Can Religion and Science Find Common Ground?

By Keith Kloor | December 8, 2011 12:43 pm

Roger Cohn, the editor of Yale Environment 360, conducted an interesting interview with Mary Evelyn Tucker, a scholar who studies the intersection of ecology and religion. This is a perennial interest of mine, even though I’m a life-long atheist. Most people in the world (including many scientists) possess a religious faith or seek out some kind of spiritual connection that can’t be satisfied by science.

Make of that what you will, but it’s a reality that can’t be wished, argued, or scornfully waved away. So count me among those who believe that science and religion can coexist. There really is no choice, either; they have to. (Yes, that puts me at odds with folks like Jerry Coyne, and this is something I intend to explore further in the near future.) One reason I say this is that people come at environmental issues and concerns from different places. If your object is to expand the constituency for the environment, it makes no sense to alienate those with different worldviews who might share your end goal.

Which brings me back to the Yale interview with Tucker, who agrees

that scientific facts are critical and necessary, and policy papers and legislation are indispensable. But they may not be sufficient when it comes to dealing with an environmental crisis. That may require other disciplines and other ways of looking at the world, including religion.

Tucker is also one of the producers of a new film that showcases the splendor of the natural world as a means to connect with people on a different level. Here’s an excerpt of the Yale Q & A that speaks to why she took this approach:

Yale Environment 360: I was struck by the fact that your film, Journey of the Universe, ultimately is a celebration, unlike a lot of environmental-related literature and film that’s filled with a heavy dose of doom and gloom. This film is optimistic and even celebratory in many ways. Why did you choose that approach?

Mary Evelyn Tucker: We decided that so many people are aware of the huge and complex environmental problems we’re facing “” ranging from climate change to toxicities to species extinction and so on “” that people are so overwhelmed that they go into paralysis and despair. We didn’t want to take people there. We wanted to engage their sense of awe and wonder, because humans are moved fundamentally by either wonder or by disaster. We wanted to draw out the wonder.

So in this film, we put the consequences of humanity’s planetary presence “” our burgeoning population, our overwhelming resource use, all the consequences of having exploded in one century from 2 billion people to 7 billion people “” and we put that in the last 10 minutes of the film, where we do speak about humanity’s impact and our current environmental crisis. We felt it was more effective there, because first you need to get a sense of the unfolding of a universe that is 14 billion years old, the evolution of our planet, and life emerging out of this tremendous journey. We wanted to give a sense of how late we humans arrived, and yet, how in a relatively short period of time, our impact has been enormous.

***

Now what would interest me is if 1) this approach can work better that the usual eco-apocalypse fare, and 2) it can appeal to a broad religious demographic.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: ecology, media, religion
MORE ABOUT: ecology, media, religion
  • http://thingsbreak.wordpress.com/ thingsbreak
  • Jack Hughes

    Where does Environmentalism fit in the picture ?

    At its heart is an abstract concept called “The Environment” that gets grumpy if we print off an email or put trash in the wrong bin. 

    It stands closer to religion than to science. 

  • BBD

    thingsbreak

    She’s a sort of Anti-Spencer, isn’t she?

  • Tom C

    @ 2 Jack Hughes -

    Yes.

    Environmentalism suffers from serious epistemological confusion these days.  It is an interesting exercise to ask an environmentalist exactly what is meant by “protecting the earth”.  Proffer some every- day activities and ask which one is “protecting the earth” and why.  They will thrash about in vain searching for some objective measure of harm and why the earth would indeed consider itself harmed and therefore needs to be “protected”.  Keep up the line of inquiry long enough and it will become apparent that “protecting the earth” means “validating the lifestyle choices of those with advanced degrees”.

  • Keith Kloor

    TB,

    Am well aware of it, but thanks. Have written about similar efforts in previous years, and while I think it may bear fruit one day, so far, as the article says, the evidence is “uneven.”

  • Anteros

    I think that there is an enormous constituency that could be engaged on environmental issues if it weren’t for the doom and gloom. Somehow the negativity and crisis-mentality seems inexplicably linked to everything ‘green’.

    The best example? In an article attempting to focus on the human capacity for wonder the author starts off with making sure everyone understands her worldview (despite her film) which remains implacably apocalyptic -

    “..the huge and complex environmental problems we’re facing “” ranging from climate change to toxicities to species extinction and so on”
    As long as people know that deep down she’s still a card-carrying doomsayer…

    And then she explains why she leaves the really important stuff -
    “humanity’s impact and our current environmental crisis” -

    to the end – because it is more effective there!!

    So much for ‘bringing out the wonder’ – it is more like a miserabilist’s sucker punch.




     

  • huxley

    Anteros @6 nails it.

    Tucker is still a doom-and-gloomer — that’s the context and motivation of the film. She just lets you eat desert first, then she serves the brussel sprouts.

  • huxley

    Ray Kurzweil, the Singularity guy, provides a breathtaking scientific overview of the history of the universe and our place within it.

    Admittedly, Kurzweil is wildly speculative about our future, but he does provide a way of understanding humanity not as a cancerous blight upon the planet but as an inevitable expression of the universe evolving.

  • OPatrick

    It’s almost breathtaking to see Anteros write this:

    I think that there is an enormous constituency that could be engaged on environmental issues if it weren’t for the doom and gloom.

    So many people who have been in the environmental movement for years, fighting for the cause they believe deeply in, have been derided constantly for their life-affirming stance. People who have celebrated the wonders of nature and fought to defend it have been dismissed as tree-huggers, but apparently they are the ones who only see doom and gloom.

    What you perhaps mean Anteros is ‘if it weren’t that we had to admit some level of responsibility for our actions’. 

  • Jack Hughes

    Enviros are prone to vague generalisations and abstractions.

    Tom C is right: when you press them for specifics they flounder.

    Is it OK to prune the tree outside my window?
    Is it OK to fell a tree that looks dangerous?
    Is it OK to kill a snake in the garden?
    Is it OK to drive 15 miles to recycle your glass? 

  • Anteros

    OPatrick -

    Did you not read the interview? Do you not think it is doom-laden? Negative? To constantly assert [as people have done since the beginning of time] that we are ‘in a crisis’ is not life-affirming, it is fear-mongering. To ‘believe deeply in a cause’ is essentially to be an ideologue, to be blind – have you not noticed that all the unspeakable horrors throughout history have been perpetrated by ‘believers’?

    It is absolutely true that there is an untapped constituency that are repelled by environmentalists because of their misanthropy and attempts to spread feelings of guilt. You call it ‘some level of responsibility for our actions’ Perhaps you want people to wear hair shirts?

    You may see a crisis, in the way that some people have always seen a crisis. I see the world in a way that doesn’t make me anti-human. The country I live in is an environmental paradise compared to how it was in the past. It seems to me the most important part of the ‘environment’ are our fellow human beings. I get the feeling many environmentalist have lost that understanding.

  • huxley

    So many people who have been in the environmental movement for years, fighting for the cause they believe deeply in, have been derided constantly for their life-affirming stance.

    OPatrick @9: Yes, that’s the pleasant way environmentalists talk about themselves. But many of us can’t help but notice their less-than-affirming stance when it comes to human life. In fact many prominent enviros all but hate humans and look forward to the extinction of most of us. Some examples:

     * Jacques-Yves Cousteau, environmentalist and documentary maker: “It’s terrible to have to say this. World population must be stabilized, and to do that we must eliminate 350,000 people per day. This is so horrible to contemplate that we shouldn’t even say it. But the general situation in which we are involved is lamentable.”
    * John Davis, editor of Earth First! Journal: “I suspect that eradicating smallpox was wrong. It played an important part in balancing ecosystems.”
    * Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University population biologist: “We’re at 6 billion people on the Earth, and that’s roughly three times what the planet should have. About 2 billion is optimal.”
    * David Foreman, founder of Earth First!: “Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental.”
    * David M. Graber, research biologist for the National Park Service: “It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil-energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”
    * Alexander King, founder of the Malthusian Club of Rome: “My own doubts came when DDT was introduced. In Guyana, within two years, it had almost eliminated malaria. So my chief quarrel with DDT, in hindsight, is that it has greatly added to the population problem.”
    * Merton Lambert, former spokesman for the Rockefeller Foundation: “The world has a cancer, and that cancer is man.”
    * Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, leader of the World Wildlife Fund: “If I were reincarnated I would wish to be returned to earth as a killer virus to lower human population levels.”
    * Maurice Strong, U.N. environmental leader: “Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?”
    * Ted Turner, CNN founder, UN supporter, and environmentalist: “A total population of 250″”300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal.”
    * Paul Watson, a founder of Greenpeace: “I got the impression that instead of going out to shoot birds, I should go out and shoot the kids who shoot birds.”

    http://culturerev.com/2011/08/do-environmentalists-hate-us/

  • OPatrick

    Anteros, did you not read the interview? Do you not understand how it is life-affirming? Do you not understand the underlying sense of connectedness, the placing of humanity in the environment? This is what you consider anti-human? I wonder what conception of humanity you have.

    You made your unpleasant intimations about misanthropy before, and I was as disgusted by it then as I am now. You twist ‘responsibility’ into ‘guilt’, moderation into hair-shirtedness. You repetetively put up false images of the arguments of others because it’s all you have to knock down.

    huxley, a long list of out-of-context quotes? I’ve not seen that tactic used before.  

  • Alexander Harvey

    I would have fewer issues if atheism when turned to attack faith were less clueless of its subject as Jerry Coyne seems.

    Thomas Browne, a man of science and religion resolves an issue that Coyne might think impossible.

    “As Reason is a rebell unto Faith, so passion unto Reason: As the propositions of Faith seeme absurd unto Reason, so the Theorems of Reason unto passion, and both unto Reason; yet a moderate and peaceable discretion may so state and order the matter, that they may bee all Kings, and yet make but one Monarchy, every one exercising his Soveraignty and Prerogative in a due time and place, according to the restraint and limit of circumstance.”

    There is much more in Religio Medici that deals with the coexistence of reason and faith and I guess Mr Coyne would struggle with that (as did Browne but in a quite different way at times):

    “As for those wingy mysteries in Divinity, and ayery subtilties in Religion, which have unhindg’d the braines of better heads, they never stretched the Pia Mater of mine; me thinkes there be not impossibilities enough in Religion for an active faith; the deepest mysteries ours containes, have not only been illustrated, but maintained by syllogisme, and the rule of reason: …”

    I would recommend that Coyne or other atheists on the attack read such text if they haven’t or if they have to use such insights. Perhaps the most famous being:

    “How shall the dead arise, is no question of my faith; to beleeve onely possibilities, is not faith, but meere Philosophy; many things are true in Divinity, which are neither inducible by reason, nor confirmable by sense, and many things in Philosophy confirmable by sense, yet not inducible by reason.”

    If Coyne feels a passion to slay a dragon he best fisrt read an A to Z of dragons. I recommend him to Thomas Browne for A.

    Alex

  • huxley

    huxley, a long list of out-of-context quotes? I’ve not seen that tactic used before. 

    OPatrick @13: Oh please.

    I was a leftist and environmentalist for most of my life. I was even officially a member of the Green Party during the nineties. We both know that those quotes don’t need much context to be understood.

    You are simply being disingenuous. Thanks. I’ll keep it in mind, when I read your comments in the future.

  • OPatrick

    huxley, highly selective quotes shorn of content and juxtaposed like that do not represent the genuine views of the groups being examined. The twisted image they attempt to create is not reflective of the environmental movement.

  • http://www.dunwanderoinpress.org robert landbeck

    As a humanity, we have all been conditioned or indoctrinated, for all of history by ‘theological’ exegesis, particularly by those with their own ‘religious’  claims and agendas, to accept that a literal proof of God is not possible for faith. And thus all discussion and apologists ‘theodicy’  is contained within this self limiting intellectual paradigm and bubble of presumption, especially evident in the frictions between science and religion. It would now appear that all sides squabbling over the God question, religious, atheist and history itself have it wrong!  That bubble could now burst at any time!

    The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise and predefined experience, a direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, command and covenant,  “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” So like it or  no, a new religious claim testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation now exists. Nothing short of a religious revolution is getting under way. More info at http://www.energon.org.uk

  • Tom C

    O’Pat -

    Please do supply the missing “context” for these quotes.

  • Doug Allen

    The catastrophism and fear mongering of the green movement has contributed to what I call climate confusion and conservation neglect.  I’m a life long environmental educator and conservationist.  What I’m seeing is a takeover of the environmental movement by green extremeists who often don’t share the love of nature and its critters that motivated earlier environmental concerns and activities.  By their emphasis on catastrophy, these greens are weakening an enterprise dating back to Thoreau and Muir and so many others.  They are alienating both the scientifically literate and many political conservatives.  The conservation movement needs all these groups, but has become defined by only one- green extremeists.

  • OPatrick

    The missing context is everywhere – it’s in the myriad of statements and actions from environmental organisations and individuals.

    Some of the quotes are innocuous, such as Paul Ehrlich’s, and only appear offensive when juxatopsed with the others, some are clearly not representative of the views of the individual (for example Jaques Cousteau said many things – do the rest of these quotes suggest an ‘anti-human’ philosophy?), some may genuinely represent the views of the individuals, without the context it’s difficult to know, but there is no reason to believe they represent the views of the organisations they are assosciated with.

    If you believe the excerpts above represent the real views of the majority, or even a significant minoity, of environmentalists then you are an idiot.

  • OPatrick

    Having just read to the end of the link huxley gave, from which the quotes were lifted, I found this:

    “Basically what nearly half of the people above are advocating is population control on a mass scale similar to the atrocities of Nazism.”

    Now maybe you’d like to defend that little excerpted gem?

  • Jarmo

    I would like to contribute by presenting the thoughts of perhaps the most famous Finnish radical environmentalist, Pentti Linkola. I kind of respect the guy because he does not beat around the bush. Some choice thoughts from a fan website:

    “A minority can never have any other effective means to influence the course of matters but through the use of violence.”
    “Any dictatorship would be better than modern democracy. There cannot be so incompetent dictator, that he would show more stupidity than a majority of the people. Best dictatorship would be one where lots of heads would roll and government would prevent any economical growth.”
    “The most central and irrational faith among people is the faith in technology and economical growth. Its priests believe until their death that material prosperity bring enjoyment and happiness – even though all the proofs in history have shown that only lack and attempt cause a life worth living, that the material prosperity doesn’t bring anything else than despair. These priests believe in technology still when they choke in their gas masks.”
    “That there are billions of people over 60kg weight on this planet is recklessness.”
    “Alternative movements and groups are a welcome relief and a present for the society of economic growth.”
    “We will have to…learn from the history of revolutionary movements “” the national socialists, the Finnish Stalinists, from the many stages of the Russian revolution, from the methods of the Red Brigades “” and forget our narcissistic selves.”
    “Everything we have developed over the last 100 years should be destroyed.”
    “A fundamental, devastating error is to set up a political system based on desire. Society and life are been organized on basis of what an individual wants, not on what is good for him or her…Just as only one out of 100,000 has the talent to be an engineer or an acrobat, only a few are those truly capable of managing the matters of a nation or mankind as a whole…In this time and this part of the World we are headlessly hanging on democracy and parliamentary system, even though these are the most mindless and desperate experiments of the mankind…In democratic coutries the destruction of nature and sum of ecological disasters has accumulated most…Our only hope lies in strong central government and uncompromizing control of the individual citizen.”
    “If the present amount of Earths population is preserved and is reduced only by the means of birth control, then:
    - Birthgiving must be licenced. To enhance population quality, genetically or socially unfit homes will be denied offspring, so that several birth licences can be allowed to families of quality.
    - Energy production must be drastically reduced. Electricity is allowed only for the most necessary lighting and communications.
    - Food: Hunting must be made more efficient. Human diet will include rats and invertebrate animals. Agriculture moves to small un-mechanized units. All human manure is used as fertilizer.
    - Traffic is mostly done with bicycles and rowing boats. Private cars are confiscated. Long-distance travel is done with sparse mass transport. Trees will be planted on most roads.
    - Foreign affairs: All mass immigration and most of import-export trade must stop. Cross-border travel is allowed only for small numbers of diplomats and correspondents.
    - Business will mostly end. Manufacture is allowed only for well argumented needs. All major manufacturing capacity is state owned. Products will be durable and last for generations.
    - Science and schooling: Education will concentrate on practical skills. All competition is rooted out. Technological research is reduced to extreme minimum. But every child will learn how to clean a fish in a way that only the big shiny bones are left over.”

     http://www.penttilinkola.com/pentti_linkola/ecofascism/
     

  • Menth

    In keeping with this conversation, I’d like to contribute a link to this lovely organization: http://www.vhemt.org/

    And for the record my favorite enviro nut is Derrick Jensen:

    “In Volume I: The Problem of Civilization, Jensen lays out a series of provocative premises, including “Civilization is not and can never be sustainable” and “Love does not imply pacifism.” He vividly imagines an end to technologized, industrialized civilization and a return to agragrian communal life.”


    Hey everybody! Let’s crawl back inside the womb of a non-existent pre-industrial eden! Only there can we be at peace with our crippling inability to relate to our fellow humanity.
    These are the type of dysfunctional a*&holes that get all weepy when a polar bear is shot after killing a bunch of people.

    Though to be fair to what I think OPatrick is saying, there is a obviously a spectrum of belief among environmentalists and using the fringe to define the whole isn’t right.

  • huxley

    Now maybe you’d like to defend that little excerpted gem?

    OPatrick: No. I don’t support people throwing around Nazi comparisons unless the targets are literally Nazis.

    However, my point stands that many prominent environmentalists and their followers are on record as preferring human population to be reduced by two-thirds or more, and they are often rather blunt about it.

    Which runs against your cuddly characterization of environmentalists as “life-affirming.”

  • OPatrick

    However, my point stands

    No it doesn’t. At best you’ve shown that less than 11 people who might be viewed as environmentalists of one form or another have said something pretty stupid at some point.  

  • hunter

    Your real question is can AGW hijack religious groups to help impose its political agenda.
    You will get some takers, just like some religious groups supported slavery and some supported eugenics. Religious people being corrupted by popular social movements is nothing new.
     

  • huxley

    OPatrick @25: I grew up in the South. I knew racists. I even knew people from the Klan. Our discussion reminds me of ones I had with my racist friends.

    No, they assured me, they didn’t hate blacks. Blacks were fine — in their place. This quote or that quote was taken out of context. Besides any movement has its extreme or stupid members.

    If I cocked my head to the side and squinted hard, I could kinda sorta see how they saw it.

    I admit I liked them. They were decent, friendly people with the best of intentions. They were life-affirming … as they understood life.

    They just had rotten, false beliefs about life.

    I remember how I saw the world when I was a left-green type. Humanity was obviously a cancer devouring the planet. I didn’t want people to be killed off or anything, but bottom line I knew there were too many of us and I believed that the best and most merciful thing was for three or four billion people to disappear as soon as possible.

    Which was pretty much how my racist friends saw Blacks.

    I’m sure my comments won’t persuade you. So we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    However, you might consider that the environmentalist movement has a large PR problem. I’m far from the only person with the impression that environmentalists don’t like people much.

  • OPatrick

    Huxley, I suggest your argument and your description of how you saw the world says more about you than it does environmentalists.

    If by having a PR problem you mean ‘people who are willing to make up crap about them’ then you are undoubtably correct. 

  • ivp0

    Can Religion and Science Find Common Ground?
    Leonardo Da Vinci, Johannes Kepler, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Messier, William Herschel, Louis Pasteur, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein,  Blaise Pascal, John Glenn, essentially believed that common ground between science and religious faith was not only possible but necessary.  Could the views of these extraordinary scientists help to reshape the environmental movement today?

  • http://hro001.wordpress.com Hilary Ostrov

    @13 OPatrick Opined:

    huxley, a long list of out-of-context quotes?

    Yet, although repeatedly invited to do so, in his many subsequent diversionary posts he has failed to provide any “context” which would change the meaning of the material quoted.

    Quelle surprise, eh?!

  • kdk33

    Funny, this question – religion and science coexisting.

    More insightful, I think, to explore the degree to which they are merged.  At multiple levels.

    The economic principle of substitution may apply.

  • OPatrick

    Hilary Ostrov

    Yet, although repeatedly invited to do so, in his many subsequent diversionary posts he has failed to provide any “context” which would change the meaning of the material quoted.

    I’m not sure that once counts as repeatedly, and then I did give my response to that one request. Perhaps we should take them in turn – I gave a list of other quotes from Jacques Cousteau, I think these give context to the selective quote that supposedly represented his views. Do you disagree?

    It’s difficult to look at the context for many of the quotes because huxley’s source didn’t appear to think it necessary to say where they came from. Each would have to be hunted down in turn. I wonder why these links weren’t given. Can you guess?

    As a bonus though I did add a bit more context to huxley’s quotes, from his source - did you notice it? I think huxley’s racism analogy sets this off quite nicely.

  • Tom C

    O’Patrick -

    I was the one who asked you for some context and I don’t believe you came through.

    You think that Paul Ehrlich’s quote is harmless, eh?  I think it is evidence of a pathological megalomaniac.  He says that 2 billion is optimal.  How on earth did he calculate that?  He studied bugs for a living.  What does he know about demographics, scarcity, and complex economic systems?  Answer: nothing.

    In fact, it is economists that are the authorities for questions of population and scarcity.  Yet they are never consulted.  I’ll bet none of those quoted above have any training at all in economics, yet they feel qualified to expound on how many people ought to be living.

    Apparently people like you are gullible enough to say “he is a scientist and he said so, so we have to believe it”.

  • Nullius in Verba

    I took a look at that list of other Cousteau quotes, showing his love for mankind…
    “Farming as we do it is hunting, and in the sea we act like barbarians.”
    “If we go on the way we have, the fault is our greed and if we are not willing to change, we will disappear from the face of the globe, to be replaced by the insect.”
    “Mankind has probably done more damage to the Earth in the 20th century than in all of previous human history.”
    “No sooner does man discover intelligence than he tries to involve it in his own stupidity.”
    “The real cure for our environmental problems is to understand that our job is to salvage Mother Nature. We are facing a formidable enemy in this field. It is the hunters… and to convince them to leave their guns on the wall is going to be very difficult.”
    “Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.”
    “The road to the future leads us smack into the wall. We simply ricochet off the alternatives that destiny offers. Our survival is no more than a question of 25, 50 or perhaps 100 years”
    Heh.

    On the other hand, he did also say “It is certain that the study of human psychology, if it were undertaken exclusively in prisons, would also lead to misrepresentation and absurd generalizations.” which does seem vaguely apposite here. I think he was talking about bahavioural studies of animals being done in zoos, but of course it could be said to apply to characterising environmentalists. If you pay attention to the most prominent activists and public figures, you can get a misleading impression of the real range of views.

    I like to divide Greens into three groups: moderate Greens, deep Greens, and Green-lite. The last category are those who know virtually nothing about it and participate out of a general sort of feel-good effort to fit in with what society seems to see as virtuous behaviour. They change their lightbulbs to fluorescents, recycle a few bottles, and turn the TV off at night, and genuinely think they’re saving the planet. Empty rituals devoid of meaning or effect, their commitment is shallow and will shift as fashions change. They are in no sense supporters of the totalitarian aspects, and would be horrified at the idea. Their understanding of nature is mostly derived from watching ‘Bambi’ as a kid, and those TV documentaries about meercats.

    Then there are the real Greens. They share a romantic ‘Noble Savage’ vision of nature-sans-man as an idyllic paradise of animals living in harmony; stable, balanced, changing only slowly over millenia. Every environment – whether conducive or hostile to life – is seen as good to the extent that it is (or appears to be) natural. They fear all “chemicals” as poisons; as artificial meddling with nature. Mankind and his influence are seen as a contaminant, a toxic despoilation, a destructive pollutant – evoking feelings of disgust and shame. Uncaring men rip up and destroy paradise, extracting whatever they want to feed their rapacious greed, leaving death and ruin in their wake. Multiplying like an infection, they spread over the world, grabbing everything, ruining nature, poisoning it, using it up. The Malthusian belief that mankind’s multiplication will inevitably and imminently exceed the finite resources on which he feeds is deeply ingrained. It is, at root, a deeply misanthropic philosophy, founded on the Naturalistic fallacy.

    The moderate Greens are those who are deeply conflicted about all this. On the one hand they’re still committed to the pacifist, democratic, cooperative approach; they want to end poverty, they understand that industry is necessary for our survival, they’re attached to their comfortable lifestyles. (And indeed, comfortable lifestyles are a prerequisite for this sort of thinking – those struggling for survival have little time for protecting nature.) On the other hand, the Malthusian, Naturalistic thinking seems to make sense. They’re worried they’re in the first class carriage on a fast-moving train headed for the cliff that they cannot get off. Jumping off into the barren, rocky wilderness is not to be thought of, but staying on board seems doomed. They dither, and plead for the train to slow down, to delay, so they can find some other route, some other way. They know of no practical alternative, and lack the courage of their convictions to do anything serious about it, but stand around wailing and ineffectually wringing their hands.

    Then there are the deep Greens, who have recognised the uselessness of talk and taken the implications of their beliefs to their logical conclusion. People will never stop the train voluntarily because they are greedy for the fruits of their rapine, because they are selfish about their own needs, about their desire to procreate, about their belief they should have the freedom to do what they want. The only way to save them, or rather, some rather more sustainable subset of them, is to make them do what needs to be done. It’s for their own good, as well as the good of nature. And of course, as only the deep Greens understand what needs to be done, they must by necessity survive and rule over the rest of us. It’s all perfectly logical.

    Obviously they cannot simply derail the train, or take it over by force. They’re outnumbered and the rest of us won’t let them. We’re well used to dealing with people with such ideas. So they plant the ideas and wait, and seek positions of influence and leadership, so that when the apocalyse arrives just as they predicted, they will naturally be seen as the ones to turn to for answers.

    Yes, there are deep Greens, but they are not a majority. However, their philosophy implicitly underlies and is the logical extension of that of the moderates. Quite how influential they are I have no idea. They’re evidently influential enough that their influence has been noticed, probably not influential enough that the majority cannot pretend they don’t exist. They’re not a danger so long as we know they’re there.

    Mankind will never stop the train voluntarily, because it is the train that is carrying them away from poverty and disease and short, miserable, grinding lives of endless labour and oppression. It is taking us away from nature, which seen from close up is too often nasty and brutish. It has taken centuries to build up this momentum, and if they stop it now they may struggle to get it started again.
    There is no apocalypse. There is no cliff. Nothing lasts forever, but we’ve a long way to go yet.

  • OPatrick

    It’s a strange world where I have to justify the qualifications of a scientist that I haven’t chosen to quote.

    I don’t think Ehrlich is particularly qualified to talk about demographics (nor do I think that he isn’t qualified, I don’t have much knowledge or opinion about him). But his view doesn’t automatically represent environmentalism as a whole because you, or huxley or the unpleasant individual huxley lifted these quotes from, decide that it does.

    Furthermore I don’t know the context of the quote, there is no link to its source and when I search for it I get endless blogs of the lowest common denominator type which repeat the same sourceless quotes. Can you show that in context what he has said matches anything like what is impled by grouping in together with the other quotes above?  As it is, his opinion that 2 billion humans would be optimal seems innocuous on its own – there is no necessary implication at all that we should then slaughter two thirds of the population to get to this point. If I say my house would be less crowded if I only had one child it doesn’t mean that I’m a child-hater.

    It’s particularly ironic that you talk about ‘people like me’ given that I often criticise people for focusing on over-population as a problem.

  • hunter

    OPatrick,
    The problem with your defense is that you are declining to deal with a world famous, highly influential kook in your ranks. Look at climate etc.: many skeptics like myself went out of their way to point out that the skydragons are way off the reservation.
    Ehrlich is probably going to die a nice peaceful death of old age without having any of the condemnation from his peers that he richly deserves.and he has never ever been right about anything. If he told you the time of day, you should check it independently.


     

  • huxley

    OK. Here’s a quote that makes the basic point of the other quotes — that environmentalists don’t affirm human life and in fact consider humanity to be a plague upon the planet that ought to be reduced substantially — and I have linked the full context.

    That makes what is happening no less tragic for those of us who value wildness for its own sake, not for what value it confers upon mankind. I, for one, cannot wish upon either my children or the rest of Earth’s biota a tame planet, a human-managed planet, be it monstrous or–however unlikely–benign. McKibben is a biocentrist, and so am I. We are not interested in the utility of a particular species, or free-flowing river, or ecosystem, to mankind. They have intrinsic value, more value–to me–than another human body, or a billion of them.

    Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true. Somewhere along the line–at about a billion years ago, maybe half that–we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth.

    It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil-energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.

    – David M. Graber, LA Times October 22, 1989, “Review of Mother Nature as a Hothouse Flower : THE END OF NATURE by Bill McKibben”

    http://articles.latimes.com/print/1989-10-22/books/bk-726_1_bill-mckibben

  • huxley

    Again, my point isn’t deep or controversial. It takes little effort to assemble a list of quotes testifying to evironmentalist misanthropy.

    Environmentalists say these things all the time, because that’s how they see the world. They don’t even think it strange. That’s reality as far as they are concerned.

    Maybe environmentalists are more circumspect now that their opponents have assembled these greatest hits lists. Maybe KK’s new slant, “Environmentalism — Now with Less Doom and Gloom!” is part of a rebranding, or one might hope, rethinking of environmentalism.

  • BBD

    Red herrings and false logic are proliferating on this thread.

    So, some ‘environmentalists’ (for want of a more precise term) are nutters.

    Should we therefore ignore or even vilify all environmentalists (for want of a more precise term)?

    Should we wreck the environment without a second thought? Should we also ignore the mass of evidence that indicates that CO2 is heating the climate system?

    Or should we indicate some basic intelligence and try not to bugger up the planet we are living on?

  • huxley

    I don’t think these environmentalists are “nutters.” They are sincere, intelligent people with a point of view I shared not long ago.

    Nor are they marginal. These quotes are from some of the most prominent environmental voices and their concerns reflect much of that community.

    Nor are their opponents proposing that “we wreck the environment without a second thought.”

    However, “trying not bugger up the planet” while providing for seven billion people is a tricky balance with plenty unknowns. I don’t consider BBD’s constant strawman attacks are much help or show much intelligence.

  • BBD

    I don’t consider BBD’s constant strawman attacks are much help or show much intelligence.

    You compared environmentalists to the Klan FFS. Don’t be so disingenuous. Anyone would think you took other commenters here for idiots.

    You are conflating the few with the many for rhetorical effect and I’ve called you out over it. Hardly a ‘strawman attack’. And while pointing out your unsophisticated rhetorical tricks isn’t difficult, it doesn’t make me stupid.

  • huxley

    BBD: Environmentalists really say the things that I’ve said that they said and meant what it sounded like they said. In response I’ve received much indignation, complaining, nitpicking, and subject-changing, but no real rebuttal.

    What do you say about Graber’s review of McKibben? That was in the LA Times, not Earth First! It’s not nutter, fringe stuff. And it makes sense from their point of view.

    If real environmentalists aren’t on board with this stuff, where have they registered their opposition? How does stack up proportionately?

    Your turn to do some legwork.
     

  • OPatrick

    hunter #36

    I’m not clear now, is your argument just that Ehrlich is wrong (though it’s highly unlikely that he’s wrong on the scale of the skydragons, from what little I bothered to follow of it) or that he is a human-hater who looks forward to the extinction of most of us?

  • OPatrick

    huxley

    “It takes little effort to assemble a list of quotes testifying to evironmentalist misanthropy.” 

    Really? Why is it then that this one list of quotes seems so popular? Why aren’t there many such lists with links to the sources? And why did you need to go back to an obscure book review from 1989 to find your own example? 

  • OPatrick

    Nullius in Verba #34

    You seem to have missed some of Cousteau’s quotes – this one for example:

    “If we were logical, the future would be bleak, indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope, and we can work.”

    The vile misanthrope. 

    You provide an interesting insight into your view of the world with your description of the different ‘green’ positions. I understand you better now (and like and trust you less).
     

  • huxley

    OPatrick: And why aren’t you responding to my point?

    A review in the LA Times of a book by a major environmental voice, still active today, is not obscure. I chose it because I supply the context you requested and it illustrated the points I was making.

    Environmental misanthropy is a feature of that movement. Moving the goalposts and demanding more proof or asking a list of Van Daniken style questions aren’t responses, they are tactics.

    I’ve complied with your request. Time for you to do some work to support your points, not just hammer me with more questions because you don’t seem to have a defense.

  • BBD

    huxley

    You are getting some rebuttal now. See 39 and 41.

    Some does not equal all. False equivalence is false logic. Your argument is crap.

  • huxley

    BBD: I’m interested in some facts.

    If the sum of your argument is that I should have said “Some envionmentalists,” then fine. Point taken.

  • OPatrick

    huxley #46

    The review was not by a ‘major environmental voice’. Your context illustrates my point.  

  • OPatrick

    So huxley, would you prefer to re-write your original paragraph like this:

    Yes, that’s the pleasant way some environmentalists talk about themselves. But many of us can’t help but notice their less-than-affirming stance when it comes to human life. In fact some enviros all but hate humans and look forward to the extinction of most of us. 

    ?

  • Nullius in Verba

    #45,
    Do you mean to say you liked and trusted me before?! I’m flattered!

    Your point, I had assumed, was that one Cousteau quote was an isolated example out of character. The reason for quoting a wider selection was to make it clear that it wasn’t. That’s not to say that every single thing he has ever said is of the same sort – of course it isn’t. But neither is it unfair to say that he shares the attitude of many environmentalists – that barbaric humans are poisoning the environment and will kill themselves and everything else if they don’t mend their ways – and that his other quotes show it.

    Nor do I think he was being hateful or arrogant about it. I’m sure that it was with great sadness he came to those conclusions, and that Cousteau was fundamentally a good person. He didn’t want for mankind to fail, but it was the logical conclusion of his environmentalist beliefs – for thousands to have to be eliminated – and he was at least honest enough to face up to that and say it.

    Most of those who spoke on the subject preferred to do it by controlling births – because the alternative was that the pressures would increase until deaths through famine and plague rose to balance it. They saw it as being humane, as the less terrible option. And again, from the standpoint of their beliefs about the world, they would be absolutely right.

    The only problem with it is that their beliefs are not correct – so they wound up advising sterilisation and birth control and famine triage, causing unecessary suffering and loss of liberty. And so it always is. None of the great popular totalitarian movements had malicious or consciously wicked intentions when they started. They usually did it because they thought it was unfortunately necessary, and for the best.
    The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

  • BBD

    The problem with all this is the way the ‘environmentalism = bad’ meme is used.

    Environmentalism = anti-humanism

    Environmentalism = AGW tribe

    AGW tribe = anti-humanism

    The road to hell is paved with all sorts of things.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #52,
    Yes, it’s much the same as the ‘capitalist/industrialist = bad’ meme. There are both costs and benefits. Industry has its costs – and nobody thinks it’s fine to pollute rivers – but it also has its benefits, saving lives and spreading relief from misery and the road to Love Canal is also paved with good intentions. I don’t take a stand for either extreme, it’s a choice between two evils and either way we pay a price.

    The difference is that capitalism and industry works, and are our only hope that one day things could be different – that we wouldn’t have to choose. We are already a long way towards that – the fact that there can even be environmentalists is a sign of that.

    Good intentions are not enough.

  • BBD

    NiV

    As disingenuous as ever. KK nailed you just right recently.

  • OPatrick

    Nullius inVerba

    “Do you mean to say you liked and trusted me before?! I’m flattered!”

    Your instincts to subvert meaning have overtaken you.

    “Your point, I had assumed, was that one Cousteau quote was an isolated example out of character.”

    My point was that Cousteau’s views cannot be surmised from a contextless quote, or even series of such quotes, and even less can this be extended to environmentalists as a whole. Attempting to do so could lead to the level of idiocy whereby one asserts that eliminating thousands of people every day was the logical conclusion of his beliefs, without knowledge or understnading of the complexities, subtleties and superficially contradictory layering of those beliefs.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #54,
    I was agreeing with you, for once, and you still think I’m disingenuous?

    Keith sees me from the standpoint of his own position (ideology, politics, whatever), and misinterprets my intentions as a result. There’s nothing I can do about that, and as I said it’s not something that concerns me. Most people have difficulty understanding a completely different Weltanshauung. It takes practice.

    It’s like an atheist who genuinely cannot understand how anyone could be religious. Religious beliefs are – to them – so obviously nonsensical that they can’t see how anyone could genuinely believe them; and therefore all those who say they believe must be being dishonest. Especially when so many of them continue to sin regardless.

    Huxley’s viewpoint above is that of someone pointing out all the exorcisms and witch burnings and book bannings of the Church, OPatrick is responding as a believer who thinks it is all about holding hands and loving one another and charity work, and I’m saying both exist, that the fundamentalist ‘witch burning’ is in a way truer to the philosophy’s roots, but that most people who go to Church are not like that. Most are simple folk who never think about it. Many of the ones who do are deeply conflicted – should they allow homosexual women priests to marry, and is it still Christianity if they do?

    As you might say, the ‘Christian = Fundamentalist’ meme is a problem, but as I would say, no more so than the ‘Atheist = Amoral’ meme.

    I’m not really expecting you to be able to understand. You’ll probably read my analogy as just an attempt to equate Environmentalism to a religion. But that’s just another point of view.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #55,
    Do you propose then to be able to surmise my views from the few comments I put up here? There are certainly plenty of complexities, subtleties, and layers I don’t have the time or space to include.
    What do we have, if not what people say?

  • BBD

    NiV

    Keith sees me from the standpoint of his own position (ideology, politics, whatever), and misinterprets my intentions as a result. There’s nothing I can do about that, and as I said it’s not something that concerns me. Most people have difficulty understanding a completely different Weltanshauung. It takes practice.


    [...]


    I’m not really expecting you to be able to understand.

    I understand you all too well. As, apparently, does our host.

    And my, you do flatter yourself by implication.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #58,
    See? I didn’t think you would. :-)

  • OPatrick

    Nullius in Verba

    “Do you propose then to be able to surmise my views from the few comments I put up here?”

    Clearly not as my comments above (#45) indicate, but I am building a better picture of you. Your perception that I am “…responding as a believer who thinks it is all about holding hands and loving one another and charity work“ adds to that picture. You appear unable to genuinely comprehend that others have complex views, whilst simultaneously making exactly that point. Maybe it’s an act, maybe it’s evidence of psychopathy. Maybe these are not exclusive.

  • BBD

    OPatrick

    You appear unable to genuinely comprehend that others have complex views, whilst simultaneously making exactly that point. Maybe it’s an act, maybe it’s evidence of psychopathy. Maybe these are not exclusive.

    Indeed. NiV is not quite the paragon of impartiality and wisdom he appears to believe, is he?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Your perception that I am…”
    You do understand metaphors and analogies, don’t you?



    “You appear unable to genuinely comprehend that others have complex views, whilst simultaneously making exactly that point.”
    Whose complex views do you think I don’t comprehend? And on what basis?
    If you’re referring to Cousteau, my point was that his views were neither the simplistic hostile misanthropy that Huxley was asserting, nor the simplistic innocence being quoted out of context that you had asserted. I know what Cousteau meant because I understand the reasoning behind it. The Green Malthusian belief is that mankind is overpopulated, that this will inevitably lead to both a human and environmental catastrophe unless fixed, and technological fixes can no more than delay the inevitable. “Did you not hear me? Within 10 years the oceans will be black goo, totally dead, destroyed. The oceans will be lifeless.“  His passion is clear and understandable. The only solution to the overpopulation problem ultimately is to reduce the population, one way or another. The logic is inevitable.

    Cousteau, understands exactly how that looks. As he says himself, does not like the implication any more than we do, nor is he actually proposing we do it. It is a horrible thing to say. But rather than deny it or refuse to discuss it, he says it openly. I respect the honesty of that rather more than that of those who secretly believe it but won’t say it.

    You, on the other hand, are so determined not to have to admit that there are people within the Environment movement who believe in population control, and sometimes totalitarian solutions to bring it about, that you’ll refuse even to consider the possibility that these people might have said exactly what they mean. There’s ‘complexity’ and ‘nuance’ and ‘context’, and we just don’t understand. Someone can say we need to reduce population to 1.5 billion within the next few decades, or explicitly propose an authoritarian world government, a “supreme office of the biosphere” to enforce their environmentalist edicts, but by means of a “superficially contradictory layering of those beliefs” we can clearly see that they meant the precise opposite. Oh, and anyone who doesn’t is a psychopath.

    Bearing in mind the totalitarian historical parallels in which political opposition was often diagnosed as mental illness, I assume you didn’t really mean that. Just conversational hyperbole, yes?
    Nevertheless, I invite you to consider how people unable to comprehend your complex views might see that in this particular context. They might jump to the most unfortunate conclusions, yes?

  • BBD

    NiV

    You are doing exactly what huxley tried to do. You are implying that  because some ‘environmentalists’ are neo-Malthusians, they ALL are.

    This is false equivalence. False logic. Bad argument. You are supposed to be preternaturally clever. You are a man who believes he sees further and more clearly than the common herd. So why are you repeating huxley’s cheap rhetorical tricks, which he was pulled up on just a few comments back?

     

  • huxley

    So many people who have been in the environmental movement for years, fighting for the cause they believe deeply in, have been derided constantly for their life-affirming stance.

    Initially I was responding to OPatrick’s weepy bit above about how environmentalists are derided.

    However, it’s hard to miss the constant drumbeat from environmentalists about how there are way too many people and how much better the earth would be if there were far fewer people. It’s hard to miss that prominent environmentalists often slide from that position to “hoping for a virus to come along,” as Graber wrote in an LA Times review. It’s hard to miss that almost no environmentalists stand up publicly against these immoderate expressions.

    So, for those of us outside the environmental movement, it’s hard to swallow OPatrick’s “life-affirming” claim since it’s clear that environmentalists may love the life of the oceans, rivers and forest, but they are ambivalent about human life.

    Personally speaking, if environmentalists want my sympathy and support, they need to be very clear that they are looking for solutions that include seven billion of my brothers and sisters, and knock off the virus talk.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #63,
    “You are implying that  because some “˜environmentalists’ are neo-Malthusians, they ALL are.”
    I thought I’d been saying exactly the opposite, at great length, but I’ll say it again more directly, if you like. Some but not all environmentalists are neo-Malthusians. Just as one example, I’m not a neo-Malthusian. Case proved, yes?

  • OPatrick

    Nullius in Verba, I wasn’t making any “conversational hyperbole”, I was saying that your behaviour appeared psychopathic. The Internet makes it easy for people to appear psychopathic, it lends itself to the emotionlessness of communciation and vision that would be seen in a psychopath, but I recognise this could be a persona. I can’t make any judgements about your real mental state, I can only judge what you are as a shadow on the Internet.

    “I know what Cousteau meant because I understand the reasoning behind it.”

    No, you don’t.   

    As BBD says you continue to make the same false assertions that huxley does about environmentalists. Your arguments may look more sophisticated than huxley’s, but they are none the better for this.

    “The only solution to the overpopulation problem ultimately is to reduce the population, one way or another. The logic is inevitable.”

    You are wrong. The logic is not inevitable and very few environmentalists would argue that it is. This view is not representative of the environmental movement.

  • OPatrick

    huxley

    It’s hard to miss that prominent environmentalists often slide from that position to “hoping for a virus to come along,”

    It’s hard for you to miss because you keep repeating it to yourself and anyone else who will listen, and looking on the Internet we can see that there are many others like you doing the same.

    It is, however, not true.   

  • Nullius in Verba

    #66,
    You’ve managed to actually surprise me. I’ve come across people who said such things as an exaggerated rhetorical tactic, but I’ve never met anyone who really believed it.

    Given the lessons of history, that’s actually slightly worrying.

  • huxley

    It is, however, not true.  

    OPatrick: Cites?

    I’ve provided many examples. You have provided nothing but complaints, demands and gainsaying.

    Cite some environmentalists taking my quotes to task. Cites some environmentalists affirming their support for all seven billion humans currently on the planet.

    I can repeat this stuff because there is plenty of it in the environmental movement. Other people can do it too. That’s not an argument against my point.

  • OPatrick

    Psychopathic behaviour traits are not uncommon in society. Many of the most driven, and also most successful, people display psychopathic behaviour. The Internet exaggerates, or possibly mimics, these traits.

    The particular behaviour of yours that I think appears psychopathic here is the vision of your opponents you offer, which combines a self-certainty of your own correctness with an utter lack of empathy of understanding.

  • huxley

    OPatrick: Ah. Once again, you provide no facts. Instead you move straight on to diagnosing me as psychopathic.

    Well, I’ll take that as a sign that you can’t support your position and that our conversation is over.

  • BBD

    NiV and huxley

    As I’ve said, the problem here is context. You are trying to portray all environmentalists (for want of a better term) as neo-Malthusians. In the wider context of the climate debate, a misleadingly negative portrayal of ‘environmentalism’ is invariably conflated with the mainstream scientific position on climate change.

    We all know this, of course. But it bears repeating.

  • huxley

    You are trying to portray all environmentalists (for want of a better term) as neo-Malthusians.

    BBD: From what I can tell most environmentalists are neo-Malthusians of some sort.

    Cite some non-neo-Malthusians.

  • OPatrick

    huxley

    “OPatrick: Ah. Once again, you provide no facts. Instead you move straight on to diagnosing me as psychopathic.” 

    No, I’m not diagnosing you as psychopathic, it was Nullius in Verba whom I felt appeared to be displaying psychopathic behaviour traits. You I just think are wrong. 

    It’s difficult to cite an absence. I don’t think there is a large body of environmental thought which shows a hatred of humanity, though there are plenty who despair at humanity’s actions, but that is different. Parents and teachers know what it is to dislike behaviour but still care for the individual.

    I don’t expect to find environmentalists railing against the views of those who want to exterminate hundreds of thousands of people every day because those views are not prevalent. You may think they are, but I suspect that reflects where you get your information.    

  • EdG

    Good grief. Now we have free on line psychiatric diagnosis of anyone who disagrees with the supposed psychiatrist.

    OK. Please, OPatrick, could you look at the childhood experiences of David Suzuki and tell me why he is so balanced?

    Or perhaps Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace?

    Thanks. Looking forward to your expert opinion. 

  • huxley

    OPatrick: I was a big environmental supporter for most of my adult life. I was even a member of the Green Party during the eighties. I got my information from reading within that world, not from the right.

    You don’t really know who I am and I am not the subject here. Nor is NIV. That you should go on about psychopathic behavior traits here is way off the reservation.

  • OPatrick

    But likening us to the Klu Klux Klan is fine?

    I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that you apparently haven’t read what I’ve written, I’m not pretending to diagnose the real person who types as Nullius in Verba, I know only the on-line persona and that persona displays clear psychopathic traits. My expert opinion has gone to bed now, but she was clear that from my description this behaviour matched that consistent with psychopathy.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #72,
    We’re talking about the public perception of “Environmentalists” (with a capital E) as presented in the films, articles, interviews, documentaries, spokespersons, and so on by people who identify themselves as “Environmentalists”. It is a stereotype, as most group labels are, but is acurately based on common themes in a wide range of output. “Doom and Gloom” as was originally said.

    When you use any label – scientist, liberal, American, sceptic, capitalist – you have to simplify, because of course not every single one of them will have that characteristic. You are always implicitly talking about some subset, or proxy for them. There are usually no sharp dividing lines – there’s usually a continuous spectrum. This is common English usage for a whole variety of words and terms. Everybody does it, including you. It’s a specious argument to suddenly jump on it as evidence of an ethical problem, when in almost all cases it’s nothing worse than loose language, if that.

    Greens have worked hard to get their message across. There are many examples of campaigns, issues, and beliefs that are identifiably ‘Green’ and constitute the public understanding of the movement. There are common themes that run through most of these. Not every one of them is shared by every ‘Green’, and some stereotypical ‘Green’ values are not confined to just the Greens, but as a rule, we know as well as any member of the public can what ‘Green’ means.

    And most of what it means is about Doom and Gloom. It’s about how we’re spoiling and poisoning the world. It’s about how we’re using up all the resources. It’s about population and industry and consumption being problems, instead of solutions.

    Not every Green is opposed to nuclear power. Not every Green is paranoid/phobic about ‘chemicals’ and pollutants – pesticides and artificial additives and other toxins. Not every Green thinks industry is bad, or that there are too many people, or that it matters all that much if a few animals and plants die or a few waterways get polluted.
    But to the extent that there is one “Green movement” – these are all widely perceived as characteristics, and that’s because a whole bunch of Greens have been saying so for years. OPatrick can deny they exist all he wants, but they’re there and they’re influential and they’re very visible. And if you think such misanthropy plays badly, they’re also a massive PR problem for you.

    I’ve been saying above that it’s not as simple as “Environmentalists say…”, but at the same time I’m also saying it’s how you’re perceived because a substantial number of Environmentalists really are like that, and the philosophy of many of the rest leads in that direction.

    I’m not unsympathetic to such people – I just think they’re wrong; that this is just the latest in a long series of such unfounded scares, and that the totalitarian solutions they imply are an extremely dangerous road to be following. I’m not unsympathetic to the idea of protecting the environment generally – clean water and preventing smog are vitally important, wildlife and natural landscapes are worth preserving – in that sense I could be described as an Environmentalist myself. But if you think you’re going to persuade anyone that this misanthropic doom stuff isn’t what a lot of Greenery is about, the AGW issue included, you’re fooling yourself.

  • BBD

    Huxley @ 73

    Cite some non-neo-Malthusians.


    You could start with Stuart Brand ;-) Have a look at Whole Earth Discipline. His critique of aspects of ‘environmentalism’ is also a catalogue of ‘humanism/environmentalism’.

  • OPatrick

    Nullius in Verba

    “such misanthropy” … “this misanthropic doom stuff”

    This is why I perceive your arguments as lacking entirely in empathy. You appear to have no conception of how environmentalism can be, and is, fundamentally pilanthropic. Of course this might just be the narrative you want to spin, maybe you genuinely do understand this.

  • huxley

    BBD: I’ve got a collection of most of the Whole Earth Catalogs and all of CQ/WER issues to the late nineties, as well Whole Earth Discipline. Whole Earth was my portal to the environmental movement.

    So, yes, I know Stewart Brand and most of his writing. He is an interesting character and I give him credit for integrity and open-mindedness on beyond almost all of the environmental movement.

    However, he is definitely neo-Malthusian. In Whole Earth Discipline Brand defends Paul Ehrlich and James Lovelock, while spinning some of the most grisly doom-and-gloom scenarios imaginable.

    But there is something likable and optimistic about Stewart Brand that I don’t believe that he is “hoping for a virus” even though he fears that the planet is terribly overburdened with homo sapiens.

  • BBD

    NiV

    I’m not unsympathetic to such people ““ I just think they’re wrong; that this is just the latest in a long series of such unfounded scares, and that the totalitarian solutions they imply are an extremely dangerous road to be following.

    And:

    But if you think you’re going to persuade anyone that this misanthropic doom stuff isn’t what a lot of Greenery is about, the AGW issue included, you’re fooling yourself.

    You are attacking a mainstream scientific view that you don’t like. You explicitly associate ‘Greenery’ with ‘totalitarian solutions’.
    But ‘Greenery’ and all it’s ills – real and imagined – is irrelevant to the the laws of physics which underpin the actual problem posed by CO2.

    So it makes sense to go for the Greenery, instead of the physics. A notable absence of good quality sceptical papers might have something to do with this.

  • BBD

    huxley

    However, he is definitely neo-Malthusian. In Whole Earth Discipline Brand defends Paul Ehrlich and James Lovelock,

    Brand advocates neo-Malthusian views in WED? Can you provide quotes?

  • huxley

    OPatrick: You still offer no facts, no cites beyond your partner’s assessment that NIV’s “behaviour matched that consistent with psychopathy.”

    Not impressive and more than a bit vile. You seem to be arguing for an environmental movement that exists in your imagination.

    If the quotes I supply from environmentalists are so out of step with real environmentalism, then you ought to be able to show some cites to that effect, instead of stomping your feet and crying it’s not so.

  • huxley

    Brand advocates neo-Malthusian views in WED? Can you provide quotes?

    BBD: Yes, he defends Paul Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb.”

    I’m tired of doing the legwork around here. You brought Brand and WED up. You supply the quotes.

  • OPatrick

    huxley, you’re still asking me to provide cites of a negative. Environmentalism isn’t infused with a hatred of humanity. Environmentalism recognises the interconnectedness and co-dependence of humanity and its environment.

  • BBD

    huxley

    BBD: Yes, he defends Paul Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb.”

    So you say. Quote.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #80,
    “You appear to have no conception of how environmentalism can be, and is, fundamentally p[h]ilanthropic.”
    It could be. Like I just said, there are some bits I would subscribe to myself. But the stuff that people notice, and that seems to have made up much of its output for the past few decades, is not. Good news doesn’t bring in the subscriptions.

    That was precisely the point made by Anteros in #6, “I think that there is an enormous constituency that could be engaged on environmental issues if it weren’t for the doom and gloom.” What we’re saying is that there are a lot of people who would be a whole lot more sympathetic if you started putting that “philanthropic” environmentalism out there, instead of having everything be about how man is destroying the planet, and must be stopped.

    It’s actually a tragedy. What ought to be a positive and beneficial set of ideas for making the world a better place to live in has been discredited in the eyes of many by this approach, and some of the people pushing it. When you talk about “Environmentalists”, people roll their eyes and think of crusties and people wearing beards and sandals protesting about just about everything. You know the acronym – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.  It’s a crying shame what they’ve done.

    One of the reasons I believe continued economic development is so essential is that prosperity is one of the best ways to achieve environmental improvement. Once people have their day-to-day needs satisfied, they can start to think about improving the neighbourhood. It makes a mess getting them there, but once they’re there people will actively want to clean their world up, and will be able to afford it. In the long run, it’s better for the environment, and I think that’s good.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “But “˜Greenery’ and all it’s ills ““ real and imagined ““ is irrelevant to the the laws of physics which underpin the actual problem posed by CO2.”
    They’re not irrelevant to the solution, and they have some relation to the question of whether it poses a problem at all.

    Unlike a lot of Greens, I do actually understand much of the physics – such as is known. Very few outsiders even understand how the Greenhouse Effect really works (not like a greenhouse, not by ‘trapping’ radiation, not by backradiation), and it isn’t even the issue anyway. The question is how much the feedbacks affect the answer. The question is what impact an increase in average temperature would have. On these topics, the physics (and biology) is uncertain.

    But we keep on getting told that because one tiny part of it is understood that all the rest of it is too, and we get the most amazing catalogue of all the plagues and horrors that Global Warming will supposedly cause.
    This is not physics. It’s not even true, most of it. But it’s what people now perceive as being the “Global Warming” issue. That’s how the Environmentalists have sold it.

    And eventually, it will be their undoing.

  • BBD

    huxley

    No quotes.

    And:

    This is not physics. It’s not even true, most of it.

    Ah. I see. Silly me.

  • BBD

    Sorry, NiV. My mistake.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #90,
    You want some quotes? Search for the warmlist.

  • huxley

    Cite some non-neo-Malthusians.
    You could start with Stuart Brand Have a look at Whole Earth Discipline.

    BBD: So you say. Quote. It is your turn.

    You have brought no fresh information to this discussion. I’ll debate you, but frankly I could write your side as well as you do. Surprise me.

    One reason I go online it is to learn new things.

  • huxley

    OPatrick & BBD are at a loss to find counter-examples to environmental misanthropy.
    OPatrick complains that it is hard “to provide cites of a negative.”

    Hmm. Not really. When a fringe Christian church last year threatened to burn a copy of the Koran, there was no lack of Christian leaders speaking out against this tiny isolated group of Christians.

    See http://www.ecusa.anglican.org/79425_124391_ENG_HTM.htm .

    When prominent environmental leaders idly wish aloud for a virus to kill off billions of humans, we hear silence from environmentalists.

    That’s because the environmental movement does not affirm the lives of billions of humans. They really do feel ambivalent about humanity.

    Which doesn’t mean that they hate humans, as OPatrick repeatedly overstates my claim, but they are not comfortable with so many people on the planet. While environmentalists may not want to sign the orders for genocide or even voice their agreement for a virus, they sympathize with the thought because that’s the way they think.

    I say this because once upon a time that’s the way I thought.

  • Tom C

    I don’t think these enviros actually hate people, even though their rhetoric is so toxic.  I think they are simply ignorant and confused and don’t realize what they are saying.  They also deeply misunderstand economics.  They believe that you can cut 5 billion people out of the earth population and still have advanced societies along with all the things we enjoy.  However, the less people there are the less there are to make IPads, lightweight camping gear, and fine wines, and staff hotels in eco-tourist locations.

  • OPatrick

    huxley #94

    “Which doesn’t mean that they hate humans, as OPatrick repeatedly overstates my claim” 

    huxley #12

    “But many of us can’t help but notice their less-than-affirming stance when it comes to human life. In fact many prominent enviros all but hate humans and look forward to the extinction of most of us.” 

    We don’t hear environmentalists speaking out against “prominent environmental leaders idly wish aloud for a virus to kill off billions of humans” because that isn’t happening anywhere except in the fantasy world you and your fellow bloggers have created by piecing together a few fragmented quotes.

  • OPatrick

    Nullius in Verba #88

    Good news doesn’t bring in the subscriptions.”

    Nullius in Verba #88

    “That was precisely the point made by Anteros in #6, “I think that there is an enormous constituency that could be engaged on environmental issues if it weren’t for the doom and gloom.”” 

    So is it that they’d be engaged but wouldn’t be willing to actually do anything about it? Rather sums it up – if only environemntalists would tell us what we want to hear, we can keep on doing exactly what we like and don’t need to pay for any of the consequences.

    Recognising responsibilities is not being misanthropic.   
       
     

  • Keith Kloor

    Actually, OPatrick (97), the points that Anteros (6) and NiV (78, 88) make accurately speak to the stereotypical image of environmentalism. And to the extent that this image is still reinforced by a certain dominant narrative and philosophy makes greens (at least in the U.S) marginal players in politics.

    I’ll be expanding on this post in a few days.

  • OPatrick

    But Keith, that stereotype is false and is constantly being reinforced by those who are determined to undermine action. In his comment at #34 Nullius in Verba gave a, to me, chilling account of how he viewed the various green factions which demonstrates the false echos people are hearing in place of reality. The narrative that is dominant is the one being spun by those who are willing to make the easy sell.

  • BBD

    NiV and huxley

    As I have said – and you have repeatedly ignored:

    In the wider context of the climate debate, a profoundly negative portrayal of “˜environmentalism’ is invariably conflated with the mainstream scientific position on climate change.

    The worst excesses of the Greens are an easy (and justifiable) target. Much, much easier than taking on the science, when sceptics invariably get panned.

    It’s a tactic. It’s part of the wider game you are playing. It’s also false equivalence and should be challenged.

    We all know this, of course. But it bears repeating. Especially as I suspect that we shall see more of this meme as the ‘sceptics’ continue to lose the scientific argument.

  • BBD

    huxley @ 93

    Let’s be clear about this. You made a false claim that Brand endorses Ehrlich’s argument in The Population Bomb. You cannot back it up with any quotes from WED because it’s not true.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #97,
    The problem with the doom and gloom is that it’s exaggerated; it’s not proportionate.

    There are things which are important to fix, and things which are desirable, and things which are not really issues at all. Environmentalism started off fixing the important stuff, and it rightly got a lot of public support for doing so.

    In the developed countries most of the really important stuff got fixed, and people paid a lot more attention to the desirable. Things are a lot cleaner and safer now than they were 50 years ago, which in turn was cleaner and safer than 100 years ago. That’s great, a human success story.

    But they were a victim of their own success. By this time there were a whole bunch of people working for The Environment whose incomes, power, prestige, self-image, etc. depended on the movement. So of course they kept going. And they needed all the problems to keep going to keep the support rolling in. That’s where it started to go wrong.

    There are still problems in the world that need to be fixed, some urgently, some less so. They’re mostly but not exclusively in the developing world. Clean water is still number one.
    A lot of the stuff they make a fuss about isn’t even on the list.

    There are some things I’d like to see from the Environment movement. I realise of course I’m in no position to dictate – this is just to give you an idea of where I’m coming from.
    1. Prioritise realistically. Say what’s urgent and what’s nice to have. Don’t exaggerate minor stuff. Don’t always be getting in the way.
    2. Trade off the benefits against the human costs. Industry brings benefits to people too. Weigh the costs, and accept the principle that sometimes people’s needs come first. And remember people are most interested in (and most inclined to have their money spent on) things that make the world a nice place for people to live in. It’s not primarily about making the world a nicer place for the animals and plants, although that’s not without value.
    3. Don’t insist on perfection. There will be accidents. There will be places where things go wrong. Balance costs and risks proportionately. Don’t spend a fortune on preventing million-to-one shots – the money would have been better spent elsewhere.
    4. Do it yourself, don’t always be telling other people what to do. Spend the money building sewage treatment plants, not lobbying governments to build sewage treatment plants. Spend the money cleaning up industrial waste, not destroying the company that spilled the waste. Spend it on research into better ways to do things, not lobbying government or industry to change its research priorities. Offer help to industry so they’ll do things one way rather than another. Lead by example.
    5. Tell people truthfully how much better things are nowadays, and how we got here. Tell people how much of that work is done by people in industry – don’t always treat them as the enemy, but as oft-times allies. They didn’t always do it because they were made to. Make people understand that we can do it because we can afford it, that prosperity is the best protection for the environment and the people in it.

    Now, you may tell me that a lot of the Environmentalists are like that and are doing that, and that would be good. But if so, it’s not getting through to your public image. The Environmentalists everyone sees are the noisy ones on the protests, the controversial ones the media go to for their soundbites.
    Or of course you might tell me that this would be selling out to industry/capitalism, the problems are not being exaggerated, and we urgently need to spend vast amounts of Other People’s Money to save the world for the baby polar bears. Fine, you’re entitled to your beliefs – but they’re what’s increasingly turning people off the environment.
    I’m not expecting you to agree, but do you at least see what I mean?

  • BBD

    One other thing. I have no fondness for the ugly side of ‘environmentalism’. Yes, there is anti-humanism in there, and anti-science fearmongering about nuclear and GM. Which amounts to the same thing, or will do if it continues to affect public policy in coming decades.

    But it is as nothing compared to the lies and misrepresentations of the deniers. Many view the dismissal of the mainstream scientific view and the warning implicit within it as a crime against humanity. They are probably correct. This needs pointing out and should have been said – repeatedly – much earlier.

    Your presumption that you occupy some sort of moral high ground compared to the ‘greenies’ you denounce is just another self-serving delusion.

  • BBD

    The problem with the doom and gloom is that it’s exaggerated; it’s not proportionate.


    This is a perfect example of the self-serving lies I am talking about.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #100,
    “In the wider context of the climate debate, a profoundly negative portrayal of “˜environmentalism’ is invariably conflated with the mainstream scientific position on climate change.”
    The mainstream scientific position on climate change is that nobody can unequivocally say that it’s caused by man, and that we don’t really know what’s going to happen. But that’s not the story that is being used to sell political action, is it? Equivocation is therefore the name of the game.

    “Much, much easier than taking on the science, when sceptics invariably get panned.”
    When the science is debated, it’s generally the mainstream that gets panned. Several prominent activists have commented openly on it – Joe Romm (for example) always advises scientists not to debate sceptics for that very reason. He’s not saying it’s because the mainstream has got the science wrong, but that sceptics are better debaters. (They’re more practiced.) But it amounts to much the same thing.

    The only place sceptics get panned is the peer-reviewed literature, where all the peer-reviewers are from the mainstream. And that’s only the argument between the scientists. If you look at the debates between non-scientist believers and non-scientist sceptics, the latter generally know more of the science, and the former mostly have to resort to banning or editing sceptic comments to be able to win. It’s not universal, and there’s a lot of noise and nonsense coming from both sides, mine included.
    But if you want to debate me on the actual science (without relying on citations and other authorities), I’m quite happy to do that.

  • BBD

    The mainstream scientific position on climate change is that nobody can unequivocally say that it’s caused by man, and that we don’t really know what’s going to happen.

    This is a misrepresentation of current scientific knowledge.

    When the science is debated, it’s generally the mainstream that gets panned.

    This is nonsense.

    The only place sceptics get panned is the peer-reviewed literature, where all the peer-reviewers are from the mainstream.

    This is true in part. Sceptical papers get panned because they are invariably ill-founded.

    But if you want to debate me on the actual science (without relying on citations and other authorities), I’m quite happy to do that.

    This is hilarious. How do you debate the actual science without reference to existing studies? Just more nonsense. Of course what you mean is, don’t reference the science because if you do, my ‘sceptical’ arguments will be revealed as illogical, contradictory and mistaken or some combination of the three. 

  • BBD

    I also note – as should others – that you rather neatly avoided actually dealing with my earlier point.

    Which was:

    In the wider context of the climate debate, a profoundly negative portrayal of “˜environmentalism’ is invariably conflated with the mainstream scientific position on climate change.

    The worst excesses of the Greens are an easy (and justifiable) target. Much, much easier than taking on the science, when sceptics invariably get panned.

    It’s a tactic. It’s part of the wider game you are playing. It’s also false equivalence and should be challenged.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #106,
    “This is a misrepresentation of current scientific knowledge.”
    The claim that current scientific knowledge is otherwise is the misrepresentation.
    That unequivocal attribution is impossible is direct from the IPCC. That it’s unclear how they conclude what they do from the evidence they present is direct from the IAC review of the IPCC. That they can’t predict the future with any certainty is thoroughly mainstream. It’s a caveat they usually ignore, but they always put it in.

    “How do you debate the actual science without reference to existing studies?”
    By explaining the content of the studies yourself. You explain the physics, you don’t cite a study that cites three other studies extended through a few more layers that almost but not quite claim to explain the physics.
    If you think it’s so simple that anyone should be able to understand and believe it, then explain it. If you think it’s so complicated that only life-long experts can understand, then admit that you’re not explaining anything, you’re just asking people to take their word for it. To trust them, because they’re so trustworthy. And understand that this is an argument anybody can use, just by picking a different set of experts to believe in.

    If somebody asked you to explain from first principles, for example, how exactly the Greenhouse Effect physics works in a shallow pond of water, would you be able to do it? Or would you have to search out a “study” or an “expert” to tell you? Do you actually understand the physics, or do you just know what you’re supposed to believe about it?

    All the rubbish about small island states and river delta nations sinking below the sea are examples of the worst excesses of the Greens. Can you explain the science of how river deltas and flood plains form? Can you explain erosion and deposition, subsidence and uplift? Can you recount how Charles Darwin explained the formation of coral atolls? Do you know about the rate of rise during the meltwater pulses around 8000 years ago, how sea levels rose 100 m over 500 years, and how all the corals and whatnot survived? Did you think it was a lucky coincidence that the rise stopped a metre short of where most of the land was?
    The Maldives at Durban were wailing about how they’re all going to die as sea level rise wipes them off the map, while back home they’re constructing 11 new airports to encourage the tourists to fly in to the new beach-side hotels they’re building. It’s garbage, and they know it, and all you people claiming to be science-based are giving them a pass.
    The science I learnt in school geography tells me it’s nonsense – I want to see you explain why my geography teacher was wrong. I know there are a bunch of “studies” that say so, and I’m not interested. Explain the physics to me.

  • kdk33

    The worst excesses of the Greens are an easy (and justifiable) target.

    Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  • BBD

    NiV

    The usual contrarian red-herring about uncertainty cuts no ice with me. It’s evasive sophistry, nothing more: “we can’t say with absolute certainty that it’s human actions so we can’t say anything at all”. No. You are on your own there.

    Likewise the stuff about ‘understanding everything’. You are implying that the entire field is built on errors. Rubbish. Decades of work and nobody spotted the mistakes? No. And what of paleoclimate behaviour, and the fact that it isn’t -15C at night at the equator because of atmospheric absorption and re-radiation of LW? Etc, ad nauseam.

    Self-serving sophistry. All of it. What’s unbelievable is that this is still more-or-less tolerated, let alone mistaken for genuine scepticism.

  • BBD

    NiV

    The science I learnt in school geography tells me it’s nonsense ““ I want to see you explain why my geography teacher was wrong. I know there are a bunch of “studies” that say so, and I’m not interested. Explain the physics to me.

    Classic. Who cares what you geography teacher taught you decades ago? Ditch the avoidance tactics and explain the physics to yourself. Start here:

    http://scienceofdoom.com/roadmap/atmospheric-radiation-and-the-greenhouse-effect/

    Do some reading. Answer your own questions instead of pretending that it’s the responsibility of others to ‘explain’ things to you. It is not. And what you are doing here is only another rhetorical trick anyway. It barely deserves a civil response.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #110,
    “You are implying that the entire field is built on errors. Rubbish. Decades of work and nobody spotted the mistakes? No.”
    Yes, that’s a good one. Nobody spotted any mistakes, therefore all the sceptical scientists saying they have found mistakes must be wrong. If there had really been any mistakes, sceptics would have spotted them. How you can write that with a straight face I really don’t know.

    Of course the mistakes have been spotted. The mistake with the greenhouses was demonstrated in 1909, the mistake with the trapping of radiation was realised in the 1960s. The mistakes with the paleoclimate reconstructions were spotted by McIntyre in 2003, and before that by mainstreamers like Zorita and Cubasch, only they didn’t publish their doubts at the time. Climategate has several examples of mainstream climate scientists privately confirming McIntyre’s result. The geology of erosion and deposition to form low-lying land has been known for more than a century, and was argued out in Darwin’s day. The mistakes were spotted.

    And as for it not being -15 C at the equator, you’re missing the point. Yes, there is a greenhouse effect. But it doesn’t work like a greenhouse, and it doesn’t work by trapping radiation. The point is not to argue that it doesn’t exist; it is to point out that you don’t have the first clue how it actually works. You claim that your belief is founded on physics, but how can that be if you don’t actually know what that physics is? If you’re unable to apply it to a simple situation outside the textbook examples you’ve seen? How can you claim to be backed by science, when your method is to parrot what you’ve been told without real understanding?

    What’s unbelievable is that the unquestioning faith of millions in an out-of-date theory they don’t understand and can’t explain is being labelled “scientific”.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #111,
    Yes, I’m well aware of scienceofdoom and have argued at length over there in the past, although not lately. He eventually conceded that I was right about the physics, but wrong to put my particular emphasis/interpretation on it.

    I’ve done plenty of reading. The views I put across on the physics of the GHE itself are actually mainstream in the deep technical literature, although their emphasis is a little different. (My scepticism is in other areas.) I don’t need you guys to explain it to me, I already know. The reason I’m asking is solely to make the point that you don’t.

  • BBD

    NiV
    Yes, that’s a good one. Nobody spotted any mistakes, therefore all the sceptical scientists saying they have found mistakes must be wrong.

    What mistakes? Has someone claimed that the RTEs are flawed? Who? In which journal? Or is this just diversionary waffle?

    wrt MacIntyre etc: I wasn’t talking about the Hockey Stick (which is irrelevant to the laws of physics anyway). I was talking about the termination of glacials by the 100ka Milankovitch forcing and the implications for climate sensitivity.


    Yes, there is a greenhouse effect. But it doesn’t work like a greenhouse, and it doesn’t work by trapping radiation. The point is not to argue that it doesn’t exist; it is to point out that you don’t have the first clue how it actually works.

    Enlighten me. So instead of an accumulation of energy arising from radiative imbalance, the climate system heats up because of an accumulation of fairy dust? Or is this perhaps yet another of your self-serving misdirections?

  • BBD

    He eventually conceded that I was right about the physics, but wrong to put my particular emphasis/interpretation on it.

    link to that comment please, I’d like to read it.

    I don’t need you guys to explain it to me, I already know. The reason I’m asking is solely to make the point that you don’t.

    I think you are a grade-1 bullshitter. And we shall soon see.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “So instead of an accumulation of energy arising from radiative imbalance, the climate system heats up because of an accumulation of fairy dust?”
    Don’t take my word for it. Work it out for yourself.
    Greenhouse Effect in a shallow pond. Water is transparent to sunlight, and strongly absorbs thermal IR with extinction within about 20 microns. Every minimally-opaque layer of water absorbs and re-radiates thermal IR up and down. It’s like water vapour in the atmosphere, only 20,000 times as intense. So, sunlight shines through water, is absorbed by the black bottom, and the outbound radiation is ‘trapped’ there, backradiation from the water above heating the layers below. We have an immensely strong radiative imbalance.
    Estimate from your knowledge of the greenhouse effect physics how much warmer the bottom of a pond will be than the top.
    Why does the atmosphere behave differently?

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @103
    +10

    and this one too:

    “Self-serving sophistry. All of it. What’s unbelievable is that this is still more-or-less tolerated, let alone mistaken for genuine scepticism.” 

  • BBD

    NiV

    The comparison of a shallow pond with the atmosphere is invalid. The pond is inside the atmosphere.

    You need to consider the conductive cooling across the surface skin layer of the pond and how it is modulated by the temperature of the air immediately above it. This is very, very different from the way heat radiates into space at TOA. That alone invalidates the comparison.

    Water absorbs SW very much more efficiently than the atmosphere and just saying ‘a shallow pond’ is not enough to provide a workable equivalence. How much energy reaches the bottom of the pond vs TOA to surface?

    Then there’s convection vs radiation. Convective heat transport will be dominant in a shallow pond heated by the sun. The analogy with the atmosphere breaks down further. It is not a means by which we can understand more about radiative transfer in the atmosphere. There’s no point in going any further. It’s an invalid comparison.

    He eventually conceded that I was right about the physics, but wrong to put my particular emphasis/interpretation on it.

    Please link to the thread/comment at SoD. I would like to read this exchange.

  • huxley

    Let’s be clear about this. You made a false claim that Brand endorses Ehrlich’s argument in The Population Bomb. You cannot back it up with any quotes from WED because it’s not true.

    BBD: From here on out, please quote my words rather than present your paraphrase. Both you and OPatrick distort what I say.

    I said that “Brand defends Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb.” The quote I had in mind was actually from Brand’s “Heresies” article a few years ago.

    Paul [Ehrlich] is a first-rate field biologist with an enviable track record in theory as well””he and Peter Raven co-invented the important concept of co-evolution. He may be the most humorous scientist alive. His prophecies about overpopulation were highly important in drawing attention to the issue and may rank as one of the great self-defeating prophecies. World saved: Ehrlich embarrassed. Pretty good deal. He was right to be wrong.

    http://www.conservationmagazine.org/2008/07/environmental-heresies/

  • Nullius in Verba

    #118,
    The differences in the physics at the surface are not relevant. If you arranged for a pond to radiate in the same way as the TOA, the same issue would arise. But what I was asking about was not whether the comparison was valid, but given your understanding of the radiative greenhouse effect physics, by how much would the bottom of the pond be warmer than the top? Arguing that the top surface exchanges heat differently with the outside world has no bearing on the top-bottom difference.

    The absorption of shortwave by water is likewise not relevant. We can say “most of it”, or we can idealise the thought experiment and say all of it. (In the atmosphere, clouds block a lot – so I’d dispute the claim that water absorbs more in a pond than in the atmosphere.)

    You get the right answer by mentioning convection (well done!) – but this of course is the point. The conventional radiative explanation involving “trapping” of longwave and backradiation completely omits any mention of convection. In a convective fluid, convection prevents any build up of excess heat near the bottom, because as soon as the temperature increases the fluid rises and carries the heat away.

    In water, we can predict that the temperature difference between top and bottom will be zero (near enough) because even though it meets all the stated requirements for trapping radiation and having down-welling backradiation, these effects are completely nullified by convection. Back radiation has absolutely no effect!

    But we see a curious doublethink, here. While adherents find it perfectly obvious that backradiation can have absolutely no warming effect in water because of convection, and I’m an idiot for having suggested otherwise – when they make exactly the same argument for the convecting atmosphere, with no mention at all of convection or why it wouldn’t have exactly the same effect, they find it absolutely outrageous that anyone should question the idea that if you have backradiation then you must get greenhouse warming!

    The fact you can have a situation where backradiation does not result in warming means that the backradiation argument is not an explanation. The fact that when you talk about water instead of air everybody finds this perfectly obvious means that the physics I’m using is not unconventional. The fact that on being confronted with the inconsistency, adherents insist that the situations are not comparable because water convects (like air doesn’t?) and because climate scientists take convection into account (which I’d already said) shows the power of convention.
    Back radiation does occur, and is a part of the mechanism. But it is not “the explanation” for the magnitude of the warming – it’s an ancillary effect constrained by other factors.
    -
    The SoD comment I was thinking of was at Judith’s place. (http://judithcurry.com/2010/11/30/physics-of-the-atmospheric-greenhouse-effect/#comment-17521)
    “The “real mechanism” as Nullius and Leonard Weinstein describe is correct
    “It isn’t one vs the other. One is a consequence of the other. The “controlling mechanism” is the radiative cooling to space which is determined by the effective height of the radiation. Downward surface radiation from the atmosphere increases as a result. All are linked.”

    You might also find the follow-on thread interesting. If you scroll to the bit on the “Radiative-convective perspective” in the main post you’ll find what we’re talking about.
    http://judithcurry.com/2010/12/02/best-of-the-greenhouse/#comment-17887

  • BBD

    huxley

    BBD: From here on out, please quote my words rather than present your paraphrase. Both you and OPatrick distort what I say.
    I said that “Brand defends Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb.” The quote I had in mind was actually from Brand’s “Heresies” article a few years ago.

    #81

    However, he is definitely neo-Malthusian. In Whole Earth Discipline Brand defends Paul Ehrlich and James Lovelock

    Where does Brand defend neo-Malthusianism?

    In the article you link, he goes on to say this:

    These days I’m worried about population again, but it’s the disruptions of depopulation this time. The birth rates everywhere are plummeting so rapidly (thanks mostly to rampant urbanization) that by mid-century the whole world will be facing the kind of demographic crises now threatening Russia and Japan. Population accelerated exponentially upward in the twentieth century and is accelerating exponentially downward in this century.

    That is not a defence of neo-Malthusianism, nor of Ehrlich. The opposite, in fact. It is also what he argues in WED.

    I think we can stop now. You could concede that you were wrong, of course.

  • huxley

    Neo-Malthusianism generally refers to people with the same basic concerns as Malthus who advocate for population control programs to ensure enough resources for current and future populations. (Wiki)

    Brand is still concerned about population control and resources. He concedes that, for the time being, we have beaten his and Ehrlich’s apocalpytic Malthusianism of the sixties and seventies via urbanization and technology, but he still sees the world in crisis which could rapidly depopulate due to global warming. He still recommends Ehrlich and Lovelock, both personal mentors, who see the future of humanity in the same bleak apocalyptic terms, barring some huge green mobilization.

    Brand is still a neo-Malthusian, just more honest and cheerful than most.

    Given the unlikelihood of the all-out green programs that Brand, Ehrlich, and Lovelock believe are necessary, we are doomed now as much as we were back when Brand was writing his “Apocalypse Juggernaut, Hello” columns in the CoEvolution Quarterly — we just have more decades, give or take, before the planet’s ecology collapses, followed by the human population.

  • BBD

    huxley

    Still at it then.

    Given the unlikelihood of the all-out green programs that Brand, Ehrlich, and Lovelock believe are necessary


    Normally, I would ask you to list the all-out green programs that Brand believes is necessary. But something tells me this will waste time. So I will list them for you:


    - Rapid expansion of nuclear
    - GMOs for all
    - Full-on R&D into biotech and gene-hacking

    He also enthuses about urbanisation in the developing world.

  • Nullius in Verba

    I’m not complaining, but my last comment has been sat in moderation for two days, now. I assume it’s just been forgotten.

  • Keith Kloor

    You should email when that happens, because it’s just a simple oversight. If I’m busy and I’m not staying in top of the comments, then sometimes that happens.

    In fact, I not only just fished your comment out of moderation, but also one from TB and EdG. 

    Sorry, folks. Been a hectic few days. 

  • Nullius in Verba

    Thanks.

  • BBD

    NiV

    The differences in the physics at the surface are not relevant. If you arranged for a pond to radiate in the same way as the TOA, the same issue would arise.

    But would it? The physical properties of liquid water and atmospheric gasses are different. Which is why the way the ocean warms is different to the way the atmosphere warms. Or a pond. It all hinges on the fact that, compared to the atmosphere, liquid water is nearly opaque to LW. This is why you like ponds, I suspect ;-)

    The analogy is superficially persuasive, I agree, but it’s also invalid.

    But what I was asking about was not whether the comparison was valid
    :)

    And then:

    You get the right answer by mentioning convection (well done!) ““ but this of course is the point. The conventional radiative explanation involving “trapping” of longwave and backradiation completely omits any mention of convection.

    This is incorrect. The effects of convection have been explored for decades ever since first addressed by the Manabe-Wetherald one-dimensional radiative-convective model.

    Sorry NiV, but that’s as far as I’m prepared to go here. I’ll stick with my opinion that the analogy is invalid, and not a basis for productive debate.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #127,
    Thanks, BBD. That’s what I said.

  • BBD

    Er?

  • Nullius in Verba

    #129,
    I agree that the physics of water and air were different – the point being that the radiative physics of the usual greenhouse effect explanation applied to water, but the non-radiative parts did not.
    The actual physical difference between the two is that air is compressible and water is not. But that wouldn’t be at all obvious to someone raised on the ‘trapping’ or ‘backradiation’ arguments.

    And that the Manabe-Wetherald radiative-convective explanation is correct, and the pure-radiative ‘trapping’ and ‘backradiation’ arguments are not, is my whole argument. That the Manabe-Wetherald approach is the one used by climate scientists when they do their calculations, and the ‘trapping’/'backradiation’ arguments are not was what I said.

    The ‘trapping’ argument, that like a greenhouse radiation could get in but not get out, was the original explanation of Fourier, Tyndall, Arrhenius, and so on. It was realised to be wrong in 1909, when it was found greenhouses worked exactly the same whether the glass was opaque to IR or not, and the critical role of convection and compressibility was realised in or around the 1960s. If air was not compressible, then as in water, convection would prevent any trapped heat being retained near the ground. There would be no ‘greenhouse’ warming at all, despite all the conditions of the Fourier explanation being met.

    And yet you still see the unqualified ‘trapping’ argument and ‘backradiation’ argument being trotted out, and people still believing the radiative transfer equations determine the result, or that it is a simple matter of accepting that CO2 absorbs IR and all else follows, and the actual correct explanation is scarcely mentioned. It’s only mentioned at all when someone points out that the provided explanation is wrong, and then they act as if the radiative-convective thing was what they had been saying all along. No you weren’t!

    And that why when you ask people who think in terms of the usual explanation to explain how the greenhouse physics works in a pond of water, they can’t answer you. If you understand the true mechanism, it’s simple. The temperature at the bottom is the effective radiative temperature plus the lapse rate times the average emission altitude. In water the lapse rate is near zero and the emission altitude is small, so there’s no temperature difference. In air, both are large, so there’s significant greenhouse warming. (And if the lapse rate was negative, more greenhouse gases would cause cooling!) The same equation, the same physics applies to both – unifying them into a common picture.

    But if you only know the wrong explanation, then trying to apply it to water leads to confusion, and you have to fall back on lame arguments about the situations not being equivalent, because other aspects of the physics make the backradiation argument fail. Which of course was the entire point of the thought experiment.

    So yes, that’s what I said.

  • BBD

    NiV

    Water is opaque to LW. Your argument doesn’t work.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #131,
    Being opaque to LW is precisely the property of a greenhouse gas that makes it such. To say that my explanation of the greenhouse effect doesn’t work because liquid water is such an incredibly powerful ‘greenhouse’ agent is perverse.

    CO2 is opaque to LW. What’s the difference?

  • BBD

    Concentration!!

    Liquid water ALMOST COMPLETELY OPAQUE to LW. Water VAPOUR in the atmosphere is a GHG. As is CO2.

    Can’t you understand what you are doing here? It’s a completely invalid analogy. You cannot compare a LIQUID that is OPAQUE to LW with a gaseous atmosphere that isn’t.

    Or you end up with craziness. Can’t you see what you’ve done here?

  • BBD

    I’ve just driven 300 miles in some of the worst weather I’ve seen this year, mostly in the dark and in heavy traffic. I’m tired.

    Do me a favour. Remind me what on earth is the point of this conversation? Do you actually suggest that there is any problem with the calculated surface temperature change for, say 550ppmv CO2?

    Or is this a purely esoteric and definitional exercise whereby you make the not-especially-interesting point that many people don’t really understand that it’s radiative-convective, not purely radiative physics?

     

  • EdG

    BBD – You didn’t use any fossil fuels for that trip, did you?

  • BBD

    EdG

    My annual road mileage is under 4,500 a year. I last flew in 2003.

  • EdG

    # 138 BBD. Congratulations for walking the walk. I wish every person with your views would simply do that, and lead by example.

  • Nullius in Verba

    BBD, you’re trying to make a distinction that doesn’t exist. Any material that absorbs radiation will be transparent if thin enough and opaque if thick enough – the only difference is the thickness of material needed to absorb all the radiation. Liquid water is doing exactly the same thing as water vapour, simply at a much higher density and hence over a much shorter length. They’re not different phenomena.

    I’d suggest you have a break, rest up, and then maybe have another think about it when you’re not so tired. I’ll still be here, I expect.

    I believe the purpose of the conversation was to determine whether someone here was a “grade-1 bullshitter”, as you put it. I’d like to congratulate you, by the way, on not taking the word of either a professor of climatology or scienceofdoom’s textbooks that I’d got the physics right. Bravo! Just the right attitude!

    Have a nice evening (or whatever), and I’ll talk to you again when you’re not so tired.

  • BBD

    NiV

    What I am struggling to understand is the way that you see equivalence between a body of liquid water and an atmosphere containing some gasses at varying concentrations that are capable of absorbing and re-radiating LW.

    The pond is always almost completely opaque to LW. The atmosphere is not and opacity varies depending on the fraction of GHGs.

    So the role of LW in the way a pond heats up in sunlight is very different to the role of LW in the heating of the atmosphere.

    There is certainly a distinction:

    Liquid water is doing exactly the same thing as water vapour, simply at a much higher density and hence over a much shorter length. They’re not different phenomena.


    Again, to be clear: the atmosphere is a mixture of gasses with different opacities to LW. A pond is a pond.

  • BBD

    EdG

    I’m not trying to lead by example ;-) More nuclear baseload and a phase-out of coal is my idea of constructive climate policy. Haranguing Jo Public about energy use isn’t going to achieve much. Designing new gadgets (including cars) to use less energy (or run on electricity instead of petrol) is going to achieve far more.

    Also, I’m lucky. I don’t have to commute in a car because there’s no public transport alternative. I can walk to the shops in town. And my family like going to Cornwall (in the car; ~400miles round trip) for the summer holiday. I’m not forced to get on a jet. Not everyone has it so easy ;-)

  • Nullius in Verba

    #139,
    A pond is simply what you get when the fraction of GHGs hits 100%. (Or very slightly less, because there’s always some dissolved air.)

    Water completely absorbs thermal radiation in about 20 microns, which is roughly 200,000 molecules thickness. That’s quite a long way by physics standards. It’s small on a human scale, which is why we can often usefully approximate the situation as instantaneous, and the substance as “totally opaque”, but no susbstance ever is. There’s always some degree of translucency. The most familiar example may be when they spread atoms of Gold across glass to make it conductive (but still transparent) for things like LCDs.

    Water vapour in air is simply water diluted to the point that this translucent depth is discernable on a human scale. But the full thickness of the atmosphere is also “totally opaque” in the same sense, as a lot of the wavebands are saturated. All the radiation from the ground at those wavelengths is absorbed before it reaches space. (As pointed out by Angstrom in 1901.)

    The same applies to any substance: mixture or pure compound; solid, liquid, or gas. It’s just individual molecules absorbing or emitting photons – they can’t tell if they’re in the middle of a whole bunch of similar molecules or out on their own. Close together or far apart, they absorb radiation just the same.

  • BBD

    To save space, I’m happy with Pekka Pirila’s response to you on the Curry thread.

    I remain unconvinced. Your analogy of liquid water and atmosphere collapses the vertical scale of radiative effects and exaggerates the convective. This favours your position. Fair enough, but it doesn’t persuade me that you are correct.

  • Nullius in Verba

    BBD,
    Pekka’s response – apart from one minor nitpick – was fine. I agreed with all his points. He hoped somebody would be able to come up with a correct explanation using his preferred ‘energy balance’ paradigm, and I’m not going to say it would be impossible to do.

    I’m also happy for people to remain unconvinced – it motivates them to try to pick holes in my explanation. The main thing I’m aiming for is understanding. So long as you’re not misunderstanding me, it’s up to you whether you believe it. And it’s always a good idea to take the time to really think new ideas through – their implications, generalisations, special cases – before jumping ship.

    If you want to think about it and then try to articulate why you remain unconvinced, I’ll be happy to try to help fill in any gaps. Or if you’d rather drop it, that’s OK too.
    Since the post has dropped off the front page, it might be best to wait for the next time the topic comes up.

  • BBD

    NiV

    I’m thinking about what you say. I hope #142 is evidence of that.

    @ 134 I asked you:

    Do you actually suggest that there is any problem with the calculated surface temperature change for, say 550ppmv CO2?


    You didn’t respond, but this is, of course, central. Mind if I ask again? I’m trying to understand how close you are to Leonard Weinstein’s position.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #144,
    “I’m thinking about what you say. I hope #142 is evidence of that.”
    I recognise that – but I didn’t want to push it. You earned my respect for that. But given the previous antipathy between us I thought that might come off as patronising if I made a big deal of pointing it out, which wouldn’t be what I intended.

    “Do you actually suggest that there is any problem with the calculated surface temperature change for, say 550ppmv CO2?”
    The actual surface temperature change depends on feedbacks, other forcings, and nonlinear, multidimensional aspects of the climate system that make the simplified 1D forcing/feedback paradigm inapplicable – on those subjects I’m a lot more sceptical. If by “calculated” you mean by the general circulation climate models, I don’t think the models do a good job.

    But if you mean the calculated change ceteris paribus, sans-feedbacks, from the CO2 change alone, then I would think Leonard and I to be in full agreement.

  • BBD

    NiV

    So you would be in full agreement with Leonard Weinstein (no-feedbacks). Time for some home truths then.

    Let’s start with the first bit of misrepresentation. In you original comment at JC’s, you said:

    Climate scientists do know how the basic greenhouse physics works, and they model it using the Manabe and Wetherald approach. But almost universally, when they try to explain it, they all use the purely radiative approach, which is incorrect, misleading, contrary to observation, and results in a variety of inconsistencies when people try to plug real atmospheric physics into a bad model.

    Far from endorsing this nonsense, as you now claim, SoD warns you that you are talking crap:

    1. I would like to comment on “when they try to explain it”.
    In atmospheric physics text books and papers on the subject, when climate scientists “try to explain it” the explanation is correct.
    Perhaps someone did it incorrectly once, but I haven’t found it yet in any technical publications discussing this subject.

    You freely acknowledge that SoD is not endorsing your views fully in your response slightly later here:

    We’ve had this discussion before, of course. I still respectfully disagree.
    (Respectfully because I’ve learned a great deal from your excellent site.)

    Which reveals this remark to me as deliberately misleading over-statement:

    I believe the purpose of the conversation was to determine whether someone here was a “grade-1 bullshitter”, as you put it. I’d like to congratulate you, by the way, on not taking the word of either a professor of climatology or scienceofdoom’s textbooks that I’d got the physics right. Bravo! Just the right attitude!

    You then go on to imply that your explanation of the radiative-convective physics at JC’s is a justification for your misleading pond/atmosphere analogy. The one that you use as part of a misrepresentation of the effects of absorption and re-radiation by GHGs within the atmosphere.

    SoD helpfully illustrates where you have distorted your explanation:

    However, the idea that “back radiation” is irrelevant is not really correct. It is essentially a complementary effect.

    How is it possible for surface temperatures to increase under this model? Surface fluxes must balance. Yet solar radiation is still the same. A higher surface temperature will cause a higher convective flux and a higher radiative upwards flux. (Increase in energy from the surface).

    How is this possible? There must be a balancing surface item. The balancing item is the back radiation. More “greenhouse” gases will cause more downward radiation (lowering effective altitude of downward radiation).

    It isn’t one vs the other. One is a consequence of the other. The “controlling mechanism” is the radiative cooling to space which is determined by the effective height of the radiation. Downward surface radiation from the atmosphere increases as a result. All are linked.

    As we both know, SoD continues his attempts to bring clarity to the muddy pond here. Other commenters (RB; PP) join in.

    To summarise SoD:

    It’s a confused statement.

    And:

    Saying back radiation “has no effect” seems like such a strange statement I think I haven’t understood the point of the statement maker.

    I think that deserves emphasis, so I have added some.

    All this begs the question:

    If you actually believe that you have seen a paradigm-shifting error in the current understanding of atmospheric physics, then what the f-k are you doing chattering about it in blog comments? Seriously?

    Why have you not formalised your argument and published? Presumably to international consternation, followed rapidly by acclaim and probably a Nobel?

    Why indeed. The only possible answer is that you are simply a grade-1 bullshitter. If you were anything more, the world would be familiar with your real name. As it is with those of Manabe and Weatherald, Ramanathan and Coakley, Trenberth and of course, Hansen.

  • Alexander Harvey

    BBD & NiV,

    A striking feature of the atmosphere is that the tropopause is so very cold, far below the temperature of a black body surface that would radiate to space at the same rate as the inbound SW radiation.

    The mechanism for this chilling is the ability for GHGs to mediate the conversion of thermal energy to radiant energy and vice versa but it is the conversion from thermal to radiative that on average domnates throughout the troposheric column. This may well be why people take issue with an emphasis on the more minor effect which is the one that I think people are referring to as “heat trapping”. In such terms the atmosphere is primary “heat releasing”. Were this not so the existance of thesensible and latent fluxes would not make much sense.

    The existence of a cold tropopause indicates the necessity of a net flux from the atmosphere towards space (somewhere yet colder) and that requires a net flux or fluxes from the surface into the atmosphere, if the direct SW heating of the atmosphere is less than the LW radiative cooling of the atmosphere. I think that this is why people may struggle with any simplified “back radiation”  explanation of the GHE if it is clear to them that the majority flux will be outbound.

    I think that much confusion has been caused by attempts to dumb down the physics to the point were it doesn’t make much sense, or to rely on metaphors.

    I suggest that any explanation of the surface warming above its temperature were the atmosphere LW transparent, (the GHE) must simultaneously explain why the troposphere is much colder than that temperature, the Ice Box Effect (IBE). I have said elsewhere that calling it the GHE is very anthropocentric, were we the geese that overfly the Himalayas, we might be much more interested in why the top of the atmosphere was so very cold.

    In the Earth’s troposhere the GHE and IBE are companions, one boundary is hotter and the other colder than it would be if there were no GHGs in the atmosphere. Were I asked for one single observation that would lead me to suppose the existence of the GHE I would point to the existence of a very cold tropopause.

    Although I use different terms and emphasis my view is close to the explanation taught by Manabe to his students some ~40 years ago, (Isaac Held gave that explanation in the presence of his old mentor,) However I think I may differ in singling out the tropopause cooling as a tell-tale.

    If little of the above makes much sense it could be either that I be mad, or that the current simplified explanations have proved to be misleading, or rather that extentions based on them lead to suggestions that seem a bit screwy.

    Alex

  • Nullius in Verba

    #146,
    Just at the moment you do something worth a little respect, you have to go and blow it. I thought your earlier comments had actually shown a little maturity.


    #147,
    The cold tropopause is mainly because it is above the average emission altitude. The adiabatic lapse rate causes cooling above as it causes warming below.

    Although in fact even in the pure radiative model, the very top of the atmosphere is at a similar temperature. The topmost minimally-opaque layer is of finite thickness, the bottom is at the effective radiative temperature -20 C, but the top of it is warmed by the Earth below, and tends towards the effective radiative temperature (in Kelvin) divided by the fourth root of 2. This is because it receives the heat radiated by the Earth from below, and then re-radiates that in both directions. Receiving W units of power, it radiates W/2 up and W/2 down, and the temperature needed to radiate W/2 units is the temperature needed to radiate W units divided by the fourth root of 2.

    Again, not something commonly discussed in explanations.

  • Alexander Harvey

    Hi Niv:


    “The adiabatic lapse rate causes cooling above as it causes warming below.”

    I do hear people say this and I really am not sure what is being thought.

    The lapse rate is compatible with cooling above but of its self would tend to transfer heat upwards, in this case in repsonse to an separate existing cooling effect. It is maintained by a cooling effect, it is a response to, not a cause of a cooling effect.

    If you are invoking Stefan’s Law to give you a fouth power relationship then an absence of a black body radiator in the atmosphere is problematic. It is my general view that invoking Stefan’s Law for anything other than at surfaces that are very nearly black in the IR, leads to poor outcomes, in the sense that it can lead to spurious precision. It may happen to give about the correct tropopause temperature globally for an SW energy flux averaged globally but fail locally, e.g. to indicate that the tropopause tends to be cooler over the tropics than at the poles.

    Alex

  • Nullius in Verba

    Why wouldn’t the lapse rate act as a cause of cooling?

    Consider how a refrigerator works. A fluid is alternately expanded and compressed, around a cycle. When compressed it gets warmer than average (and then flows through the radiator fins on the back of the refrigerator), and when expanded it gets cooler than average (on the inside of the refrigerator). The coolant cools in response to being forced round the expansion-contraction cycle, not in response to an external cooling.

    Air in the atmosphere is forced round a cycle – the Hadley cells – by convection. Near the ground it is compressed. At the top of the troposphere it expands. What would happen to the temperature at the top?

    The heat flux is still always upwards, but adiabatic cooling occurs without a corresponding flow of heat. (That’s what ‘adiabatic’ means.)

    However, you’re right in a deeper sense because the tropopause is the point at which the radiative ‘trapping’ mechanism and the radiative-convective ‘lapse rate’ mechanism exchange places.

    The ‘trapping’ argument would be the correct explanation in a non-convective atmosphere. The atmosphere is divided into minimaly-opaque shells, the number of shells (counting from the top) is called the optical depth. The topmost shell radiates all the energy the Earth receives back out into space, so its average temperature is the average radiative temperature. But the top of the shell is getting radiant heat from below and none from above, so it will actually be a little cooler than this – in fact, 84% of the effective radiative temperature. If Teff is 253 K, the top of the topmost layer will be 213 K, or -60 C.

    Heading down, the temperature rises linearly with optical depth, and hence exponentially with actual depth, (since the density increase is approximately exponential). The gradient would be much steeper, and the average surface temperature would be around 65-70 C. That would be what we’d see if the ‘trapping’/'backradiation’ argument was actually correct.

    Below the tropopause, it is not, because the induced gradient is so steep it triggers convection. However, at the tropopause, the two mechanisms are both valid, so the ‘warmed from below, cooling to space’ limiting temperature of -60 C is approximately valid. It’s a bit warmer than that, because the adiabatic lapse has made the air in the bottom half of the topmost shell cooler than it would otherwise be (with a less steep gradient), but it’s close enough.

    Local details like the difference between the polar and tropical tropopauses depend on a multitude of effects – different insolation, albedo, humidity (and hence lapse rate), ozone concentration, altitude, and the horizontal transfer of heat by large-scale circulation. It’s not simple. But just from the point of view of understanding the basic mechanism, and why GHGs will have an effect, you can get away with a lot less.

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Collide-a-Scape

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

About Keith Kloor

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

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