Religion vs. Risk Management on Climate Change

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Lambert here: For Christians, at least, I would have thought the old concept of stewardship would do the trick. The good steward, after all, doesn’t let his master’s house burn down before putting out the fire. I was going to add a little snark about combustion not being “settled science,” when it occurred to me that not doing such a thing was the exact point of the article. But what to do? The article poses the question, but has no answer. Readers?

By Chris Becker, a proprietary trader and investing strategist. Chris is a former financial advisor and portfolio manager for a boutique financial services company with extensive experience in equities analysis, investing and derivatives trading. Originally published at Macrobusiness.

The scientific community at large has been successful at convincing a majority of the public that the risks of global climate change are rising, due to man-made contributions from carbon dioxide pollution.

The problem that stands in the way of real progress, is that even though a solid majority of the voting public seem convinced about the risks, the campaign is still stuck in the quagmire of the so-called “science is not settled” question, which implies a binary outcome and effectively a stalemate.

A recent US study by Randy Oslon into who is holding back this progress is fascinating, if not a little non-surprising given the scientific nature that surrounds this problem as he puts forward this starting question:

Do climate change deniers know all there is to know about climate change and global warming, but they still refuse to accept it because of their beliefs?

Using the UT Energy Poll, he then breaks down the results using the variables of household income, education, political affiliation and finally, religion. The results are pretty clear:



  • income and educational attainment have no effect whatsoever on whether someone accepts that climate change is occurring or not
  • 86% of Democrats accept climate change, whereas half of all Republicans are still in denial on the issue. While there are stillsome Democrats in denial about climate change, it’s fair to say that the majority of climate change deniers today are Republican.
  • The more religious a person is, the more likely they are to deny climate change.
  • It’s fairly clear from these graphs that religious, Republican American conservatives are the majority of climate change deniers today.

As Randy Olson puts it, the problem is one of culture, not facts:

 If income, education, and knowledge has little to do with climate change acceptance…Do conservative Americans deny climate change simply because it conflicts with their identity as a conservative?

An ultra conservative Australian Prime Minister, (without a science minister), and backed by a coalition of conservative “deniers”, including corporate Australia, many of whom have a very religious background, in what is mainly a non-religious country is without question the reason that progress has not only stalled but gone backwards down under.

If the stumbling block to progress is to convince a body politic that, at their core ideology do not “believe” in facts (on climate change, economics or religion) then perhaps dropping the endless battle about “settled science” is a good start, and framing the problem in terms they can understand.

It is indeed ironic that climate science has been labelled a “religion” by those most likely to be religious, and therefore unwilling to take facts on faith.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. John

    Polls show two-thirds of Americans are convinced global warming is real. Scientists will be the first to tell you their message has not been successful. There is a reason for this. The right wing has led a successful, full throated doubt campaign for decades to thwart the scientific community. They’ve also done a masterful job at trying to discredit scientists who dare challenge their thinking. As a result, tackling climate change has been slow in the USA.

    Naomi Oreskes book — Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming chronicles the history of climate denial starting from the history of tobacco doubters. It provides a background on those behind the denial campaign.

    1. wbgonne

      Great book by Oreskes. Also recommend The Inquisition of Climate Science by James Powell. There is no mystery how AGW doubt is manufactured and maintained. It is the same propaganda blueprint as with tobacco, with many of the same players but far more professional and effective. As for persuading people who reject settled science, good luck. These religious folks have been hijacked by fossil fuel propagandists and that is a potent cocktail of denial. Some religious leaders are finally taking up the cause and I wish them well. But even with the regression under Obama’s misleadership, two-thirds of the country already recognizes AGW and that is enough for action, except that our political system is pawned by Big Oil. IMO, we should stop wasting time trying to persuade the unpersuadables and start forcing political change right now.

    2. Art Eclectic

      Two things account for this:

      1) Outstanding GOP efforts to create an atmosphere of “consistency” using the science of persuasion. They’ve been very successful at building “if you are Republican, you believe THIS” and “if you believe in God, you believe THIS”. This use of persuasion is just shy of cult brainwashing and you can see how well they’ve done it in the charts above.

      2) Highly religious people tend to believe that they have limited individual control, everything plays out the way God wants it to play out. If the climate is changing, it is because of God’s plan for humanity. So, they accept that it’s occurring but see no reason to do anything about it.

      1. wbgonne

        Good points. I’ll add one: much of the AGW denial is grounded in reactionary thinking, which is the corollary of what you correctly note. So the Big Oil propagandists play it like this to the Right Wing dupes: you know, those [left-wingers, liberals, socialists, tree-huggers, hippies, Democrats] all say AGW is a fact so here’s your chance to tell them what you think of them. Deny AGW and prove you’re not one of those [ ].

    3. washunate

      I would disagree. It’s not the right wing that’s the problem. It’s the left wing. They are the side that pretends to adhere to reality – and were given control of the government by voters to do something about it.

      And not just on climate change. All across public policy areas it is Democratic politicians and pundits and intellectuals that preach science when it helps their Team Blue Tribalism, but then support policies that cannot be described as evidence-based.

  2. hunkerdown

    My grandmother used to grant audience to the local Jehovah’s Witnesses field teams, who I remember from my vaguely religious upbringing were ever pleased to proof-text Rev 11:18 in regards to environmental matters (NIV here):

    The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small– and for destroying those who destroy the earth.

    Which seems unambiguous and plain enough talk to me. The question is, how many fancy themselves above having to follow any rules thanks to Exceptionalism? I suspect the answer is far too many.

    1. Bobbo

      Good point. I do not think it is a religious issue at all, and I think that the author confuses correlation with causation. Yes, Republicans have approached climate/environmental issues from an ideological perspective rather than a fact-intensive scientific perspective. Yes, more people who identify as conservative and Republican tend to also identify as more religious. Therefore religious affiliation tends to inform one’s perspective on climate/environment? No, no, no. It’s just a simple correlation and nothing more.

      Ideological liberals are partly to blame. I remember growing up in California in the 1970s and 1980s spending summers in the Eastern Sierras with people across the political spectrum. Many were members and contributors of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. There were quite a lot of conservative people, some religious and some not, who spent time in nature and recognized the need to protect it. Back in those days “conservation” was an issue of common sense, not political ideology. Then something happened in the 1990s and environmental causes somehow got associated with extreme liberal political ideology. The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund changed its name to EarthJustice and also changed its priorities. A lot of the conservative members and supporters left. Environmental causes tended to become a lot more polarized.

      Spend time with conservative religious people who spend time in nature, and you will find a lot of people who understand that we are destroying the planet, and who are appalled by what is happening. But what choice do they now have if the only other people who share that concern are on the opposite end of the political spectrum?

  3. Paper Mac

    It’s not clear to me why the focus would be on “religion” or “the religious” here, given the American context. If there’s a specifically “religious” problem here, it’s the adoption of particular streams of American Protestantism as hospitable veils of theological rhetoric which can be drawn around the actual worldly core of the neoconservative political project. To the extent that this has been picked up elsewhere, it’s by transmission within the Anglosphere to states that have adopted elements of this project (usually to promote domestic resource extraction concerns) and have similarly doctrinally-challenged churches that can be puppeteered by moneyed interests (Aus, Canada).

    I don’t think that the adherents of these movements give a damn about what actual theologians and scholars have to say about the ethico-religious orientation of Christian (or Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, whatever) adherents with respect to climate change. The Catholic church has a clear position accepting the necessity of action on climate change, but you don’t see Baptists and Pentecostals offering meticulous theological refutations of those positions. They don’t care. Their commitments are political and material, not spiritual.

    1. David Lentini

      Agreed. The whole question of “religiosity” and how it relates to Rs vs. Ds seems very ill-defined and simplistic. Not all people who consider themseleves to be religious necessarily believe the same things. Many American fundamentalist Protestants tend to believe that “God will provide” or that we’re reaching the “End of Days”, and therefore have no interest in taking action action against God’s will. Indeed, many want to see the Final Judgment.

      Also, those who have strong financial and political interests in avoiding action on climate change often argue that climate science is just a ruse for “world government” or some sort of federal take over of states’ rights.

    2. jrs

      Of course there’s a religious left as well as a religious right (and not just unitarians or anything either). As far left as Marx? I don’t know about that. But as far left as Jesus. But it may not be anywhere near equal in number and certainly not equal in political power to the fundementalist religious right.

      1. NoFreeWill

        Christian Socialism and Catholic communitarianism used to be popular and rather radical, now it’s only vaguely left Liberation Theology.

  4. rusti

    If the stumbling block to progress is to convince a body politic that, at their core ideology do not “believe” in facts (on climate change, economics or religion) then perhaps dropping the endless battle about “settled science” is a good start, and framing the problem in terms they can understand.

    I’ve often wondered if there’s some way to funnel all this through the military-industrial-MSM complex, which already has widespread bipartisan support. If the billions of dollars in research and construction can be funneled through the usual players and they can extract their rents there’s already powerful machinery in place for lobbying, scaremongering, and more importantly actual manpower.

    Of course, that’s just treating symptoms rather than causes but I’d still get a kick out of CNN articles describing ocean acidification as Worse Than ISIS.

  5. abynormal

    “He’s satisfied with himself. If you have a soul you can’t be satisfied.”
    Graham Greene

    Narcissism is more harmful to very devout people, according to a new study from Baylor University.
    The researchers then identified three groups: skeptics, nominal Christians and devout Christians.
    “We found that nominal and devout Christians show better ethical judgment than the skeptics overall, but especially those whose narcissistic tendencies are at the low end of the spectrum,” said Chris Pullig, Ph.D., chair of the department of marketing and associate professor of marketing at Baylor. “However, that undergoes a notable alteration as levels of narcissism rise for subjects within each cluster.”

    “Both the nominal and devout groups show degrees of poor ethical judgment equal to that of the skeptics when accompanied by higher degrees of narcissism, a finding that suggests a dramatic transformation for both nominals and the devouts when ethical judgment is clouded by narcissistic tendencies,” he said.

    Increased narcissism among skeptics does not result in significantly worse ethical judgment, the researchers said.

    “However, the same cannot be said for the nominals or the devouts,” Cooper said. “For both of these groups, as narcissism increases, so does the tendency to demonstrate worse ethical judgment. A higher level of narcissism is more likely to be associated with unethical judgment among nominal Christians and devout Christians than skeptics.”

    “The pain of the narcissist is that, to him, everything is really a threat. What doesn’t surrender in reverence is blasphemous to a high opinion of oneself – the burden of self-importance. The narcissist reconstructs his own law of gravity which states that all things and all creatures must adhere to his personal satisfaction, but when they do not, the pain is far more intense than it is for one who is free from the clamors of ‘I’.”
    Criss Jami

    …the answer to your question, No.

    1. ambrit

      Dear abynormal;
      Good catch about Greene. I’m reading “The Power and the Glory” right at this moment. He was unflinching about his religious beliefs.
      The correlation between Narcissism and ‘deniers’ is apt. Perhaps we’re missing the importance of the “Religion of the Self” in modern affairs.

  6. ambrit

    I don’t know any Amish very well, just one or two as acquaintances, but they show an appreciation for nature which seems to be cultural rather than theological. Religion has always been used for political ends. Indeed, the cynical Faux Religious is a stock character in novels, and for good reason. Mr. Beckers underlying point is sound. Attacking ‘deniers’ on religious grounds is counter productive. Religion is one of those things where, the more you attack someone for it, the harder they defend themselves. Logic is only incidental to a religion based argument. Best to, as mentioned above, either reply to religious based ‘denier’ argument with counter religious argument, or ignore it. The elite ‘deniers’ use religion as a cloak to hide their true motives; sound familiar? Better to use demonstrable science in argument and ignore the theology. Then, when Religion is trotted out as counter argument, don’t attack Religion, attack the ‘denier.’ This might be a legitimate case where an ad hominem attack has merit. No one wants to be shown up in public, personally. This strategy has worked well for the Rightists. Turn about is fair play.

  7. Ignim Brites

    The solution here is for the progressive, Democratic states to secede. Deprived of the economic dynamism of the states, the reactionary republican areas of the country would gradually wither away and return to wilderness. Additionally, the new progressive, democratic nations could adopt the aggressive measures needed to address the climate change threat. This would break the global logjam preventing the adoption of measures to deal with the threat. This seems to be the only way, especially given the prospects for the next election. As Lennon put it: Imagine there’s no country. It’s easy if you try.

    1. rusti

      This is a fun idea to play with for a dystopian future, but state borders don’t seem to capture the differences described in the article. Isn’t it more of a rural/urban divide? Sorting 2012 election results by county shows a sea of red with densely populated urban areas in blue.

      1. Ignim Brites

        Granted the major urban areas are the loci of progressive rationality and it certainly is not unthinkable that New York City would transmute into a City-Nation like Singapore but in the American context secession is associated normally and constitutionally with state sovereignty. And the two most important Democratic states are also the two most willing to buck the backbone of the denier camp which is the fracking industry. Denied the marketplace of an independent California and New York, the fracking industry would likely collapse. And what is dystopian about that? It is all about the willingness to imagine.

    2. GlassHammer

      “Deprived of the economic dynamism of the states, the reactionary republican areas of the country would gradually wither away and return to wilderness.”

      Reactionary Republican areas are already dominated by the fossil fuel industry.
      If what you suggest was implemented, no wilderness would remain in those areas.

      1. jrs

        Yea but it would mean the U.S. might no longer have power as an empire. The world needs that, perhaps it would even allow the world to make progress on climate change. Though yes would suck to be in a red state (more than it already does I mean).

    3. David Lentini

      “The solution here is for the progressive, Democratic states to secede.”

      The who? You mean like that hopey-changey guy the progressives elected in 2008 and again in 2012? You know, the guy who said he’d bring back responsibliity, accountability, and rationality to government? The one who sides with the frackers, Keystone XL, and off-shore drillers?

      Time to vote Greeen.

    4. jrs

      If it was possible I would certainly support that (but we might be looking at civil war at that point – the rest of the world might still breath a sigh of relief to see the empire torn apart!). As I don’t think this acutally is a country with any common values (although I wonder how much so it is even in the bluest parts – and I don’t mean agreements on policy prescriptions, where there will always be disagreement, I mean common *values*).

  8. Jon Cloke

    As someone who teaches on renewable energy, climate change and development and who’s involved in a number of different research projects on these topics, the comment by Randy Olson about identity is in the right direction but it doesn’t really go far enough.

    I believe (with no empirical proof) that there’s a nexus of objecting rationales behind denialism, tied up with the belief in free-market capitalism as THE defining American principle. Somewhat along the same lines as 9/11 having damaged an unshakeable belief in US power and invincibility on some deep level in the national psyche, AGW conflicts with an essential belief that capitalism is benign, that markets/technology can always sort the problems out and that capitalism represents an essential freedom to do what you like.

    Capitalism was/never has been this, of course, but the promise of freedom it is always represented as being does not jibe with the certainty on limits to production, growth and consumption that AGW represents. And as we all know, Capitalism has been able to entwine itself with a peculiarly white, privileged conservative form of Christianity that believes implicitly in the promise of Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

    Identity politics have become a lot more powerful in a time of changing and uncertain identities caused by global change, and having what you believe to be the defining characteristics of ‘the best and most powerful civilization there’s ever been’ challenged by a reality that threatens to bring the whole edifice crashing down creates fear, loathing and hatred on some primordial level.

    A bit like having the first black POTUS, dare I say it…

    1. Eeyores enigma

      “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

      Organized religion has clearly misinterpreted this section to mean that we can trash it all because God said so.

      Right now the most egregious religion, the one that will make certain that we continue on to our collective distraction, is Technocopianism.

  9. Banger

    The right-wing religious objection to science stems from their pastors observing what non-fundamentalists think about almost anything and taking the opposite position. Since these people are authoritarians who need simple and clear guidelines to life either Science is the authority or God is and that’s the end of their POV. They demand certainty and hate ambiguity or nuance.

  10. Vatch

    A substantial fraction of the Christians in the United States are trained from a very young age to reject science. These are the young Earth creationists, and they oppose the fundamental findings of biology and geology. People who reject the fact of biological evolution and its evidence in the geological record, biological taxonomy, and genetics, will have no problem rejecting the findings of other scientific disciplines.

  11. Gerldam

    There are many things mixed up in this affair: do we talk about climate change or global warming? One mentions change, a thing the climate has been doing for the last billion years; the other warming which indeed the climate has done after the little ice age and has done before (for instance in the period around 1000AD). So far, all that is implied is that the climate is not a given fixed set of data.
    Where the thing starts being tricky is: what or who is responsible for these changes in the global climate?
    In the Roman times as well as in the early medieval times, obviously man was not involved. Men were few on this planet and they used no fossil fuels. Why should it be different now?
    My answer is: nobody knows, least of all the IPCC members, who have other agendas.
    Finally, what has religion got to do about it? Not much more than about whether Darwin’s evoluton theory is true or not. Religion is pretty far from science, even if, since Ptolemy, and until Galileo, the Roman catholic church thought it knew. Events proved them wrong.

    1. wbgonne

      It’s called anthropogenic global warming because we humans are burning fossil fules that are causing it. But thanks for that authentic frontier gibberish.

          1. abynormal

            i find ‘they’ validate the necessity of the issue…

            “The Arctic is genuinely collapsing. Scientists used to call these things the canary in the mine. What they say now is, The canary is dead. We are at the top of Niagara Falls, Tina, in a canoe. There is an image for your viewers. We got here by drifting, but we cannot turn around for a lazy paddle back when you finally stop pissing around. We have arrived at the point of an audible roar. Does it strike you as a good time to debate the existence of the falls?” p.367”
            Kingsolver, Flight Behavior

        1. wbgonne

          It already has been proven, Gabby, to those who aceept science. Since you don’t accept science you’ll have to work it out for youself. (You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink (or think).)

          1. different clue

            You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
            You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make it think.

      1. optimader

        “It’s called anthropogenic global warming because we humans are burning fossil fules that are causing it. ”
        Whether or not we are “causing it” or contributing to it, human behavior is an environmental input that influences rate of change. If our contribution is at an inflection point, the steeper the slope the unhappier the outcome relative to species evolving to accommodate.

        Scientists are trained frame in terms of probability rather than absolutes, herein lies the rub w/ clever people that wish to advance an agenda using the language of science against itself, when launching impressions to less critical thinking people, in essence misrepresenting sciences “degrees of likelihood” as doubt.

    2. Vatch

      Gerldam, here have been numerous discussions of this on Naked Capitalism, and some of us probably don’t feel like repeating ourselves. Here are some comments from February 24, 2014, that might help. I’ve chosen 4 out of about 300 (2 by Kay Dub, 1 by Banger, and 1 by me):

  12. Rob Lewis

    Paradoxically, it’s better-educated conservatives who are more likely to deny climate change. They pay more attention to the news, and hence have more exposure to conservative “opinion leaders” whose views they adopt.
    And, as Naomi Klein explains in her new book This Changes Everything, climate action poses a direct threat to both the conservative worldview and the present structure of unregulated capitalism. So the resources available to fight it are vast.

  13. barrisj

    Several years ago, the science writer Chris Mooney came out with his “The Republican War on Science”, where he detailed the nexus between private industry and the Bush Administration to discredit scientific evidence of environmental degradation, dietary consequences of industrially-produced foods high in fats, sugars, and salt, species extinction, and – yes – global warming, amongst many other adverse impacts upon the planet and its inhabitants by unconstrained expoitation by influential multinationals and their political enablers. And, conservative Republicans used their ties to hard-core Christianists and creationists to put a public face on opposition to anything that has a scientific basis of fact, and were and are abetted by friendly media such as Fox News. And that is the story behind the story…correlation is not causation – undue religiosity amongst a sizeable number of Americans is but a tool used by cynical corporate “leaders” and right-wing politicians to push their agenda, as “conservative Christian” collectively is a useful idiot in every sense of the term.

    Mooney recently published a sequel called,,, “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality”, which explores the psychological aspects of conservative Republican anti-science bias, and that religion is but one component of a weltanschauung eagerly seized upon by those who would exploit that mindset for their own ends.–Reality/dp/1118094514/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412612392&sr=1-2&keywords=republican+war+on+science

  14. docg

    Speaking of “the science,” this just in: “Earth’s ocean abyss has not warmed, NASA study finds”

    A pertinent quote: “In the 21st century, greenhouse gases have continued to accumulate in the atmosphere, just as they did in the 20th century, but global average surface air temperatures have stopped rising in tandem with the gases. The temperature of the top half of the world’s ocean — above the 1.24-mile mark — is still climbing, but not fast enough to account for the stalled air temperatures.”

    1. wbgonne

      A “pertinent quote” omitted:

      Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, analyzed satellite and direct ocean temperature data from 2005 to 2013 and found the ocean abyss below 1.24 miles (1,995 meters) has not warmed measurably. Study coauthor Josh Willis of JPL said these findings do not throw suspicion on climate change itself. “The sea level is still rising,” Willis noted. “We’re just trying to understand the nitty-gritty details.”

      Which raises the question: why are you disingenuously suggesting otherwise? Which leads in turn to the real question: why waste time playing whack-a-mole with dissemblers who win simply by getting you to play? Answer: See ya, Gabby!

    2. Vatch

      Another quote:

      Coauthor Felix Landerer of JPL noted that during the same period, warming in the top half of the ocean continued unabated, an unequivocal sign that our planet is heating up.

  15. wbgonne

    A “pertinent quote” omitted:

    Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, analyzed satellite and direct ocean temperature data from 2005 to 2013 and found the ocean abyss below 1.24 miles (1,995 meters) has not warmed measurably. Study coauthor Josh Willis of JPL said these findings do not throw suspicion on climate change itself. “The sea level is still rising,” Willis noted. “We’re just trying to understand the nitty-gritty details.”

    Which raises the question: why are you disingenuously suggesting otherwise? Which leads in turn to the real question: why waste time playing whack-a-mole with dissemblers who win simply by getting you to play? Answer: See ya, Gabby!

  16. afisher

    docg: and yet there is an explanation:

    The rate of warming of the top 700 metres of the ocean in the Southern Hemisphere may have been underestimated, reports a paper published online in Nature Climate Change, whereas another independent study finds the deep ocean (below a depth of 2 kilometres) has not warmed and has had a negligible contribution to sea-level rise for the period 2005 to 2013. The two studies provide insights into where heat is being stored in the ocean and the implications for atmospheric warming and sea-level rise.

    I, for one, know that science may not be perfect, but for Congress – which has made this discussion a political issue rather than scientific process – they are saying: “I’m not a scientist” – which is a cheesey way of excusing their ignorance and couching their denial in fluff.

    1. docg

      In response to the above posts, I want first of all to state that the politicization of this issue has been extremely unfortunate. In lieu of critical thinking we find advocates of both sides preferring knee jerk responses and ad hominem attacks to reasoned, balanced argument. In that regard I find it necessary to point out that I am neither a Republican, nor a conservative, nor a neo-liberal, nor a libertarian. I am, in fact, what most conservatives would probably regard as a dangerous left-wing radical. (See, for example,

      The article I quoted is important, as the findings reported could have a major impact on the battle over climate change in the coming years. As is well known, the degree of atmospheric warming reported over the last 20 years or so has abated, or even leveled out, despite the major increase in the release of CO2 during the same period. This produced a serious challenge for those advocating the need for drastic measures to abate “global warming,” who have consistently cited “the science” as the basis for their loud and increasing frantic alarm calls.

      What emerges from between the lines in this article is the difference between two very different modes of scientific research: a hypothesis based on a falsifiable model and a conclusion based on the testing of that model. Ever since the discrepancy between the (relatively mild) atmospheric warming and the (rather dramatic) carbon release was noted, climate scientists devoted to the “catastrophe” paradigm have struggled to justify their (very reasonable) concerns by focusing instead on the ocean, where, it was assumed, the expected warming had, for some reason, been diverted. For those already convinced of what “the science” was telling them, this very different model was readily accepted, as it told them what they wanted to hear. In their eyes, the sudden diverting of “global warming” to the oceans was just as much a part of “the science” as anything else.

      And as I see it, this tendency to accept as a scientific conclusion any and all models pointing to global warming and its dire effects, has blinded too many of us to the difference between a model based on a hypothesis and a finding based on conclusive research.

      At this point in history it looks as though the use of fossil fuels may not have anything to do with global warming at all. If a correlation existed it would have been consistent over the last 20 years, but that is not the case. And the hope on the part of so many, including so many very legitimate climate scientists, that oceanic warming would explain the discrepancy, now seems to have been dashed. The new findings regarding the southern oceans may be meaningful on some level but they can’t account for the discrepancy. Nor can the fact that the oceans are steadily rising, as the oceans have been steadily rising every since measurements were first taken in the late 19th century. That rise is most likely due to Arctic melt, which would seem to have been happening for well over a century at least. So if the polar bears and walruses have nowhere to go, that’s due to the melting of the arctic glaciers, not, in all likelihood, to warming caused by the human release of CO2.

      1. wbgonne

        Thanks for clearing that up, Gabby. Now please tell us where you got your Ph.D. in climate science and which peer-reviewed papers you’ve published. Otherwise . . .

        1. Michael

          This is why I always talk about ocean acidification or just ask if people think that volcanoes can change the climate… A few of the largest emitters in the US are volcanoes….denial advocates point this out but fail to realize that there are man made carbon emitters that are larger than the volcanoes.

          I have to admit that these people are great at misdirection, dealing with cognitive dissonance and quite a few are great with rhetoric but they all fail when someone has a small grasp of the science or an biliary to deal with rhetoric or ad hominen attacks.

      2. Vatch

        Human caused emissions of carbon dioxide have been growing for nearly 2 hundred years, ever since the large scale burning of coal began during the Industrial Revolution. So the rising of sea levels in the 19th century are evidence of global warming.

        1. docg

          Yes, sea level rise might possibly be correlated with carbon emissions over the last 200 years, according to the model you suggest. Doesn’t seem likely, however, because the amount of carbon released even 100 years ago was minuscule compared to what’s being released now. And the amount of carbon needed to raise sea levels would have to have been huge. But your hypothesis is inconsistent with the temperature data in recent years, where the correlation seems to have broken down. The temp leveling is inconsistent with the sharp increase in fossil fuel consumption, nor can it any longer be explained by diversion into the ocean. Once the correlation breaks down then that’s it. The impending disaster model works only if the correlation is consistent or becomes stronger.

          It would be nice to think everyone would now breath a deep sign of relief and relax a bit. Go out onto the verandah to enjoy some brandy and a good cigar. I doubt it, though. The true believers won’t give up their religion any time soon. The sacrifice is being prepared regardless — and it is us!

          1. Vatch

            Well, the temperature trend is still pointing up. From a comment of mine on Feb. 14, 2014:


            “Big oil may be winning the propaganda fight, but they’re losing on the scientific front. 2010 was the warmest year on record, and, like most of the other peak years, was an El Nino year. 1998 had an unusually powerful El Nino event, and that made 1998 a very warm year. Following this very powerful event, the annual temperatures declined somewhat, which makes it appear as though the world’s surface temperatures have been roughly stable for about 15 years. But from 1999 to 2010, the upward trend is clear, as is the longer trend from 1950 to 2010 or from 1950 to 2013. Sure, there are some warm years that don’t have an El Nino event, but that just makes the upward trend look a little bumpy. After the average dropped in 2011, it rose in 2012, and again in 2013. The next time there’s an El Nino, we can expect a very warm world.”

            See the data and charts at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies:

            Chart of temperature from 1950 to 2013

            Table of temperature difference from mean, 1946 to 2013

            Since there are many other reasons to reduce our use of fossil fuels besides global warming, it’s prudent to do so. Coal is poisonous, as are gasoline and diesel smoke. And we can save money by using fuel more efficiently. We certainly don’t want to continue poisoning our drinking water sources by fracking for natural gas.

            1. docg

              “The cold waters of Earth’s deep ocean have not warmed measurably since 2005, according to a new NASA study, leaving unsolved the mystery of why global warming appears to have slowed in recent years.”

              This is a direct quote from the NASA press release. Note that last phrase, which I’ll repeat: “leaving unsolved the mystery of why global warming appears to have slowed in recent years.” Those are NASA’s words, not mine. If you follow “the science” then you have to admit that what the scientists are seeing is a breakdown in the correlation between global warming and CO2 emissions. It might seem to you that the upward trend is clear, but not to the scientists at NASA, who actually do the measurements.

              As for your last paragraph, I completely agree. There are many excellent reasons for cutting down on fossil fuel emissions, as they can produce very dangerous pollutants. Also because fossil fuels won’t be around forever and we soon will desperately need alternative power sources. So let’s focus purposefully on the real problems for a change.

              1. pretzelattack

                whether you agree or not, the scientists support agw in overwhelming numbers, which is what counts. i think i will go with their interpretation of the science rather than yours.

                1. docg

                  Give those scientists time to digest the new evidence. The NASA findings will be a turning point in the scientific assessment of global warming and its causes.

                  1. wbgonne

                    The scientists already digested that study and its own authors stated unequivocally that the findings do not upset the scientific consensus on AGW. You ignore that because you are a dissembler. If you were not a Big Oil stooge you would recognize — see today’s links, for example — that almost every study finds AGW is worse than predicted. Why people waste their time debunking your trollish lies is a mystery. Find another bridge, Gabby.

              2. Vatch

                The article did not say that the upward trend of global warming has stopped. The article says that it has slowed. Yes, I agree that there’s plenty that’s still not understood (or not fully understood). There are many factors in global warming — carbon dioxide, methane, clouds, other forms of water vapor, and the sun. We can’t expect a simple linear correlation between carbon dioxide and warming, because of all the other factors.

  17. Furzy Mouse

    regarding Buddhism and climate change ….


    In the texts of early Buddhism, the awakening from complacency is depicted as occurring when we recognize our inescapable vulnerability to loss, illness and death. This radical purging of illusions dispels our unexamined conviction that our physical security is perpetually guaranteed. The tectonic plates beneath our sense of normalcy undergo a seismic shift and can never be restored. In Pali, the language of early Buddhism, the natural response to this shift is called samvega, a word best rendered as “a sense of urgency.” The sense of urgency draws upon desire and fear, but instead of pushing us to run amuck, it instills in us a compelling conviction that we have to do something about our situation, that we have to embark in a new direction profoundly different from everything we’ve tried before.

  18. washunate

    Eh, the underlying problem is the Democratic party and the intellectual class, the people in positions of power actually doing stuff. The rest is theater.

    1. jrs

      What intellectual class?

      That’s not purely rhetorical. Corporate and squillionaire funded think tanks? Friedman and Krugman etc. at the New Empire Times? The careerist conformists in academia? (they’ve sold us out, they wont’ defend anything in this world worth defending, although it’s more humanities and liberal arts that have sold us out than the climatologists who are screaming their heads off)

      There may be a ruling class but by no means would I ever describe it as being made up of “intellectuals”.

      1. washunate

        Defining that I think is a much more useful academic endeavor than most research grants :) I like New Empire Times, too. It’s amazing how liberals are against war yet never seem to actually oppose it.

        But seriously, I very much agree there’s a difference between the ‘ruling’ class and the ‘intellectual’ class (professional class, technocratic elite, etc.). The role of the educated elite today appears to be to protect the ruling elite, to be the visible buffer between the masses and the masters. It’s that willingness to enable the system, to follow the soft corruption of careerism, that I find particularly interesting. Especially when it is accompanied by an open disdain for the people ‘below’, as if the difference between a university dean or economist or judge or hospital administrator making $100K and an average worker making $25K is that the former is hard or takes a lot of skill or some other convenient justification. The courageous voices that do speak out are the exceptions that show the rule.

        What I would propose is changing about our system is that the intellectual class have done a bad job recruiting the next generation, both culturally in terms of seeing the world the same way, and economically, in terms of being able to buy off potential dissent. The disconnect between the intellectual bubble and the actual living situation for most Americans is so huge that even bashing religion isn’t providing much cover any more.

        From environmental destruction to torture to bank bailouts to the drug war, the problem isn’t America’s churches and synagogues and mosques and temples. The problem is our universities and hospitals and courts and media.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Yes. The academics and intellectuals are “pillars of the regime.” The “ruling elite” (global overclass, as Golem XIV calls them) are the regime. Moon, pointing finger, see under.

  19. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Just a quick comment about ‘climate change deniers’ or ‘denying climate change.’

    To deny climate change is to stop (deny) climate from changing. The intention is good, if not very realistic.

    And climate change deniers are climate change stoppers (perhaps Quixotic)…how can you stop or deny climate from changing at this time. Or maybe you can and then, you will be a hero for stopping (denying) climate from changing.

    Maybe we need to use something other than ‘deny.’

  20. redleg

    Global warming, and environmental issues in general, are the flaw in the whole libertarian argument. Both the problem – each individual action contributing a small but cumulative pollutant that is by itself nearly harmless – and the solutions are collective/communal and that does fit with their worldview at all. So to admit to any cumulative environmental damage is to disprove their entire philosophy.

    1. wbgonne

      Bingo! The rejection of communalism renders libertarianism a juvenile philosophy unsuited to the modern world.

  21. wbgonne

    Bingo! The rejection of communalism renders libertarianism a juvenile philosophy unsuited to the modern world.

  22. Michael

    Is global warming a hoax? Of course not but the science behind climate change is immensely complex. The modeling alone is damn near indecipherable to people with out advanced degrees. The other aspects are all open to question, really misdirection, because of the long term horizon and incremental changes.

    On the other hand ocean acidification is easy to explain to someone with a high school understanding of chemistry. I’m on my ipad but if you want a write up on this topic just search for one on duckduckgo not google.

    A debate about ocean acidification is winnable but climate change, the opportunities to use rhetoric and misdirection are all easy to exploit. Acid rain is a concept that people understand and have witnessed improvements overtime. It is also relatable to ocean acidification. A major oppurntunity was missed when the CO2 debate was focused on the climate instead of the ocean. It’s a strategic mistake that could have cost us the only hope to save our civilization from collapse.

    1. wbgonne

      I don’t agree. The science of AGW — that GHGs trap atmospheric heat — is high-school level material. Predicting the specific climatic impacts is far more difficult, of course, but that doesn’t change the underlying principle of AGW. Big Oil could do the same to the science of ocean acidification as it has done with climate change. We must get beyond the reach of those propagandists. We will never convince everyone and that is not necessary. Notwithstanding Big Oil’s assault on science, there are large majorities who accept AGW, enough to easily sustain meaningful and immediate government action. The problem is neither the message nor the messengers. The problem now is fundamentally political, and this is just another example, albeit the most egregious imaginable, of our government being totally controlled by corporate interests. And the Democratic Party’s failure on AGW will be its historical epitaph when it goes the way of the Whigs. Soon, I hope.

    2. jrs

      Yes I’ve heard that argument, but I’ve always figured if the focus was controlling carbon due to ocean acidification, the propoganda money would have gone into denying ocean acidification, or showing how it’s mostly benign, or nothing to be upset about, or unfortunate but not worth the cost of trying to limit. But it would have been harder to pull off? Perhaps, but that’s to give people a great deal of credit (for investigating issues, for evaluating them as best they are able to however limited that may be, for being well informed etc.). Too much else seems to call those assumptions into question.

      It might be worth a try.

  23. Rosairo

    A large bankroll can sway people pretty quickly, Pat Robertson may not understand his misguided African children but he is more than happy to exploit them for their precious minerals. It has always been this way, just replace capital with land, slaves, whatever. Denying the Anthropocene has more to do with maintaining power and wealth than any authentic belief in a world directed by the hand of God alone. At “worst” religion amongst this crowd is a tool to be utilized cynically, at “best” it is approached schizophrenically (I truly believe AND I am a cynic to further my personal interests). Note “worst” and “best” as stated above are within the context of religious belief and its authenticity. Our economic system has more to do with our willful ignorance than all of the religions’ and their dogmas combined. Religion is a useful tool for the powerful and the meek alike though for very different reasons.

  24. PaulArt

    I think all this bashing back and forth is totally unnecessary. At some point in this story, things in Florida and Alaska and other places which are at risk due to the rising sea level will become so bad that local state governments and Governors will have no choice but to start the fightback against the issue. It is at that time that money will start pouring in – Government money. At this juncture the GOPer Fat Cats with their business acumen will leap in and start companies that will invest in new technology that will combat global warming and its effects. It may be late but better late than never. I have concluded after long analysis that a GOPer will change his mind on a dime if he thinks there are millions of dimes he could stand to make by changing it. The GOPer ideology today is, ‘anything that makes money – that is the ideology’. Also, every war demands cannon fodder and the Global Warming war will take its cannon fodder, i.e. the little people who live along the coasts and rivers and low lying areas and islands all over the world.

    1. different clue

      Are there people who think Global Warming is a hoax? That the Global is not Warming? That the oceans are not rising and will not rise?

      People! Now is the time and Now is the Hour to Buy Land in Florida!

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