Are You a Climate Change “Denier”?

Did you know that according to some folks, if you accept the scientific premise of climate change but happen to disagree with the fatuous and practically ineffective approaches to mitigating its effects by present means of harmful economic tinkering (mostly for political effect), you are now considered to be a “denier”?

I used to just laugh whenever conservatives derisively mocked environmentalists for being a quasi-religious movement, but perhaps in some respects they were on to something…

Seeing reasonable skeptics such as Bjørn Lomborg ostracized and treated as veritable heretics (aka “deniers”) lends significant credence to the argument that environmental fanatics aren’t essentially that much different in mindset from the hierarchy of the medieval Catholic church.



Filed under Energy, Environmental Policy, Liberal Idiots, Religion

62 responses to “Are You a Climate Change “Denier”?

  1. Rotterdam

    I always liked this guy. Liberal or conservative you should be for good policy.

  2. billg

    Left / Right….there’s always someone or some group that wants to throw a label or a tag on you for having the nerve to disagree. Lib blogger “Far and Wide” had a post Monday asking the question “why are all denier’s conservative”?…that was a weird one.

  3. I understand the tendency to simplistically frame things in that way for partisan reasons, but it really irks me sometimes because it’s actually kind of dumb in a lot of cases.

    I didn’t read Steve’s “Why are all denier’s [sic] conservative?” post but it’s not hard to imagine the gist of it. Oh… damn. Do I have to go read it now? Urghhh.

  4. billg

    There’s an interesting line in that interview where Lomborg states that study’s have indicated over 2,000 lives would be lost due to Global Warming, but, study’s also claim 20,000 lives would be saved due to Global warming. Now, being the right wing wing nut that I am, how in the hell can anyone come up with that figure? Claimer or Denier…I just want to know the formula for figuring that out. Thats the stuff that drives me nuts.

  5. Okay… It was actually a bit more thoughtful than I’d imagined.

    Funny that he would cite John Stuart Mill to support his argument. Granted, he was just riffing off his famous slam against conservatives of his day, but still.. JSM was a libertarian schooled in the theory of utilitarianism and therefore, if so inclined, it wouldn’t be difficult in the least to turn JSM’s individualistic “harm principle” into an attack on the grandiose concepts of environmentalists.


    Steve’s argument seems to boil down to the assertion that “deniers” simply aren’t grounded in “reality”… that’s an involved dispute in need of a post, not a comment.

  6. harebell

    Economists have a part to play in the economic response to climate change. But it probably doesn’t involve them being treated as experts on Climate Change, the effects of this on life around the earth or even how the weather might change. He has shown a willingness to exceed his knowledge on more than a few occasions and his data supporting his assertions have been found to be lacking. And that’s where I’d question “just how reasonable he is?”
    He is known for plucking figures to support his views out of very simplistic reasoning. In fact that was where the majority of the criticism of his first book began. Assuming that the effects of a large increase in carbon in the atmosphere would follow a linear increase was just the start.
    Being reasonable means reasoning properly and his history doesn’t support this quality.

  7. Just about everyone can be accused of cherry-picking the data they feel is complementary to or supportive of their argument(s). Environmentalists are no different in this regard even though they like to pretend with a perversely religious zeal they have “reality” and the overwhelming preponderance of scientific “facts” on their side even though considerable uncertainty is an inherently necessary feature of science.

    Climate change is an incredibly complicated issue with manifold economic implications… It seems to me that we’ve never really had a thoroughly comprehensive and honest discussion about it in this country. Why not have a Royal Commission on it?

  8. Peter

    The religious parallel becomes more apparent when one considers that there are very few people on this planet who have the professional skills and training to make a first-hand assessment of the longterm significance of the raw data or critique the sophisticated computer models. Despite this, and despite the paucity of confirming observations in their daily lives, the orthodox believe with a conviction that would impress the Jesuits. The word “denier” is key. Ostensibly an effort to put skeptics in the same relation to climate science as young earth creationists stand with respect to geology, it is a word used to disenfranchise anyone from participation in “respectable” debate, and as such comes close to being synonymous with heretic. That a man with the brilliance and scientific honesty of Lomberg (not to mention good sense) can be attacked and ostracized like this is actually a repudiation of science and shows that the Torqemadas of this world don’t all wear cassocks.

    I think another parallel is that Lomberg’s heresy is not his views on the severity or immanence of climate change. It’s his argument that we may have the technological ability to cope with it. Ever since Erlich in the late 60’s, the left has preached a kind of environmental millenialism that holds we must restrict, halt or even reverse material progress to avoid destruction. This, not scientific analysis and observations, is what really at bottom divides them from the right. It is in marked contrast to the old left that believed fervently in material advancement. From neo-malthusians to the Club of Rome to sustainable development groupies to peak oil preachers to the climate change faithful, it’s been all doomy and gloomy. Somewhere along the way, they decided optimism is for conservatives. Most of these cassandras have been proven largely or even egregiously wrong, but the beat goes on nevertheless. In fact, if you go back a hundred years, you will quickly see science’s predictive record about anything to do with humans and how they live is very, very spotty at best, but still many bow down at the alter of the oxymoron called “settled science”.

    A few years ago I came across an article about some young American engineer who claimed we could reverse climate change by sending millions of little computer-controlled mirrors into space to change and lessen solar radiation. Only in America. It was pretty crazy, but it was a hoot to imagine some Nobel prize-winning, bow-tied Ivy League sage who had authored seven gloomy books on how we had to go back to pioneer days or die furrow his brow over that one. Imagine, a lifetime of distinguished and lucrative intellectual pessimism undone by some crewcut from the Midwest roaring in and exclaiming: “Stop climate change? Can do!”

  9. klem

    “Now, being the right wing wing nut that I am, how in the hell can anyone come up with that figure? Claimer or Denier…I just want to know the formula for figuring that out. ”

    There is no formula, someone simply makes it up. The WHO says that 60 million peole die every year from everything, and this number varies by millions each year. There is no way to determine how accurate this estimate actually is and there is no way to filter out only 2000 from that number. So someone simply makes it up to forward their particular agenda.

    Last year the UN claimed that 300,000 have already died from AGW. Just another made up number to forward their particualr adjenda.

  10. Peter: Well put, sir!

    I just find it astounding that so many of our friends on the left are apparently quite satisfied with the notion of “settled science” which is a pretty laughable concept on its face; after all, the very essence of scientific inquiry demands that no concept is ever truly a “settled” matter beyond challenge. Even now, there are new understandings in quantum physics being developed about something as apparently straightforward as gravity…

    As for the shortcomings of predictive models, they are legion (and frequently hilarious in how badly wrong they can be – the idea of “Peak Coal” for example that was put forward in 1865). Adam Curtis, in his recent documentary series “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” (esp. “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts”) described how machine ideas such as cybernetics and systems theory were applied in the latter half of the 20th century to develop models of natural ecosystems, and how this resulted in the demonstrably false (but still widely accepted) idea that there’s a “balance of nature.” And so on.

    When it comes to climate-change, almost certainly there is an anthropogenic component involved, but, so what? We are highly adaptive – and inventive – creatures that will doubtless come to terms with the problem in due course. Maybe that will be in the form a technological “silver bullet” of some kind to mitigate its effects or (more likely) a gradual shift to renewable sources of energy, sustainable farming methods, etc., but for now, to borrow a quote from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t Panic!”

  11. Lars

    Just about everyone can be accused of cherry-picking the data they feel is complementary to or supportive of their argument(s)…

    Yes, but Lomoborg’s first book, The Sceptical Environmentalist, consisted largely of cherry picking to support his happy-clappy agenda. Fair enough – if that’s how economists do things, I won’t argue – right now I am sitting within a couple of hundred metres of the offices of a number of the Calgary School and that sort of unfairness is in the air here – but Lomborg is using this approach to evaluate scientific matters. In other words, like a lot of denialists, he is attempting to import the norms of the business, political and legal worlds, which come to think of it are fast fusing into one, into scientific discourse. And science doesn’t – can’t – work that way. That’s why environmental types get particularly irked with him. He’s pissing in the reservoir and telling us all that this improves the water no end.
    And you’re all listening to him.

  12. Lars: For someone attempting to defend the principle of scientific rigour, it’s more than a little ironic that your comment was an incoherent jumble of sloppy logic, fatuous assertions, and hollow rhetoric.

  13. harebell

    Any scientist should not regard any science as settled, but even given the advances in Quantum mechanics, any scientist that then queries the idea that when you drop something it will fall towards the earth isn’t a sceptic, they are plain wrong.
    I agree, as a species we are a highly adaptive and creative bunch, mainly thanks to those working in science and engineering. As individuals not so much. Given where the majority of the earth’s population live and these areas susceptibility to natural disasters I don’t think adaptation is going to occur on the scale required and a huge attrition rate should be expected and planned for.
    It is also telling that Peter chides folk for their millenarian approach to a variation on “the end of times prediction” even though the efforts of the folk he chides are in an effort to prevent just such an occurrence. When you couple that with yours and his expectation of a saviour arriving just in time, all messiah like, to save us all it gets much more “second coming” for my taste.
    The fact is if you accept that there is an “anthro” part of this effect, then there needs to be an “anthro” role in solving it and praying for the man in the white hat to arrive on time is not a sound plan in my opinion.

  14. In no sense am I expecting a “second coming” of any kind. As someone whose brief tenure on this planet will most certainly end in a few short years, it’s truly not that much of a concern to me.

    If as you suggest, “a huge attrition rate should be expected” due to the effects of global warming, well so what? Perhaps a virulent pandemic or some other fatal catastrophe could just as easily wipe them out anyway. Such is life. Besides, for those adherents of religious “faith” (the vast majority of people living on this rock, apparently) they will be rendered into another form of existence in any event, so what do they have to complain about?

    A little more seriously, we can all do our small part to help make things more sustainable here on planet Earth (provided of course it doesn’t inconvenience us over much, being the selfish creatures we are), but barring any radical paradigm shift in technology with immediate economic benefits, we’re stuck dealing with the available tools and energy sources at hand and finding ways of making them more efficient and less harmful. Which isn’t to say that things won’t change for the better over time – of course they will – but more likely that development will be evolutionary and incremental in nature.

  15. Peter

    any scientist that then queries the idea that when you drop something it will fall towards the earth isn’t a sceptic, they are plain wrong.

    Indeed, harebell, and the general public would see him as such. But why do you think that is? Do you think it is because something called the “scientific consensus” keep telling us their experiments in remote corners of the world confirm the theory of gravity? I suggest it is because everyone sees a confirmation of it a hundred times in their daily lives. The conundrum climate science is facing today is that the science keeps getting confirmed (ever more shrilly) yet the issue has dropped way down the radar of public priority. The reason for that is not because anyone is challenging ice core measurements in Greenland, it’s because public confidence that the consensus really understands what it all means and what should be done about it has dropped in light of hyper-alarmism that didn’t pan out, as least not yet. This issue has been with us for thirty years now and there have been a lot of scary predictions. At recently as five years ago, people were much more worried. Con M.P’s were all wearing green ties during an uncommonly mild winter. “See”, said the believers, “its happening”. Then we had three successive years of frigid winters and they told us weather is not climate and, besides, it was scorching on the other side of the world. Swedish tourists are still baking on the beaches of the Maldives and I’m unaware of any coastal city being swamped yet. I’ve actually tried to discuss this issue of nothing much happening (outside of the Arctic, which few witness) that I can observe with expert believers like John Cross, and the answer I get seems to be a list of quite isolated and rleatively minor changes (how many canaries in the coal mine is this issue going to produce before the main event starts?), along with accusations that I don’t understand something called noisy data sets. Quite true, I’m a goddam lawyer!!

    But what neither I nor any informed sceptic like Lomberg argue is that the answer lies in Genesis, and your Dawkins-like efforts to suggest anyone who questions the scientific establishment’s predictive abilities is doing that is more redolent of the Inquisition than the glory days of scientific inquiry. I am no more “denying” the science than one who questions the need for mass vaccinations (not risk-free) in light of yet another predicted flu pandemic is questioning germ theory. What in both cases is being said is that, based on their track records and what my lyin’ eyes tell me, the predictions experts are making based on their data are perhaps not as authoritative as they claim, or at least not as urgent. We may be right, we may be wrong, but that’s science for you and if you are going to slash the funding of a Lomberg because you have a scientific disagreement with him, then Galileo would like a word with you. And speaking of germ theory, one of science’s great success stories, it didn’t become widely accepted because experts kept repeating and confirming Leeuwenhoek’s experiments, it became accepted ( it took several generations) because people saw that hygiene, vaccinations and antibiotics worked. It’s a great tale, but let’s not forget all the brilliant scientific discoveries that proved to be hogwash before dismissing the public as know-nothings. People are not going to make major changes to their beliefs and lifestyles on the basis of measurements in faraway places and frightening complex computer projections when they see nothing much happening in their gardens after thirty years. Those who believe we should listen to wingnuts like Suzuki and start eating mass quantities of jelly fish to save the planet had better wait until Halifax is underwater before anybody pays much attention.

    The “denialist” slander is an effort to blur the scientific question of what observations and measurements reveal with the political question of what they mean and what should be done about them. At bottom it is scientism, not science, and a demand that the public surrender their democratic perogatives to the inscrutable and inaccessible world of the scientist. The little people will then be expected to believe without question.

  16. klem

    I do not find the label ‘Denier’ slanderous in any way. I enjoy being labeled a denier, it is a badge on honour. It tells me I’m on the right track.

  17. Klem: Heh. I appreciate your sentiments, but prefer the term “skeptic” as it’s more accurate and less pejorative. “Denier” implies irrationality and tacitly suggests that what you oppose is demonstrably true.

    It’s a misleading expression that Frank Luntz would be proud to take credit for.

  18. How come the “denier’s” and sceptics don’t challenge the dogma that is globalist market economics ?

  19. ATY: Good question, but I think you need to explain the relationship between the two concepts in more detail to get a properly informed response.

  20. Brad Dillman (TRN)

    I work with scientists every day. And while it makes sense to be open to scientific inquiry and questions, there is an issue with ‘gaming the system’. As long as someone, somewhere disagrees with anything no matter what, then the issue isn’t settled. If all the outstanding issues become settled, I could simply think of a new one, and prevent the issue from ever being settled.

    It kinda reminds me of a legal dispute that keeps getting appealed forever. I had such a dispute with a corporation once, and they used delay tactics to drag out the issue until they went bankrupt.

    I’d hate to see dealing climate issues delayed until the earth goes bankrupt.

  21. Brad: That’s a very interesting analogy that I’d never thought of.

    While you may lament the endless quibbling of a corporate plaintiff (supposedly just to delay matters or simply exhaust their opponent), isn’t the converse ability to appeal a matter on your client’s behalf equally valid? Presumably in both instances there are sufficient grounds to dispute the case, whether it concerns interpretation of the law itself, or the way in which judgement was specifically rendered…

  22. Craig Chamberlain

    Are you disputing that there have been changes in temperatures globally or the impact of any changes?

  23. harebell

    I understand that for real change to occur a lot of people will have to agree that there is a problem before any action can take place. However if nobody outside the scientific community thought something was as it was shown to be, then that vote would not suddenly render it false.
    The truth about nature doesn’t depend on everyone believing it, it is still true regardless of a lack of a popular mandate.
    It was in the interests of the altie medicine community and class action lawyers in the USA to find some research that claimed that autism was linked to childhood vaccinations and they found someone to provide that evidence. Andrew Wakefield has been found to have perpetrated a fraud on the field of medicine and has been severely disciplined by the BMA. Thousands of children were withdrawn from the vaccine programme by parents hoodwinked by this charlatan and lives were lost because of it. (Another Galileo Peter?) The action of the BMA was justified by the facts of the matter, but yet another martyr was created for the proponents of anti-science.
    It was in the interests of the tobacco industry to constantly question the science on tobacco related disease and they did continually claim the science wasn’t settled. Is it any coincidence the pioneers of this type of activism are at the forefront of climate denial? Is it purely coincidence that the anti-activism is following a well trodden path that seeks to demonise, delay and obfuscate? When the opinions of spin doctors, TV weathermen, economists and politicians are treated equally with the research and studies of folk who actually work and live in the field it does concern me. And try as I might I cannot lend equal weight to the opinions of all those involved. It would be like going to see a surgeon for advice on my broken arm and then seeking a second opinion from the hospital porter. Both are important to the functioning of a hospital but I should let only one of them cut me open and plate my arm. Or did I just do a Galileo on the porter in your eyes?

  24. Craig: If you’re question was directed at me, then, no, I’m not disputing either of those things; more just suggesting that the ways of abating the anthropogenic component of the global warming phenomenon appear dubious at best and at worst, mostly ineffective, but at great cost.

  25. Craig Chamberlain

    Ok, thanks for that, RT. I’m not unsympathetic to the concern, but it seems to me that Lomborg is saying he wants to do one thing but is actually doing another, in the guise of the former. In the end, we just keep going around in circles, a grand Merry-Go-Round, and he’ll be choosing the tune.

  26. It does seem that everyone ends up chasing their tails on this issue.

  27. Peter

    So, harebell, I gather you are equating Lomberg with a rogue scientist like Wakefield? And an extremely complex, multi-faceted and speculative venture like predicting longterm climate patterns and pronouncing on what we should do about them with the very specific and testable question of causation between a specific vaccination and a specific disease? Health and nutrition have always been subject to non-stop revision, reaction, fad, charlatanism, flasn-the -pan controversy, etc. You have chiropracters dismissed as little more than useless and dangerous faith-healers by mainstream medicine yet constantly winning higher levels of patient satisfaction than doctors. A new miracle diet every week. Pauling and vitaman C. Powerful new drugs that help some and kill others–they come and go like the seasons. Homeopathic medicine. The list is endless. But what in the world does it have to do with climate change?

    It seems to me what you are really talking about is an intra-scientific fight with the general public as fall guys, and that your thesis is that the public is bound in some way to defer uncritically to establishment science regardless of what they experience in their daily lives. You want them to close their ears to scientific dissent or even minority thinking lest the boobies fall into the hands of an Elmer Gantry. Now Galileo really wants to have a word with you.

    Would you be in favour of some kind of professional certification for climate scientists to protect the public?

  28. “Would you be in favour of some kind of professional certification for climate scientists to protect the public?”

    As long as we do the same for free-market economists …

  29. MoS

    Peter wrote: “.. there are very few people on this planet who have the professional skills and training to make a first-hand assessment of the longterm significance of the raw data or critique the sophisticated computer models. Despite this, and despite the paucity of confirming observations in their daily lives, the orthodox believe with a conviction that would impress the Jesuits.” Wrong Peter. There are actually quite a few people with the professional skills and training to make these assessments. They’re making them every day. They’re not Jesuits but they are geologists, physicists, botanists, biologists, zoologists, atmospheric scientists, hydrologists, climatologists, epidemiologists and leading scientists from a variety of other disciplines. Each of them, researching in their own field, reaching findings that just coincidentally are consistent with the theory of global warming. In fact, and this is fact, there isn’t one major scientific discipline that stands at odds with the theory of global warming.

    I certainly don’t have the professional skills or training to make assessments but I make a reasonable effort to follow the research as it steadily flows in. I listen to these guys. I find it curious that those who don’t pay attention to these scientists are so quick to cast doubt on their research and conclusions. Their lack of professional skills or training is never an obstacle to them.

    But global warming is just one act in a very complex play. Other scenes include deforestation, desertification, air/water/soil contamination, the spreading freshwater crisis, fisheries collapse, species extinction and migration, disease and pest migration, both sustained and in some places alternating severe drought and floods, severe storm events of increasing frequency and severity, and associated security threats including overpopulation and population migration, food insecurity, terrorism and nuclear proliferation, shifting balances of power and spheres of influence and the substantial but usually unmentioned arms races in Asia, South Asia and, more recently, South America.

    A lot of these things are tangible. Some are visible to the naked eye from the International Space Station. But, despite the steady flow of research findings, you’re going to get hung up on global warming? Really? Have any of you taken the time to read the climate change study conducted by Britain’s Ministry of Defence or the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review? Even hardass soldiers get it but you can’t. What can one say except “wow.”

  30. Craig Chamberlain

    (Actually, as someone who works with and for Jesuits, it is on their radar, very much so.)

  31. harebell

    It’s not an intra scientific fight. It’s homeopaths, chiropractors and purveyors of fad diets against scientists. One group tries to follow an agreed procedure to arrive at testable and repeatable results the other group looks for short cuts. This what it has to do with climate change, it’s the methods used to arrive at results.
    Chiropractors when they limit themselves to basic physiotherapy are within the realms of proven science. When they talk about invisible energy flows being disturbed by misaligned body parts they aren’t. The fact that they have nice offices, soothing music, silky patter and spend more time comforting their clients than an average GP can provide means that the client leaves on a mental high. The fact that the problem remains to be treated again and again illustrates the efficacy of the “treatment” regardless of how the mark feels. Homeopathy has repeatedly been shown to fail horribly in terms of of efficacy as a treatment, but the punters love it because the practitioner has great “people skills” and can make them relax and feel valued. And who doesn’t feel good about that.
    As for fad diets, there is nothing scientific about them; they are the ultimate in superstitious nonsense. Science points towards calorie control, a balanced diet and exercise. Fad diets offer a magically easy solution that requires little input from the dieter, so how this is an example of bad science is beyond me, the pushers of such diets are part of the altie community, peddling woo and wishful thinking.

  32. MoS

    RT wrote: “I just find it astounding that so many of our friends on the left are apparently quite satisfied with the notion of “settled science” which is a pretty laughable concept on its face; after all, the very essence of scientific inquiry demands that no concept is ever truly a “settled” matter beyond challenge.” It’s not the left that considers this “settled science.” Try the overwhelming majority of the scientific community or, perhaps, every national academy of science of every nation in the OECD. To try to cast this consensus as a creation of the left suggests you need to read a lot more and inform yourself of the state of scientific consensus.

  33. MoS: In fact, I have read into the “state of scientific consensus” (more than I’d like to have because, to be honest, I find the subject matter to be quite tedious) and that alone is unconvincing to me because science is based on facts and evidence, not “consensus”… There are numerous instances in the past where “scientific consensus” has proven to be wrong – just as it should be; that’s the way progress is made – the pre-quantum “steady state” universe and the discredited theory of eugenics, to cite just two notable examples.

    In that same vein, the expression “settled science” is, to me, on its face, a laughable concept that contradicts the very nature of scientific endevour and discovery.

    By the way, I never said that it was a “creation of the left” but did express my amazement that so many on the left, folks that claim to pride themselves on being part of the “reality-based community” and respectful of SCIENCE would so easily get suckered into parroting this offensive, close-minded expression in defense of their assertions.

  34. harebell

    Who discredited the so called science of eugenics (while the church embraced it) and who overturned the idea of the steady state universe? It was the same category of folk who exposed Piltdown man for the fraud it was and solidified the idea of plate tectonics theory. It way have taken a while but the method will out as it were.
    Just as an aside it is hard for me to point at one instance of any of the deniers amending their ideas in the light of evidence in the same manner. And as for the religious doing likewise well it’s even tougher.
    That’s the point, rather than character assassination, highly paid spin doctors and tame PhDs it doesn’t matter who you are if a new idea can be shown to amend or destroy your theory, then it needs to be amended or discarded. Newton was a giant whom Einstein tweaked to take account of reality.
    Economists, Tv weathermen and conspiracy theorists don’t change their tune in the light of new evidence they just claim that this just illustrates how deep the conspiracy goes. Politically inspired folk tend to do likewise, but I’ll go with those who listen to those who study the field before I go with those who don’t. If the overall feeling of those who study climate change says it has a man-made component and the fossil fuel companies mount a TV campaign to say it doesn’t, then on the balance of probabilities I’ll go with those who study it.
    You of course can put as much weight as you want in astro-turf websites and slick adverts but I’m not sure that’s scepticsim.

  35. Peter


    Listen to what you are saying. Neither Lomberg nor RT nor I take the position the climate is not changing nor that there is an anthropogenic component to the change, but you and certainly MoS seem determined to argue as if we were. Your beloved consensus only extends that far. The pace and severity of the changes, what the world will look like in fifty years under this or that scenario and what, if anything, we can or should do about it are not matters of any overwhelming consensus, nor are they all scientific questions. What your argument boils down to is you want to silence or shout down debate on these questions for fear any equivocation may help shock jocks who challenge the whole thing. In fact, in some ways I think many environmental activists are more troubled by those who say the problem isn’t as severe are we’ve been led to believe, or that it may be manageable (or, horror of horrors, it may prove to be beneficent on balance), than they are about outright denials that anything is happening.

    I find your discussion of chiropractors fascinating and telling. I assume you are neither a doctor nor a chiropractor, but nonetheless you have very fixed views on where the exact dividing line is between their genuine skill and their mass fraud on a dumb public. More telling, it is clear that your beef is that what they do offends mainstream medical theory, not practice. Results are of no interest to you, anymore that everyday lay observations about climate are, and you dismiss them as the product of some intense programme of psychological hugs and feel-good voodoo. Have you even been to a chiropractor’s office? The average appointment is just a few minutes—shorter than a doctor’s appointment, but you make it sound like they spend great amounts of time doing Dale Carnegie/Oprah routines. Yes, they have been plagued in the past by messianic excess, but please don’t try to tell me many haven’t been harmed by doctors. The fact is that there are far, far too many people who report improvements in their conditions, sometimes dramatically and for more than just lower back pain, to dismiss it all by rotely playing the “they’ve-been-duped” card. What is your priority, the well-being of patients or your fidelity to theory ? A minority of thoughtful, perhaps less self-impressed, doctors know this very well. Besides, if psychological hugs and self-esteem cheerleading can have those kinds of dramatic results, doctors should be doing more of it, no?

    Something similar happens in debates on evolution, of which you and I are both veterans. There are a number of reasoned, science-based doubts that Darwinism can explain all it claims to explain, especially with respect to human evolution. That doesn’t mean there is nothing to it, but it does mean the theory may be incomplete or misdirected in significant ways. Yet no sooner does one raise them than the orthodox try to steer the debate as if the challenger was arguing from scripture and had a hidden fundamentalist religious agenda. You do this quite a bit, and so does Dawkins. He simply cannot bear to hear any criticism whatsoever, science-based or not. There is a reason he wants to cast the debate as a Manichean battle with creationist theme park owners from Kentucky.

    Could you stop frothing about wicked deniers for a moment and answer the following question: What precisely do you say an intellectually honest lay person is bound to accept about climate change because there is, in your view, a scientific consensus about it? Extra credit for detail.

  36. Craig Chamberlain

    “They’re not Jesuits but they are geologists, physicists, botanists, biologists, zoologists, atmospheric scientists, hydrologists, climatologists, epidemiologists and leading scientists from a variety of other disciplines.”

    A Jesuit can be any of the above… and all sorts of other disciplines, involved in education, research, advocacy, administration, spiritual direction, or pastoral care.


    Peter, I hear what you are saying. I’m sure you don’t need me to caution you that you must be careful about how what you’re saying can be used by those who have no intention whatsoever of addessing this issue in any meaningful way. Such will be Lomborg’s legacy though, I’m afraid, but time will tell. If he’s genuine in his desire to find real, impactful solutions, he’s on the hook now to identify them and push for them. As it stands now, it seems he’s just sitting back and saying, no, there’s too much we don’t know, this isn’t the time — which you may agree with, but as positions go, he’s really just throwing us a warm blankie, which isn’t particularly helpful imho. We don’t need our blankies. We need to deal with this issue head on. And if that’s what’s he is really saying, well, OK, but as far as messages go it’s at risk of going sideways, and is and will be used to entrench an attitude of complacency.

    Anyhow, good to be able to dialogue with you on this.

  37. Peter

    Same here, Craig. My concern about Lomberg is not what he says and doesn’t say, it’s that the new leftwing Danish government appears to have taken away his funding for politically correct reasons that are being hailed has the just desserts of a “denier”, when it is clear he isn’t anything of the sort.

  38. Craig Chamberlain


  39. Why not refute and repudiate “trickle-down economics” ? It has been proven to not work ….

  40. harebell

    Okay I’ll ignore the straw men on my holding medical science above wishful thinking and I’ll also ignore the reference to Darwinism; who died a wee while back and stuff has moved on since. I’ll even ignore the conflation of science with stuff that sounds sciencey but isn’t. And I’ll move to your last paragraph.
    Evidence is pretty sound that the climate is changing and we all seem to agree that it is. Evidence is also available that indicates that the more significant recent changes are linked to our use of fossil fuels and the way we are managing the natural environment in which we live.
    A sensible approach would be to try and limit the amount of greenhouse substances we put into the atmosphere and oceans and preserve those qualities that help remove the elements that are already there. Because if we know that these greenhouse substances do help with causing climate change, then we know that limiting the release of these elements will slow or even reverse the process. There is a role for business, individuals and the collective in this as the response to the ozone hole crisis illustrates (It is interesting to note how greenhouse substance have hampered the protection that this layer provides us during the winter of 2011.) However unlike the response to the vanishing ozone layer any actions to reduce emissions and increase absorption will affect the west in a much greater manner. Hence the resistance on a much greater level and the demand for confirmation at levels beyond that required for removing CFCs from fridges. It also must be noted that the process that discovered the ozone hole, monitored it and from which recommendations was scientific and the people involved were scientists. The only real differences between the response to the Montreal Protocol and that to the Kyoto Protocol has been founded on costs not any real issues with the evidence or science as these were similar for both events. The questioning of the science came when seeking external support for the already completed economic decision by the US. The real objection to action on climate change is much more based in the balance book of gains against costs than it has anything to do with any real argument with the science or the evidence it has uncovered. Sunstein’s “Of Montreal and Kyoto” covers the economic basis for the US’s response to both crises and explains why the US responded differently to both seemingly similar issues.
    And the reality of the situation is that as long as major parties to any contract don’t see any real monetary gain from action they’ll put off any response until it becomes too obvious for them to deny it anymore. For those questioning the science this time around, the question they will have to answer is; why under Ronnie (hardly a tree hugger) was the science not an issue, yet this time every comma is telling. This will be a toughie because the process/methods and the results arrived at are not any different in any meaningful way and things in science have advanced quite a bit since back then.
    (Still no frothing)
    Did that help?

  41. …the new leftwing Danish government appears to have taken away his funding for politically correct reasons…

    Damn that dreadful new “leftwing” [i.e. “Scandinavian”] Danish government. Damn their eyes! Thank God we Canadians have been spared the ugly spectacle of a government making arbitrary, base-pandering, politically correct decisions. Why, virtually every breath Harper takes is a defiant broadside against the continentalist,National Post/Sun chain, Calgary School, 905, utopian-globalist, borderless-blancmange consensus.

  42. I’ll ignore the straw men…

    Do not ask of yourself the impossible, harebell. One can no more ignore the phalanx of strawmen in a typical Peter comment than a Hooters waitress can ignore the polypoid growth swelling beneath Bruce Carson’s slacks as she takes his order of nachos and a half-litre of the house red.

  43. harebell

    Sir Francis
    Such an astute judge of the human character.
    I couldn’t ignore them I just repressed them.

  44. Peter

    Ah, the straw man–the favourite “so’s your old man” withdrawal from blog debates, followed closely by the argument ad hominem and the category error.

    Hey, harebell, I actually was impressed with your response. Do you think someday we might have a good discussion of why the Montreal Protocol was so successful and Kyoto wasn’t, or would my notorious fundamentalist biblical literalism and science denial get in the way?

  45. harebell

    Absolutely we could have a discussion on it. What one gets up to in other aspects of ones life shouldn’t alter discussing other things at all.
    The paper I mentioned was a great start for me and got me into the comparison of both the protocols.
    I’m out pruning trees this week so probably won’t be back until late so any back and forth would be time delayed. Also a question of where. Much as I like this site I think starting a new chat would be an imposition.

  46. Craig Chamberlain

    (Fruit trees, I’m guessing, harebell?) Pruning is a fabulous activity when it comes to reflecting on an issue. The activity is about deciding what is essential and what is extraneous and should be cut away…

  47. harebell

    Yes fruit tress but also Elm as it is the dormant season. But given the budding that appears to be happening now they might have to revise the Elm pruning season.
    It is as challenging as Sudoku and when tidying up it becomes a 3D tetris.
    I tend to find myself engaged in the puzzle in front of me rather than those from other parts of my life, but that does change in the tidying phase.

  48. “The activity is about deciding what is essential and what is extraneous and should be cut away…”

    Such as “trickle-down economics” ?

  49. Peter

    Would somebody please do a hatchet job on free market economics before Aeneas has a stroke?

  50. I said “trickle-down economics” which is not the same thing as free-market economics ….

    Dogma is Dogma. But at least I admit it …

  51. Craig Chamberlain

    (Is this where I’m supposed to say something about Dutch Elm Disease-resistant Elm, to bring us back?)

  52. harebell

    If only that happened. Clambering up big trees in the what normally are amongst the coldest months on the planet is pretty hard work.
    But as I said earlier La Nina doesn’t seem to be affecting us as badly as the Weather folk predicted. I’m seeing buds starting to swell right now in Alberta and if a cold snap hits it’ll be hard on the trees.
    One aspect I am starting to be concerned about is the lack of snow/precipitation; it’ll be a messed up spring unless rainfall levels increase to make up for the fact even the residential roads are clear of ice.
    I think it’ll be a hard year for those in Ag.

  53. Craig Chamberlain

    Harebell, meanwhile, the conservation authority for my area of Southern Ontario anticipates higher winter precip levels, more snow due to climate change because the Great Lakes are taking longer to freeze over — longer periods for the “lake effect” to influence our snowfalls. Which is only to say climate change can effect us in different ways. Good luck with fruit trees. We are certainly at risk of them breaking bud and freezing.

  54. The only effective way to tangibly lower the planetary environmental impact of economic activity is to actually lower material and energy inputs. There are no shortcuts and holding out for some magic formula amounts to reckless wishful thinking according to prevailing scientific evidence (in the characteristically skeptical sense of the term).

    Shrinking the material scale of the economy sounds painful and counter-intuitive for a couple of different reasons, not the least of which is because we have tricked ourselves into thinking that the period of growth we have experienced over the last century is normal. Perhaps more importantly, the human brain is only equipped to sense changes in light, sound, temperature, pressure, size, weight but not atmospheric chemistry (see Global environmental changes are too complex and slow for the majority of us to perceive or understand and that will likely prove to be our downfall.

    Many of the ideas being floated are indeed “practically ineffective,” however the hope of achieving impact reduction without some kind of economic trade-off (as defined by GDP) will surely prove to be foolish optimism.

  55. JJ: Easier said than done. The fact is that most people are unwilling to suffer the real-world economic consequences of “lower material and energy inputs” for the sake of a scientific theory that remains stubbornly dubious.

    As for people having been “tricked” into “thinking that the period of growth we have experienced over the last century is normal” it begs the question of what you suppose is “normal” and why that should be an acceptable standard of measure?

  56. There are no shortcuts[,] and holding out for some magic formula amounts to reckless wishful thinking…

    Look, please don’t spoil it for those of us who either just don’t give a shit what happens when we’re dead (a la Keynes) or are absolutely sure that either Fonzie or Spider Man will eventually hand us a spiffy off-the-rack solution totally consistent with the swinish sense of entitlement that fuels the spoliation of the “American Way of Life”.

  57. Last time I checked, the history of mankind (especially over the past few hundred years) is full of “shortcuts” — or, as some prefer to call them, “inventions” and “discoveries”…

  58. … the history of mankind…is full of “shortcuts” — or, as some prefer to call them, “inventions” and “discoveries”…

    …a good number of which were mothered by necessity. I wouldn’t place tuppence on the odds of our “inventing” ourselves out of global warming unless we see the issue as a necessity, a crisis, that requires precisely the kind of urgency sceptics are attempting to neutralise. Germ theory was developed and applied after humans had been dying of their ignorance of it for millennia. I’m not sure we have that long before serious sacks of manure hit the planetary propellers.

  59. Beyond the hot potato that is climate change, there are a variety of other problems with the planet’s life support functions that are likely more serious and easier to measure and perceive. Those include the rate of species loss, impairment of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, ocean acidification, among others alluded to in earlier comments (curiously, none of these has ever invited political controversy). The stubborn defence of scientific ignorance in the face of uncertainty is not a rational undertaking. The unwillingness you mention — and the accompanying hyperbolic huff over the “fanaticism” and “religious” lunacy of anyone who draws attention to a very relevant problem — often comes off as a sad and transparent defence of our opulent level of comfort. Or worse, as uncreative laziness (“swinish sense of entitlement” indeed!).

    If you check our list of “shortcuts” once again, you may be shocked to discover that nearly all of our inventions and discoveries have been related to increasing technical efficiency, which almost invariably increases the rate of throughput. This well-known problem has been dubbed “Jevons paradox.” ( Even innovations born of necessity have had the unintended consequence of increasing throughput. Consider how “increasing efficiency” has become a favourite environmental solution for policymakers of all political stripes.

    With respect to the “normalcy” of growth, that is entirely dependent on the availability of energy with a high “energy return on energy investment” (EROI). EROI ratios for many resources have been increasing steadily after a long, sustained period of decline.

    So, like any sane human being, I would welcome a shortcut. But in the meantime, I have resolved to stop waiting with exuberant optimism (a la Godot) and rely on my executive function — the one that connect the dots and executes restraint according to the best information available. In the spirit of science, I can’t insist that I’m correct, but I can insist that our political dialogue moves away polemic clichés.

  60. James: For what little it matters, I too live “in restraint” having decided a while back to be a minimalist. As such, I have only the most essential material possessions, don’t drive a car, purchase my clothes from thrift stores, and recycle what little there is to… So, I’m not sure what more I could possible do to reduce my “carbon footprint” for the sake of the planet; well, short of dying post-haste, of course. Not that having an environmental impact or helping contribute to the “steady state” economic model was at the forefront of my decision in this regard, mind you. To be honest, I just got fed up being encumbered by a lot of pointless “stuff” (as George Carlin put it so eloquently).

    This thread has gone off track so many times as to be completely unrecognizable from its original point, but I hope it wasn’t taken that I’m defending “scientific ignorance” or simply manning the ramparts to protect my “opulent lifestyle” (an expression I’ll keep in mind when riding the smelly, hopelessly overcrowded #16 bus into work tomorrow).

    I note that you are a fellow with a think tank in Arlington, Virginia… Perhaps you’d like to share what specific forms of “restraint” you are exercising in your lifestyle…

  61. I should be clear that I’m not intending to be personally antagonistic. It sounds like our lifestyles are much the same. I keep possessions to a minimum, I car-share, I am one of those winter cyclists that everyone swears at (I also swear at cyclists when I’m driving — who can resist?). My motives to downshift did not include the abstraction that is the steady-state economy. Like you, they were for my own sense of well-being. But the goals are not mutually exclusive. I have even been labelled a red tory (and in fact, I might occasionally ride the same #16 you do, depending on whether or not that coat-of-arms on your page reflects your home province). I don’t live in Virginia.

    In many ways, I agree with your original point. I also agree with Bjørn Lomborg’s assessment that all the controversy and attention surrounding Kyoto is not rational. But I disagree with the meme that we can just hope for some brilliant person or group to invent something to save us. I would have been open to the idea as a response to the original “Limits to Growth” argument put forward in the early 70s. Now — four decades on — I think it’s time to retire the meme and come to grips with the trophic theory of money.

  62. jkg

    I am going to apologize in advance RT, but I really have to address Peter’s use of the “evolution debate” to make his points. It is long, but this is also a long time coming.

    What your argument boils down to is you want to silence or shout down debate on these questions for fear any equivocation may help shock jocks who challenge the whole thing.

    So, I suppose, while you are beating back the hordes against your innocent questioning, I suppose we can rely on your fellow ” skeptics to present such measured approach with less zeal? It’s not like you are hiding your enthusiasm for affixing a religious property to your opponents, even when you chimerically construct a topography to suit your arguments as you do incessantly when evolution comes about. This reminds me:

    You do this quite a bit, and so does Dawkins. He simply cannot bear to hear any criticism whatsoever, science-based or not. There is a reason he wants to cast the debate as a Manichean battle with creationist theme park owners from Kentucky.

    What on Earth are you talking about? Sorry, Peter, when you cite Dawkins reflexively and suggest some sort of “orthodoxy,” you are inviting people to dispute your category error whether you like it or not. There isn’t some orthodoxy. The Panglossian Adaptationist Programme is debated constantly within the scientific world. The dispute with respect to mechanisms of evolution as well as what evolutionary responses are appropriate given the conditions are there in plain view in Nature, TREE, Proc Soc B and many more. To suggest it is a minority shows you are no better in describing the intellectual landscape than the supposed behaviours you imbue in Dawkins. Dawkins deals with his intellectual opponents unless you have been so transfixed on your Fordor Trump Card all the time to miss all the work done by Richard Lewontin, Elliot Sober, Ernst Mayr, Mary Midgely, and others who dispute Dawkins’ ideas. They have been around for a very long time. The issue always has been that these works have been co-opted and exaggerated constantly in large part by proponents of intelligent design (an objection the late Stephen Jay Gould noted). In recent history, Dr. Ford Doolittle from Dalhousie University discovered that bilateral gene transfer within prokaryotes suggested that the cladistics for say, bacteria, may not follow Darwin’s Tree of Life. No sooner did that get published did The Discovery Institute link it decrying that the “Neo-Darwinian synthesis is in crisis.” In his public lectures following, he had to qualify always that he didn’t believe that sensationalism and asked The Discovery Institute to remove his citation.

    So, no, to repeat it isn’t some “orthodoxy.” What is happening is that any shred of doubt is inflated and hyperbolized, and Dawkins’ wheelhouse is dealing with what is further down the thread; that is, the Kent Hovinds of the world who latch onto these developments. He overextends himself, but to suggest that he is “casting the debate” as he is to shield himself from criticism is absurd and pretty funny when I consider how you cast the debate just because you met people who tried to inject religiosity into the debate only to have you respond by “well, they have religiosity, too.”

    I mean, with whom are you debating evolution? I am puzzled as to where your goalposts keep going. In 2009, in Ottawa, Carleton University had the Darwin Week Lectures. The opening lecture dealt with the common “criticisms” of natural selection but also dissuaded the notion of biological determinism as commonly understood by laypeople. In addition, Daniel Dennett was the keynote speaker. Biologists lined up to question his genic view of memetics as well as his understanding of evolutionary biology. Not only that, a counter-movement to the Humanist Society who hosted Dennett were there in droves trying to catch the speakers in a trap of some sort of trap. The speakers’ responses had no shred of religious reference. They simply reiterated their evidence and clarified why from the evidence they believe it to be true while the questioners kept on saying they believed they were wrong.

    There is just so much stuff going on; I mean, good grief, when the late George C. Williams back in the sixties and seventies did his work on the genic view of selection, it contributed massively to the understanding of natural selection. At the same time, group selection and its variant, the different levels of selection as proposed by Lewontin fell by the wayside. In recent years, the idea of group selection is now getting exposure and research. This is hardly the behaviour of a nebulous “orthodoxy.”

    Given that I am critical of the Panglossian Adaptationist Programme and the over-extensions of natural selection into other areas like evolutionary psychology, it really bothers me with misrepresentations like yours. I usually bit my tongue in the past because I was sympathetic to some of your objections, but since you keep on returning to your old hobbyhorses, Peter, I had to say something this time around. Focusing on Dawkins’ activities as if though he is an indicator and constructing it from there seems to hark back to your “lone, innocent, humble man of reason” schtick. There is no fear in criticizing the extent of the Panglossian Adaptationist Programme much less the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis. The fear is that in the public sphere, they become a springboard for wanting to “teach controversies.” It does not follow then that there is unfair tilting of the debate because people who believe the PAP or Neo-Darwinian synthesis cannot accept the criticisms. Those are two separate spheres of activity. Your conflation of the two because you happen to meet biological hobbyists doesn’t change that.

    A perfect example of that is Massimo Pigliucci. That name should ring a bell, Peter. By the way, if you think he carries water for Dawkins, you may want to read up on his essays and his work on dealing with evolutionary responses to varying environments. In other words, he still maintains that natural selection explains a lot but still recognizes its limits and criticizes how it is applied in areas such as sociobiology or neuroscience. In fact, the genotype x environment interaction as one of his areas of study is probably the most challenging because it departs from the anachronistic understanding of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis. Nonetheless, he is a proponent of teaching evolutionary biology in schools and debates against spurious claims in the popular sphere because the Synthesis has been worked on and extended even further beyond how it is understood in the popular sphere. People like Pugliucci are there to clarify that against wild claims about it being in jeopardy.

    It is also pretty coincidental for you to cite Fordor all the time when complaining about the narrowing of the debate because Forder, in response to Pigliucci, states that the latter just “doesn’t grasp the philosophy.” This is because Forder has made it abundantly clear that he will not accept any criticisms if they are not framed exclusively in analytical philosophy.

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