How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic

I am really still working on a post, but am very busy at work with a new project that is taking up a lot of mental energy. I generally have an excess of mental energy (need to get more exercise) but this is more than usual. In the meantime, how about a round of the new game I’ve invented (well, robbed from various folks who have gone before me) “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic”.

Judith Curry seems to think that you throw chum out and let them churn in the blood-and-gut surf. That showing you listen and act polite when they spout drivel  talk about why there is no consensus, the data is corrupt, the scientists are cads, and it’s all a big left-wing godless liberal socialist plot to turn everyone into Marx-spouting zombies…

Uh. Sorry.

That showing you listen and are polite will do more to bridge some divide between those who accept the scientific consensus and those who reject it than calling them deniers and pointing out their idiocy.

Spending time at CA or Climate etc. or worse, WTFIUWT, tends to diminish my faith in human reason and logic. It makes me feel like girding my loins and fighting all the harder — or else gouging my eyes out with a rusty spork.

I’ve had a crisis of confidence lately in my role in the climate debates. I want to write seriously about them, because I feel as if this is the biggest challenge we have faced as a civilization, but I get so disillusioned when I see the same old same old from the usual suspects.

What is the best tactic for talking to honest skeptics? Should we assume all self-proclaimed skeptics are truly skeptical and play nice? Do I, with my snarkiness, drive a deeper wedge in between the truly skeptical and science? That would not be my goal at all.  I tend to assume that those who read here accept the consensus and need a bit of comic/snarky relief from the horrors at places like CA and WUWT.

So, what do you think?
Inquiring minds…

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About Policy Lass

Exploring skeptic tales.

43 Responses to “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic”

  1. I take the view that the person reading the exchange is more important than the person I’m talking to. We often forget that for every one person that posts on a climate blog there are likely hundreds or more reading. Their views and rationality are not known.

    I don’t disagree with Curry in that it’s important to “listen” to skeptics. The thing is that once you spend some time in the debate you’ve heard all the arguments and now it’s time to take a position on them, not listen to them endlessly. She regularly refuses to take a position on anything except of course how mean and unqualified those scientists are.

    If someone says “There’s been no warming since 1995” what do you do?

    Listen? No. If you know anything you know that’s wrong.

    Ignore? Well many can and do. That’s only helpful to people that already know it’s not true.

    Attack? Easily the most satisfying option and I think we all deep down secretly hope sense can be shouted into others. The reader though has to ask “What’s wrong with what he said? Why is he being attacked for it?”.

    The only useful response is to explain why that’s not just wrong but ridiculously wrong. Nobody has time to do that for every claim which is why I think skepticalscience.com is one of the best resources out there – they wrong from exactly the needed perspective which “Here is a claim that’s made and here’s why it’s wrong”. You’re never going to change the mind of someone that posts that kind of claim but you may prevent someone else from thinking it’s true.

    The enormous availability of information these days has put a huge dent in the “honest people who disagree” demographic. Most honest people that are interested in having an option have everything they need to obtain it. Getting started on a complex topic like climate is hard because you really don’t know what to trust. I remember being very frustrated starting out just trying to resolve the various claims about X year being the hottest, I didn’t realise there were multiple temperature records and that some claims were per-country and some global.

    I avoid terms like denier but I do tend to quote quote the type of “skeptic” we all know is only skeptical of what they don’t want to believe. Dismissing arguments only works when they’re way out on the fringe (“the moon landing was a hoax!”). When the argument sounds intuitively plausible (“C02 is a tiny trace gas, how can it have the effect of warming the planet so much?”) then dismissing it sounds like you don’t have a response.

    It’s interesting to note that WUWT is now almost impossible to post on if you don’t tow the party line. It’s funny that they’re making such a big stink about realclimate’s moderation but at least they moderate openly. If you’re disagreeable with the posts at WUWT you’ll quickly find your comments take a very long time to appear, usually once the discussion is done, if they appear at all.

    “I’ve had a crisis of confidence lately in my role in the climate debates. I want to write seriously about them, because I feel as if this is the biggest challenge we have faced as a civilization, but I get so disillusioned when I see the same old same old from the usual suspects.”

    As above: Think about 1:100 or 1:1000 ratio for every idiot you see posting. It is a fascinating topic from all sorts of perspectives. Imagine when all this stuff gets trawled through when the issue is settled conclusively (within the lifetimes of its participants too, to their shame).

  2. slightly off-topic. At the klimazwiebel it was concluded last week (in a german discussion), that the scientific question is a thing from the past and the relevant conflict is rather one between mitigation (us “warmists”) and adaptation (lukewarmers and true skeptics).

    • The relevant conflict should be what policy options are best to address climate change with the least negative effects on the economy and people’s well-being. It just seems wrong-headed to me to think that adaptation is not going to involve a huge cost to people in terms of their economic well-being. Adaptation seems to me to be largely local, while mitigation efforts have to be global at some point to be effective.

      Those who will be the hardest hit by climate change tend to be the ones least able to adapt to change. In the third/developing world, a heat wave / drought kills tens of thousands of the poorest people while in the “first world” or “developed world” we run up our energy bill by using extra air conditioning and don’t water our lawns as much. It’s asymmetrical. Adaptation suggests to me leaving those least able to adapt on their own. At least with the mitigation proposals I’ve seen, there is a concerted effort to transfer clean technology to the developing world so that their development is carbon-neutral or less carbon intensive than ours has been.

      IDK – am I just being overly pessimistic?

    • ‘us’ “warmist” are the realists that know mitigation will not be enough, we will also have to adapt. ‘skeptics’ are the one’s that think nothing is going on, and we’ll easily adapt our way out of any problems (well, apart from the enormous economical problems they are sure will happen when we try to mitigate; there disaster is assured, so they say).

      I sometimes try to ask what we are to adapt to. Higher sea levels is ‘easy’, in the sense that we know all coastal areas will be affected. But can we adapt well in time if we don’t know whether the local region will see higher T + higher rainfall, higher T + lower rainfall, only more or less rainfall? Can we adapt with the knowledge that the change will continue unless we mitigate, and that we thus may go from one regime to another? That also means we could well adapt to something, and with a regime change end up making the new situation worse due to our initial adaptation. For example, suppose we adapt to much more rainfall, and then suddenly see a change that results in much less rainfall. Oops. We already have such problems with the natural variation of climate on an annual and subdecadal scale.

  3. It’s just difficult. Flat out — you can never really win until you get the person discussing policy. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time. In order to do that you need to quickly decide how to do that. The best way I have found is to challenge the skeptic to show that there is enough certainty of no effects of emitting Co2 to warrant no or little action, and wait. It’s limits the amount of discussions you’ll have. Otherwise you can spend hours of discussion all to end with – ok we’ll have to agree to disagree or well what about Bristlecones or Judith Curry says there’s no consensus or name_that_conspiracy_climategate etc etc. The point of the policy is to deal with the risk. The point of science, in regards to public safety, is help inform us of the risk. Once you realize you are dealing with someone who expects science to be “pure” or “exact” it’s a good indication you are dealing with someone who won’t get it and will likely just waste your time. But be wary of Sharpoo’s warning. Others are watching! So how to get people to the point of discussing proper policy is a magic trick I haven’t figured out yet.

  4. 20%+ of the world’s population will never accept the science on climate change. That’s how I look at it. The point is to not try and get blood from a stone, but to make sure they don’t take the rest of the world with them and convince others of their bullshit. When you “engage” with a pseudo-sceptic you’re also engaging with the passing reader.

  5. As sharper00 said, use Skeptical Science, which has been vastly useful to me in:
    a) Comments on opinion pieces where space-limited.
    b) Radio shows.
    c) in SSWR for which John Cook kindly created the fixed-number list, so that SSWR wouldn’t rapidly get inconsistent. See p.12 for how I used it – at least 15 of the listed memes showed up in the Wegman Report or testimony. I had to add a few more specifics. It would have been utterly hopeless to have handled all those directly and a massive waste of time.

    That’s a useful dense list, the use of the #s not only gives a good resource to legitimate questioners, but doesn’t waste time getting dragged into confusing arguments and makes clear to onlookers how repetitive this junk is.

    On a radio call-in show, you can politely tell people upfront that many of the same wrong things get repeated endlessly, and that to avoid wasting time, especially for cases that need graphs, you will just give the #s and save the time for new/different questions.
    then, give the #s as they come up. I always like to point at the list, which means that someone going there to look up one will see the existence of the rest.

    I had this experience in Vancouver. a few months ago with several radio shows. One guy did the typical burst of 3 separate questions … and you cannot hope to really answer such without either consuming all the time or leaving one unanswered. But saying “see #6, #10, #1 at the website I told you about you earlier, next caller please” is perfectly polite, and makes the point. If I were to do this again, I’d print that list and review it enough that I could find the numbers really quickly.

    • I think there is a real danger in simply pointing people to Skeptical Science – after all, its just another web site to anyone reading (to the uninitiated, what’s the difference between SS and, for e.g. WUWT or Climate Audit, or Climate Depot?). When discussing things on forums, I prefer to rephrase the SS rebuttals, and always make sure to point to the peer-reviewed literature. This is important, because its the main thing that sets the two sides apart. Every one has an opinion, but the facts are, well, the facts.

      Flame wars are hopeless, and the best one can do in these situations is maintain composure and leave the discussion with your head held high. Chances are you’ll feel better about it afterwards, and those reading it may appreciate your civility if nothing else.

      • Good point. The point-to-numbers tactic is effective when tiresome arguments are brought up time and time again or when one is presented with a Gish gallop post. One thing that is good to mention is that the articles posted in SkepSci generally link to peer-review articles.

        One tactic is to (for example) point to the Knutti & Hegerl review article and then to the more accessible explanation in SkepSci.

      • I used to do that, but got convince it was more often than not a waste of time, except for being good practice. Of course, blog arguments allow for more discussion, links, etc.
        Suggest how your approach deals with:
        – Responding to Gish Gallup OpEd or letter-to-Editor: you have 125-150 words, or sometimes in online newspaper discussions, they may have limits like 500-1000 … to deal with an OpEd that jammed in a dozen fo the standard things.

        – You have 15 minutes of question time on talk show, first questioner fires off 3 of the standard memes.

        Anyway, one can be perfectly civil, perhaps discuss a question in more detail, but SS does cite peer-reviewed material, but prefaced by general-audience explanations … and it is fantasy to think most readers will want to go beyond into the peer-reviewed literature.

        Let me pick as an example:
        http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-lags-temperature.htm

        That cites the Lorius/Hansen paper which predicted the CO2 lag for ice-age termination, well before the data arrived. Almost no one is going to go look at that paper, but knowing about it is a key stopper for this “scientists are hiding fact that CO2 lags temperature, etc.” Scientists expected the effect two decades ago.

        After all, most questions can be answered simply by saying “See IPCC AR4, pp x-y” … but that just does not work for a general audience.

        If all you do is refute one claim, that leaves the others untouched. If you point at SS and explain what it is, and that it has general explanations, backed by peer-reviewed literature, there is at least a chance to innoculate readers against the *next* meme.

        (for me) Non-goals:
        – play endless whack-a-mole, again and again
        – change minds of the moles (hopeless)
        – feel good
        Goals:
        – help educate honest questioners
        – introduce them to the tools to help them sort out misinformation, i.e., help them learn to learn.

        One can do that quite politely. it is somewhat akin to the following problem:
        a) You are making a 2-hour presentation to a potential customer you hope will buy $10Ms worth of workstations and supercomputers.

        b) The half-dozen listener go from a few techies through his management chain to a very senior VP.

        c) Sometimes the techies will pepper you with detailed questions, and if you let them, they will determine the order of the presentation, what’s covered, and drag it into the minutiae of what they want and you may well run out of time (They may of course rarely have a chance to appear in front of the senior VP, so here it is.)

        d) But you cannot just ignore them, because they can raise doubts and they may well be technical recommenders who the boss will listen to.

        e) So, what do you do? (more later, when I get back from bike ride … I’ve done 100s of meetings like that and I can say what I used to do.)

  6. As said previously, Curry is simply a denialist fluffer – all she does is arouse the rabble who sit naked in front of their screens waiting for the next tidbit from the Mistress.

    I like your snark. Snark is necessary. Those who read CA, Climate Etc, WUWT, are beyond help. Anyone with a brain will run quickly from these websites. Those who stay arent there for sensible debate.

    The only rational response to idiocy and/or deliberate fraud is derision and humour.

  7. > What is the best tactic for talking to honest skeptics?

    http://moregrumbinescience.blogspot.com/2008/08/comment-policy.html

    and

    http://climatesight.org/ which says

    “Cite your statements appropriately – peer-reviewed sources for scientific claims, primary sources for quotes/current events/etc.

    Don’t smear someone’s reputation based on pure speculation. This includes, but is not limited to, climate scientists.

    Please refrain from personal attacks on myself or other commenters. Mean comments about how much you hate this comment policy are also kind of pointless.

    Any violations of this comment policy will be deleted.”

  8. I take the view that the lurker is much more important than the people posting denier nonsense. The latter are usually hard core deniers who keep recycling the same old stuff, or concern trolls, or scientific illiterati (people who value scientific ignorance).

    On one website I frequent I try to be polite and factual in responding to denier nonsense and in posting new information. The thing is, deniers are usually much more snarky and aggressive than normal people. They resort to personal attacks and highly inflamed language when they run out of denier responses. So they end up looking more erratic and less reasoned (to the casual reader who is not a denier).

    With habitual offenders and more particularly with concern trolls I talk on two levels, to the extent that the poster gets the message but to the casual reader my post looks polite (hopefully). Eg I’ve recently had a concern troll bite and claim a post of mine was a personal attack while other readers couldn’t see anything personal in my response at all.

    In a sense I suppose I’m using reverse concern troll methods on concern trolls and normal factual responses with others. I try to avoid personalising too much but don’t pull any punches when it comes to third parties – eg mock Monckton endlessly (which is easy).

    The other thing is to not waste time with obviously foolish posts, but to pick issues worth responding to and debunking. There’s only so much time in the day and it’s important to not get too embroiled – keep rational, calm and not lose your cool. (Deniers love baiting.)

    IMO deniers are far more emotionally invested in converting people to their viewpoint (they don’t have the benefit of rationality backing their position), which is why it’s important to maintain a calm demeanour and choose when an emotional response is useful (which it occasionally, but rarely, is).

    Different people have different approaches. That’s useful. Eg there are a few other normal people who post on the sites I frequent and we each have a different style and approach. The mix in styles is a good thing. (Deniers also come in all shapes and sizes – some are stupid, others are cunning, others are blatantly political.)

    Good to have a chance to write this down. Tomorrow my thoughts on the topic might be quite different 🙂

  9. My previous post was about dishonest ‘skeptics’.

    With honest sceptics I try to assess their level of knowledge, education intelligence etc and where they are coming from and respond accordingly. Eg choose between a realclimate.org type response or a skepticalscience.com type response – and quite often skepticalscience is too advanced for them – so that means trying to keep it very very simple.

    Patience and politeness is the key – and not get too invested in ‘converting’ them either. Analogies can be handy. The trick is picking something they will relate to.

  10. Sou’s advice is very good.

    When I can no longer keep pretending to be a nice person for a while,
    I often just post a cartoon, like this one from the Gish gallopers

    or, for excursions beyond the facts from ‘environmentalists’

  11. Here’s how you speak to a climate sceptic…

    “Al Gore rocks! I love Cap’n’Trade!”

    Breaks the ice, anyway.

  12. Nope. Still never heard of it. I’ve heard of Cornflakes, though.

  13. > started with sugar
    They were lumpers back then, so all the sugar was counted in one item.

    Now they’re splitters, and it appears the total sugar is less than the total flour content:
    CORN FLOUR, SUGAR, OAT FLOUR, BROWN SUGAR, COCONUT OIL, SALT,…

    Ever wondered “What exactly are Crunch Berries?”

  14. Venn diagrams are sometimes helpful, e.g. where

    “Santer/Schmidt/Nielsen-Gammon/Curry cried “foul!”

    I’d think other climate scientists, emeritus scientists, and blog-scientists — even those fiercely critical of one another in other contexts — would be willing to join that group in criticizing the presentation made. You know how to find this stuff.

  15. Susan,

    Thanks for the interesting blog. Over on your “About” page, you mention the problems for Joe and Jane Public in forming reasonable opinions about this issue, and I think there are also similar problems for those with a scientific background. Mine is in Physics, and so I have naturally gravitated (no pun) to the material at this end of the topic – including text books such as Taylor’s, good quality science blogs like Science of Doom and Judith Curry, the Physics chapters of WG1, and a scattering of GHE papers inevitably including the work of scientists such as Richard Lindzen.

    Naturally, I accept the basic science and agree that a consensus exists over it. But I would also say it was not justified to make very strong or certain claims beyond these basics. Nonetheless, there is no getting away from the fact of increasing CO2 emissions and I would certainly agree that this needs to be addressed, irrespective of disputes over the scientific details. Hence one naturally arrives in the territory mentioned above by “grypo” – where the topic of discussion is the policy response.

    I’d therefore be very interested to understand which policies you would like to see enacted, and why. For myself, my take off point would be here, http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/27939/. Perhaps you agree with this document? In any case, I’m interested to hear what you think.

    • I have posted twice about the Hartwell Paper. You can read the archives to see what I think about it and the group but I will give you a hint. I am not a fan.

      I am not a climate policy analyst. My policy background is in health care and social policy. As such, I do not have the background to judge the ins and outs of viable climate policy. I don’t know what will work best. I have said that this blog is not a science blog nor is it a blog about policy solutions. It is a blog about the policy wars over climate change.

      I do think that whatever policies are adopted, they will have to be both national and international in scope due to the global nature of the problem. Policy solutions will involve some means to limit CO2 and other GHGs, land use changes, reduce black carbon, etc. From what I’ve read of it, I favour a carbon tax that would be put back into R&D and compensation to taxpayers. FFs are just too damn cheap considering the negative consequences of their use. I would also advocate research in alternative fuels and energy sources. Market solutions and government intervention are both necessary. It’s a mighty big problem and is complex, and will require similarly big and complex solutions. That’s just blue sky though. I am no expert in this area.

  16. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for your reply – I think I’ve now found your earlier posting, https://shewonk.wordpress.com/2010/05/22/the-hartwell-paper-and-capituation/.

    I’m puzzled by your rejection of Hartwell, because you mentioned such a lot of overlap in the post and in your reply to me. Certainly, both you and they want to see decarbonization of the economy: indeed the Hartwell authors emphasize the need for accelerated decarbonization. I also agree with you that there are powerful forces pushing against the Kyoto style climate policies – most people want to see improving living standards for themselves and their families, true in the West and even more so in the developing world. Surely, the Hartwell’s are right that these desires are reasonable and need to be fully taken into account if we truly want to reduce human impacts on climate?

    • I do support these other measures but they should not divert us from tackling the really hard and most important cause of warming — CO2.

      Short term desires of those few who want to continue to benefit — or benefit for the first time — from fossil fuelled growth and development can’t trump the long-term safety of the many.

      Unfortunately, the Hartwell group thinks we can merely play around the edges without having to do the really hard work. It’s CO2 that’s the problem, it’s the carbon-based energy that we used to fuel our economic growth, that’s the problem and so the solution has to lie with it.

      I agree with addressing black carbon and land use policies and non-CO2 greenhouse gasses but I am not willing to sacrifice CO2 mitigation for them in order to let the third world develop or fossil fuel corporations keep making $$$.

      It would be completely ridiculous to think we can burn all our coal and natural gas and shale oil and that diddling with the others will do the trick. We have to de-carbonize our economies, period. The growth and development of the future will have to be clean if we are to prevent dangerous climate change from doing the entire works in.

      It’s a risk issue. Yes, I want to bring the ROTW up to a high standard of living and literacy and longevity. But only a fool would do it at the price of sacrificing the planet.

  17. Susan,

    Thank you so much for your kind replies – I appreciate very much this opportunity to improve my understanding by debating with you. As you say, this is a very complex problem, and there are no easy answers.

    I’m still a little unsure where it is that you take issue with the Hartwell’s proposal. I can however, clear up one possible misunderstanding. The Hartwells most certainly do want to decarbonize the energy supply – there can be absolutely no doubt about this, based on a reading of their paper.

    As to the core part of their proposal, perhaps if I try to lay out my understanding of it clause by clause, you can more easily point out the statement that you take issue with, or possibly where I have misunderstood them.

    [1] There are several very strong reasons to decarbonize the energy supply, including the problem of global warming.
    [2] Despite a high level of public support for decarbonization, it has proved impossible to achieve by restrictions to energy supplies, either in the west or in developing countries, and this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.
    [3] To provide the required unrestricted access to energy supplies, significant viable generation and mitigation technology must still be developed.
    [4] The required technology must be rapidly developed and this development must be publicly financed.

    • Of course, I should also have pointed out that the desired decarbonization follows fairly directly from #4.

    • My problems with the Hartwell paper have already been articulated but here is another iteration:

      “What profit a man if he gain the whole world but loses his soul?”

      Or, when applied to climate:

      What good is it if we win a battle (black carbon, Methane, land use patterns) only to lose the war (warming over 2C)?

      I think this approach is basically denialism dressed up in academic clothing. It shouldn’t be taken seriously.

      I argue that the Hartwell paper hasn’t correctly identified the problem and therefore cannot come up with an appropriate solution except by accident — which it hasn’t.

      In the entire paper, there is no discussion of the efforts to influence policy on the part of the fossil fuel industry and allied industries, of political players trying to interfere in the science, and of ideological battles that have taken place. There is no political awareness in the paper. It is either ignored or swept under the rug.

      The paper accepts rising CO2 levels but does not accept the consensus view of the threat rising CO2 poses on climate. I label it thus a denialist paper. YMMV.

      I reject the premise that addressing climate change can only come without economic consequences. There will have to be economic consequences because the threat to our climate is in part due to bad economics. We can either pay now or pay even more later.

      There is no discussion of the broken political process. Lobbyists from corporations with a primary stake in the debate have purchased politicians. Those politicians have denied the reality of global warming and this has led to an inability to move forward on climate policy. None of this is present in the Hartwell Paper.

      As I see it, the main issue is this – BAU release of CO2 from burning fossil fuels threatens the stability of the climate and ocean systems, placing everyone on the globe in danger from climate warming and ocean acidification.

      Climate policy has failed because of broken political processes and economics.

      According to the best science – which is the science policy makers must consider and use as their guideline – the massive influx of CO2 into the atmosphere at levels not seen in 15 million years threatens to destabilize the climate and throw our industrial civilization into chaos as a warming climate causes potentially devastating droughts, floods, sea level rise, heat waves, wars and refugees. The massive sequestration of additional CO2 into the ocean also threatens the biodiversity of the oceans and all those who rely on it – like us.

      These dual and linked threats must be mitigated through action to decarbonizes the economy and develop alternative energy sources so that the rest of the world, who rightfully wants to develop to our levels, don’t destroy the planet in the process. We in the developed world started the problem but the developing world will finish it if we don’t step up now and prevent that.

      That is the simple issue facing us as a species:

      • Do we, based on the best science at hand, limit CO2 in order to halt the enhanced GHE and ocean acidification processes already well-underway?
      • Do we encourage the development at the same time of alternative energy supplies and technologies so that all humans can attain a higher standard of living?
      • Or do we push our planetary systems over the brink and risk all our well-being?

      In contrast to the Hartwell folks, I disagree that a top down approach must fail. A top-down approach is absolutely necessary because it is only through the large-scale levels available to national and international governments that a concerted effort with real effect can be achieved. Initial attempts to develop climate change policy failed due to political corruption and interference in the science by vested interests. Addressing the real cause is the only solution.

      Do I support efforts to reduce black carbon? Most certainly. James Hansen called for this years ago and I supported it at the time.

      Do I support reducing non-CO2 greenhouse gasses? Most certainly. Many climate scientists have called for this previously and I support this as well.

      Do I support development of carbon-free or carbon-neutral alternatives and the decarbonization of the economy? Most certainly.

      However CO2 is King and if we don’t seriously address it and soon, I do think we face dangerous climate change. Tinkering around the edges the way the Hartwell paper advocates will help but only by delaying the damage for a decade or so and it is not at all clear how much it will delay or what the consequences might be.

      What this will require is not the meandering tangential approach advocated by the Hartwell group and their silly “Capability Brown” bollocks but direct concerted action to decarbonize and develop alternative energy sources — ASAP.

      It’s political will that will lead to real action, and political will can only come through a threat to the elected officials who are the ones responsible for policy choices. EXXON and other FF corporations know this. They’ve used their purse strings to prevent climate policy.

      Voters will likewise have to threaten to kick the bastards out of office if they don’t act. This will require a massive education of the public, informing them of the best science and its findings — without political interference. Faced with the overwhelming consensus about the science and the threat to the climate, I do believe that the public will demand action. It would be better if we were able to do this now, before the threat mounts, but it may be that only time will convince people that action is needed.

      Denialists and their lackeys have effectively seized the discourse and perverted it enough to prevent a political consensus from developing around the scientific consensus on the reality and urgency of climate change.

      The Hartwell analysis is inadequate, wrong-headed, and starts from the wrong premise. It can’t help but fail and any policy based on it as well.

  18. Susan,

    Again, thanks very much for your thoughtful replies.

    Despite your obvious pessimism, I can see in your comments several important points of agreement with the Hartwell’s position.

    [1] You both want to see decarbonization of the economy as the primary goal. I know you have your doubts about their position on this, but consider this quote from their paper:

    “But, above all, it [the Hartwell paper] emphasizes the primacy of accelerating decarbonisation of energy supply.”

    [2] You both want to see reductions in other forms of human climate impact as well.

    [3] You both want to see the rapid development and deployment of new and viable energy technology.

    Here are the main points of disagreement that I noticed.

    [A] You disagree with their claim that the political will to decarbonize already exists. But consider that opinion polls have consistently shown a high level of popular concern about global warming, between 50-70% in the US since 1990.

    [B] You disagree with their suggestion that the failure of climate policy to date has been caused by not taking ordinary people’s aspirations for a better life into account. In particular, they criticize the “approach of framing around human sinfulness” and suggest instead to “reframe the climate issue around matters of human dignity”. But surely you will agree that this route to decarbonization policy is far more likely to engage people’s support than the other? And would that not imply that the Hartwell’s approach is far more likely to be successful in reducing CO2 emissions?

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