The Five Stages of Climate Change Denial

This Guardian article details at least one set of layers of Denialism about Anthropic Global Warming (AGW). I dropped the phrase climate change for most part when I learned that Frank Luntz had coined it in order to obfuscate the direction of the change. Rather than just re-iterate the Guardian article which is a good read, I will annotate my opinions on the stages.

Stage 1: Deny the Problem Exists

Most people are beyond this stage. There is too much anecdotal evidence out there such as melting glaciers rising high tide lines to completely dispute the phenomenon. But every winter some congressman brings a snowball into the chambers to have a good laugh at all those pointy headed on-the-take climate scientists.

Stage 2: Deny We’re the Cause

The key word in AGW is “anthropic”. Climate changes all the time because of long term patterns, volcanic activity, sunspots, etc. What is more important to recognize is that for at least a century now we have been pumping ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other chemicals into the atmosphere.

Stage 3: Deny It’s a Problem

Here is where we start hitting regions of debateability. Clearly the Bangladeshi are fucked. But they always have been. This is just one more reason that being poor in southern Asia is a bad lifestyle choice. However the people in Miami Beach, Norfolk, and eventually Manhattan’s Lower East Side are going to realize that being near navigable bodies of water is no longer the economic benefit it used to be. However we do have a lot of sunk economic infrastructure in areas which will eventually be under water.

Stage 4: Deny We can Solve It

Many of these arguments start to delve into the geopolitical realm. Without China and India getting on board, there isn’t much traction that can be made. And they are rightfully suspicious in claims that they need to curtail their climb up the prosperity curve for our sake. And also, some of the geo-engineering ideas such as large scale sequestration are just scary.

Stage 5: It’s too Late

Here is the argument I am most sympathetic to. We may have already passed the point of no return on some parameters. There are djinnis which just can’t be put back in the bottle. However, we really don’t know where the irreversible catastrophic lines in the sand are. Both climate and weather are chaotic systems and responses are non-linear. But fatalism is never a good look.

Personally I feel that climate change denialism is an astroturfed phenomenon created by the resource extraction industries to obfuscate their role in the unfunded externalities disaster which is impending. But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

On a philosophical level, dealing with AGW requires cooperation on a global governmental level which is anathema to certain political philosophies. And some can be rightfully fearful of AGW as a camel nose under the tent way to impose radical systemic political change. But in the past we have accepted environmental regulation as qualified benefits to society. Clean air and water are luxury goods but we should allow ourselves to afford them. And a stable (if changing) climate is perhaps the biggest factor of life on earth we have taken for granted hitherto.

Recommended Reading

Climate change as a science fiction topic has been around for decades depending on how far back you want to take it. Lots of post-apocalyptic nuclear novels are easily translatable to the current crisis. But here are some which have focused on contemporary interpretations.

Earth by David Brin. Here the metaphor is a scientist-caused event which could destroy the earth, but the surrounding world-building of the near future is amazingly prescient for a novel written in 1991.

Science in the Capitol” series by Kim Stanley Robinson. This trilogy envisions ever greater calamities being inflicted on Washington, D.C. In Forty Signs of Rain the region is flooded with rains of Biblical rage. The follow-up Fifty Degrees Below envisions near-Day After Tomorrow levels of cold. The final volume Sixty Days And Counting is just pure geo-engineering porn once world politicians realize Something Must Be Done.

While not directly climate change related, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi takes place along the Louisiana coast after New Orleans has drowned and the remaining area has devolved to a scavenging economy similar to the ship breaking yards in India.

27 Responses

  1. Frist!

    … also, the first stage of “disagreement denial” is to call “disagreement” denial.

    The key word in AGW is “anthropic”. Climate changes all the time because of long term patterns, volcanic activity, sunspots, etc. What is more important to recognize is that for at least a century now we have been pumping ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other chemicals into the atmosphere.

    While this establish, at best, a correlative relationship by itself, it also glosses over the point that controlling pollution might be a good thing even if we turned out not to be radically transforming the overall climate.

    However the people in Miami Beach, Norfolk, and eventually Manhattan’s Lower East Side are going to realize that being near navigable bodies of water is no longer the economic benefit it used to be. However we do have a lot of sunk economic infrastructure in areas which will eventually be under water.

    I think it’s debatable that this is anywhere near happening. If it does, it is likely to be a very slow process, and addressable via massive government spending, so ultimately it’s a win no matter what.

    Many of these arguments start to delve into the geopolitical realm. Without China and India getting on board, there isn’t much traction that can be made. And they are rightfully suspicious in claims that they need to curtail their climb up the prosperity curve for our sake. And also, some of the geo-engineering ideas such as large scale sequestration are just scary.

    Or deny that anything we’re actually advancing at the policy level will solve it, or anything else, or that (for many) that solving climate change as a problem is even the point.

    Personally I feel that climate change denialism is an astroturfed phenomenon created by the resource extraction industries to obfuscate their role in the unfunded externalities disaster which is impending. But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

    I’m not saying that some of that doesn’t happen, although I expect even some advocacy against AGW, though well-funded, is funded by people who sincerely believe that it’s a lot of doomsday alarmism. In my case, I wasn’t astroturfed. I was dubious from the beginning, having been convinced by my high school reading that we’d all be killed by acid rain and the holes in the ozone layer by 1995. I remain dubious to this day, irrespective of who might be funding public relations campaigns against AGW advocates.

    I will also say that astroturfing is hardly necessary, once an issue becomes ideological. People will naturally gravitate to their correct position on the issue, based on their ideological orientation. The tribe must be unified!

    dealing with AGW requires cooperation on a global governmental level which is anathema to certain political philosophies.

    And some certain countries whose honest cooperation would be necessary, and who are only going to be pumping out more carbon dioxide in the coming years (absent enforcement mechanisms which they will never agree to).

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    • The NYT, all the news that Obama deems fit to print:

      http://thefederalist.com/2015/12/18/the-new-york-times-just-memory-holed-this-devastating-obama-admission/

      A story published by the New York Times late Thursday night caused some major media waves. The story, which was written by reporters Peter Baker and Gardiner Harris, included a remarkable admission by Obama about his response to the recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

      By Friday morning, however, the entire passage containing Obama’s admission had been erased from the story without any explanation from the New York Times….

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      • The NYT has a lot of egg on its face lately. Their breathless reporting on the social media habits of the San Bernadino attackers proved to completely baseless but did provide plenty of administration bashing fuel for several days of cable news hand-wringing. This is how the Times tried to spin it:

        The original version of this article, based on accounts from law enforcement officials, reported that Tashfeen Malik had “talked openly on social media” about her support for violent jihad.

        On Wednesday, however, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said that online communications about jihad by Ms. Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, involved “direct, private messages.” His remarks indicated that the comments about jihad were not made in widely accessible social media posts.

        It’s as if the reporters or their source(s) are deliberately trying to stir something up.

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        • yello:

          It’s as if the reporters or their source(s) are deliberately trying to stir something up.

          Sources, sure. Reporters for the NYT? Not likely.

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      • The same reporters that did the San Bernadino shooting also reported based on confidential sources that Hillary was under FBI investigation. They are gunning for the Judith Miller Gullibility Prize.

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    • addressable via massive government spending, so ultimately it’s a win no matter what.

      I’m not sure that digging holes and filling them in is the best source of economic growth. We definitely need to rethink the whole concept of federally subsidized flood insurance.

      we’d all be killed by acid rain and the holes in the ozone layer by 1995.

      As someone who has been on the front lines of the CFC (and now HCFC) replacement battles, this is actually a success story of international agreements leading to scientific and industrial responses which mitigated the problem. The ozone ‘hole’ is now largely healed. If anything, the framework for ozone layer protection is the model for climate change activity.

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      • “We definitely need to rethink the whole concept of federally subsidized flood insurance.”

        Folks can always find common ground if they try hard enough. I heartily agree with that!

        “If anything, the framework for ozone layer protection is the model for climate change activity.”

        Is that the framework being pursued? In any case, the apocalyptic version I was absorbed in made much of the longevity of CFCs in the atmosphere (from 20 to 100 years, if I recall), thus we were already doomed. As you point out, turned out not to be so. And that because of the time it took CFCs to reach the stratosphere, the bulk of them had not yet reached the stratosphere and would not for decades, and which point we were all doomed!

        Ergo, I became (rationally or not) a lifelong skeptic of doomsaying. End of the world. I could go on for a long time about my issues with zombie apocalypse and end-of-the-world fiction. There’s always mitigating factors in real life that cancel or greatly diminish the apocalypse.

        “I’m not sure that digging holes and filling them in is the best source of economic growth”

        It’s good enough for government work. Provides jobs! That being said, if climate change is something happening that either we cannot mitigate the damage already done, or it’s happening as a part of natural processes (and, certainly, coastlines have changes in geologic history before) we will have to be building dikes and pumping stations and whatnot if we don’t want to lose certain coastal cities. And, hey, if WWII ended the depression . . .

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  2. yello:

    On a philosophical level, dealing with AGW requires cooperation on a global governmental level…

    Not if the cataclysmic presumptions held as articles of faith by the Alarmist community are false.

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    • Well, it does if the goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Individual countries can deal as necessary with the effects of climate change that is part of a natural cycle, where as reducing carbon dioxide emissions requires a lot of global governmental cooperation, which is not going to happen.

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      • KW:

        Well, it does if the goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

        But that isn't the goal. The goal is (ostensibly) to stop the warming. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is the proclaimed means by which it can/must be done. My point being that this utopian global government cooperative is "required" only to the extent that the assumptions made by the Alarmists – ie that man-produced carbon emissions is the primary cause of any warming – is correct. It is also "needed" only to the extent that the apocalyptic conditions predicted by the Alarmist community would, in fact, come to pass.

        So basically "dealing" with AGW "requires" this global government cooperative only to the extent that one already buys into the full litany of Alarmist presumptions and prognostications.

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      • only to the extent that one already buys into the full litany of Alarmist presumptions and prognostications.

        Primarily the assumption that any of the policy and strategies being advanced will do anything to reduce carbon dioxide output.

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  3. And so it begins: The inevitable assault on free association and religious liberty resulting from SSM.

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/massachusetts-court-catholic-school-cant-refuse-to-hire-marr#.pl6RVpzvR

    A state court in Massachusetts has ruled that a Catholic preparatory school violated the state’s antidiscrimination law when it rescinded a job offer to a man because he was married to another man.

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  4. @Scottc1: Though we were guaranteed that any fears of such things happening was absurd do keep in mind that this is different. Because justice.

    My issue is . . . there are just about 100,000 public schools in the US. Why does this dude want to work at a parochial prep school?

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  5. Great post, YJ. I would rather we stopped encouraging coastal building than subsidize the ultimate removal from the coasts.

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    • Mark:

      Great post, YJ.

      So you also think that virtually any sort of challenge to AGW politics is appropriately dismissed as “denial”?

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        • McWing (from the link):

          These arguments have no traction with liberals, who are bewitched by the Wilsonian notion, “There is no danger in power, if only it be not .  .  . divided, dealt out in shares to many.” They wish above all to centralize power, which is why they have no regard for the proper role of the states in our system, why they applaud Obama’s executive power grabs, and why they wish to do away with the filibuster. That leaves the conservatives and libertarians as sole defenders of our governing order, today’s “constitutional conservative movement.”

          How many times have I made that very point?

          BTW, I am all in on this proposal.

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      • Scott, I don’t think that virtually any sort of challenge to AGW politics is appropriately dismissed as “denial”. But the way I read the post, neither does YJ.

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        • Mark:

          But the way I read the post, neither does YJ.

          Maybe I am reading the post through the prism of his past use of the term, but it sure seems to me like an endorsement of The Guardian’s attempt to label any kind of challenge to the Alarmist litany as “denial”.

          We already know for sure that yello thinks that to even question the primacy of human activity as the cause of any warming that has occurred is “Pretty much the textbook definition of Denialism.” And he has also strongly implied that to even suggest that any warming will not be particularly cataclysmic is also “denialism”. Indeed he has suggested that any critique short of actual denial of any warming is just an example of “deniers” “moving the goalposts”. I am just drawing what seems to me the obvious conclusion.

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  6. This link seems timely given yello’s most recent post.

    http://thefederalist.com/2015/04/17/what-it-would-take-to-prove-global-warming/

    It’s pretty clear that scientists aren’t any good yet at making global climate forecasts. Current temperatures are at or below the low range of all of the climate models. Nobody predicted the recent 17-year-long temperature plateau. And while they can come up with ad hoc explanations after the fact for why the data don’t match their models, the whole point of a forecast is to be able to get the right answer before the data comes in.

    Given the abysmal record of climate forecasting, we should tell the warmists to go back and make a new set of predictions, then come back to us in 20 or 30 years and tell us how these predictions panned out. Then we’ll talk.

    Ah, but we’re not going to be allowed to wait. And that’s one of the things that is deeply unscientific about the global warming hysteria. The climate is a subject which, by its nature, requires detailed study of events that take many decades to unfold. It is a field in which the only way to gain knowledge is through extreme patience: gather painstaking, accurate data over a period of centuries, chug away at making predictions, figure out 20 years later that they failed, try to discover why they failed, then start over with a new set of predictions and wait another 20 years. It’s the kind of field where a conscientious professional plugs away so maybe in some future century those who follow after him will finally be able to figure it all out.

    Yet this is the field that has suddenly been imbued with the Fierce Urgency of Now. We have to know now what the climate will do over the next 100 years, we have to decide now, we have to act now. So every rule of good science gets trampled down in the stampede. Which also explains the partisan gap on this issue, because we all know which side of the political debate stands to benefit from the stampede. And it’s not the right.

    So yes, I know exactly what it would take to convince me that catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is really happening. And no, the warmists haven’t even come close.

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    • the whole point of a forecast is to be able to get the right answer before the data comes in.

      Why do you hate science?

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    • From the WSJ article:

      The temperature-station quality is largely awful. The most important stations in the U.S. are included in the Department of Energy’s Historical Climatology Network. A careful survey of these stations by a team led by meteorologist Anthony Watts showed that 70% of these stations have such poor siting that, by the U.S. government’s own measure, they result in temperature uncertainties of between two and five degrees Celsius or more. We do not know how much worse are the stations in the developing world.

      He’s not spending enough time yelling “it’s science!” and “you’re like a holocaust denier!” … he must not really care about the planet.

      And that’s just the surface-temperature record. What about the rest? The number of named hurricanes has been on the rise for years, but that’s in part a result of better detection technologies (satellites and buoys) that find storms in remote regions. The number of hurricanes hitting the U.S., even more intense Category 4 and 5 storms, has been gradually decreasing since 1850. The number of detected tornadoes has been increasing, possibly because radar technology has improved, but the number that touch down and cause damage has been decreasing. Meanwhile, the short-term variability in U.S. surface temperatures has been decreasing since 1800, suggesting a more stable climate.

      Why isn’t he trying to scare me with the established scientific fact that Climate Change will lead directly to killer storms that will kill me and everybody I love if I don’t vote for a carbon tax now? He’s doing it wrong.

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  7. The studies cited in these pieces are what convinced me that it’s real.

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204422404576594872796327348

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/opinion/the-conversion-of-a-climate-change-skeptic.html

    That doesn’t mean that ditching capitalism in favor of state planning is the appropriate solution, nor does it mean that doing something for the sake of taking action is better than doing nothing.

    Climate change is simply the latest excuse for everything the left has always wanted to do anyway. I’m old enough to remember the 1970’s and the predictions of doom due to unchecked population growth, etc. Soylent Green, Silent Running and the Omega Man really did capture the zeitgeist.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soylent_Green

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Running

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Omega_Man

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    • jnc:

      Climate change is simply the latest excuse for everything the left has always wanted to do anyway.

      A remarkable coincidence, that.

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    • In the end it’s about power not climate.

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    • From the NYT piece:

      Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years

      … I’m very dubious of our temperature records from 1765 being sufficiently robust enough to draw many conclusions. Especially regarding an being the prime cause of global warming. Although as I read on, it’s clear they took a scientific approach, rather than “consensus”. 😉

      Our Berkeley Earth approach used sophisticated statistical methods developed largely by our lead scientist, Robert Rohde, which allowed us to determine earth land temperature much further back in time. We carefully studied issues raised by skeptics: biases from urban heating (we duplicated our results using rural data alone), from data selection (prior groups selected fewer than 20 percent of the available temperature stations; we used virtually 100 percent), from poor station quality (we separately analyzed good stations and poor ones) and from human intervention and data adjustment (our work is completely automated and hands-off). In our papers we demonstrate that none of these potentially troublesome effects unduly biased our conclusions

      How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism

      With those words, These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism I suddenly want to read more about what this guy has to say, and I feel like I’m getting an honest, well-earned opinion and analysis. Sheesh, is that so hard?

      It’s a scientist’s duty to be properly skeptical. I still find that much, if not most, of what is attributed to climate change is speculative, exaggerated or just plain wrong. I’ve analyzed some of the most alarmist claims, and my skepticism about them hasn’t changed.

      Hurricane Katrina cannot be attributed to global warming. The number of hurricanes hitting the United States has been going down, not up; likewise for intense tornadoes. Polar bears aren’t dying from receding ice, and the Himalayan glaciers aren’t going to melt by 2035. And it’s possible that we are currently no warmer than we were a thousand years ago, during the “Medieval Warm Period” or “Medieval Optimum,” an interval of warm conditions known from historical records and indirect evidence like tree rings. And the recent warm spell in the United States happens to be more than offset by cooling elsewhere in the world, so its link to “global” warming is weaker than tenuous

      This guy needs to be spearheading the Climate Change folks.

      Such transparency is the heart of the scientific method; if you find our conclusions implausible, tell us of any errors of data or analysis.

      The alarmists must hate this dude.

      Like

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