The Climate Skeptic as Political Proxy

By Keith Kloor | December 7, 2011 1:20 pm

Shawn Otto, author of the recent book, Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, left an interesting comment at the thread of my recent Yale Forum post:

The reason the [climate] skeptics have any power at all is not because what they say is credible, because based on the facts it is not, but because policymakers don’t want to have to do anything and the skeptics supply an excuse for inaction. In the case of Iraq, for example, the policymaker motivation (and public sentiment) was in the opposite direction: the direction of action. Thus, the inverse equivalent of a climate skeptic, the gadfly Ahmed Chalabi, though apparently equally without data-driven evidence, was equally listened to because he provided an excuse for action.

Actually, it was Curveball that provided some of that key false intel, in addition to Chalabi, who served as a convenient vessel for neocons, and whose story¬†is a more complicated, fascinating one than commonly known. But that doesn’t take away from Otto’s larger point.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, climate politics
  • Anteros

    I hope I’ve learned my lesson about leaping to conclusions about American politics [from a European sensibility] but it strikes me that when Otto uses the term ‘skeptic’ he essentially means ‘denier’.
    This goes back to a number of other recent threads at CoS where we see the extremes taking any opponent lurking in the ‘middle’ and throwing them in with the Bat-Crazies at the other end.
    A ‘skeptic’ may be someone who thinks the economic argument for adaptation is more cogent than that for mitigation. Of course, it is easy to disagree, but it is no more non-credible than arguing the reverse.
    I think it is more of a non-credible position to assert that there are ‘no facts’ to support this kind of skeptic position, than it is to be the skeptic in the first place. It is a self-definition of fundamentalism – my opponents aren’t even just wrong, they don’t even make any sense. Having that view enables you to avoid engaging with them and your closed-mindedness becomes justified.
    Open-mindedness is difficult to maintain, but without it, what is the point of discussion?

  • Sashka

    policymakers don’t want to have to do anything
    Based on the failed attempt to push through the Cap and Trade, the opposite is true. The democratic policymakers want and will use any excuse to grab additional tax revenue.

  • EdG

    “The reason the [climate] skeptics have any power at all is not because what they say is credible, because based on the facts it is not, but because policymakers don’t want to have to do anything and the skeptics supply an excuse for inaction.”


    The reason the [AGW promoters] have any power at all is not because what they say is credible, because based on the facts it is not, but because policymakers want to do something and the AGW promoters supply an excuse for action.  

  • Alexander Harvey

    Where art thou?
    “Don’t you know, we need you now.
    We can’t fight alone, against the monster”

  • Sashka

    @ 1
    I’m not sure when I saw an open-minded person in a climate debate last time.

  • Jarmo

    Let’s face it: If the Arctic were ice-free in summertime; if hurricanes had increased in ferocity as well as numbers; if super-El Ninos and droughts ravaged us….. then there would be action.

    As long as predictions fail, action is unlikely. 

  • Gaythia

    I agree with Shawn Otto’s comment at the other thread: ” the problem right now is that we have a world economy with no world government.¬† So we have economic feudalism “‚Äú a wild west state.”¬† He absolves the multinational corporations whom he apparently views as trapped in a race to the bottom.¬† But in feudalism, there are a few that gain, at least for a time.¬† And as in historic examples if that few choose to be uncaring of the serfs that serve them and have their own castle or other such refuge, general disorder might seem worth it, until it was too late.
    Then climate deniers and apparent warmongers like Ahmed Chalabi are supported and given platforms, not because the corporatist overlords believe them but because their utterances are useful tools of control. 

  • Tom C

    That’s it Gaythia – World Government.¬† That will solve the AGW problem.¬† Thanks for confirming our suspicians.

  • Sashka

    @ 6
    AFAIK there are no well-defined prediction of this sort. Their game is to make the “projections” too vague to be verified (but scary nevertheless). When nothing happens shrug it off as natural variability.
    Joe Romm is on record (in Inconvenient Truth, I believe) that the Arctic will be ice free by 2020. Is there anybody who thinks that he will change his mind if it doesn’t happen?

  • Jarmo


    Apparently there is a burning need for a global climate czar that will save the climate, topple the corporatist overlords and make world a safe, just place by redistributing all wealth. 

  • Sashka

    @ Gaythia: Astounding.
    Keith, thanks for giving us the platform. That was very evil and corporatisic of you.

  • Gaythia

    Governance by the people or alternatively rule and domination by global corporatists?
    Actually I am currently reading David Graeber’s Debt:¬† The first 5000 Years.¬† If you are not familiar with it, check it out, I find it to be an excellent analysis:
    He is an anarchist, I am more of a disappointed democrat.

  • huxley

    Good grief, are we going to refight the Iraq War WMD debate in the current effort to blame skeptics for orthodox failures to press their agenda home?

    Apparently so.

    The fans of consensus conveniently forget that Hussein’s WMD was the consensus of Republicans, Democrats, and much of the Western world.

    Why not? Hussein had had WMD and even used chemical weapons on the Kurds. Hussein wanted WMD. Hussein was refusing to comply with efforts to determine whether he had WMD as he was required to do under the Gulf War surrender terms and numerous UN resolutions. After the defection of Hussein’s son-in-law in 1995 the Iraqis admitted that they had a large inventory of WMD and did not verify that the whole inventory had been destroyed.

    So the question is not whether Hussein had WMD — clearly he did at one time and he was angling for WMD in the future — the question is whether he had WMD in some small window of time before the invasion.

    We are not even sure that there were no WMD then — some small amounts of old WMD were found BTW — just that we didn’t find big warehouses of it as we expected. The Duelfer Report does mention that large truck convoys moved something out of Iraq shortly before the invasion.

    I find Shawn Otto’s analogy dishonest and blatantly partisan.

  • grypo

    “I am more of a disappointed democrat.”

    That just means you’ll be moving left shortly ;)¬†

  • Jarmo


    Please give me the name of one dictator, just one, who did not govern in the name of the people? Or just one example of a country with direct democracy with no elected representatives or bureaucracy?

  • Gaythia

    @15  ?   I do favor democracy.  I think that we can do much better than presently.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Otto apparently didn’t get Pielke’s memo. ¬†Skeptics don’t matter

  • Jarmo


    I understood that you proposed that we live under the domination of corporations.

    Living next to Russia has probably something to do with this but every time people talk about world government and governance by the people, I get this creepy feeling….


  • grypo

    In Spain 1936, most of the country was run by decentralized worker coops for 3 years.  This happened due to the social revolution during the civil war.  George Orwell was a soldier and wrote a book called Homage to Catalonia about it.

  • Gaythia

    @18 another ?,¬† How do you explain what’s currently going on in Europe?¬† Isn’t it “the market” (corporatist forces) that are driving towards European economic union and working against national, public, democratic, and individual interests?¬† I think that there is more than one way to get to fascism.

  • Gaythia

    @Marlowe Johnson, I think you raise a very interesting point about jousting with denialists.¬† I have long argued that solely focusing on antivaxxers, for example, frequently gets in the way of dealing with public health.¬† And it helps us fault “them” and avoid our own responsibilities.

  • Gaythia

    @Keith Kloor, but what would blogs do w/o jousting?

  • Sashka

    @ 17
    Never seen such nonsense from Pielke before.

  • Jarmo

    #19 grypo

    Orwell wrote about Catalonia that was controlled by anarchist CNT. That was the only area controlled and run by worker Co-ops. In 1937 the communist Lister division arrived and dismantled the self-rule as well as co-ops.

    Read Anthony Beevor’s The Spanish Civil War or just Wikipedia articles about it. Lots of interesting stuff about fascists but also about communist tactics, NKVD and how to deal with dissidents…. including anarchists.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Sashka and I sort of agree on something? Uh oh…


  • Jarmo


    This is funny. The greenies and social democrats over here are for EU and more centralized government. The True Finns oppose this and are called fascists.

  • Sashka

    @ 25 – Not really.
    I don’t agree with anything you said there. In particular, I don’t think economics is science.
    My disagreements with Kuper and Pielke are pretty obvious:
    First of all “skeptics” is a silly misnomer, an attempt to bundle together everyone who disagrees with orthodoxy.

    Second, the skeptics of all colors came out to battle with alarmists precisely because the latter are trying to misrepresent the science and scare the public into potentially unnecessary action. Europeans have actually partially succeeded in that.

    It is ridiculous to claim that the debate is over. There is much more about climate science than to agree that CO2 warms the planet. This fact had been established long ago but, in itself, carries no policy implications. We need to learn much more about climate sensitivity to agree on policy but we haven’t yet, contrary to what the alarmists claim. That’s why we have the debate.

    It is also not true that governments are not willing to act. See my comment 2 above.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Jarmo could you remind me how to distinguish a ‘true’ Finn from a ‘fake’ one? It could save me a bundle on shipping costs **!


    **fake Finns, particularly those living in¬†Rovaniemi,¬†clearly aren’t deserving of presents at this time of year.

  • Jarmo


    ¬†“Swedes we are not, Russians we do not want to become, let us therefore become Finns.”¬† 

  • grypo

    Yes, the communists with Stalin’s money¬†severely¬†limited autonomous control in May in¬†Barcelona. ¬†Aragon UGT had a different outcome, although I believe they also participated in the Barcelona Days battle.

  • crf

    Skeptics matter, I guess, but the structure of the US senate matters more. People dance around trying to find psychological excuses for US inaction. Here’s reality: if the Senate allowed closure votes to pass without a supermajority, more legislation dealing with <i>any</i> pressing issue would be considered and passed. Marginal, extremist positions wouldn’t matter so much.

  • huxley

    The reason the [climate] skeptics have any power at all is not because what they say is credible, because based on the facts it is not…

    Which skeptics and which skeptic points? All of them?

    This is pure propaganda for Otto to insinuate that the entire skeptic position is not credible and not based on any facts whatsoever.

    …policymakers don’t want to have to do anything and the skeptics supply an excuse for inaction.

    To an extent this is true. But why don’t policymakers want to do anything? It’s not the skeptics. It’s the lack of political support from American citizens. The orthodox have not convinced the public of the need to take action on the climate agenda.

    The group that is really blaming skeptics is the orthodox, as we are seeing now in this very blog with post after post blaming skeptics.

  • Hector M.

    So the polite and scientifically sophisticated questions posed by, say, Roger Pielke Sr or Steve McIntyre are equivalent to the incredible Mr Chalabi feeding the Bush administration a bunch of self-serving lies about Iraq (which said administration was only too eager to hear). The comparison sounds a bit far fetched and inappropriate, aint it? Perhaps Mr Chalabi knew something about dendro-palaeo-climatology.
    Keith, spare us this sort of stuff. 

  • Paul in Sweden


    – catastrophic problem is alleged

    – radical and punitive policies that will not solve the alleged problem are presented

    – universal support is wanting

    Who could have imagined this outcome?

  • Lewis deane


    Your coming¬†perilously¬†close, by quoting such a¬†comment, in condoning a¬†marginalization¬†of a debate which must be had. Not about the ‘science’, which I’ve already said, for myself, is boring and beyond most peoples expertise (that being said, one can tell Manomaniac ‘bat-shit’ from thirty paces!), but about, of course, policies. Is that akin, our disagreements, to the ‘right thinking’, in your view, about Iraq? Come on.¬†

  • Alexander Harvey

    Jarmo & grypo,
    In my opinion
    The achievement of anarchism in Spain shouldn’t be minimised nor should it be overstated. It was widespread and having a significant rural component that is easily overlooked, notably in the South and West.
    The sentiment, an anarchist tendency or sympathy lingers on. I think there is a willingness to embrace problems and an effort to keep the state out of local affairs. Perhaps I should say I have witnessed this in the tiny bit I know best. That being a tendency towards community participation, mutual assistance and gifting. Gifting is a bit difficult for a stranger to get ones head around for it isn’t exactly barter. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. Contratingly, in the bit I do know Xmas is not a gift-fest but there is a feast, giving is not special. Intersetingly the commons, the ejidos, still exist, which is not a tragedy.
    Given the hard times it would not be surprising if the anarchist sentiment and tendency were to strengthen in Spain. However the Civil War, and its legacy, linger on and are still divisive. Perhaps the young, those that have no guilt, can find a way.

  • Eli Rabett

    Money makes the world go round, the world go round, the world go round.
    Something Roger has a history of <a href=””>conveniently throwing down the memory hole.</a>¬†

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Silly Rabett you don’t need html tags on this site. ¬†use the ‘html4toolzbar’ above the comment window…

    Or is it true that you can’t teach an 0ld dawg n3w trikz ;-) ?¬†

  • Jarmo

    #36 Alex

    Many in the US forget that the word libertarian was also used to describe anarchist society. Funny how ideologically different people can both see state as the great evil.

    History repeats itself and we might see some sort of anarcho-libertarian communities spring up. Co-operatives have been there all along in some are doing fine:

  • grypo

    “The achievement of anarchism in Spain shouldn’t be minimised nor should it be overstated.”

    Yes, in a way, you need to think like a free person to understand its significance to future forms of society.  The literature is sparse, besides accounts from Gaston Leval.  

    It’s difficult to get a gauge on the spread throughout Catalonia in those 3 years. ¬†Just having dates of Lister’s campaigns or Communists accounts (which were rife with Stalinist¬†propaganda) doesn’t do it the justice needed. ¬†It is also difficult to know how much¬†coercion¬†was involved in getting the rural areas to conform to anarchist non-hierarchical¬†existance. ¬†An anarchist would admit to minimal, but critics differ (possible¬†propaganda). ¬†We do know it worked for a while, at least year or two, wide spread, then had a bit of difficulty documenting while fending off well-funded Communist and Fascist armies.

  • Anteros

    Paul in Sweden @ 34 –
    Well KISSed.
    Even majority support is wanting.

  • Tom Scharf

    They would still be publicly blaming everything on Bush if they could get away with it.  Never mind that we had Obama and large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and still nothing was achieved.

    Is there a genetic cause for the inability to have true introspection?

    Possibly the message/solution is fatally flawed?

    And not the messenger or evil external forces?

    …but we all secretly know that the missing WMD’s are the real cause of AGW. ¬†Cheney authorized Sadam to release them all into the atmosphere shortly after¬†the invasion under the cover of oil well fires. ¬†

  • Gaythia

    @42 re ” large Democratic majorities”
    What crf @31 said
    I also agree with Rabbett, regarding Rabbett’s tobacco analogy @37.
    Wakefields “studies” did the same to extend the public reach of¬† anti-vaxxers.¬† Wakefield’s influence, with much effort, is being overcome by actual science and public communication work.
    This phenomena is also described by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their book: Merchants of Doubt.

    Thus, I believe that corporatist funded efforts to create doubt on the science do fuel deniers credibility with the public. This psuedo-science does aid in rationalization and avoidance of difficult steps.
    Actual policymakers, in the face of this manufactured confusion and inertia, do have difficulty pushing through strong measures.  But in our political system, with its huge campaign funding issues, how many politicians are more lobbyist representatives than actual public policymakers?

  • Alexander Harvey

    Jarmo #39:
    “Many in the US forget that the word libertarian was also used to describe anarchist society. Funny how ideologically different people can both see state as the great evil.”

    Oblivion is a wonderful thing. I think a lot of creative forgetfulness has taken place since Libertarians parted company at the end of the 60s. “If you remember the 60s, you weren’t there” is perhaps a handy cultural myth to avoid the rememberance of its role in the train wreck.
    Thanks for the link.

  • NewYorkJ

    It’s a similar¬†reason as to why creationists (“Intelligent Design” advocates) have any clout, although rather than just the uneven¬†support of elements of the religious establishment, global warming deniers¬†are desired by powerful entrenched industries and anti-government ideologues.¬† It tends to elevate a few¬†who might normally be considered¬†armchair babbling idiots¬†into pseudo-Galileos.

  • Alexander Harvey

    gryop #40:
    Try looking at earlier events. For the South, there was a widespread and persistent revolt with a marked anarchist element in the years following WWI, it didn’t end well.
    There was a mass land siezure (50,000+ peasants) in the West (Badajoz) just before the Civil War, and the Asturia revolt sometime around 1933 I think.
    I am told that there was practice as well as theory prior to 1900 but I think for certain that CNT started and was anarchist around 1900.
    It is all a little hard to unpickas in Spain anarchist is sometimes a term meaning revolutionary and many of the groups called something else were revolutionaries in the sense that they were not trying to achieve incremental progress and due to that have a strong anarchist tendency.

  • laursaurus

    If climate change is just like any other established area of science, a few fringe kooks wouldn’t get in the way of taking appropriate action.

    If a local school board considers teaching the controversy, the proposal is effectively steamrolled.

    The number of diseases we routinely vaccinate against has more than tripled since the bogus link between the MMR and autism was first purposed. Annual flu shots are becoming mainstream.

    Climate change is different. It’s about assigning blame and vilifying. ¬†¬†¬†


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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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