The Political Climate

This introductory paragraph from an article from Grist reprinted in Mother Jones is incredibly depressing–not just because  one of our major political parties  is controlled by people unwilling to acknowledge accepted science on climate change, but because that unwillingness is symptomatic of the party’s current approach to reality generally.

It’s hard to believe, surveying the GOP field of possible presidential nominees, but back in 2008 the parties were not that far apart on climate change. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee, backed cap-and-trade for carbon emissions. After joining his ticket, so did Sarah Palin. But back then, lots of Republicans and conservatives also supported an individual mandate to buy health insurance. The Republican Party of 2008 was a big enough tent to include people who admitted demonstrable problems existed and supported free-market-oriented solutions. Not anymore. The rise of the Tea Party movement and the rightward shift of the Republican base and the politicians who pander to it put an end to all that. Whoever is the Republican nominee for president in 2016, it’s a safe bet that he—and yes, it will be a he, as all the leading contenders are male—will oppose taking any action on climate change. Chances are that he won’t even admit it exists.

I don’t believe that all of these candidates are that divorced from reality. It is actually worse: those who know better are willing to ignore the threat of widespread devastation in order to pander to a frightened and uninformed “base.”

I know I sound like a broken record, but what drives me nuts about climate denial is the illogic of the “bet” being placed.

Let’s just say that the science is far less conclusive than it really is. Pretend it’s only 50-50. If policymakers decide to act on the premise that climate change is real, and prove to be wrong, there will have been some up-front costs, but the steps taken to address the problem will clean up the air and water, conserve finite resources and create new industries and jobs. If they decide to ignore the warnings, and they’re wrong, however, the earth will become less habitable. Weather disruptions and climate change will cause devastation, and mass migrations and social upheavals will follow. And that’s the best-case scenario; in the worst case, we wipe out much of humankind.

It’s Pascal’s wager on steroids.


  1. I should hope the Republican nominee won’t simply accept the anthropogenic global warming theory as true and adopt draconian economic measures to avoid theoretical AGW which will hurt the poor. (Many advocates of AGW theory admit that the changes they propose won’t make any difference in stopping AGW – but that the changes will be good for the environment, which is what this is all about. Here you simply assume those AGW changes will stop and maybe even reverse AGW.) AGW is simply based on the results of computer modeling based on feeding select data (generally just the last 140 years of temperatures which is nothing in the 4.5 billion years of the planet) into those computer models. For people to suggest it’s like evolution is to ignore that the AGW theory wasn’t developed using the scientific method. We’ve had more much more CO2 in the atmosphere than today, during periods when man wasn’t on the planet. The data also show temperatures changes trail CO2 levels…they don’t lead those levels. Not sure too why we simply assume that today’s temps are ideal and that a warmer planet would be bad. History suggests otherwise. By the way, only about 5% of CO2 in the atmosphere is produced by mankind. Trying to blame 100% of the increase on man makes little sense.

    There are so many things wrong with AGW that this is not the time and place for tearing it apart. By the way, the authors of Freakanomics ripped apart AGW in their most recent book SuperFreakanomics. AGW is nothing more than a political strategy to advance an environmental agenda. If it were a serious scientific theory, advocates of that theory would welcome challenge. But they don’t. Instead they want to suppress debate and ostracize anyone who dares questions their theory. That’s not what science is about and that certainly is not what the academic environment should be about. The politicization of science is one of the most dangerous developments of the past 20 years.

  2. Paul, I’ve read your previous statements about climate change, and they all come with that interesting twist where you decry the politicization of climate change, as if the thousands of scientists are in some sort of conspiracy.

    Have you even done a cursory inspection of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report? You don’t even have to read much of it. Just the fact that there are thousands of scientists who had their hands in data located in this report, a report that covers the impact of climate change in 13 different independent areas should be evidence enough to reconsider what you have said.

    The report is technical, yes, but you don’t have to be a scientist to understand 90% of its message and facts. They don’t even use the usual statistical significance numbers. They make it easy for the reader. Please read this thing so you stop embarrassing yourself. The link is:

  3. Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth” is a simpler and faster way to get technical information (not so easy to understand) along with pictures, films, maps and reports of changes caused by melting ice caps (much easier to understand). China is far ahead of the U.S. regarding governmental control of pollution on all levels; years ago people seemed to understand the term “destroying the environment” but believe the term “global warming” to be a political invention – primarily by Al Gore and the Democratic party. There are also those who believe the terms Climate Change and Global Warming are interchangeable; not so, but who’s listening?

  4. Well, there you have it folks, Paul’s already read all of the blogs and all of the conspiracy theories and learned all of the Koch funded facts of the world! I’m sure convinced.

    by the way Paul, still awaiting your response on the recent post about Charter schools. I hope you have some interesting sources. Honestly, my opinion on the issue is plastic, it just takes evidence.

  5. Paul, you expect people to accept a conspiracy by scientists with an agenda (what agenda?). You have stated before that the 97% of scientists who accept AGW do it only to obtain grants for further research. Such an indictment vilifies those scientists. What led you to such vilification? Where can you show us that these scientists don’t accept challenges to their research, findings and conclusions? If that were true they indeed would not be scientists.

  6. Paul says “For people to suggest it’s like evolution is to ignore that the AGW theory wasn’t developed using the scientific method.”

    Let’s use the scientific method on that hypothesis.

    What is the evidence that reality offers to support that statement? I have studied a huge number of the peer reviewed scientific papers from climate scientists. I have zero evidence supporting the hypothesis. Help me out here Paul.

  7. Science hypothesized 200 years ago, and proved 100 years ago, that the inevitable effect of increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide is global warming.

    In the last 25 years climate science has developed the tools to predict the sensible impacts long term of a change in the energy level trapped on earth by measured and perfectly predictable increased greenhouse gas concentrations due to the consumption of fossil fuels.

    Concentrations are higher now than they have ever been over the time of humanity and the building of civilization adapted to earth’s previously stable climate.

    Nobody is worried about the earth. We are positive though that changes like rainfall distribution, sea level increases and ocean acidity will require humanity’s civilization to be rebuilt to accommodate new conditions, and the consequences of more extreme weather will continue to mount from the hundreds of lives lost and billions spent annually today.

    America’s founders bequeathed to us tools necessary and sufficient to avoid passing on to our grandchildren unaffordable costs for rebuilding civilization adapted to a new climate of our making. Democracy and capitalism.

    Vote, consume, and invest in ways that leave fossil fuels benignly underground. Lead the change to sustainable energy now, while it can contribute to maintaining the climate that we built civilization around.

    Get off of the sidelines and on to the field. The team needs you now.

  8. From cultural

    “The cultural cognition thesis asserts that “”culture is prior to fact”” in a cognitive sense: the capacity of individuals to recognize the validity of evidence on risks and like policy-relevant facts depends on cognitive faculties that themselves are oriented by cultural affiliations. Because cultural norms and practices certify that evidence has the qualities that entitle it to being credited consistent with science’s criteria for valid proof, ordinary members of the public won’t be able to recognize that scientific evidence is “”clear”” or “”settled”” unless doing so is compatible with their cultural identities. ”

    Clive Hamilton: “Denial is due to a surplus of culture rather than a deficit of information.”

  9. Nothing makes my day more happy than to have people say that the science about climate change is a conspiracy theory. And how many billions of humans were on the planet 1000 yrs ago?

  10. One error in detail from Paul’s post is “4.5 billion years of the planet”. Science has extended our knowledge to earth’s beginning at 13.7 billion years ago.

    Here’s a most fascinating look at what’s happened since.

    David Christian: The history of our world in 18 minutes #TED :

  11. From cultural

    “So my obsession with the WIGOITH (“What is going on in their heads”) question hasn’t abated since last week. ”

    “The question is put, essentially, by the phenomenon of “knowing disbelief.” This, anyway, is one short-hand I can think of for describing the situation of someone who, on the one hand, displays a working comprehension of and assent to some body of evidence-based propositions about how the world works but who simultaneously, on the other, expresses and indeed demonstrates in consequential and meaningful social engagements disbelief in that same body of propositions.”

    “One can imagine a number of recognizable but discreet orientations that meet this basic description. ”

    “I offered a provisional taxonomy in an earlier post: ”

    “Fuck you & the horse you rode in on” (FYATHRIO), in which disbelief is feigned & expressed only for the sake of evincing an attitude of hostility or antagonism (“Obama was born in Kenya!”);
    compartmentalization, which involves a kind of mental and behavioral cordoning off of recognized contradictory beliefs or attitudes as a dissonance-avoidance strategy (think of the passing or closeted gay person inside of an anti-gay religious community);
    partitioning, which describes the mental indexing of a distinctive form of knowledge or mode of reasoning (typically associated with expertise) via a set of situational cues, the absence of which blocks an agent’s reliable apprehension of what she “knows” in that sense; and
    dualism, in which the propositions that the agent simultaneously “accepts” and “rejects” comprise distinct mental objects, ones that are identified not by the single body of knowledge that is their common referent but by the distinct uses the agent makes of them in inhabiting social roles that are not themselves antagonistic but simply distinct. ”

    “The last of these is the one that intrigues me most. The paradigm is the Muslim physician described by Everhart & Hameed (2013): the “theory of evolution” he rejects “at home” to express his religious identity is “an entirely different thing” from the “theory of evolution” he accepts and indeed makes use of “at work” in performing his medical specialty and in being a doctor.”

    “But the motivation for trying to make sense of the broader phenomenon—of “knowing disbelief,” let’s call it—comes from the results of the “climate science literacy” test—the “Ordinary climate science intelligence” assessment—described in the Measurement Problem (Kahan, in press).”

    “Administered to a representative national sample, the OCSI assessment showed, unsurprisingly, that the vast majority of global-warming “believers” and “skeptics” alike have a painfully weak grasp of the mechanisms and consequences of human-caused climate change.”

    “But the jolting (to me) part was the finding that the respondents who scored the highest on OCSI—the ones who had the highest degree of climate-science comprehension (and of general science comprehension, too)—were still culturally polarized in their “belief in” climate change. Indeed, they were more polarized on whether human activity is causing global warming than were the (still very divided) low-scoring OCSI respondents.”

  12. Sheila – I think the guiding principle is “I got mine – and I want it now”. Delaying gratification and investing in the future, especially a future after our life on earth, just aren’t relevant notions here.

    Paul – I see you still haven’t read “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic” by former climate change denier RIchard A. Muller. Rather than claim conspiracy, he simply applied the scientific method and satisfied himself that things are really worse than they seem. Here is the link:

    By the way, the authors of SuperFreakanomics also believes that you shouldn’t vote. It might be interesting if everyone who likes their views on anthropogenic global warming followed their beliefs on voting as well. Just a thought. 8)>

  13. For the record, Paul was correct and I incorrect on one point. The earth is 4.5 billion years old. The universe is 13.7B.

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