The Abolition Analogy

By Keith Kloor | October 29, 2010 2:18 pm

What does slavery have to do with climate change? Here’s how Andrew Hoffman, an engineer who teaches sustainable development at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, makes the connection in an email exchange with John Broder at the NYT:

Just as few people saw a moral problem with slavery in the 18th century, few people in the 21st century see a moral problem with the burning of fossil fuels. Will people in 100 years look at us with the same incomprehension we feel toward 18th-century defenders of slavery?

I’ve had a running argument with Steve Bloom over this analogy, who raised it over a week ago, but his comparison was more politically oriented:

the history of abolition of slavery in this country, and in particular the U.S. Senate’s role in it, is highly instructive. Our political system was designed to have a hard time producing a solution to the slavery problem, and it’s ironic in the extreme that the dead hand of the slaveholders continues to exert such an influence in the present.

Now I can be a pretty righteous guy. I browbeat litterers in the street, run after renegade bicyclists who ignore red lights and nearly run over me and my two little boys in a crosswalk. And I’m sensitive to human barbarity; Nicholas Kristof columns make me want to weep. Some of my own work as a journalist (see here and here, for example) has social justice undercurrents. I also get that there is an ethical component to the climate change issue.

But for some reason, I’m not getting this abolition analogy, especially the one made by Professor Hoffman. Slavery (and then lynching) in the United States was an institutionalized evil, a heinous crime against a class of people made even more heinous because it was normalized by society. So it was happening in full view; people had direct knowledge of it.

I don’t see the burning of fossil fuels as an equivalence, unless you are making a pollution argument, in which you are then saying that people today are dying because of pollution related diseases from coal emissions, etc. But that’s a different argument, and one with plenty of evidence.

That’s not the abolition analogy. The way I read that argument is that our descendants who get hit with climate change will wonder why we were so morally bankrupt for continuing to burn fossil fuels when we full well knew the dangers it posed to our children and grandchildren. The problem for me is that climate change is not present the way slavery was and there are no heinous images of its existence that future generations will regard with the same abhorrence that is elicited today by visual reminders of slavery’s past.

For these reasons, I cannot grasp the slavery analogy, but I’m open to persuasion.

UPDATE: Andrew Hoffman sent me an email. He has permitted me to reproduce his response to the lively comment thread:

No where in the NYT article did I equate climate skeptics with supporters of slavery.  I didn’t mention skeptics at all.  Nor, did I equate climate change with slavery in all its components.  That is never possible (as Pascvaks rightly points out).  The point I was making was that:

(a)   At its core, the problems and solutions of climate change are organizationally and culturally rooted. While technological and economic activity may be the direct cause of environmentally destructive behavior, individual beliefs, cultural norms and societal institutions guide the development of that activity. To properly address climate change, we must change the way we structure our organizations and the way we think as individuals. It requires a shift in our values. But, the magnitude of the cultural and moral shift around climate change is as large as that which accompanied the abolition of slavery.

(b)  The similarity arises in scale because (b) Today, we live in a fossil fuel-based economy. Fossil fuels are our primary source of energy and support our entire way of life. As scientific evidence mounts that this critical institution is causing changes to the global climate, we are faced with a technological and social dilemma.

In slavery,

(c) few people at the time saw a moral problem with this critical institution. People simply did not believe, as we do today, that all people have a right to freedom and equality. Slavery was seen as the natural order of things, unquestioned and even supported by many through the words of the Bible. (LCarey makes this point well at the beginning of his/her statement, but I don’t follow the logic to the end).

So, (d) Calls to end our dependence on fossil fuels are being met with the same kind of response as did calls to end our dependence on slavery: such a move would wreck the economy and the way of life that is built upon it.

This assessment leads to a conclusion that a value shift is required for humankind to come to terms with a new cultural reality.

(e) The first piece of this reality is that humankind has grown to such numbers and our technologies have grown to such a capacity that we can, and do, alter the Earth’s ecological systems on a planetary scale. It is a fundamental shift in the physical order “” one never before seen, and one that alters the ethics and morals by which we judge our behavior as it relates to the environment around us and to the rest of humanity that depends on that environment.

(f) The second piece of that reality is that we share a collective responsibility and require global cooperation to solve it. The coal burned in Ann Arbor, Shanghai or Moscow has an equal impact on the environment we all share. The kind of cooperation necessary to solve this problem is far beyond anything we, as a species, have ever accomplished before. International treaties to ban land mines or eliminate ozone-depleting substances pale in comparison. Looking at climate change through the parallel of slavery helps us to see the magnitude of the issue before us.

(g)  In the end, just as few people saw a moral problem with slavery in the 18th century, few people in the 21st century see a moral problem with the burning of fossil fuels. Will people in 100 years look at us with the same incomprehension we feel toward 18th-century defenders of slavery? If we are to address the problem adequately, the answer to that question must be yes.

If people want to debate about what I wrote, they can argue about points (e), (f) and (g).  Points (c), (d) and (e) seem to me to be evident, although people can debate them if they wish.  Point (a) is merely my overarching statement.

Now, if someone doesn’t beleive climate change is real, this whole discussion may be moot.  Or they can argue that we can’t alter the environment on a planetery scale (e), or that we do not share a collective responsibility towards protecting it (f).  If those are true then there is no moral argument (g).  Similarly, (skeptic or convinced) people might argue that we will never see a moral problem with emitting CO2 (g); we all do it everyday when we breath.  I think this is simply a matter of scale.  I think that once the damages of gross pollution become visible, we begin to put apply a moral lens to it.  For example, if I owned a company and told one of my workers to dump a flatbed of drums of organic chemicals in the river in back, I think many people would have a moral problem with that. The implications are known.  Will we get there on CO2?  I really don’t know.  To me, that’s the big question.

In the end, however, this debate has become like “abortion politics” in Roger Peilke’s terms.  We live in a time where people don’t debate your ideas, they debate your motives.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, ethics
MORE ABOUT: climate change, ethics
  • AllenC

    I can only see the analogy applying to any Government imposed measures to limit a person’s right to burn fossil fuels.  In such a case, people become the ‘slaves’ to the Government since in such a case, the people have to respond to the Government’s bidding.

  • Jack Hughes

    Hi Keith,
    There is one mahoosize difference between slavery and man-bear-pig.

    Slavery was and still is a real thing that anyone can see. Man-bear-pig is just a new-age fad.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Keith,
    consider the problem in terms of inter- rather than intra-generational justice and you’ll see that the analogy holds quite well.

    At this point it is well recognized in society that our lack of collective response to climate change will negatively impact people that haven’t yet been born.  And yet we continue to do relatively little about it.  While personally virtuous actions are to be admired (e.g. buy lcd instead of plasma, vegetarian, etc.), they do not in and of themselves do enough to address the scale of the problem.



     

  • LCarey

    Keith, it appears to me that you may have just (inadvertently) added support to Andrew Hoffman’s point.  I take Hoffman’s point to be that as a society we (or at least a very large percentage of “we”) are today fully acculturated to seeing burning fossil fuels as “normal” and “good for the economy”, and therefore socially acceptable and a downright necessity.

    The equivalence with slavery is that  in late 18th and early 19th century America, a very large percentage of society was fully acculturated to seeing owing and using human beings as slaves was “normal” and “good for the economy”, and therefore socially acceptable and a downright necessity. For these people slavery was NOT (as you phrase it) “an institutionalized evil, a heinous crime” ““ in point of fact volumes of documents of the time reveal a largely mainsteam “denial machine” pumping out a stream of justifications and rationalizations for why slavery was in fact morally virtuous and represented an improvement in the lot of the slaves, how the economy would collapse if slavery were abolished, how slavery was approved by the Bible and how good Christians could engage in the activity with a clean conscience, etc., etc.    Citizens of that era were largely accustomed to slavery and the justifications for slavery as just a normal part of life.

    Thus, slavery was simply NOT “present” for them in the way you suggest — it was simply part of the accepted background of life that most people were fully inured to, just the same way we are inured to seeing coal burning power plants and gas powered cars.   If someone happened to see a lynching or a beating, it could be easily ignored or rationalized away as a random aberration in a system that was otherwise largely acceptable and beneficial ““ this is perhaps an analogy to present day folks who see an ongoing series of dire assessments from prominent scientists and simply ignore such reports or rationalize them away as evidence of a Communist conspiracy to create a one-world government.

    Of course, had slave era folks wanted to “lift the hood” and rationally consider the ramifications, ethics and real human impact of slavery, they could have done so.  But, today those who want to  rationally consider the ramifications, ethics and real human impact of climate disruption can do so — it’s just that (as with slavery in the past) not many folks want to, have time to or choose to do so, or (as with slavery) they come to the issue with the need to support a pre-existing deeply held ideological viewpoint.

    At first only a handful of folks such as Quakers clearly recognized the moral odiousness of slavery and began campaigning against it — for their trouble they were ignored by many and actively opposed and persecuted by some.  Their view fortunately eventually carried the day – but if it HAD NOT, I rather doubt that I or you would be calling slavery “heinous”; rather, we would likely continue to accept it as simply part of the fabric of life ““ perhaps with some unfortunate aspects but accepted.

    And that is exactly the point.  Just as life in the slave-era society dulled most people’s perception of the true costs to society of maintaining a slave system (in terms of economics, morals, social conflict, etc.), our own current fossil fuel intensive society has dulled our perception of the true costs to our own society of maintaining a fossil fueled energy system and thereby degrading and threatening the natural world that provides trillions of dollars in crucial environmental services each year.  In our era it is (so far) a relatively modest sized group of folks that grasps the implications of continuing on our present energy / climate path, but they likely represent the moral view of my kids and future generations.

    I am just dumbfounded by your assertion that we lack heinous images of the effects of climate disruption for future generations to view, and that such images are not “present”.  As with slavery in prior times, it is simply a matter of LOOKING. Climate disruption in fact HAS plenty of heinous images for future generations to look back on ““ here are a few: aerial pictures of thousands upon thousands of acres of red, dead pine trees in my beloved Bridger Teton National Forest; the dead slime covered lagoon in Panama where the Boca del Toros reef that my wife loved used to be before the water got too hot; burning Russian wheatfields from this summer; the “inland hurricane” in the Midwest that nearly took my roof off earlier this week; a big chunk of Pakistan under flood waters; mountain climber David Breshears “before and after” pictures of many of the world’s great glaciers.  Maybe we can’t say that anthropogenic climate change “caused” any one of those events, but we can say that with a high degree of confidence that without excess anthropogenic CO2 emissions warming the climate most or all of those events would not have occurred.

    Your professed complete inability to grasp the parallels is instructive as to how thoroughly we can become stuck in our own social and cultural context. The solution does not require “righteousness”, but it does require seeing things from a different perspective, which can be very difficult, especially for moral issues.

    Best Regards.

  • Gene

    Wow…this analogy and the “diagnosis” on Andy Revkin’s site are two really good examples of how to shut down dialog. 

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

    Gene,

    I don’t see how this inhibits dialogue. Not every post I write will have a skeptic angle. People are free to disagree that there an analogy for other reasons than my own, which they already have.
    But I don’t see how you can take offense to this line of inquiry. Whether you agree with climate science or not or the projections, there are ethical/moral dimensions to the debate that are ongoing and I’m interested in engaging them.

    LCarey-I’m going to have to chew on your thought-provoking comment for a bit. Thanks very much for it. (BTW, I cleaned up the formatting mess. Let me know if I put anything out of order.)

  • Marlowe Johnson

    +1  LCarey.

    Couldn’t have put it any better.

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

    LCarey:

    Your comment triggered my memory of visiting  in 2000 a NYC exhibit of these postcards–of lynchings. I’ll never forget being utterly shocked by all the smiling faces– dozens and dozens of them– as they gathered around to watch a lynching, like it was some Sunday picnic.

    I felt ghoulish just looking at the photographs in the exhibit, but yes, I take your point about this being totally accepted at the time and not seen as heinous at all.

  • Gene

    Keith,

    my apologies…I wasn’t referring to you (or Andy for that matter).  I was referring to Hoffman, Bloom, etc.  who seem to think that those sorts of statements are helpful or even reasonable.  It’s no more valid than painting the other side as “communists” or “eco-nazis”.  It’s name calling.

    I can sympathize with the sadness that LCarey feels when looking at the scenes he describes, but they don’t hold a candle to the images you referenced.  Trying to equate the two is offensive on many levels.

  • LCarey

    Keith, no offense intended to you personally, but your anecdote is  exactly the type of situation I was thinking of – in any society there are powerful forces (and not just limited to monetary interests) pushing us to maintain the status quo.  Thus, in the slave era, in the course of a week one could easily hear about the benefits and justifications in a matter of fact way from the pulpit at church (in some den0minations), from many newspapers, from business colleagues, from family, friends and neighbors, etc.  When those forces lead us astray with an untruthful message that the status quo is just fine … later generations are indeed likely to say in bewilderment “what WERE they thinking?”  (As in all those folks bringing picnic basket and small children to lynchings.)
    (Sorry but the first 5 paragraphs in my post were somehow duplicated – feel free to edit out the duplication in an already too-long post.)
    Regards.

  • Jack Hughes

    Let’s develop the analogy by putting today’s climateers in a time machine and going back 200 years.

    Stephen Schneider would have spent 20 years as a pro-slaver before suddenly flipping and becoming an anti-slaver. He would have died on a slave ship while preaching the evils of slave ships.

    Al Gore would have 200 slaves himself while running a pyramid scheme to cap and trade slaves.
     

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

    LCarey,

    I’m willing to reexamine my own social and cultural context in regards to climate change, but I’m still not seeing all the parallels you do.

    Most particularly, I don’t agree that climate change has become  part of the accepted background. Certainly burning fossil fuels has, and the tradeoffs with that–damage to environment and public health, have been normalized. But I’m sorry, I don’t agree that all the events you point to are shining examples of climate change, if only we were more attuned to it. I gotta say, too, that I can’t make any sort of equivalence between the heinous images of those lynching pictures and burning wheatfields, shrinking glaciers, etc. Not even close.

  • LCarey

    One further thought in light of Gene’s post – I think there is a very significant distinction between (1) suggesting that someone is evil for holding a certain position, as opposed to (2) suggesting that some persons are likely to wind up on being judged by history as having been on the wrong side of an important issue.  Accordingly, I don’t see it as ad hominum to suggest the following

    that if significant climate disruption is underway for the future it represents a major ethical issue for our time,
    that future generations are persons worthy of consideration,
    that (taking a very big-picture view of broadly consistent physical evidence across a large variety of very different sub-fields such as atmospheric chemistry, oceanography, cryology, glaciology, botany, etc.)  there is sufficient scientific evidence to have significant concerns that climate disruption is underway and that it poses very significant risk of adverse future economic, environmental, social and other negative effects on many living persons and future persons, and
    that future generations are likely to view us as having made momentous choices that turned out to be ethically wrong in failing to deal with this problem.

    The problem is NOT that lots of the people who put up with slavery in, say 1850, were evil.  The problem is actually very much worse than that — those folks were by and large just regular, normal people trying to get on with life and relying on their society to give them the right information and clues to live a decent life, and paying attention to the ones that were least disruptive to the status quo and their own ideological preferences.  But in retrospect their ethical position was still WRONG!

    I absolutely agree with Gene that name-calling is useless and offensive, from either side.  But I nevertheless think it perfectly legitimate to assert that the spectre of climate disruption is a sufficiently grave risk to assess the ethical dimension of our decisions.  In that context I think it is perfectly appropriate to compare and contrast this issue with past issues involving divisive social topics.

    Hence, weighing this issue in light of what we already know about, say, the history of 18th-19th century slavery or 1930′s appeasement is rather unavoidable.  But t0 say we shouldn’t talk about ethical implications of our behavior and choices because the judgments we might reach constitute “name calling” doesn’t make sense.  In fact, it would appear to be a red herring to proactively cut off any further ethical debate on this issue.  Concluding h0w and why someone (maybe even oneself) is pursuing an ethically erroneous path (and how to fix the error) is much more helpful than it would be to simply label them with a derisive name that prevents future conversation.

  • Jack Hughes

    And every single one of the anti-slavers would turn out to have his or her own slaves at home  - but prefer to scold their neighbours and lobby the government instead of doing anything themselves.

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

    LCarey (13):

    I agree with much of what you say here. But here’s the thing: we already walk around with tons of stuff that is just flat out awful as part of our “background”–homeless on streets, millions of elderly and infirm warehoused, millions and millions around the world living in desperate poverty, with no access to clean water and sanitation, etc, etc.

    And no, I’m not going Lomborgian and suggesting that attending to one set of problems precludes action on others, but my point is this all background–NOW. And it goes on being background.

    So you know, there’s only so much capacity that people have. I think it’s a lot to ask people to make leaps into the future when they can’t even wrap their minds around the enduring problems that exist today. Not saying we shouldn’t try…but it’s going to be a bear…

  • Huge Difference

    “At this point it is well recognized in society that our lack of collective response to climate change will negatively impact people that haven’t yet been born.  ”

    So does eating.  So does have anything other than a ZPG culture.

    It is:

    An appeal to emotion (logical fallacy)
    A false dilemma (logical fallacy)
    Guilt by Association (logical fallacy)

    It assumes

    The science and all aspects leading to its conclusions and ways of mitigation are 100% correct and will never be modified by future discoveries
    The best action to take is the one that starts today, and there is no value in waiting until better science or engineering comes along (In 1980, I was told I needed a heart valve replaced.  I waited until 2005.  BEST DAWDLING OF 25 YEARS EVER.  Heart valve replacement surgery went from risky to mundane.)

    Hoffman’s claim is basically a godwinning argument.  Terrific, you just equated your otherwise worthy human opponents with Hitler and Slavery.  And now you expect them to have a conversation with you.

    Weird Economic Argument against: It values every putative future life at any time t in the future with the same economic value as a known life now.  What argument cannot be won with this sort of math?  We must go to China’s enforced one baby policy, because population growth now, threatens an almost oo number of future lives.  It is okay to kill or blow up deniers, because they will kill an almost oo number of future lives.  Since the putative future lives are so important as known lives now, the only solution is government dictatorship run by government technocrats telling us each what our best contribution is, where we should work, how many kids we get, what sorts of resources we can use, etc.

    Other economic argument against: sometimes the best thing to buy is an option for a future action.  Don’t close doors, but don’t just leap.

    Star Trek Argument:

    For:  Star Trek II: The needs of the many outweigh…
    Kirk: …the needs of the few.
    Against: Star Trek III: Because the needs of the one… outweigh the needs of the many.

    It’s an anti-democratic action.  Fundamentally, if the citizens of the US say they vote to march down path A, it is anti-democratic for a group of scientists and government agents, regardless of how correct they feel they might be, to act in any manner other than with the citizenry.  Educate them.  Warn them.  Whatever.  But do not treat them with contempt, disrespect, or subterfuge.

    I hope this helps.  Basically it is a stupid trivial argument that demeans the nature of the role of scientist, science, and culture.

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    LCarey, the parallels you try to draw seem a bit absurd to me.  Slavery was seen by everyone.  Global warming isn’t seen by everyone (or arguably, anyone).  There is no way for an average person to witness global warming.  All they have to go on is what they are told.  This means all sorts of issues with communication, education and confusion crop up.

    For example, every time somebody involved in climate science misbehaves, it hurts the case for global warming.  If people see the largest body advocating global warming concerns misbehaved, they lose trust in claims of global warming.  If people see climate scientists doing shady things, they lose trust in claims of global warming.  These are natural, and in fact sensible, reactions which have nothing to do with deluding themselves due to some sort of propaganda machine.

    Given the general lack of good education available about global warming, the serious scientific debates which still exist, and the flagrant misbehavior of some involved in pushing the agenda, it is perfectly rational for people to not worry about global warming.

    This decision is not unethical like you suggest.

  • LCarey

    Keith, sorry our posts crossed.  Thanks for fixing up the mess in my initial post – I got in a hurry and pasted text from Word (never again!).

    Re your @12, a big problem in this discussions is apparently this question: “given that climate change will be manifested almost exclusively though discrete individual ‘weather events’, what do you think COULD actually constitute evidence of climate change?”  If entire dying forests, dying reef systems, record setting heatwaves and fires, record setting floods, shrinking Arctic sea ice and shrinking glaciers are not visible evidence for global warming then what MIGHT be?  (I guess that I should bear in mind that for the sufficiently “skeptical” ANY individual climate event, just like any individual scientific paper, can always be explained away as an aberration or outlier, and hence there can NEVER be a suitable visual of climate disruption; my own concern, however, is that the big picture keeps looking more and more dire, with more and more frequent events of the type expected from global warming, and that accordingly I am willing to credit that (1) as a matter of probability at least SOME of the events I listed are likely climate driven, and (2) even that reduced set of events would be significant.)


    Regarding the “equivalence” argument,  I will readily admit that the lynching pictures are graphic and wrenching in a way that (at least presently) pictures of melting glaciers just aren’t … I was trying to be polite.  IF one views as credible even a significant portion of the existing scientific extrapolations of where our current “worse than worst case” emissions scenario is likely to take us, then the images on the “postcards from the future” conceivably have the potential to veer in a much more grisly direction.  I intentionally avoided this possibility, for fear of diverting the thread into a discussion of the usual “eco-freaks hoping for a cull of humanity” meme.

    However, climate disruption presents significant risks on a variety of fronts.  As but one significant example, if the Hadley cells continue expanding at their current rate, with an accompanying expansion of the associated relatively dry subtropic climate regime, it doesn’t take much imagination to see a significant risk that the world’s mid-latitude farming breadbaskets may come under intense pressure to produce enough to continue feeding the world.  Already this year, between the droughts and fires in Russia and Ukraine, and the abnormally wet harvest season on the Canadian prairies, grain prices have again skyrocketed, as in 2008 (remember those pesky food riots?) — I do not claim that this is due to climate disruption, but I do note that more extreme events of this nature would be consistent with projections regarding likely results of global warming, which include significant disruption of the historically anticipated hydrological cycle upon which the world’s farmers are largely dependent.)

    While Dai’s recent paper on drought may or may not be borne out, there should be little doubt that an actual mega-drought could pretty easily present some rather grisly, graphic images.  But since such images would not necessarily involve direct physical violence of humans against one another, just generalized suffering, perhaps they would not be so immediately compelling as the lynching photos, and hence would still come up short as evidence of our time’s ethical failure?  I don’t know the answer.

    FWIW, since my business involves providing professional services that help entrepreneurs build stuff, sell stuff and make money, and since I don’t really give a cr*p about polar bears, I take a dim view of being called a socialist or an eco-freak.  My own view is that climate disruption presents a mega risk to the world’s economy (and hence a direct risk to me and my family), both through potential direct damages and potential loss of crucial environmental services worth several trillion dollars a year (assuming such services can even be monetized at all).
    Regards.

  • Huge Difference

    This seemingly unrelated link, is I feel, very related:
    http://www.thefire.org/article/12301.html

    I know that all of us recognize the problem of rape, and all of us are against rape.  It really is imperative we all take every action and step we can to prevent rape.  What can we say about the people who would refuse to take every possible action to prevent rape?  I think it’s obvious they are not principled citizens who disagree with us, I think it is obvious they will one day be seen as modern day slavers.  It is how I see them.

  • http://nigguraths.wordpress.com Shub Niggurath

    As a skeptic of a certain type (I wont go into that), I think I feel the same abhorrence that the abolitionists must have, when I see efforts by the warmists to restrict their fellowmen from using their fuel sources.

    The carbonistas are not going to get it – it is all a game for them.

  • Steve Bloom

    “Slavery was seen by everyone.”

    Nope, not even close.  Significantly, it was mainly not seen by the people that organized to get rid of it.  The case of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is instructive.

  • LCarey

    Keith, @15.  The problem is that there may be a fundamental qualitative difference between the truly unfortunate events of the type that you list (homelessness, poverty, lack of access to decent food, water and energy – and many more could be added), versus climate disruption in that there may well be a physical (literally physics based) deadline in the case of climate disruption.  If one credits the science at all (as opposed to, say, seeing thousands of scientists all over the world as engaged in a super-secret fiendish plot conducted over decades), then one of the risks indicated by the current science is that reaching and remaining for a significant time at a high CO2 concentration (say 420 ppm) may well pose a risk of putting in motion significant natural source of carbon input into the climate system.  Examples of such potential effects might be via avenues such as melting tundra (already apparently underway) and/or methane clathrate releases from shallow sea deposits.   And the separate issue of changing ocean pH balance presents another significant risk from a different direction that puts global food security even further at risk.

    While the other conditions you note are very unfortunate, for better or worse most are not time sensitive to society as a whole (however much specific individuals wrongly suffer as a result of being subjected to them).  With climate disruption, there is a non-trivial risk that failure to act might in fact set in motion a chain of events that take matters beyond our control, and degrade both the world’s climate and economic systems (and hence also results in depriving us of the resources to combat scourges such as malnutrition, disease, poverty, etc.).
    Regards.

  • Steve Bloom

    Thanks LCarey.  I may have something to add later, but I think not much.

  • David44

    Well, if the slavery meme doesn’t catch on, we still have the old  holocaust denier analogy to fall back on.

  • Steve Bloom

    Re #19:  Yes.  There will come a time when suffering and death will be the only form of adaptation available to many millions of people.  I guess Keith is saying that he needs to see that in order to be persuaded that there’s any equivalency between climate disruption and slavery.  It’s an interesting point of view, although a bit solopsistic for my taste.

    BTW, in case anyone is unclear on it, I should mention that the remark of mine Keith quoted is really neither here nor there for purposes of this discussion, but was simply pointing out that the currently very widely-noted inability of the federal government to produce results on a variety of issues, not just climate change, is a consequence of a political structure that was in part designed to make it difficult to get rid of slavery.  

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    #18 LCarey, you say, If one credits the science at all (as opposed to, say, seeing thousands of scientists all over the world as engaged in a super-secret fiendish plot conducted over decades),

    This is a ridiculous representation of people who doubt global warming claims.  Combined with your doomsday rhetoric, it makes you entire position laughable.

  • http://www.hopkinson.net Simon Hopkinson

    So the theory goes that anthropogenic climate interference, or whatever today’s fad name is, is normalised in society like slavery was centuries ago, and so its abhorrence to society is present but is invisible, but will be identifiable at some unspecified point in the future?

    Unfalsifiable, utter crap.

  • Stu

    LCarey #4

    “but we can say that with a high degree of confidence that without excess anthropogenic CO2 emissions warming the climate most or all of those events would not have occurred.”

    I would dispute this. Natural disasters have been happening long before 1975 (of course). Imagine an event like that of tropical Cyclone Tracy, one of European Australia’s worst/most dramatic natural disasters. These days we would link this event with anthropogenic warming. there is absolutely no doubt in my mind. It would just go on the list with all of the other things that you have listed above. Similarly, the great Federation drought, almost a century away in time now. It too would be on the list.

    You are trying to ascribe events to us which, if we were to be honest, we are simply not able to connect to CO2 induced warming currently. And yet, you are taking a moral stance. Since we’re connecting up strange things, I wonder how moral is it that people in drought stricken Uganda are sacrificing their children in order to bring about prosperity? Or any culture which has sacrificed its people in order to appease some weather/volcano God?

    What is the moral worth of the possibility that we may have offset the appearance of an Ice Age? Or that increasing CO2 has had a beneficial effect on crop production which has helped feed billions? What is the moral worth of the possibility that without humans technological ability to release stored carbon, that CO2 levels would simply keep falling as they have done over geological history, to the point where the planet would be unable to sustain vegetative life?

    If you want to link fires in Russia to slavey, then these questions are also worth asking, imo.

  • AMac

    When we look back to the Antebellum times from a distance of  160 years, we identify some groups clearly.  LCary talks about the slaves, the slaveholders, and the abolitionists.

    There was another, large group.  Most white people in the North (and some in the South) were opposed to slavery, but were not abolitionists.  Their particular concern was war: the fear that pushing the South too far would lead to a chain of events that would end up with the young men from their families and communities marching off to fight a civil war.  With many coming home maimed, or not returning at all.

    The abolitionist movement was directed as much against this widely held Northern stance, as it was against the slaveholders of the South.  A primary goal of John Brown was to make it impossible for “moderates” to maintain a position on middle ground.  If war was to come, wrote Brown in the 1850s, then so be it.  In that way, the sins of the nation could be cleansed through blood sacrifice.

    In the event, of course, John Brown’s wishes and the Unionists’ fears came true.  The 1861-1865 war cost 364,000 Union dead, as well as 260,000 Confederates.  On a per capita basis, that would be the equivalent for today’s United States of suffering 6 million wartime deaths.

    For comparison:  WW2, 405,000; Vietnam, 58,000; Iraq, 4,400 (Wikipedia).

    It could also be noted that some pre-Civil War thinkers, white and black, were concerned not only with slavery — the white man’s sin — but with the lives that the former slaves would lead, post-emancipation.  Some feared that a war to free the slaves would exact a terrible cost on the liberated, as well as on the liberators.  In the event, as we know with benefit of hindsight, those fears were realized, as well.

    So by all means, let us apply this metaphor of slavery and civil strife to AGW.  So far, this post and thread have not done particular justice to this bloodiest episode in American history.

  • Stu

    LCarey- I just feel like highlighting your statement above again, because it’s a fairly amazing statement, imo.   You say:


    “but we can say that with a high degree of confidence that without excess anthropogenic CO2 emissions warming the climate most or all of those events would not have occurred.””

    This is probably worth discussing all by itself. I’m busy today with other things so I won’t be able to take this up fully. But I wonder just on what evidence you can say that there is a ‘high degree of confidence’ that ‘most or all of these events would have not occurred’.

    Again, I would say to you that even in recent history (100-200 years back) we have seen similar things happen. If we had put a halt to CO2 emissions 100 years ago, why would you assume that these events would not happen today?

  • Stu

    Finally, I just want to say that its offensive that you would choose to link anyone who has problems with your above statement of ‘high degree of confidence these events would never of happened’ with those in history who stood in opposition to the abolition of slavery. This is simply more ‘deniers’ type bullying as far as I’m concerned. Another reason to turn people off… Holocaust deniers, slave holders… what’s next? Peodophiles? I’m sure there’s a way to twist that one into being.


     

  • Ian

    I suspect that future generations are not going to look back with consternation on our use of fossil fuels so much as being deeply alarmed with our seeming fixation on reducing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 to the deteriment of immediate ecological and social challenges.  CO2 reduction has become the  the preeminent narrative for most environmental organisations and has even come to dominate that of NGO’s that traditionally focused on social equity issues (eg. Oxfam and World Vision).  I suspect that the billions who struggle daily for subsistence are quite oblivious to the climate angst we in the ‘west’ spend so much time blogging over.  

  • Jarmo

    I recently read a story about India where the government is planning to build up to 14 UMPP’s (Ultra Mega Power Plants), which are > 4000 MW coal-burning electricity producers. The aim is that all Indians would have access to electricity by 2012.

    An engineer building one of those plants commented that for people who do not have electricity, climate change is a secondary consideration.

    China more than doubled their use of coal between 2000-2010 and India is following the same path. Both countries believe energy will liberate them from poverty, the modern day slavery.

       

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

    Ian (32):

    In this post, I shared your concern when I wrote:

    “Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the debate over climate change science, politics, and policy is that it’s elbowed all other environmental issues off the public stage.”

  • Stu

    Keith (above), I agree.
    Also, Jarmo’s last sentence in his #33 post makes another good point.

  • Gene

    LCarey (13)

    I appreciate the distinction you’re trying to make (evil vs. “wrong side of history”), but I have two issues with it.  First of all, from a tactical standpoint, do you really think the vast majority of people will stop and listen to the nuances when you make such a comparison?  I doubt it.  It’s not a good way to engage people and have them consider your views.

  • Gene

    Steve Bloom (25)

    You noted that the “inability of the federal government to produce results on a variety of issues, not just climate change, is a consequence of a political structure that was in part designed to make it difficult to get rid of slavery”.  While slavery was absolutely one of the foremost divisive issues of that day, I tend to believe the Founders realized that other divisive issues would arise over time as well.

    Consider that the fratricidal carnage Amac noted in #29 above resulted from the perception that a slim majority (or even a minority temporarily ascendant) was going to impose their beliefs without a wide mandate.  That systemic bias for inaction is there for good reason.

  • http://amac1.blogspot.com/ AMac

    Jarmo #33 -
    Relevant to your point, I think that one of the important subtexts of the AGW debate is this:  Do you see yourself foremost as a citizen of the world, or as a citizen of your country?
    For a world citizen, thinking about “What should <i>we</i> do about AGW?” tends to lead to global approaches.  If the priority is to reduce CO2 emissions, how this sacrifice should be shared by different societies is a second-order consideration.
    Those who see themselves as Australians, Chinese, Americans, Britons, Indonesians, French, and so forth will have different notions of <i>us</i>, and thus different sets of perspectives.
    At Judy Curry’s, Richard Holle expressed the viewpoint of a citizen of a First World country:
    - – - begin quote – - -
    Arguing about the actual climate sensitivity… is a waste of time. With China, India, and the rest of the developing world building coal power plants as fast as they can get them on line, at the rate of about 4 to 5 per week. They will be pushing the CO2 level at rapid rates no matter what…
    Changing the rules for power production in the USA and EU countries, NZ and Australia, with huge increases in costs of power, will have no effect on the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. Except that the lower competition for coal and oil stores will in effect lower the costs for the third world and increase their maximum consumption rates…
    - – - end quote – - -

  • kdk33

    1. Slavery was a fact; AGW is an uncertain hypothesis whose consequences are wildly speculative

    2. Denying low cost energy to the poor in the developed world and to most of the developing world is morally reprehensible – yes there is a moral component to the debate.

    3.  Destroying wealth in the developed world will make it all that more difficult to tackle real societal / environmental issues – spending on issue A is, in effect, choosing to not spend on issue B.

    4.  There is considerable value in delay: uncertainty is reduced, new options are created, existing options improve.

    5.  Post-hoc attribution claims ought not be tolerated,

    Otherwise, a great post!  The more people are exposed to this rubbish, the less credible is the ‘decarbonize-now’ meme.  What could be more revealing than  Coal=Slavery.

  • Jarmo

    AMac # 38:

    I have read many forecasts on world and China’s future energy use and coal burning rates (IEA, US DoE etc.) Frankly, I see no way to curb global CO2 emissions, short of major war or unprecedented natural catastrophies.

    I see the whole “citizen of the world” concept as an affordability question. Rich people in the developed world, with secured basic needs and safety networks, can afford it. People subsisting with less than 2 dollars per day cannot. 

    The paradox is that the only way to lift these poor people out of poverty is to follow China’s example. Cheap energy is the key and right now coal is the cheapest source.

    However, China will have to curb their use of coal after 2030, the reason being that they are running out of the stuff. Small consolation.

    Here is a recent article on China:
    http://www.recyclingportal.eu/artikel/24268.shtml

  • John Whitman

    Keith,

    X  was supported by many civilizations & cultures.

    X had opponents is those civilizations & cultures.

    X now universally condemned by almost all civilizations

    X look now to be stupid and those old supporters were evil by modern mores

    Y is supported by many current civilizations & cultures

    Y has opponents in those current civilizations & cultures

    Y is like X, and vice versa

    Y supporters will look evil to human descendants just like in the case of X

    Y is bad and should be abolished

    ————————–

    NOTE: of course the problem with the above is “Y is like X, and vice versa”, but ignoring that then let’s have some fun.

    We can start randomly substituting values for X and Y merely based on historical correlation of the forms.

    I have a proposed value for X & Y

    X = prostitution

    Y = CAGW-by-CO2

    Come on you other commenters, there have to be a wealth of random/funny X and Y combos.  : )

    John

  • Stu

    how about…

    X = CO2-o-phobe

    Y = Ice Age Sympathiser

  • Ed Forbes

    John Whitman Says:
    October 30th, 2010 at 11:46 am
    I have a proposed value for X & Y
    X = prostitution
    Y = CAGW-by-CO2
    —————————–

    Very true. The increased bodily respiration leads to increased CO2 output.

    Best to outlaw sex in general in order to save the world from this fiendish increase in CO2 output.

  • Ordinary Fool

    I give Andrew Hoffman credit for trying – we should look for such an analogy.  He does get good timing, at say 150 years.  And it does put the  US  in the appropriate position globally, as the worst actor.

    However, the consequencs aren’t analogous.  Black descendents of slavery, even allowing for discrimination, are better off than their ancestors.  And for whites,  slavery had only black victims.  White ancestors were not dooming their white descendants.

    There is a way  to evaluate the future that is more accessible than addressing issues of melting glaciers, extreme weather, or the cooling of the stratosphere.  Denial necessitates acceptance of a conspiracy theory that 97% of publishing climatologists are lying.  And that all of the world’s major scientific organizations are in collusion.

    When they look back in anger from the 22nd century, 2010 will stand out as a time when people should have known.  Global temperatures had been increasing for 35 years with CO2 as the only explanation.  It would soon be declared a ‘climate’ of increasing temperatures.  And yet in 2010 the people in the US would do nothing to prevent it – not even vote.

  • kdk33

    x = multi-theism
    y = McDonalds

  • John Whitman

    kdk33 Says:
    October 30th, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    X = multi-theism
    Y = McDonalds
    ————————————–

    kdk33,

    LOL

    That is a random walk through variations of X and Y.   I choked on my tea.

    John

  • Jarmo

    OK, let’s play for argument’s sake that burning fossil fuels is analoguous to slavery. I see a moral dilemma but my take is different from Andrew Hoffman’s.

    As we remember, Britain abolished slavery in Britain first and then started erasing slavery elsewhere. In the US the North did not have slavery and pressured  the South to limit it. The Southerners (Confederacy) decided to break away to uphold the peculiar institution but were forced by the Union to toe the line.

    In todays world where burning fossil fuels equals slavery, nobydy has the high ground: all countries are slave states, some to a lesser degree  and some to a higher. The main difference is between the old slave states and the new ones. Old slave states have more slaves than new ones and they have grown rich by their use of slavery. They have several times more slaves per citizen than the new slave states.

    However, the old slave states have recognized that a world where all countries have as many slaves as they do is not sustainable. They have new, expensive technologies that can, for a high cost, slowly replace use of slaves.

    The new slave states recognize the same truths but feel they are treated unfairly. They have 1 slave per 10 citizens whereas some rich states have 10. The rich states are ready to free their slaves gradually but demand that the poor states refrain from raising their ratio of slaves to the same level as rich countries have right now. New slave states should not have more than 3 slaves per 10 citizens.

    New slave states do not have the money for applying expensive new techniques. Even the old rich slave states have noticed that abolishing slavery may be much more expensive than they have bargained for. Furthermore, dissidents in both old and new slave states argue that the costs of abolishing slavery may well outweigh the benefits.

  • Laursaurus

    I find this analogy offensive.
    Just when we have beat to death  analogies to the Nazis or Communists, we’re going to try equating the Green Movement with the Abolition Movement. OK, I’ll bite
    The political party of Abraham Lincoln, which also supported the Abolition of Slavery in the US, was the Republican Party. The Democratic Party could rely on the “Solid South” pretty much up until the turn of the millennium.
    The warmists are playing the economy trump card every bit as much as the conservatives.

    As LCarey #18 writes above:
    My own view is that climate disruption presents a mega risk to the world’s economy (and hence a direct risk to me and my family), both through potential direct damages and potential loss of crucial environmental services worth several trillion dollars a year (assuming such services can even be monetized at all).

  • David44

    x = Abu Ghraib

    y = tortured analogies

  • Laursaurus

    #44 Fool: “There is a way  to evaluate the future that is more accessible than addressing issues of melting glaciers, extreme weather, or the cooling of the stratosphere.  Denial necessitates acceptance of a conspiracy theory that 97% of publishing climatologists are lying.  And that all of the world’s major scientific organizations are in collusion.”
    Gee, we have 2 recent examples of coercive action by the “consensus” scientists to suppress contrary view  . SciAm publishes an article about Judith Curry. Although the authors angle was rather unflattering, it coincidently aggravated an acute adverse reaction from the members of the IPCC establishment as speculated. Under the threat of having his personal integrity destroyed, this writer produced a follow up piece. As proof of his loyalty, an explanation containing attacks on Curry emerged, thus sparing his reputation.
    We were treated to another astonishingly brazen personal attack on a reputable journalist at Nature, for a merely reviewing a book authored by RPJ. This was written by a highly credentialed university professor in the field. Unlike the SciAm writer, this particular journalist dared to stand his ground. Things have gotten very ugly since.
    We don’t really need to speculate over a conspiracy in climate science, when it’s written out in black and white. I realize that the warmists deliberately avoided reading the Climategate emails for themselves. But the rest of humanity is really interested in the truth. We have evidence before us confirming the bunker mentality continues to dominate this field. Circling of the wagons persists a year later. Scientists and journalists have traditionally approached their work with truth being the ultimate goal. Sadly, it is self-preservation for these particular professionals.

  • kdk33

    Speaking of tortured analogies….

    Tomorrow evening I, and many of my neighbors, will offer tooth-decaying, sugar-based candy treats to any kids willing to dress up in ghostly/ghoulish/scary costume. 97% of the kids will participate.  The local merchants, who sell candy and costumes, will shamelessly advocate for this activity.  The American Dental Association will not object.

    Is this a conspiracy?  Whose? Are the local merchants in collusion?  Is the American Dental Associate criminally negligent?

    Government funded science concludes: we need more government to fund more science.  Who knew?

  • AllenM

    “Denial necessitates acceptance of a conspiracy theory that 97% of publishing climatologists are lying.  And that all of the world’s major scientific organizations are in collusion.”
    OF; perhaps in your world but not mine. I regard climate science as being in its infancy with scientific understanding of the climate system  poor.  Climatologists lying?  for the majority no but arrogance, hubris, intolerance  in abundance from the most vocal climatologists.

  • Pascvaks

    The “analogy” of any X to any Y is tenuous at best.  There may be some similarities between the two for the ‘present’ generation (the ones who are making the analogy and reading it or hearing it) but the truth is often quite feeble.  Climate to Slavery — hummmmm… what is the picture, the taste, the smell, you conjure in the mind of the one you’re speaking to? 

    Too often those who love to make historical analogies are operating on a purely emotional plane and do not have their feet on the ground.  They do it for effect.  They don’t care one bit about the actual truth.  They’re doing it only to get your blood to boil.  The case in point is more about getting blood to boil than it is about a valid comparison.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Here’s something that is not an analogy:

    http://rockblogs.psu.edu/climate/2010/10/a-new-kind-of-vicious-crime-against-humanity-the-fossil-fuel-industrys-disinformation-campaign-on-cl.html

    Disinforming has more analogical connecting points to enslaving than climate.
     

  • John Whitman

    Ordinary Fool Says:
    October 30th, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    “Denial necessitates acceptance of a conspiracy theory that 97% of publishing climatologists are lying.  And that all of the world’s major scientific organizations are in collusion.”

    —————

    Ordinary Fool,

    Conspiracy is not necessary when the following are each sufficient causes unto themselves or in combination: bias; accepting others work uncritically as a basis of your own work; just plain being wrong; consciously making scientific analysis with a motivation other than integrity, intimidation, not wanting to rock the government sponsored funding boat, etc.

    Other commenters, I am sure, will fill the list more comprehensively.

    John

  • kdk33

    ahhh, yes.  The big-oil-disinformation-campaign rears its ugly head.  A crime against humanity, no less.

    Anyone disagreeing with the “consensus”, and who accepted funding that can be somehow linked to a “big-oil-company” is a criminal on the level of Hermann Goering.

    Of course, none of those 97% consensus scientist feel any pressure to conform.

    Brilliant!

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    > Anyone disagreeing with the “consensus”, and who accepted funding that can be somehow linked to a “big-oil-company” is a criminal on the level of Hermann Goering.

    Nowhere in the article was it mentioned something that can lead someone to believe that it was referring to “anyone disagreeing” &c.  A strawman in a Nazi uniform.  We must be nearing Halloween.

    More on crimes against humanity:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_against_humanity#International_Criminal_Court

  • kdk33

    This is cut and paste from the article:

    “Disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily if not criminally irresponsible because the consensus scientific view of climate change is based upon strong evidence that climate change harms”

    The very basis for the “crime” is the consensus scientific view. I can’t imagine how it could be more clear.

  • kdk33

    Or more to the point. 

    Willard, perhaps you can define for me:

    felony disagreement
    misdemeanor disgreement
    ordinary disgreement

    What penalties would you propose for each?

  • http://gryposaurus.wordpress.com/ grypo

    OT- but I think this should get some discussion here (this blog) in some way.
    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-epa-battle-ahead-20101030,0,6040861.story
    Let the assault on acedemia begin – 1.3.2011

  • http://gryposaurus.wordpress.com/ grypo

    I spelled ‘academia’ wrong.  Oh irony.

  • kdk33

    “As long as there is any chance that climate change could create this type of destruction… disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily morally reprehensible ”

    And the very basis of the scientific consensus is one giant appeal to ignorance:  you can’t prove no-catastrophe, therefore we must decarbonize.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    > I can’t imagine how it could be more clear.

    I can imagine that it can be clearer, for instance by providing context for the claim.  Two paragraphs earlier:
    > On October 21, 2010, the John Broder of the New York Times, http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2010/10/21/us/politics/21climate.html?sort=newest&offset=2, reported, that “the fossil fuel industries have for decades waged a concerted campaign to raise doubts about the science of global warming and to undermine policies devised to address it. According the New York Times article, the fossil fuel industry has ” created and lavishly financed institutes to produce anti-global-warming studies, paid for rallies and Web sites to question the science, and generated scores of economic analyses that purport to show that policies to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases will have a devastating effect on jobs and the overall economy.”

    Here again is the title of the text: **A New Kind of Crime Against Humanity?: The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Disinformation Campaign On Climate Change**

  • kdk33

    “Skepticism in science is not bad, but skeptics must play by the rules of science including publishing their conclusions in peer-reviewed scientific journals and not make claims that are not substantiated by the peer-reviewed literature.”

    And then there is this little zinger – those pesky climate-gate emails having revealed how the PRL game works.

  • kdk33

    Willard,

    Are you sure you’re not a double agent in the pay of big-oil.

    Just curious

  • Stu

    I wonder if Willard can define for us where a ‘reasonable’ skeptic ends and a ‘fossil fuel funded disinformation campaigner on climate change’ begins?

    It might be important…  ;)

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard
  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Stu,

    Your scare quotes do not look like quotes, as I can’t find the word “campaigner” in Brown’s text.

  • Stu

    Well, i didn’t use direct quotes because I wasn’t directly quoting. Having said that, I don’t see exactly how ‘campaign’ and ‘compaigner’ can mean two different things. Someone who spreads industry funded disinformation isn’t a campaign, they’re a campaigner. The word ‘campaign’ is in the very title of the article, which I actually just pulled from your direct quoting of it, a few of posts up from mine. Pardon, but I don’t understand really where you’re coming from here?

  • kdk33

    Since disinformation campaigns can’t committ crimes or go to jail, it is reasonable to assume that the criminals are those participating in the campaign.  Participation can be reasonably defined as: disagreeing with the consensus, stating so publicly, and taking money from big oil.  The crime, as clearly stated in the article is: a crime against humanity.  Hermann was convicted of crimes against humanity.

    I stand by initial comment.  Anyone disagreeing with the consensus who took some money from “big-oil” has committed a crime on the level of Hermann Goering.  According to Penn State’s Dr. Brown (and presumably Willard)

    The entire notion is preposterous.  To the degree it represents the thinking of climate scientists, it is scary.  To the degree is influences the ‘consensus’ on climate, it is worse.

    I’d comment further, but I’m late for church and I misplaced my gun while I was posting those tea party flyers.  :-) .

    Happy Halloween.

  • Stu

    Anyway, the difference between campaign and campaigner is, let’s put it nicely… uninteresting. I’d like to know how you would define the difference between a reasonable skeptic and somebody involved in a disinformation campaign, let’s  put it that way. I tend to get the impression that a lot of people are apparently unable to see a difference. So, who are the ones spreading disinformation, and who are the reasonable skeptics? If we’re going to be treating people as criminals here, there’d better be some kind of system where we can work out who’s who, don’t you think?

  • Neven

    “Just as life in the slave-era society dulled most people’s perception of the true costs to society of maintaining a slave system (in terms of economics, morals, social conflict, etc.), our own current fossil fuel intensive society has dulled our perception of the true costs to our own society of maintaining a fossil fueled energy system and thereby degrading and threatening the natural world that provides trillions of dollars in crucial environmental services each year.”
    This really hit the nail on the head, and in my view the many reactions of the ‘skeptics’ did nothing but reinforce it. Keith, you should re-read and re-re-read LCarey’s comments.

    Analogies are never perfect. They have a qualitative and a quantitative side to them, and the analogy is always lacking in one of these aspects.

    In this case, and that’s what gets people’s hairs up (at least of those who are not convinced of AGW), the quantitative element is imperfect: people who use fossil fuels are not doing the same thing slaveholders did. Skeptics are not slaveholders, although they are very keen to spin the analogy that way, which is intellectually dishonest to say the least (but I digress). The quantity of forcing a slave to hard labor is not exactly the same as the quantity of driving to your work (although even here there are parallels, which will become increasingly clear).

    The strength of this analogy lies in the qualitative aspect. A lot of people at the time thought the whole slavery system was normal, good and necessary. When confronted with the moral implications if this system most of them went into the psychological  state of denial as a defense mechanism, simply because acknowledging those implications meant they had to change their habits, their culture, their society.  That’s just human nature.

    It’s the same with the burning of fossil fuels. Acknowledging that this system has hidden, externalized costs, means we have to change practically everything, including ourselves. Human nature has been reinforced by decades of brainwashing that economic growth is the be-all of our culture and society, which explains why a lot of people will either become the pseudo-skeptics we see so much in comment sections, or they will say: ‘yes, it’s awful, somebody should do something about it. Not me, I just changed the light bulbs and bought a Prius’.

    So qualitatively speaking Western society is at the same point as the American society in the 19th century. At the stage of denial.

    Very good analogy.

  • http://neven1.typepad.com/blog Neven

    Keith, I’m sorry for the lay-out (spaces between paragraphs). Things turn out a lot different than how it looks in the comment box.

  • Dean

    I think the only real analogy is that just as people _look back_ now and see how obvious a moral evil slavery was – but didn’t then, we are now debating something that in the future will seem equally obvious. In that sense, today’s denialists will be a little bit analogous to those who said it wasn’t really about slavery, it was only about state’s rights (emphasis on “a little bit”). But I don’t see the analogy going any further than that. I see no analogy between the abolitionist movement and AGW politics (or science).

  • Huge Difference

    Grypo, thanks for your pointer to the LA Times article.   Although it is quite a lousy article / future to wake up to.

    Most (but not all) of the attacks described in the article are despicable, nonsensical, obstructionary tactics designed to get Obama out in 2012 and to enrichen big business friends of Republicans.

    Republicans are like that scorpion / snake  crossing the river with the help of the farmer / frog / turtle / fox / rock.

    And yet, many of the climate science acts, as well as the actions of staunch, passionate Democratic politicians as advised by their pundits have been to act badly on their own, thus rescuing the scorpion & snake in the first place.

    The answer to ugly free speech is more good free speech, and the answer to bad political actors is more good political acting.  But I cannot say that Obama, the Democratic Pols or Pundits, or even the climate scientists have been providing us with stellar examples of good political acting.

    Instead we see lots of top-down, solutions-shoved-on-us, disrespect for disagreement, disrespect for everyone, dismissal of the pain involved in the solutions, ends justify the means sort of acts.  With a lot of name calling tossed in.

    The climate scientists could defuse Morano easily, but instead, they rush over themselves eager to be the logs in his fire.

  • AMac

    Neven (#72),

    As I mentioned upthread @ #29, one of the immediate, quantitative costs of using the American Civil War as the solution to the Slavery Question (as it was known) was the 364,000 Union dead (having little sympathy for the Confederacy, I’ll ignore the South’s casualty rolls for now).

    How does this map to the Abolitionism:anti-AGW analogy?

    Following John Brown, should us carbon-footprinters bow our heads in the knowledge that an equivalent carnage may be required of us, in the expiation of our own climate sins?

    If you ignore the dead, maimed, and wounded of both sides, and the ruin of the South’s economy, and the dashed hopes of the Freedmen, and the immense political changes to the US Federal system… how, exactly, is this analogy supposed to serve as a guidepost to clearer thinking about AGW?

  • Stu

    First off Neven, stop saying ‘pseudo-skeptics’.

    Secondly, you come across as someone who is obviously not a skeptic, and yet you claim to know what skeptics want, you understand their mind-state (denial), how they feel, and you say that they are ‘brainwashed’. You apparently know all there is to know about skeptics. And you carry on as though you’re above all that brainwashing and silliness, operating in some superior, advanced state of awareness and cognition.

    So here’s an analogy for you. You are like the snobbish, arrogant, enlightened European Man, looking down upon the poor helpless backwards cultures with their primitive taboos and silly notions. It’s funny… I can almost see you with an old hunting rifle and explorers outfit, off to Africa to put lead in some helpless Rhino, who’s head you will have dutifully affixed to the plush, velveteen, floral patterned wall of your lavishly decorated apartment…

    How’s that for an analogy?

    Thirdly- you say:

    “Skeptics are not slaveholders, although they are very keen to spin the analogy that way, which is intellectually dishonest to say the least (but I digress).”

    What? You’re the one who’s supporting this analogy between skeptics and slaveholders, not skeptics. Sheesh… Skeptics have simply pointed out, as you have- that the analogy is in reference to some kind of moral equivalence between skeptics and those who supported slavery in the past. When people get iffy about being called ‘deniers’, it’s not because they imagine that people actually think that they deny the holocaust… Just what are you trying to pull with this?

     

  • AMac

    Dean, I can appreciate your modest view of the Abolition analogy in #74.
    The problem with the future is that it is kind of hard to predict.

    As a for-instance, here is another analogy.  In 1920, at the cusp of the Volstead Act going into force to begin Prohibition, a Temperance activist could have proclaimed:

    Just as people look back now and see how obvious a moral evil slavery was ““ but didn’t then — we are now debating something that in the future will seem equally obvious. In that sense, today’s deniers of the evils of Alcohol will be a little bit analogous to those who said the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery, it was only about state’s rights (emphasis on ‘a little bit’).

    Of course, we are ninety years in the future of those idealistic, naive promoters of Prohibition.  So the Future of 1920 and the real-world effects of the triumph of the Temperance movement are easy for us to see.

    To be clear:  I am not proposing replacing one analogy (Abolition) with another (Prohibition). Rather, I am saying that we pick the model whose moral we think we know, and that we think is supportive of our already-held beliefs.

    Abolition and Prohibition are each are unhelpful mental models for the issues surrounding AGW

  • Huge Difference

    Neven,

    Your post (currently 72)  is pretty good, and I almost agree with it.  But I think you don’t address the excluded middle:

    “It’s the same with the burning of fossil fuels. Acknowledging that this system has hidden, externalized costs, means we have to change practically everything, including ourselves.”

    My question is about rates.  How fast must that rate of change take place?  Do we want an underdamped system, overdamped, or critically damped?

    How do we recognize the costs of defense required for an oil state?  The costs of pollution?  The health care costs?  The opportunity costs of oil, natural gas and other resources used up?  The inherent unseen subsidies that oil gets that wind/geothermal/solar/hydro/nuclear pathways do not?

    Given a choice of doing nothing, advocating for a carbon tax, advocating for a carbon fees with rebates, and cap and trade, what solution did Democrats opt for?  Cap and trade.  The solution preferred by Goldman Sacks, and the most top down, G-d gives to the people the people should shut up, the most radical approach, the most lets create new industries, just the biggest target and the biggest gift the Republicans could ever hope to get.  And according to the economists it was also one of the paths least likely to work.   Huzzah Democrats!  Make me ashamed to be one of you!  Create greater disparity!  Make more rich people richer!  Show how you’re afraid to stand up to the Republicans!  Show how you are not at all reality based or believing in science, at least, not when money and political power get in the way.

    Neven, lots of people agree that AGW is something to examine, look at, study, and that there are many ways to ameliorate it, mitigate it, try to slow it down, try to stop it, but they disagree that the best way to do that is with the overdamped most disruptive most expensive least democratic mechanism possible.

    Anyway.
     

  • http://neven1.typepad.com/blog Neven

    AMac, I just said the analogy is imperfect because of that quantitative aspect. The qualitative aspect (stage of denial, seeing slavery/fossil fuel use as normal, ignoring the costs) is what makes the analogy strong.

    But we can extend the (qualitative aspect of the) analogy to the Civil War if you really want to. If people would have stopped ignoring the consequences of slavery and surmounted that psychological stage of denial, there might never have been a war. If people surmount the stage of denial that the use of fossil fuels is a potential threat to ecosystems and the economy and thus to human society (not the frigging polar bears, which is used to get the more docile and less contrarian by nature folks in denial to change their light bulbs), there might never be… Oops, too late. ;-)

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    #70

    >  Since disinformation campaigns can’t committ crimes or go to jail, it is reasonable to assume that the criminals are those participating in the campaign.  Participation can be reasonably defined as: disagreeing with the consensus, stating so publicly, and taking money from big oil. The crime, as clearly stated in the article is: a crime against humanity.  Hermann was convicted of crimes against humanity.

    Two unreasonable assumptions followed by a tendentious association: the caricature of Brown’s argument is complete.  Interestingly, reading back about the Nuremberg trials could help understand why these two assumptions are quite unreasonable.  The exercise is left to the reader.

    > [...] and presumably Willard.

    This is a false presumption.  What interests me in Brown’s argument is that it’s an argument, not an analogy.   An analogy is quite moot and I agree with Keith that it’s not a good one.  AMac’s argument is quite strong too.

    #71

    > Anyway, the difference between campaign and campaigner is, let’s put it nicely”¦ uninteresting.

    It is nonetheless interesting.  It personalizes the debate.  Brown was specifically targetting corporations, and as such might be trying to expand the concept of crime against humanity.  Portraying Brown like he’s after anonymous bloggers changes the topic and appeals to the emotions of the readers, which are coincidentally bloggers, some of which are anonymous.

    The slavery analogy will have to be unfolded into an argument.  Brown’s argument looks like a good candidate. I don’t need to hold Brown’s argument to find it interesting.  If what we have against this argument is mockery, that shows that the argument is not as bad as people try to portray it.

  • Gene

    Neven,

    I’m curious…could you briefly outline a plausible scenario where “people would have stopped ignoring the consequences of slavery” such that war would have been avoided.

    I know my position is that the war arose because the issue was pushed prior to enough people coming to that realization.  I tend to believe that the issue would have resolved in time (not saying that that would have been preferable – I’m not comfortable speculating whether Jim Crow, etc. would have been avoided had liberation come under different circumstances nor whether that trade would have been worth it).

    One aspect of this analogy I will concede:  multiple, nuanced positions become compressed to simplistic binary ones, neither of which have a basis in reality.

  • AMac

    Neven, it seems to me that I can pick an analogy, knowing a priori that it will lend support to conclusions that I already hold.  I can then use this analogy as evidence in favor of… my pre-existing beliefs.

    It would be more interesting to see advocates of the AGW Consensus position explain the strengths of the Prohibition analogy, as “skeptics” grapple with the relevant lessons of the Abolition analogy.  But I won’t be holding my breath.

  • http://neven1.typepad.com/blog Neven

    “Abolition and Prohibition are each are unhelpful mental models for the issues surrounding AGW”

    No analogy is 100% helpful. But you have to remind yourself that this isn’t about AGW, but more about fossil fuel use. Slave use was normal then, just like fossil fuel now is largely unquestioned. Both have implications though. People can’t deal with the implications and so they shut parts of their minds off (psychological denial) and wish it away. AMac, you’re a reasonable skeptic most of the time IMO. Can you not agree with it, if only on a hypothetical basis? Most of American society was in denial when it came to the issue of slavery, right? If AGW is a potential threat, I’d say most of society is currently in denial as well.

    AGW is just one ingredient in the cocktail. I agree with KK that it is unfortunate that it is so much in the spotlights. Because it draws attention away from the deeper issues at hand.

  • Stu

    Willard #79

    “It is nonetheless interesting.  It personalizes the debate.  Brown was specifically targetting corporations, and as such might be trying to expand the concept of crime against humanity.  Portraying Brown like he’s after anonymous bloggers changes the topic and appeals to the emotions of the readers, which are coincidentally bloggers, some of which are anonymous.”

    Willard, that’s good enough explanation for me, so thankyou.

    *I would still say that the actions and motivations of corporations (whatever they may be) do become very conflated by some people with the actions and motivations of many skeptical bloggers (whatever they may be, and which is interesting to me, finding myself a skeptical blogger from time to time)

  • Dean

    Amac #77 – Just having read Last Call – a fairly thorough history of the temperance/prohibition movement, I think you point is well-placed. It is quite popular for everybody who thinks that they know best, but are far from accomplishing their goal, to compare their efforts to early abolitionists, who were extremely heaped upon. And in most cases, it will not work out that way.

    My version of the analogy makes two  assumptions: that the AGW science is for the most part is accurate, and that humanity isn’t going to do much about it until the impacts are very serious. At which point those feeling those impacts will hardly care about any nuances in today’s debates.

    But if those assumptions (particularly the first one) are wrong, we will look somewhat more like the prohibitionists – except in one way. They got everything they wanted for 13 years, and we almost certainly will not.

  • http://neven1.typepad.com/blog Neven

    “It would be more interesting to see advocates of the AGW Consensus position explain the strengths of the Prohibition analogy”

    Sure, I’m your man. So the analogy is between prohibition and curbing fossil fuel use, yes?

    Qualitatively this analogy is strong as well. In the long run Alcohol is bad (it’s an addictive poison), just as fossil fuels are. Simple.

    When we get to the quantitative level, things start falling apart like they do with the analogy between denial of a problem with slavery and denial of a problem with fossil fuel use. For starters, alcohol is not the substance on which our entire society is dependent, fossil fuels are. Second, the negative consequences alcohol are more or less individual (person dies from cirrhosis) or isolated (fatal car accident because of drunk driving). The negative consequences of fossil fuel use are collective and widespread. For instance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or of course AGW. One is much bigger than the other (quantity).

    You see, it’s not hard to go along on a hypothetical level, ascertain what is compared to what, and then look how strong the analogy is on a quantitative and a qualitative level.

    Another example: the analogy between holocaust deniers (who in Dutch are referred to as ‘revisionists’ which eliminates the semantic problem, you would think, except that it doesn’t, as Dutch pseudo-skeptics have managed to twist it anyway so they can whine about being persecuted) and climate deniers.

    Quantitatively speaking the comparison doesn’t work. Climate deniers are not denying a huge atrocity has taken place in the past. One thing is much bigger than the other (as one atrocity is more or less proven and the other still has to happen, and is therefore zero, or so we think).

    Qualitatively they are very similar though: they both deny something for which there is ample evidence, something no real skeptic could ever deny. A lot of them do it because of ideological tendencies.

    Now I know some folks are going to go nuts over what I just said, but they should read again. I’m not saying climate deniers are like holocaust deniers and should be treated accordingly, not at all, but they are both in (psychological) denial, because they would short-circuit otherwise. It’s a form of self-defense.

  • Stu

    Neven #82

    “People can’t deal with the implications and so they shut parts of their minds off (psychological denial) and wish it away.”

    This is spoken from a position of certainty, Neven. It’s easy enough for the average armchair psychologist to turn this around to say that people can’t deal with uncertainty so they cling to ideology instead which makes the uncertainty go away. Our current (very complex) situation can apparently be explained by any number of human psychological failings or weaknesses…
     

  • kdk33

    Willard,

    Nice tap dance.  I’m not buying.

  • AMac

    Neven,
    Well your exercise in #85 was interesting.  Thanks.

    A thought exercise follows from your liberal use of the”psychological denial” construct.

    Suppose that I demand that my government immediately take costly and disruptive action X, to mitigate the consequences of an imminent comet strike on the scale of the Tunguska event.

    Members of my government decline to do as I urge.

    Are they in psychological denial?

    Suppose that in 2012, such a comet does strike my country (it might happen).  Does this new fact strengthen the argument that these officials were indeed in psychological denial, back in 2010?

    Now suppose instead that 2030 arrives, with no such comet impacting anywhere on earth (another possible outcome).  Does this new fact show us that those officials weren’t in psychological denial, back in 2010?

    I don’t think attention should be focused on this fuzzy notion of “psychological denial.”  It seems to me that it is a scientific-sounding way of saying “my way of looking at the future and its uncertainties is intellectually and morally superior to your way of doing so.”

    Well pretty much everybody believes that.  Because if they didn’t, they’d change their outlook.  And then at that point, they would!

  • http://amac1.blogspot.com/ AMac

    Sometimes paragraphs space correctly, other times they don’t.
    Hmmm.  Probably a function of which comments Keith agrees with.

  • Ed Forbes

    “..It is nonetheless interesting.  It personalizes the debate.  Brown was specifically targetting corporations, and as such might be trying to expand the concept of crime against humanity….”

    A corporation IS a person under US  law (the US Supreme Court says so). If a corp can be tried under this logic, so can an individual person.

  • http://neven1.typepad.com/blog Neven

    AMac, great, another analogy, I’m good at those. ;-)

    So, the analogy is between a potential catastrophe due to a comet impact and a potential catastrophe due to fossil fuel use, yes?

    “Suppose that I demand that my government immediately take costly and disruptive action X, to mitigate the consequences of an imminent comet strike on the scale of the Tunguska event.
    Members of my government decline to do as I urge.
    Are they in psychological denial?”

    It depends. What’s your evidence? What do scientists and their academies worldwide say?
    If you have compelling evidence, which gets larger and more comprehensive every day through the work of thousands of individual  scientists in many different fields, that is only contested by a small group of think tank-sponsored contrarians and a large group of internet users who are in psychological denial and spread disinformation for free, aided by a large part of the media that looks for faux balance and controversy because that sells more ads, then yes, your government is in denial, or at least a substantial part of it is so it can paralyze any action whatsoever. Bruce Willis won’t be called, the comet will hit, the economy and our freedom will suffer.

    If on the other hand AMac is the only person saying that a comet is going to wipe out society, then no, your government is not in denial.

    But now you’re talking politicians which are a very peculiar brand of humans, not renowned for their moral compass. We were talking about society at large. It is still sufficiently in denial on the adverse consequences of fossil fuel use for action to be practically non-existent. But that’s because a lack of transparency and basic understanding makes everyone look at the symptoms, not the root cause of fossil fuel use. Maybe we’ll talk about that some other day.

    ———-

    I gave my view on two of your hypothetical analogies. Will you give yours on mine?

    “AMac, you’re a reasonable skeptic most of the time IMO. Can you not agree with it, if only on a hypothetical basis? Most of American society was in denial when it came to the issue of slavery, right? If AGW is a potential threat, I’d say most of society is currently in denial as well.”

    Argh, I made the mistake of drawing AGW into it (that’s just one of the symptoms). What I meant was society’s perception of the use of slaves and the use of fossil fuels. If we speak hypothetically (let’s say we are sure fossil fuels have very negative consequences for human society at large), and on a qualitative level, the analogy between the general perception of slave use at the time (normal, good and necessary) and the general perception of fossil fuel use now (normal, good and necessary) seems pretty strong. Do you agree?

     

  • Stu

    “Sometimes paragraphs space correctly, other times they don’t.”

    I make sure now that i leave two lines as a break. Seems to work ok.

    Amac, I agree with what you’ve written above and that’s why I think this is a poor analogy. If a comet fails to strike, then people who did not believe that there would be a comet strike can not be in denial about the comet failing to strike. Interestingly, those at the time who believed that the comet would strike would actually turn out to be the real deniers that it wouldn’t.
     

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

    AMac, and everyone else:

    I’m sorry the comment software is causing such consternation. As some might recall, I tried a different one some months back, but that was even more problematic. So I went back to this one.

    Anyway, when I’m around and I see a thread that’s busy, I try to go in there and clean up the spacing–without regard to whether I like a comment or not. I just figure it’ll make it easier for folks to read.

    But since weekends are busy with family stuff, I’m not always online. I’ve got a little time now so I can catch up on the thread (s) and tidy up things… (Remember, I’m a one-man operation here.)

  • Stu

    Neven #93

    “(let’s say we are sure fossil fuels have very negative consequences for human society at large)”

    Neven, how about you make a list of all the bad things and all the good things that fossil fuels do for society? If this isn’t just about AGW, then you need to make an effort in showing what you really mean and how this relates to the argument you’re trying to make.

  • http://neven1.typepad.com/blog Neven

    “Neven, how about you make a list of all the bad things and all the good things that fossil fuels do for society?”

    Stu, I don’t think it would be right to highjack the thread with what you propose. This is about analogies.
    Second, I asked AMac if we could agree on a hypothetical basis. So there is no need to make a list as the hypothesis is that fossil fuel use is bad on the long term.

  • Stu

    I think all your doing is asking the very same question put forward in the first quoted paragraph of Keith’s post.

    “Just as few people saw a moral problem with slavery in the 18th century, few people in the 21st century see a moral problem with the burning of fossil fuels. Will people in 100 years look at us with the same incomprehension we feel toward 18th-century defenders of slavery?”

    The only response I can come up in answer to this question is to maybe repeat the question…

    ‘Will people in 100 years look at us with the same incomprehension we feel toward 18th-century defenders of slavery?’

    In 100 years we’ll find out the answer. ;)
     

  • Ordinary Fool

    Laursaurus #50……….Your argument in support of an AGW conspiracy is only a list of people-not-being-nice.  Climategate uncovered only this, and a FOIA infraction.

    Let me add some other difficulties.  If your conspiracy theory were true:

    1.  Then there is a major vulnerability in the unavoidable body of fraudulent research that must be out there, just waiting to be discovered.  Why hasn’t it been found?
    A reminder:  if you want to attack MBH1998, you also have to attack all of its replicators.

    2.  We have the Climategate emails, and they don’t show a grand mal conspiracy.  So, how did they communicate?

    3.  How did they know that global temperatures would start to increase, and then continue to increase – which is necessary for their scam to continue?
    They must have discovered the real reason for the increasing temperatures, and are keeping it a secret!

  • kdk33

    Climatology is largely (perhaps solely) a government funded enterprise.  The man who pays the fiddler calls the tune.  Climatology is now advocating for a massive expansion of government, and climatologist are calling for their political oponnents to be tried for crimes against humanity.

    It is no longer amusing.  It’s scary and it’s dangerous. 

    If democratic government is banished, that will be the greatest crime yet.  Views such as those espoused by Dr. Brown pose a risk to humanity far greater than that posed by CO2.

    There may come a time when climatology can make a clear enough case to convince people to act.  That time is not now.  There will never come a time when calls to crminalize ones political opponents ought be tolerated.

    And if we can’t all agree on that, then perhaps we are doomed.

  • Dean

    “˜Will people in 100 years look at us with the same incomprehension we feel toward 18th-century defenders of slavery?’

    Even if the worst case scenarios of the IPCC (and Joe Romm!) come true, I don’t think people will look at fossil fuel burners the same way they look at defenders of slavery. They may well be very angry at them. They may burn carbon-neutral effigies of them. But there are just too many differences to compare defenders of slavery with defenders of fossil fuels in general.

  • TimG

    No matter what happens to the climate the future the very real technical obstacles to deploying emission free energy cannot be forgotten. When you combine these technical obstacles to the huge uncertainties associated with climate predictions it is safe to say that no honest future historian would condemn people living today for being hesistent to embrace expensive anti-CO2 policies.

    Of course, there will be many historical revisionists who willfully ignore the historical context in order to push a contemporary political agenda. But given what we know now those future revisionists could easily be condemning the AGW activists for creating a world wide panic over a problem that never actually existed.

  • AMac

    Neven #93 –

    Sorry, Trick-or-Treating tonight in the US :-)

    > If we speak hypothetically (let’s say we are sure fossil fuels have very negative consequences for human society at large), and on a qualitative level, the analogy between the general perception of slave use at the time (normal, good and necessary) and the general perception of fossil fuel use now (normal, good and necessary) seems pretty strong. Do you agree?

    If we stipulate the truth of the ifs, then yes, we have parallels on which to build an analogy.  (I also see lots of differences, but that isn’t what you asked.)  So, Yes.

  • laursaurus

    @O. Fool #99
    This thread has abandoned the arm-chair pop-psych diagnosis of conspiracy theorist, and come full-circle back to the hypothesis that skeptics are in a state of  denial.
    However, thanks for the reply because you gave me a great idea. Trick-or-Treat starts in less than 2 hours in my time zone. I’m going to snap out of this “denial” by breaking out the Reynolds Wrap! Since my DH gets to go out with the kids this year, I’ll be here passing out candy in my tin foil hat ;)
    Happy Halloween!
     

  • Ordinary Fool

    ABOLITIONISTS……….dealt with ugly ideas fom the other side… that were HONESTLY expressed.  When we look back we attribute much of the ugliness to the lack of knowledge of the times, low levels of individual education, and what was taught in the churches.  Because of which we may have some forgiveness. 

    AGW’ers……….sometimes encounter lying and deceit above the comments on some denier websites.  The most neutral, and most easily demonstrated, examples involve serious misstatements from the given sources themselves.

    From the 22nd century such lying in the face of a possible climatological disaster will be less well received.

  • Ordinary Fool

    Laursaurus  #104………..I’ll be closing the curtains, and turning off all the lights.  Unlike mine, this latest generation doesn’t carry soap.

    HAPPY HALLOWEEN!……….Don’t miss Sherlock Holmes on PBS.

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

    The analogy to slavery is a very bad strawman, or an even worse provocation.  Defending it is a fools errand.  A useful analogy is those who refused to recognize the dangers of smoking, including second hand smoke.  Curiously, they include many of the same characters who refuse to recognize the dangers of climate disruption.  Gives you great confidence in their accuracy and motivation.

  • Stu

    TimG #102

    “No matter what happens to the climate the future the very real technical obstacles to deploying emission free energy cannot be forgotten. When you combine these technical obstacles to the huge uncertainties associated with climate predictions it is safe to say that no honest future historian would condemn people living today for being hesistent to embrace expensive anti-CO2 policies.”

    It’s an interesting point. How many skeptics actually say they are ‘pro’ fossil fuels, as opposed to pro energy, and more to the point, pro cheap energy?

    I would imagine, that- like most people, the average skeptic would give up fossil fuels in a heartbeat if there were a better, cleaner, cheaper, more efficient, more environmentally sustainable alternative. Most people don’t care what energy source their car is running on for instance- they simply care that they are able to get from point A to point B. The actual energy source is irrelevant.

    The fact that since it is very difficult in the very first place for society to transform itself away from fossil fuels, this is also the ‘fault’ of the non-skeptics (if we are assigning blame), or more accurately- it’s no-ones fault. It’s simply a challenge of current realities, where we find ourselves today. Skeptics did not put the current system in place and they are not forcing people to use fossil fuels over alternatives. If we’re going to keep with this analogy, then we have to accept that we are ALL ‘slave traders’ to some extent here. There is no North, only degrees of South. Anyone typing on this blog is probably using fossil fuels to some extent.  Again, I don’t see skeptics particularly wanting to hang on to fossil fuels if there are better alternatives available. So I don’t see how the pro/anti slavery analogy fits, again.

  • AMac

    A theme I’m thinking about is shortcuts.

    “If we build our case step by step, it will become strong enough to convince most people to take action.”
    “But there isn’t enough time.  The need for action is too urgent.”

    “If we cut corners and that gets discovered, our case will be weakened, in the public’s view.”

    “We’ll have to be sure to manage the public’s perception, because questions around corner-cutting are irrelevant to the merits of our case.”

    The Abolitionists knew.  So did the Fire-Eaters.  The WCTU knew.  The WMD’ers knew.  The Tunguska worrier knows. So much certainty about the objective reality, and about the moral issues.  Too much certainty.

  • Stu

    Just to clarify further, skeptics (as I view skepticism) are skeptics of (C)AGW. Fossil fuels don’t have to enter the picture at all.

  • harold

    The fact that the developed world went into hysterics over changes in global mean temperature anomaly of a few tenths of a degree will astound future generations – Richard Lindzen

  • http://neven1.typepad.com/blog Neven

    “If we stipulate the truth of the ifs, then yes, we have parallels on which to build an analogy.  (I also see lots of differences, but that isn’t what you asked.)  So, Yes.”

    Thanks, AMac.

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

    Professor Hoffman responds. He sent me an email which he has permitted me to publish here. Initially I put it in a comment, but because of its length and format, I decided to put it in the body of the post as an Update. Go have a read and let’s discuss, if people are still game.

  • AMac

    Thanks for weighing in, Andrew Hoffman.  Your narrative makes sense.

    I would note that you lead off (c) with “few people at the time saw a moral problem with this critical institution.”  If “the time” referred to the ’200s (Roman Empire), the 1100s (Islam and Christendom), the 1400s (Aztecs) — you could have a point.  For 18th-century America, not so.  The moral dimensions of slavery were widely discussed.  As pointed out upthread, some of the peculiarities of the U.S. Constitution resulted from attempts at compromises over the Peculiar Institution.

    Anyway — this may slightly dilute the rhetorical thrust of your argument, but doesn’t fundamentally weaken it.

  • Stu

    Thankyou Andrew Hoffman.

    In the end, I would agree that this is a moral issue, although my problem is in how to think about teasing out the morally good from the morally bad when it comes to fossil fuel use. I would put feeding and clothing people down as a moral good for instance, along with providing the energy for hospitals, schools, etc. Very difficult to do this without the aid of fossil fuels at the current juncture (and we developed to this point without the luxury of being able to choose our energy sources and technologies).

    I think what I’m trying to say is, there needs to be some kind of acknowledgment of the complexity of the situation… we can view slavery though our modern value lens as being inherently immoral- there’s very little good to be seen there. But it’s extremely difficult to apply that same kind of judgment to current fossil fuel use.

    As Jarmo mentioned at the end of his #33 post, developing countries are using fossil fuels to pull people out of poverty. Can we really say that this is immoral? I would hate to imagine that we could. Equating pulling of people out of poverty with the evils of slavery simply doesn’t make any sense to me, in fact it makes me quite upset. There will be an immediate benefit there for perhaps millions of people.

    In the end, the analogy you are proposing is nowhere near subtle enough to be hold the complexities of the current reality. Therefore, it is not a good analogy. It presents a distortion and a simplification, and that’s not going to help.

     

  • Stu

    I’d love to tidy up some of those sentences…  An edit button would be nice, Keith :)

    [I did the tidying; don't have an edit button on this software, alas. Sorry. I'll continue to research my options./KK]

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard
  • Pascvaks

    You can’t blame the present for the distant past, nor the far future on the present, but you can make the present think of what might have been, and what might be, and you can also build something worthwhile –if you try– one brick at a time.  No one has “The Answer”, nor will anyone live long enough to do much at all, but I have a feeling the author has made a brick.  Time will tell.

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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, and an 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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