Archive for the ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ Category
A feature-length documentary, based on the content of the Merchants of Doubt book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, went on general release at movie theatres in the USA this weekend.
As Desmogbog.com points out, it has already attracted the attention of an odd mixture of ideologically-motivated deniers of the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption.
I say “odd” because, as per the above link, those who prefer to see climate science as a conspiracy to raise taxes (and install worldwide Communist government via the united Nations, etc.) include both longstanding disputers of inconvenient science like Fred Singer (who questions whether the movie is defamatory) and self-confessed non-experts like James Delingpole.
Both of the above would have done well to watch a recent BBC Four (television) programme – Climate Change by Numbers. In contrast to just about every other programme about climate change that you might have seen, this one is presented by three mathematicians. A 30-second trailer is inserted below but, if you have not seen the full 74-minute programme (opens in a new window), I really would recommend it.
The programme focuses on three numbers:
— 0.85 Celsius – the rise in average global surface temperatures since the 1880s.
— 95% – the certainty of the scientific community that this is primarily human-caused.
— 1 trillion tonnes – humanity’s carbon budget to avoid 0.85 increasing to 2 Celsius.
Along the way, the programme highlights the early work of Svante Arrhenius – who determined that a halving of atmospheric CO2 could cause a 4 Celsius drop in temperature (and therefore that a doubling of CO2 will cause a 4 Celsius rise).
With regard to the accuracy of computer models, the programme highlights the way in which this has been proven by their ability to predict the cooling effects of large volcanic eruptions.
With regard to our carbon budget, the programme highlights the fact that humanity has already burnt 0.5 trillion tonnes and, unless radical changes are made to global trends, will burn the remaining 0.5 trillion tonnes within 30 years. It also points out that, as ongoing events might well suggest, even 2 Celsius could have severe and pervasive impacts (as the IPCC described them last year).
All very inconvenient for libertarians everywhere, I guess.
Addendum (17 March 2015):
The final third of the programme includes a discussion of ‘extreme value analysis’ (EVA), which Wikipedia helpfully describes as “a branch of statistics… [that] seeks to assess… the probability of events that are more extreme than any previously observed”. Flood defences like the Woolwich Barrier on the Thames estuary were designed using EVA. However, crucially, EVA assumes that average parameter values do not change over time. Therefore, given that climate change invalidates this assumption, it is now accepted that London will need greater protection from flooding in the future. This is why I included a link to (my blog post about) the ‘Climate Departure’ reseach of Mora et al. (i.e. below), which estimates the regional variation in the date by which future climates will have departed from what has hitherto been considered normal.
I am hereby delighted to invite all my readers to indicate (by voting on a question [on the Survey Monkey website] that I have created) why they think our politicians continue to fail to respond effectively to the increasingly stark warnings (such as IPCC AR5 reports) from the scientific community?
With reference to my response to a recent comment on my blog, the choice seems to me to be either:
(a) they understand the risk of continuing inaction but believe taking action would be electorally suicidal;
(b) they discount the warnings because they choose to believe that technology alone will solve the problem.
What do people think? Is there another explanation?
Please vote at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TKNBN5P
If you feel you must insert an alternative explanation (the survey question allows this but I would prefer that people choose from the above options), please feel free to comment below as well (or instead).
N.B. This survey will close on the 13th of May and is not part of my PhD research.
The University of Liverpool run an online training module for all off-Campus and/or International students in the first year of their PhD studies. As part of this, I have been asked to explain (to a non-technical audience) why I am doing what I am doing. Here is what I said:
Q1. What do I intend to research?
I intend to research the historical development of the disputation of climate science in British newspapers since 1988. This will be done by keyword searches of online databases of newspaper content at specific times over the last 25 years. These will include the time of significant publications (e.g. IPCC reports) and events (e.g. extreme weather). The intention is to document the arguments of – and the counter-factual claims made by – those who dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus (that ongoing change is primarily a consequence of the post-industrial burning of fossil fuels); and whether or not these have changed in response to increasing scientific confidence in that consensus.
Q2. Why does it interest me?
I believe this research will be of great societal benefit because the fossil fuel industry has spent much of the last three decades disputing the science indicating that our burning of its product is damaging the environment. In so doing, it has copied a strategy invented by the tobacco industry to delay the effective regulation of its business; and a large proportion of humanity appears to have failed to learn from this recent history. Consequently, disputing the reality, reliability or reasonableness of the modern consensus regarding climate science can only be justified by the invocation of scientific or political conspiracy theories.
Q3. What do you want your audience to learn as a result of reading this?
Conspiracy theory has been defined as the invocation of a more-complicated explanation for something (based on little or no evidence) in preference to the simplest-possible explanation (taking all evidence at face value). Whereas there is no precedent for the global scientific community conspiring to manufacture alarm simply to perpetuate scientific research (i.e. conspiracy theory), there is a precedent for global industries conspiring to manufacture doubt regarding very inconvenient science (i.e. conspiracy fact).
Q4. How can I make things more interesting?
Here is a quote from one of the heroes of modern climate science, Stephen H Schneider, who said: “If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to ideological denier.” In other words, the rejection of a clear preponderance of evidence is ideologically-motivated denial (not skepticism). To see the context within which Schneider reached this conclusion, please see the following article by John Mashey on DeSmogBlog (i.e. ‘Clearing the PR Pollution That Clouds Climate Science’) recently:
‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From The Front Line’ by Dr Michael Mann, Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, was recently published in paperback. I decided to purchase a copy. Here is my review of the book, as published on amazon.com.
In the opening chapters of this book, Michael Mann repeatedly makes it clear that, as a physicist, his interest in palaeoclimatology was entirely natural. That is to say, he did not approach the evidence for climate change with any prejudicial notion of what he wanted to find, least of all to prove that ongoing climate change is predominantly human-caused.
Those who are suspicious of Michael Mann’s motives will no doubt respond:
“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he!
However, all readers of this book will, sooner or later, have to decide where they stand on the question of the validity of ‘Occam’s Razor’. This is the logical supposition that, among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. With regard to climate science, I have to say, it works for me: Either this book is an unashamed piece of propaganda and, from the very start, is deeply disingenuous; or it is the honest account of a very humble physicist who, completely unwittingly, became the focus of the biggest industry-funded misinformation campaign of modern times.
Having read both this book and Andrew Montford’s ‘Hockey Stick Illusion’, I should like to propose that, even if you have not done so, you have the following choice: Do you put your trust in an authoritative argument from a genuine expert (Mann) or do you want to believe the conspiracy theory put forward by a non-expert (Montford)?
Put it another way, are you going to believe that climate scientists are over-stating a problem in order to perpetuate the funding of their research; or are you willing to accept that business leaders are down-playing a problem in order to perpetuate the viability of their business?
If you are undecided, the following facts may help you:
(1) There is no significant precedent for research scientists over-stating environmental problems – nor any evidence (that has not been examined and found to be groundless) that climate scientists are doing this or have done this at any time in the last twenty years.
(2) There is a very significant precedent for business leaders (in the tobacco industry) down-playing environmental problems – and a great deal of evidence that this is exactly what fossil fuel executives have been doing for at least the last 20 to 50 years.
In the opening chapters of this book I was particularly impressed by the following argument (attributed to Stephen Schneider): We do not buy home insurance because we think our house may burn down. We buy it because that very unlikely event will be catastrophic… Applied to the issue of anthropogenic climate disruption, humanity’s continuing failure to take out insurance against an increasing probable catastrophic outcome does indeed seem “crazy”… Unless of course, you prefer to believe the ideologically prejudiced opinions of other genuine non-experts like Senator James Inhoffe, who would have us all believe that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is a false alarm.
If, after reading this book, you still think ACD is a false alarm, I suggest you cancel your fire insurance – you’re wasting your money – it’s never going to happen.
Warmer oceans cause more evaporation; leading to more moisture in the atmosphere more of the time. This results in more frequent storms of greater intensity than before. This email from Greenpeace therefore needs no further introduction from me:
These are extremely tough times for the people of the Philippines. Unfortunately, this disaster is not over yet and recovering from it will take a lot of time and resources. Nothing will make up for the lost lives though.
I often say this and unfortunately it is true on this occasion as well. It is those who are the least responsible for climate change who are getting hit the hardest by its impacts.
I received the email below from the Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Von Hernandez. It was such a powerful reminder of why we do what we do that I asked if I could share it with you. He agreed.
Please continue to show solidarity with our colleagues, their families and the Filipino people and remind our governments that every fresh investment in a fossil fuel project is a bet against our children and children’s future on this planet, as Von put it himself.
International Executive Director
It is impossible to put into words the despair that millions of Filipinos are going through right now.
Days after Haiyan (Yolanda) sliced through the central islands of the Philippines, it has become horrifyingly clear that the damage wrought by the super typhoon has been colossal, the devastation absolute.
As of this writing, almost a thousand people have been officially confirmed to have lost their lives. The number of dead, however, is expected to exceed 10,000 — as more reports continue to filter in from other cities, islands and villages that were flattened by the apocalyptic winds and enormous walls of sea water that came rushing ashore.
More than 10 million people are estimated to have been displaced by this single event. Hunger, sickness and despair now stalk the most hard hit of areas, even as aid from both local and international sources started to trickle in. The President has already declared a state of national calamity.
It will probably take a few more days, maybe weeks before the total extent of this disaster can be confirmed. But for sure, this is now considered the worst natural calamity that the country has ever experienced.
While storms and typhoons are indeed natural occurrences, the ferocious strength and destructive power delivered by this typhoon have been characterized as off the charts and beyond normal.
This is also not the first time.
Last year, there was Bopha, which resulted in more than 600 fatalities, and before that a number of other weather aberrations too freakish even for a nation that has grown accustomed to getting more than 20 of these howlers in any given year. As if on cue, and following the template of Bopha in Doha, Haiyan also came at a time when the climate COP is taking place, this time in Warsaw.
Some of you would have already heard about the emotional opening speech delivered by the head of the Philippine delegation at the climate summit, bewailing the absence of responsible climate action at the global level and refusing to accept that the fate of Filipinos may now be irretrievably linked to a future where people are served super typhoons for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Once again, a disaster such as this one, underscores the urgency of the work we do as a global organization on climate change.
It is in fearful anticipation of tragic scenarios such as these why our staff and activists go through great lengths, putting their life and liberty at risk, to take action at the frontlines of climate destruction — whether that’s in the forests of Sumatra or the hostile waters of the Arctic.
I would like to believe this is part of the larger narrative why 30 of our colleagues remain in detention in Russia. And it is our hope that they find courage and inspiration to endure the injustice they are going through, moving the planet away from the clear and present danger posed by runaway climate change.
We thank you all for the messages of solidarity and support you have sent our way at this time.
More importantly, I would urge you to use this moment to remind your governments that every investment in fossil fuels is an investment in death and destruction.
The impact of new coal plants being built or new oil fields being developed — do not remain in their immediate vicinities — they translate into epic humanitarian disasters and tragedies, as we continue to witness in the Philippines.
Greenpeace Southeast Asia
I concluded yesterday’s post, entitled ‘The importance of being earnestly wrong’, by quoting a wonderfully circular argument from Oakwood. This was the assertion that “…you cannot show any one of these [opinions] to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’…” In reality, the scientific consensus regarding climate science is no more the subject of legitimate debate than the consensus views that: the Universe and the Earth were not created in six days little more than 6000 years ago; the Sun does not orbit the Earth; humans did not co-exist with dinosaurs; and the Earth is not flat.
There are therefore some things about which we humans are no longer wrong (with the exception of those whose approach to science is prejudiced by their ideology or theology).
Yesterday’s post also contained a TED video of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz. This is so good – and so fundamental to appreciating the predicament that Oakwood is in – that I have embedded it here once again.
Schulz warns against automatically assuming that people with opposing views are either ignorant of all the relevant facts, intellectually incapable of processing the information, or deliberately stating things they know to be false. However, she also makes the fundamental point that most people don’t know they are wrong – they are just as convinced that they are not wrong as those who are actually right. This makes it critically important that everyone be willing to accept that they may be wrong. I have done this a lot; and I still do it regularly. However, with regard to climate science, I repeatedly find myself coming back to the logical proposition that:
Doubting the science can only be justified by asserting that the consensus is unreal, unreliable or unreasonable. This does not require all scientists to be liars; but it does require the vast majority of genuine experts to be either stupid, mistaken or mendacious.
Not only would such (implausible, improbable, or insidious) things be without precedent (and require an awful lot of people to be wrong or corrupt), there is also a clear precedent – in the tobacco industry – for the business-funded disputation of highly inconvenient science (which only required a few people to be corrupt in order to fool an awful lot of people).
So, then, because I think it highly instructive – and since it is impossible to breach the confidentiality of someone who chooses to remain anonymous – Oakwood’s email to me is reproduced below (entirely without permission) with rebuttals included in bold text:
“You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.” Yes, that applies to everyone. Here are a few facts:
IPCC models did not predict the current temperature pause. If the IPCC has [now] said ‘because of what we know about the ocean’s massive heat capacity compared to the atmosphere, and the potential for aerosols from growing economies such as India and China, a 15 to 20 year pause is possible’. Of course, they didn’t say that [before], and only come up with the theory after the event. The IPCC do not do the modelling; they merely synthesise the results and summarise the implications. This is therefore statement of belief in either widespread scientific incompetence or political conspiracy. Furthermore, since (1) ice continues to melt (at sea and on land); (2) sea level continues to rise; and (3) ocean pH continues to decline, warming has clearly not stopped. See also ‘How reliable are climate models’ and ‘Global Warming Has Stopped’ on SkepticalScience (SkS).
Proxy temperature data studies cannot reproduce instrumental data for recent decades – when temperatures are at their highest. Therefore, we cannot rely on them to say anything about previous ‘high temperature’ episodes, such as the MWP. This is a complicated issue but this argument has been comprehensively and repeatedly discredited. For example, see ‘Response by Marcott et al’ on Real Climate (with links to other sources of info). As for the MWP, see ‘How does the Medieval Warm Period compare to current global temperatures?’ on SkS.
While so much is made of the Arctic’s ‘record’ low, little is said about the Antarctic’s ‘record’ high, except ‘well that’s different’. Antarctica is geographically isolated and affected by the hole in the ozone layer but, despite this, the West Antarctic and the Antarctic Peninsula are warming as fast as the Arctic. See also ‘Antarctica is gaining ice’ on SkS.
The IPCC finds NO convincing link between extreme weather events (floods, drought, hurricanes) and global warming. Their best is ‘medium confidence’ (for heavy precipitation). (More warm days and fewer cold days is not ‘extreme weather’, but simply a logical outcome of the fact temperatures rose over the 20th C). The IPCC has been repeatedly shown to understate all kinds of risk. Historical analysis of weather in the Northern Hemisphere has shown that extreme weather is becoming more frequent. Multi-decadal change like this cannot be explained without reference to human activity.
IPCC and climate scientists have no idea when the pause will come to an end. Their ‘accurate’ models cannot tell them. This does not matter. Arguing that warming has stopped requires falsification of the evidence that increased atmospheric CO2 is the dominant factor. See ‘It’s not us’ on SkS.
The 97% consensus includes most AGW-sceptics, including me. That is: CO2 is a greenhouse gas; its concentration has increased over the 20th C; it has very likely made some contribution to warming. This myth has been repeatedly debunked. This piece on the RealSceptic blog is the best source of information I have yet seen on how and why this argument is entirely bogus.
There is general agreement amongst climate scientists that a doubling of CO2 on its own will create about a 1dgC rise. CO2 is not acting alone and it is the totality of change that is causing problems. Apart from that facet of reality, this is a very misleading argument, as explained by Michael Mann himself on the LiveScience blog.
Anything more relies on the belief/assumption that positive feedbacks will significantly outweigh negative feedbacks. Ongoing change despite a pause in surface warming implies warming effects are outweighing cooling effects.
But, we’ve had all these discussions before. But you cannot show any one of these facts to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’ and making nonsensical statements about ‘believing all scientists to be liars’. No, Martin, the practice of science is not about saying: ‘If you disagree with me, you’re calling me a liar’. I have not called Oakwood a liar but, I must admit, he/she does seem to be remarkably incapable of accepting that he may be wrong.
It’s about proper open debate. The fact that the vast majority of ‘sceptics’ are libertarians and/or free-market ideologues proves that the ongoing ‘debate’ is driven by policy implications not any residual uncertainty regarding science. See this excellent essay by Stephan Lewandowsky on The Conversation blog.
While still a minority, there are plenty of climate scientists and experts who do not believe AGW is a major threat. For this to be valid the pool of “climate scientists and experts” would have to be broadened to include all kinds of scientists whose expertise is not relevant. Since we do not generally allow this when discussing evolution or cosmology, why should we do it for climate science?
Of course the answer to that final question is that, as with evolution and cosmology, some people are ideologically opposed to accepting the nature of reality.