Today, Easter Day of 2013, I had to become embroiled in a religious controversy, of course. It arose from a a long discussion on my blog in the form of comments to my posting Bush’s War -2. It’s about the religion of global warming. Why the discussion comes from this particular short political posting is both complicated and uninteresting. My main adversary is Prof Terry who went to the same graduate school as I. He is a frequent liberal critic of this blog. Here are the last things he said in the Comments:
“Maybe they’re not like the flat-earthers of yore; maybe they have reasonable objections. Perhaps the collective wisdom of climate scientists is wrong about the causation of the planet growing warmer.”
The essence of science is gathering data to try to falsify tentative explanations. Do you and Jacques actually believe that the same science that generated evidence of fluctuations in global temperatures is somehow unaware of those fluctuations?
Let me put it this way. On the one hand there is a global collection of scientists in different disciplines that gather and analyze data of various kinds. And you’re right – they’ve reached a collective judgment. The world’s climate is growing warmer and it’s due to human activity changing the composition of the atmosphere.
What’s on the other hand? Jacques’ collection of teapublican conspiracy theorists. The data is false. Christian creationists. The data is not relevant because the bible says so. The occasional mouthpiece of energy companies.
I await the ‘reasonable objections’. I hope at least one is better than the ‘it used to be warmer so global warming can’t be happening’ non sequitor that our host is so fond of.
Wow. Not only was it warmer in Greenland a thousand years ago….wait….wait…. THE WHOLE WORLD WAS WARMER 40 MILLION YEARS AGO!!!! For millions of years!!!!
Which means nothing. I sometimes wonder if you actually read what you write.
I don’t need to read what I write. I think about what I write before I write it.
And Prof Terry does not seem to know that a “sequitor” is a specialized ranching tool used to castrate steers!
Prof. Terry has frequent nightmares about imaginary but really threatening “teapublicans” who often borrow my face ( my ravaged face) in his sleep. He thinks attributing to me statements he thinks they have made and which I am sure I have not made will make his utterances sound real.
Prof. Terry knows for sure that I am not a “Christian creationist” nor that I am tempted to follow such. He is childishly trying to shame me before the whole faculty club by using the “C” word in connection with my name. Well, I don’t shame easily and I don’t give much of a (Saxon copulation word) about the faculty club. In my long academic experience, the faculty club was usually a good place to go to find the wrong, the false, the absurd, the ridiculous.
It’s probably useful to to others, so I am again reacting to Prof. Terry’s nightmarish vision. (See also my other essays on the issue. Just search my blog for “global warming.”)
I don’t think the global warming apocalyptic narrative results from a conspiracy. From time to time, I have made moderate statements I can easily resume, like this:
Global warming (now called something else) is a successful religious cult. Like new cults in general, it is sometimes served, but also possibly hurt by small-scale conspiracies. (Ask me for examples.) The mass of the people who think that there is a man-made significant trend of globally rising temperature that we must worry about now, or soon are not (NOT) conspirators. They are just not thinking. Many are misled by those who ought to know better, including college professors.
There are many examples in history of otherwise intelligent people who stop thinking in the service of their beliefs. Thus, the gold plates on which were written God’s New World revelations and that an angel gave Joseph Smith, the prophet of Mormonism. The plates were lost. Rotten luck!
Note: Mormonism is the common name for the faith of those in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Understand what I am not saying: Those who believe the plates existed and were lost are suspending disbelief, often forever. That makes them weak, not stupid. I know one who is a distinguished scholar in Prof. Terry’s and my discipline.
Prof. Terry invokes the authority of a category he calls “climate scientists” Two problems with this.
There is no such category with a fixed meaning if you are allowed to exclude anyone you don’t like: “What, Peter the Prophet says that there will be no Second Coming of Christ? Why, Peter is a false prophet!”
If there were such a category and if you admitted anyone into it without a consistent test of credentials, the category would also have no value. It would be irrelevant. You may not say: “Carpenters think that….” if anyone at all is a carpenter.
Additionally, if there were such category as “climate scientists” and if most of its members said that the earth is flat, it would not make the earth flat. What is professor Terry thinking? Did climate scientists take a vote? Did the warmists win by 99,6%, like in People’s Republic Chinese democracy, or did they win by a moderate and more believable 56%?
Small digression here: During the primaries, one Republican candidate declared point-blank that “97% “ of climate scientists asserted that there was climate change. In my mind he was out of the race that very second, not because I did not agree with him but because if the 97% figure were correct, there would be no way for anyone to know it. That man was not thinking. He lacked criticality. I am even glad Barack Obama was elected rather than he!
In general, I refuse to fall into the common trap of having to chose to argue with specialists about their specialty or of accepting uncritically what they declare to be true (or, in this case what they are said to have said, as asserted by people who are obviously in the throes of religious experience.) I find that I rarely have to make this kind of freedom-constricting choice. I know little about the internal combustion engine, for example, but I know damn well when the mechanic who is working on my car reeks of beer! If I find out that many people die after submitting to a small, supposedly benign operation to erase their wrinkles, I chose to keep my wrinkles, smart guy that I am! I don’t initiate a discussion with medical doctors.
Prof. Terry thus invokes the “collective wisdom” of an undefined category. I have often been confronted by collective wisdom like that, by the sententious declarations of various kinds of priesthood. When I was thirty, all the social scientists I knew who were interested in the topic but four or five affirmed that capitalism was finished. They affirmed that a revolt of the poor countries would finish it (the “Lin-Piao thesis”) What has happened instead is that some of the same poor countries are catching up with us and some are about to pass us because they implement capitalism better than the old capitalist countries have ever done. (Singapore, that happy flagship of unrestricted capitalism, has for several years enjoyed a higher GDP/capita than its former colonial owner, welfarist UK.) So much for collective wisdom!
Prof Terry is also trying to suggest that I am wrong and that he is right by wrapping himself in the scintillating mantle of science like a grotesque version of the statue of the Madonna in some Spanish processional. N. S. ! In fact, he momentarily forgets what he surely knows about science. A small example of what one should know:
If you throw a ball in the air and it fails to come down, if you make sure it’s not on the roof somewhere, if some joker or an athletic dog did not catch it, what are you supposed to think?
The answer is that if you are certain there is no mundane explanation, you are obligated to think that the Theory of Gravity maybe faulty or seriously in question. My point is that in good science, it takes only one non-conforming event, if you are certain it’s a real event. ONE! Try it yourself: If a single object is shown to travel faster than the speed of light, then ….
The importance of the warm Greenland story that Prof Terry alludes to is that it’s one of the many possible single instances that must undermine the belief that industrial civilization, cars, manufacturing, heating houses have recently raised average world temperature. You decide how fatally the facts of the story undermine the warmist view.
For a sub-period of 1,000 to 1,300 , approximately, the Norse settlers of Greenland ate significant quantities of beef. Now there were only two possible sources for that beef. They imported cattle from Iceland or from Norway in their little boats to eat them. Or they raised cattle right in Greenland. The first explanation, I discount as technically and economically absurd. So, the Norse evidently raised cattle in a part of the world where you could not do it now. You could not because Greenland is too cold to produce the hay necessary to feed cattle during long winter season. Greenland was warmer then than it is after nearly two centuries of big, human CO2 emissions.
Incidentally the now famous “hockey-stick” fraud perpetrated by major environmentalist leaders was made necessary by the fact that there is abundant evidence that the average temperatures of the known world were higher than than they are now for centuries during the Middle -Ages. Solution for this disturbing problem: Don’t show the temperatures for that period even if you have data.
Changists either refuse to talk about this matter or worse, they insist on telling us that we must believe that the latest rise in temperature is uniquely due to human activity although the dozens of other rises that preceded it could not possibly have roots in human activity. It’s like this:
“It’s rained often, but this particular rain comes from the fact that you peed in the sky last week.”
Incidentally, I don’t think there is any significant rise in global temperatures except, everywhere, every day between seven am and noon. I am just playing along.
As I said any single instance would do. I like the particular instance of the warm Greenland story because of its source. I gleaned the basic facts from reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse. Mr Diamond is the same respected intellectual to whom we owe the masterfully told story of the ruin of Easter Island by its inhabitants’ unsound exploitation of their physical environment. Mr Diamond is no “denier”! If he knew me, I am pretty sure he would dislike me.
If I were in the name-dropping business, by the way, I would also recommend reading the very skeptical Bjorn Lomborg, an environmental activist who also has the merit of being a trained statistician. Prof. Terry’s friends confronted by such a heretic would like to burn him at the stake. As they don’t have the power to do so, they will resign themselves to gross calumny. (Also, they don’t want to contribute to more warming by burning fagots.) Anyone who disagrees with them and who sounds the least bit credible must be brought down at all costs. Just as you would imagine with a cult. As Prof. Terry himself suggests in general, well-informed contrarians or heretics are (with no specific reference to L Diamond) merely the mouthpieces of (huge) “energy companies” Well, I am still awaiting my payment, damn it! What do I have to do?
Often, one is not sure of one’s competence to judge . That’s OK. You can usually assess, judge the credibility of a group, a tribe, a cult, by the company its members keep. It’s completely fair: Though you do not worship Satan yourself, if you regularly meet Satanists for drinks, you are probably evil. So, with changists.
This spring day, it’s snowing again in Brittany. It’s a peninsula bathed by the Gulf Stream and bordering the sea on three sides. Twenty years ago, local people would have told you that it “never” snowed in Brittany. The locals who never left their area could reach age fifty without ever seeing snow. What do I think the implications of the unusual abundant snow in Brittany now and earlier, in February, have for the global warming creed? Well, I keep telling you that I am a serious man. I think it’s interesting the way anecdotes can be interesting. I don’t think for a second that the unusual cold in Brittany and in much of Europe should ad anything to my incredulity. These events ad nothing (NOTHING).
Now conduct a mental experiment and imagine that it were today, Easter day, unusually hot in Brittany, or across the Channel, in England. Suppose it were 90 F in the shade. Do you have any doubt (ANY) that there would be many commentators, on the news and elsewhere, who would assert that, of course, the high temperature is another example of global warming (or something). Naturally, the scientific warmists would tell us that those are uneducated people who don’t know anything. Conduct another mental experiment. (It will hurt but it won’t take long.) How many credentialed, scientifically trained warmists, such as Prof. Terry, would raise their voice to tell the commentators that anecdotal evidence does not count, that it means nothing, that they should shut up? Would there be even one? Does it ever happen?
Warmists who ought to know better are passive but conscious accomplices to crimes of ignorance. Why should anyone in his right mind respect them?
I know there are warmists who would affirm that the unusually cold temperature in Brittany is a proof of warming. Likewise: the more neighbors my wife has affairs with, the more she must love me! I don’t have time for such nonsense until they describe with great clarity what kind of evidence would change their belief. (Footnote 1, below)
Warmists routinely try two things against people like me, “deniers.” First, they attempt to intimidate me: Do you think you are smarter than anyone, JD? The answer I have given many times is that I am often smarter than most because I don’t believe much. I don’t think the gold plaques of Mormonism were lost. I don’t believe, on this Easter Day, that Jesus walked out of his tomb looking fresh as a rose. And, for good measure, the Hebrews were not “slaves” in Egypt. I am inclined to libertarianism but the best example of statelessness right now is Somalia where you can die for a used tire. Skeptical there too. And, I was anti-communist in academia before conservatism was cool. It’s in the record. Not being encumbered with creeds is a kind of intelligence; I am not embarrassed to admit to it.
Note: I like many of the people who believe those things. I don’t want to argue with them but I don’t want to hide my disbelief either.
The second way warmists try to fight me is by adopting the Jehova’s Witnesses’ switching and crowding strategy. They keep changing the subject and they make me dizzy with a flood of words. It does nothing to persuade me. It does not do much to influence witnesses. It helps them however cling to their unexamined beliefs. I respond by requesting that my opponents give it their one best shot. I don’t have all day. All kinds of unimportant things call my attention. Don’t ruin my life with the misconceived products of your weakened brain. Say one thing and make it count. It’s not difficult if you are clear in your own mind about what you want to say. I can do it in three sentences.
Today, as it happened, I met briefly a young stranger who majors in environmental studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz, the environmentalist Rome and Mecca rolled in one. He volunteered that even a one inch rise in the ocean level is a serious matter. On the rare occasions when his fellows speak clearly, without detours, they seem always to demonstrate a lack of grip on reality. Or, they demonstrate that I lack a grip on reality. How can a one inch rise in the ocean be a serious matter? Until the advent of satellite measurement, we couldn ‘t even perceive changes with that degree of accuracy. It may have happened many times without anyone even noticing. A one inch rise is a small technical problem for the Dutch. Just call them!
The brief encounter was surprising. I liked the young man on sight and he also majors in history, a big plus in my book. I invited him to give it his best shot. His one best shot: tell me what terrible thing will happen if I am wrong. One! Of course, I promised him I would not censor him. What a strange request! What’s going on in his young mind? What mental world does he live in?
Any of you, patient readers, I hereby invite also to give it your best shot. Either, tell me of one thing about which I am wrong and why, one thing. Or, tell me also what horrible consequences there will be and when, if we do nothing, zilch. If you do, please begin with a sentence or two telling me why I should read you. Too many take my invitations as an offer to ramble on. I am not asking for much: “You should read this because….”
And don’t take any wooden nickels.
PS: The biggest rats leaving a sinking ship first:
Economist Magazine Now Admits It’s Unsure About Global Warming
Footnote 1 : The next day, there is a big title on MSNBC:
Global Warming Increases the Antarctica Ice Area.
Would I make this up? Would I even dare?
OK, it was April 1st but you know that MSNBC does not joke with sacred matters. MSNBC does not joke, period!