'The environmentalism of my daughter’s preschool is a force-fed potpourri of myth, superstition, and ritual that has much in common with the least reputable varieties of religious Fundamentalism.'

Steven Landsberg, quoted in https://www.aei.org/publication/why-naive-environmentalism-is-like-religious-fundamentalism/

Monday, 23 July 2018

Climate Panic Puzzle Partly Pinned Down

The astonishing, and depressing, success of the climate alarmism 'movement' has long been a puzzle to me.  The explanation of it may well take decades to settle down on a widely agreed version, not least since so many academic disciplines are involved, and many not so academic drives to gain power and wealth are there too.

But a puzzle well-described is a puzzle more likely to be solved.  On the science sides of the puzzle, the role of the so-called climate scientists has been evocatively captured by a chap called Smolin looking at another field that shares with climate studies a severe shortage of good or adequate data*.  Here are his observations as presented by the oceanographer Carl Munsch (hat-tip Judith Curry):

From one point of view, scientific communities without adequate data have a distinct advantage: one can construct interesting and exciting stories and rationalizations with little or no risk of observational refutation. Colorful, sometimes charismatic, characters come to dominate the field, constructing their interpretations of a few intriguing, but indefinite observations that appeal to their followers, and which eventually emerge as “textbook truths.”
Consider the following characteristics ascribed to one particular, notoriously data-poor, field (Smolin, 2006), as having:
1. Tremendous self confidence, leading to a sense of entitlement and of belonging to an elite community of experts.
2. An unusually monolithic community, with a strong sense of consensus, whether driven by the evidence or not, and an unusual uniformity of views on open questions. These views seem related to the existence of a hierarchical structure in which the ideas of a few leaders dictate the viewpoint, strategy, and direction of the field.
3. In some cases a sense of identification with the group, akin to identification with a religious faith or political platform.
4. A strong sense of the boundary between the group and other experts.
5. A disregard for and disinterest in the ideas, opinions, and work of experts who are not part of the group, and a preference for talking only with other members of the community.
6. A tendency to interpret evidence optimistically, to believe exaggerated or incorrect statements of results and to disregard the possibility that the theory might be wrong. This is coupled with a tendency to believe results are true because they are ’widely believed,’ even if one has not checked (or even seen) the proof oneself.
7. A lack of appreciation for the extent to which a research program ought to involve risk.
Smolin (2006) was writing about string theory in physics. Nonetheless, observers of the paleoclimate scene might recognize some common characteristics. 
Note that string-theory is part of theoretical physics, a field noted for having a high proportion of very bright scientists.  Contrast that with the field of climate science, noted for being a somewhat ramshackle collection of often self-identified 'experts' from fields not known for high intellectual challenges such as geography, computer coding, weather forecasting, and planetary science.
The task of helping those who have been through the school system over the last 30 years, and those entering it soon, will be made easier the more insight we have into the causes of the Climate Panic.  Helping with what?  With the dismal, destructive, degrading, distorting world view that mankind is doomed thanks to industrial progress and the associated production of carbon dioxide.  There is not a shred of convincing evidence or argument for that view, but it seems widely adopted in political, media, and academic circles.

* Noted added 07 Oct 2018.  The Climategate Revelations (esp. the HarryReadMe file - details here) pointed to shoddy data and shoddier data management.  Now John McLean has dug into the manure to expose more data quality problems, and in more detail:  http://joannenova.com.au/2018/10/first-audit-of-global-temperature-data-finds-freezing-tropical-islands-boiling-towns-boats-on-land/
'“I was aghast to find that nothing was done to remove absurd values… the whole approach to the dataset’s create is careless and amateur, about the standard of a first-year university student.”
– John McLean


geoff chambers said...

Most interesting. I've written a comment at

Anonymous said...

Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) should be seen not as a science but as a religion. "O Holy Gaia, we have sinned against thee. Forgive us our sins. O Holy Al Gore and Blessed Saint Suzuki (or whomsoever), be with us now and in our hour of need."

We all of us have spiritual needs, by which I mean a need to believe that our lives have some meaning beyond a mere struggle for existence, and, in the Western World at any rate, the continual acquisition of material goods (shop till you drop!). A generation or two ago these needs were reasonably well fulfilled by conventional religion, but this seems to have gone out of favour. A belief that the world is headed for hell in a handbasket, and that only by living pure lives (recycling, lowering one's carbon footprint, eschewing plastic drinking straws, and so on) is a very acceptable substitute.

The real problem however is that the smart, ruthless set (who are always with us) have realised that they can use this to their advantage. So far this century the human race has spent about $3 trillion US on wind and solar energy, and estimates of the amount potentially to be spent in the future range up to $30 trillion. Ally yourselves to expenditures of this magnitude and you can be rich beyond dreams of avarice. Now ask yourselves how much of this would have been spent if the concepts of global warming and climate change had never entered our consciousness.

Much the same can be said about government bureaucrats who build empires on the back of climate change, academics who build mightily profitable careers, and ENGOs who morph into multi-billion dollar corporations with the ears of governments around the world.

CAGW is simply too profitable for a large minority for it to die easily, as Donald Trump is finding out to his cost.

JS said...

Thanks Geoff, much appreciated. I've left a comment there: https://cliscep.com/2018/07/24/stringing-us-along/#comment-27462

Thanks also, Anonymous. I think you may be right. Many decent people have no doubt been swept along with such feelings/needs, but how many have also been damaged by all the doomsterism. Doomsterism which, as you say, others have done very well out of materially.

Gun Lobby said...

The key element I think is the work already done, globally over the last two hundred years, to lower people's skepticism of ANY claim that "something bad is going to happen" - this is a general state of anxiety - whether low grade or acute. Or to put it briefly - the war of attrition on the rational skill of risk assessment.

What was previously termed "negativity" or "paranoia" in extreme cases, is now the predominant state of mind - especially amongst people residing in relatively comfortable western nations.

It is a fascinating illustration of the lack of self-observation and self-critique, that people can invest heavily in their own unconscious and emotional responses to the suggestion of risk, when in fact, materially, they are the most comfortable and safe people on the planet. This psychological phenomenon can be observed in inverse proportion to material comfort. The less you have to worry about, relatively, the more you believe in the suggestion of vast threats to humanity. And, armed with the highspeed internet connection that comes free with your middle class lifestyle - to enhance the propagation of "acceptable ideas" - you desire the sharing of your point of view, with vitriol for those who disagree.

What is this war of attrition waged on the skill of risk assessment?

And this isn't to say there aren't real risks. Nuclear armageddon for example - the US government, with Trump at the helm, is merrily dragging the world in this direction - as it has for the last 70 years.

Two hundred years of war and economic crisis have necessitated the construction of excuses basically. If you stand to benefit materially from the status quo - you do so at the expense of vast numbers of people who don't. And the risk of them refusing to participate in their continued exploitation is something to be managed. Some of the devices employed to distract and confuse include the cold war, soviet aggression, islamist terrorism, religious fundmentalism, communist aggression - and in the last 50 years environmental calamity. From the point of view of the status quo - Capitalism and massive inequity - the blame has to be placed squarely and convincingly at the feet of "human frailty", "human nature" or "hubris" - and as far as possible from the economic organization of human society - which benefits the 1% at the massive cost in human suffering to the rest.
And if you don't like what I'm saying - take a cement pill or stop reading :-)

The perfect capitalist society, given the history of relentless downward trend in profitability and recurring crisis, is once in which you can discover and deploy new ideas which keep the focus of the mechanics of the economy.

This requires the elevation of emotion over rationality. Religion, superstition, prejudice - are the building blocks of the attitudes we see thriving in the Western world.
We couldn't be further from a rational scientific society - yet we rely on those disciplines to generate the new technology which does at least carry some parts of the economy forward. Science and technology over here. Superstition and emotion over here.

Climate change isn't particularly new or interesting. Since, as I'm arguing, it simply propagates and continues an already damaging set of beliefs.
In all things, it is the "why" but also the "why now" which matters, if you want to understand. Environmentalism brings the remnants of the left, as it has disintegrated over the last 50 years, into the fold. It's now solar panels instead of placards. Electric vehicles instead of working conditions. Recycling instead of peace.

Whatever feels good. Instead of what can actually be demonstrated to be true.


David Bailey said...

I think that looking at the problem of bad/exaggerated science across all disciplines, is indeed helpful. I think 'climate science' is just one of a plague of examples of corrupted science that will emerge over the coming years - and yes, string theory looks like being one of them.

As people realise that they were fooled by climate scientists into setting up hugely costly wind and solar energy schemes, and even felling US trees to feed into the DRAX power station (as if that could possibly be environmentally friendly), they will cast a wary eye over many areas of science. This is not 'anti-science', just a recognition that some scientists can let their enthusiasm run away with them, and others can become equally enthusiastic about possible financial inducements!

hunter said...

Humans have lapped up scary apocalypse stories since forever.
And rational thinking has always been, like "common sense", all to uncommon.
Look at how Malthus, still wrong after 200 years, still has credibility.
Look at Ehrlich, proven wrong by his own words and lost wagers, is still considered a good academic.
Consider Gore's nonsensical pouting pose, demanding absolute credibility while refusing to even discuss if he could be even slightly mistaken. And with blatant profit motives in his demands.
Lewandowsky, a friggin' "social psychologist" transparently applying stale old propaganda and bigotry to dehumanize those who disagree with his faith in the great apocalypse wins *honors* from the Royal Academy.
The climate apocalypse religion exists because of societal failings.
Otherwise it would have no more credibility than a UFO believers convention.
One hopes that common sense and rational critical thinking will reclaim the public square, but history is not particularly optimistic on that count.

james rust said...

Great article followed by great comments. This total is long, but rewarding reading. Hopefully many people will see this

JS said...

I agree about the comments James. All very interesting, and informative. Thank you to Gun, David, and hunter.

Here's another thought that mass media and the relentless flow of 'news' has served to degrade people's ability to understand things:

'Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it's worse than that. News severely affects memory. There are two types of memory. Long-range memory's capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is a choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through. Because news disrupts concentration, it weakens comprehension. '

Lots of soundbites and headlines out there for climate alarm (because it is easily made sensational) and hardly any for calmer points of view.