Tribalism

By Keith Kloor | June 1, 2011 7:47 am

A commenter (“Joshua”) at Climate Etc observes:

How anyone can not see the tribal character of the combatants on both sides of this debate is astounding to me.

Ensuing responses in the thread indicate that Climate Etc denizens don’t see this, so “Joshua” elaborated:

My point is that a baseline assumption for everyone involved should be that their reasoning (risk analysis being one part of that reasoning) is affected by certain predispositions. It is incumbent on anyone who is interested in resolving the debate to accept that reality and work from there to control for their own subjectivity as best they can. It is possible, at least to some degree, get above the subjective bickering, and I applaud Judy’s interest in doing so. But it is inherently illogical to see the underlying psychology of tribalism as being disproportionately manifest in participants on one side of the debate. If you have that as your starting point, you undermine your own credibility.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, climate politics
  • sharper00

    But it is inherently illogical to see the underlying psychology of tribalism as being disproportionately manifest in participants on one side of the debate.

    So for example in the Creation V Evolution debate it would be illogical to say one side was more “tribal” than the other? Scientists push evolution because their tribe says to, creationists push creation because their tribe say to do so?

    I realise equivocation and “both sides do it” are very appealing concepts to the “journalist tribe” because it makes it possible to write about an issue as a disinterested observer, not pushing one viewpoint over the other. However, what’s convenient for journalists is only coincidentally related to reality.

    Everyone is subjective to some degree. The point of science is to attempt to filter out subjective opinion in place of objectively supportable bodies of knowledge. You can argue that Mann, Jones or Hansen are subjective (well definitely Hansen) but it’s much more difficult to argue their work is or that the totality of the work of climate science is.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    Belief in the science is not the tribal aspect.  Is the action taken. There are more than 2 tribes, but most people can fit into 2 categories.
    1.  Do nothing and/or market magic pixie dust fixes all problems and/or do little things that don’t harm individual liberty or national sovereignty

    2.  Do something.  Do it globally.  Do it now.  The risk is too great to wait.

    You may ask why I put the do nothing and not do much people in the same tribe and no the other one.  It appears to me they work together well as a tribe in stalling important action.

  • Tom Gray

    re 2

    Grypo writes

    =================
    Do something
    ================

    All right. Do what?

    Will it be effective? Will it do more harm than good? Will it destroy the economy for little benefit?

    So specifically, do what?
    Limit CO2 increases to 350, 450, 500 parts per million?

    Build lots of wind turbines? Will they supply actual energy when it is needed
    Subsidize corn ethanol?
    Can and trade? Will the carbon fees affect behavior without destroying the economy? Will the fess jsut export jobs to countries with no fees.
    Limit Chinese growth?
    Abandon the oil sands? The parts of Canada relying on the oil sands for their future livelihood will be upset
    Limit population growth?

    So what exactly should we do? How do we build the consensus for action. Do we call people nasty names?

     


    ?

  • kdk33

    The solution (decarbonization) requires large – massive even – government intervention/control. 

    If you are one who finds government inefficient and inherently corrupt then the solution looks quite dangerous.  The scientific bar for action gets set very high.

    If you are someone who finds government benign and helpful, then the solution looks not-so-bad.  The scientific bar sits much lower.

    This is, I suppose, subjective, but it’s a legitimate and important part of the debate.  It’s not an illogical underlying psychology that one ought suppress.

    In any big debate (and this one affects, well, everybody) there will be “sides” and folk will be more critical of those on the other side than on their side.  Is this tribalism?  I think it’s just reality.

    Frankly, most of the psychobabble talk is just another debating tactic:  let’s get past our metal handicaps and do something.  By definition then, the “do nothing” crowd is impaired.  But diong nothing is a perfectly legitimate choice.

    If only we could all be as objective as grypo.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    To expound on sharper00’s important mention of the media, I’ll just that the media is looking for reasonable middle here.  This is why they think people like Judith Curry, Pielke Jr, and Richard Muller are important.  Because they don’t advocate for immediate action or no action, this becomes delicious chum.  It’s new.  It is unfortunate that looking for real substance is no longer new.  I’ve yet to see any evaluation of any of their arguments from any supposed mainstream media member.   The new way to prevent action is now to accept the basics of the science, but not appear alarmed.  It’s cooler than cool.  Let’s hope for our sake this becomes old soon enough.

  • RickA

    Joshua is right, there is tribalism.

    But I question grypo’s casting of the two “tribes”.

    I see a lot of tribes.

    I see a tribe of climate scientists, just doing the best science they can.

    I see a tribe of climate scientists/spinners/advocates, who are trying to advocate to “Do something – do it globally  – do it now  – the risk is too great to wait.”

    I see a tribe of skeptics who question the spinning and advocacy of the second tribe, and don’t want to take action and waste money before the science gets definite enough to overcome the uncertainty.

    I admit I fall into the third tribe.  I don’t want to spend money just to do something, if it turns out to be the wrong thing to do.

    I don’t think the risk is too great to wait – I want to wait to take action until we know, scientifically, that human’s actions are having a greater impact than natural causes.

    The cry “the risk is too great to wait” is really a statement that we should act before science has spoken – which I find unscientific.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    I’m not objective.  I’m very much in one of those crowds.

    Tom asks ‘do what?’

    Not sure this is the thread to get into that, but basically, global partnerships on economic trade, just as any other trade agreement would be.  How each country decides to do this is variable.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @RickA
    “I don’t think the risk is too great to wait ““ I want to wait to take action until we know, scientifically, that human’s actions are having a greater impact than natural causes.”

    This probably belongs on the other thread about risk, but I’m curious what you mean here.  What threshold of understanding needs to be passed?  Why don’t the numerous publications by the IPCC, National Academies, etc. count?  More importantly, given the known lags in the climate system, do you accept that your position (i.e. waiting for certainty) implies taking a pretty substantial bet that sensitivity is low, impacts will be manageable etc.?

  • Sashka

    Of course the debate is tribal. I believe we talked about it many times. Of course I know who belongs in which tribe,as we all do. Personally, I don’t bother reading some of the regular commenters b/c they are functioning pretty much like a broken record. Perhaps, from their PoV I do too.

    I can’t say I am interested in “resolving the debate” in the same sense that I’m not interested in living forever or growing another foot. I am only interested in things that are possible.

  • Tom Gray

    People say that the science is clear enough that we should take action.

    Again the question that I ask. What action?

    The context of this question is that any action taken should be efficacious. As Pielke Junior points out, cap and trade aor carbon taxes t levels to change behavior could destroy the economy. So we take action to create a politically acceptable cap and trade system or carbon tax and decarbonization does not happen. All that happens is that some speculators get rich and jobs are transferred to China as is happening in the UK This result would kill any such program.

    What action?

    Pielke Junior’s idea of a low carbon tax to fund research that would make green energy competitive with a rising fossil fuel cost now seems doomed because of the new fossil reserves being found. Fossil energy will be relatively cheap for the foreseeable future. So green energy will remain uncompetitive.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    “cap and trade aor carbon taxes t levels to change behavior could destroy the economy. ”

    Any evidence that Pielke has made statements along those lines? Better yet, could you point me to some peer reviewed lit that backs up this claim?  While you’re at it, could you clarify what ‘destroy the economy’ means in this context?

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

    Tom,

    Marlowe is right. You have mischaracterized (or misunderstood) RPJ’s position. He states pretty clearly where he stands in his latest book, The Climate Fix.

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    @9, Sashka, you say:

    Of course the debate is tribal. I believe we talked about it many times. Of course I know who belongs in which tribe,as we all do.

    Do you think everyone is in a tribe?  If so, which tribe am I in?

  • RickA

    Marlowe #8:

    We know it has warmed .8C since 1850.  That is what all the science and publications show.  As far as I am concerned, there is huge uncertainty around why it has warmed.

    What is not quite so certain (IMO) is what is causing the warming!

    Why is the current warming any different than the MWP warming?

    How much of the .8C is natural and how much human caused?

    Of the human caused portion, how much of the warming is due to CO2?

    How much to carbon black?

    How much to land use changes?

    How much to cosmic rays increasing cloud cover?

    How much to airplane contrails?

    How much to the sun being very active the last 150 years (not so much the last few)?

    Why are the climate models overshooting so far on their estimates of how warm it should be – we know the models are not very accurate and not one has been statistically validated (unlike hurricane tracking models for example).

    Only when we can answer a lot of my previous questions can I really look at the cost benefit for controlling CO2.

    It may turn out that of the .8C, only .1 is caused by human CO2 emissions.  Given that possibility, even if we eliminate all CO2 emissions, how much difference will that make?  I don’t know and neither does anybody else (IMO).

     

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @RickA

    Wow.  You’re a perfect 0/3 in answering my questions.

    As to your questions, let me suggest that you read some of the underlying studies referenced in the IPCC and NAS  reports.  Or perhaps you have and can point me to the relevant sections that support your strange beliefs (e.g. It may turn out that of the .8C, only .1 is caused by human CO2 emissions.)

  • Sashka

    @ Brandon

    Sorry, that was a sloppy wording. I certainly don’t mean literally everybody and I didn’t mean that there were just two tribes. At least three.

    I’m not sufficiently familiar with your views to place you with certainty. Definitely you’re not an alarmist. I think you’re closer to lukewarmers than to hard-core skeptics but I’m not sure.

  • Tom Gray

    re 11
    Marlow Johns writes

    ============
    Any evidence that Pielke has made statements along those lines? Better yet, could you point me to some peer reviewed lit that backs up this claim?  While you’re at it, could you clarify what “˜destroy the economy’ means in this context?
    ==============

    Pielke Junior has indicated that the technology to achieve decarbonization targets is not available. Taxes or cap and trade fees can rise to what ever level and they will not be effective in achieving the desired targets. I suppose that it is my extrapolation that an uncontrolled cap and trade system would destroy the economy by raising prices and limiting industrial production but not being effective in achieving its targets.

    Pielke Junior is in favor of a small and rising carbon tax. This would be politically acceptable and as well could be sued to fund the development of technology that will be required for effective decarbonization.

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    @16, Sashka, I didn’t think you thought that, but I wanted to make sure.  I know there are people with extremely limited views on the debate.

    As for what tribe I belong to, I mostly asked that because I’m fascinated by something I’ve experienced.  In a single hour, I’ve been called both a denier and an alarmist.  Mind you, this was in person, not on the internet.  Ever since then, I’ve been curious how people perceive me.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t see myself as really fitting in a tribe.  I don’t think I know enough to make many judgments on the issue of global warming,  I’m unconvinced and curious about a lot of things, but that’s it.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    “But it is inherently illogical to see the underlying psychology of tribalism as being disproportionately manifest in participants on one side of the debate.”

    Silly. It may be right and it may be wrong but it certainly isn’t illogical.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth this is a good opportunity to remind everybody that there are at least ten tribes. Actually I think there are more, but the ten are a good place to start.

  • RickA

    Marlowe #15:

    I will try to answer your three questions more directly:

    1.  What threshold of understanding needs to be passed?

    Answer:  Are human actions contributing more to the warming over the last 150 years than natural causes.

    2.  Why don’t the numerous publications by the IPCC, National Academies, etc. count?

    Answer:  Because I don’t believe they answer the question as to whether human actions contribute more to warming than natural causes.  They merely identify and measure the warming, but not necessarily the cause of the warming – at least without so much uncertainty that natural causes are still a possible explanation for the warming.

    3.  More importantly, given the known lags in the climate system, do you accept that your position (i.e. waiting for certainty) implies taking a pretty substantial bet that sensitivity is low, impacts will be manageable etc.?

    Answer:  Yes my position is a bet that sensitivity is low and impacts will be manageable.

    Question:  Do you admit that your position that we should take action before science has spoken (i.e. don’t wait because it will be to late) is also a bet – namely a bet that any action we do take will make a difference, and that if our actions don’t matter or produce a very very tiny difference, that the trillions of dollars we spend will be wasted or could be better spent?

  • http://cluebyfour.com PDA

    Are human actions contributing more to the warming over the last 150 years than natural causes[?]

    Define “natural causes” with some rigor, and you have yourself an interesting question there.

  • RickA

    PDA #21:

    I define natural causes as anything not caused by humans.  But I will try to get more specific.

    For example, natural causes include the sun, cosmic rays, ocean oscillations, volcanoes, methane seeps, methane from the ocean, CO2 released from permafrost, etc.  (I am sure there are many more I cannot think of now).  I would also include the CO2 we exhale as a natural cause – but I suppose nobody would agree with that, what with the population increase forcast.  Natural fires, for example lightening strike.

    Human causes would include the CO2 we emit for power, transportation, and in our plants and factories.  Methane produced by our food animals.  Our land use changes.  Aerosols we emit from our buildings, factories and plants.  The carbon black we emit (to the extent not already included in aerosols).  Fires caused by humans.  Airplane contrails.  I am sure there are other human causes which I cannot think of right now.

    How is that for a stab at defining natural causes?

    Can you think of any others?

  • http://cluebyfour.com PDA

    natural causes include the sun, cosmic rays, ocean oscillations, volcanoes, methane seeps, methane from the ocean, CO2 released from permafrost, etc.

    I’m curious which of these seem to you to be “a possible explanation for the warming,” and on what basis.

  • kdk33

    I’m thinking “Trenberth” right about now.

  • RickA

    PDA #23:

    The sun:  it is my understanding that the sun has been very active for the last 100 years or so, except for the last few years which have been unusually inactive.  So some portion of the warming during the last 150 years may be due to the higher than normal activity of the sun over most of that period.

    Cosmic rays:  it is my understanding that two papers have recently been published which support Svenmark’s theory that the suns magnetic field keeps charged cosmic particles away from the Earth, and that with the sun’s heliosphere at a low, more such particles are hitting the Earth’s atmosphere currently than normal.  These particles impact cloud formation which according to the papers, causes cloud formation which results in a net warming effect.  So if this theory is correct, than varying cloud formation may be correlated with cosmic ray activity, which may be influenced by the suns magnetic field, which also varies.  Some of the warming may be due to that.

    Ocean oscillations:  it is my understanding that at the end of the 70’s the PDO switched from its cooling phase to a warming phase, and this cycle usually lasts around 30 years – so probably ended around 2008 or 2009.  Some of the warming since the late 70’s may be due to the PDO.

    Volcanoes:  It is my understanding that volcanoes would be a net cool forcing – but they do spew out gases such as CO2 and methane.  I included them in my list because they are a natural forcing, but net cooling. So I didn’t mean to leave the impression that volcanoes caused warming, because it is my understanding that they are considered a cooling forcing.

    Methane:  It is my understanding that methane resevoirs are released into the atmosphere naturally all the time.  Some from the permafrost, some from deep in the ocean.  I understood methane to be a global warming gas (GWG).

    CO2:  It is my understanding that CO2 is also released into the atmosphere naturally, such as from melting permafrost and other sources.  Like methane, I understood CO2 to be a GWG.

    I hope that explanation helps satisfy your curiosity.

    The bottom line for me is that we know that there have been warm periods in the past, 8000 years ago, 3000 years ago and 900 years ago – and these are not thought to be due to CO2, which was at 280 or so for that entire period.  So how much of the .8C over the last 150 years is due to whatever naturally caused prior warming and maybe current warming, and how much of the .8C is due to human release of CO2 into the atmosphere?  That is the question I would like addressed.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »