Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

08/22/2008 (1:19 pm)

Why Climate Skepticism is Crucial

Imagine being accused of a mass murder that won’t come to pass until 50 years hence, rendering it impossible to clear one’s name.

The movie Minority Report posits a future in which precognitive teenagers are used to identify murders before they take place, and on the basis of their precognition, potential murderers are captured, sentenced, and cryogenically frozen before they’ve committed the crime, thus saving the life of the victim. The film explores the potential injustice of such a system, among other things.

Now imagine the futuristic scenario applied to our own culture, only instead of predicting murders about to occur, the system predicts murders to occur in the distant future, 50, 100, 200 years away — and demands we take action now, not only to prevent the murders, but to punish the perpetrators and dissenters.

Welcome to the world of human-caused climate change.

My blog is partisan, and so am I, but I work hard at being a fair-minded and scientifically grounded partisan. I have a point of view, but I attempt to allow facts to inform and modify that point of view. I make serious and sincere attempts to understand my opponents’ points of view, to represent them fairly, and to answer them, not with cheap polemics, but with substance. A point of view that cannot be defended honestly with substance is a point of view that does not deserve defending at all.

With that in mind, I want to posit that the climate change debate only masquerades as a scientific debate. There is a scientific debate about climate change, and scientists should continue that debate, but what our culture is facing is not the result of that debate. On the contrary, in the culture at large the debate has been stifled, distorted, and co-opted by political partisans in an attempt to obtain political power. We’re facing a political take-down, and need to address it as such.

I was reading one of my favorite science blogs, Anthony Watts’ “Watts Up With That,” when I happened across the excellent scientific critique of Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth written by one of Watts’ readers, Bob Edelman. It had somewhat more detail than most critiques I’ve read, seemed fair-minded, and was followed by a lengthy and helpful discussion among his readers.

Included in that discussion was this outstanding explanation of why we can’t treat the subject merely as a scientific issue, produced by a commenter calling himself Wes George. I’ve reproduced his lengthy comment below, expanding his use of the acronym “AIT” to the full title An Inconvenient Truth. “AGW” stands for Anthropogenic Global Warming, global warming caused by man. His comments about “Demonweed” refer to a series of comments produced by a reader calling himself that, an astonishing series of insults, politicizing, accusations, all posturing Demonweed as the only non-partisan, scientifically literate person in the discussion when it was obvious that the converse was true — he was a partisan surrounded by his scientific elders and betters. Wes George’s comments about “Mann” and “Hansen” refer to scientist Dr. Michael Mann, who produced the infamous “Hockey Stick” history of global temperatures, and to NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen, famous for his vigorous advocacy of human-caused climate change. George’s previous comment that he refers to by saying “I’ve already posted my analysis of what could happen politically…” I reproduce below as well.

I’ll let Wes George take it from here:

Mr. Edelman’s critique of An Inconvenient Truth sticks to the science claims in the film. By demonstrating most of the film is less than undisputed scientific fact he has exposed An Inconvenient Truth as demagoguery.

Further parsing of the factoid details allows the real crimes of the film to slip by undocumented. By only debating … An Inconvenient Truth’s accuracy [Edelman] bestows a kind of legitimacy to the film, as if its purpose was to promote a free and healthy debate. In fact, An Inconvenient Truth is designed to shut down public debate and create an atmosphere in which skeptical dissent isn’t tolerated.

See Demonweed’s posts for a mild taste of how roughly rational skeptics are to be handled in an online discussion. Now imagine how one might fare on the floor of next year’s Democratic National Convention as an AGW skeptic.

Machiavellian politics, vengeance, mythology, intrigue, faith, mendacity, fear, violence–a whole range of human follies more commonly invoked in discussions about Shakespeare’s work are at the core of An Inconvenient Truth, the science part of the film is in the genre. It emulates a documentary. Facts are to An Inconvenient Truth what spice is to gruel.

Indeed, human passions and politics are what this discussion should be about, because that is what Gore’s film has brought to the table. While we’re at it, Hansen’s voluminous screeds and Mann’s remarkable hockey stick graph should be included in any discussion about the sociopolitical struggles of AGW science and myth.

Demonweed wants to keep the discussion at the tit for tat techno-slur level as a diversion from a deep analysis of Al Gore’s political motives, allies and techniques. He doesn’t want us to delve into the bigger picture of why a major American political actor made a strongly partisan film that takes ownership of the AGW moral high ground for one side of politics strategically against the other.

I’m from Australia. The message received here by the average An Inconvenient Truth viewer was that big American corporations enabled by their party hacks in Washington are guilty of a future global holocaust. Imagine being accused of a mass murder that won’t come to pass until 50 years hence, rendering it impossible to clear one’s name. More like a Hollywood sci-fi plot than fair-game politics in a democracy. In fact, it’s both. The one thing it is not is science.

Hansen, Mann and Gore have all predicted a modern apocalypse even though the facts for such a precipitous prediction are in deep dispute. They make no effort to hide their partisan leanings, their prophecies of doom come appended with accusations and blame.

They should be exposed and held to account. And this is one of the few places on the planet to expose them. The document trail starts here. The accounting will come much later.

It’s a mistake to play Demonweed’s make-believe that we are in a scientific debate of the facts, sprinkled with a few slurs. This is blood and guts politics, folks.

I’ve already posted my analysis of what could happen politically across the Western democracies. I would only add that while one side of the political spectrum has found a compelling and holistic new mythology to unite and rejuvenate itself, the other side has simply no idea of the fall from grace that awaits them like a bridge out ahead.

Al is a latecomer to the AGW debate, but what a clever idea to politicize the weather! Al Gore discovered Love Canal and invented the Internet; now he has appropriated the AGW apocalypse myth as his own. This time he seems to have gotten away with the theft. If every hail storm, every oil tanker beached by high seas, every collapsed bridge or tornado could be pinned to a political opponent…

Every storm, every drought, every cold or warm front is an opportunity to say the magic words on the evening news–climate change. Everyone talks about the weather and like pop music, everyone has expertise. Everyone thinks they know the weather trends in their area and to them that’s climate change. Now everyone has someone to blame the next time the SUV gets hail damage and it won’t be Mother Nature. Weather is local. So is politics.

Don’t like this year’s weather? Vote now to change the Earth’s climate. Legislation will be introduced to outlaw the rising waves of the oceans.

And the oceans will be calmed.

“And the oceans will be calmed.” I believe Barack Obama actually said this in one of his campaign speeches: “This is the moment when the planet starts healing!”

Wes George’s previous comment went like this, in part (with a minor spelling error corrected):

The political Left, after having their theories of economics and socio-political organization so thoroughly discredited over the course of the last century, is now clutching the theory of AGW as the last great hope to halt the zeitgeist of global capitalism. Finally, the chance for that long hoped for socialist victory of the proletariat over their capitalist masters is nigh. Never mind that the paradigm of class warfare is so outdated as to be meaningless, nostalgia is a foundation of all extremism, left or right.

What a great boon for the unreconstructed Left: Hansen, Mann, et al have confirmed the Left’s deepest held beliefs. Capitalism is destroying the planet! The consensus rules! Damn the statistical details, the ends justify the mean. Scientific Method must be modified to meet political objectives since they have a bloody planet to save! Can there be any moral high ground higher than Saving The Planet From Capitalist Destruction? Forget the peer reviews and reproducible results; there is so little time left!

What we need is a zero-growth economy and we need it now. Of course, such an economy will have to be centrally controlled by a bureaucracy of right-thinking technocrats. And, of course, democracy as we know it today, will have to be curbed since it gives too much freedom to wrong-thinking people who would use their freedom in ways not conducive to Saving The Planet. Ultimately, a strong dictatorship, only for the immediate transition, you see, would be the most efficient way to confront AGW. Someone like a latter day Stalin, Mao or even an Ataturk would do. A Christ to drive the moneychangers from the temple. A Five Year Plan with mandatory targets.

If the above seems unimaginably goofy, then take a look at the newspapers of 1907 and recall how unimaginably silly the subsequent history of the 20 th century would appear to the pundits of the day.

Fight this like it’s a political battle, not like it’s a scientific one.

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August 22, 2008 @ 10:25 pm #

Fight this like it’s a political battle, not like it’s a scientific one.

How does one go about doing that for this particular battle?

August 23, 2008 @ 6:56 am #

Words well said.
But as the previous commenter points out, ” how does one fight this particular battle?”
It would appear that all parties have acquiesced and are now only differing flavors in the struggle. Both Left and Right are attempting to use this cause as a way to consolidate power. All know of Obama’s comments but Senator McCain has stated his belief in AGW too.

August 23, 2008 @ 7:07 am #

How does one go about doing that for this particular battle?

Reasonable question.

In the first place, we need to make sure scientific findings that dispute or obscure AGW claims get broadcast like a campaign platform. It’s not good enough simply to do the science, we have to do the public relations as well.

In the second place, we need to engage in political activism that counters AGW activism. An example would be Gingrich’s “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” initiative. It’s a political move based on his knowledge that most people think we should be using our own, domestic oil resources. It’s related to AGW in that the reason Pelosi and the Democrats don’t want to develop our own oil is the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels — they’re concerned about global climate change. Just by engaging in the fight, we make the Democrats look like Luddites for refusing to use what we have.

Then, we need to start countering the memes (sound bites) they’re using to bend the culture. For example, Democrats have been making a great deal of hay over “Big Oil,” as though successful business is a bad thing and size is proof of corruption. It’s based on envy; everybody wishes they had their kind of money, and hate them for having it. McCain’s response to this meme is actually very clever: “I want everybody to get rich!” That turns the Every Man’s Greed factor in our favor — instead of their greed saying “I hate those oil companies for succeeding,” now it’s saying “I could get rich like they did.” This also has the effect of stimulating economic creativity in the average citizen, which makes them try new businesses and new ideas, which in turn helps the economy.

I imagine you can think of other approaches. My goal here is to stimulate that sort of thinking.

January 13, 2009 @ 3:09 am #

[…] “60 Minutes” Global Warming Skepticism First saved by UndergroundGlitchers | 11 days ago Why Climate Skepticism is Crucial First saved by rjcp | 13 days ago Big claims, bigger skepticism surrounding Bigfoot discovery […]

July 13, 2009 @ 6:22 pm #

[…] important to examine their claims under a powerful microscope, and it makes it essential that we oppose the politicians with sound political moves, not just scientific discussion. It happens that I, along with a growing number of scientists, do […]

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