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October 09, 2006

On Language


Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics

Let's be blunt. The phrase "climate change denier" is meant to be evocative of the phrase "holocaust denier". As such the phrase conjurs up a symbolic allusion fully intended to equate questioning of climate change with questioning of the Holocaust.

Let's be blunt. This allusion is an affront to those who suffered and died in the Holocaust. Let those who would make such an allusion instead be absolutely explicit about their assertion of moral equivalency between Holocaust deniers and those that they criticize.

This allusion has no place in the discourse on climate change. I say this as someone fully convinced of a significant human role in the behavior of the climate system.

Let's declare a moratorium on the phrases "climate change denier" and "climate change denial." Let's invoke the equivalent of Godwin's Law in discourse on climate policy. Maybe call it the Prometheus Principle.

No more invocation of "climate change deniers."

Posted on October 9, 2006 03:49 PM

Comments

ClChD is undoubtedly made in reference, but there I leave you. I used the word holocaust recently... about fluffy toys... does that make me evil?

Posted by: William Connolley at October 9, 2006 04:19 PM


I can't speak for the motives of others, but I reject absolutely your framing of this as it applies to my usage of the phrase (assuming I've used it, or something that you consider similar enough - it's certainly not something I would particularly shy away from).

Bear in mind that what I might loosely term "the Jewish lobbby" has far less influence in the UK - and an order of magnitude still less in Japan - than it appears to in the USA. People simply don't go looking for holocaust analogies everywhere they can.

Describing someone as being "in denial" is a very common and widespread term. Whether or not it is a useful phrase, it is not generally considered to relate to the holocaust (eg see the wikipedia page which makes no mention of this - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial )

Feel free to clarify that you never meant to criticise the general use of the word "denial", only the precise phrase you used. Is "in denial about climate change" acceptable to you?

Posted by: James Annan [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 9, 2006 05:11 PM


Hi Roger,

I would just like to assure you that I have never had that connection anywhere in my thoughts at any level when reading or writing "climate change denier" or "denialist" or what have you. I can understand some might take it that way, I suppose. I think James is perceptive in noting the over-sensitivity to all things holocaust related in the American mindset.

I am happy to respect any general consensus on labeling, but what language would you suggest for some one like, say, Inhofe? Skeptic is not only completely inappropriate, it insults true skepticism.

What are your thoughts on phrases like "chicken littles" and "AGW alarmists"?

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 9, 2006 05:55 PM


Ah, a bit of googling provides some context.

Roger's post comes hot on the heels of this article on "Greenie Watch" with the subheading "Green Stalinists at work":

http://antigreen.blogspot.com/2006/10/climate-change-denial-greenie.html

quoting a Brendal O'Neill article of a few days before.

The offending article which mentioned the holocaust is some obscure Australian blog a couple of weeks ago (maybe unfair to call it obscure, but I've never heard of it).

Interestingly, googling on the offending phrase brings up about 12 hits, of which the original article is 9th and the other 11 appear to basically be the septic echo chamber getting outraged about it (I've not checked every one).

Roger will be pleased to note that Prometheus occupies the top place with a comment by Benny Peiser.

http://tinyurl.com/owafe

I'm not going to defend the originator of the phrase (anyone who's read my blog will see that I'm no fan of the overblown rhetoric coming out of the alarmist wing any more than I am of the septic denialists), but I think it is pretty clear who is really trying to make the most of it.

Posted by: James Annan [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 9, 2006 08:13 PM


Roger,

Thank you for bringing this up. I while back, I started referring to myself and others who do not follow the consensus view 'AGW Crisis skeptics'. The phrase 'global warming skeptic/denier' does not describe the views of this community, as all agree that the planet has warmed over the last few hundred years.

The phrase 'climate change skeptic/denier' is even less appropriate. In fact, the AGW crisis skeptic's main argument is that climate change is, and always has been, a part of this planet. It is the consensus view that maintains the untenable position that climate is nearly stable when CO2 is stable; denying the huge volumes of evidence that climate during the Holocene has fluctuated significantly on regional and global scales. The phrase 'climate change deniers' is far more appropriate for the so called majority, at least when it comes to pre-20th century climate. The 'Hockey Stick' is the most widely recognized symbol of this denial.

Calling someone an 'anthropogenic global warming crisis skeptic' is a mouthful and very difficult to fit on a name tag, but to shorten it is to mischaracterize the stance of the individual. We are skeptical of the overriding influence the IPCC gives to increasing CO2. We are skeptical that increasing CO2 will lead to a climate crisis. We do not, and never have, denied that the climate changes.

AGW crisis skeptics have been called a lot of things, but seldom do these names actually describe them and their perspective. Applying Godwin's Law to this website is a good start, but we should do more than just avoid derogatory name calling, we should strive to be accurate as well!

This goes for both sides.

Thanks for letting me vent!

Posted by: Jim Clarke [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 9, 2006 10:11 PM


Coby,

For Inhofe, I suggest you use the title 'Senator'.

If you really don't like the man, you can call him a politician.

Posted by: Jim Clarke [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 9, 2006 10:14 PM


All-

Thanks for your comments.

Words matter. People as diverse as Lakoff and Luntz agree on this point.

The phrase "climate change denier" is a very loaded term, and not by accident.

Rather than characterizing people who make arguments, here at least, I'd simply prefer that we engage the arguments themselves.

Now that I've seen the phrase "climate change deniers" in the peer-reviewed literature as well in use over at Real Climate, it is my sense that such characterizations can only work against effective debate on climate policy, hence my plea.

Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 03:29 AM


Roger
I agree completely with your statement "words matter" however not being a native speaker if I translate literally the word in my language I dont think that "denier" and "holocaust denier" is a robust relationship. Might be people here on your blog or your students might ask themselves if the word denier is really completely spoiled (or alternatively if your are just more sensitive than others). If you tell me yes I will not use it anymore. As I said in German the link does not exist or only very remotely).
Cheers Georg

Posted by: Georg Hoffmann at October 10, 2006 03:54 AM


"The phrase "climate change denier" is a very loaded term, and not by accident."

So your post implied, but such an accusation really begs for substantiation. Both James and I have indicated no loaded meaning intended when/if we used such a turn of phrase. Sensitivities in issues like this cut both ways, you know. Racist language is hurtful, but being wrongly accused of being a racist is also hurtful.

Who originated this terminology and what evidence is there of intent to imply any WWII parrallel? The recent article James googled clearly makes the connection but this is well after the fact.

I will henceforth keep this connection in mind and work to avoid misunderstanding, but you have not yet made the case for a moratorium on the term "denial" (which is quite generic and perfectly descriptive).

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 10:18 AM


Roger

I find it rather symptomatic that people who employ - or wish to continue to employ - the derogatory idiom "climate change denial" deny that its utilisation in the political debate has any connotation with “Holocaust denial.” This dismissal is not credible given that a number of prominent climate campaigners have explictly linked AGW scepticism to Holocaust denial.

Anyone interested in the debate about what you have now coined the "Prometheus Principle" may wish to consult the thousands of Google links on "climate change and the Holocaust" http://tinyurl.co.uk/l7f0

Equality preposterous, in my view, are attempts to blame "the Jewish Lobby" for being too sensitive about the exploitation of the Nazi Genocide in the context of environmental and political campaigns. As if only Armenians objected to the Turkish denial of the anti-Armenian Genocide or only Kurds were concerned about numerous attempts to exterminate Kurdish communities.

Given the Manichaean imagery that is frequently employed by climate catastrophists against what they regard to be evil heretics, I very much doubt that such fanatics will relinquish one of the most intimidating propaganda weapons in their linguistic weaponry.

Posted by: Benny Peiser at October 10, 2006 03:07 PM


Coby, regarding your comment "such an accusation really begs for substantiation," please see this url

http://www.desmogblog.com/skeptics-debunkers-and-deniers

from a climate change blog run by a PR firm on behalf of environmentalists. One of the co-bloggers is Ross Gelbspan, a long-time global warming theory proponent of some note. The post cited was written by the owner of the PR firm, James Hoggan, who does radio interviews and so forth across Canada about the so-called "deniers." This is an excerpt from the post:

"This is a huge credit to those interest groups that have attacked the science behind climate change. Fashioning themselves 'scientific skeptics,' these well-funded advocates have struck a righteous pose as debunkers - as guardians against the environmental Chicken Littles who have noticed that the sky, if not falling, is moving around in an unsettling way.

They are not using science; they're using a toxic concoction of public relations stunts.

These are not debunkers, testing outrageous claims with scientific rigor. They are deniers - like Holocaust deniers - shouting against a truth that they find economically unpalatable. They are not using science; they're using a toxic concoction of public relations stunts of which any good PR professional should be ashamed."

It goes on in this vein. I believe the phrase "like Holocaust deniers" is clear enough, and the fact that this blog is a PR-firm effort on behalf of environmentalists means to me at least that the blog is somewhat more significant than the rantings of some high school student somewhere.

Posted by: Thinking1776 [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 03:15 PM


Thanks, Thinking1776, I have no choice but to except that as an example of what Roger is complaining about, though we have not yet established an origin, that was just a year ago. Nor do I share his sensitivities about such an allusion but I am happy to respect sensitivities other than my own.

I don't think your description of DesmogBlog as "run by a PR firm on behalf of environmentalists" is a reflection of their About page or any other self description I've seen of theirs. Rather, it would seem to be run by an individual who works in the PR business for personal reasons. Do you have information that suggests otherwise?

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 03:50 PM


It's easy to get caught up in the name calling on both sides, but it's never productive. Terms like denialist, septic, Chicken Little, alarmist...

But denialist in a peer reviewed paper? That's extreme - makes one wonder about Wegman's 43 (or whatever)

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 07:03 PM


Coby, sure. The PR firm, James Hoggan and Associates, lists Desmogblog as a nonprofit client of the firm on its home page here

http://hoggan.com/not_for_profit.html

and the bulk of the posts there are written by paid employees. Maybe all of them. Hoggan and Richard Littlemore work for the PR firm and at various times the other bloggers there I recall offhand, a Sarah and and Kevin and Ross Gelbspan, have either refer to themselves as being paid to do the blog or mention it about each other.

James Hoggan of Hoggan and Associates has said the Desmogblog blog is funded by $300,000 from John Lefebvre, who made a fortune providing financial services for online casinos through his firm Neteller. In various spots the Desmogblog blog staff refers to this funding openly, such as at these urls

http://www.desmogblog.com/oil-funded-heartland-pleads-innocence
http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2006/07/off_to_exeter.php

I assume there are other references to its funding. I don't get the sense it is a secret.

Posted by: Thinking1776 [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 09:17 PM


When can we expect a post on the use of "global warming alarmists", "global warming industry" and the rest of the name calling used to atempt to descredit climate change scientists?

Posted by: Jim Norton at October 10, 2006 10:52 PM


Ok, but where are the environmentalists footing the bill? I think Hoggan *is* an enironmentalist, he is not a PR rep *for* any other environmentalist. Do you see the distinction? It seems that Hoggan is footing his own bill for personal goals.

But we digress. I don't think there is much to be gained by making any parallels between climate change and the Holocaust, as DesmogBlog did, even if one were to feel very strongly that stopping global warming is a moral imperative and purposefully spreading FUD about the issue is a crime against humanity.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 01:17 AM


Roger, are you really saying that, because some nutters deny the holocaust, we are now no longer allowed to use the word in its normal context? And that people who use the word in its normal context are somehow conencting the two? Sounds absurd to me.

We have a theory, which some people accept and others reject. No matter which labels you chose, the same labels will apply no matter what the theory. AGW theory rejector? Holocaust rejector!

To be sure we need to be very careful in the language we use, but the link you're making is a bit silly. Personally, I try not to use the word 'denier' in either case - but that's a very different argument to the one you're making.

Posted by: Tom Rees [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 03:05 AM


Roger, How about climate change doubter?

Posted by: chrisl at October 11, 2006 05:03 AM


All-

I appreciate the exchange here, and especially everyone taking the high road on a very sensitive topic!

A few replies:

1. Tom Rees- "Roger, are you really saying that, because some nutters deny the holocaust, we are now no longer allowed to use the word in its normal context?" I'm not saying anything about being "allowed" -- I am saying that the use of the phrase evokes certain allusions, whether intended or not, and people who use language should be careful. Go to google scholar and search "symbolic politics" and you'll see that there is a wide literature on this subject.

2. Georg- Thanks very much for this perspective. The phrases are very parallel in English. What is the German phrase for "Holocaust denial" and is there a parallel climate change construction? Since Holocaust denial is illegal in many European countries, I would think that a parallel construction of terminology would be sybolicly very potent (?)

3. Coby, Thinking1776- Thanks, interesting exchange.

4. Jamaes Annan- It is hard to take seriously someone who talks about "septic denialists.

5. I suppose my bottom line is that we should all be aware of the content laden in symbols, and to chose constructions with care. Long-time readers will recall that we had a bit with this coining the tongue-in-cheek category of "Non-Skeptic Heretics" a while back (talk about catchy, Luntz's job appears safe;-) On our site, we'd prefer that people take on arguments rather than attempt to characterize those making arguments, on all sides.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 05:09 AM


Roger, allow me to make several observations:

1. I agree that it is difficult to persuade someone to change their minds if you call them a "climate change denier". Those who are trying to persuade will focus on arguments rather than labels.

2. It seems that not everyone is trying to persuade those who disagree with them - some instead prefer to categorize, minimize or demean opponents through the use of one or more labels.

3. The phenomenon noted above has two main intertwined sources: (a) a deeply-rooted tribal aspect to human behavior whereby individuals tend to seek support from others by forming camps, especially when they perceive there to be a threat from another group; (b) we have difficulty in changing our minds, due to reflexive and conservative cognitive mechanisms that make it easy for us to defend our existing views by filtering incoming information, cherry-picking that which fits our existing views and dismissing inconsistent information (including those who offer it). Thus we often deceive ourselves, as noted by the old adage about scientific progress being made one death at a time.

It seems clear to me that both of these mechanisms are at work in the climate change debate, and even on this thread. As we are all human, we all have to struggle with how these phenonmena affect our perceptions.

4. It seems that certain parties interested in climate change matters understand how these phenomena affect voters and policy makers, and deliberately try to manipulate them (e.g., Luntz and Gore).

With others, it is not clear. Senator Inhofe sounds like he is completely convinced by the words that flow from his lips; I wonder, for example, whether it occurs to Benny Peiser, when he engages in black and white thinking of the following type with respect to a perceived enemy, that he may simply be deceiving himself?

BP: "Given the Manichaean imagery that is frequently employed by climate catastrophists against what they regard to be evil heretics, I very much doubt that such fanatics will relinquish one of the most intimidating propaganda weapons in their linguistic weaponry."

I had similar questions on the prior thread about the rather large discrepancy between the open letter response by certain scientists to the letter Bob Ward actually sent to Exxon.

But I have no doubt, as there seem to be opposing camps, that the misperceptions run in both directions.

5. Some have deliberately chosen a camp, and prefer to win the battle by making war on their opponents. There can be a great deal of satisfaction in this, as it plays to aspects of our human nature noted above. But one can win the battle but lose the war, as divisions within science are easily manipulated by non-sceintists who have interests in the debate.

Regards,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 11, 2006 06:13 AM


The term "holocaust denial" is so firmly entrenched in the lexicon (it is the basis of a law in Germany and Austria) that its use with any other noun is clearly ad hom.

But what is perhaps more interesting is that it is that phrase is being abused in the climate context.

I can't think of one well know sceptic who denies climate change. In fact, they tend to be the people who believe most fervently in the existance of climate change (i.e. variation over time) as opposed to those who believe that the climate is inherently stable and extremely small deviations in measure climate values (0.6 degree in mean temp) can only be explained by human influence.

Posted by: Paul at October 11, 2006 06:18 AM


I can't speak for the rest of the world's media, but a quick search reveals the first use of the phrase 'climate change denial' in the UK press was by Bob May in the Guardian in January 2005. (Full article below).
As you'll see, the parallel he draws is with the smoking-lung cancer denial lobby, not Holocaust denial
David Adam


Article begins:
During the 1990s, parts of the US oil industry funded - through the so-called Global Climate Coalition (GCC) - a lobby of professional sceptics who opposed action to tackle climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The GCC was "deactivated" in 2001, once President Bush made it clear he intended to reject the Kyoto protocol. But the denial lobby is still active, and today it arrives in London.

The UK has become a target because the government has made climate change a focus of its G8 presidency this year. A key player in this decision is chief scientific adviser Sir David King, who became public enemy number one for the denial lobby when he described climate change as a bigger threat than terrorism.

In December, a UK-based group, the Scientific Alliance, teamed up with the George C Marshall Institute, a body headed by the chairman emeritus of the GCC, William O'Keefe, to publish a document with the innocuous title Climate Issues & Questions. It plays up the uncertainties surrounding climate change science, playing down the likely impact that it will have.

It contrasts starkly with the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world's most reliable source of information on the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. In its last major report in 2001, the IPCC adopted an evidence-based approach to climate change and considered uncertainties on impact. It concluded that "overall, climate change is projected to increase threats to human health, particularly in lower income popula tions, predominantly within tropical/subtropical countries", and that "the projected rate and magnitude of warming and sea-level rise can be lessened by reducing greenhouse gas emissions". More than 2,000 of the world's leading climate experts were involved in compiling the report - the most authoritative scientific assessment to date.

But today, the Scientific Alliance is holding a forum for members of the US and UK denial lobby to challenge the case for acting on the findings of the IPCC. The intention appears to be to get its retaliation in first before a meeting of climate change experts next week at the Hadley Centre, at which Sir David King will take part.

Possibly more worrying is how much prominence their views are receiving in the UK media. The Daily Telegraph bizarrely used an anonymous leader on the tsunami in Asia to question the value of cutting emissions: "Whether or not this would have the effects claimed by ecologists - and the science is inconclusive - any gain would be insignificant next to the changes in temperature caused by forces outside our control."

But the Daily Mail seems keenest to board the well-oiled bandwagon. Fresh from its now discredited campaign against MMR, it has run six opinion pieces over the last year questioning the science of climate change. David Bellamy and columnist Melanie Phillips have perhaps predictably joined in, but more surprising has been the conversion of Michael Hanlon, the paper's science editor.

Last week, Hanlon cited Michael Crichton's research for his new novel as a further indication that climate change science is a con. The theme of Crichton's story is that environmentalists exaggerate the threat from climate change and eventually trigger its extreme effects themselves.

It demonstrates the flakiness of the Hanlon case that he should need to rely on a sci-fi writer who has previously warned of the dangers of bringing dinosaurs back to life and of nano-robots turning the world into grey goo. All entertaining scare stories, all complete nonsense.

So there we have it. On one hand we have the IPCC, the rest of the world's major scientific organisations, and the government's chief scientific adviser, all pointing to the need to cut emissions. On the other we have a small band of sceptics, including lobbyists funded by the US oil industry, a sci-fi writer, and the Daily Mail, who deny the scientists are right. It is reminiscent of the tobacco lobby's attempts to persuade us that smoking does not cause lung cancer. There is no danger this lobby will influence the scientists. But they don't need to. It is the influence on the media that is so poisonous.

In a lecture at the Royal Society last week, Jared Diamond drew attention to populations, such as those on Easter Island, who denied they were having a catastrophic impact on the environment and were eventually wiped out, a phenomenon he called "ecocide". It's time for those living in denial of the evidence about the impacts of climate change to take note.

Posted by: David Adam at October 11, 2006 07:11 AM


David- Thanks. Can someone with Lexis/Nexis access search for the first uses of the phrase?

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at October 11, 2006 08:03 AM



"In a lecture at the Royal Society last week, Jared Diamond drew attention to populations, such as those on Easter Island, who denied they were having a catastrophic impact on the environment and were eventually wiped out, a phenomenon he called "ecocide". It's time for those living in denial of the evidence about the impacts of climate change to take note."

As far as I can see, nobody is "in denial" of the the measurable impacts of climate change. What is contentious, however, are apocalyptic predictions of mega-disaster and civilisation collapse.

There is a great irony in Bob May's analogy that links today's anti-apocalyptic sceptics with the alleged self-destruction of Easter Island's civilisation.

As I (and others) have shown, the allegation that Easter Island's population caused their own catastrophic destruction goes hand in hand with an implicit denial that it was a real genocide - and not environmental self-destruction - that led to Rapa Nui's downfall.

From Genocide to Ecocide
http://www.staff.livjm.ac.uk/spsbpeis/EE%2016-34_Peiser.pdf

Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island
http://www.americanscientist.org/template/AssetDetail/assetid/53200?fulltext=true&print=yes

Posted by: Benny Peiser [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 08:24 AM



It would appear that the attacks by radical environmentalists are getting more extreme by the day. Suddenly, sceptical scientists are not only compared to Holocaust deniers. Now dissenting scientists are threatened to be treated as Nazi war criminals - many of whom, remember, were given the death penalty at the Nuremberg trials:

"When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards -- some sort of climate Nuremberg."

http://gristmill.grist.org/print/2006/9/19/11408/1106?show_comments=no

see also
NUREMBERG-STYLE TRIALS PROPOSED FOR GLOBAL WARMING SKEPTICS
http://epw.senate.gov/fact.cfm?party=rep&id=264568

I'm afraid this has gone far beyond a civilised debate about climate change. What we are dealing with here borders on incitement to violence, an extremist approach that is inherent in apocalyptic and revolutionary movements throughout history.

Posted by: Benny Peiser [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 01:20 PM


Although this particular thread is focused on the use of a particular term as a term of abuse, it's the abusive attitude behind the term that is inappropriate. It's inappropriate because it signals the substitution of abuse for reasoned argument. A very sad state of affairs.

Posted by: bob koepp at October 11, 2006 03:10 PM


In my mind (and I guess one has to take my word for it) there is zero connection between the terms "Holocaust Denier" and "Climate Change (or Global Warming) Denier." If the people who are often referred to as the latter, however, object to it (for whatever reason), that is a different story and is worth considering. But to assume that people who use the term are implying equivalency with Holocaust denial is unsupportable, and I disagree with Dr. Pileke's two "Let's be blunt" claims (at the head of this post).

I think we should be going after the more obvious, and more heinous offense: direct comparison between any position on climate change and anything having to do with any genocide, atrocity, "cleansing" etc. In these cases, we know the equivalency is being attempted, it happens all too frequently, and here I would borrow (and agree with) Dr. Pielke's claim that it "is an affront to those who suffered and died...[as well as their descendants, and also anybody with a conscience]."

If we are going to go after the term, "Climate Change Denier," then we must be careful in many other ways too. For instance, the comment currently preceding mine (B.P.) leads off with the word "attack," and the term "radical environmentalist." In America, "attack" has a new meaning since the fall of 2001, and certainly most people have read or heard the terms "radical Islamists," or "radical jihadists" enough times that they expect to hear them together. So, was the commenter claiming equivalency between David Roberts and, for example, terrorists? Hopefully not. Words are very powerful indeed, although sometimes they are also just words.

Posted by: Kenneth Blumenfeld [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 03:59 PM


Kenneth,

Good points. I think the accusations of "environmental extremist" and "radical environmentalist" are much more insidious and carry a much more damaging connotation in todays political climate than "climate change denialist". These are especially serious labels given the fact that the FBI has listed "eco terrorism" as the greatest domestic terrorism threat in the US. Not Timothy McVeigh style anti-gov't radicals, not doctor killing anti-abortionists, but environmental groups that have damaged property but *never* taken or tried to take a human life.

I would still advocate not making any comparisons with the holocaust, for practical as well as sensitivity reasons, but I would also resist allowing such simple words like "denial" being taken away to appease an overly sensitive cultural sensibility.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 05:24 PM


Benny Peiser said:

"Given the Manichaean imagery that is frequently employed by climate catastrophists against what they regard to be evil heretics, I very much doubt that such fanatics will relinquish one of the most intimidating propaganda weapons in their linguistic weaponry."

Have you no sense of irony or hypocrisy? You would post such a comment in a thread about poisonous language? What is your opinion on the lingustic weaponery of labeling climate science a religion of fanatics intimidating evil heritics? Will you give up that language?

You also said:

"Equality preposterous, in my view, are attempts to blame "the Jewish Lobby" for being too sensitive about the exploitation of the Nazi Genocide in the context of environmental and political campaigns. As if only Armenians objected to the Turkish denial of the anti-Armenian Genocide or only Kurds were concerned about numerous attempts to exterminate Kurdish communities."

We all object to people who would deny or minimize one of the worst historical examples of genocide. But we do not all object to talking about it comparatively.

BTW, I presume you would like to take this opportunity to voice equal outrage about Glenn Beck's comparison of Al Gore to Hitler and William Gray's equation of mainstream climate science to Naziism, if you have not done so elsewhere already.

http://illconsidered.blogspot.com/2006/06/al-gores-inconvenient-truth-how-true.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/23/AR2006052301305_pf.html

I think this selective outrage is a fine example of the team mentality TT laid out above.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 05:51 PM


Yes it's notable that Roger is accommodating to a fault and anything but skeptical whenever (it seems) Benny wants to fly his gang member colors here in a predictably silly, wordy and nasty rant.

"Denialist" word bad, "Alarmist" or "Extremist" or "Fanatic" good, is it? Noted. Roger, I think it's a hallmark of political "conservatism" - the belief system you enjoy when you're on the privileged, fat and lazy end of society I suppose - that what's most objected to is the "offensive language" used by the rabble when it's attempting to point to something it finds particularly offensive in reality, not merely in language. The Right's justifying of American jihad in Iraq or torture ... well torture wherever, really ... spring immediately to mind. You just know where Benny's morality will lie on such matters, as clearly as he flaunts his environmental moral vacuity so proudly in public.

What offends me is not so much foolish, demonizing language but the immoral stance that may lurk behind it. And hypocrisy, as Coby said.

Posted by: winston at October 11, 2006 08:06 PM


Coby, maybe we are using terms differently, but as to your question "where are the environmentalists footing the bill?," I regarded the $300,000 from the Lefebvre Foundation (or John Lefebvre - Desmogblog staff references the two somewhat interchangably) as an environmentalist source of funding.

In this post on Desmogblog, John Lefebvre refers to himself as that blog's "financial backer" (singular).

http://www.desmogblog.com/the-future-is-real-lets-keep-it-cool

Posts like that led me to the conclusion that Desmogblog is not a Hoggan-financed enterprise – in other words, not his personal blog or that of him and a few of his buddies.

I also noticed that the site design for that blog is credited to a particular design firm. When that credit is clicked the client list for the blog designer lists the PR firm as a client but not James Hoggan, individual.

http://www.raincitystudios.com/portfolio/client

That said, I don't think this distinction is all that important. At the end of the day, James Hoggan the individual wrote (or allowed to be posted over his byline, at minimum) the reference to climate change denial being like holocaust denial. He's just one man and I would not argue otherwise. I just think, because he does a lot of media work and is on board and has backers, he's a more significant man than some others in the debate, that's all. Doesn't prove anything. For all I know, all his co-workers disagree with him on the aptness of the reference.

For what it is worth, I agree with you about the Holocause references not being very useful for anyone, btw. Or any other name calling by anyone of any persuasion, for that matter.

Posted by: Thinking1776 [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 08:49 PM


Roger, as I noted above, I think that it is clear that there is a cognitive problem of denial relating to climate change, compounded by our penchant for taking sides. That means that both sides have difficulty really listening to all of the evidence, instead of rationalizing one's position, the better to focus on defeating (or defending against) one's perceived enemies.

This is more than a little too bad in the case of the scientists, since a little controversy among scientists (even over relatively small matters such as the M&M curve) goes a long way in advancing the political agendas of those who benefit from blocking policy change (at the long-run expense of us all), by enabling them to manipulate the general denial mechanisms affecting voters/pundits etc.

Am I wrong to perceive that while significant agreement has been reached among climate scientists concerning the prospects and risks of various anthropogenic forcings, scientists (including social scientists) outside this community have not been convinced that anthropogenic forcings can play a significant role in affecting climate? If so, is there a possibility of outreach, particularly as TAR 4 will be coming out? Or will we see a growth in the number of climate change conferences hosted by skeptics and others not involved in the IPCC process, at which few climatologists attend?

In connection with TAR 4, might it also be fruitful for climate scientists who favor some type of government action to put together a simple survey (summarizing their views of the science and basic policy recommendations, viz., mitigate and prepare to adapt) that could be circulated and signed, and would clearly indicate the relative numbers of scientists who approve the various summary points? This would both provide an opportunity for consensus and show some strength in numbers that could make a more visceral impact than simply some report by an international body. Where are the "anti-Oregon" petitions?

Regards,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 11, 2006 10:07 PM


Winston-

Let me repeat what I have previously written - I'd prefer that people on our site engage the substance of each other's arguments. Benny Peiser's earlier rant, and indeed your own, are in general published nonetheless because we try to err on the side of letting people hang themselves with their own words.

Please do keep it civil. If you don't like the arguments that you see here, tell us why and make a different, perhaps better, argument. Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 10:08 PM


I think my hidden point may be Roger that this is the first time I can think of that you have called Benny on one of his rants (apologies if I'm wrong about that), so thanks for letting us both get away with it this time. Admittedly it was disagreement with your "Let's be blunt ... " post, which I think is mistaken for good reasons given above by others and only partly by what I've alluded to in my swipe at Benny, that had me paying attention to his comments above. I actually sympathize with his concern about threats of violence, whereas he doesn't understand that his vocal lack of concern for the scale of violence we are capable of inflicting on this planet and its many still-living ecosystems upsets all those here who suffer from environmental sensitivities (I'm sure).

Posted by: winston at October 11, 2006 11:16 PM



Let me make it absolutely clear that I object to *any* political exploitation of the Holocaust or Hitler in the climate change debates - whether these Nazi analogies are employed by the left or the right, by climate catastrophists or climate sceptics.

I am not advocating "selective outrage" and strongly reject the examples listed by coby and TT.

I also object when the IPCC chairman compares Bjorn Lomborg to Adolf Hitler
http://www.techcentralstation.com/051104C.html

or when former Putin advisor Andrei Illarionov described the Kyoto Protocol as an 'economic Auschwitz for Russia.'
http://newsfromrussia.com/main/2004/02/24/52463.html

I maintain that threatening climate scientists with persecution and war crime tribunals are forms of vilification employed by radicals and fanatics. Unless moderate environmentalists do not distance themselves from such acts of extreme intimidation, I fear that there won't be much space left sooner or later for a civilised debate.

Posted by: Benny Peiser [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 03:56 AM


What interests me in these comments is the natural attraction that many, so-called, authorities in climate research have for the term "denial".

COnsider this excert from Wikipedia:

"On the other hand, denial is one of the most controversial defense mechanisms, since it can be easily used to create unfalsifiable theories: anything the subject says or does that appears to disprove the interpreter's theory is explained, not as evidence that the interpreter's theory is wrong, but as the subject's being "in denial"."

While Annan and Connelley et al might insist that the term is being applied appropriately in this case (i.e. it is in fact cognitive disonance), I would have thought that anyone who has a vested interest in science would never ever risk this phrase gaining any acceptable foothold in academic or policy debate.

The risk of its misuse to debase any and all discussion is just too great.

See "The Life of Brian" for a wonderful barb on this:

Posted by: Paul at October 12, 2006 06:37 AM


I'm sorry, but I don't remember anyone appointing you the official Language Police, Mr. Pielke. The word "deny" and all of its variants have a long history in English far predating the Holocaust or any recent commentary thereon. If you believe that global warming has as grave an impact as informed scientific thinking currently holds (does being "someone fully convinced of a significant human role in the behavior of the climate system" mean that you follow this current scientific thinking on it or not?) and if you further observe the refusal of the the current Administration and more than a few of the big business interests that are major contributors to Global Warming to take any action or even acknowledge the problem, it would be not unreasonable to conclude that these players are sacrificing the future survival of the Earth and its people for the sake of their own short term financial and political goals. If Global Warming is not at leasted slowed soon, the death toll of the Holocaust could pale in comparison to the destruction we will see. Is a Holocaust analogy completely unapt here? The word has been used in the past to describe the prospect of nuclear war with barely a peep from anyone. Do the effects of Global Warming not rate that much concern?

As might have been predicted, your commentary on this has been picked up and trumpeted by the people who deny the existence of Global Warming and - their real objective - wish to vilify for political purposes those who are concerned about it.

Posted by: klaatu at October 12, 2006 09:25 AM


Speaking of language...

klaatu wrote:
"If Global Warming is not at leasted slowed soon, the death toll of the Holocaust could pale in comparison to the destruction we will see"

Absolutely true. Key word being "could." One can surround that word with anything and the statement would be true.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 10:35 AM


I think it's pretty clear that sometimes the word denialist (or its variants) is sometimes associated with the jewish holocaust, and sometimes its not. It certainly is frequently misused to include skeptics, and its use is certainly encouraged by the associators thereto (both).

This is unlike the word "septic" in lieu of skeptic or sceptic, which is used exclusively by the CO2-centrist-catastrophism cult.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 10:53 AM


Let's be blunt - Roger's attempt to read the minds of people who use the term "denialist" or "denier" is a miserable failure, as seen by the comments posted here by people who use the term.

Add me to the list of people who use the term and didn't make the connection. The terms I commonly heard where "skeptic" (inaccurate), "septic" (a little too much for me) and "denialist" (best of the the three).

I'm going to keep using the term.

And btw, even if Roger's right as to origin of the term for some people, it's a ridiculous over-extension of Godwin's Law to say it should be banned.

Posted by: Brian S. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 11:54 AM


There are a few issues here.

One is intent and motive. Just because someone uses a phrase in an offensive way does not mean everyone else is using it in an offensive way. Trying to attribute motive or intent to one statement is difficult at best.

The other is an attempt by one side to frame or define the language and by controlling the language win points in the debate. In this case the right is trying to turn around a phrase that describes them in a negative way into a phrase that makes their critics look bad.

I do think “climate change deniers” is really a neutral term. Yes it some could use it in a way that brings up a comparison with the holocaust, but that does not change a neutral term into one that is “loaded”.

I do find all the nazi/holocaust references in the environmental policy debate. I strongly disagree with comments like Monboit’s comments as much as I do as Senator Inhofe calling the EPA the gestapo. I don’t think way “climate change denier” is used by most is in the same category.

Posted by: Joseph O'Sullivan at October 12, 2006 12:12 PM


Brian S.-

Thanks for your comments. A key element of symbols in politics is that a person's intent has nothing to do with the symbol's effects and power.

This is probably worth a full post, but for now, let me refer you to the classic discussion of "Symbolism" by Edward Sapir:

http://spartan.ac.brocku.ca/~lward/Sapir/Sapir_1934_a.html

In particular:

"It seems useful to distinguish two main types of symbolism. The first of these, which may be called referential symbolism, embraces such forms as oral speech, writing, the telegraph code, national flags, flag signaling and other organizations of symbols which are agreed upon as economical devices for purposes of reference The second type of symbolism is equally economical and may be termed condensation symbolism, for it is a highly condensed form of substitutive behavior for direct expression, allowing for the ready release of emotional tension in conscious or unconscious form. . .

n condensation symbolism also richness of meaning grows with increased dissociation. The chief developmental difference, however, be-
(494) -tween this type of symbolism and referential symbolism is that while the latter grows with formal elaboration in the conscious, the former strikes deeper and deeper roots in the unconscious and diffuses its emotional quality to types of behavior or situations apparently far removed from the original meaning of the symbol. Both types of symbols therefore begin with situations in which a sign is dissociated from its context. The conscious elaboration of form makes of such dissociation a system of reference, while the unconscious spread of emotional quality makes of it a condensation symbol. Where, as in the case of a national flag or a beautiful poem, a symbolic expression which is apparently one of mere reference is associated with repressed emotional material of great importance to the ego, the two theoretically distinct types of symbolic behavior merge into one. One then deals with symbols of peculiar potency and even danger, for unconscious meanings, full of emotional power, become rationalized as mere references."

When you use powerful symbols, what you intend does not matter. If you don't believe me, wear a tee shirt with a swastika on it around for a day. Explain to people that your intent is to take part in an experiment.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 01:38 PM


"Can someone with Lexis/Nexis access search for the first uses of the phrase?"

The earliest use I could dig up was 2002 in the Trornto Star and a few other sources outside of the U.S. (London, New Zealand), In 2005 it made its U.S. newspaper premiere in the St. Louis Journal Dispatch. It continues to be used uncommonly; searching for "climate change denial" or "climate change denier" or "global warming denier" in the "Major Papers" index in Lexis returned only 84 hits.

They don't provide you with access to lexis at CU?

Posted by: Bob at October 12, 2006 02:11 PM



People interested in the fall-out of the "we-should-have-war-crimes-trials-for-these-bastards" school of thought on US weblogs will find interesting reading at technocrati - http://www.technorati.com/search/Nuremberg-style%20war%20crimes%20

Some of which reminds me of Irvin Berlin's famous song: "Anything you can do, I can do better; I can do any thing better than you..."

Here's is an example that shows that hate-mongering isn't the reserve of radical environmentalists:

"Is there any doubt that these folks are members of the environmental Gestapo. Any one who doesn’t follow their religion should be convicted of crimes against humanity and should be executed. Isn’t that what happened to the Nazi’s? These people are home grown version of Islamofascists...."

Posted by: Benny Peiser [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 03:06 PM


William Connelley waffles:

ClChD is undoubtedly made in reference, but there I leave you.

Yes, you use the phrase "climate change denier" in entirely the perjorative sense to invoke a fake sense of pathetic outrage by climbing on the bodies of Auschwitz to silence people from expressing any opinion in climate science different from yours.

People (including not a few scientists) have complained vigoriously that RealClimate, the blog that you administer, blocks scientific debate and facts that it does not like, especially by the people slandered by editorials. But just in case, we are in any doubt as to the level of the actual debate on RealClimate, this comment sailed right through the moderation filter on the topic of "How to be a real sceptic":

"The label I prefer is "denier" as in Holocaust denial. It indicates someone who deliberately misinterprets or ignores the evidence."

Clearly you have no shame.

Posted by: John A at October 12, 2006 03:25 PM


John A- We welcome your contributions, but please keep it civil. Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 03:38 PM


Roger first wrote:

"The phrase 'climate change denier' is meant to be evocative of the phrase 'holocaust denier'."

When I pointed out that's not our intent, he said:

"Thanks for your comments. A key element of symbols in politics is that a person's intent has nothing to do with the symbol's effects and power."

On this blog, Roger has interpreted a failure to expressly disagree with him as an agreement with what he's said. I could do the same, and conclude Roger has backed off from his original claim. If he wants to write a totally new post on this different subject, I guess I'll wait for it.

Posted by: Brian S. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 06:19 PM


Brian said:
"When I pointed out that's not our intent" (to overtly equate climate change denialism with holocaust denialism).

My question is who is included in your term "our" in using the word denialist - particularly in rejecting the request by Roger to avoid ad hominem attacks in what should be a discussion of science.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 07:35 PM


RPJ: "Let's be blunt. The phrase "climate change denier" is *meant* to be evocative of the phrase "holocaust denier". [my emphasis]

RPJ: "When you use powerful symbols, what you *intend* does not matter." [my emphasis]

Now I'm not the first person in this thread to point out the contradiction (thank you Brian S.) but I'd appreciate it if Roger can explain

a) which of these two statements indicates his actual opinion.

b) how he knows the intentions of the many users of the phrase.

Posted by: Mark Hadfield at October 12, 2006 08:19 PM


Mark-

Thanks for the chance to clarify.

a) The earliest uses (see other thread on this, was ~2001) of the phrase "climate change denial/denier" were made explicitly as an allusion to the Holocaust, according to those who have introduced the phrases.

b) Because they have said so explicitly.

Bonus Answer c) The powerful of a symbol occurs even (especially) when it becomes dissociated from the explanation. This is Luntz/Lakoff 101.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 08:44 PM


Brian S.- Thanks for your follow up, I guess I did indeed miss what you meant in your original post. Sorry about that. See my immediately previous response to Mark H. which I think addresses your original point. Let me know if not.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 08:47 PM


Roger, you might note that the swastika symbol is regularly used on maps in Japan - to designate Buddhist temples!

I think this thread demonstrates amply both why the PC or "political correctness" phenomenon exists - if we care about how a group feels, we change our choice of words so that we do not offend unintentionally - and the difficulties inherent in that effort.

The term "denial" itself is not symbolic, and denotes a very real phenomenon that is at play not only in each of our efforts to understand the world, but also in how we perceive the issue of climate change. There are clearly some people who are unable to accept any dissonant information on this (on both sides), and attempt to inform itself can be a maddening irritant. There are some who are simply contrarians, who are struggling honestly but have different views; there are others who are not scientists but wish to manipulate opinion for personal or institutional gain. Some who hold one view may deliberately wish to belittle or silence those who disagree with them.

The question is whether because there are some who are offended by the term "climate change denial" and some who wish to use it as a bludgeon, do all the rest of us then need to surrender the term, in order to have a rational discussion? Mayhaps. I will try to distinguish between those who are deliberately misstating the science, those who are simply contrarian, and those who seem to be simply in a state of denial.

Regards,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 13, 2006 12:09 AM


David Adam, thanks for copying to the Jan. 2005 Guardian article. Here is the link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/lastword/story/0,,1398885,00.html.

I would note that the subheadline refers to the "climate change denial lobby", but body uses only "the denial lobby" to refer to the "lobby of professional sceptics" and calls on "those living in denial of the evidence about the impacts of climate change to take note". Both uses of denial seem perfectly appropriate to me, and certainly neither is targeted towards scientists per se.

David, while we have you here, can you help inform our discussion of your article concerning the letter by Bob Ward of the Royal Society to Esso, by confirming whether the RS itself provided the letter to you? I can't imagine that the RS itself was intending to make its letter to Esso a public document, but if they did it is something worth knowing.

Sincerely,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 13, 2006 02:25 AM


Dr. Peiser, allow me to address you directly now that you have referred to me.

In your posts above you state the following:

"Suddenly, sceptical scientists are not only compared to Holocaust deniers. Now dissenting scientists are threatened to be treated as Nazi war criminals - many of whom, remember, were given the death penalty at the Nuremberg trials."

"I am not advocating "selective outrage" and strongly reject the examples listed by coby and TT."

"I maintain that threatening climate scientists with persecution and war crime tribunals are forms of vilification employed by radicals and fanatics. Unless moderate environmentalists do not distance themselves from such acts of extreme intimidation, I fear that there won't be much space left sooner or later for a civilised debate."

I appreciate that you are struggling for balance, but the struggle is very apparent. I am not sure how to help you, other than to reflect back your comments for you to see.

I certainly did not say that you advocated selective outrage, but I did think that the "example" I listed - which was simply your own words - rather clearly shows you doing precisely what you were accusing "climate catastrophists" and "such fanatics" of, namely, exhibiting a Manichaean perspective, and that this might be an example of my point that black and white views, while emotionally satisfying, are surely wrong in many regards.

Second, your two other quotes are very reminiscent of the open letter by certain scientists to the Royal Society that you kindly provided for Roger to post on an earlier thread - they are quite emotionally over-wrought and fail to reflect what was actually said, either by the RS in the previous example (being directed to disclosure by Esso of its funding of PR groups, not climate change reseach) or by David Roberts in the instance you complain of.

Namely, isn't Dave Robert's piece and the underlying book excerpt by George Monbiot he links to very specifically addressed towards "the DENIAL INDUSTRY", and NOT scientists?

The Monbiot piece is very clear that it is directed towards what Monbiot calls the "network of fake citizens' groups and bogus scientific bodies has been claiming that science of global warming is inconclusive". It is to this group - which is NOT conducting scientific research but has been deliberately either funded by or directly established by or on behalf of interested corporations for the purpose of serving their own financial interests by forestalling the establishment of effective climate change policies - towards which Roberts and Monbiot are directing their anger and frustration.

Is there any reason to support the assumption that either you or any other group of scientists are part of what Roberts and Monbiot call the "denial lobby"? If not, why do you assume that their attack on that group is directed towards you? Is it that you view the "denial lobby" as an ally, so that an attack on them is something to be felt as a personal attack?

Sincerely,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 13, 2006 07:03 AM


Roger, if I can ask you a personal question about the likely effects of already committed climate change, as well as that which will be committed to likely future increases in GHG emissions and related changes in forcings, both directly on mankind and on our companion species and the Earth's ecosystems, how would you suggest that one express a deeply felt horror?

Rome is burning, and we are all standing around fiddling, pointing fingers and whingeing over who being unfair to whom. Where are the grown-ups?

Sincerely,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 13, 2006 07:11 AM


The existence of the term "climate change denier" is prima facia evidence of the inherently unscientific nature of the climate change community.

Skepticism, criticism and doubt are the foundations of the scientific method. Since when are true scientists so afraid of criticism that they have to construct pejorative terms in reference to their antagonists?

Posted by: Jeff Miller at October 13, 2006 07:55 AM


Regarding Jim Norton's question: "When can we expect a post on the use of 'global warming alarmists'...used to atempt to descredit climate change scientists?"

This question is another example of the non-scientific nature of the discussion. The symetry between "pro" and "con" that is inferred in Norton's question is a construction of the political world. No such symetry exists in science. The burden of proof is all on the affirmative side. The natural position of everyone else is skepticism.

Posted by: Jeff Miller at October 13, 2006 07:59 AM



It would appear that doubting that "Rome is burning" or questioning dooomsday predictions is now regarded as a mark of the "denial lobby." As I said on this blog some time ago: the climate change controversy is no longer about the scientific understanding of global warming. Instead, it has been turned into a moral cross-examination about whether or not you agree that it will trigger global catastrophe soon. You question *that* belief, and you stand accused of “crimes against humanity.”

Let’s be blunt: It's no longer enough to declare that "I am fully convinced of a significant human role in the behaviour of the climate system...." Unless you accept the apocalyptic vision of climate change, you will be regarded as an impediment to global salvation.

Being sceptical of apocalyptic frenzy is the result of more than 20 years of research into the history and dynamics of end-time prophecies and salvationist movements that have come and gone throughout the last 3,000 years. I see no reason why current climate catastrophism should not be treated with the same healthy scepticism as sober rationalists have treated other apocalyptic movements in history. If that's a crime, I plead guilty as charged.

Posted by: Benny Peiser [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 13, 2006 09:26 AM


Hi,

Very interesting discussion (as usual at Prometheus)!

I don't have any time right now to Tom's, Benny's, and Chip's comments (on another thread) in full...though I definitely hope to this evening.

I'll instead only address Tom's very brief use of a phrase (even though Benny has already addressed it):

"Rome is burning, and we are all standing around fiddling,..."

No, Tom, Rome isn't burning. (Or at least not due to global warming.) We are currently experiencing global average temperatures very similar to what, in saner times, was called the "Holocene Climatic Optimum":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_Climatic_Optimum

Further, the "projections" of future change proposed by the IPCC in their Third Assessment Report are simply not valid, as a very basic matter of science:

1) They are unfalsifiable,
2) The methane atmospheric concentration projections are (almost unanimously) ridiculously high,
3) The CO2 emissions projections are (almost unanimously) ridiculously high.

Therefore, there is virtually *no chance* (I'd put the probability at less than 1 in 100) that warming from 1990 to 2100 will even reach the MIDPOINT of the IPCC TAR "projections" (i.e., halfway between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Celsius).

Tom, you definitely should rent the movie WarGames:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WarGames

...and head the advice of the professor to the general: those images on your screen (i.e., the IPCC "projections") are not reality. They're a computer-generated hallucination.

Mark

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 13, 2006 10:45 AM


toKYOTOm said:
"Rome is burning, and we are all standing around fiddling, pointing fingers and whingeing over who being unfair to whom. Where are the grown-ups?"

I suspect they are looking for the smoke, while admiring the greening fields outside the gates...

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 13, 2006 10:59 PM


>>> "The phrase "climate change denier" is a very loaded term, and not by accident."

In the eye of the beholder.
IMO, it is haphazard if the word 'denier' used in this context is related to the Jewish holocaust [and there are many other holocausts, including Armenian's holocaust in 1919].

Let us keep focused on climate and not see analogies where they do not exist.

Avner

Posted by: Avner Levy at October 14, 2006 02:31 PM


Benny, Mark and Steve:

I`m concerned about the world`s ecosystems and biodiveristy for several reason:

first, because there are respected scientists like E O Wilson who tell me we are in the midst of a huge wave of extinctions (http://raysweb.net/specialplaces/pages/wilson.html),

second, because I understand the source of the problem being not with the nature of economic activity per se, but the consequences when that activity involves open-access resources that nobody owns or has an incentive to husband, and thus individual incentives favor current exploitation, regardless of any costs shifted to others (viz., there are no property rights by which individuals can make their preferences felt, so markets do not reflect true costs), and

third, human popluations and economic activity continue to expand, thus increasing pressures on un-owned and unmanaged resources.

Sorry if that all seems way to emotional. Perhaps you can help me by giving me a cool-headed analysis of how effective private or communal property rights and markets affecting ecosystems and wild species will magically come into being, before we permanently trash the world`s open access resources?

Or do you simply take the view that it`s not Rome that`s burning, but simply alot of worthless stuff and we`ll all be better off when our ocean fisheries are replaced by stock farms and our tropical forests with oil palms and soybeans? So we merely have a definitional issue over what we mean by Rome?

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 15, 2006 03:37 AM


Dr. Peiser:

You continue to make arguments against positions that are not at issue. In reference to Robert`s blog posting and reference to Monbiot, you previously asserted that (1) "sceptical scientists are not only compared to Holocaust deniers. Now dissenting scientists are threatened to be treated as Nazi war criminals" and (2) that "radicals and fanatics" are "threatening climate scientists with persecution and war crime tribunals". I asked you how you could possibly base these accusations based on either source, which are directed not at scientist but at a commercially funded lobby. You fail to respond. Are you unable or unwilling to see the disparity between your perceptions and reality?

And now in your last post, you say: "It would appear that doubting that "Rome is burning" or questioning dooomsday predictions is now regarded as a mark of the "denial lobby." As I said on this blog some time ago: the climate change controversy is no longer about the scientific understanding of global warming. Instead, it has been turned into a moral cross-examination about whether or not you agree that it will trigger global catastrophe soon. You question *that* belief, and you stand accused of “crimes against humanity.”"

Several points:

1. Why do you continue to identify yourself with a "denial lobby"? I certainly didn`t put you there.

2. I am perfectly happy to discuss with people whether "Rome is burning", as I put it. If you disagree with me, I will not accuse you of "crimes against humanity". I might get frustrated and fulminate, but I promise that I wouldn`t say that.

3. I don`t view that what is underway is a "doomsday" scenario. History shows that we are a clever (if not wise) and adaptable species, and we will survive climate change. However, we are already facing costs that will continue to grow, and I think that there is no doubt that we will pass onto our children a much changed environment and degraded biodiversity. Is that "catasrophic"? Perhaps. Collectively irresponsible? Certainly.

4. In my view, the climate change controversy is about any number of things, including the scientific understanding of global warming. At its core the debate is about what political choices our societies will make in face of our imperfect but improving knowledge about climate change and our role in it. Scientists inform the debate and of course are entitled to have and express their views about what policies they think are appropriate. I personally find it troubling that those who have the greatest depth of understanding of the climate system tend to be those who are most concerned about where we seem to be heading, and about the political stalemate that is now in place. I think that there are moral aspects to all political actions and inactions, and that there are moral aspects to our failure to take action so far.

The range of individual culpability, if there is any, would certainly vary, but who on this blog, or in materials referenced here, have asserted the position that those who honestly disagree that AGW poses a threat to our well being and to our shared ecosystems are committing crimes against humanity? In any case, the anger that Roberts and Monbiot express is directed towards those who are DELIBERATELY, on behalf of those who benefit from passing costs onto the rest of society, who try to muddle the science.

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 15, 2006 05:31 AM


Tom,

You have touched on the problem here. I will agree we have a tragedy in the making here, and it's due to overuse of resources by an overpopulated world. I also agree that we are possibly in the midst of an accelerated extinction period that is anthropogenic in origin.

However, there is a concept that is missed by the CO2-centric-catastrophic group, and that is "penalty for failure." We are sucking aquifers dry which negatively affects rivers, we are overfarming and wasting arable land, we are throwing real pollution over the entire earth (affecting e.g. albedo in the Arctic), and more. We are technologically advanced cousins of the lemming.

There is a lot we can be doing to preserve the biosphere in terms of the above.

The "penalty for failure" part comes in when one considers that CO2 is the base of the food chain, and there is significant reason for doubt about the the "evils" thereof.

We know we could be making progress by helping in other areas, but we don't know that increased CO2 won't help the robustness of flora and average rainfall, leading to recharge of the above mentioned aquifers as well.

This is a war for oil. The CO2-centrists are controlled by a faction of that war. Many say "we know it's not just CO2" but consider no other solution than CO2. They are talking out of both sides of their mouths. There are the haves such as Exxon, then there are those who want to control it - the U.N. et al. The truth is somewhere in the middle. In the meantime, we should be helping where we know it will help - farming practices, population control, real pollution, etc.

We're a carbon based life form. It can be considered that we are in fact rescuing carbon from the depths and redistributing it to the biosphere as CO2, not polluting with it.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 15, 2006 05:43 AM


I will agree we have a tragedy in the making here, and it's due to overuse of resources by an overpopulated world. I also agree that we are possibly in the midst of an accelerated extinction period that is anthropogenic in origin.

However, there is a concept that is missed by the CO2-centric-catastrophic group, and that is "penalty for failure." We are sucking aquifers dry which negatively affects rivers, we are overfarming and wasting arable land, we are throwing real pollution over the entire earth (affecting e.g. albedo in the Arctic), and more. We are technologically advanced cousins of the lemming.

I believe Steve Hemphill has shown the perfect reasons why Benny Peiser is so sceptical: a complete litany of catastrophic phrases, endless appeals to popularity and other fallacious statements, and an accusation that anyone who doesn't agree with his sentiments must be either deluded or in league with the Forces of Evil.

Bjorn Lomborg called it "The Litany". None of the propositions made by Hemphill stand any proper forensic examination.

Posted by: John A at October 15, 2006 08:06 AM


Steve, thanks for your comments. I`m happy to know that you acknowledge some problems, even though you seem to be hoping that all of the unchecked CO2 forcing from the age of industrialization on is somehow going to be a boon.

The core problem, on multiple fronts, is what I have briefly noted above: the great bread machine of the capitalist, market economy works great when resources are OWNED, so that transactions refelecting people`s preferences have prices that then instruct everyone on the value of that resource. With open-access resources, there is no clear or enforceable ownership right, so markets just don`t work. The result? We overconsume, over-pollute, shift costs onto others and the future. Why - because we`re selfish, greedy and evil and need to change human nature? Nah, we`ve always been that way, but as long as resources are owned, we`ve done just great - just look at all fothe technological and economic progress in modern market econolies!

We just need to see where markets DON`T work, understand why, and deliverately set up a feedback mechanism so that markets can function. What we`ve got instead is a souped up machine that drives great, but in certain respects, for lack of feedback from pricing signals, the accelerator is stuck, we`ve simply got no brake at all - and those who are selling us the fuel are tell us not to worry, keep on buying - and if we all crash later, well, at least I`ve filled my pockets for now!

I don`t share your optimism about CO2, because AGW is not an intended result of economic activity, and the costs are staring us in the face. In principle the fix is not difficult - we just need a pricing mechanism (ideally through the creation of some type of property right) so the market will have a feedback mechanism - this will call forth all types of changes in economic choices, activity and investment. (The same is true with other resource conflicts where there is no ownership - solve the ownership issure!) We hardly need a command and control economy, but those who hope that everything will right itself either don`t understand how the economy works or have their eyes closed (other alternatives are ideological or persoanl interests).

You say: "we should be helping where we know it will help - farming practices, population control, real pollution, etc." I agree 100% - and the way to help other countries is to help them ensure that resources have clear private or communal owners, protected by the rule of law - where are all of the voices on the right pushing for that?? We should prioritize our problems, of course - there is a cost to solving all of these ope-acces resource problems. Personally, I believe that solving problems that direct affect global ecosystems are worth our attention.

You say "There are the haves such as Exxon, then there are those who want to control it - the U.N. et al. The truth is somewhere in the middle." You are close here, but not close enough. What is the UN but a bureacracy that imperfectly reflects the interests of the nations that are its members? It certainly has no power over the US that we don`t grant to it. The truth about the economics of carbon is that those who benefit most from using the global atmosphere as a free GHG dump are happy with that situation and have invested in keeping things that way. That should be quite clear - just look at Gelbspan, Mooney, the Luntz memo, and all the Bush/Republican rhetoric. Others are looking for solutions so they can start figuring out their investments - Dupont, GE, Boeing, the Pew group, utilities. This is complicated on the international level by the typical multiple-player strategies relating to open-acess resources - how do the players coordinate their behavior, so no one is "unfairly" burdened while they move to a managed-resource situation?

This is not a war for oil - there are lots of energy resources. It`s a war by one group to protect their free use of a resource that we now see imposes costs on us all. We should stop the war - if theat means we initally have to give the GHG emitters free rights to emit up to their current levels, then perhaps we should, just so from that point on there will finally be a market that prices emissions. They certainly have a real cost, and it makes no sense to ignore that.

Sorry for running on.

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 15, 2006 08:35 AM


Sorry, apparently I wasn't clear on a couple of points.

First, the U.N., who has already shown us they can't control an energy trading scheme by the name of "Oil for Food", obviously intends to either "control" or have great influence on who "controls" a carbon credit trading scheme, which is ultimately the same thing as the "Oil for Food" scam.

Second, when I refer to the wasting of arable land and lowering of water tables, I am referring to decreased transpiration and the ensuing decreased cloudiness, lowering albedo. By real pollution I am referring, in the context of this discussion, to black carbon, further lowering albedo.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 15, 2006 10:09 AM


Hi Tom,

Unfortunately, I've picked the worst time in the world to have a lot of actual work to do. ;-) I won't be able to comment at all during the coming work week.

Since my time is limited, I'll just address this comment of yours, even though I'm getting way off topic (sorry, Roger! :-)):

You write, "Perhaps you can help me by giving me a cool-headed analysis of how effective private or communal property rights and markets affecting ecosystems and wild species will magically come into being, before we permanently trash the world`s open access resources?

Or do you simply take the view that it`s not Rome that`s burning, but simply alot of worthless stuff and we`ll all be better off when our ocean fisheries are replaced by stock farms and our tropical forests with oil palms and soybeans? So we merely have a definitional issue over what we mean by Rome?"

?????! Oh my! I thought we were talking about *global warming*???! (We were at one time, weren't we? ;-))

When you said that Rome was burning, I thought you were essentially saying the planet was burning up. My point was (and is) that the planet is NOT burning up, and there isn't a good scientific reason for why the planet burning up in the next 100-200 years is anything but a very remote possibility. (It's remotely possible that there would be some massive release of methane from methane hydrates. But I don't put the probability at even 1 percent over the next 100 years.)

I certainly was NOT saying that there aren't ***significant*** environmental problems in the world today. Certainly, loss of species is a concern. But (certain papers in Nature notwithstanding) I don't see any reason that ties CO2 emissions in with loss of species concerns.

Many/most loss of species concerns come from poverty, and certainly some come from the fact that there are more than 6 billion humans in the world. And others come from bad laws. (As Ron Bailey has pointed out, the current Endangered Species Act makes endangered species the LAST thing one would want on one's property, instead of making endangered species on one's property a GOOD thing. See hyperlinks.):

http://www.reason.com/hitandrun/2006/09/rare_woodpecker.shtml

http://www.reason.com/rb/rb072705.shtml

http://www.reason.com/rb/rb123103.shtml

And declining wild fish in the ocean is a ****huge**** problem! (As I recall, Bjorn Lomborg said in The Skeptical Environmentalist that, "The oceans are not running out of fish." But they *are*! At least wild fish.)

Actually, I think it may be possible to fix the declining wild fish problem with genetic engineering. We (the world...or my company in particular ;-)) need to come up with a biomarker for fish such that people can "plant" fish in the ocean, like farmers plant seeds.

Another analogy would be the branding of cattle that allowed them to do open-range foraging.

If people that harvested fish knew who "planted" the fish, and were required to pay a small fee to the people who "planted" the fish (unless the harvesters themselves did the planting)...then we'd have people dumping tons and tons of fish eggs and hatchlings in the oceans.

The thing is, the world is *not* (to my knowledge) working on cool ideas like that, in part because we're wasting unbelievable amounts of time on the essentially negligible problem of CO2 emissions.

Best wishes,
Mark

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 15, 2006 03:40 PM


John A., I will let Steve speak for himself but it seems rather obvious that you have let your own view of reality get in the way of careful reading. Personally, I am curious on what basis you conclude that Steve has thrown in "an accusation that anyone who doesn't agree with his sentiments must be either deluded or in league with the Forces of Evil" - can you clarify?

Steve, thanks for your further thoughts. Before I go on, don't you think you owe John A. an exposition on why you are not really a fruit loop catastrophist?

1. Your first point is an argument not that AGW is not occurring, but that you'd rather not have governments (especially using the UN) involved in trying to regulate CO2. Let me just note that if the various countries of the world decide that they wish to regulate GHG emissions (and allow offsets for sequestration), then they are in effect creating a market between themselves in which private parties also have rights. Just like other markets, all players will have incentives to try to police others (look for cheating) and to have the market run as smoothly as possible (to minimize costs and maximize the value of transactions).

2. Sounds like you are saying that there are other aspects of AGW other than simply CO2 emissions that the world should also be concerned about and address. If so, I agree. But that will involve acts of government, won't it?

My own view is that besides mitigating we will also need to adapt, as Roger occasional notes. The best way for the US and other developed countries to adapt is to disseminate as much information on climate change to society, so people, firms and communities have the latest information on which to base their economic decisions. As for the developing countries, as Lomborg and many others have noted (the US Economic Rountable and others before him), what we should be trying to do is to help these countries to grow, by pushing for the rule of law and for clear and enforceable property rights over resources. The "denial lobby" argues that we should not regulate GHG emissions since it may damage the economies of the developing world, but the far more effective strategy for development is law and order - why are they not also raising a big hue and cry over the need to provide infrastructural support?

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 16, 2006 03:43 AM


Mark, by "Rome burning" I was intending to refer to the effects of climate change on ecosystems and biodiversity. It may have seemed slightly off topic, but many eminent biologists (E.O. Wilson for one) feel that we are in the middle of a major, man-caused extinction of species that rivals when the dinosaurs went extinct. People can argue about various aspects of this, but there is no doubt there is a major extinction spasm underway. There are many different factors, but rapidly changing temps certainly move the climate zones to which different species have adapted.

Most extinctions are fueled not by poverty per se but by the property rights issues I raised before. Where no one owns a resource, they have no incentives to protect it, but rather to exploit the resource before others can.

You are certainly barking up the right tree whne it comes to fisheries - we already know that the solutions lie in creating property rights called "individual tranferrable quotas" (ITQs). Ron Bailey, who I also like, has had a number of articles on this topic, most recently here: http://www.reason.com/rb/rb082506.shtml.

So why aren't we doing anything about crashing fishery stocks and resuming whaling, even when the answers are right at hand? Like other types of open access resources, there are tremendous transaction costs and technical hurdles in moving from open-access property to either private or commonly-managed property. Users often move to regulate only when the resource crashes - so that the returns provided by contuining to fish do not cover marginal costs. Before that point, users may find it too difficult to come to terms. Sometimes a shift in regime will come when technology advances. Use of the Great Plains moved from free for all, to jointly managed cattle ranges, to warfare when sheep drivers arrived to fencing off the Plains when barbed wire was invented.

Similar problems with lack of property rights and effective managment underlie the US refusal to join Kyoto (as China, India and others stayed out), the failure of the EU to meet their obligations (why should they incur costs that will benefit others who bear none) and block policy changes in the US (the commercial interests that get the greatest benefits for using the atmosphere as a CO2 dump are trying to protect their interests, while those who wish to head off the damage caused by GHG emissions are more diffuse and not effectively coordinated).

Sounds like you suggest we should just try to tackle one issue at a time. I think we can and need to do better than that.

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 16, 2006 04:35 AM


Roger wrote:

a) The earliest uses (see other thread on this, was ~2001) of the phrase "climate change denial/denier" were made explicitly as an allusion to the Holocaust, according to those who have introduced the phrases.

and also:

Brian S.- Thanks for your follow up, I guess I did indeed miss what you meant in your original post. Sorry about that. See my immediately previous response to Mark H. which I think addresses your original point. Let me know if not.

(end snip)

Unfortunately, I'm too lazy to search through all Prometheus posts between 2000 and 2002 to find the post that proves what Roger is saying. Guess I'm not dedicated.

Posted by: Brian S. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 16, 2006 06:22 PM


Thanks Tom -

I think David misunderstood me - and after reading my post I can see why. Hopefully my subsequent post cleared that up.

And, I certainly agree with you on the Tragedy of the Commons...

However, I don't think it's just my "hope" on CO2 enhancing the biosphere - I think it's a valid possibility, and the tap dancing done to find anecdotes without looking at the spatial edges of specific flora's viability makes that seem like maybe the CO2-Centrist-Catastropists are hiding their dirty laundry - or at least not trying to find it.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 16, 2006 07:22 PM


"Mark, by "Rome burning" I was intending to refer to the effects of climate change on ecosystems and biodiversity. It may have seemed slightly off topic, but many eminent biologists (E.O. Wilson for one) feel that we are in the middle of a major, man-caused extinction of species that rivals when the dinosaurs went extinct."

Ummmm...OK. But how many biologists are saying that the man-caused extinction of species is a result of man-caused climate change?

"You are certainly barking up the right tree whne it comes to fisheries - we already know that the solutions lie in creating property rights called "individual tranferrable quotas" (ITQs)."

Well, actually, I think my idea of marking fish would improve the situation even beyond ITQs. When people harvest wild fish, they can only do so at the the rate of natural new fish production. If people got credit for "planting" fish in the ocean, like farmers plant seeds in the ground (or like ranchers "plant" cows on the open range) then we'd see a lot more people putting fish eggs and hatchlings into the ocean.

Have you ever seen anyone dumping fish eggs or hatchlings into the open ocean? Conversely, do owners of fish farms "stock" their ponds with fish eggs or hatchlings? Why does that happen in fish farms, but not the ocean? The answer is that no one makes any money by dumping fish eggs or hatchlings into the open ocean. Not yet, anyway.

"So why aren't we doing anything about crashing fishery stocks and resuming whaling, even when the answers are right at hand? Like other types of open access resources, there are tremendous transaction costs and technical hurdles in moving from open-access property to either private or commonly-managed property. Users often move to regulate only when the resource crashes -..."

Exactly. But you seem to think that a worldwide CO2 ITQ system can be set up, even though the setup and transaction costs will be much, much higher. (In particular, you'll NEVER get all the nations of the world to agree what are "fair" limits to their citizens' emissions of CO2.) AND the climate is never going to "crash". There will NEVER be a CO2 level (in real life, not in computer memories) that causes the atmosphere to be substantially degraded (less able to be used).

"Sounds like you suggest we should just try to tackle one issue at a time."

No, development of controlled fusion solves ALL these problems:

1) Air pollution from electrical generation,

2) Mining/extraction pollution caused by extraction of coal/oil,

3) Long-lived radioactive byproducts from fission,

4) Requirements for a massive power grid to move electricity from coal/wind/nuclear fission,

5) Incredible expense of getting into space caused by the fact that fuel represents greater than 90 percent of a rocket's takeoff weight,

6) Dependency on politically unstable and undemocratic areas of the world for energy,

7) And a bunch more things I probably haven't thought of yet...

Mark

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 16, 2006 07:28 PM


Mark:

Q: "how many biologists are saying that the man-caused extinction of species is a result of man-caused climate change?"

A: Besides E.O. Wilson, see the National Geographic here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/01/0107_040107_extinction.html

Q: ITQs for GHG emissions impossible to agree to politically, atmosphere never "degraded"?

A: Granted, it can be extremely difficult to reach agreements on group management of open-access commons - that's why action usually comes too late - after the resource crashes or is greatly degraded. But I don't buy into fatalism on these issues; we're smart enough to understand them and to act proactively to put into place effective managment regimes that harness property rights, market forces and pricing mechanisms. We just need to see that the gamesmanship that nations and interest groups play is in the long-run against their own individual self-interest, and start building consensuses that focus on the long-term interests that all share.

Agreement is not impossible on AGW; all major nations remain parties to the UNCCC and we nearly had agreement in the Kyoto Protocol. All that the US needs to do to justify our accession (to a revised treaty) is to bring China and India (with Australia, S Korea & Brazil) in at the same time. This is doable and simply requires the politcal will to move ahead. The US and EU can simply say that our open trade policies are contingent on accepting obligations under such a treaty, and domestic industry will be satisfied that their domestic and international competitiveness will not be undercut by manufacturers which have no comparable obligations (offsetting tariffs can be used, etc.). Our lack of participation in Kyoto is the reason that other nations are cheating on their mutual commitments.

As for what is "degraded" of course what we are concerned about is not the atmosphere per se (as CO2 is not a pollutant in the sense that it directly harms anyone), but what the effects of climate change are on human livelihood, economic activity and natural ecosystems. I think that it is undeniable that an AGW pressure on climate puts stresses on important ecosystems and habitats, and is not calling for a new blossoming of biodiversity. You may disagree as to matter of degree (but it seems that you are not yet well read on this), but should be able to concede in principle that AGW in balance imposes costs.

Q: Isn't fusion the panacea?

A: Maybe, but I prefer to try to get markets working so that private investment and economic activities determined by individuals drive investment, rather than the government, using OPM (other people's money), in its wisdom decide what investments are best for society (and what pork is best for special interests that are able to purchase favored treatment). I believe that the government should try to focus on market solutions where markets are not working, rather than itself trying to be the solution.

You seem to like the Bush approach to climate change - let's allow economic interests to continue to impose costs on all of us with impunity, while trying to move to a less carbon-intensive energy system by through money at it - for the benefit of the same or other pork-seekers (including China and India). How did your libertarian perspective lead you to THAT position?

My guess is that since in principle you disfavor government regulation, you generally tend to downplay both the size of the problem and propose solutions that seem less harmful as they involve government grants rather than regulation. Are you really keeping an open mind, or do you have it all made up?

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 16, 2006 11:18 PM


Steve, it's too late to sound reasonable - you have already revealed your true colors as a "catastophist" yourself, so John A. has already moved you to the "wingnut" category!

1. According to John, everything you said earlier about environmental problems is "a complete litany of catastrophic phrases, endless appeals to popularity and other fallacious statements, and an accusation that anyone who doesn't agree with his sentiments must be either deluded or in league with the Forces of Evil." So while there may be middle ground between you and me, for him there is none - he has absolute confidence in his views, even though it seems rather clear that his perceptions are way off.

2. Back to CO2, you say: "However, I don't think it's just my "hope" on CO2 enhancing the biosphere - I think it's a valid possibility, and the tap dancing done to find anecdotes without looking at the spatial edges of specific flora's viability makes that seem like maybe the CO2-Centrist-Catastropists are hiding their dirty laundry - or at least not trying to find it."

I think this is unsupportable. There is alot of ongoing research relating to the effects of CO2 levels, higher temperatures and climate change on plant growth, net biomass and carbon storage. Not everybody knows about it, but who's hiding?

To be honest, I think alot of what's out there in the big picture is rather disturbing, and cuts against a rosy view. Here are a few links for you:

http://www.physics.rutgers.edu/~karin/140/articles/amazondrought_nyt.pdf
http://www.canoekayak.ca/eng_newsarticle.cfm?ID=298
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/08/amazonian-drought/
http://pages.unibas.ch/botschoen/elevated_co2/index.shtml
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/08/020807065359.htm
http://www.hrw.com/science/si-science/chemistry/matter/carbon/carbon_trop.html
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=15212098&dopt=Abstract
http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/MediaAlerts/2002/200204108346.html

In particular, tropical forests seem to do poorly under higher temperatures, and tropical forest areas have been experiencing severe droughts, especially in the Amazon. You might find surprising this rather alarming report by that arch-catastrophist, Paul Wolfowitz of the World Bank, linking the droughts to climate change: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/ESSDNETWORK/Resources/EnvironmentandDevelopmentReachingforaDoubleDividend.pdf

I stick by my oriiginal comments (October 11, 2006 06:13 AM), as to why we all have a difficult time in approching the issue of climate change with open minds.

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 17, 2006 01:34 AM


“My goal is to develop a low-polluting, inexpensive, and inexhaustible energy source for the LEAST possible cost to society.”

This is a motherhood-type statement – how can anyone be against cheap, inexhaustible energy?

It appears that we certainly do have different perspectives on the nature of the problem and by extension a difference of opinion on the efficacy of various solutions. At the end of the day, I think that most disagreements about climate change, and environmental problems in general, really come down to different attitudes about risk and how we as society should manage these risks.

Like TT, the economist in me looks at the problem of climate change as an example of market failure. Specifically, the problem is that the risks associated with GHGs are not factored into the costs of goods which produce GHGs as a byproduct. As a result there is there is no direct economic incentive (their may be public relation reasons) for firms to reduce emissions. Nor is there any incentive for consumers to reduce their consumption since prices are kept artificially lower than they would be otherwise.

A cap-and-trade system is a proven market approach (e.g. SO2/NOx market in CA) that addresses this kind of market failure, since it internalizes the risks of climate change (think of them as insurance premiums). The degree to which these risks are internalized of course depends on how risk averse we are as a society and how serious we think the problem might be. If we aren’t very risk averse and don’t think that the impacts will be serious then one wouldn’t expect the premiums (i.e. permits) to be very expensive since countries would be more lax with allocations and emission reduction timetables. On the other hand, if we are risk averse, and/or we think that the impacts will be serious, then the premiums would be more expensive since allocations and reduction timetables would be more aggressive.

Now I think it’s safe to say that you don’t think the potential impacts of climate change are likely to be significant, but are you willing to risk being wrong? Now I don’t mean this as a personal challenge akin to the bets that Annan and others have made. Instead, I’m simply trying to point out that our attitudes about risk are as important as our perception of the problem itself (both in terms of magnitude and probabilities). I happen to be in the risk averse/big impact camp so for me significant action seems prudent and appropriate.

Now if you accept, as I do, that the potential economic damages associated with global warming could easily top $1 trillion dollars (to say nothing about the nonmarket damages), then you can understand why I consider $4 billion to be a paltry amount by comparison. It’s a token amount in light of the risks involved, and IMO is unlikely to produce an effective solution.

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 17, 2006 02:42 PM


Tom -

Your links show the very evidence of which I spoke errh typed above. Descriptions of the various studies generally left much room for alternative explanations - especially the Amazon Rainforest problem: It's been shown that transpiration and flora growth feed on each other. Decimation of the Rainforest would certainly have a negative effect on precipitation. How much might be AGW from increased CO2 is of course unknown, but some, at least, is from AGW of a different mode. If we had good regional models we could find out.

Alas, good regional models are a long ways away. Not in terms of time necessarily, but in terms of computing power and understanding of feedbacks vs. "tweaking" of models.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 17, 2006 03:57 PM


Steve, I wasn't trying to convince you that the remarkable Amazonian drought is connected to AGW. I agree that there's alot of noise in the system and that it is difficult to draw any connections between the two with confidence.

My chief aim was to show, with that and the other links, that climate change scientists are of course examining the effects of higher CO2, and the picture doesn't generally seem to be rosy. So I don't think that your perception that "CO2-Centrist-Catastropists are hiding their dirty laundry - or at least not trying to find it" is supportable.

And I am surprised that you continue to pepper your writing with labels like "CO2-Centrist-Catastropists", especially as John A. has essentially called you one yourself. It is also curious that you choose not to defend yourself from him. Is it because you really fid it satisfying to take sides too, and don't realize that the best side is right in the middle?

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 17, 2006 08:34 PM


Marlowe,

I wrote, “My goal is to develop a low-polluting, inexpensive, and inexhaustible energy source for the LEAST possible cost to society.”

You replied, "This is a motherhood-type statement – how can anyone be against cheap, inexhaustible energy?"

Here is a *partial* list of some of the people who could be "against cheap, inexhaustible energy":

The management, employees, and stockholders of oil companies, coal companies, natural gas companies, and electric utility companies. The management, employees, and stockholders of all the companies who supply equipment to those industries, or sell those products, e.g. oil services companies such as Halliburton and McDermott, utility industry equipment suppliers like Westinghouse and GE, convenience store owners (who may make a large part of their profits from selling gasoline).

Should I go on? (For example, potentially automobile companies, for whom internal combustion engines and transmissions are a huge portion of the total automobile cost.)

P.S. Also, environmental engineers whose specialty is air pollution. And environmentalists who don't want to see an essentially non-polluting and inexhaustible energy source, because it would result in no incentives to conserve energy (which is imperative, according to their religious sensibilities).

"At the end of the day, I think that most disagreements about climate change, and environmental problems in general, really come down to different attitudes about risk and how we as society should manage these risks."

No, our difference here seems to be that even though I don't think AGW is a problem, I can think of a very inexpensive potential course of action (less than $5 billion cost to a government or group of governments) that has a very decent chance of completely solving it. On the other hand, even though you claim that AGW *is* a big problem, you don't seem to want to solve it. You seem to instead prefer something that by your own admission will cost over a trillion dollars, and will even then probably not solve the problem.

You conclude, "Now if you accept, as I do, that the potential economic damages associated with global warming could easily top $1 trillion dollars (to say nothing about the nonmarket damages), then you can understand why I consider $4 billion to be a paltry amount by comparison. It’s a token amount in light of the risks involved, and IMO is unlikely to produce an effective solution."

You don't think $4 billion in technological prizes for development of non-tokamak fusion will result in fusion being able to displace all other energy forms?

If not, what about $40 billion in technology prizes for development of non-tokamak fusion?

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 21, 2006 09:36 PM


Tom,

I wrote, "How many biologists are saying that the man-caused extinction of species is a result of man-caused climate change?"

You responded by pointing to National Geographic (NG) article about a paper in Nature. The headline for the NG article is:

"By 2050 Warming to Doom Million Species, Study Says."

Oh brother. This is typical of the garbage that threatens to render the term "environmental science" oxymoronic.

I didn't ask you to provide a computer-generated fantasy. (In fact, I've already warned you against accepting computer-generated fantasies as truth.) I asked you what species had ALREADY become extinct (due to the ~1 degree Celsius warming from 1885 to 2005).

Please name even 15 species that you think have become extinct as a principal result of the warming from 1885 to 2005. (Given the claim that, "By 2050 Warming to Doom Million Species," you should have no trouble even identifying 15 THOUSAND species that went extinct due to the warming from 1885 to 2050.)

You also write, "Agreement is not impossible on AGW; all major nations remain parties to the UNCCC and we nearly had agreement in the Kyoto Protocol."

We "nearly had agreement in the Kyoto Protocol" because it does virtually nothing to actually reduce emissions of GHGs. The Kyoto Protocol has absolutely no limits for China or India, and basically allows rich countries to pay off Russia and Eastern European countries, in order to avoid any real limits on GHG emissions. The Kyoto Protocol will have absolutely no effect on world temperatures. (Or do you disagree?)

When I asked what was degraded by CO2 emissions, you responded, "As for what is "degraded" of course what we are concerned about is not the atmosphere per se (as CO2 is not a pollutant in the sense that it directly harms anyone), but what the effects of climate change are on human livelihood, economic activity and natural ecosystems."

Yes, my point is that CO2 emissions do not significantly degrade human livelihood, economic activity, or "natural" ecosystems.

This document has a partial ranking of some environmental problems. The cost of climate change (in years of human life lost) comes in at the very bottom:

http://ehs.sph.berkeley.edu/krsmith/publications/03_smith_1.pdf

You ask, “Q: Isn't fusion the panacea?”
Who ever said fusion was “the panacea”? What I did say was that fusion is an inexhaustible, low-polluting, and potentially inexpensive source of potentially all the energy humankind needs. Those are simple, factual technical assessments. Do you know anyone who disagrees with those assessments?
Then you respond (predictably) with: “Maybe, but I prefer to try to get markets working so that private investment and economic activities determined by individuals drive investment, rather than the government, using OPM (other people's money),...”
This of course ignores the fact that your proposed “market” solution in fact will give 100s of billions, if not trillions, of dollars of “OPM (other people’s money)” to those you deem worthy. The “permits” you propose are in NO WAY earned by anyone, except by your whims.
Then you have the gall to ask, “You seem to like the Bush approach to climate change - let's allow economic interests to continue to impose costs on all of us with impunity, while trying to move to a less carbon-intensive energy system by through money at it - for the benefit of the same or other pork-seekers (including China and India). How did your libertarian perspective lead you to THAT position?”
What a load of crap. Your “allow economic interests to continue to impose costs on all of us with impunity” is nothing more than populist tripe. We ALL emit CO2. And we ALL benefit from the processes that emit that CO2 (e.g., transportation and electrical energy production).
Tell me…how did your (ALLEGED!) libertarian perspective lead to you to the position that it’s OK to invent a market that creates an artificial scarcity, and *forces* people (of whom you don’t approve) to give literally hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions, to people of whom you do approve?
“My guess is that since in principle you disfavor government regulation…”
I disfavor government regulation where it is clearly unnecessary, intrusive, and expensive. Like setting up a global CO2 emissions trading scheme. (Exactly the unnecessary, intrusive, and expensive government regulation that you are advocating.)
“you generally tend to downplay both the size of the problem…”
That is patently false. Essentially every objective analysis I’m aware of (e.g., Bjorn Lomborg’s “Copenhagen Consensus” project, or the paper I reference above) does not rank global warming highly compared to other environmental problems (let alone all categories of world problems).
“…and propose solutions that seem less harmful as they involve government grants rather than regulation.”
Once again, you mischaracterize my proposal. (I’m definitely starting to think your mischaracterization is deliberate!) I am NOT proposing “grants.” Technology prizes are NOT “grants.” “Grants” are awarded prior to or during efforts, even if no useful outcome is achieved. The technology prizes that I propose would involve NO expenditure of government money until AFTER an outcome that is useful has been achieved. Further, my proposed technology prizes involve a tiny fraction of the money you would force people to pay, based on your whims of how much CO2 they deserve to emit.

Mark

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 22, 2006 03:59 PM


Mark, welcome back. We're drifting from the main thread, so let me try to steer it back a bit.

I noted above that "it is clear that there is a cognitive problem of denial relating to climate change, compounded by our penchant for taking sides. That means that both sides have difficulty really listening to all of the evidence, instead of rationalizing one's position, the better to focus on defeating (or defending against) one's perceived enemies." With that in mind, let's look at your post.

1. You asked me "How many biologists are saying that the man-caused extinction of species is a result of man-caused climate change?"

I had previously given you the name of E.O. Wilson, but also gave you a link to a National Geographic article about a paper in Nature. The NG article lists the following scientists:

- Chris Thomas, a conservation biologist at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.
- Townsend Peterson, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence
- Lee Hannah, a climate change biologist with Conservation International's Center for Applied Biodiversity Science
- J. Alan Pounds of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica
- Robert Puschendorf, a biologist at the University of Costa Rica

Isn't this what you asked for? Rather than your acknolwdgement, you express your disdain for the underlying work, without even bothering to discuss it substantively. Are you a conservation biologist? I believe that species extinction is a serious problem, and that climate change is already contributing to it. You, on the other hand, seem to have closed your mind, despite the evidence that climate change is already affecting climate zones and species' populations.

I'd ask you to actually comment on the arguments and evidence that I've linked to, before suggesting more hurdles for me before you'll start to take the matter seriously. Here are links to more discussions of this issue, in case you are actually interested:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v427/n6970/full/427107a.html
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v427/n6970/full/nature02121.html;jsessionid=6F9E07B975A8A15CCC9A354117EEC355

2. I said that "Agreement is not impossible on AGW" and notet that "we nearly had agreement in the Kyoto Protocol;" you respond by noting the failures of Kyoto. I agree that Kyoto has failed, in the limited sense that it has commenced effectiveness while leaving the US, China and India (along with South Korea, Australia and Brazil outside of it). But it has still established very useful infrastructure, and provides a framework for making a more effective agreement that will extend to other major GHG emitters.

It is not a huge jump to add a few more nations to an international treaty already in effect, especially as the existing signatories will be considering long-term goals. Somewhere I guess I missed your argument that having a meaningful international CO2 regime is pie in the sky.

3. You earlier stated that "There will NEVER be a CO2 level (in real life, not in computer memories) that causes the atmosphere to be substantially degraded (less able to be used)."

I agree, but your statement is essentially meaningly, so I said that what we are concerned about are the impacts of climate change. You have responded that "CO2 emissions do not significantly degrade human livelihood, economic activity, or "natural" ecosystems." Can I presume you meant to refer to AGW? In that case, I am afraid that I have to disagree, as I believe that AGW has already had a significant impact on human livelihood, economic activity and natural ecosystems - from shifting seasons, a thawing arctic, unusual droughts, pronounced rain events/flooding etc., with more on the way.

It sounds like you disagree strongly on the materiality issue - do you disagree that there is even a RISK of materiality?

The paper you point to is interesting, but of little relevance to this discussion. First, most of the other risks listed in the last chart are self-imposed or willingly undertaken; climate change is a systemic risk that individuals essentially have no direct control over or affect on. Second, propoerly understood, climate change is a problem of failed property rights, so that markets (and individual choices) do not take into account the related costs. Fixing the market is an ideal that will actually save significant other costs by eliminating the need for other government action in the form of subsidies for favored technologies, and will also reduce future damages and costs to adapt infrastructure etc.

The only serious issue under dispute is whether the transactional costs of establishing a meaningful system are less than the benefits to be gained/costs avoided. Let's address that in a minute.

4. You say that "fusion is an inexhaustible, low-polluting, and potentially inexpensive source of potentially all the energy humankind needs." The key point Mark, is the word POTENTIALLY, which you neglected also to add before the word "inexhaustible". Fusion now consumes for energy than it produces.

5. Policy/emotion. Surprise, we disagree. Even though I am sympathetic to your arguments, I think you have misunderstood and miscontrued mine. And, to get back to the thread, I think your language (great turns of phrase such as "whims", "gall", "load of crap", "populist tripe", *forces* and "patently false"!) shows that you are not really thinking things through, but emotionally defending a position.

6. Policy/prizes & grants/subsidies. Before we go further, let me accept your criticism that I have mischaracterized you position by referring to your proposal as "grants" as opposed to "technology prizes". I do see the difference, and agree that prizes are less pernicious than grants - but both ARE "throwing money" at a problem; one that you seem to feel merits no particular concern. I suppose you also favor the existing federal grants supporting fusion research; if not, maybe you could make clear that you oppose the existing subsidies? Second, I am inclined away from your proposal because, in general, I think that in the case of market failures it may be more efficient for the government to assist in establishing a market or by regulating in a quasi-market manner. These approaches avoid having the government make decisions as to individual technologies.

If I agreed with you that the costs of government involvement in finding quasi-market solutions to AGW, then I would be more inclined to agree that it is acceptable for the government to try to stimulate the development of technologies that will help either to mitigate AGW or aid adaptation to its effects. But neither course is a pure libertarian approach, since they involve government making decisions about our welfare and tax dollars/economic activity.

7. Policy/libertarian. Like you, "I disfavor government regulation where it is clearly unnecessary, intrusive, and expensive." I agree that setting up a global CO2 emissions trading scheme involves expense, but I think it is worth the bargain. I recognize that you do not.

Mark, unfortunately there is no clear libertarian way to from the AGW problem, even while one ought to be able to acknowledge that it is a problem because there are no property rights in the atmosphere. Because the lack of property rights, it is difficult for anyone to make any type of LEGAL argument that any one or groups of people are enjoying a benefit while shifting costs onto others, but I think that it's rather clear that that is what is happening.

If the atmosphere were a more traditional resource, then the existing users would have essentially established homesteading rights in their current use, so that those who are negatively affected by AGW would at leasst theoretically have an ability to bargain with emitters over what emission levels they are willing to pay emitters to forego.

I do think it is quite clear that coal and oil producers and major industrial users have invested in protecting their free access to the atmosphere; others, likewise have invested in trying to create some type of quasi-market in GHGs. I believe that we would all benefit from a market-tpye solution - which is all we could possibly expect, as transaction costs make a pure market solution infeasible - and all that I suggest is that IF such a solution is desirable (and I know you disagree), then it may be realistic to acknowledge the claims of existing users and simple distribute the GHG emission rights. But I am neutral and think that an auction would be just as acceptable. A third alternative lies in carbon taxes, which would also invvolve no government grant.

8. Policy/scope of problem. You clearly do not think that the scope of the AGW problem merits action. It is my view that you understate the problem, and I do not think you can fairly claim that my perspective is "patently false".

I also do not agree that what you praise as "objective analysis" is very good, much less "objective" analysis. Some criticisms of the "Copenhagen Consensus" are discussed here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=325. While there are certainly other very serious problems - such as the need for legal infrastructure and the rule of law in developing countries, the insufficiency of is responsible for their poor economies - the class of problems relating to "unowned", open-access resources is also very significant, and failure to address such problems is eseentially a subsidy to current consumption. Solving most such problems will pay for themselves.

I do not accept that we are condemned to accept the gross overexploitation of local, regional and global fisheries, the destruction of tropical forests, the degradation of ecosystems and the like (problems that are not purely domestic, but transborder and international). We can and should confront these problems honestly and openly, and recognize that denial or throwing our hands up at them will not make them go away, but simply postpone an inevitable day of reckoning.

Regards,

Tom


Posted by: TokyoTom at October 25, 2006 06:45 AM




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