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better climate advocacy
How Greens Fuel Climate Skepticism

We’ve long argued that the tendency of environmentalists to conflate skepticism about the efficacy of their preferred policies with “climate denialism” is not only wrong, but self-defeating, because it effectively scuttles the possibility of compromise before the conversation even begins. A recent essay by Daniel Sarewitz in Nature magazine perfectly captures the reason why this strategy has been a failure and charts out a new course for environmentalists, guided instead by pluralism and coalition-building. One passage:

The original sin of climate-change policy in the United States was that from the beginning it ruled out … pluralism, because scientists and environmental activists alike tended to frame action in a way that could only alienate economic and social conservatives. Political rhetoric and policy proposals focused on demands for a global governance regime, government manipulation of markets and regulatory incentives for massive behaviour change. From the perspective of US conservatives, it would be hard to imagine a more toxic combination of policy ambitions. And because scientists and climate activists claimed that science dictated their policy agenda, conservatives had every reason to be suspicious about the motives of the scientists and the credibility of their science. The legacy of that strategy is evident in the uniform scepticism of the Republican presidential candidates about global warming.

The whole thing is a worth a read—especially for crusading environmentalists who can’t understand why their seemingly obvious conclusions are rejected by so many Americans. Many conservatives are open to policies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions—including, but not limited to, fracking, nuclear power, GMOs, and more investment in green technology. They could perhaps even be persuaded of some new regulatory policies, like a revenue-neutral carbon tax—especially if they weren’t preemptively condemned as science-hating deniers.

Climate change is real, and there are things we can and should be doing to address it. But the increasingly authoritarian rhetoric of many greens will not do them, or the climate, any good.

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  • Gary Hemminger

    Climate change is real. Please tell me what science you can point me to that can unbundle normal climate change from man caused climate change. that is the issue, not that people don’t believe in the settled science. the climate has always changed. If we were to put in policies that were meant to limit the growth in global warming, what would happen if global cooling were the next phase of the climate cycle? Might we cause some irreparable damage? If you believe that humans cause climate change, then the answer to the question has to be yes. It could cause major problems for our planet.

    That said, I agree with the basic concepts in the article. Although I am not a conservative I would be interested in listening to rational people discuss the issue. the global warming folks are not rational.

  • Blackbeard

    Why should the warmers be interested in compromise since they are winning handily as it is?

    • J K Brown

      Yes, it is do climate change this year, that the temperatures have been just about the historical average.

      • Blackbeard

        Is your comment meant to be sarcastic?

        In the 20th century temperatures rose significantly from about 1910 to 1940, didn’t rise much at all from about 1940 to 1970 (the Grand Hiatus), rose again from about 1970 to 2000, and then more or less stabilized from 2000 to the present. (See for details.) Since temperature has stabilized at a elevated level relative to the recent past, and since temperature exhibits significant natural variation from year to year, it is not surprising that in some years, in some data sets, we will have a “warmest” year, if only by a slight amount. Note that in other data sets, such as either the UAH or RSS satellite record, 2015 is only the fourth or fifth warmest year.

        However, even if 2015 were to be slightly warmer than other recent years this does not support the warmist narrative. The models the warmists tell us are “settled science” predict steadily rising temperatures as CO2 rises. What has happened since 2000 is a flat plateau with occasional slight excursions up and down.

        • Brian

          Blackbeard: “The models the warmists tell us are “settled science” . . .”

          And this exactly the problem that the warminsts face, and it demolishes their stand: we skeptics don’t have to prove that they are wrong, it’s that they have to prove that they are right.

          And the models they bet the farm on, when compared to the data of the past 20 years, have been proven wrong.

          Hence the science is not settled. Period.

          That being the case, what justification is there to turn the world’s economies upside down because of what these scientists NOW claim to be true (the heat is really here, but we can’t see it because it’s hidden in the ocean & etc.)?

          • Blackbeard

            Brian: I agree with you but the problem is that the Greens have sold the news media, the entertainment industry and most of the academic world. Since few people have the time or interest to research these things most people just believe what they hear on the news. Sadly I am afraid this fight is lost and the western world will spend trillions on a useless effort. And those trillions could really help the poor, both in the US and around the world, which is what the left claims to want to do.

            I wish I could peek at the history books from a hundred years in the future. I suspect the great global warming scare will go down as one of the worst moral panics in history.

          • Brian

            Blackbeard: I get your pessisimism. But the fact is that most of us in the US (and many elsewhere) don’t take the propaganda seriously. True, the press and pols do, but I encourage you to take heart. Policy follows culture, and ever so slowly, I believe, we are winning the culture war, at least wrt GW.

            Our job is merely to provide facts and logic for others. We are educators: those who are skeptical will be reinforced and, hopefully, we will arm them with stronger arguments. Some of those who are true believers might actually come to question, however privately that might be. If there are any “undecideds,” we can provide them, too, with the tools to think wisely about GW.

            The key argument is that the science is not settled.

            At some point, that fact will become accepted. And when it is, all things are possible.

          • Blackbeard

            Brian: Thanks for trying to cheer me up. I hope you’re right but perhaps I am just too old and too grumpy to be cheered. As I look at the political landscape in the US today I find it hard to be cheerful about the success of rational discourse.

          • Brian

            Blackbeard, I’ve always been something of an optimist, though I share your concern about the political landscape of the here and now. It is admittedly pretty damned bleak. But in GW, we have a real chance to make inroads.

            More generally, I certainly can’t change the world at one fell swoop, but I can try to chip away at ignorance, bias and conventional “wisdom” that is much more conventional than “wise” where and when I can.

            I can’t ever be sure of winning, but I derive an odd satisfaction and pride from knowing that I’m still in the fight. And I find engaging others to be educational and, for me, mind-sharpening (I need all the mind-sharpening I can get!)

            When I think of all those men and women in uniform who fought against all odds, sometimes losing the battle and their own lives, any effort I make seems paltry by comparison.

            Oh . . . and I doubt you’re older than I am. 🙂

          • Blackbeard

            I was discussing the GW issue with a good friend a few months ago. She’s a very smart lady, Harvard grad, computer scientist, etc. And she is a committed liberal as is nearly everyone I know here in NYC. Because she is smart and well educated she was at least willing to listen to my arguments and for about a month or so we continued the discussion via email, exchanged web sites, recommended books and articles and so forth. And then she said something that I think speaks highly of her honesty and self-awareness. She said that my arguments were beginning to make sense but that if she came to agree with me she would be agreeing with people she despised (i.e., Republicans) and that she could never do. Therefore the topic was closed.

            In other words her identity as a loyal member of the blue tribe was more important than the facts.

            This is why I doubt we are going to win this argument.

          • Brian

            Yeah . . . but I’d count your interaction with your friend as a “win.”

            Blackbeard: You successfully planted a seed, and her reluctance to continue to engage you tells me that she understands your position is reasonably defensible, if not right. But for you to demand or expect instant conversion is unrealistic. But she will not forget the exchange, and I believe it will color how she thinks about things privately in the security of her own head. That’s not perfect, but the “good” should never kill the “perfect” and you are to be congratulated.

            What you did is to nudge someone into taking an incremental step in the right direction. Whether they acknowledge it or not, that is a big accomplishment.

            I’ve had a similar short-lived debate/discussion/outcome with my son, who is a physician and who is a prominent member of the faculty of a pretty decent medical school. He prides himself on his scientific fides, yet won’t admit to me that I made an inroad. We have a wonderful relationship other than politics and matters related to GW. We just don’t talk about such things.

            But he did not dispute my final point: that the science is not settled.

            Remember: “To begin to question is to begin to be undermined.” — annonymous.

            We — you, I and others of our ilk — speak up because that’s all we can do. Who knows what that planted seed will grow into? Who knows who’s reading our conversation and thinking about the points we make?

  • Mark1971

    Not going to happen. The authoritarianism of environmentalism is a feature, not a bug.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “Climate change is real”

    Talking about generating skepticism, how about we start by recognizing that changing the name from the easily falsifiable “Global Warming” to the unfalsifiable “Climate Change” was a massive attempt at deception. The fact that the Weather and Climate have ALWAYS been changing, just makes the greens name change an obvious lie. What is equally clear and not even mentioned in the criticism here, is the Satellite and Balloon data that shows no “Warming” for the last 19 years, and the historical record of the Medieval Warm period which was warmer than today, when Greenland was colonized and people were growing grapes and making wine in Moscow. These FACTS, show the failure of the “Global Warming” Hypothesis, as well as demonstrate that a warmer world wouldn’t be the disaster the greens say it would. A warmer world would in fact be a boon to mankind, it’s too bad that boon is unlikely.

  • Fat_Man

    Nice try. I read the linked article. The author offered up the Pope as his idea of a conservative, apparently because the Pope opposes abortion.

    Most conservatives think of the Pope as leftist, despite his opposition to abortion, because he also opposes free markets and private property.

    I wonder if the author has ever meet a conservative or talked to one?

    What we have here is a failure to communicate.

  • CaliforniaStark

    “Climate change is real” This sounds like a statement of faith. Did Moses bring another another tablet down from Mt. Sinai proclaiming it real?

    Although no definition is provided of what climate change is, the Nature article referenced clearly refers to the global warming theory. A predictive model that for the last two decades has proven incorrect. Yet Via Meadia believes the disbelief of skeptics, who would like actual empirical evidence, can be overcome through compromise, coalition-building, and increased conservative rhetoric. Basically a climate change charm campaign — were sweet, so you gotta believe us. Can’t wait to do ice cream with Al Gore. The problem of course is if you want the choir to sing in unison, your never going to get harmony.

    The Catholic Church tried to charm Galileo. It did not work; the man held his ground until threatened into silence. It is not going to work with climate change skeptics. Why? Because quite simply the predictive model that the global warming theory has been based on has proven false — the warming projected almost 20 years ago has not taken place. If the model had been correct, then there would now be little controversy. Now the question is how long it will take for the growing divergence between theory and factual evidence to finally cause the model to be withdrawn.

    • Tom

      Well, climate change is real. When was the last time the river Thames froze over?
      That having been said, this does not mean Gaianist fanatics actually know what they’re doing.

      • Blackbeard

        Climate change is certainly real and inevitable. Witness the Little Ice Age, roughly from the 16th to the 19th centuries, when, as you note, the Thames regularly froze over. Or the Medieval Warm Period, roughly from 950 to 1250 AD, when the Vikings settled Greenland. Note that modern climate “science” has erased these two periods from history as they contradict the narrative that the climate was completely stable until the Industrial Revolution took off around 1850.

        Global warming is also real and undisputed at least in rational circles. Its been warming, albeit unevenly, for around 12,000 years, since the end of the last glacial period. If we want to focus on the effects of the Industrial Revolution then it has warmed roughly 0.7 degrees C since 1850.

        What is disputed is the theory of Catastrophic Anthropocentric Global Warming. Catastrophic in that proponents state that the earth will soon become uninhabitable if we do not immediately and nearly completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels. Anthropocentric in that natural sources of climate change, of the sort that obviously predominated prior to 1850, are now to be completely discounted. It’s all CO2 and it’s all us.

  • Beauceron

    It’s not that the “greens” are becoming more authoritarian, it’s that the greens are, invariably, of the political Left, and the Left is becoming more authoritarian. The greens are just being swept up in the larger totalitarian bent the Left has always had.

  • jeburke

    “Climate change is real.” Maybe. Maybe not. Even if it’s real, it’s totally unclear whether human activity has any significant effect on it. And if it has some but not much effect, it’s unclear whether the trivial warming attributable to it is actually harmful or justifies any sort of radical policy departures. No, we “deniers” are not holding out because we’re offended by alarmist rhetoric. We’re smart, well-informed and politically savvy. We grasp the connection between revolutionary anti-fossil fuel alarmism and redistributionist politics both nationally and internationally.

  • J K Brown

    If it weren’t for climate, we’d have no weather at all. Gloom, despair for liberty.

  • vepxistqaosani

    The main problem with climate change is that it’s nonfalsifiable. That is, there is no conceivable evidence which could be produced on a timescale of decades which would be sufficient to disprove the theory. Ordinarily, this would be a red flag to the scientific community, given that they have, by nature, a pronounced bias toward logical positivism.

    But TAI is quite correct that the bigger political problem is the leftist bias of the proposed solutions. As they say on the left, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” (Rahm Emmanuel)

    Most Americans are still upset with low-flow showers, unflushable toilets, and lights that don’t illuminate. Nor do our betters on the left seem to have managed either foreign policy or the domestic economy with any discernible degree of success.

  • Brian

    First of all, most of the 12 comments so far posted are every bit as perceptive as the article their authors are commenting on. Bravo to the readership. In particular, the points I’d emphasize, and that some others have raised, are:

    1) “Climate change is real.” Er, yeah. If the climate did not change, would’t that be far, far more significant than the fact that it does change?

    2) The hypothesis of human-driven climate change is unfalsifiable. That is the root cause of my skepticism.

    3) Having said that, I do believe that CO2 released by human activity does influence the climate. But, as another said, how do you “unbundle” the influence of humans from natural influences?

    4) The models that are generated 15 years ago predicted we’d all be fried eggs now were wrong. Not just a little wrong, but catastrophically, glaringly wrong as shown by empirical measurements. This gets us back to “2 above:” If the failure of the models can’t falsify the AGW hypothesis, what can?

    5) As a follow-up to “3 above,” more CO2 has been released in the last 20 – 30 years than in the previous couple of centuries. So, if the “human activity drives Global Warming/Climate Change” hypothesis is correct, how can it be that natural causes were powerful enough to neutralize the best efforts of humans to cause catastrophic “climate change?”

    6) On a conceptual level, the emphasis has always been on “human influences on climate” as opposed to “all factors influencing climate, human and natural.” The conceptual bias here is staggering: far more importance has been given to what humans do than what, say, the influences of cosmic radiation or the sun. If we were to spend half of all climate research dollars on “human” and half on “other” influences, what might we find?

    I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

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