Deaf as Adders

Caleb Howe of RedState, a downright decent guy writing for a den of vipers, was shocked and appalled that I wasn’t shocked and appalled by his Saturday post on global warming, here. Unfortunately, I was too sick on Saturday to read much of anything, and thus had to miss it. Thankfully for Caleb, this also proves that his post wasn’t the cause of my illness…

Simply put, Caleb doesn’t like global warming. And that’s fine. But it’s not fine to take as a reason not to like it the fact that it’s “politicized,” it’s not fine to read the science as “uncertain,” and it’s not fine to read any stated uncertainty as a reason to do nothing. Let’s explore.

First, calling a scientific topic “politicized” is a handy way to bootstrap one’s way to an argument. Especially when your side is the one doing the politicizing. In the modern era, lots of scientific topics break along political lines. A few years back, a majority of Republicans did not “believe” in evolution, and there’s no reason to think the numbers have gotten better. Similarly, a Republican congressional majority managed to parade enough non-subject matter specialists in front of the Supreme Court to convince five Justices, but none of the trial courts that heard the matter, that intact dilation & extraction abortions were inherently dangerous to women (see my published works…). Despite the fact that there is no serious debate among people knowledgeable on the subjects that the “liberal” positions on each issue are, in fact, correct, these subjects are “politicized.” But that does not entitle one approaching the issue to disregard either position on the strength of that alone. Always be alert for politicians attempting to create a controversy, and then use a controversy to prove its own existence. As Mad Eye Moody would say: CONSTANT. VIGILANCE.

Next, there is no serious debate within the scientific community about anthropogenic global warming’s existence, or its danger. As facts haven’t yet persuaded a soul among our honourable friends opposite, I see no reason to rehash that debate (Gore handles it pretty well, too). Suffice it to say that, setting aside a few bad people, whose misdeeds have been wrongly imputed to the entire community, a healthy degree of dissent is what we expect when the scientific community is functioning normally. Scientists question themselves, and each other, as a way to push the community forwards to the next breakthrough, but while such questions illume the way forwards, they don’t necessarily question the foundational principles of the field. Remaining unanswered questions need not — and cannot — foreclose action on matters of importance, as a matter of common sense, and society cannot vest a heckler’s veto in a straggling minority. 10% shouldn’t be able to hold the remaining 90% hostage to their version of reality. There does exist a level of uncertainty at which action becomes unwise. But uncertainty, pleaded but not proved, is never enough to f0reclose a previously well-supported scientific theory, which global warming emphatically is, as a basis for legislation.

Especially when the stakes are this high. We can reduce the danger of global warming to a simple thought experiment. Being generous to our honourable friends opposite, the science behind global warming has raised a 60% chance of utter ruin; 40% of continued survival in the long term. Draw up the equation, with (x) as the harm of inaction, and (y) as the harm of taking corrective action. To justify inaction, both sides of the equation must balance:


Now, assign a value to the harm of inaction (x) — on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the worst, Armageddon is probably a 10. No? Now assign a value to the harm from action (y) — on the same scale, spending lots of money and facing inconvenience might get you to 4. So:

.6(10) [?] .4(4);

6.0 > 1.6

Even if you discount the possible harm by the value of time — namely, it won’t happen for a while — you have to be pretty selfish to not be persuaded. Add in the plausible side benefits of cleaning up the environment — better air, water, etc. — and under what twisted logic will this equation balance?

time(6.0) + benefit < 1.6

Despite the fact that they were suspiciously quiet about the subject for eight long years, we hear a lot from the far right today about how out-of-control debt is mortgaging our children’s futures. This is the same issue, but with a much higher certainty of harm. Keynesian economics has pulled us out of worse, and at the very least, our spending is informed by an expectation, hitherto borne out, that it will be paid back. On the other hand, there’s no rational basis for taking a bet on inaction in the context of global warming. Let’s throw in a Jefferson quote:

Then I say the earth belongs to each of these generations during its course, fully, and in their own right. [. . . .] For if the 1st. could charge it with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead and not the living generation. Then no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of it’s own existence.

And, for the avoidance of doubt, the HBO John Adams clean-up:

I am increasingly persuaded that the Earth belongs exclusively to the living, and that one generation has no more right to bind another to its laws and judgements, than one independent nation has the right to command another.

The nature of the global warming debate — an extreme harm, substantially proven at the very least — requires our opponents to be absolutely certain that inaction is the responsible choice. That they cannot be.



  1. I think you should re-read my article with a less jaundiced eye. You didn’t really seem to get the point.

    1. “Of course, on the right, we’ll claim it is because the left politicized the science. On the left, they’ll claim it’s because conservatives hate knowledge and also Rush Limbaugh is a doody-head.”

      Nice straw man, which you then proceed to deconstruct as you see fit. Of course, while one can make a legitimate point about the long term impact of AGW or the extent to which humans contribute to it, human effect and certain unpleasant consequences are undeniable. I don’t think liberals, as a whole, think that conservatives hate knowledge. It is the scientific process that presents them with a problem due to ideological conflicts, which range from fundamentalist interpretations of scripture to knee-jerk opposition to anything liberals support. And don’t get me wrong, the left bears its share of scientific illiteracy, however the rationale for it varies. For example, the vaccines have been attacked from both sides by people with little understanding of the science behind it. The left is adamant “teh toxins” in the vaccines and “natural” alternatives to evidence based medicine. The right pundits’ distrust of vaccines hinges on the distrust of the government. Neither position has scientific merit, but which position is politicized. I propose that the “politicization” of the issue of AGW came after the evidence, and it was the left’s stance on Environment in general that led to the adoption of the initiative to combat AGW, not the other way around.

      1. That’s not a straw man, nor did I “deconstruct” it. My point there, which should be obvious to anyone, is both sides will claim the other side politicized AGW. And that’s absolutely correct.

        1. Well that’s not what you initially said. But like I said, what does it mean for something to be politicized? That a politician takes an otherwise valid idea and champions it for political benefit, or that a politician promotes something as valid for political purposes?

  2. P.S. my eyes are not jaundiced and I’m trying not to look at the whole thing through rose colored glasses, despite the fact that I’m recovering from conjunctivitis.

  3. Caleb, what do you mean?

    1. That you should be more shocked an appalled, which you would be if you weren’t so liberal.

      1. SHocked and appaled at what – the ability of people to deny what’s going on around them so they don’t have to do anything? Sorry, not shocked and appaled at that – and it has nothing to do with my politics.

        And Caleb (and anyone else) here’s the problem – science says things based on observations, experiments, and statistics. You push back on emotion. the one has nil to do withthe other, and vice versa. Thus, you can’t ever “convert” us and we can’t ever “reason” with you.

        1. Not arguing with you, Phillip, I was being sarcastic. Too often people pigeonhole themselves into an ideology and then form their opinions based on that. Hence, the knee jerk reaction by conservatives against anything liberals support.

        2. That’s an absurd reversal of fact. Emotion is precisely what motivates your side. Al Gore’s Oscar is about that very thing. Playing on fear and the impulse to do-goodery is why the threat and scope of warming were deliberately inflated by a few bad actors, as well as why it worked so well. Emotional attachment to the self-righteous religious fervor of being a green crusader is precisely why you are blinding yourself to the very real, very significant scandals plaguing the 2007 IPCC report. Your side keeps talking like it’s 2008. It isn’t. The facts at hand HAVE changed. The numbers ARE different. This is a matter of record, a confession by the guilty parties themselves.

          Global warming skeptics aren’t the deniers. The ones in denial are the true believers. As evidenced by your emotion-driven response here.

          1. Global warming skeptics aren’t the deniers. The ones in denial are the true believers. As evidenced by your emotion-driven response here.

            Comment by Caleb Howe

            Really? So when your “skeptics” say that the Climate Crisis can’t be caused by human activities – thus denying the conclusions of hundreds if not thousands of scientists – they aren’t “deniers?” How does that work?

    2. Did you re-read it with less upfront bias or not?

      1. Perhaps you would like to point out where his interpretation of your article is incorrect rather than immediately accusing him of bias.

        1. Or perhaps I want my friend to read it again, as I know what point I was making and it wasn’t discussed here.

          1. Fair enough.

  4. Ahah. Caleb, was it the false sense of urgency and fear of indoctrination?

    1. Yes indeedy. I ask no one to reverse course on AGW, I ask no one to renounce it. But before pushing everyone into the “deniers” camp and calling them useless, it’s important to note non-fringe scientists are currently publishing peer-reviewed studies in scientific journals questioning some of the core assumptions about the consequences of global warming. Irrespective of whether one thinks it’s happening or if they think it is man-made, it’s absolute fact that the consequences on man-kind are what drive urgent legislation. After all, if there were no dire consequences, the politicians would have nothing about which to politik.

      Nobody is saying don’t recycle, or “leave the lights on.’ But the proposal for Copenhagen was a global economy game-changer, which would have drastic consequences on every day life in hundreds of countries, mostly bad, some good, and would certainly have been an exacerbation on the current global crisis.

      We don’t have to panic. And even if we DO have to panic, we still shouldn’t panic. In war, the heroes aren’t the ones who are unafraid, they are the ones who retain the ability to make the right decision for the right reason at the right time, even at great risk.

      1. Ahah. Well, I would dispute the characterization of all of us as real alarmists. Admittedly there are a few. I spent a day last week trying to convince a high school acquaintance that it’s not time to freak out and abandon Manhattan to the waters, for example.

        There may be a conflict of interest there, because I really like my new apartment…

        But I digress. The majority isn’t like that guy. Rather we’re convinced that some action is necessary. Kyoto was a good first step, but one that we missed. Stricter clean air standards and a concerted attempt to buy responsibly — hybrids rather than deisels, those fancy new bulbs rather than old incandescents, keeping your car in good order — is too. But for our part to make this whole thing sound less extreme than it has to be, we’re roundly mocked by your fellow travelers, even if, to your credit, you abstain (much appreciated). Those same DO seem happy to encourage waste.

        If what I’m hearing is, hey, maybe we should do something, but let’s scale back the ambition and achieve a moderate consensus, that’s probably a good idea! But I don’t think the conservative movement, such as it is, can pledge itself to a compromise, even if those who should be its leading lights could ;)

        1. I’m sick of being called a tree-hugger simply because I stopped burning tires in my backyard.

        2. Tire hugger!

          1. I endorse this comment.

        3. I’m not even saying that we should scale anything back. Baby steps. First, the AGW activist movement, which is demonstrably and without question alarmist, and the alarmist output of which is in our schools, must own up to and face the zealotry. It’s all very well to say you yourself are unpanicked, but meanwhile good scientists with legit objections are being branded with scarlet letters. And in polite society the rule is very simple. You are fully onboard and we must act NOW!!!! or you are a denier, barely worthy of slithering across the earth you hate.

        4. I’m just ‘tired’ (Eh? Eh? ^_^) of being called a “believer” just because I happen to agree with the national scientific academies of 32 different nations. But hey! there’s at least a handful of peer reviewed studies out there which disagree. Let’s throw thousands of other studies and dozens of metastudies out, because those few, those happy few must be correct, right?

          1. This is exactly what I mean. Have you written to any of those academies you cite to see what they think about the fact that the core temperature data and other key facts were falsified and tampered with? Your snarky dismissal of the voluminous problems plaguing the IPCC don’t make them one bit less important. You’re burying your head in the sand because you’ve already made up your mind that its settled. The core, central, most important data is now suspect. Your mythological consensus and false claims of things being settled are hereby and forever exposed. Face facts and deal with 2010.

          2. Oh and by the by, at least the peer reviewed papers to which I am referring are in relevant fields. I’ve seen the list of scientific groups your side loves to wave about and, frankly, I’m not so keenly impressed that the coral reef society, the Sudan Academy of Sciences, and the Australian Medical Association signed on board.

        5. So in other words, my only appeal is we desist with this idea that “the science is settled” and reject the global consensus myth. Once that happens, then we can get down to business.

          And for what it’s worth, if the alarmist activist movement hadn’t started with all this “deniers” and “settled” business, you would not currently have the great Republican/Democrat divide on the issue. You can’t bring people to your cause by calling them illiterate morons.

          1. Caleb, I’ll refer you to below on the consensus issue. The consensus is there. You can’t expect there to be no dissent, because there never will be, but you can’t read the presence of any dissent as an indictment, either. And it’s not arrogant to raise the fact that someone IS wrong when arguing that they are :)

      2. it’s important to note non-fringe scientists are currently publishing peer-reviewed studies in scientific journals questioning some of the core assumptions about the consequences of global warming. Irrespective of whether one thinks it’s happening or if they think it is man-made, it’s absolute fact that the consequences on man-kind are what drive urgent legislation. After all, if there were no dire consequences, the politicians would have nothing about which to politik.

        Which Scientists and which journals? Sorry friend, but as a scientist, who reads peer reviewed literature daily on climate, ocean, and fisheries issues, I am unaware of a single article that is currently available in any journal that meets these criteria.

        And as to the IPCC and “scandals” – the errors relating to glacier melt rates were caught by the IPCC and corrected publicly by the IPCC before anyone else could do so. That’s how science is supposed to work. Its not a scandal.

        In war, the heroes aren’t the ones who are unafraid, they are the ones who retain the ability to make the right decision for the right reason at the right time, even at great risk.

        I couldn’t agree with you more, but the Right side of the political aisle has decided long since that the “right” decision is a combination of doing nothing, attacking science, attacking scientists, and equating us with terrorists for having the audacity to say that we, humans, need to do things differently so as not to avoid shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot. That stand by the Right is not courageous – its deceitful, especially when new technologies and industries could be created (something we might just need in a severe recession).

        1. dratted html – that last paragraph is mine, not Caleb’s.

  5. Caleb: Your side keeps talking like it’s 2008. It isn’t. The facts at hand HAVE changed. The numbers ARE different.

    Which facts and numbers, and how precisely?

    1. I outlined that in the above-mentioned article, complete with links.

    2. I read that, but I’m not seeing any climate-related numbers in it. So what are the precise numbers that have changed since 2008?

      1. I don’t think you are paying close attention. I cite my sources. Keep trying.

      2. Oh, please. You’re quoting a bunch of news reports and blog posts about the IPCC and ice bears. That’s not numbers.

        You claim to know that numbers have changed since 2008. You wrote your blog post three days ago, you should have those numbers present. What are they?

        1. Sorry, I guess that should be “polar bears” in English.

        2. It is silly to have to explain the following very basic concept.

          If you were previously working on fake numbers, and now the fake numbers have been exposed as fake, are you still using those numbers?

          Your inquiry for numbers is as fake as the numbers. And I find it more than hilarious when someone from your side suddenly finds disdain for news reports. Stupid news! LOL.

  6. It;’s the same kind of rhetoric that drives the creationism movement. Some scientist somwhere got overzealous and overreached, acted unethically, etc., which somehow invalidates the whole body of evidence. Haskel embryos, or Pitdown man are obviously the reason why fifty years later evolutionary theory is invalid.

    In the spirit of rational, emotionless, discourse, Caleb, you label anyone who “buys” into the soundness of the scientific evidence behind AGW as having an “[e]motional attachment to the self-righteous religious fervor of being a green crusader.” I suppose it’s true in some cases, but to paint everyone with such a broad brush is hardly an emotion-free response.

    1. It’s a response in kind. But of course, this is merely a discussion, not an article. What I am discussing with ACG is what the intent of the article was.

    2. And also, I make a distinction with the “true believers” just as I would with “deniers” if I were on your side.

  7. (Reply to Caleb, above)

    Yeah, right. You don’t actually have any data, do you? Of course you don’t, because your entire argument hinges on two things: The IPCC and East Anglia.

    I’ll happily agree that the IPCC appears to behave like a bunch of clueless yahoos, but that doesn’t really matter. You see, the point is that the IPCC does no actual research on its own. It simply assesses and publicizes the research and studies that other scientists have done, and these thousands of studies are every bit as valid and peer-reviewed as that tiny number of other studies that you now want to put forward as ‘new data’ or whatever.

    That’s why I’m talking about these 32 national academies, which include the four United States Academies, the Royal Society, the Institut de France, the Leopoldinum, and so on and so forth. They have also assessed the same evidence as the IPCC, and while their conclusions have perhaps been less bombastic than those of the IPCC: That global warming is happening, man-made, and needs to be reduced.

    Now, as far as East Anglia is concerned, those emails show exactly one thing: That many of the researchers involved are apparently tossers with no sense of collegiality. That should come as a surprise to no one; they are academics, after all.

    But the suggestion that this affair somehow invalidates the evidence for global warming is ludicrous. Dr Phil Jones is not single-handedly responsible for the data behind global warming. Nor is there any actual proof that any data was faked or destroyed. The large majority of the data relevant to the affair were produced elsewhere, anyway, and have always been publicly accessible. There is simply no case here, and you may want to review’s analysis of what actually happened in the affair.

    1. And if isn’t good enough or too Liberal or whatever, here’s another analysis from Pew Center on Climate Change.

  8. Mintman · ·

    There is a bunch of weird conspiracy theories around, from faked moon landings to 9/11 truthers, from birthers to chemtrails. But nothing seems to bring out the crazy in so many people as global warming, not even the theory of evolution. Otherwise sensible people suddenly consider it plausible to assume that tens of thousands of scientists working with dozens of lines of evidence either are all at the same time mistaken in exactly the same way, or are all jointly conspiring to… well, what exactly? To be honest, there is no narrative that ever made sense to me.

    To damage western civilization? Out of leftist masochism? Nobody can seriously argue that people function that way.

    Because the climate scientists want to keep their imagined cabal of power intact? This can only be argued by people who have not the slightest clue of how the scientific community works (and what power it has or, more to the point, has not).

    Environmentalist hysteria? Well, sometimes that is necessary. We had acid rain hysteria in the 80ies, and it led to better filters being installed in industrial plants and less dirty gasoline being used, so we managed to reduce acid rain and keep our forests healthy. And we had ozone hole hysteria, so now we are using less CFCs and the hole stops expanding. Hysteria seems to work, doesn’t it? And maybe it is adequate if we want to avoid the Sahara moving to Italy and Spain.

    And seriously, what is so difficult about it conceptually? Even if you arrogantly believe you know better than the people spending their life evaluating them that the climate models are still much too imprecise, one basic fact remains: we are blowing significant quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere that weren’t in it for tens to hundreds of millions of years, and this will have some consequences one way or the other. Quantum physics it ain’t.

    1. I am certainly against alarmist attitudes. But that is not the position of most who currently oppose the idea of AGW, which as you accurately point out, primarily consists of accusations of hoax and conspiracy of leftist scientists. I understand the frustration on Mr. Howe’s part in being, perhaps unfairly, accused of being a denialist. However, our world is replete of people who paint themselves as skeptics on settled issues out of PR concerns. Holocaust denialists, vaccine denialists, etc. all label themselves as skeptics and revisionists. But whether their “skepticism” is genuine or whether they are guided by some ulterior motive (which is often the case), they all have one thing in common, taking the PR route rather than concentrating on legitimate research in contravention of the consensus.

      1. *replete with

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