Repositioning the Climate Debate

By Keith Kloor | June 24, 2011 4:53 pm

A very interesting essay by Andrew Hoffman begins this way:

The American debate over climate change turns on two main themes. One is the science of the problem; the other is government measures to fix it. Many believe these themes cover the entire debate. They’re wrong.

Far more than science is at play on climate change. At its root is a debate over culture, values, ideology, and worldviews.

As such, he says the debate

must move away from positions (climate change is or is not happening) and toward the underlying interests and values at play. It must engage at the deeper ideological levels where resistance is taking place, using new ways to frame the argument to bridge both sides.

The entire piece is well worth reading.

  • RickA

    Don’t ignore climate skeptics ““ talk to them differently.


    Good idea.

    Calling them names doesn’t seem to work.

  • Tom Fuller

    Yeah, but it’s still kinda weak. Again and again those from the consensus orientation want better ways to push their message out, want to better frame their message, want to target recipients better for their message.
    But they’re sending a message because they don’t want to communicate. They don’t want a dialogue–remember how frequently we’ve seen advice on ‘not debating the skeptics.’

    Messaging is a poor substitute for communicating.

    If you’re forced to do it, there are professionals who will help you. But it certainly looks like it was the professional communicators that got the consensus in so much trouble in the first place.
     

  • Barry Woods

    The ‘world view’ that the USA has to consider more is China’s and India’s…

    It will be a hard sell I imagine to the American public to persuade them to take any unilateral acton, when China and India are growing the economies on the back of coal/nuclear power (isn’t 80% PLus fossil fuel power in China)

    CO2 emissions from China are predicted to increase for decades.

  • mondo

    It would seem that Andrew Hoffman is convinced of the CAGW hypothesis.   For example he says:  “while anthropogenic climate change is reaching a certain scientific consensus.”
    And: “the focus of the discussion must move away from positions (climate change is or is not happening)”
    And:  “Scientists will never be able to say with complete certainty that anthropogenic climate change is happening without a controlled experiment, one that requires another planet Earth. When it comes to understanding something as complex as the global climate, they will have to rely on the preponderance of evidence suggesting a prudent course.”
    He then frames his analysis/recommendations on that flimsy framework, apparently failing to understand what it is that sceptics are sceptical about.
    For my part, I accept that climate changes all the time.  The real question is whether man is impacting climate change or whether observed climate changes are due to natural factors?  And if man is impacting the climate, how?
    It is essential that before embarking on any course of action (eg eliminating anthropogenic CO2 emissions) we must understand the answers to these questions.
    For reasons that I don’t understand, the clique of AGW concerned climate scientists driving IPCC refuse to address these questions.  They simply assert that it is proven that CO2 is far the most serious problem, without providing any convincing evidence or proof.   They never respond to Roger Pielke Sr’s reasonable questions/statements that man IS impacting local and regional climate, but through land-use factors that are substantially more dominant than CO2 emissions.
    In particular, the climate scientist clique fails to address the sensitivity/feedback issue in any sort of convincing way, simply asserting that doubling CO2 levels in atmosphere will lead to a large increase in Global Mean Temperature, then including these assumptions in models that purport to show an approaching Armageddon.
    Until these fundamental scientific questions are addressed, I’m afraid that I for one will remain sceptical.


     

  • Tilo Reber

    Basically, Hoffman has it wrong because all of his assumptions are wrong.  First he assumes that the science is true because he’s taken in by the same propaganda about authority, namely “thousands of scientists” and “the science”.  Then he assumes that the idiological problem is on the skeptics side and the solution is better ways to snow the skeptics.  This he calls framing.  Here is his example.

    “For example, when US Energy Secretary Steven Chu refers to advances in renewable-energy technology in China as America’s “Sputnik moment,” he is framing climate change as a common threat to economic competitiveness. When Pope Benedict links the threat of climate change with threats to life and dignity, he is painting it as an issue of religious morality. When the Military Advisory Board, a group of retired military officers, refers to climate change as a “threat multiplier,” it is using a national-security frame.”

    I really could care less about what Steven Chu thinks, what the Pope thinks or what some military advisory board thinks.  Hoffman thinks that we are simply lead by some authority figures that are other than those leading the left.  But none of these people have any knowledge about climate science that is any better than what the AGW scientist have, and what the AGW scientist have that is alarming is nothing.

    Regarding the social and idealogical differences of climate skeptics, there is some truth to this, but it is not nearly as important as the social and idealogical binding between climate science and the left and the eco warriors.  It is the idealogical background of the left that drives the alarmism behind climate science, not what climate science has been able to show from a scientific point of view.  Again, absolutely nothing has been demonstrated by climate science that is alarming.  As long as warmers fail to understand this very simple fact they are going to go fishing in a dry hole when it comes to convincing skeptics of anything.

    Hoffman talks about adding more papers as though it were a matter of adding more evidence.  But maybe he should stop for a moment and consider what these thousands of papers that we already have offer.  The answer is nothing.

    Warmers need to stop the foolishness and realize that there is no evidence at all for a high climate sensitivity number.  They need to realize that the only reason for such a number is because models were created to produce it.  They need to realize that no model has ever been verified and that so far they have all either been falsified or they are hanging on by the bottom of their error bands.  The only thing needed to falsify all that are still hanging on is time.  They need to stop being in denial about the 13 year flat trend in temperature and they need to understand that this is important because there are no elements of natural variation that can explain it.   If climate sensitivity were really around 3C, then climate would continue to rise regardless of natural variability – especially natural variability that they cannot even identify.

    So Hoffman’s article is basically another fart in the outhouse and Hoffman is clueless about what the problem really is.

    Why is it that all these editorials never reach the conclusion of going nuclear.  Because the warmers are ideologically motivated and going nuclear meets none of the ideological goals that they hope to squeeze out of the AGW issue.

  • EdG

    “Far more than science is at play on climate change. At its root is a debate over culture, values, ideology, and worldviews.”

    No kidding. Understatement of the week. But in terms of science, what is “at play” is the destruction of the credibility of all science by the use of so much junk pseudoscience in the pursuit of this project. 

    This CO2-based ‘worldview’ project is the horse; the pseudoscience is the five-wheeled cart built to suit this particular lame horse.

    Any delusions that this had any actual scientific credibility dies the day they started insisting that the ‘debate was over’ before the real questions were even asked. All the rabid wolf crying, ‘denier’ name calling, and general Alinsky smearing techniques just confirmed that.

    So, will anyone be fooled by Pinnochio changing his hat? No.

    Will the real science we will need for the future somehow maintain or recover its credibility after this sad, sad episode? I hope so. But none of the current players ever will.

  • allen mcmahon

    This is yet another essay that is based on the false premise that the science behind AGW is solid and the only issue is one of communication. While the AGW camp labor under this disillusion there is no way forward because for most skeptics the problem rests with evidence and evidence only.
    We are forever being told that there are multiply lines of evidence that support AGW but this is incorrect. These multiple lines of evidence  only confirm that the planet is warming but they are do not distinguish distinguish between natural or anthropogenic causes. From here we are expected to make a leap of faith because without an empirical evidence  we are expected to accept that sometime in the 1950s natural warming ceased and AGW took over. Worse still we are expected to accept modeled ‘senarios’ for a future  where CAGW dominates despite the failure of these models over previous decades.
    Forget  the  glib sales pitches,  the vision of catastrophic future based of models it has not worked up to now and it will not work in the future we are only interested in evidence.



     

  • Jack Hughes

    Has anyone else noticed that the alarmists are all talking about compromise and peace conferences ?

    Is this the beginning of the end?

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/ Bart Verheggen

    Nice essay indeed.

    I agree with the premise that the societal debate is based on a clash of values and worldviews.

    That, and the comparison with the abortion debate missed one key aspect though: There’s also science involved.

    A comparison with evolution vs creationims is therefore more apt: There it’s also a clash of worldviews, but one set of worldviews clearly clashes with mainstream science, whereas other worldviews have no problem accepting mainstream science. That’s much more comparable to what’s happening in the societal climate debate.

    Under “Energy Quiz” the author lists two major themes that cause skeptics to doubt the science:
    “For skeptics, climate change is inextricably tied to a belief that climate science and policy are a covert way for liberal environmentalists and the government to diminish citizens’ personal freedom.
    A second prominent theme is a strong faith in the free market, an overriding fear that climate legislation will hinder economic progress, and a suspicion that green jobs and renewable energy are ploys to engineer the market.”

    Conspiracy much, eh?!

  • Dave H

    Tilo Reber neatly shows why attempting to find common ground is futile:

    > Basically, Hoffman has it wrong because all of his assumptions are wrong.  First he assumes that the science is true because he’s taken in by the same propaganda about authority

    It is like trying to take an accomodationist approach to an international space program and trying to find common ground with geocentrists. It fundamentally affects how you approach a problem, the cost/benefit ratio of proposed solutions – or indeed, whether there any problems to solve in the first place. Without shared agreement on science, policy has no foundation on which to move forward in this particular case.
    Jack Hughes shows why it is not only futile, but counter-productive:

    > Has anyone else noticed that the alarmists are all talking about compromise and peace conferences ?

    > Is this the beginning of the end?

    Making concessions is taken as a sign of weakness. This convinces those criticising the scientific consensus that there is *merit* to those criticism, and encourages more concessions to be sought.

    Once again, a populist approach is doomed to fail, no matter which way you take it.

  • kdk33

    Bart, I’d like to challenge a few of your points (all in the spirit of lively debate of course)…

    “a belief that climate science and policy are a covert way for liberal environmentalists and the government to diminish citizens’ personal freedom”

    Many ekeptics believe that decabonization will, by necessity, require expansion of government and limiting personal freedoms – and perhaps limiting US soveriegnty (we’ll need global agreements).  This is not a conspiracy theory, but acknowledging there is no other way to force people to switch from low cost to high cost energy. 

    Conservatives oppose these policies more vehemently than liberals - but again that’s not conspiracy, liberals tend to like big government programs, so in their cost-benefit analysis they cost the cure differently.

    “A second prominent theme is a strong faith in the free market”

    Yep, pretty much.  The most effecient system in the history of mankind.  What’s not to like?

    “an overriding fear that climate legislation will hinder economic progress”

    This is fact.  There is an energy component in the cost of everything.  We cannot legislate a chnage from low cost energy to high cost energy without “hindering economic progress”.  One can debate the magnitude, but not the direction.

    “and a suspicion that green jobs and renewable energy are ploys to engineer the market.”

    Suspicion?  One word: ethanol.  When energy decisions are made by government, not markets, that is, by definition, “engineering the market”.  Green jobs and renewables are, for now, largely rent seeking enterprises – doubt me? take away the government subsidies.

  • kdk33

    The above is not to say that conservative skeptics (even rabid deniers such as myself) oppose decarbonization no matter what.  What it does say is that we set the bar for action high – we need strong, convincing, evidence not only that global warming is in part anthropogenic, but that the consequences will be very costly, and that we can actually do something abou it.  We require this because we think the cure is

    1) very costly
    2) politically unpalatable and risky (domestically and internationally)
    3) economically ineffecient, rife with unintended consequences.

    Frankly, the psycho-babble about whats wrong with all us poor non-believers; all the reframing, refining, resetting the message; culture wars and values clashes… was silly the first 56 times around.  At this point it is just annoying.

    One the one hand, we are all (gu)estimating the cost of the CO2 externality.  On the other hand we are all (gu)estimating the cost of effective global decarbonization.  All of our scales are biased some, and differently, but the balancing is easy to understand.

    Life is generally simple.  Government research grants make it complicated.

  • harrywr2

    Bart Verheggen Says:
    June 25th, 2011 at 5:27 am
    <i>A comparison with evolution vs creationims is therefore more apt:</i>
    If someone wants to believe in creationism and it doesn’t involve spending my money why should I care?
    Of course if the creationists decide I should pay a tax to support their church and be burned at the stake or sent off to a ‘re-education camp’ if I don’t ‘convert’ then we have a problem.
    There always has been and always will be someone pushing a mandatory universal belief system. History shows us that mandatory universal belief systems tend to end badly. We stop asking the question what if we are wrong.

    If James Hansen’s climate computer model is absolutely correct then we don’t need Argo floats, we don’t need satellite sea level monitoring, we don’t need satellite global temperature monitoring.
    I don’t hear James Hansen advocating to end all the climate monitoring systems as unnecessary expenditures.






     

  • Edim

    …(climate change is or is not happening)…

    People who use the phrase CLIMATE CHANGE like that are brainwashed by the Orwelian speak. Wake up!

    CLIMATE CHANGE is happening and will happen as long as there is climate.

  • Menth

    Not sure where to post this, but I think many people here will find this article interesting and a worthwhile read:

    http://on.wsj.com/mRCqOJ

  • Tilo Reber

    Bart: That, and the comparison with the abortion debate missed one key aspect though: There’s also science involved.

    What science would that be?

  • Jack Hughes

    @Dave H,

    Mixed messages coming from the alarmists. Senator Wirth is “coming after me aggressively” and Leo Hickman is “extending an olive branch“.

    It’s like having 2 Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door playing nice-cop, nasty-cop. No sale.

    And this is why compromise is impossible. Would a compromise with the JWs mean going to their Kingdom Church every other week and having 50% blood transfusions and celebrating every other Christmas ? Would this make them happy ? Would it make me happy ?

  • Tilo Reber

    Dave H. “Once again, a populist approach is doomed to fail, no matter which way you take it.”

    AGW alarmism is doomed to fail because the earth is going to kill it.  As we debate, the earth is making fools out of all the climate models that claim a high sensitivity.   Thirteen years of no warming is a great start.  While the alarmists are praying every day for more warming, year after year passes and there is no further warming.  The models are either falsified or barely hanging on.  The rate of sea level rise is below a foot a century and that rate is slowing.  Ocean heating is also slowing.  There is no statistical change in hurricanes, toranados, droughts or floods.  What warmers claim is “the science” is being undermined by “the reality”.  Of course if we skeptics really believed that rapid warming was going to continue in the future, then we would have every reason for compromise.  But instead, the warmers are starting to doubt their religious conviction and so they are asking about compromise.  But why should we, the skeptics, compromise when we are certain that the alarmism is just so much BS.  I like the idea of more CO2.  It’s plant food and the biomass of the earth is on the increase.  The small amount of warming that we have had has actually been good for crop production.

    But really, what was the topic of this thread?  It was this fool Hoffman suggesting that all that was needed was a reframing of the peripheral issues.  And then he made some really dumb suggestions about what such reframing might look like.  With that kind of insight there nothing left to do but let the warmers march on to their inevitable embarrassment.

  • Jack Hughes

    @Edim #14
    “climate change is / is not happening”

    Carefule here because “is” does not have it’s usual everyday meaning in climate science.

    Climate science is written in a special tense which combines the present tense, the future tense, the future conditional tense, the future conditional pluperfect tense and the subjunctive tenses all at the same time.
    And a special new tense for something that happens in a computer simulation but has never been observed in the real world. The “cybernautic tense”.

    The climate tense already includes the concept of being “worse than we thought” so a lot of what you read on the subject is a tautology.

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com Bart Verheggen

    kdk33,

    What you present as “facts” aren’t facts at all. They all depend on choices that we make. That includes the amount of government control and costs. If there are aspects of proposed solutions that you dislike (and who doesn’t?) then the way forward would be to suggest amendments to those solutions to make them more palatable or if you feel creative propose totally different solutions (e.g. business oriented, market based, bottom-up citizen/consumer based, there are other roads imaginable.)

    That’s imo a much better way than to work backwards (from a dislike of proposed solutions) and argue that the problem isn’t even worth addressing.

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Collide-a-Scape

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

About Keith Kloor

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

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