An Awkward Climate Mixer

By Keith Kloor | February 29, 2012 12:26 pm

I’ve been a bit tortured over this climate endeavor. On the one hand, it involves some really smart people who are bringing the insights of evolutionary biology and social science into the climate change discussion. I’ve found this immensely helpful in my own thinking about the sociopolitical dynamics of the climate debate.

But on the other hand, I’ve been discomfited by the framework for the Climate, Mind, and Behavior Project, or rather the way it mixes activists with researchers at its annual symposium. Despite my misgivings, I’ve enjoyed the two events I’ve attended and walked away with  favorable impressions of numerous speakers. I guess I just prefer stricter boundaries at such affairs.

Anyway, I try to sort through my ambivalence at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media.

  • harrywr2

    You are not the only one that prefers ‘scientific’ symposiums to be separated from ‘activist’ gatherings.
     

  • Jarmo

    Past leadership retreats and programs include theSatyagraha Project, exploring how the lineage of Gandhi, King and nonviolent thought applies to the climate movement; the early formative meetings of Green for All, a national organization dedicated to building an inclusive green economy; and the founding retreats of the national 1sky network of organizations working together for a society-wide mobilization for bold action on climate change.

    Society-wide mobilization for bold climate action… inclusive green economy…. what are these?

  • grypo

    Kloor:
    Those who insist that climate disinformation from corporate interests and various think tanks is the primary reason for public confusion on global warming might want to consider this observation from Megan McArdle at the Atlantic website:

    Wait?  Didn’t McArdle just relay some climate disinformation from corporate interests and various think tanks”?

  • grypo

    That didn’t post half my comment.  Not worth it anyway.

  • harrywr2

    #2 Jarmo,

    Society-wide mobilization for bold climate action”¦ inclusive green economy”¦. what are these?
    And they wonder why they are having ‘communications’ challenges.

  • Anteros

    An interesting post. I agree with you strongly about the need for some serious demarcation between advocacy and science. There may not seem much difference between environmental and environmentalist, but if you link up the latter with the word ‘scientist’ you’re left with an oxymoron.

    I think the history of science if filled to the brim with activists, ideologues and cranks determined to prove their theories correct. It is naive to think that science functions otherwise, but it makes a huge difference to know the agendas and beliefs that underlie people’s work and publications.

    I’m not so convinced about the problems of individuals being ‘anti-science’, because I think there is a valuable place for the things that these people are highlighting that the modern obsession with science tends to marginalise.

    This relates to the first point about demarcation between science and everything else, because there are those who believe that science is everything and the rest of our knowledge, understanding and values must give way. Michael Mann for instance simply says “the science has spoken” as if it’s the word of God.

    I think he’s wrong, and his attitude is the reason many people make comparisons to high priests, fundamentalism and dogma.

  • Jeff

    Well, the climate-denying conservatives are certain to come around when they hear that scientists are attempting to study their brains to figure why they don’t believe in the gospel of the left.

  • EdG

    From the link to that meeting:

    “At the core of this work lies the search for mental models that not only better account for human economic choices and market dynamics, but also allow for new thinking to emerge.”

    Wow. These would-be social engineers people would have been very happy in the USSR.

    This encapsulates the opposite of democracy. Extremely offensive. And in this particular case, their problem remains that the AGW Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall and more attempted brainwashing of the public cannot fix it.

    And the irony of them building “mental models” to attempt to save a mission built on more junk models is almost too sweet.

    I wish them all the failure in the world.

  • grypo

    “Wow. These would-be social engineers people would have been very happy in the USSR.”

    Or any marketing training program. 

  • Tom Scharf

    I think if you turned this on its head and the skeptics had this type of get together, the AGW faithful would have a very clear word for it:

    P.R.O.P.A.G.A.N.D.A.

    Wikepedia: Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position.

    For example renaming inheritances taxes to death taxes was successful propaganda.  These meetings are not strategy meetings in the sense that any discussion occurs with respect to changing positions on any topics or offering a new deal for debate.  They are simply pointless searches for a messaging silver bullet to be used in the grand green unicorn hunt.
    As I have commented numerous times, I find it curiously amusing that these conferences have no time to listen to speakers from the other side.  

    The assumption is of course they know the opposition so well that this would be a waste of their time.  I suggest what they understand is a caricature of the opposition.   

    The irony is thick that within a week of this meeting of the great messaging minds of AGW, they are publicly debating whether Gleick’s actions were in fact unethical.  I guess there wasn’t a session on whether credibility is important in a public debate.

    Wikipedia: Credibility refers to the objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message.  

  • EdG

    #9 “Or any marketing training program.”

    Agree. From day one the whole AGW Project has been an elaborate attempt to sell their wares. I suppose the closest ‘marketing’ parallel – outside of the Military-Industrial complex sales plan – would be the marketing of vaccines by Big Pharma with the help of their partners at the WHO.

    Fear-based sales campaigns have the added appeal of turning the potential customers into unthinking scared sheep who will buy anything. 

    The difference here is, of course, these salesmen are selling very expensive junk for the benefit of a few while pretending they are saving the planet. The same applies to almost all environmental projects these days.

    No doubt about it. The USA looks more like the old USSR every day.

  • Jarmo

    #5

    Society-wide mobilization… like this?

     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijvTiDnWJLE

  • Menth

    Well I just happened to look at the 2010 Garrison annual report and who do I see under “Funders”?

    SHELL INTERNATIONAL

    Discuss.

    http://www.garrisoninstitute.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=573

  • Foxgoose

    Sounds like you might have attended the first “Greenshirts” rally Keith.

  • Fred

    Keith:
    “…bringing the insights of evolutionary biology and social science into the climate change discussion.”

    What a joke.

    Certainly, this not what many of us would see as real or productive work. And it is in service of “scientific” views many of us are keenly aware are bs.
    But you are enjoying great scenery on the banks of the Hudson River and being well fed. My recommendation is to smile a lot, act pleasant, and enjoy it. Certainly you can mouth platitudes and nonsense and get by in the environment you describe. Ride this horse as long as you can.

  • Nullius in Verba

    Keith, you have my sympathy. Keep an eye on where those misgivings lead you; cognitive dissonance can push either way.

  • DeNihilist

    O/T – nice to see the ads Keith

  • Barry Woods

    Is it just me getting the date asia website ads.. at CaS

    classy ;-)  

    Have to laugh when google adds pop up green solutions stuff, at Climate audit/WUWT on occasion. 

  • Martha

    Keith ““the U.S. does not have a strong cultural history of social change through social movements, and little comfort with it.  Perhaps that’s part of it, for you? 
    M

  • Keith Kloor

    Martha (19) My discomfit is a journalistic thing, nor am I the only one who feels this way.

    Barry (18) Google adsense is customized to web preferences of users.

  • Bobito

    Hi Keith, I’m new to your blog and have been refreshed by a blog host that isn’t waving a flag of tribalism one way or another.  There are a couple out there, but difficult to find…

    It’s interesting you mentioned “violation of church and state” in your post on the Yale Forum.  Because in regards to finding a “compelling message” for the Pro AGW crowd, I believe Pascal Wager is the only hope they have at the moment.  Since there isn’t any proof of Earth’s eternal damnation, scare tactics are the best option. 

    PS:  @20, response to Barry, LOL!!!! 

  • Menth

    I don’t understand why those around here who are adamant about the corrupting influence of fossil fuel industry funding do not show any concern over the fact that this institute is funded by Shell International. Fossil fuel funding for me but not for thee?

    http://www.garrisoninstitute.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=573

    I’m not accusing anyone of hypocrisy, I’m just curious what the perspective is. Is it just Shell trying to get some green cred?

  • Bobito

    @22

    It’s not uncommon, BP and Shell have both funded the CRU. And I’m sure there are other examples.  Perhaps we can get Gleick to use his specialty to find them all out!

    I’m not sure why, it’s either your suggestion about “green cred”, or so they can say “we funded both sides” as a defense against favoring the “denier” side.  Or, they just don’t care which way this all shakes out.  

    Oil is a finite resource, they will still make there money regardless of how long it takes to sell it all.  And, perhaps, will make even more money should government regulations disrupt the price of Oil.

    I’ve heard people say that the Oil companies will make more money if a carbon tax is implemented on a global scale, but I lack the understanding of economics to fully comprehend how that could be…

  • harrywr2

    #23,
    Or, they just don’t care which way this all shakes out.
    Big Money doesn’t care what the rules of the game are as long as they get to maximize the profits of their existing assets.
    Regardless of how every much money Shell/BP/Exxon has tied up in ‘Oil in the ground’ the oil will be pumped out and sold long before any ‘Climate’ legislation would have an impact.
    Being in a position to influence the ‘pace’ of change is what big business wants.
     

  • Howard

    Marthe:”Keith ““the U.S. does not have a strong cultural history of social change through social movements, and little comfort with it.  Perhaps that’s part of it, for you? ”
    Absolutely except for the revolution that founded the country, the civil war to end slavery, the union movement, the conservation movement, woman’s sufferage, civil rights movement, anti-war movement, ecology movement

    The problem you have is that people spent the big bucks on conservation and ecology, but have yet to buy into the Newspeak “Green Movement”.

  • EdG
  • Jarmo

    #6 Anteros

     Michael Mann for instance simply says “the science has spoken“ as if it’s the word of God. I think he’s wrong, and his attitude is the reason many people make comparisons to high priests, fundamentalism and dogma. 


    These people include some of  the Greens and they are not at all opposed to the idea:

     It is not enough for us to do the right thing. Others must as well. If you don’t believe that, then there is no point in agitating for success in Copenhagen.
    But if collective consequences follow, others must be forced to do things against their will by our moral imperatives. This is exactly the quality that is supposed to be so very obnoxious about religion.

     I cannot ensure the survival of my grandchildren, nor even yours, without compelling you to behave in ways that science tells me are necessary. Not to act, not to coerce, itself becomes immoral.
    There is a further twist to the argument. Compulsion will be needed but compulsion alone won’t do it. People aren’t made like that. They need to believe in what they are forced to do. They need idealism, and that will also mean its dark side: the pressure of conformism, the force of self-righteousness, huge moral weight attached to practically useless gestures like unplugging phone chargers. They need, in fact, something that does look a lot like religion. But we can’t engineer it. It can only arise spontaneously. Should that happen, the denialists, who claim that it is all a religion, will for once be telling the truth, and when they do that, they’ll have lost. I just hope it doesn’t happen too late.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2009/nov/06/religion-atheism 

    Seems to me that these Greens should join Climate, Mind and Behaviour project that attempts to engineer the sort of change they desire.

  • harrywr2

    19 Martha
    the U.S. does not have a strong cultural history of social change
    My daughter is currently taking a class in ‘legal philosophy’.
    There is a difference between ‘continental’ and ‘US’ legal philosophical underpinnings related to the concept of ‘obligation’ or ‘duty’.
    In the ‘continental’ concept of duty we all have a duty to each other unless it is limited by contract or statute.
    In the ‘US’ legal concept of duty we only have a duty to each other if it is specified by contract or statute.
    The result is that from a continental perspective a ‘social contract’ exists even if written contract exists. In the US, absent a written contract…a ‘social contract’ does not exist.
    I am not my brothers keeper unless a specific contract is formed.
     

  • jeffn

    #28 Harry, you need to be very careful to emphasize that you are talking about law, not social contract or you miss the point about the US.
    I am my brothers keeper because it is moral imperative to be so. What this means is that the state can’t order me to pay for something stupid just because some goof wants to claim it’s a benefit to my brother. I get to choose how to benefit him. I might, for example opt not to give him heroin and needles and call it “treatment.”
    I might also decide that the best thing for him and his grandkids is to avoid tripling his power bill to raise money for windmills. But it is not true that, as an American, I have no social contract to be my brothers keeper.

  • Jarmo

    I think this approach is all wrong. 

    These people think they must convert all those who are either resisting or indifferent to the IPCC gospel into green thinking. Only then we can get rid of fossil fuels and cut emissions.

    However, some people have seen the light, for example Maggie Koerth-Baker. Here’s bits of the introduction of her book, emphasis mine:

    This is one thing that changed for me during the course of researching and writing Before the Lights Go Out, my upcoming book about the future of energy. I used to approach conversations about energy from a climate-centric perspective. First, I have to help people understand the science of climate change and get them past the misinformation and blatant lies surrounding that issue. THEN, we could talk about energy solutions.
    But now I think that perspective is dead wrong.
    Polls show that a majority of Americans want to change the way we make and use energy. What we disagree on is why that change needs to happen. The good news: We don’t have to agree on the “whys” to reach the same solutions. 

    Climate change is a lie.” The man leaned back in his chair and folded his arms over his chest. “Climate change is a lie,” he said again. “It’s just something made up by environmentalists to scare us.”
    I heard this story a few years after it actually happened, from Eileen Horn, one of the environmentalists who watched this man’s speech from the other side of a two-way mirror….. Opinions on climate change split right along the lines of favorite news sources. You will probably not be shocked to learn that the man who declared climate change a lie fell squarely on the Fox News side. Whether or not you disagree with him, his position was fairly predictable. You and I have met any number of people with the same background and ideas.
    Yet Horn remembered that man, specifically, because he changed her outlook on the world. In a way, he changed her life. Not because of his position on climate change, but because of what she learned about him””and other people like him””as the focus group continued.
    “No matter how the conversation started, whether they believed in climate change or not, the discussion always, eventually, turned to energy solutions,” she told me. “And when it did, it turned out that this guy drove a hybrid car and had changed all his lightbulbs out to CFLs.”

     http://boingboing.net/2012/03/01/do-we-need-to-talk-about-clima.html

    Anthony Watts drives an electric car, has led lighting and solar panels. Burt Rutan lives in an ultra-energy efficient house and all his aircraft designs have been studies in increased efficiency. Both of them distrust climate science and the IPCC.

    Virtually all nuclear power was built without any reference to climate change and against stiff green resistance. Europe cut down its dependence on oil because of the oil crisis.

    The question: have green activists and the like-minded climate scientists actually become part of the problem?

    It certainly seems so in the US.

  • Matt B

    @ 30 Jarmo,

    You are right on. Just like religion – there are plenty of people who live solid moral lives, yet have no use for the structure & lecturing of most religions. Behavior-wise, agnostic moral people’s behavior gets them to the same place as the (non-hypocritical) churchgoers. 

    It is a silly world where professed belief counts more than actual behavior. 

  • Jarmo

    #31 Matt B,

    The resemblance to religion is indeed great. 

    In Britain some guy tried to get environmentalism classified as a religious belief.

    To me personally, some green policies are a definite  turn-off and I hate the guilt trip stuff and preaching.

    Nevertheless, our house is energy-efficient (triple windows and goos insulation), uses ground thermal energy and a double circulation fireplace. Saving energy makes sense, it’s not a green monopoly.

     

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

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