There is now a significant discussion of global warming and denialism going on in the “Six Kinds of Republican” thread. I’m creating this post to move those comments to.
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[The discussion of global warming in the other thread began with a comment by me, Ampersand. In that comment, I compared believing there’s a massive voter fraud problem to global warming denial – my point being, there’s no reason to believe that further evidence will change these folks’ minds.
The rest of this comment is excerpted from Gin and Whiskey’s response to me. It’s not his entire response, just the bits that related specifically to global warming. In the places where he’s quoting someone, the person quoted is me. –Amp]
Really? That language? I am personally convinced global warming is real, but this type of presentation is a horrible political idea. When any dissent is treated as “anti-fact” or “denial” you will drive people to the other side as has happened here. most of the folks who don’t toe the line on climate have a pretty basic one-sentence argument: They think the predictions don’t match reality so they don’t trust the predictors. Calling them idiots will not help; explaining the predictions will.
First: I challenge you to make that sentence more general and tell me that you would accept anything like it aimed at a perspective you like. It amounts to “you’re an immoral person who is lying about your aims and interests” and you should retract it.
[A bit that wasn’t about global warming went here. –Amp]
Well, I think that more accurate predictions would go a long way to increasing reliance on the predictors, but I suppose we can disagree on that. I agree it’s mostly a presentation issue and I think Dems are doing a horrible job.
Again, I don’t think you would really accept this argument anywhere else, and I’m bummed you’re making it. There’s no other polite response.
G&W – The right in America is dominated by anti-rationalists. Evidence based approaches will not reach them. To take global warming as an example. The global warming deniers who I know or read fall into two, often overlapping groups. Each moves the goal posts in their own ways when forced to accept the scientific facts:
* Religious reasons – Many in the Evangelical base cannot accept global warming based on religious beliefs and readings of the Bible. When forced to acknowledge evidence, like the increase in extreme weather events, they shift. They fundamantally believe that trying to control the climate is usurping God’s authority. Some even believe that extreme weather events are manifestations of God’s displeasure with modern morals, or presaging the rapture. Some try to appeal to this group through the idea of human stewardship of God’s creation. But, as long as these ideas are coming from outside their religious traditions, I don’t see them putting down deep roots.
* Economic reasons – a sincere desire that it not be true, because their livlihoods and/or local economies depend on coal/oil/gas industries. When forced to acknowledge evidence, they move to looking for ways in which warmer temperatures could be a net benefit, and their confidence that unspecified technological advances will sort it all out in the long run. Ultimately, these people need secure jobs that don’t depend on global warming being either false or really a good thing before they’ll budge at all.
I know it is tempting to consider everyone on the opposite side as completely irrational, but I try to make myself remember that this is an unlikely success tactic. It’s a bit like assuming someone is “acting against their own interests” when the more likely scenario is that they have an analysis using a different set of values and assumptions. I don’t always manage it.
Those people, I concede, can be anti-rationalists, merely because pretty much any religious basis is inherently non-rational. That said I do not think they are a majority, much less all of the republican party.
Those people are usually perfectly rational. They are simply making different assumptions, motivated by perfectly valid economic factors, and acting in their self-interest in the political world (complete with lies and ducking issues) just precisely as one would expect. To say that they are “irrational” is ridiculous. They’re just different.
They’re also stuck with the unfortunate reality of discourse: the left, who largely combines global warming discourse, has functionally combined “agreement that there is man made global warming” and “agreement with the left-liberal plan for global warming prevention and action.” This is unfortunate because they are really very different things. Because as you put it,
I do not think this is especially likely, but I can’t see how any rational person can deny it is certainly possible. Our ability to adapt and develop technology is pretty surprising–according to many folks in the past decades we were supposed to run out of most natural resources, and be starving to death, a long time ago. Yet here we are.
I join in global warming fixes but I wish they were a bit more open about their costs and would acknowledge a much worse ability to predict the future. Although I believe that it’s worth having more expensive energy even though it will mean we have less money for development and other things, I don’t see how anyone can claim to know that it’s better.
That can’t be true, because if it was true they’d be rational ;)
There’s a fair body of research on how to rebut climate change denialism. None of it really requires having more accurate simulations. It merely involves pre-butting the ongoing campaign of disinformation promulgated by paid employees of the fossil fuel industry and their loyal allies in the Republican party.
Numerical models back in the 1970s accurately forecast the global average warming over the next 4 decades. Higher quality models in the 80s forecast the next 3 decades accurately. Even better models in the 90s forecast the next two decades accurately. In the 00s, still better models accurately forecast the last decade (although it is harder to say that, since once you are forecasting a short period, short term variation starts to dominate the results). Forecasting the future is the hardest test of a numerical model. Global climate models have been demonstrating this power for the average global temperature increase for 40 years.
We need (and have made) better models to forecast in greater detail than global average temperature, to forecast regional variation, to forecast the effects of AGW on specific weather phenomena.
There is still a substantial degree of uncertainty in long-term temperature response to increase in CO2, but the problem is that that uncertainty is not equally distributed. The most likely value is 4.5F increase with doubling CO2. The lowest credible value is 3 F increase with doubling CO2, but the upper bound is 11 F. 3 F is above the current estimate of what level of temperature change will produce severe ecological disruption (1.5 C). 4.5 F is above the older estimate (2C). If we continue with business as usual practices, we won’t stop at a single doubling of CO2. There is very strong evidence that the climate response is not below 3F, and we need immediate strong action to prevent doubling CO2 levels later this century.
Charles S. sez:
“Numerical models back in the 1970s accurately forecast the global average warming over the next 4 decades.”
Actually … I remember myself back in the 1970s that the forecast was for global *cooling*, and that was even a cover of Time Magazine. The “cooling” thing didn’t really pan out, so it kind of disappeared and then reappeared many years later as global warming.
If you don’t believe me, Google can be your friend.
I’m not a global-warming denier, I’m a person who just doesn’t know what the deal is. I also know that not every scientist in the relevant fields is 100% sure of man-made climate change. I sometimes wonder how non-scientists – like yourself – can be so absolutely sure of something.
Cows have been expelling climage-changing gases since cows have been around, for instance, but I know that there are also many more cows on Planet Earth now.
Hey, look, you’re mistaken.
A peer-reviewed article published in the journal of the American Meteorological Society (pdf link) addressed this question. Although there were some predictions of global cooling, the very large majority of scientific articles on the subject in the 1970s, of those which made forecasts, said there’d be global warming. Here’s the graph from the article:
It may be that Time Magazine did a cover story, but Time is not a scientific publication. In the 1970s, scientists were – just as Charles said – “accurately forecast[ing] the global average warming over the next 4 decades.”
I’m actually a researcher in a closely related field to climate science (I work both with collecting and analyzing long-term oceanographic observation data and with numerical ocean modeling, which is very similar to the methods used in climate modeling), and I follow climate science research reasonably closely for something that isn’t my field, as well as following discussions of anthropogenic global warming specifically. I don’t have a PhD, but I can read the primary literature.
I realize that all of this can be harder to evaluate for non-scientists and people without a technical background. For non-scientists, I highly recommend reading Skeptical Science. They have a long list of the top “skeptic” arguments, and they provide explanations of the actual science that rebuts those arguments at both an introductory and intermediate level of detail, plus references to the literature for more details for anyone who wants it. Their blog is also a good source for ongoing news and discussions of scientific literature on global warming.
They also discuss the specific techniques that the denialists use to muddy the waters. It is important to realize that the question of global warming is one where certain groups have hundreds of billions of dollars riding on muddying the waters. If you treat everything you hear on the subject as equally credible, without understanding the sources, you are absolutely certain to be confused and mislead.
If the issue were actually susceptible to serious scientific dispute, the fossil fuel industry could easily be funding the best and most extensive research on climate change and the effects of CO2. In fact, they did fund excellent research on this back in the 1970s but unfortunately for them, excellent research is excellent research, and it gave the same answer as everyone they weren’t funding: burning fossil fuels is going to heat up the world in a way that will be ecologically disastrous and harmful to humans. Since that wasn’t the answer they wanted, they gave up on funding legitimate research and started paying hacks and PR firms instead.
Addressing the specific “skeptic” arguments you raise: the consensus among climate scientists is between 90% and 100% depending on what metric you use. The more you restrict the criteria to experts in the relevant field, the higher the number goes. 97% is probably the best estimate.
As Amp points out, only a minority of predictions from the 1970s predicted cooling. The vast majority of predictions predicted anthropogenic global warming. Notably, the predictions of cooling weren’t actually necessarily wrong. They were based on the idea that quadrupling the amount of human produced atmospheric aerosols (for instance sulfur dioxide) would lead to global cooling. Instead, we realized that aerosals like sulfur dioxide were causing serious environmental and human health harms, so we reduced them instead of increasing them. Indeed, the idea of using intentional releases of aerosals as a (horribly damaging) form of geoengineering is often still discussed. The people who predicted cooling weren’t wrong about how the atmosphere and climate works, they were just focusing on one component of it and ignoring the component that has ended up being more important.
Cow burps add an appreciable amount of anthropogenic global warming, and they and other non-fossil fuel sources are a significant problem because they tend to get neglected in analysis of how much CO2 we can emit and still stay below 2.7 F above premodern conditions (I can’t find my source for that right now, I’ll hunt it up if anyone really wants it), but they aren’t a major driver of climate change. People are working on ways of getting cows to emit less methane, and reducing beef and dairy consumption is another option. For methane, natural gas extraction is a larger source, as is rice farming and landfills rotting. There are potential solutions to all those problems, but they are a smaller issue all combined than burning fossil fuels. I’m also not sure what bringing up cows is supposed to say. The massive system of cow farming is a source of anthropogenic global warming.
When I speak of anti-rationalism, I am not just concerned with the content of people’s arguements, but also with their forms.
People who are concerned about global warming have decades of systemic scientific research behind us (as Charles and Amp have been summarizing).
There is no, comparable, scientifically based arguement against man made climate change. The arguements against global warming are ad-hoc, cherry-picked and ultimately illogical. That’s why I consider them anti-rationalist.
When I was trying to figure out what percentage of global warming deniers might be religiously motivated (couldn’t find anything), I came across this interesting piece, which attributes a lot of global warming denial to stereotypes about liberals and environmentalists:
Yes, I’m well aware of it.
By and large the people arguing for global warming have mixed advocacy and research, which means that the arguments against global warming are often proxies for countering the advocacy.
To illustrate, take global warming arguments and order from “most obviously correct” to “least obviously correct:” (the ordering is imperfect and may be wrong, hopefully it will illustrate anyway.)
1) The Earth is getting warmer.
2) Part of that warming is because of what humans are doing.
3) We can predict the amount of human contribution
4) We can predict the geological effects of future predicted warming
5) We can predict the amount of future warming
6) We can predict the opportunity costs of addressing warming.
7) We can predict the effects on humanity of of future predicted warming
8) The negative effects on humanity exceed the opportunity costs, a/k/a ‘global warming will hurt humanity’
9) The people who are making the decisions about what to do are making the appropriate economic, moral, political, and factual decisions about how to solve the problem.
10) Joe Q. Public should rationally support global warming initiatives.
Now that you have the list: Where do folks draw the line?
Right now, Joe Q Public can accept #1-2 but will almost certainly be labeled a “denier,” even though he would not actually be denying anthropogenic warming. Right now Joe Q. Public can accept #1-5 and he’s still an enemy of the global warming movement, and the likelihood is that he’ll be labeled a denier.
Hell, right now folks can support #1-9 and still be classified as anti-global-warming.
I think it is a poor choice largely because it is too much of a jump to expect people to accept.
The point is that I don’t draw lines between numbers. I draw the line at each number, based on whether or not they can point to studies which produce reasoned arguements against the dominant models; rational scientific arguments for their views; and (for number 9) alternative policies which they can demonstrate will address the problems. As recently as the 90’s, some Republicans suggested a market based solution to global warming – creating a carbon market and putting a price on carbon as -an alternative to straight regulation. That idea was embraced by many people on the center-left – and then promptly abandoned as the Republicans retrenched into full-on denial.*
Based on what? Every survey I’ve seen asked just 1-2 and shows that only a little over 50% accept that man made climate change is real.
* I’d love to see a full-scale overhaul of our tax system, so that companies are taxed primarily based on their consumption of natural resources and pollution output (things we don’t want them to create) rather than their profits and payroll (things that we want them to create).
Just to clarify things for me, Gin-and-whiskey, can you give an example of a person who believes #1-9 (rather than #1-8) but not #10, and why they think Joe Q. Public should not rationally (or can rationally not) support global warming initiatives?
I ask this because I tend to accept #1-8 (or, well, strongly #1-2; sort of #3-5, to the limits of my understanding of how this kind of science works; very weakly #7; and #6,8 only to the extent that I believe predictive models of economics and human behavior ever really foresee all the fallout of a given economic policy, and I happen to think they get weaker when operating under exceptional conditions like “potentially catastrophic climate change”).
But I rarely, if ever, accept #9, yet still feel very strongly about #10 in the general sense while supporting some proposed initiatives more than others. I’m operating on the theory that #9 is essentially unknowable – we can guess whether a policy will work or not, but ultimately we must take action (if we take action) without knowing what all the consequences of our policies will be, and whether any given action or combination of actions will be effective, or even fully implemented once passed into law, is knowable only retrospectively. So my list stops short of #9 while still embracing #10.
I can easily imagine a person who rejects #9 to the same extent I do or more strongly, and therefore also rejects #10 for the majority of proposed initiatives, but I’m having a hard time imagining the opposite. I’d be interested to know how someone can accept #9 and yet not #10. (I don’t mean to pick nits, and this might fall under your disclaimer of imperfect ordering, so please know I’m just asking out of curiosity.)
I can’t figure out what you are trying to say. If you are trying to talk about how to effectively convince people that AGW is real, that we need to do something about it, and that we have some reasonable ideas for how to do that, but that there is a problem of people being confused and mislead by lies promulgated by the fossil fuel industry, this article has some useful information on how to inoculate people against science denial (based on research on a variety of anti-science positions).
Yes, I know. I have been reading about that for a while.
Perhaps we read that subject differently but one of the more telling things I take from that type of research is that small “weak” changes are more likely to be successful than larger “strong” changes. And in fact “strong” changes tend to backfire.
This guidance doesn’t seem to be easy to follow. Even the linked article uses words like “denial,” “debunk,” and so on, which are virtually guaranteed to drive people to the wrong side of the fence.
But the research is no huge surprise. To use my current profession as an example, it’s pretty well known that persuading a jury is most reliably done in small steps, because if they reject a too-large step it’s a bitch to get them to change their minds.
TL/DR: If we think we know the way to prevent science denial, perhaps we should start doing it?
My general proposal for Dems to convince more folks on the rightness of their position (whether on the subject of immigration, voting, or global warming) is (a) to demand, and be satisfied with, smaller steps forward and a slower long term focus rather than trying to claim so many emergencies and demanding large changes of position; (b) to avoid the constant use of polarizing language like “denial” and “debunking” and “irrational”*; and (c) to generally try to regain their left-of-center appeal to the plurality of voters who are neither irrational right-wing loonies or irrational left-wing loonies.
*The number of actually-irrational people whose minds will be changed by calling them “irrational deniers whose ideas have been soundly debunked” is somewhere close to zero. The number of somewhat-rational people who will be offended is very high. The only people who are likely to focus on the content and stick on your side are people who already have made a strong commitment to try and adopt rational fact-based views.
This one is easy: It’s pretty simple to believe “the world would benefit greatly if we all stopped doing X” and also “I don’t think we should be in the first half of people who stop doing X.” IMO that is one main reason we don’t do a lot of global-benefit stuff (another main reason being that there are countries who won’t come to the table.)
This is economically predictable. The marginal cost of being first to adopt is very high, and the marginal benefit is very low. Everyone would benefit if everyone did it at once, but the holdouts will benefit most if they are the last country who does anything (or the last segment of the country, or the last person in the segment.)
Everyone wants the worst part of the costs to be borne by someone else, preferably people they don’t care about or who they dislike. That is why folks lobby to stop using coal (the costs of which are borne by poor folks and those and “irrational” folks in flyover country) but they don’t lobby for more nuclear power plants near them, although “swapping a carbon-fuel plant for a nuclear plant” is one of the obvious ways to make an enormous difference in carbon output.
I’m curious what arguments and techniques you’ve found most effective in convincing your friends and acquaintances to get to step 10 on your list.
Here are two more examples of the rebuttal to the ‘models can’t predict the future accurately’ myth:
38 year old paper predicted arctic ice loss correctly.
A video rebutting the new Secretary of State’s misleading statements by intercutting documentary and interview footage from the early 80s and modern follow-ups. It also has a nice interview snippet with the former climate skeptic the Koch’s hired to try to rebut the historical temperature record (the Berkley Earth project).
Both of these show that when I say that models were able to accurately forecast the global average 40 years out, I am underselling what the models (and the basic science) were able to predict. 1970s climate science correctly predicted that the upper atmosphere would cool while the lower atmosphere would warm, that nights would warm more, that the arctic would warm more. The list goes on. Any alternate theory for what is causing global warming would need to be able to fit all of those occurrences (and none can come anywhere close), but the theory of anthropogenic global warming didn’t fit those occurrences, it predicted those occurrences.
On g&w’s list, points 6 through 8 are outside my area of expertise, and they are mostly still in the prediction period, but points 1 through 5 may have been open questions 30 years ago, but they are settled questions now. How to get people to understand that is an open question, but there is a correct answer to those 5 points.
An interesting survey of Trump voters’ opinions on climate change and the correct response to climate change shows that the arguments in step 6 through 8 are actually more convincing than the arguments in steps 1 through 5. 49% of Trump supporters believe that global warming is happening, but 48% support Obama’s Clean Power Plan and participation in the Paris Accord. And that is the lowest support level of any of the steps to prevent global warming that they surveyed, direct government support for renewables is supported by 70% of Trump supporters.
Here’s another interesting resource: the six levels of belief/concern about global warming in the US and strategies for interacting with each of them.
I have a few of thoughts on this:
* People are increasingly seeing the effects in their own lives in extreme weather events. Portions of “red America” are disproportionatly impacted, with the gulf and south Atlantic states impacted by stronger, more frequent hurricanes; and western regions hit by drought.
* There are many reasons other than global warming to want to promote renewables – less polution, and fossil fuels will eventually run out immediately come to mind. But, on a broader level (and, I think, the reason why corporatist Republicans oppose sustainable energy), it will create a decentralized, grass roots system of energy production which will redistribute a lot of power from a few wealthy people to many middle class people. I think that would be the best way to sell renewable energy.