Why the Climate Debate is a Culture War

By Keith Kloor | July 6, 2011 12:05 pm

If there is anyone out there who still believes that a lack of knowledge of climate science (e.g., the deficit model) prevents people from grasping the consequences of global warming, raise your hand.

Now read this passage from the abstract of a recent study:

The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones.

The full paper, a product of Yale’s Cultural Cognition Project, can be downloaded for free and is well worth reading. Based on their findings and an accumulation of social science research, the authors conclude:

It is thus plain that differences in our respondents’ cultural values had a bigger effect on perception of climate-change risks than did differences in their degrees of either science literacy or numeracy.

Even Chris Mooney was forced to concede:

This is bad, bad news for anyone who thinks that better math and science education will help us solve our problems on climate change.

Now let’s rewind to earlier this year and the spirited thread (over 200 comments) of this post, when Michael Tobis insisted that

the deficit model has to work. Facts emerge and cultures change in response. As the facts emerge more unambiguously, the cultural shift needs to “get in gear” and not sooner.

The Yale paper suggests that Tobis has it exactly backwards, that no cultural shift will emerge until differing worldviews are given greater consideration in the climate debate:

A strategy that focuses only on improving transmission of sound scientific information, it should be clear, is highly unlikely to achieve this objective. The principal reason people disagree about climate change science is not that it has been communicated to them in forms they cannot understand. Rather, it is that positions on climate change convey values””communal concern versus individual self-reliance; prudent self-abnegation versus the heroic pursuit of reward; humility versus ingenuity; harmony with nature versus mastery over it””that divide them along cultural lines. Merely amplifying or improving the clarity of information on climate change science won’t generate public consensus if risk communicators fail to take heed of the cues that determine what climate change risk perceptions express about the cultural commitments of those who form them.

In fact, such inattention can deepen polarization.

Al Gore, in his recent hard-edged Rolling Stone essay, wrote:

The climate crisis, in reality, is a struggle for the soul of America.

No, in reality, it seems more a struggle to reconcile climate science with competing values. But before we get to that point, I think some leading climate communicators, such as Gore, need to come to grips with the findings and suggestions laid out in the Yale Cultural Cognition paper.

  • Paul Kelly

    Tobis, who I think is reachable, et al cling to the information deficit model out of fear that any diminishing of climate’s role in defining and directing action toward the real goal of energy transformation will prevent or delay that action. The deficit model appeals to those who hope for a grand solution. What we actually have is a focus deficit.

    The information deficit model leads to a tremendous waste of time, effort and money expended in an attempt to convince enough people to somehow influence politicians and governments to maybe impose a global solution that is nearly impossible to attain and is unlikely to be effective if it were.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Fighting for one’s soul looks a lot like struggling to reconcile competing values in one’s mind.

  • EdG

    Keith writes: “No, in reality, it seems more a struggle to reconcile climate science with competing values.”

    I think you have revealed the problem, not the solution. What is “climate science”? It appears that your statement applies to the IPCC version of it. The real scientific problem is reconciling that version with the evidence, instead of trying to find anything to support that predetermined conclusion (while insisting that all others must be wrong). Real science doesn’t need to be reconciled with cultural values until after the scientific evidence is clear. That is the next step. When it starts out that way it is Lysenkoism.

    “I think some leading climate communicators, such as Gore, need to come to grips…”

    Here’s where cultural values come in. The sooner the AGW movement dumps and silences Gore the better. He has become the symbol of everything wrong with this project and his association with it is now completely counterproductive. People tend to have a negative reaction to Gore’s kind of self-serving blowhard hypocrisy and that cannot be repaired. The AGW project needs to clean house of all the reminders of how low this project can go, and start fresh.

    This was designed to be a culture war but as this study demonstrates, our culture does not consist of a dumb flock easily herded by supposed scientific authorities, let alone Gore Messiah types. This war has run aground on the intelligence of the public.

    And this was all made possible by the internet which enabled this discussion to get past the MSM propaganda machine. It appears that the old media is the one place where the AGW project found the flock of eager dupes that it was hoping everyone was.

  • Sashka

    I don’t believe this or any other study could tell you, with any certainty, what will happen in the future with such a volatile substance as public mood or perception. I think, as far as the present times are concerned, the thoughts highlighted above Gore’s quote are pretty sharp. But then again, predictions are difficult, especially of the future. If the current plateau in global temps continue for another decade you’ll see a dramatic reassessment of climate risks. If, OTOH, we’ll get another decade of fast growth like 90-s then, who knows, maybe the cultural shift could get in gear, just like Tobis wants it. It is for a reason that they want a good catastrophe.

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

    Keith, well, thanks for the shout-out. I will duly stand by what you are calling the “deficit model”.

    I think you are falling into the same trap Nisbet does, confusing “information deficit” with “belief or disbelief in global warming” or some such question.

    First, most people, including politicians and journalists, still don’t understand how compelling the case is, or how completely carbon emissions must be eliminated. Even if concern becomes nearly unanimous, some understanding of what the real options are is necessary.

    Second, there are all the Lucias out there, people who would like to investigate and understand on their own terms. Should such people be welcomed and treated with respect, or not? Leaving aside the issue of reciprocity, I think the former. There is a wide spectrum of curiosity about these matters. That interest will only increase, and should do so, as climate matters increasingly dominate our lives, which they probably will.

    The relationship between the amateur and professional climatology community is turning out to be astonishingly important not just in the history of science but quite likely in the history of civilization. The ersatz experts like Watts and the fake scandals and all that are partially rooted in a deliberate campaign of obfuscation, no doubt. But there is also genuine interest that is stymied by a perceived cloister mentality in the field that is part intrinsic, part invoked, and part imagined. This is important in that it gives the Inhofes of the world additional cover.

    Our problems are generally exacerbated by bad communication between science and the public, and generally can be ameliorated by better communication between science and the public.

    It isn’t about selling soap. It isn’t about convincing people of factoids. That’s just politics as usual, Procter and Gamble style soap sales.

    It’s a matter of being able to choose between several plausible pathways and a whole slew of bad ones. That requires reason, which requires a critical mass of people representing all constituencies who are informed and reasonable.

    So I stand by my position, which is that the more the state of science is made accessible and is understood, the more likely a reasonable outcome becomes; that science communication, while not sufficient to close a political deal, is necessary to close a useful one. Not only that, but I find it astonishing that I am being challenged to defend this. It seems pretty much central to the way the world is put together.

    I have never said that values are not involved. I don’t believe anybody has. So I don’t especially disagree with the Yale quote, and don’t see how it is “exactly backwards” from anything I have said. I simply claim that public understanding of the issue is currently inadequate to support an informed policy. By which I mean, perhaps a couple of dozen hours of exposure to the various key features at a high school level, or the equivalent in the press.

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

    I was almost going to agree with Sashka until his obnoxious closing sentence. First of all, we aren’t the sort of people who like catastrophes.

    Secondly, most of us would be happy to be so drastically wrong as to find that there is somehow no real problem (though at this point it would be quite astonishing).

    Just strategically, convincing the public that the matter is serious  becomes easier the greater the catastrophes, but finding the resources to cope becomes harder.

  • Tom Scharf

    Occam’s Razor suggests that the reason more knowledge results in less confidence in climate science is that:
    1. The science is WEAK
    2. The science has been OVERSTATED
    I think any honest assessment of the results has to bring this up as a possibility.  The fact that this possibility is not even enumerated (and then dismissed) shows clearly a fundamental insecurity of advocates.


  • Howard


    If you want to sway the Lucia’s of the world over to your side, the actual nuts and bolts science has to reduce uncertainty and increase confidence.  The very basics that support your great climate fears are a house of cards.  There is no direct evidence or holistic conceptual model of feedback mechanisms and man-made CO2 sensitivity.  It would also be nice to have better understanding of natural variation and ocean cycles.  Instead, we are expected to swallow the very poorly understood aerosols to explain any and all deviations.

    Education, communication, mental illness, poverty, political ideology, etc. are just lame excuses for the lack of solid science.  This is what bothers professional scientists working in other disciplines.  It also makes it appear that CAGW is a sham.

  • Tom Fuller

    I suppose Dr. Tobis’ newfound willingness to accept Lucia into the realms of polite society means we can accept an apology for some of the things he has written about her.

  • DeNihilist

    So the lead says a study has found that those with better science and numeric skills tend to not be swayed (are Sceptical) by the current science of climate. Then goes on to “find” that in actuallity, it is not this better understanding of the science that justifies their sceptism, but their “cultural” leanings.

    Uh-Huh! How do you square that circle?

    Because I understand maths, I am a right wing bigot?


  • Judith Curry

    Keith, i did a post on Kahan et al. last week

    including a link to a comment from Nullius in Verba from a previous thread at c-a-c.

  • DeNihilist

    That part of the study is bullshit Keith.

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    @7, Tom Scharf, you say:

    Occam’s Razor suggests that the reason more knowledge results in less confidence in climate science is that:

    You need to be careful.  The study doesn’t show more knowledge leads to less confidence.  The causality could be reversed.  It’s possible people with less confidence feel more motivated to do research.

  • Tom Scharf

    Tobis: “I simply claim that public understanding…”
    Translation: “When the public agrees with me…”

    I don’t think you can get your head around the fact that it is possible to investigate this science and still disagree with your understanding.  You falsely believe all rational people will read and understand things identical to you (i.e. you are the only truly rational person in the debate).  You also believe understanding the facts is equal to agreeing on the action to be taken.

    IMO the strongest case by far can be made to simply wait and see.  Let the science continue to develop, let the models prove themselves out.  The act before its too late mantra simply is not convincing.  I’m all for building nuclear plants ASAP.
    In your view I probably don’t “understand” the science.  However we probably agree on 90% of the facts, but it is a leap to conclude that this means we will agree on the proper course of action.

    When this debate got polarized politically, it was lost.  You will never get coal state and big industry Democrats to vote for punishing energy taxes.   In WV, Senator Joe Manchin (D) ran commercials of himself firing a rifle through the cap and trade bill.

    If the EPA mandates CO2 penalties, it will likely become an election issue and the EPA will be forbidden to do this in the following legislative session.  People are simply not going to sacrifice economically based on alarmist propaganda and no personal experience of a real problem.

    Try changing the message to how spending money is going to make my life better, not avoid possibly making it worse.
    I mean, have you ever really examined the argument not from the mile high view, but the 10,000 mile high view:

    1. We are warning you of a great catastrophe coming, but you cannot feel it or sense it yet.
    2. If we wait until you can sense it, it will be too late to do anything about it.
    3. In order to avoid this catastrophe, you must give us great amounts of money to implement solutions and societal change (that we just happen to have supported all along).
    4. After we implement our solutions, things will be the same as they are now.  We will have saved the world.
    Does anything sound suspicious with this argument?  I intuitively am quite distrustful of this.

  • Jarmo

    As a layperson, I find it curious that climate scientists believe that the only thing they have to do is to communicate better and we shall believe them.

    What ordinary people require from science to regard it credible is the ability to deliver. This is where climate science has failed.

    If scientists say that Arctic will be soon ice-free, it better happen. If hurricanes are predicted to get worse after Katrina, they should. If 50 million climate refugees are predicted for 2010, they better be there. Sea levels should be on their way to rise 6 meters to save Al Gore’s face. Winters should get milder, not colder.

    I know, these were not certainties, but they were trumpeted in the media as the next best thing to it. As predictions fail, doubts raise their head and alternative theories gain traction. Mix in politics and advocacy and the present cocktail is ready.

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

    Tom S #14:
    ” You falsely believe all rational people will read and understand things identical to you (i.e. you are the only truly rational person in the debate). ”

    I believe that the methods of science can reveal certain aspects of objective truth, that people who understand how it works can benefit from those methods, whether or not they are scientists, and that there are enough such people to make a difference.

    ” You also believe understanding the facts is equal to agreeing on the action to be taken.”

    No, I do not.

    “Try changing the message to how spending money is going to make my life better, not avoid possibly making it worse.”

    I have (actually) been diagnosed with an asymptomatic gall stone. I’ve been delaying following up. Please make the case to me that I should because of how it will make my life better (as opposed to avoiding making it worse).

    Tom’s four point summary has some unfortunate truth to it. Regarding this point, though,

    “4. After we implement our solutions, things will be the same as they are now.  We will have saved the world.”

    I am afraid it is too late for that. On the consensus opinion, things will get worse on the climate front no matter what we do. The question is only how much worse.

    On the other hand, regarding the first point, while of course there is confirmation bias to deal with and the measures are tricky, the evidence is starting to weigh in favor of consequences already arriving.

  • http://www.law.pace.edu Richard Ottinger

    I think that what is missing from this discussion is the tremendous influx of lobbyist money that is being poured into the media and Congressional coffers to influence public opinion and Congressional action on climate change.  This influence of money on our politics and public opinion is what is undermining our entire democratic system, on all issues from economy to the environment.  Sound policy and information is being deliberately distorted.  The only way to counter it, as Tobias so convincingly advocate, is better education on public policy matters, and particularly in this case on science.

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

    Richard (17)

    Thanks for stopping by. I get that lobbyist money influences Congress. I cannot imagine anyone denying that.

    But what is the evidence that lobbyist dollars also influence mainstream journalism coverage of climate change? I ask because your assertion echoes one of the criticisms made by Al Gore in his Rolling Stone essay, which John Broder in the NYT paraphrased as such: “He [Gore] said the media had been cowed by an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign financed by the oil, gas and coal industries…”

    I would agree that special interest money in politics is corrosive but I don’t see the same influence peddling in media.


  • EdG

    Michael Tobias writes:

    “I am afraid it is too late for that. On the consensus opinion, things will get worse on the climate front no matter what we do. The question is only how much worse.”

    And you scolded me for being so certain in my opinions.

    Other than this alleged “consensus opinion,” what makes you so certain? Models?

    And what exactly does “worse” mean? What? Where? Why?

    Since you are so certain that things will get “worse” no matter what, why should we bother doing much at all?

    And what is that “consensus opinion” today? Given all the new information it can’t still be the same – at least if it is based on objective scientific enquiry rather than blind faith.

    But then, since this is and always has been a ‘culture war’ rather than an objective scientific project, I guess some things will never change… except, as always, the climate.

  • EdG

    18. Keith – I am still baffled by Gore’s deluded statement on the media because it contradicts the real world evidence. The MSM is and has been a relentless parrot of every scary AGW story they can come up with. Most telling was their silence on Climategate.

    So based on the actual evidence, it seems obvious that if any side has undue influence on the MSM, it is the AGW research-industrial-financial-government complex.

    For example, Thomson-Reuters. Sir Crispin Tickell is on the Board of the Thomson Trust. If you don’t know who he is you’re missing something.

  • Howard


    I don’t see it.  The CAGW consensus and the Gore “Truth” has been pushed hard by print, radio and television media since the late 1990’s.  The energy lobby is distorting a distortion, that’s how our system works.

    Keith:  The media is owned by the environmental lobby influence peddling. They scream bloody murder and mutter EXxon/Mobil whenever the media makes the slightest deviation from the consensus talking points.

  • Tom Fuller

    At the risk of being boringly repetitive, if you measured the top 100 media outlets in terms of reach and influence, you would also find that they all overwhelmingly support the consensus opinion and also actively work to discredit skeptic opinion.

    Which again brings up the question, where is all this media kowtowing to corporate and government lobbying happening? The New York Times? The BBC? The Guardian?

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

    “I am afraid it is too late for that. On the consensus opinion, things will get worse on the climate front no matter what we do. The question is only how much worse.”

    Other than this alleged “consensus opinion,” what makes you so certain?

    OK, I have my scientist hat on here. This comment is pretty my attempt to deliver the consensus position. My own opinions are not included.

    The time constant of removal of carbon from the combined atmosphere/ocean/biosphere system is very long, so long that the problem to first order is cumulative. Extra carbon does not go away when emissions cease. (This is an example of the sort of fact people don’t seem to understand.) So however much warming we get at peak stays with us for a long time (except if we undertake huge, expensive and risky geoengineering projects).

    To some extent it leaves the atmosphere and goes into the ocean making the climate problem slightly better and the ocean acidification problem slightly worse.

    In addition to this ratcheting effect, there are several delays, of which the most salient on the time scales people usually worry about are the thermal inertia of the upper ocean and the gradual melting of ice. This means that the warming we see at a given time is the warming committed to some decades earlier.

    Also, there is aerosol masking. Basically, dust pollution tends to go up with carbon use, especially in less developed countries. This contributes a non-uniform cooling which in the global average counteracts the warming, though the differences in spatial organization also contributes to regional climate change. So the upshot of that is that we only see a fraction of the warming we committed to some decades ago. If the pollution stops, the warming will quickly be unmasked.

    Finally, there are policy and economic delays in replacing massive infrastructure, meaning that the time between making a real decision to deal with the problem and actually implementing it is long and spread out over decades.


    The word “model” is commonly misused in these discussions. All science is models. A thermometer is a model. The consensus is certainly informed by modern computers doing complex calculations. Climatologists see no reason we shouldn’t use the same tools that other sciences do.

    And what exactly does “worse” mean? What? Where? Why?

    Rapid changes in climate, increasing interannual variability, increases in some types of sever event, and rising sea levels, stressing both natural and human adaptation. Everywhere. Because of an increasingly modified radiative transfer balance.

    Since you are so certain that things will get “worse” no matter what, why should we bother doing much at all?

    Because things could get much worse than they already are bound to get.

    And what is that “consensus opinion” today? Given all the new information it can’t still be the same ““ at least if it is based on objective scientific enquiry rather than blind faith.

    Well, you can wait for IPCC AR5. For now, I’d just go with AR4. Nothing spectacular has changed in the balance of evidence.

    Hope this helps.

  • jeffn

    I noticed in reading the study that they confidently emphasize that the independent (read: conservative) cannot accept AGW because it runs counter to his/her values- say, less government intrusion. But they downplay the corollary: the communitarian (read: liberal) wants to believe in AGW because he/she believes it supports his/her values- more government intrusion.

    Why, then, is only one of these two cultural impacts on belief considered to be a problem?

    In fact, we know that the communitarian cultural impact is due to an information deficit. As Monbiot and Lynas have recently discovered and emphasized, the science is quite clear that nukes are safe and necessary to action on GHG emissions. Yet they are blocked by communitarian activists who are uninformed. As noted above, independents (conservatives) are happy to let you build as many nukes as you want.

    I would have to say that Michael Tobis is somewhat correct that the deficit model is real, though he may not like the meaning of that. We need a good strategy for communicating with the poorly informed climate concerned.


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

    I think there is no such thing as a “preference for government intrusion” for its own sake among liberals. It’s a silly notion. Liberals may not be biased against acknowledging a global collective problem, but they are not motivated in favor of it by a love of bureaucracy. What good would that do them or anybody else?

  • jeffn

    @25- That would explain why the entire universe acknowledges that liberals are fans of bigger government and conservatives are fans of smaller government.

  • http://rustneversleeps.wordpress.com rustneversleeps

    jeff! Look! Under the bed! It’s a windmill! Call Sancho!

  • Jeff Norris

    Richard (17)
    In addition to Keith’s question could you flesh out your ideas on a better education on public policy matters?  What would that look like and who would be involved?  Keith often suggest and is criticized for it, that past and current efforts are no longer effective but  he and others rarely put forth any specific  alternatives.  Reading Mr. Gore’s essay his solution was increased activism in general as the best solution but there has been little mention of his proposed summer/fall action plan.

  • ivp0

    The problem is, when pursuing a happy socialist collective society with everyone in it for the common good, we have often ended up with this:
    Given the choice between AGW in highly uncertain amounts or a likely socialist turned totalitarian society I freely choose warming.  History has not been kind to collective socialist societies.

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

    It’s like everything you say to these people gets translated through Monty Python’s Hungarian phrasebook, isn’t it?

  • Howard

    Michael Tobis Says:
    July 6th, 2011 at 6:58 pm
    It’s like everything you say to these people gets translated through Monty Python’s Hungarian phrasebook, isn’t it?

    Or, in your case, the Henny Penny mantra 😉

  • Howard

    jeffn Says:
    July 6th, 2011 at 5:51 pm @25- That would explain why the entire universe acknowledges that liberals are fans of bigger government and conservatives are fans of smaller government.

    Right-Ho.  Of course, being a “fan” of smaller government is not the same as practicing limited government.  Bush + the entire congress of “conservative” majorities were the biggest spenders of all time after Bill Clinton balanced the budget.

  • Sere

    So a “thermometer is a model,” huh? I get a solid, disgusted kick out of this everything is a model nonsense one encounters from true-believers. 

    A thermometer is *not* a model.  A GCM is a model, and a very poor one, because it has predicted nothing true.  The kind of “model” you’d want to compare it to is *The Standard Model.*

    You see, The Standard Model makes lots and lots of testable predictions and they get verified by experiment.  A thermometer makes no such predictions. 

    So perhaps we ought to be more careful dealing out spurious analogies.  And more circumspect when claiming that “complex” computer models “inform” climate science. 

    The entire alarmist position, the whole Venus Syndrome schtick, relies *entirely* and *necessarily* upon extrapolations from climate model projections.  It is beyond ludicrous to take seriously this primitive code fantasia. 

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

    No a thermometer is based on a model of volume expansion as a function of temperature and is calibrated (eventually) against a set of triple point cells, which are based on a model of the behavior of materials.

  • Menth

    I mentioned this on a previous thread but I’ll rephrase it here as it may have been o/t at the time.
    A similar paper from a few months ago showed that the more apocalyptic the claims of AGW disaster the increased likelihood of skepticism. While the obvious explanation of this would be that with more sensational claims a rational increase in scrutiny is to expected (sensational claims require sensational evidence). The paper however explained it thusly:

    “¦information about the potentially dire consequences of global warming threatens deeply held beliefs about the world as  just, and orderly, and basically fair . Individuals may overcome this threat by denying or discounting the existence of climate change and this may mean decreased willingness to act on climate change.”

    This was in my estimation a fair analysis of a large portion of intuitively skeptical members of the climate debate. But as jeffn at 26 mentions, the ideological lenses of believers are not examined. I believe it would be equally fair to invert the quotation to depict intuitive “believers”:

    “...information about the potentially dire consequences of global warming affirms deeply held beliefs about the world as unjust, and disorderly, and basically unfair . Individuals may reinforce this threat by denying or discounting evidence that contradicts climate change and this may mean increased willingness to act on climate change.”

    Essentially what I’m getting at is that both sides approach the issue from intuitive moral standpoints and not just rationalized, objective interpretations of data. That only one side of the political spectrum is examined is probably due to the fact that social scientists are overwhelmingly liberal.

  • rustneversleeps

    Wow, the big science guns are out tonight.

    Or, earlier today, on another thread I learned that we can  now recreate extinct species using their genome.

    Now I learn that a thermometer is not a model.

    It’s why Collide-a-Scape rules. One is constantly learning new stuff. Bloody marvelous, I say. Free your mind.

  • Steve Reynolds

    MT: “Rapid changes in climate, increasing interannual variability, increases in some types of sever event, and rising sea levels, stressing both natural and human adaptation. Everywhere. Because of an increasingly modified radiative transfer balance.”
    Where has any of this (other than SL) been measured? Even the sea level rise is so small to be difficult to separate from natural rise.
    “Basically, dust pollution tends to go up with carbon use, especially in less developed countries. This contributes a non-uniform cooling which in the global average counteracts the warming, though the differences in spatial organization also contributes to regional climate change. So the upshot of that is that we only see a fraction of the warming we committed to some decades ago.”
    This is largely speculation. If it is true, many (including me) might be convinced by accurate and reliable measurements. I don’t see much advocacy of making this kind of measurement a very high priority (rather than spending money on posh conferences).

  • Steve Reynolds

    “Now I learn that a thermometer is not a model.”
    A thermometer is an instrument, not a model. Interpreting the measurement requires a very simple and well established model, but the relevance of that to climate models seems near zero.

  • rustneversleeps

    So thermometer plays music! Cool!

  • Jack Hughes

    Tobis is wrong when he claims that a thermometer is a model. Why does he make this bizarre linkage? Does he believe it himself or is it just a good propaganda theme?

  • rustneversleeps

    Jack, a thermometer is an instrument. Pay it forward.

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

    “Interpreting the measurement requires a very simple and well established model, but the relevance of that to climate models seems near zero.”

    No, it’s a continuum.

    The word “climate model” is used by critics to dismiss everything. In practice if one doesn’t use a computer one gets a pass. But everything else (including the CRU averaging procedure, for example) is referred to as a “model” and summarily dismissed. Climate science, though, is expected to use pencils and erasers only, because it claims to have some results of general importance.

    The point of all of this is to avoid looking the evidence in the face.

    As we can see on this thread, in extremis, if the evidence did not pass through any machine computation at all, the accusation of the evidence is escalated to one of loving regulation for its own sake or even of explicit Stalinism.

    “This is largely speculation.”

    It’s the consensus of the relevant scientific community, and all of it has been tested and prodded six ways from Sunday for thirty years.

    “If it is true, many (including me) might be convinced by accurate and reliable measurements. I don’t see much advocacy of making this kind of measurement a very high priority ”

    For the love of ….. Maybe you ought to look into who is so excited about cutting the earth observation budget. Maybe you ought to look into the DSCOVR mission in particular.

    Maybe you ought to try this new Google thing which can actually find things on the internet pretty well.

  • rustneversleeps

    Although this video does make a point. Maybe something can be two aspects of one terlimologies at once.  http://bit.ly/qAhyeS

    I need to consider this.

  • DeNihilist

    I may get embargoed from Real Climate for doing this, But Dr. Tobis, please read Dr. Jm’s response to these questions. I get it that you are a very passionate person, but sometimes you just gotta chill man.


    SecularAnimist says:
    6 Jul 2011 at 12:50 PM
    Well, following up on my previous comment, here is a possible topic of discussion regarding climate science, which also relates to the motivation behind discussing alternatives to fossil fuels:
    The news from climate science is ALL BAD.
    Indeed, the news is VERY, VERY BAD, and just keeps getting WORSE.
    Am I wrong? Are there any exceptions? Is there even any prospect that climate science will have any good news for us?
    Or is it (as it seems to me) the case that all climate science has in store for us “” as a result of the long, hard, diligent, challenging work of the world’s most dedicated and brilliant scientists including those who host this blog “” is an increasingly refined, accurate and reliable picture of horrific disaster bearing down on us?
    In truth, one reason that I personally turn to thinking and talking about solar energy (for example) is that there is some good news there “” there are real prospects for phasing out fossil fuels in a surprisingly short time frame. It gives me a sense of hope.
    But when I turn to climate science, it is hard to find anything that sustains hope. It just keeps getting worse and worse, faster and faster, and it increasingly looks like it is too late to avoid unspeakable PETM-like disaster.
    It seems as though it’s just a matter of waiting for the “climatic Pearl Harbor” that some folks talk about “” not in the sense of a dramatic event that will shock the world into action, but rather a scientific study or relatively obscure observation that will shock those of us who already follow the science closely into the realization that it’s “game over”.
    Is the idea that we still have time to solve the problem really a form of “denial”?
    [Response: It’s certainly not good news, and I fully agree that we need to think about what the solutions to the problem are, and we need to be inspired by the fact that there are, in fact, real solutions. If it takes thinking about those things to keep going psychologically, do it; better yet, work towards making them happen. Hope is an *extremely* important psychological force. I for one do not like alarmism in the least, and is why I sometimes jump on people who make exaggerated or unsupported statements. I view it as a psychological tactic to scare people, and I detest psychological tactics, nor do I like having people be scared. Beyond the necessary step of making oneself aware of what’s going on, there’s no psychological benefit to telling oneself how bad things are, getting worse, etc. None. Is all the climate science bad news? No, not all of it. There may be, for example, some shifts in agricultural production that are decidedly good for some regions, for some period of time. There may be climate envelopes that move outside of the optimum range of some disease vectors or insect pests. The carbon dioxide fertilization effect represents a negative terrestrial C cycle feedback that helps some–although the eventual magnitude of this is definitely uncertain. There may turn out to be a geo-engineering stop-gap measure that turns out to be tolerable, for a while, while we get our act together (and I am not an advocate of relying on geo-engineering, at all).–Jim]

  • Bill

     If the public had more scientific education they would be much more aware that over a decade in which CO2 concentrations have risen at about 2ppm pa – there has been no warming at all. That would mean that even fewer people would believe in a high CO2 sensitivity.

     Be careful of what you wish for Tobis – you might get it.

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

    #44 Huh? I miss your point if it’s directed at me. I have no objection to what Jim says. I am not one who says the news is uniformly bad. I think there are solutions. I just think it is time to pick one and start implementing it.

    #45 is doubly wrong. If people understood what is going on they would understand that the global temperature change over a single decade are not the best way to get a handle on the situation. That said, the claim that “there has been no warming at all” in 2001-2011 is flatly false.

    To be fair, it is however the case that the recent warming is lagging a bit behind the predictions. This does not settle the sensitivity question for the reasons I outlined in #23. Note on the other hand that sea level rise and sea ice melt are exceeding worst case, and the picture regarding ocean acidification is bad.

    The tone of the responses here is familiar to me. I hope it is distressing to others.

  • Tom Fuller

    and that apology to Lucia?

  • Bill

    You only get an increase over the specific period 2001-11 because you are measuring from the bottom of a La Nina. Why be deliberately misleading? On a trend basis the past decade has been flat (though not down as some claim). 1998 is still the hottest year, (on all the datasets except GISS).

    It is just BS that sea level rise is increasing, if anything it has slowed in the past few years. At its current rate it would come in at around the bottom the IPCC’s predicted range for 2100. Since sea level rise certainly isnt “exceeding worst case” ice melt cannot be either.

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

    So, Keith, what I can I do besides try to provide the information? Say “is not is not is not”? Bill is either a perpetrator or a victim of cherry picking. The only reasonable thing to do is to point to the shape of the actual data and invoke Moynihan’s rule.

    Anyway, I already showed the temperature curve. Go look at it. I picked 2001-2011 because you said “the last decade” and for no other reason.

    Stipulated that 1998 was bizarre. Funny how many times I’ve heard “no warming since 1998”. Doubly funny to be accused of cherry picking for it.

    Sea level rise:

    Sea ice volume:

    Glacier volume:

    Ice Sheet Volume:

    It’s time for me to bow out as I am getting angry. Hopefully someone else will point out what is misleading about “At its current rate it would come in at around the bottom the IPCC’s predicted range for 2100.”

  • DeNihilist

    {I just think it is time to pick one and start implementing it.}

    Dr. Tobis, what if, we as a democratic society, decide that the action to pick is BAU, could you live with that?

  • Bill

    Well he has been living with BAU to date, so I suppose the answer is “Yes”? If not his alternatives are suicide, terrorism or both.

  • bluegrue

    I’m intrigued, how low the level for “scientific literacy” is set in the paper. Sure, you have to compromise when trying to determine this skill set in a survey, as virtually nobody will be willing to sit through a real exam, where they do not just have to reguriate facts, but where they have to follow informed, logical reasoning and build on it. These are the questions used to gauge scientific literacy, plus percentage of correct answers.

    The center of the Earth is very hot [true/false]. 86%
    All radioactivity is man-made [true/false]. 84%
    Lasers work by focusing sound waves [true/false]. 68%
    Electrons are smaller than atoms [true/false]. 62%
    Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth? 72%
    How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun? [one day, one month, one year] 45%
    It is the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl [true/false]. 69%
    Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria [true/false]. 68%

    Keep in mind: if everybody picked his/her answer by random, you’d get 50% on average.

  • bluegrue

    To elaborate on the answering randomly aspect, let us assume that those people, who know the answer, will always answer correctly and the others will pick their answer by random. If this (IMO reasonable) assumption holds true, this translates to only 44% of the population KNOWING that the Earth goes around the Sun and a mere 18% KNOWING that it takes the Earth a year to do so. Depressing.

  • bluegrue

    Bill #44
    If people were indeed scientifically literate, they would see through your ruse of basing your assertion on a way too short period of time to be meaningful in the context of climate.

  • Pascvaks

    “Differences in cultural values” or differences in schmultural values, it doesn’t matter one iota.  When the ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ is beyond the ability of the people to correct, the solution and the problem mean nothing to those capable of doing the real, human, political math.  In other words, it ain’t gonna’ happen.

    Example:  Everyone on the planet agrees that the end of the World is coming in 3 years and the only solution is to stop the rotation of the planet for 12 minutes before that day arrives and restart the rotation at the former speed 10 seconds after the 12th minute.  Result – World Ends.  Why?  Because the people of the World are incapable of arriving at a solution, and working together, to make the ‘fix’.  More than half will say it can’t be done.  The remainder will scream and shout that it must be done.  But it the end it won’t be done.

    Now, take a simple little problem like CO2, or whatever you want.  It won’t be done.  Why?  Because the majority aren’t going to drop everything and go marching into the void of the Unknown and change Everything just because a few nut-cases with PhD’s in fingerpainting are pulling their hair out and screaming that the sky is falling.

    Before screaming that everyone must do something about anything, consult a qualified psychologist for some good advice about how to do it right (and/or save yourself a lot of anxiety).  All “scientists” should be monitoring the AGW Battle to Save the World from Itself, they can learn a lot about what not to do and say should they ever need to save the World.

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

    To some extent, this thread (especially the exchanges between Michael Tobis and various commenters), supports the Yale paper’s findings.

  • Tom Fuller

    Perhaps at some point people will realize that this debate will not be settled on one set of criteria alone.

    The scientific process is one of considerable back and forth on the Greek model, with thesis, antithesis and eventual synthesis as the goal. Those profiting from cyclical swings and those watching from the sidelines have good seasons and bad.

    It’s been a tough season for the consensus side, made tougher by their own behaviour. But it’s just a season.

  • Matt B

    I believe #15 Jarmo has it right; no reason to make it more complicated than that….

  • Sere

    Tobis’ link to sea level rise is *very* interesting.  It’s very interesting b/c what’s presented there is so laughably convoluted.  And yet he links to it like it’s some kind of slam-dunk explanation of *what’s really going on* “globally” with “sea level.” 

    Know what?

    No one has any idea whatever if “sea level” is rising or not.  They have no idea how to accurately measure this complex phenomena.  

    Perhaps the “angry” Tobis would like to return and argue that sea level measurement is completely uncontroversial? I don’t mean controversy among “deniers,” however — I mean basic controversy among the supposed experts of the consensus.  Perhaps there are papers that disclose that sea level measurement is, well, quite possibly not entirely transparent?  

    Why do people *pretend* that “sea level” is something clearly understood and crisply measured? 

    They do this because quasi-scientific blather like we read at the link Tobis supplies can be *put over* on the innumerate and the credulous. 

    Again.  There is nothing in the alarmist schtick of AGW that doesn’t derive wholly and necessarily from the projections of primitive GCM’s that are admitted as primitive by the modelers who are constantly “improving” same.  

    This point should be hammered.  Every alarmist “scenario” is nothing more than a whimsical model projection.  Period.  There’s nothing else there.  

    ~0.7C rise over the last century ain’t cutting it as a catastrophe.  And there’s no reason to suspect this trivial rise will suddenly explode higher — unless you are credulous enough to believe in “expert projections” drawn from low-level GCM’s.  

    And if you believe that, I’ve got a sinecure in a University to sell you.   

    I advise epistemological modesty be observed. 

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    Keith, I think that you and the article are largely correct, but let’s not make this thread representative, as it seems the extremist pseudo-skeptics have invaded.  There is a definite problem with correct information, but it is very easy to believe in misinformation if there are a team of individuals who are routinely out to subjugate scientists and their science.  You don’t have to believe something if someone else is killing the messenger.  But that story will never get told.  We’ll just elevate them to reasonable, as to make for sexy controversy.

  • jeffn

    Grypo #60. Unfortunately for you the “extremist pseudo-skeptics” now seem to include Mark Lynas and George Monbiot- both of whom have noted that they were misled by the green movement on the question of how to address emissions. Both of whom are now waiting – with the rest of us – for you to climb down off your pedestal and get to work.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    No they are not  “extremist pseudo-skeptics”.  This has nothing to do with “the green movement”, it has to do with dismissing science based on ideology, as opposed to strict adherence to the ‘deficit’ of information theories.

    I am with Lynas and Monibot in some their critiques of the “green movement”!

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Perhaps I’m being overly simplistic but it seems to me that the study merely confirms that people will process information about politicized issues through political (i.e. cultural) filters.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a time machine so data on how the responses may have differed when climate change wasn’t so politicized isn’t available.  However, I’d wager that the results would in fact be different in the direction of more science education leading to more acceptance of the mainstream view.

    This raises two questions.  First, given the particulars of the climate problem (e.g. international in scope, asymmetrical costs/benefits across time and space), is it reasonable to think that the politicization of climate change could have been avoided?
    The second, more interesting question IMO, is what do we do now? I’m sympathetic to Michael’s question, as it isn’t immediately obvious what the ethical response to the problem is.  Perhaps the authors address this in the study (I’ve only read the abstract). How do you depoliticize the issue?  Given the state of American politics, I’m not sure if this is even possible.  Has any issue that has become part of the culture war (e.g. gun control) ever been depoliticized to the point where reasonable discussion about trade-offs becomes possible?

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    > The scientific process is one of considerable back and forth on the Greek model, with thesis, antithesis and eventual synthesis as the goal.

    I thought this was the Hegelian dialectic. Let’s hope nobody’s fate rests on reading The Phenomenology of Spirit.  Having to stop the Earth twelve seconds from its axis might need less idealism.


  • Sashka

    @ MT (6)

    I don’t know why you called my statement obnoxious b/c what you’re saying is not materially different. Of course nobody says that you guys are blood thirsty just for the sake of it. You are good guys, your hearts are in the right place, that’s for sure. But when you say

    Just strategically, convincing the public that the matter is serious  becomes easier the greater the catastrophes

    it means (to me) that you are welcoming 10,000 deaths because it will help saving millions or even the planet itself. Trust me, I also have a choice word for this kind off attitude but being a polite person I won’t say it.


    I can appreciate your frustration. Some people here simply won’t listen. But your approach of providing the “information” of your choice is not going to work anyway. This is because the information is complicated and gray. Pretending that it’s black-and-white doesn’t help your case. You need to think about information support base of lukewarmers. For example when you talk about sea level rise (can’t see that link from work) remember that anyone can go online and find the graph that shows no acceleration in Wikipedia. When you arrogantly talk about warming over the last decade, remember that Phil Jones admitted that there is no statistically significant warming since 1995. (I know it’s not mutually exclusive but this is beside the point.) You are correct that

    the global temperature change over a single decade are not the best way to get a handle on the situation

    but if you want to be credible you need to discuss this point from a 12 year ago perspective. Somehow back then none of you guys we saying that. For how long will the temp plateau need to persist before the consensus community agrees that the GCMs are wrong?

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

    One “extremist preseudo-skeptic” tactic is to include anyone who ever said anything critical about the consensus or the community as a fellow “skeptic”. This would include myself, and just about everybody else.

    Nobody is claiming infallibility, perfection, or being above criticism. That’s a straw man with multiple uses. What is being claimed is that the balance of evidence shows a situation remarkably different from what the public and the policy sector seem to understand.

    Which brings us back to the original question – will the public and the policy sector ever behave rationally with respect to this issue or other issues where scientific input is somewhat counterintuitive. It seems obvious to me that understanding the scientific input is a sine qua non.

    I do not, therefore, understand Keith’s point. He seems to suggest that the “deficit model” asserts that public understanding is sufficient. If so, I don’t know of anyone who holds that position. All I am trying to say is that sufficient public understanding is necessary. There is more work to be done after that, but at present the understanding remains shockingly muddled, as the present conversation amply demonstrates.

  • Tom Fuller

    Dr. Tobis, I doubt if anyone has ever labeled you a skeptic.

    I think the case can be made that the public is reacting rationally with regards to this issue. They support environmentalism and the broad thrust of dealing with climate change, but do not believe the consensus explanation of impacts is strong enough to support radical economic overhaul.

    As we speak, I am sitting in the viewing room of an interview facility watching interviews being conducted on a related issue. So far, 100% of the people I have listened to strongly support efforts to deal with environmental issues and switch to renewable fuels. All of them.

    All of them also say that this conversion needs to lead off with the economic benefits to their families–they understand renewables are good for the planet. That case has been made. But they have to be able to afford it.

    Seems pretty rational to me.

  • SamuelJ

    This discussion fits into a meme I’ve noticed relatively recently, used by both sides, that if you disagree with an argument, you must have a syndrome or a bias, where the bias often results from popular culture (e.g. Fox News, reality shows, etc) or political leanings (e.g. Bush derangement syndrome), as in this case. The most recent example is the “CSI Syndrome” applied to the jurors in the Anthony trial. I’ve dubbed it the “if you disagree with me you must have a syndrome” syndrome. I’ve seen it applied to both sides of this argument (global warming) as well.
    It’s a useless and counterproductive tactic regardless of which side uses it. Let’s just say “people disagree about stuff” and move on to proving or disproving the science.

  • Sashka

    @ 66

    I do not, therefore, understand Keith’s point.

    I’m afraid you don’t indeed.

    He seems to suggest that the “deficit model” asserts that public understanding is sufficient.

    No he doesn’t. See, you are rightfully upset with people who don’t listen to you. But then you turn around and do the same thing.

  • Jeff Norris

    I would take that wager because Kahan and history back me up.  Now it is tough to argue the point because I believe you are starting from the position that the science is compelling at the onset and the public does not have the ability to evaluate it.  I read Kahan as saying that if an issue is given enough time it will be broken down by opponents to its cultural values or components which makes objective  or scientific evaluation of the issue more difficult.  That is not to say the opposition is not scientific but that they begin use science  as one means to poke holes in aspects of the proposed issue on cultural lines.

    WRT  to your two questions:
    CC required a political solution so of course politics would play apart, how much so I think Kahan suggests and I generally agree, depends more on the proponents than the opponents.  By supporting one narrow solution they prevented coalition building with other interests or uninterested parties.   With the current state affairs you can’t depoliticize the issue that requires a political solution.   You can however ring a bell differently which is what I think Lynas, Keith,  and Monibot are trying to do with Nuclear.   The No Nuke plank is to limiting.  The other thing you have to do IMO is be able to take a hard look at where you went wrong and be willing to acknowledge it.  Unfortunately CC theory does not give you the time for self evaluation, so barring some obvious global consequences or a dramatic change in the Global Economy you might not have another bite at the apple.

  • DeNihilist

    Tom @ 67. PRECISELY!

    This should be the starting point of the policy issues. RP JR goes on ad infinitum about this. The battle for making the change has been won. Even today a vast majority of Americans feel that way (Canadians too). But what is the cost? What is the timeline? Why do I have to subsidise others’ enrgy costs? And if you want to go to the WORST argument, bringing up kids and grandkids – WILL MY HEIRS HAVE AS GOOD OF A SOCIETY AS I GREW UP IN, OR WILL THEY BE DESPERATELY POOR  to save the world from a maybe catastrophe?

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

    Perhaps Sashka would be kind enough to describe the position that he thinks Keith ascribes to me.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Of course you know that warming since 1995 is now statistically significant and that sea level rise has indeed been accelerating compared to historical background levels.

    Please stop lying.  Seriously.

  • Sashka

    It is highlighted in the post:

    the deficit model has to work

  • Tom Fuller

    Marlowe, you illustrate one difficulty in communicating effectively with the public.

    Phil Jones can indeed breathe a sigh of relief as his tortured statement is now redeemed by the passage of time. Yes indeed, the climate has warmed since 1995, and that warming is statistically significant. But Marlowe, how much has it warmed? Expressed decadally? And how does that compare to modelled predictions? (And yes, you can say that those 16 years are too short–but then we should ask about all 30-year periods since 1880, only to find out that none of them has been 2 degrees C at a century-level rate.)

    Similarly, sea level indeed has risen. How much? How has that varied over the period covered by global warming?

    You don’t say. And the public knows that you don’t say. The people I am listening to right now are saying that they don’t know who to believe because the numbers get all jumbled up.

    Global warming is not proceeding according to plan. Temperatures are rising more slowly than you and those you support had predicted, and sea levels are rising, but more slowly than you had predicted. Your models are running hot.

    You are not giving the public much to work with.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Tom can you point me to the ‘plan’? Otherwise I’m inclined to ignore your bullshit once again….

  • Tom Fuller

    Marlowe, feel free to ignore me. Feel free to ignore the public. Feel free to ignore everyone who doesn’t agree with you.

    But then don’t come back all angrified when we haven’t been listening to you.

  • Sashka

    @ 73

    You surely know how lies and damn lies relate to statistics. But I’m not the one who is lying. You are.

    Here’s another sea level plot from a trusty university site:


    You can repeat “acceleration” until you turn blue in your face. But it’s not going to change a thing.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    And what was the annual rate prior to 1994?

    “Current sea level rise has occurred at a mean rate of 1.8 mm per year for the past century,[1][2] and more recently, during the satellite altimetry era of sea levelmeasurement, at rates in the range of 2.9-3.4 ± 0.4-0.6 mm per year from 1993″“2010.[3][4][5][6][7]

    Again.  Please stop lying. Seriously.

  • Tom Fuller

    You see, Marlowe, when you don’t walk people through the details of what you are describing, other people will do it for you. And they may not exhibit the figures you prefer, or choose the time frames you think are appropriate.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Tom you’re right.  Liars like Sashka will cherrypick dates on the recommendation of people like Lindzen to lie/distort/create confusion. Somewhat different than the standard  Fuller approach (i.e. 1 part strawman + 2 parts ignorance + 1 part indignation) but the end result (FUD) suggests its equally effective.

  • Tom Fuller

    Sounds like I’m a man of many parts.

  • Sashka

    @ 79

    I admire your selective quoting prowess, Marlowe. Let me fill in the gap:

    One 2008 study suggests that there has been an observed reduction in the prior rate of sea level by 2mm/yr from 2005 (a 60% reduction from the 1993 to 2005 rate) to a level of 1mm/yr.[8]

    Did you really think you’d score some points that way? One look at the chart tells you the story. The lies, the spins, the cherry picking – nothing will change the reality no matter how many times you repeat it.

  • Jeff Norris

     I hope you have taken precautions against your ambient evil energy from contaminating the interviews. :)
    Don’t  know how free are you to discuss the demographics of the focus group but it would be interesting to see how you think it matches up to Kahan’s  recent study.

  • Chuck Kaplan


    Another reason why today the public is less willing to go along with the consensus is that this medium, the internet, has breached the monopoly of the mainstream to control the debate/information.

  • Howard

    Marlowe:  Your hissy fit makes MT’s views appear mainstream: mission accomplished.  BTW, the earth does quite enough all on it’s own to create confusion, your state of denial notwithstanding.

  • Tom Fuller

    Hiya Jeff

    The sample frame is designed to be representative of middle class America, with the key criteria of home ownership. It’s amazing, the consistency of what they’re saying.

    These people really want to be green. They just want to know they can afford it.

  • Tom Fuller

    In fact, at the risk of infuriating other commenters here, I would be willing to state categorically that if this country returned to the growth of the Clinton era that take-up of renewable energy would soar dramatically.

    I guess the implications of that are pretty stark.

  • Tom Fuller

    I just got finished listening to a Latino guy in New Jersey, looks a bit like that cop on CSI Miami. Maybe 35. Nice guy.

    “I’m really interested in doing this (take up a certain type of renewable energy). I want my kids to live in a better world, and I don’t think it’s right that we are so dependent on oil. Saving money on my utility bills is great–but the cost. How long is the payback? This is expensive. Green is great–but it isn’t enough.”

    That pretty much echoes what everybody else in the study has said.

  • http://rustneversleeps.wordpress.com rustneversleeps

    Gee, Tom, that sounds exactly like the kind of person that might be a net beneficiary of a carbon fee & dividend policy. As we know, you advocate a rising carbon tax, so why not dividend that back to this guy, to help him make that transition. If he is using less fossil fuels than the average American, he would come out ahead financially.

  • Tom Fuller

    rustneversleeps, I would prefer a carbon tax rebated through lower social security taxes. Simpler and easier to understand.

  • Jeff Norris

    Any comment on Scientific Literacy of interviewees?  Understood that it might be very subjective.

  • Tom Fuller

    They under-report their level of scientific understanding, saying they know very little but understanding both the basics of climate change and the remediating effects of the solution under discussion.

    They probably do not understand some of the terminology thrown around here on weblogs, but they understand the Greenhouse effect, global warming and what alternative forms of energy can do.

    Not bad at all, I’d say. And many of them have heard of skeptical arguments about global warming, and they say I know there are some who disagree, but I don’t want to get into the numbers. It just makes sense to have another source of energy that doesn’t contribute to the problem. (I’m paraphrasing and combining responses from several.)

  • ojohnson

    I think it should be noted that this report doesn´t tell us anything about the correlation

  • Sashka

    @ rust

    I’m not sure why you direct this question to Tom but I keep asking the same. Why wasn’t this approach broadly discussed? I have yet to meet anybody who’d say it’s a bad idea.

  • Tom Fuller

    Sashka, the idea is not new and it was discussed. But the powers that be in the U.S. Democratic party (echoing the sentiments of the European Union) thought it would be more beneficial to their interests to push a Cap and Trade bill rather than a carbon tax. I’m a Democrat, and proudly so. Nonetheless, they thought they could apportion exemptions and carve-outs to benefit constituencies and contributors. They also honestly thought that conservative opponents would get immediate traction by opposing a new tax, no matter if the revenues were hypothecated or rebated.

  • ojohnson

    I think it should be noted that this report doesn´t tell us anything about the correlation between knowledge of climate science and judgement on the risk of climate change.

    That said, I agree with Keith Kloor on his basic points.

    In the report I find some interesting statements like:

    “Citizens who hold hierarchical and individualistic values discount scientific information about climate change in part because they associate the issue with antagonism to commerce and industry..Individuals are prone to interpret challenges to beliefs that predominate with their cultural community as assaults on the competence of those whom they trust and look to for guidance. That implication – which naturally provokes resistance – is likely to be strengthened when communicators with a recognizable cultural identity stridently accuse those who disagree with them of lacking intelligence or integrity” (p. 15)

    I don’t know how well this is substantiated in this paper or other research, but it sounds to me as good advice on how not to speak to a climate skeptic.

  • Jeff Norris

    Going out on limb here but I would say it is not a risk perception but more of a reward awareness.

  • Tom Fuller

    There’s been remarkably little discussion of tax credits, deductions, rebates, state and city grants, etc. I’m sure you’re right at some level, but they’re primarily concerned about net costs after all the goodies have been bestowed.

  • Jeff Norris

    Putting a dollar value on saving the Planet,  typical bourgeois American thinking.  Surely the right  education is the only way to change that. :)

  • jeffn

    Tom, here’s a fine example of credits, deductions and grants in eco-action: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/31/AR2011013104862.html
    The owner of a 4,400 square-foot house in Washington D.C.’s toniest suburb got over $14,000 in subsidies from the feds, city and state for his new air conditioner. Now, let’s see $14,000 times 170 million households in the U.S. is…

  • Sashka

    @ Tom

    So, it was discussed internally but was never presented to the general public? Basically, I figured about as much as you say but I wanted to have some sort of confirmation. My other thought was that they actually wanted a massive tax grab disguised as Cap & Trade, an allegedly “market-based” solution. Thus a potentially viable solution fell victim to Democratic politics. I’m proud to be not a Democrat.

  • DeNihilist

    Tom, here in BC we have a carbon tax. The only thing that I remember from it is that at a certain low income threshold, the provincial government rebates what they calculate that low earner has spent in CT. I am sure there are other plans, but to be honest, I have been living with it for about 3 years now, and don’t even think about it anymore. The other thing that I just remembered, is that we tend to have the highest gasoline prices in Canada also, but then I think about the European prices and just start to whistle…..

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

    97, 103, that is not the way I remember it.

    As I recall, the Republicans were strictly obstructionist, so whatever got passed needed 100% democratic support. Had the Republicans been more interested in governing than in embarassing the Democrats, a tax/rebate proposal would have been enacted and the rest of the world would have been under considerably more pressure in Copenhagen to cooperate. Because they adamantly refused, they not only encouraged the antiscience anti-intellectual wing of their base in their attachment to an alternate reality. They also handed a great deal of power to the fence-sitters on the other side, notably senators from coal states, who proceeded to set up a complicated and unworkable structure to the benefit of the coal industry. (Because there are no democrats anymore representing the oil states, coal got a better deal than oil.) Fortunately the monstrosity was not implemented, as it would eventually have collapsed under its own weight. But blaming the Democrats somewhat misses the point that it was the Republican refusal to behave responsibly that set up the whole tangle.

    As usual, everyone seems to view the same events through massively different lenses, but that is how I remember it.

    It is interesting to see such a wide spectrum here agreeing with Jim Hansen’s preferred strategy, though.


  • Tom Fuller

    JeffN, I have no real problem with the subsidies going out at the level currently disbursed. We have had success with subsidizing nascent industries in the past, and it kind of tickles me that we are subsidizing consumers rather than companies, at least partially. And it’s really small potatoes–what, $23 billion? Especially as much of that is foregone revenue rather than checks mailed out, I don’t think it should be a blocker.

    Sashka, no, it was discussed publicly (except for the horsetrading possibilities.) And agreement was quite general, including from the major environmental organisations, that cap and trade was the way to go. Sadly…

  • Tom Fuller

    Dr. Tobis, you would only be surprised if by some unhappy chance you had spent years labeling people deniers incapable of rational thought or understanding science and by an equally unhappy chance turned out to be mistaken about them.

  • Sashka

    @ MT (103)

    If you are saying that a tax-dividend legislation was actually introduced in Congress, could you provide a reference?

    @ TF (105)

    Could you point me to any remaining trace of public discussions on tax-dividend?

  • Gaythia

    I am a bit late getting to this thread, but I’d like to get back to the comment made by Richard Ottinger @17, regarding lobbyist influence on public attitudes.  I agree with him.
    Keith, I think that in your response, you are giving too much weight to what you seem to believe are the “mainstream media”.  In my opinion, these media outlets do not have reach that extends that far or especially, that deep.
    Instead, we have attention grabbed by sideshows, like Casey Anthony.  The depth here doesn’t even extend to how to protect future children.
    We are not having serious public conversations on the significant issues of our times.   In my opinion, this is by design of those who stand to benefit by public complacency.

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

    Sashka, I don’t think it was formally introduced, but it was certainly on the table.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    there is no tax and dividend proposals that I’m aware of, but there are some policies where the tax is revenue neutral (e.g. B.C.).  Hansen’s proposal, known as cap and dividend was most recently captured in this bill which of course never made it out of committee…

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    “rustneversleeps, I would prefer a carbon tax rebated through lower social security taxes. Simpler and easier to understand.”

    I don’t think the complexity would matter much, and because of that, you can neutralize government intake by spreading rebates over several taxes, and not stress the social security system.  But then again, I imagine the tax I prefer is larger than yours.

    MT, Saska, Tom, et al
    The bill closest to what we are discussing was Cantwell-Collins, around the same time as the House cap and trade was tanking in the Senate.


    with a quote from our own Ken Green

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

    Hansen’s 2009 testimony to House Ways and Means seems to go to your question. He concludes (and for what it is worth I agree) as follows:

    The honest approach, the effective approach, for solving the global warming problem would be a tax with 100% dividend. The public is not stupid. They will understand that the hooks and eyes of a less comprehensive more dissembling approach will be put there for some reason other than saving the future for their children.

    One of the biggest advantages of the Tax and Dividend approach is its simplicity, which would allow it to be introduced quickly. The Kyoto-like Cap & Trade is notoriously slow to negotiate and implement, as well as being ineffective in the end. A related point is that an effective international accord could be implemented with only a few of the major economies. Import duties on countries not imposing a comparable tax would surely bring broad rapid compliance.


  • NewYorkJ

    The paper’s evaluation of scientific literacy is generally confined to very basic high school material – such as how long it takes the Earth to revolve around the Sun, and doesn’t really measure one’s knowledge of more advanced physics/chemistry/other atmospheric science (although I suspect the denial blogs are framing it rather differently).  Add a little (but not a lot) of knowledge to a big ego and heavily-skewed individualistic ideology and you’ve got youself a fervent contrarian. 

    So the paper’s results aren’t much different from polls that show similar skepticism among the generally-educated to vary most widely based on ideology, nor do they challenge conclusions that the most qualified experts in climate science are the least skeptical of manmade global warming.

    That said, a few percentage points of those with the highest credentials related to  climate science still remain blinded by ideology on the issue – Roy Spencer for example.


    although they are clearly the exception.

    What the paper does say is that simply teaching people high school math/science isn’t going to make a big difference by itself.  It’s also unrealistic to expect the vast majority of the population to obtain advanced knowledge in atmospheric science – the kind that would trump (in all but the Roy Spencer-type cases) ideological biases.  And there’s the challenge. 

    Keith: “no cultural shift will emerge until differing worldviews are given greater consideration in the climate debate”

    The Earth’s climate doesn’t respond to “differing worldviews”, other than the extent that such worldviews result in the altering of atmospheric composition. 

    How does one soften the impact of ideological biases, to the point where a reasonably-educated person doesn’t let their “worldviews” cause them to deny science?  One might ask why global warming skepticism is much lower in educated European nations compared to the United States.  Some worldviews are regarded by their adherents as simply incompatible with the implications of climate science, as outlined by the John Abrams article on his former skepticism, so we should strive for a society where such intellectually-crippling worldviews are challenged.  Consistent teaching of critical thinking skills K-12 might be effective as a start.

  • NewYorkJ

    The John Abrams article:
    Rational judgement of scientific evidence is only one of these influences on our beliefs. In fact, for the case of AGW, I’d even argue that the scientific evidence plays an even smaller part in someone’s acceptance. The more complex a topic is, the harder it is to rationally judge the scientific evidence, therefore we use other methods to subconsciously decide what to believe. Before someone can confidently say they accept or don’t accept AGW for rational reasons, they must first honestly admit that they have seen, and understand, the relevant scientific evidence. But most people, myself included, can be intimidated by all the climate models, core samples, and temperature charts that are tossed around. Because of this intimidation, we turn to other non-rational belief influences.

    AGW poses a direct threat to some forms libertarianism and right-wing capitalism. I think that this may have played a strong role in my personal AGW skepticism, and perhaps in other libertarians. As I discussed in a previous blog post, values can determine whether someone considers themselves a libertarian, liberal, conservative, etc. One important value of libertarianism is the desire for smaller government. This rubs up against the problem of AGW. If the problem of AGW is real, and if we have any hope of solving it, we would most likely require development of gross regulations from governments. This is exactly what is going on right now in Copenhagen. Those who find regulations unpalatable, when faced with AGW, will have strong psychological pressure to find themselves in what I call the AGW skeptic spectrum: deny the existence of rising global temperatures, doubt the fact that it is man made, skeptical that cutting back emissions can help, and finally, question the idea that cutting emissions can help or is economically feasible.

    As someone with libertarian/right-wing values, I’ve learned to accommodate the inconvenient truth of AGW. I think the turning point may have been learning about arch-skeptic (and libertarian) Michael Shermer’s about face on the issue. The fact that the founder of Skeptic Magazine could not remain an AGW skeptic made me re-examine my personal AGW skepticism. It made me take a fresh look at an issue that I realized may have been clouded by subconscious influences. After reading debunking after debunking of poor AGW skeptic arguments, I had no more excuses. Just as some religious people find ways to accommodate the fact of evolution, I found ways to accommodate global warming despite my political views. As the president of a local skeptic organization I’m often asked if I’ve ever changed my mind due to scientific evidence, I’m proud to say that in this case I did. But I didn’t write this post to pat myself on the back. This has taught me that one should be skeptical of their beliefs, especially if they fit with one’s world view. Hopefully, this will encourage others to be take an honest second look at AGW science.


    The 3rd paragraph perhaps provides hints on how to reach those with intellectually-crippling worldviews.

  • Tom Fuller

    Well, all I can say is back in the real world, people accept that the globe is warming and are willing to do something about it. They want it to make sense financially. They have heard of skeptics but haven’t dived in too deeply. They understand the greenhouse effect and that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. More CO2 contributes to more warming.

    Just how literate do you want them to be?

  • Marlowe Johnson

    b$llsh$tt as usual. go away please.


    I’ve asked RPJr before and have never gotten a satisfactory answer of how ‘the science is settled’ polling data gets translated (or not) into political action in the U.S. given the huge skew in skepticism on the Republican side.  Until extreme climate skepticism becomes untenable for Republican voters and/or the senate filibuster rules change, nothing of significance will change in the U.S.  Whether or not the rest of the world follows a similar path of mutually-assured destruction remains to be seen, but I know where I’d put my money.


  • Bill

    The science isnt sttled Marlowe. Virtually anyone who has some technical knowledge does accept that CO2 causes some warming – but it is very uncertain how much, since far less warming is ocurring than the models predict. The models accuracy is also getting worse over time, not better. That isnt characteristic of predictive models that are any good.

    By the way, abusing people wont settle the science either.

  • TerryMN

    b$llsh$tt as usual. go away please.</i>
    Pity that’s all you’ve got left, Marlowe.  I won’t ask you to “go away please” but will let you know that, in this readers opinion, you’re embarrassing yourself and not advancing the debate or your cause.

  • Sashka

    @ Marlowe

    Hansen’s proposal, known as cap and dividend was most recently captured in this bill which of course never made it out of committee”¦
    I don’t understand the “of course” part. The committee votes by simple majority and it was a Democratic majority at the time. So, whose fault is that?
    Thanks for the link, grypo. Upon a brief read, these bills are not exactly what we are talking about but are in the same spirit.

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

    Amidst all the sparring and flaming, lots of good comments still coming in. I’d have liked to been more engaged in this thread, but family time takes priority.

    Just a few quick responses now (and more to follow tomorrow):


    You make some good points and ask some valid questions, including this one:

    “one might ask why global warming skepticism is much lower in educated European nations compared to the United States.”

    Because nobody does culture wars like the U.S.

    @Gaythia (108)

    There is nothing new about the scandal/entertainment element of the media that you bemoan. A few weeks ago, people said the same about the Anthony Weiner sideshow. Next week, it’ll be something else. There will always be a place in the media ecosystem for these kinds of stories, like it or not.

    But what does this have to do with lobbyist influence?

    Michael Tobis (66)

    You write (my emphasis):”All I am trying to say is that sufficient public understanding is necessary. There is more work to be done after that, but at present the understanding remains shockingly muddled, as the present conversation amply demonstrates.”

    Ironically, you have your own blind spot on this. I’ll say it again using some of your words:

    What much of “the present conversation amply demonstrates” is the validity of the Yale paper’s conclusions.



  • Bill

     Yes perhaps US skepticism is because you do “do culture wars better”, but I think there may be a specific political factor too.
      In the US one major party has opposed the CAGW crusade, (if only because of pressure from the Tea Party). Suddenly that makes it respectable to reject, or express doubts, in polite society. That is exactly what happened in Australia – the Coalition (conservatives) changed from supporters to opponents, seemingly due to strong pressure from their grass roots supporters. Since then support for doing anything expensive about AGW has declined from nearly 70% to hardly 40% down under.

      But in Europe all mainstream parties support the crusade, so there is no respectable lightning rod. (Minor parties that may oppose the crusade in Europe, tend to be nutty and sometimes a bit racist)

  • Paul Kelly

    The focus model supersedes the information/knowledge model. Michael Tobis points the way, ” …. solutions. I just think it is time to pick one and start implementing it.” That’s focus.

    Notwithstanding my belief that a shared interest approach is superior to a government approach, the revenue neutral carbon tax has much to recommend it. WC at stoat makes a very good case for it. I oppose it, in part, because a) No matter how fair the revenue neutrality offset, the burden of the tax falls on those least able to pay; and b) It offers a weak incentive to burn less carbon. I only oppose this tax in part because there’s parts of it I like.

    Contrary to the misinformation from Progressives, a revenue neutral carbon tax had wide support while they insisted on cap and trade. It still does.


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

    Keith, culture and values can change rapidly, more rapidly than some people seem to think.

    Paul, “the burden of the tax falls on those least able to pay” does, unfortunately hold to some extent, in America and a few other countries.

    Rural poor folk in drafty, isolated houses are more energy dependent than urban poor folk in tightly packed apartments with bus service available and in principle easily expanded. A carbon tax would therefore impact the red states much more severely than the blue ones. There may need to be some cushion put in place for poor rural folk to adjust.

    In most countries poor people don’t have cars or big drafty houses on isolated dusty roads. It’s largely a peculiarly American problem. And it is peculiar, when you think about it.

  • Paul Kelly

    One thing I like about this carbon tax is that it fits well into the variety of reasons framework.

  • DeNihilist

    But what of Mitt Romney? He is for action on the climate.

  • Bill

    What “action” exactly?

  • Jarmo

    Bill #121 said
    ” But in Europe all mainstream parties support the crusade, so there is no respectable lightning rod. (Minor parties that may oppose the crusade in Europe, tend to be nutty and sometimes a bit racist)”
    I think that has changed a bit. Witness the the recent defeat  of an attempt to raise greenhouse gas cut for 2020 from 20 % to 30 % in the European Parliament.
    The Kyoto Protocol is in practice dead and even the EU hesitates to renew their obligation:

  • Bill

    Yes Kyoto is dead, but you do have to read between the lines in the MSM to actually know that. In Australia I am not sure that a single newspaper (or TV network) even reported that Japan, Canada and Russia have all quite recently pulled out. (It may actually have been better reported in Europe).

  • Jarmo

    Bill# 128
    I think it has been reported in the European MSM. I saw at least one editorial here in Finland.

    About the original point discussed: Does increased information about AGW lead to scepticism or acceptance of AGW as a fact?

    I had an experience with a college class of about 30 young people. We were talking about monopolies and utility companies in monopoly position. European cap and trade came up and out of curiosity, I asked them how it works.

    Nobody knew how it really works. They all assumed that companies buy pollution permits and that the governments collect the money.

    When I told them that electricity companies get the permits for free but can charge customers for them, they were just flabbergasted. The idea they had got through MSM is that companies pay for the permits.

    Then couple students started talking that maybe the warming is not so real either. They had seen some sceptical stuff about AGW.

    Anyway, my take on this is that MSM paints a picture of all AGW-related issues that is far more certain and positive than the reality and conveniently ignores the problems both with science and existing mitigation mechanisms. When people find out the facts they may feel betrayed or misled.

    Personally, I feel that the scientists have to educate people more about uncertainties of climate science and cut down the catastrophy bulletins. People are not dumb. Telling scary stories of impending disasters and then later admitting, ” well, it might happen… or not” is interpreted as crying wolf.

    Over here people tend to forget that a vast majority of people are not educated about AGW. They just listen to MSM and pick stuff from the headlines. If they actually start reading papers to find out how likely the catastrophies are, they will be disappointed. The same goes with IPCC.

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

    Anyone interested in follow-up reading on the underlying dynamics of this science/politics/culture debate should read this essential 2004 paper by Daniel Sarewitz, which I’ve just been made aware of.




  • jeffn

    A couple things to remember about the carbon tax idea:
    – a tax and dividend would be difficult in this country because it has a republican (small-R) govt. There are a lot of rural congresspersons and they are well aware that a tax and dividend does a wonderful job of setting a regressive tax and sending the money to cities.
    – Europe does like “the crusade” because of climate, but never discount Europe’s desire to control the revenue from a tax on Americans. Remember all the glorious stories about discussions prior to and at Copenhagen about the $30 billion “fund” the UN was eager to have at it’s disposal from carbon fees, taxes contributions etc, a big chunk of which was expected from Obama.
    – I linked to a story about a $14,000 subsidy to a wealthy man in Washington DC for a new airconditioner for a reason (see comment 101). It makes no economic sense to pay $12,000 per family for the very tiny GHG savings this system would provide, makes no sense to ask people who are suffering in this economy to pony up more taxes to hand over $14,000 checks to tycoons. The fact is that a pre-requisite to a carbon tax will be an answer to the question – what will you buy with it? So far the answer is – stuff that doesn’t work and slush funds for Eurocrats.
    Why are you surprised nobody votes for that?

  • Marlowe Johnson

    “Nonetheless, they thought they could apportion exemptions and carve-outs to benefit constituencies and contributors. They also honestly thought that conservative opponents would get immediate traction by opposing a new tax, no matter if the revenues were hypothecated or rebated.”

    Tom I actually agree with what you say here.

    All carbon pricing strategies have strengths and weaknesses, above and beyond the usual price certainty vs quantity certainty dynamics. A cap and dividend or tax and dividend with a flat rebate to all taxpayers may have the advantage of simplicity, but it is a deeply regressive approach (for the reasons that MT points out above). To make it more equitable you need to adjust for the carbon intensity of the grid in a particular region and income.

  • Tom Fuller

    Marlowe Johnson, I pay as much attention when you agree with me as I do when you insult me. None to speak of. Your comments here and elsewhere make it obvious that your opinions do not contribute to useful understanding.

  • Sashka

    “one might ask why global warming skepticism is much lower in educated European nations compared to the United States.”

    Because nobody does culture wars like the U.S.

    I have a somewhat different take on it. Not sure I can articulate it well enough but I’ll give it a try. IMO, Europe has turned from a bunch of countries to “United States of Europe” (comrade Lenin used this term 100 years ago, believe it or not). This is manifested not only by the economic and monetary union, but also by a common a common leftist/socialist ideology. Europeans don’t have major right wing parties, only very minor fringe. What they call “right” would be near center in our coordinates.

    This is why they don’t have a political force to oppose the attempted approach to solution based on strong-arming everyone into Kyoto-type monstrosities. This is their way of life, their way of thinking. They seem to like ceding their powers, economic freedoms and tax euros to central and super-central authorities. They may be better educated in terms of formal education but they are not particularly well equipped to challenge conventional wisdom or “consensus”. This is not an educational but cultural phenomenon.

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

    Can some of you please stop sniping at each other in such a personalized manner, especially those that have a history of mutual antagonism. You may think you’re scoring points and I suppose it’s cathartic for you to let it rip, but it’s quite unpleasant and probably discourages others who might otherwise participate in the discussion.


  • Sashka

    I strongly disagree with the notion that tax and dividend is deeply regressive. Even though cities would get the net benefit (as they should if we are serious about cutting emissions) this effect would be reflected in the distribution of real estate prices. After a while it would even out.

    BTW, Keith, what’s the deal with moderation? Did you decide to moderate me just because Marlowe decided to insult me (among others) or was there anything else?

  • John Mashey

    KK: speaking of culture war, here is a possible example for you, as well as an interesting study in creative writing,  Since you know the academic scene, I’m curious if you’ve run into this NAS (National Association of Scholars, not the other NAS) or  Peter Wood before.
    Reposted at the NAS website:

  • Marlowe Johnson

    It was cathartic at the time but I do regret my intemperate remarks on this thread. I’d much rather argue about values and WGIII-type issues than basic facts such as trends in historical sea level rise rates. Let me ask you though, how would respond to lies/distortions (e.g. the Phil Jones ‘no warming since 1998’ canard) in a blog forum?

  • Sashka

    Phil Jones canard can be found here:

  • Marlowe Johnson

    The impact of real estate prices is a bit more complicated than that I think.  All else being equal, an increase in energy prices will make living in rural areas more expensive, not less, thus real estate values you would expect real estate prices to drop.  Thus rural property owners would take a hit, while renters in rural areas would gain.  However, I doubt that the drop in rental prices would offset the increase in energy costs (i.e. electricity, gasoline).

  • Tom C

    Mr. Kloor –

    Lindzen often bring up a point that is much overlooked in this debate, but it bears on the study in question.  Namely, that “climate science” (a synthetic discipline made up by the IPCC) is populated by persons who, frankly, do not have the superior science and math skills that are requisite for mature disciplines like electrical engineering, physics, etc.  Not sure what your training is, but if it is solely in journalism, you might be unduly swayed by the fact that the “climate scientists” have strings of initials after their name and teach in the Ivy League.  Many of them, despite the paper credentials, are “enviros” who went into this field to save the world and who use math in cookbook fashion.  Hard as it might be for someone like you to believe this, the “amateur” climate scientist like Lucia, of Jeff Id, or certainly Ross McKitrick has superior analytical skills to the Menn of the world.

  • jeffn

    Sashka- a carbon tax (even with dividend, assuming anybody really believes that congress will return the money) is very deeply regressive-
    The point of the thing is to encourage you to avoid the tax by spending money to buy an (as yet undetermined) more efficient or zero emission alternative – causing demand and price increases for that alternative. The reality is that the less money/credit you have the more likely you will end up with a used SUV, housing farther away from mass transit and a power line direct to the coal station. The problem is even greater for rural dwellers where the type of vehicles needed are typically larger (what can you haul behind a Prius, one corn cob and a chicken? Gonna take a while to get dinner to the city folk).
    The other point I was trying to make is that while it’s fun to blame the GOP for everything, the reality is that geography will play a greater role in this. Examine which party blocked the CAFE standards (hint- D-Detroit).  The same will apply here.

  • Sashka

    @ 141

    Many of them, despite the paper credentials, are “enviros” who went into this field to save the world and who use math in cookbook fashion. 

    Statistics? Examples? Anything to back it up?

  • Sashka

    @ 142

    Someone who is already stuck with too large house/truck will be at a disadvantage, I agree. But after a while people will make their economic and life style choices based (partially) on the new realities and the prices will adjust.

    Of course farmers have large energy needs but they could and should incorporate their carbon tax into the price of the final product and pass it to consumer. Nothing wrong with that. Meanwhile the tax will encourage more energy efficient farming.

  • http://ecologicalsociology.blogspot.com/ Gary Bowden


    Thanks for bringing this interesting article to my attention. Over at Ecological Sociology I’ve got an extended reflection on it. The basic point: while the culture war model is a much better representation than the deficit model, it still fails to come to grips with the complexities necessary for understanding public opinion.



  • NewYorkJ

    A subtle but important point where Keith is wrong: Keith contends that a “lack of knowledge of climate science” is not a significant factor in shaping beliefs on the reality/consequences of global warming.  The study cited doesn’t cover climate science specifically – only broadly high school-level science (atoms, Earth’s revolution around the Sun, etc).  If you want concrete examples where increased knowledge of climate science changed beliefs of those with strong anti-government ideologies, one can look at the Abrams article in #114, or the skeptoid piece Keith linked to awhile back.


    In both cases, communication involving critical examination of contrarian arguments played key roles in their reversal in skepticism, the latter of which relied on the always useful SkepticalScience website.  So increased knowledge of climate science is still critical, although the question of who (Al Gore, for example, is never going to reach millions of partisans), what, and how the communication is delivered is important.

    As for the diversion into the carbon tax discussion, some facts:

    A carbon tax without a dividend is regressive.

    A carbon tax with a dividend might not be regressive, but it depends on the size of the dividend, with the burden shifted to wealthier individuals.

    Cap and trade works similarly in that regard.  Waxman/Markey, for example, provides a flat rebate, which (along with utility allowances) results in the lowest income groups actually coming out slightly ahead (CBO analysis).

    Increased taxes on the rich, after decades of steep cuts.  There is very little support for tax increases in general.  So a tax and dividend or progressively-structured cap and trade would theoretically by supported by the population, provided the population has adequate knowledge.  The problem is many Americans hear or read T-A-X and they get up in arms.  Maybe they hear “dividend” but at that point they’re already suspicious, unclear as to what “dividend” means, and if they’re of a certain ideology, prone to economic alarmism from anti-mitigation groups.  Of course, if the media did it’s job, reporting on nonpartisan analysis, rather than just parroting the economic alarmists, the knowledge gap would be reduced.  One could observe a similar pattern with the healthcare debate, with a fairly substantial knowledge gap resulting among the public (Nate Silver has covered this well).

    That said, in the United States, there is majority support for greenhouse gas regulation and cap and trade.  One could argue that U.S. public opinion isn’t that big of a problem, although those who are against such policies are substantially represented, with industry interests disproportionately influencing politicians. 

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

    New York J (146):

    There will always be examples where information is sufficient in some cases, and you cited several of them. These are also exceptions to the rule.

  • DeNihilist

    Sashka @ 144,

    Here in BC, the northern communities have taken a much larger hit in the CT then us in the south. Mainly from having to heat their homes in much colder, longer winters, having to travel further distances for their kids sports (there are a lot of communities that have only 1 or 2, say, hockey teams, so they end up travelling to find different oppisition) tending to be more rural (farming, hunting fishing) so more fuel usage, etc.

    But on a side note, I see Chrysler now has a 1/2 ton truck that has a V8 Hemi and over 300 HP that can get 20 miles to the gallon, so again with technological advances, there appears to be an upside …..

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

    Gary (145):

    Your critique is a valuable contribution to the conversation. You also hit on something I’m aware of and I’m sure climate communicators struggle with:

    “A more accurate representation sees the public as divided into three groups rather than two: the two ideological factions who, despite being a numerical minority, dominate the debate and a third group, the bulk of the public who conceptualize the world in situational and contextual specifics rather than ideological absolutes and are increasingly disenchanted with the polarization of political discourse.”

    This presents a vexing challenge for many of us who want to participate in an active debate but also want to reach those that belong to that third group.

  • Paul Kelly

    Please note that, while neither adequately addresses the inherent regressiveness of a carbon tax, tax/dividend and revenue neutral are fundamentally different proposals.

    Tax dividend seeks to compensate individual consumers for the additional costs of the tax on a micro level. The bureaucratic and logistic cost and complexity of tax/dividend make it unworkable.

    Revenue neutral works on a macro level offsetting the carbon tax by eliminating some other tax. The most appealing offset in the US is the payroll tax. It swaps a regressive tax for a regressive tax. However, the lower one’s income, the less benefit one can get from the offset.


  • Sashka

    @ 149

    I’m not sure I follow what you said in the end:

    This presents a vexing challenge for many of us who want to participate in an active debate but also want to reach those that belong to that third group.

    Do you consider yourself a member of one of the ideological factions?

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


    journalists would like their work to be taken up by the 20 percent who are passionate about the subject, but we also want to speak to the less ideologically engaged, that “third group” that doesn’t have fixed notions.

    I suspect that most of my what I do on this blog can only appeal to the 20 percent.

    By contrast, the model for a site like Climate Central (which strives to be non-partisan and writes in as neutral language is possible) is to appeal to the “third group.”

    Does that make sense? if not, then let me just state outright that I don’t see myself as a member of any ideological faction. I also don’t even see myself as an environmental journalist anymore, in the strict sense that may have applied a half dozen years ago. I still do environmental related journalism, but I wouldn’t put myself in that box.

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

    Tom C: ” Namely, that “climate science” (a synthetic discipline made up by the IPCC) is populated by persons who, frankly, do not have the superior science and math skills that are requisite for mature disciplines like electrical engineering, physics, etc.  Not sure what your training is, but if it is solely in journalism, you might be unduly swayed by the fact that the “climate scientists” have strings of initials after their name and teach in the Ivy League.  Many of them, despite the paper credentials, are “enviros” who went into this field to save the world and who use math in cookbook fashion.  Hard as it might be for someone like you to believe this, the “amateur” climate scientist like Lucia, of Jeff Id, or certainly Ross McKitrick has superior analytical skills to the Menn of the world.”

    I don’t care to discuss this tendentious claim in detail, but it would be a shame if nobody stood up to say that it is both rude and wrong.

  • Sere


    Please do discuss that claim in detail.  Lindzen is right: climate science is filled with people who could not cut it in the serious hard disciplines. 

    But you’re right that some things are too obvious to discuss. 😉

  • Paul Kelly


    Now that the science has once again been successfully defended. Let’s get back to picking one thing and going after it. Whatever it is it should be pro-active action. I’m still looking.

  • rustneversleeps

    Last weekend my golfing twosome consisted of me and a board member of the local Post-Carbon chapter group.

    The local group was founded quite some time ago, and the principal concern was “peak oil”.

    My playing partner knows that my more urgent concerns are with climate change and he pressed me on why. (Note to all clients, suppliers, relatives, activists, neighbours or potential future playing partners: when I am playing golf I do not ask about your business, for medical advice, your personal obsessions, etc. That’s me, i’m there for the round and it’s why i mostly play over and over with the same small circle of widely disparate individuals that share that one thing in common.  I dearly appreciate the favour in return. Rant off.)

    Anyhoo, I made my case that because of the accumulative and long-lived nature of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, I think that the window is closing on when we need to initiate very significant cuts. Delay eliminates various emission reduction pathways that would still keep cumulative emissions (and likely associated temperature increases) below what the international community has agreed are “dangerous”. That was it.

    His response was that my fears were fundamentally misplaced because we would certainly run out of accessible fossil fuels before we would ever cross any dangerous cumulative emission thresholds.

    Look, I read a lot about both subjects and I think his position there is flat wrong.

    But my point is, was the disagreement we were engaged in a “cultural war”? Leaving aside snide comments about it being between two idiots arguing about two points that are both wrong, i’m kinda doubting it  I’m thinking a large part of what was going there had to do with an information deficit. We can’t both be right.

    Now, just to acknowledge that it’s not ALL information deficit (and who ever made that claim anyway?), continuing on with the same vignette – I told the playing partner I disagreed and why.

    At which point he then explained that even if I was right, climate change as an issue had no momentum politically.

    And therein lies a big difference between him and me. I could not give a rat’s ass if climate change has no political “momentum”. I’m not looking to find the shortest route to turning North America into a province of Cuba. I am concerned about what the science is saying. My end game is whatever gets the job done. (and an aside again – few of the regular posters here are regular readers of the current science journals that publish in earth sciences and ecology. It’s painfully obvious.)

    At some point, someone described this blog as “Talking about talking about it.” Derisively, as I recall. I’m prone to be more generous than that, but there is some truth to the description. And it’s not a bad thing to explore the different perspectives.

    That said, what is the deal with shite  like “It’s not an information deficit model. It’s a culture war! see article!”

    Fer crissakes, “Tobis” himself (sorry mt) concedes the point that achieving a public knowledge of the fundamental problem is “necessary, not sufficient”. So why pigeonhole him where he’s not?

    Stipulated: it’s a culture war. Duh. AND it’s an information deficit problem AND it’s a political system dysfunction problem AND it’s an attention deficit problem AND it’s a cognitive dissonance problem AND it’s an unprecedented energy transition problem AND it’s a recession. Blah blah blah duh.

    Ok. I get all that. Note the “AND”‘s.

  • Sashka

    I am concerned about what the science is saying.
    And what is it that the “science” is saying, in your view, beyond the fact that CO2 is warming the planet?

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

    Sashka #158, the clearest and best statement of the state of consensus science about anthropogenic climate change is the Copenhagen Diagnosis. The next most salient point from the document is “There is a very high probability of the warming exceeding 2°C unless global emissions peak and start to decline rapidly by 2020.”

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

    #157. Count me with Rust on that one. I just don’t get what it is I am supposed to admit. I wish Keith would formulate it as a proposition rather than as a slogan. “It seems to me that Tobis believes X”. Then Tobis could comfortably say, “Sure, X.” or “No way, Not X!” or whatever. But all I know is that I have a case of “deficit model”.

    I certainly have no idea how to have a democracy if true information isn’t valued. Is that the proposition? “Tobis believes widespread accessibility and access of valid information is important to the function of democracy. Kloor does not. This is called the “information deficit” hypothesis and we are arguing it here.

    Somehow I cannot bring myself to believe that Keith does not accept the validity of the proposition.

    The other possible parsing is that “sufficient information sufficiently well conveyed is enough to resolve this (or in the strong form, any) controversy”. I do not believe this, and if this is the proposition we have no argument. But I have a hard time believing Keith thinks this is my position, given that I have disavowed it several times.

    So I am baffled about what it is we are actually arguing about.

  • Steve Reynolds

    MT: “There is a very high probability of the warming exceeding 2°C unless global emissions peak and start to decline rapidly by 2020.”
    Other than ‘very’ above, I can agree.
    MT: “So I am baffled about what it is we are actually arguing about.”
    Whether the cost of preventing the 2C increase is higher or lower than that of the effect. The answer to that question is likely much more cultural than the temperature rise one.


  • Matt B

    Rust #156,

    “We can’t both be right”.

    You hit the nail on the head. Both you and your loquacious golf partner can be intelligent, scientifically educated people, with access to the same information, and come to entirely different conclusions about the risk the planet faces, what the best way forward is, etc.

    You both can’t be right, it is true. But, you both can be just guessing. It will be useful if people engaged in these discussions would admit which parts of their arguments are solid mathematically and scientifically, and which parta are just guessing. Few things irritate more than a partisan (on either side, or even a journalist) elevating a guess to a fact; once that line gets crossed  polite & rational discussion closes down quickly.

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

    #161 – that is your definition of the “information deficit” debate?

    It’s a good question of course, but you know, there is more than one question in the world. It’s not responsive to the question here.

  • Sashka

    @ 158

    I asked about before but I never got any answers: when we talk about probabilities in the climate context, do we mean our ignorance or the chaotic properties of the system?

    BTW, what is the statement that you quoted based on? Is there a published paper where the probability is calculated? If it’s “very high” why not just state the number?

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

    I don’t see Kahan’s and Tobis’ position as inconsistent with each other.

    Paraphrasing, mt claims that an increase in public understanding of the climate problem is a necessary, though insufficient condition to actually start doing something about it.

    Kahan claims that efforts to increase such understanding are severely hampered by the cultural lenses with which the public perceives this information: Just the facts won’t do (http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/just-the-facts-madam-just-the-facts-wont-do/ ).

    I think it rather obvious that both are right. That’s rather unfortunate though, since it means that what is necessary (increase in public understanding) is at the edge of impossible (some people’s cultural values prevent them from understanding).

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    This will always get back to the question of whether or people properly understand the risk and understand who is under that risk. There IS a ‘deficit’ in information.  If you are one of those people who simply prescribe to the notion that CO2 will warm the planet, then you are at an information deficit if you do not understand the time scales and risk of consequences.  While values are the ultimate reason for deciding on policy, people cannot and will not make decisions based on their values if they do not understand the risk.  There is a large, well-funded contingency that wants to make sure people don’t take these risks into consideration when thinking about what they want to accomplish in legislation.  Until the media and scientific community in the US and Canada come to grips with this reality, gauging the public’s opinions on policy is limited. While many uncertainties remain, the fact that we are under severe risk from a warming planet is not one of them.  If someone doesn’t hammer that home, we will not produce any legislation that come close to solving that problem.  You don’t calm fears of risk by ignoring that it exists or downplaying it’s role in future realities. THAT is the ‘deficit’!

  • jeffn

    grypo-  your comment in 165 is why I believe there is an information deficit on the warm “side.” Are you sad that we didn’t come up with policy to address the 50 million “climate refugees” that were predicted but never materialized? Should there have been more policies in the UK discounting the likelihood of heavy snow over the past couple of winters?
    More important is this line:  “If someone doesn’t hammer that home, we will not produce any legislation that come close to solving that problem.”

    There is no “legislation” that will “solve” AGW. Period. You can attempt to solve it by developing new technology, switching to the most cost effective (because of the size of the problem) existing clean technology, or placing limits (either via taxation or rationing) on what stuff people can have. There has never been “consensus” on which pathway or combination of pathways is necessary. Legislation without consensus on those pathways will never happen. Consensus on those pathways may, or may not, require legislation to implement the decision. One of the great problems with this debate is that the AGW side demands implementation (legislation) of “solutions” that are at-best vague (“a good first start!”), at-worst useless (“let’s exempt China from emissions limits and spend billions subsidizing rooftop solar in leafy German subdivisions!”)

    My favorite analogy is this- I live on the east coast. If a trustworthy group says I need to be in Los Angeles tomorrow by noon for a meeting- my requirement for knowing everything about the meeting agenda is low and I’m going to be booking a flight today. If the group hands me a pair of tennis shoes and tells me I need to walk to LA by noon tomorrow, I will not walk. I will spend the day grilling the group and I will start with the preposition that they’ve gone nuts.

  • Sashka

    @ grypo (165)

    There IS a “˜deficit’ in information.

    I don’t think so: the information is easily available for anyone who is interested. The problem is to tell the difference between information, disinformation and speculation.

    While many uncertainties remain, the fact that we are under severe risk from a warming planet is not one of them.

    Repeating this ad nauseum doesn’t make it true.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    “Are you sad that we didn’t come up with policy to address the 50 million ‘climate refugees’ that were predicted but never materialized?”

    This was never a consensus by the people who study these issues.  It was one study by one person which has been criticized.

    “Should there have been more policies in the UK discounting the likelihood of heavy snow over the past couple of winters?”

    I don’t know what you mean.

    “Repeating this ad nauseum doesn’t make it true.”

    I’m afraid the risk is quite real.

    You two are really just assisting my point about an information deficit on risk.

  • Sashka

    I’m afraid the risk is quite real.

    You have the right be afraid but it doesn’t mean I should be.

    Just to make it clear, I also believe that the risk is real. However, unlike you, I don’t know whether it is small or severe and I am upfront about it. You, OTOH, are claiming possession of some “information” that, AFAIK, doesn’t exist. To me, you sound like yet another alarmist who can’t back up his catastrophic prognostications.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    Ah, see, you assume that I KNOW that the results will be severe.  I don’t.  My only point is that the risk is severe.  I am quite comfortable saying that I don’t what the results will be.  For many reasons, both ethical and value driven, and this gets back how people respond to severe risk, I am not comfortable waiting to find out.  Big difference between knowing results and knowing risk.

  • Sashka

    No, I don’t assume anything. I quote the same line from you again:

    While many uncertainties remain, the fact that we are under severe risk from a warming planet is not one of them.

    Once again, this is not a fact but a figment of your imagination.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    argument from personal incredulity isn’t terribly convincing. There are multiple lines of evidence that suggest that the climate sensitivity is high enough to pose significant risks of various sorts (e.g. widespread coral bleaching, northward shifting of the ITCZ, etc.). How you choose to characterize these risks (important or not) is ultimately a value judgment.

  • Sashka

    The arguments from blind faith in the pseudo-science aren’t convincing at all. In reality these alleged multiple lines of evidence are based on fakery and dubious assumptions or on the models that have never predicted anything correctly.

    To illustrate the difference between informed skepticism and blind faith consider the pane showing the pdf based on current climate mean state. The current CO2 concentration is about 387 ppm which is about 1.38 of preindustrial. Fortunately this number is close to sqrt(2) so we can use the log law to estimate the sensitivity based on current climate. The Earth warmed up by about 0.78C since preindustrial, so the sensitivity is roughly 1.6C. The graph however shows the pdf peaking at 3C. Why? Well, I don’t know (even linear continuation of the trend yields only about 2C) but clearly the authors assumed something interesting. The rest of the books are cooked similarly.

    You can get together 9 pregnant women but the child won’t be born in a month. Similarly, you can’t use a bunch of unreliable results to knock together a reliable one. Science doesn’t work like that.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    I find it a little ironic that you contend that climate science is ‘based on fakery and dubious assumptions’ and then conveniently omit thermal inertia, and more importantly, aerosol effects in your estimate of sensitivity. an honest mistake on your part?

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

    “Similarly, you can’t use a bunch of unreliable results to knock together a reliable one. Science doesn’t work like that.”

    This is untrue.

    For instance, how people plan expensive oil wells is precisely by collating evidence from data streams that individually are coarse and unreliable.

    Hurricane tracks are another example, where several unreliable models are used and most often a consensus among the majority of them is achieved and the outliers ignored. These approaches have demonstrable skill.

    A fairly simple statistical model of uncertainty underlies this process. Two independent noisy measures of the same quantity can be combined to a less noisy estimate.

    Of course, “independence” is at issue. But in terms of climate sensitivity to greenhouse forcing, we have multiple independent sources of paleoclimate data, as well as the emerging model-based theory (which is not trained on trends) and the observational trends.

  • Sashka

    Nice try.

    I never said that climate science as a whole is based on fakery and dubious assumptions. The comment was restricted to this particular set of projections. But it is worth noting that dubious assumptions play important role in every climate model.

    Thermal inertia and aerosols cannot be easily included in the estimate b/c we don’t have a good estimates thereof. Importantly, I didn’t try to give any sort of good estimate. I only illustrated, using a simple calculation, that some additional assumptions had to be made. Perhaps these are related to thermal inertia and aerosols. That would be a perfect example of  fakery and dubious assumptions.

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

    “But it is worth noting that dubious assumptions play important role in every climate model.”

    That’s a pretty broad statement.

    “The graph however shows the pdf peaking at 3C. Why? Well, I don’t know.” So you aren’t paying attention, yet you are happy to go beyond ordinary criticism to accusations of “fakery”. This is not fair and would not be considered acceptable civilized discourse were we in the same room. I don’t know why it should be considered acceptable here.

  • Sashka

    It is broad and it is also correct. Nobody can justify even the equations of motion that the models are solving (the diffusion terms), not to mention numerous “free” parameters that are chosen semi-arbitrarily with an order of magnitude and then (some) tuned to make the output more believable.

    Fakery may not have been the best choice of the word. Probably unnecessary too b/c dubious assumptions are undeniable and it’s quite sufficient to make my point.

    Now that we are back to civilized discourse, do you have any objections in substance?


  • Sashka

    BTW, does “hide the decline” qualify as fakery, in your opinion?

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

    You are quibbling. We don’t have to talk about turbulence closures, and here would hardly be a good venue for it.

    The technical strategies used in GCMs notwithstanding, and the role of GCMs in scientific understanding likewise, you say the risk is unquantifiable and then propose (as far as I can tell) that we act as if the risk were zero. This is irrational.

  • Sashka

    You don’t have to talk about anything, here or elsewhere. Just don’t pretend that dubious assumptions don’t exist.

    Not exactly my position but never mind. What is your definition of rational strategy in the face of unquantifiable risks?

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

    If you can’t quantify risks formally, you could ask experts for their individual priors and try to weigh them. Which is exactly what IPCC does.

    The climate system may be a complex physical system and beyond precise characterization but it is a physical system and subject to numerous rigorous constraints. If you are sick, your prognosis cannot be obtained with precision. Your body cannot be perfectly characterized. Using that as an excuse to avoid treatment is irrational. So you ask those most familiar with the phenomena at hand what their expectations are and act on that basis.

    Of course, you need to identify reputable physicians in the one case, and reputable geophysicists and geochemists in the other. Since the geoscience community is relatively small, the skill hierarchy is relatively clear within the field, so at least that among IPCC’s tasks is achievable. At present every reputable physical science community is endorsing the broad conclusions of the IPCC WG I. So in the case it hand, the risk spectrum on the physical side is fairly adequately constrained.

    Passing that through to impacts and strategies is difficult. I don’t disagree with that. But you are, like so many others, constantly harping on WG I issues, and these attacks are severely misplaced.

  • kdk33

    Just as an aside…

    The well-word physician analogy is really terrible.  Physicians base their opinions on clinical trial and real world experience with many patients.  This is hardly analogous to the climate change sciences,

    Moreover, I recently heard/read (forgot where) that even double blind clinical trials suffer from bias, which ought to at least underline the bias potential in the (much less certain) world of climate projections.

    But, carry on.

  • Tom C

    So, MT whines that it is “rude” to point out that “climate scientists” are drawn from a pool of technical under-achievers.  Tough luck buddy.  Such are the facts.

  • Sashka

    I take it that despite you start off wit “if” there is no “if”. Because if the risks could have been quantified normally there would be no need to ask the experts. To summarize, this whole alarmist story line “science says” is in fact a pure fantasy as far as climate risks are concerned.

    Now, without any disrespect to the experts I have little trust in their views. Not because I think they are stupid or corrupt but because the problem is too complex. It is a fallacy to suggest that the best and brightest are any closer to the truth than laymen. You can read about the history of financial markets to see how often this is not the case.

    Therefore I disagree with the validity of the existing risk assessments.

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

    #185 It’s rude and if you weren’t anonymous it would be embarassing to you.

    It’s also quite incorrect. Why would such an interesting topic not attract the best minds?

    Answer: well, of course it does and it has. Here are recent examples chosen more or less at random: http://is.gd/SNPIkf http://is.gd/Jp3mjC http://is.gd/3clmSs

    There are many thousands of publications ranging from this level of formality to very broad pieces about the whole system aimed at large audiences. The more sophisticated and specialized ones don’t come up in what passes for public conversation because few people can read them, so they don’t make convenient targets. But it’s naively foolish to assume that they don’t exist. Why wouldn’t they?

    You are in public. Please act like a grownup if you can manage it.

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

    ” It is a fallacy to suggest that the best and brightest are any closer to the truth than laymen. You can read about the history of financial markets to see how often this is not the case.”

    The analogy fails in several ways. First, because financial markets have no connection to underlying physical theorems, the situations are not comparable. Second (though related), the situations are different because there is no broad consensus in economics or finance.

    As far as I know, we do not have a consensus of financial experts on specific well-defined causes of long-term instability.  If we do, we ought to act upon it.

    Finally, look at it this way. We know we are changing the underlying physics to an extent much greater than the past natural forcing of great climate convulsions. We can dismiss pretty much all of climate science and still know this based on some fairly straightforward arguments from the Milankovic cycle, the ice cores, and geomorphology. So, even accepting the (rather absurd) premise that experts know no more than lay people, we have clear evidence of a monotonically growing forcing of significant amplitude.

    If we know nothing, we do not know that this has not already reached cataclysmic proportions. The less we know, the more care we should take. To argue the contrary is to argue that the driver in a fog should take more chances than the driver in clear conditions. Like much of the contrarian argumentation, it makes no real sense.

    Doubt on the maturity of climate science should be accompanied by the greatest possible circumspection about anthropogenic forcing. Wallace Broecker takes essentially this position, and arguably James Lovelock is roughly on this territory. On the other hand, the attacks on climate science which lead to delay on policy implementation are self-contradictory and irrational.

    I share this to some extent. I think we have a good enough picture of the next century, but a great deal of uncertainty about the following ones. The response to the anthropogenic kick is not going to go away for a very long time, but the shape of that response is not well constrained by present knowledge. I am astonished by people who find a license to keep disrupting the planet in that uncertainty.

  • Paul Kelly

    Through a focus model lens Rust’s golf story has a happier result. MT’s  ensuing successful defense of science becomes equal to an unwitting tactic of delay.

    Rust and his playing partner each leave the course frustrated that the other, a decent , intelligent fellow, has such a blind spot in such an important area. Yet, they both see a time in the not too distant future when we will no longer be able to burn oil, one because the oil has run out, the other because the damage to climate is by then self evident. Both are planning on conditions at that time. The focus model says forget the differences in reasons and work toward the shared goal.

    Contrary to current social science research, MT believes agreement on climate issues must precede energy transformation and that climate must be the preeminent definer and driver of action. In a focus model, MT’s first question to anybody would be ,”Is there a benefit to an as rapid as possible movement away from carbon fuels?” If the answer is yes, and a very large majority does say yes, a discussion of climate is unnecessary. The necessary conversation is not why, but how.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    we’ve been over this before.  what is to prevent energy security fellow from pursuing a strategy that is consistent with his concerns but inconsistent with the climate concerned guy (i.e. coal to liquids)? If climate isn’t the primary driver these sorts of consequences can result. Ethanol is probably the best example (where domestic ag interests were the main driver not energy security or climate change)…

    FWIW it’s sustainability that should be the primary driver not climate change specifically.  Balancing the latter with the myriad other factors that define the former is the challenge…

  • Paul Kelly

    Didn’t Al Gore cast the deciding vote for government support of ethanol? I know he recently apologized for his role. That the current EPA and our President are so keen on expanding ethanol use is tragic.

    I suppose coal to liquid would then hasten the coming of peak coal, but either way the idea is not to replace on reason for another, but to find something in common and concentrate on that. You might not go for coal to liquid but you both might like nuclear or ground temp assisted heat pumps.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    No.  The Ag lobby is one of the few that transcends party affiliation in D.C. You can thank the founding fathers for that one. Whether or not expanded ethanol use is tragic or not depends entirely on what your priorities are.  If your priorities are rural corn farmers in Iowa then it’s great.  if your concern is coastal marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico then notsomuch.  My point is that while it’s great to handwaive about finding common ground, the reality is that most political issues come down to questions of power and influence (as the ethanol example amply illustrates)…

  • Paul Kelly

    Which is why the effort is better made outside the political process.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Good luck with that. Sincerely.

  • Sashka

    @ 187

    Granted, no analogy is ever perfect but it is better than you make it seem. Even though the physical laws are thought to be known on the micro level we never figured some important features on the macro scale. E.g. is the climate chaotic or deterministic? In economics and finance there is a broad consensus on may issues. E.g. stock prices are driven by earnings, at least on long time scales.

    If you paid attention a few years ago before the latest financial crisis, every market guru and pundit thought that mortgage-back securities backed by subprime loans are safe. Everyone but a few quacks. Need I continue?

    I didn’t say that the experts know nothing. I said that their grasp of risk is no better than layman’s.

    I don’t know what circumspection means in practice. If it means shutting down the whole planet just to keep the carbon in the ground then I disagree, with all respect to Wallie. There cannot be any solution without a well-defined problem and a ration framework.

  • Sashka

    @ 184

    Back it up or shut up.

  • Keith Kloor

    Sashka (195),
    You are worthy debater, but I don’t know who you’re talking to here, and whoever it is, I don’t see any reason for you to get rude. Keep it civil, please.

  • Sashka

    I find the manners of Tom C annoying. It’s OK, in my book, to be “in your face” and less than polite, but throwing out crap without substance is not. That’s against netiquette as I know it.

  • Tom C

    OK, lets review.  This post concerns the fact that the more technically competent a person is the less they believe AGW alarmism.  I contributed a comment to the effect that the same is true “all the way up”.  That the field of earth science, as a whole, is populated with persons of inferior technical skills to those of the hard sciences.

    One would think that a little time on a college campus would confirm this obvious truth.  Yet MT finds it “rude” to point out the obvious.  Sashka tells me to produce data for what is obvious to everyone or else to “shut up”.  Apparently those who are busy saving the earth can’t be bothered with noticing things that are quite apparent to everyone else.

    Anyway,  3 mintues on Google produced the following data:


    As expected, those majoring in physics, economics, and the various engineering disciplines have substantially higher GRE scores than those majoring in earth sciences and biology.  Even the philosophy majors score as well as the earth scientists.

    OK guys, go at it!  Surely this graph was fabricated by the fossil fuel lobby.  I’m not just rude, but dangerous.  Get Romm on this.  Call names, fast and furious.  Anything but admit to the obvious.

  • Matt B

    Well Tom C,

    You may indeed be rude (by your own admission) but that graph & the source article are pretty funny.

  • Sashka

    @ 198
    So, you first post your “thoughts” and then look for a back up on Google? That’s a good style indeed.
    Earth sciences encompass a wide range of disciplines. Not all of them require great quantitative skills. For example: geology, geochemistry and marine biology. On the other hand, people who join PhD programs in atmospheric sciences and physical oceanography tend to come  with undergraduate degrees in math, physics or engineering, with very strong quant skills.
    Thus one square on this plot tells you close to nothing.

  • Tom C

    Sashka –

    Don’t know what your background is, but the Mann hockey stick papers and the Steig Antarctica paper, to name just a few examples, are pathetic.  These guys are muddling around with stuff they don’t understand and it is painfully obvious.  The fact that such baloney is defended by science establishment types is a scandal.  There is no hard science field that would allow inferior work like this to go on for so long. 

    As to finding one graph that backs up my point, I’m sure I could find another dozen, but why?  Again, everyone knows this.  Lindzen is absolutely right that this is still an immature science, that standards are low, and that the pool of talent is very shallow.

  • Sashka

    You are changing the subject. One thing is to point to particularly bad papers, which BTW happens in any science, including math and theoretical physics. It is a completely different thing to claim – without any substance – that the whole field consists of technically inept people. MT is right that if you did this under your own name you would be embarrassed to make a fool of yourself.

    Since the drawbacks of said papers are so painfully obvious to you, I’m sure you took time to publish your detailed devastating critique somewhere. Please oblige me with the link.

  • Tom C

    Sashka –

    Sorry if my behavior has rubbed you the wrong way.  From your other comments it would seem that we agree on quite a lot.

    Keep in mind what I said in my first post.  I was paraphrasing a point Lindzen has made several times.  So if you have a beef it is more with him than me.  His experience in the field for 50 years is the basis of his comments, not some graph or some study.  My experience in various academic and social settings and observation of the AGW controversies are the bases of my opinion.

    Are there very smart people working in atmospheric sciences?  Of course.  Do they do sophisticated work?  Of course.  Are many of them smarter in math than me?  Very likely.  But apparently a majority can’t understand the multiple fallacies behind the approach that Mann employed.  I can.  A majority apparently can’t understand how Steig’s conclusions were based on PCA retention artifacts.  I can.  A majority can’t understand how the Tiljander sediment proxies were mis-used.  I can.

    My claim is that something similar would never happen in a mature scientific discipline.  If you disagree, please tell me how the examples above continue to be so ferociously defended by the majority of climate scientists. 

  • Sashka

    We could agree on many things but not on everything.

    You need to understand Lindzen’s comments in the context of his (financially lucrative) one-man contrarian show that he runs. People who like to hear his message (you for example) feel like his position is stronger if the rest of the field is technically inferior. That’s why he says it. While he is certainly a world class, Lindzen didn’t really solve any big climate problems. His “better than thou” attitude is not that well justified.

    I don’t know for a fact what the majority can or cannot understand. I rather suspect that they can but mostly don’t want to talk about it because there will be a price to pay. Some of them are actively defending which is bad but has nothing to do with their aptitude. That’s about politics. If a mature scientific discipline suddenly got politicized then you’d see similar things. Look at what happened around Perelman’s proof of Poincare.


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Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

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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