs, but they do not include tropospheric O3 and stratospheric H2O. If the latter gases were included, the gap between the alternative and IPCC scenarios would widen, because these gases decrease in the alternative scenario (due to decreasing CH4) but increase in IPCC scenarios.”
    So Tim, we disagree on a matter on which it is reasonable for people to disagree about, and by that I mean a matter that requires interpretation and judgment.   Also, I don’t cheer for your team as much as you’d like.  I readily accept bopth of these facts.

    So what? Get over it.

  • Thom

    RPJr:  “I have already said that I understand that you wish I cheered more for your team.”

    RPJr further down:  ” Also, I don’t cheer for your team as much as you’d like.”

    As the capstone comments to an evasive argument,  ya’ just gotta love these RPJr bon mots.

  • Thom

    Oh Keith….why focus on something that couldn’t even make its way into a George Carlin “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” standup skit?

    Oh, that’s right.  I’m diverting attention away from your clever “climate tribe” thesis and pointing out that Roger Pielke Jr is a political hack who is more Roger Stone than Andrew Sullivan.

    But maybe that comparison is also unfair.  Unlike Roger Pielke, Roger Stone does have a sense of humor and can admit that his pronouncements are pithy.  Sorry, Mr. Stone.

  • Steve Bloom

    The quote is thin gruel, Keith?  That’s an odd thing to say given that you’re the one who highlighted it and seemed to think that some meaning could be extracted from it.

    Do you actually need someone to explain to you why AGW is the single largest problem facing humanity, and that holding adaptation equal to mitigation has become a standard means of avoiding facing up to that?  Are you familiar with e.g. John Holdren’s views on this subject?

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Thom,
    I usually like sarcasm–even traffic in it myself. But yours, which is in bad taste, is being used to advance personal attacks.

    I’m not going to tolerate ad hominems. Take it somewhere else.

    If my blog is triggering this kind of reaction from you, perhaps you ought to stop reading me.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Steve,

    I said your parsing of Roger’s words–reading into their chronology and meaning–was thin gruel.

    As an editor at Audubon between 2000-2008, I helped put together two special issues on global warming. I think I’m fairly cognizant of the greenhouse gas problem.

    Sorry if my sense of urgency isn’t as great as yours. But stick around, because I’ll have plenty to say about adaptation in the coming week.

  • Steve Bloom

    Keith, personality and self-promotion issues aside, downplaying the urgency of the problem and emphasizing adaptation over mitigation are precisely what has gotten RP Jr.  into trouble.  The quote isn’t evidence of those views, but it does reflect them.   

    I am curious as to the extent of your knowledge on the science.  My general impression is that climate scientists are rather more concerned than science journalists, although greater knowledge is probably only part of the reason for that.  Likely the other is that scientists are drawn from a more alarm-prone segment of the populace.  

    Are those Audubon issues viewable on-line by non-members, BTW?          

  • http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/ Tim Lambert

    Roger your very first response to me at this blog was ad hominem — you insinuated that I don’t know how to adjust economic data for inflation.  When challenged you didn’t support your claim but tried to change the subject instead.  And you are still evading.

    1. That’s right you don’t just blog about climate and disasters.  Which means that the reason you gave for  not writing anything at all about George Will is wrong.  Can you tell us the real reason?

    2.  It may be a coincidence that your criticism of Gore and the scientists at the AAAS  was posted right after bloggers got stuck into Will.  But there does seem to be a pattern here.

    3. You quote from a 2004 paper where Hansen talks about the IPCC (2001) scenarios. And then you pretend that he his really talking about those in his 1988 paper. Which he does not even reference.  Again, this is not something on which it is reasonable to disagree.  And you don’t just get into these sorts of disputes with me — see, for example, James Annan.

  • Roger Pielke, Jr.

    Tim-

    As much fun as it is to go round and around on this with you, it is time for me to move on.  I think we’ve aired our respective views sufficiently for any interested audience to come to a judgment about where we stand.

    My last comment on Hansen this go round — if you think that Hansen’s conclusions that observed forcings are below IPCC 2001 does not mean that they are also below his 1988 forcings, well, I suggest you have another look at both.   I am happy for anyone reading to look up the information themselves and come to their own conclusions.   Of all the things that you could choose to pick nits about, it is odd that you choose this weak argument.

    All the best to you, perhaps we might go round on this exact same issue again in 3 more years . . .

  • http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/ Tim Lambert

    Note that after opening with his ad hominem against me Pielke Jr has posted yet another evasion. He insinuated that I don’t know how to adjust economic data for inflation.  When challenged he did support his claim but evaded the challenge again and again.

  • Roger Pielke, Jr.

    Tim- I’ll keep the answer in my back pocket, meantime you can keep wondering ;-)

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    Roger shaped   his comment section in his own image.   After tossing  a bunch of us who were commenting pseudonymously most of those who were not, but disagreed with him and his  attempts to dominate, got up and left.  

    Roger also appears to think that Eli chases him around the net.  Paranoia can be comforting when you are wrong.  We merely are interested in the same things.  Eli sends regards =:>

  • http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/ Tim Lambert

    And there you have Pielke Jr in a nutshell.  His initial as hominem was likely a mistake, possibly because he had me mixed up with someone else.  But when challenged he realized  that he couldn’t support his claim, hence his evasions. And now he’s taken it one step further.  Roger, you and I both know that there is no such answer.

  • Roger Pielke, Jr.

    -25-Tim- No, no mistake; no confusion.  Keep walking further out on that limb. ;-)

    -24-Eli- That is not really the full story is it?  You are welcome to comment at our blog, as is anyone.   Your choice not to do so is, of course, your choice.

    Guys, as much fun as this, I’ve really got to get back to other work (seriously this time).  If you’d like to continue with a conversation, hopefully on matters a bit less trivial,  please visit Prometheus.

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    This is the comment section of a blog Roger not an encyclopedia.    Your paranoia is your problem.  We bunnies merely try and be considerate.  But yes, Eli fell off the turnip truck there.

    But yes, you know you do contradict yourself when you say

    “1.  I have studied predictions for many years, including how to evaluate them.  So yes I continue to be interested in the evaluation of climate forecasts.  I do count this as an area of my expertise.   I expect to continue researching and discussing the production, use, and evaluation of predictions in many areas.”

    as contrasted to your saying

    “I don’t know anything special about glaciers, solar variability, or the issues which are often discussed by Fred Singer or Pat Michaels”

    but somehow you manage to avoid discussing their predictions about CFCs, environmental smoke (Singer) and more.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/ Tim Lambert

    While it is no fun to be mischaracterized by Pielke Jr, the fact that he feels that he cannot engage me on the substance, and instead resorts to the strategy of “attack the man,” probably indicates that he feels that he cannot win an argument on the substance of the matter.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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