The bad faith of climate-deniers cannot be denied

We can disagree about all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. And quite often, we can amicably “agree to disagree,” accepting that both of us are acting in good faith.

But as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher recently noted, the reality of climate change is not such a dispute. Rohrabacher, a Republican from California, recently spoke to a group of his constituents about this, noting that this dispute does not allow for the possibility of a disagreement in good faith:

Just so you know, global warming is a total fraud and it is being designed by — what you’ve got is you’ve got liberals who get elected at the local level want state government to do the work and let them make the decisions. Then, at the state level, they want the federal government to do it. And at the federal government, they want to create global government to control all of our lives. That’s what the game plan is. It’s step by step by step, more and bigger control over our lives by higher levels of government. And global warming is that strategy in spades. … Our freedom to make our choices on transportation and everything else? No, that’s gotta be done by a government official who, by the way, probably comes from Nigeria because he’s a UN government official, not a US government official.

Bracket for the moment the matters of established fact that Rohrabacher gets wrong. Set aside for now his gleeful racism and xenophobia, and his apparent belief that Nicolae Carpathia has begun plotting his rise to global dictatorship by offering a series of voluntary best-practices for energy efficiency in the decades-old “Agenda 21” guidelines.

Just focus here on the part Rohrabacher gets right: That this dispute necessarily requires one side or the other to be acting in bad faith. This cannot be regarded as a simple difference of opinion, or a conflict between two plausibly legitimate interpretations of the world as we are able to observe and measure it.

Either this Alaskan permafrost is melting due to climate change, or else it is deliberately choosing to melt as part of the design — the grand “game plan” of a “global warming fraud” intended to produce the big government secretly desired by the malicious Arctic soil.

This disagreement can only be explained, just as Rohrabacher says, by one side or the other resorting to “total fraud.” One side or the other is being dishonest. One side or the other is deliberately promoting lies and trying to conceal the truth. One side or the other has bad motives.

Dana Rohrabacher is right about that.

So let us explore, then, what it would mean — what would have to be true — for the “fraud” and bad faith to be on the side of this dispute that says human-caused climate change is real.

It would require, just as Rohrabacher says, a “game plan.” A massive, vast, global game plan — larger in scope and involving more participants than any previous conspiracy in human history.

And not just in human history, either. This “game plan” also requires the willing participation of all manner of non-human actors: flora and fauna, fish and fowl, vertebrate and invertebrate.

Does it make sense to speak of mosquitoes or algae or migratory birds as knowing participants in a global “game plan” to bring about centralized world government? Rohrabacher says it does. And, in order for what Rohrabacher claims to be true, that must be the case.

In order for his claims of a bad-faith conspiracy — a designed and intentional “total fraud,” just so you know — to be true, then plants and animals and insects must be in on it.

Actually, Rohrabacher’s claim requires more than that. If what this senior member of the House Science Committee says is true, then by necessity, it must therefore be true that inanimate objects are acting in bad faith. Arctic sea ice must be acting, willfully, out of malevolent motives. Permafrost — non-sentient cryotic dirt — must be capable of duplicity and malice, secretly harboring a desire for “more and bigger control … by higher levels of government.”

We needn’t concern ourselves with what Rohrabacher’s theory requires to be true about the millions of humans he says are conspiring together in unanimous, deliberate bad faith. Some other time, perhaps, we can debate that claim and whether or not it is really plausible to believe that every scientist, professor, editor of academic journals, reporter, admiral, general, NASA researcher, NOAA official, insurance executive and reporter has accepted an invitation to participate in a massive “total fraud.”

We could debate that, I suppose. Perhaps “the human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked,” and therefore such a thing is, in theory, possible. And as humans, the “heart” of beasts and birds and marine life is so completely alien to us that it, too, is unknowable. So perhaps it is also even possible that millions of species of plants and animals have, for their own inscrutable purposes, volunteered to participate in this vast conspiracy against freedom and democracy. Perhaps the mosquitoes and pine trees and plankton are all up to something. Who can say?

But what of the non-sentient participants in this conspiracy? Is there any imaginable sense in which it is possible to accept — as Dana Rohrabacher claims — that sea ice and permafrost could be choosing to participate in a fraud? Are inanimate objects capable of malice and deceit? Can dirt be “deceitfully wicked”?

If not, then Rohrabacher’s whole theory falls apart.

If ice and dirt are not capable of willfully acting in bad faith, then his claim that “global warming is a total fraud and it is being designed” cannot be true. Unless inanimate objects are capable of fraud and deliberate dishonesty, the bad faith in this dispute cannot lie on the side of those claiming the reality of climate change.

If dirt is not purposeful and evil, then the bad faith must lie on the other side.

This is not something about which well-intentioned, reasonable people of good faith can “agree to disagree.” This disagreement requires that one side or the other is operating in bad faith. It requires, as Rohrabacher says, that one side or the other is a dishonest, duplicitous fraud.

Which side? Ask the dirt. Then decide if it is lying.


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  • smrnda

    The problem is these global warming denialists are immune to all kinds of evidence. They haven’t spent their lives learning to examine evidence to find out what they should believe and what they should do about it, they’ve spent their entire lives trying to ‘stand for values’ that they’ve been told were right and cannot be questioned. Investigating reality to find out what’s going on isn’t part of the worldview. They don’t know how it works so they’re suspicious of people who base any claims on research and evidence.

  • Jim Roberts

    Yep. Tell deniers about thawing permafrost and they’ll say, “Oh, it’s just cyclical.” Never mind that at no point in any previous cycle has it thawed, or thawed as deep or as quickly or for as long, “it’s cyclical.”

  • AnonaMiss

    Well, that’s not entirely true. At no point in any previous cycle within recorded history has it thawed as deep for as long. But if you go back to before this ice age, it’s happened before. /nitpick

    It never having happened so quickly still stands, though.

  • Jenny Islander

    Yup, and the Earth has come through a previous period of 400 ppm carbon just fine. In the Pliocene.

  • Ed Darrell

    I find a good way to get denialists to face up is to ask them when the last such cycle occurred, and how many humans survived that period, ten years out, and a century out.

    Most of those previous cycles were prior to modern humans. Most of the time human survival was zero — but of course, that is true because humans didn’t exist.

    Only once did my question actually cause a guy’s head to spin, but you can see that they wish they could . . .

  • LoneWolf343

    You reply “It’s called PERMAfrost, you moron.”

  • Wednesday

    “It’s cyclical” is my aunt’s current automatic reaction to _any_ mention of severe bad weather. Record-breaking wildfires? These things go in cycles. Hot summer? These things go in cycles. Record-breaking snows? These things go in cycles.

    She does it even when severe weather is mentioned that is, in fact, _expected_ to occur, which makes it pretty clear to me that she’s trying to preemptively disregard anything that could be taken. We had a tornado warning during tornado season? These things go in cycles.

    Last year she told me she didn’t care if you were “for or against” climate change. I wish at the time I’d had the presence of mind to ask her if she actually knew who was for global warming in the sense of being in favor of it (some Icelandic farmers because of the extended growing season, oil companies who want the resources buried under ice in the extreme northern parts of the globe) and who was against (insurance companies as previously discussed, environmentalists, poor coastal or island countries, communities who rely on solid ice bridges, and the geologist whose office is above mine who is POed because his glacier is melting too quickly)

  • Carstonio

    Most likely that worldview is driven by shame at being poor and uneducated. They’re not stupid, they’re just blinded by fear and resentment into wrongly perceiving scientists as arrogant know-it-alls. This may be the same core motivations as creationists, who often tend to be the same people as the climate change deniers. They may be willing to believe that evolution is a “rich man’s elitist religion” because they misinterpret the theory as depriving life of any meaning and humanity of any purpose.

  • smrnda

    Some of these people have money though – there are leaders in religion and business who reject climate change and I suspect that both are well funded (the extent of the overlap between religion and big business is definitely not empty as well.) I’m thinking that in those cases, the motive is that they’re selling their version of things as ‘truth’, and a science-backed version of truth is competition, so they engage in poisoning the well tactics to get people to reject scientific consensus on any issue that threatens them.

  • Carstonio

    You’re talking about people with something to gain from promoting denial, such as money or power. I’m talking about folks who were raised with a mentality of resentment, usually but not necessarily from poverty. And some of your group might also have that resentment. My point is that my group is vulnerable to exploitation by your group.

  • smrnda


  • FearlessSon

    I have heard it said that what many humans tend to do is to accept tribal beliefs, then seek out evidence to confirm it. Being educated and intelligent does not (necessarily) proof one against this, and in fact a lot of the people who swallow tribal beliefs so easily tend to just use their education to give themselves more weapons with which to argue.

    My point being that they are more stubborn than anything else, particularly the most educated among them.

  • Carstonio

    True, and I wasn’t arguing the opposite. I was talking about relative levels of education and knowledge, where people who lack these in one area might perceive themselves as inferior or lower in a hierarchy. One version is the classism involving car knowledge. Some people who aspire to be wealthy feel inferior and vulnerable because they don’t know how their cars work, so they regard such knowledge as a lower-class thing.

  • Sauls Thomas

    all brains no balls

    for the lying “mental cases” @ FTB!topic/alt.atheism/WHwp_OkxH34


    homo = atheist?


  • AnonymousSam
  • P J Evans

    One of the problems is not that they’re stupid or ignorant, but that they don’t want to know about it. They choose to not understand the evidence.

  • arcseconds

    Good one.

    I was about to post something that was going to vaguely grope in the same direction, but you’ve saved me the bother. It’s not part of their worldview to investigate reality.

    For those in the depths of politics, I suspect many of them can only see global warming as a political trick, because in their world, there are only political tricks.

  • gocart mozart

    Either climate change is happening or the every climate scientists in the world is involved in a conspiracy to amake stuff up because shut up that’s why.

  • Laurent Weppe

    You forgot another possibility: Rohrabacher’s theory could be verified if the big Agenda 21 conspiracy had actual control over the very climate: forcing polar bears and birds and fishes to migrate to new feeding ground, melting the ices and rising the seas on a whim thanks to some highly advanced techno-magic: basically the NASA and the ICCP and everyone else would be in fact working for evil left-wing Asgardians. And then, at some point, we would see Heimdall standing on the Bifrost, looking down toward Midgard, before turning to Thor and co and shouting “Tonight, We are Canceling the Consummerist Western Civilization!

  • Baby_Raptor

    I heard Glen Beck claim once that Obama has a weather machine in the White House basement that he uses to smash hurricanes into Red States.

    If we can control hurricanes, surely making birds fly where we want isn’t too far off.

  • Fanraeth

    Oh, Beck believes HAARP is controlling the weather too? Why am I not surprised.

  • Aureliano_Buendia

    I could be wrong, but I seem to recall it was Alex Jones who made that claim after the tornadoes in Oklahoma. I wouldn’t be too surprised if it’s true about Glenn Beck as well.

  • Pam

    So the state that gets the most severe tornadoes in the USA getting hit by tornadoes is proof that there’s a weather machine directing where tornadoes to hit said tornado-prone area. The stupid, it burns.

  • Jenny Islander

    They (whoever They are) would also have to be secretly releasing truckloads of insects and birds in the circumpolar North that used to live so far south that local languages don’t even have words for them.

  • Tapetum

    But wouldn’t that mean that there was indeed human-caused climate change? Just a much smaller group than posited by the climate scientists.

    It’s rather sad that this is actually a more plausible theory than the denialists are currently running with.

  • Guest

    Well, the sinful earth belongs to Satan and is given over to his authority, so it must be lying, right?

    An’ if it ain’t, we’ll be raptured and only the unsaved will be left behind for the migrating polar bears to eat. It’s all good.

  • Evan

    Oh come on, Fred, it isn’t the biggest conspiracy in *history*. That would be the one where we liberals buried all the dinosaur fossils and whatnot so as to undermine Christian people’s faith and lead them into the arms of Satan.

  • Ed Darrell

    Al Gore is more powerful than Jesus. That’s the only explanation for how Gore got all the world’s thermometers, the oceans, the glaciers, the migrating birds, the migrating mammals, the fish, and the plants, to cooperate in this conspiracy.

  • Vermic

    Ha! I remember when we did that, that was a hell of a weekend.

  • MaryKaye

    I really don’t think this is accurate. I am not defending the anti-climate-change side in any way, but I don’t think the reasoning is “Ice and dirt are lying to us” at all: I think it’s a mix of “These things are not actually happening to ice and dirt” and “These things happen to ice and dirt normally and do not mean anything special.” Those are both willfully ignorant positions but they do not involve ice and dirt actually lying, only people lying about them.

    Most of the folks saying these things have never seen any permafrost in their lives. And even if they have, no amount of one-time observation is going to tell you that the melting permafrost is an anomaly, that it doesn’t happen like this every decade or century. You need to do some real work to see that; you need to look at records and make a model and draw conclusions from it.

    Also, most of the folks saying these things not only are suspicious of science but have relatively little idea what science is or what scientists do. (I’ve written here before about the creationist who was honestly surprised to find out that evolutionary biologists actually study critters, they don’t just pontificate like creationists do.) You need some basic familiarity with techniques to be able to grasp that dating and other forms of look-backwards are really possible and are not just another form of pontificating. So they grossly underestimate the amount of lying that would be needed.

    Finally, there’s the fine piece of equivocation that says, if it’s warming, it’s got to be natural warming because humans can’t do that. This is not plausible but it’s not at all easy to formally disprove. And because it’s equivocation it doesn’t stand still long enough for proof/disproof to catch it anyway.

    I have to say, this post is an example of an argument Fred’s fond of that I do not like at all: saying “If my opponents really believe X they would have to believe Y.” It’s a weak argument; it sneaks in an assumption that all of our beliefs are logically coherent and that we agree on the criteria which make a system coherent in the first place. These things aren’t true. I don’t suppose my own beliefs are completely coherent and I am positive lots of other peoples’ aren’t either. So “If they believe X they must believe Y” statements are not, on the face of it, at all likely to be true, and they come across as rhetorical tricks rather than good-faith arguments.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    There can be legitimate criticism of the herd-behavior tendency of humans even in science*, but it’s altogether another to claim, from that, that scientists are collectively engaged in a conspiracy to assist in defrauding the public.

    Especially when it is an open insult to claim that someone is massaging or faking the data to try and achieve a desired result.

    * One apt criticism has been from Lee Smolin, who has rightly been concerned with the tendency among theoretical physicists to embrace string theory as THE theory of quantum gravity when it still suffers from a fundamental assumption in quantum mechanics: namely, it ASSUMES a certain form of space-time provides the background against which all the particles do their thing, but we know from general relativity that actually, matter-energy and space-time have a very deep relationship to one another and the presence of matter-energy can change space-time.

    In short, Smolin argues, there are good reasons to keep an open mind to other theories that try to incorporate the background independence of general relativity. The difficulty is that string theorists tend to know more about the mathematical language of quantum mechanics, Smolin argues, and so it is a more natural outgrowth.

  • arcseconds

    Smolin isn’t the only one sceptical of string theory:

    There is such a thing as fashion in science, and it is possible for a fashion to become dogma and stymie open investigation and alternatives. Narrow, specialist fields that for whatever reason (perhaps purely sociological; perhaps because there’s technical barriers, as with string theory) are particularly at risk of this sort of thing. It’s also more likely with immature fields, and it helps if the connection to experimental data isn’t strong (like with string theory).

    Global warming is not like any of those things. It involves some pretty basic, well-understood science (like the infrared absorption spectrum of CO2), and it’s a high profile issue that plenty of scientists from around the world, in lots of different fields have been involved in.

    And there’s hard data to support the claim! The climate really is warming up. Oceans really are becoming more acidic. &c. &c.

    (I realise that you’re not trying to support climate change denial here, and none of this will be news to you personally, but some people may take the fact that the physics community can go up the garden path with a high-profile particle theory to mean that the climate science community can just as easily be going up the garden path with climate change. )

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Incidentally, did you notice that in the most recent overview of Brian Greene’s book on PBS (Fabric of the Cosmos), they didn’t invite Sheldon Glashow?

  • arcseconds

    I’m going to have to come clean and say until this moment I had no idea who Sheldon Galshow was. I thought you might be referencing The Big Bang Theory, a show I don’t watch, so would be unable to get any reference you might be making.

    While I’m coming clean, I’ll have to also admit I’m not a physicist — I’m just forced to play one on the internet.

    However, I am interested in cases when science doesn’t live up to the rhetoric ideal, so I have pricked up my ears whenever people have expressed scepticism about string theory (although it’s not something I’ve actively followed up on). My impression was that it was widely touted as being the theory in physics, and it’s certainly the case that it was made to appear so to the science-reading public. So thanks for mentioning him!

    On a personal note (and also to regain a bit of physics-cred), I’m also pleased to hear Smolin has his suspicions, too. I’ve had my own, not very well founded suspicions about string theory. Partly it’s because of the hype it recieved. Plus, I’ve always liked relativity far more than quantum theory(*) (plus I’ve a bad habit of championing the underdog) and some of my teachers (who understand this stuff much better than I do) liked and respected Smolin. Also, I met him once (you know, after a talk. He won’t remember me), and he seemed like a really nice guy.

    (*) Not withstanding my earlier remarks, I do (or, more accurately, did) have some kind of an undergraduate-level background in both these fields, so this preference isn’t based on quite the same back-of-the-cereal packet stuff as my understanding of string theory is…

  • Invisible Neutrino

    To cause major thread drift nao…

    The mathematics of general relativity is heavily laden with tensor algebra and differential geometry. As such is requires a higher level of understanding than (most of) quantum mechanics, particularly if, like me, you mostly deal with nonrelativistic situations (though I do speak QED passably :P ).

    In addition, under normal circumstances you only need special relativity (which is “translated” from the math of GR) to work quantum electrodynamics and its associated counterparts for weak and strong interactions.

    As such GR goes mostly over my head, while I am conversant with QM. :P

    That said there are some interesting accidental similarities in the mathematics in one aspect: dual spaces.

    If you look at the way GR and QM work, one thing that stands out is that they both use forms that look like this:

    (thing 2)(translator between representation of thing 2 and thing 1)(thing 1).

    In QM, thing 2 is the bra, the translator is the operator, and thing 1 is the ket. (the bra is the dual of the ket; the operator operates to the right and transforms ket space to bra space so you get an overlap integral and thus, a number.)

    In GR, thing 2 is a contravariant, the translator is the metric tensor or something related to it, and thing 1 is a covariant. (the contravariant is the dual of the covariant, the metric tensor transforms the indexes of whatever is to the right of it so you can multiply two things and again get a number)

    ObDisclaimer: I’m not an expert in general relativity; most of what I know is cribbed from seeing indexes in QED and knowing that the metric tensor lets you go between upper and lower indexes. :)

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Also, in a sense Glashow is like the Einstein of our time. Just as Einstein was crucially important in being the hole-poker (or attempted hole-poker) in the theories of quantum mechanics, so too is Glashow’s skepticism about string theory well-deserved and needed to keep the string theorists on their toes. :)

  • FearlessSon

    While I’m coming clean, I’ll have to also admit I’m not a physicist — I’m just forced to play one on the internet.

    Heh, that is an awesome line. I will have to use it sometime. =)

  • arcseconds

    I had meant to write ‘I’m not really a physicist — I’m just forced to play one on the internet’

    the ‘not really’ has a nice implication of ‘sort of’ or ‘commonly mistaken for’…

  • Lorehead

    Even then, what kind of answer is saying “It must be natural,” and stopping there? What kind of person would just accept that it’s a Mystery and not try to investigate further? Isn’t it relevant to anyone with a post-Medieval mindset whether we can explain it through the laws of physics and make testable predictions about the climate? Hell, wouldn’t even the Scholastics, back when they had some intellectual rigor, have looked for a proximate cause?

  • Baby_Raptor

    The same kind of argument that says “nature exists, therefore God created it.”

  • GDwarf

    Because “natural” = “good” in most minds, and the idea that we’d give up things we like in order to fight nature seems absurd. You fight nature to get good things, not bad!

    In essence the claim is “it’s not my mess”. If humans aren’t causing global warming then we don’t have to do anything to try and stop it.

  • Vermic

    Not to mention facing up to, and dealing with, the practical effects of such a phenomenon. Believing that climate change is “natural” or non-anthropogenic ought to still mean believing that climate change is happening, and that we have a responsibility to respond and maybe try to mitigate the effects.

    That is, even if you believe 21st-century climate change is part of a natural cycle which humans are powerless to alter, you can still acknowledge that the Maldives will be underwater in a few decades and there are things humans can do to prepare for that. We can debate the greenhouse effect while we work together to address the problems that we both agree are coming.

    But in the real world I see very little of that. In the real world “It’s natural” or “it’s cyclical” is code for “let’s ignore it”.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    People used to believe in anthropogenic climate change, even – “the rain follows the plow”.

  • FearlessSon

    One thing Fred did not, quite, seem to account for that I wanted to bring up is the possibility that climate change is happening and it is human-caused, but that actual climate change is a tangible result of a conspiracy to cause it, rather than to have us just believe it.

    After all, if you are haunted by fantasies of some one-world government taking over everything, how else but via an engineered crisis which they can then solve simply by discretely stopping what they were doing before?

    Of course, buying into that theory would require admitting that climate change is both happening and human-caused, and most of the deniers are too embedded in their current theories to consider it.

    But then, why believe in a conspiracy in the first place when shortsightedness and comfort with the status-quo are so much more simple of an explanation?

  • AnonymousSam

    But then, why believe in a conspiracy when shortsightedness and comfort with the status-quo are so much more simple of an explanation?

    Yeah, let’s go with that. *Shhhh*

  • Michele Cox

    The idea that one side of the argument requires people to deny the truthfulness of the physical world reminds me a lot of Cat Faber’s song “The Word of God” — at …I’ve loved that song for ages, and I bet you (and you-all) will like it, too.

  • P J Evans

    If Rohrabacher admitted it’s real, he’d also0 have to admit that he’s going to lose a chunk of his district to to the rising ocean and another chunk to wildfires and drought.

  • atalex

    He’ll be out of office, if not dead, by then. That’s the real problem. Whether global climate change is real or not, most of the people charged with responding to it will be dead before it seriously impacts their lives, and most of them are such sociopaths that they really don’t care how many millions will die 100 years if preventing it causes them even a minor inconvenience today.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Anecdotes may not be data, but I’ll tell ya, I don’t remember being sunburned as badly as I did recently, when I used to be out and about in the 1980s and 1990s. (-_-)

  • LoneWolf343

    That really doesn’t have anything to do with global warming, but a thinning ozone layer.

    Fortunately, the ozone layer is slowly repairing itself. Maybe you’re just getting more sensitive.

  • AnonymousSam

    They’re not connected? Granted, I only have decades-old schooling to go by, but I thought the idea behind climate change was that thickening or thinning of the ozone layer could at least exacerbate climate change conditions (such as by causing the polar ice caps to melt).

  • GDwarf

    They are connected…inversely. Ozone is a greenhouse gas, so by repairing the ozone layer we are, in fact, speeding global warming. However, it’s a justifiable tradeoff in that case.

  • LoneWolf343

    The effect is slight, though. There simply isn’t enough ozone, even at healthy levels, to have a major impact, one way or the other. CO2 and water vapor are bigger culprits.

  • AnonymousSam

    Interesting and kind of disturbing. We’re in some deep trouble if we have to deal with unfettered UV radiation, though, so it’s not like we can do without it. :p

  • Invisible Neutrino

    That said, the absolute degree of insolation has been rising over the last 20 years, has it not? (-_-)

    Wish I had the sun’s dimmer switch some days. :P

  • joeblow

    “No, that’s gotta be done by a government official who, by the way, probably comes from Nigeria…”
    I think Dana left a “g” out of “Nigeria”.

  • GDwarf

    Having had to debate climate change denialists (sorry, “AWG skeptics”) they don’t think that the land is lying, exactly. They either don’t know about the evidence (extremely common), only know the few facts that can be twisted (only slightly less common) or know the facts but think that the conclusions drawn from them are flawed because…well, because.

    I’m far from the first to notice that this is the same thing that happened when the debate was if smoking caused cancer. Of course, it’s the same spin doctors working on both, but it’s saddening beyond belief that the same old tactics keep working. You only need to give doubters the slightest ground to get a toehold on and they’ll build a fortress there, from which they will enlist the media by claiming that there’s “doubt” or “controversy”. That then gives them a plateau from which they can convince everyone who doesn’t know how science works (the majority of the population, it would seem) that they’re right, not those evil people who want to take away your light bulbs and replace them with snakes, or whatever.

    They also have the advantage in that they’re arguing for maintaining the status-quo, which is always the easier argument than calling for change, especially when change involves giving up things you like.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Reminds me of this extract from The Gods Themselves:

    “It is a mistake,” [Senator Burt] said, “to suppose that the public wants the environment protected or their lives saved and that they will be grateful to any idealist who will fight for such ends. What the public wants is their own individual comfort. We know that well enough from our experience in the environmental crisis of the twentieth century. Once it was well known that cigarettes increased the incidence of lung cancer, the obvious remedy was to stop smoking, but the desired remedy was a cigarette that did not encourage cancer. When it became clear that the internal-combustion engine was polluting the atmosphere dangerously, the obvious remedy was to abandon such engines, and the desired remedy was to develop non-polluting engines.

    “Now then, young man, don’t ask me to stop the Pumping. The economy and comfort of the entire planet depend on it. Tell me, instead, how to keep the Pumping from exploding the Sun.”

    The book is an interesting study in social resistance to abandoning something that could ultimately result in the destruction of humanity.

  • Turcano

    This also ties into the fact that, as far as human psychology is concerned, long-term delayed gratification isn’t a winner even in the best of circumstances. The preferred course of action is to procrastinate until the problem can no longer be ignored, then panic.

  • Ross

    That can be mathematically proven to be the best use of time. Fo reals, yo.

    (The formal proof goes something like “Assume it is not the last possible minute. Suppose something else comes up. Since it is not the last possible minute, your time is better spent on that other thing that came up, and you can take care of the first thing later”)

  • Invisible Neutrino

    That sounds like Zeno’s Procrastination Paradox.

  • arcseconds

    They don’t even have to convince the general public. They just need to make them uncertain. No-one’s going to make difficult choices, give up their SUV, take the electric bus and vote for a bunch of weirdy greenies on the basis of something that might be true…

  • Andrew Marchant-Shapiro

    Just remember: It’s only a theory. It’s only a theory. It’s only a theory…

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Just like evolution and gravity.

  • arcseconds

    There are lots of different stripes of global warming denialists, even though they all say much the same things.

    I’ve agreed with smrnda that they often (usually, maybe) aren’t really open to evidence. Even here there are different stripes: I mentioned the politicos, who live in a world structured virtually entirely by political ploys. There are also those who believe what they’re told (so long as it’s uttered by a relevant authority figure and chimes with the rest of their emotive landscape, like hating on liberals and greenies and cheering the captains of industry).

    However, one does from time to time encounter people who do seem relatively intellectually together, have some respect for the scientific community, and have some capacity to weigh evidence, and show some ability to think independently, too, who are nevertheless denialists. Sometimes they have had a fair amount of education in science (or a closely related field, like engineering). In rare cases they are even scientists!

    I think it’s pretty obvious that human beings (or many of us, at least) have an
    amazing capacity to see where the evidence is going, and then go to great lengths to avoid going down that path.

    If you listen to former YECs, from time to time one of them will say that they were actively avoiding information about evolution, for example, knowing (perhaps subconsciously, or half-consciously) that this might result in a rude shock for them.

    In my experience, scientifically informed denialists tend to be free market/libertarian sorts, and I think what’s often going on here is that they can see where this is going. If climate change is true, it seems to beg for some kind of government intervention, and beyond that, international agreement and coöperation to achieve this. Even economists who are otherwise strongly pro free market usually agree that government intervention is called for in this sort of circumstance (‘internalise the externalities! carbon trading for all! and everyone has a share!’).

    The other factor at stake here is that climate change means they can’t do what they damn well please with their own V8s — perhaps because the government will make them do otherwise, but perhaps what is an even more disturbing issue for them is the admission that driving around in a V8 at top speed will, in fact, impinge on the welfare of others.

    It’s not so different from YEC — like the sort of biblical literalist Christianity that insists on YEC, they’ve accepted an extreme form of the free market faith that stands or falls on everyone being allowed to do whatever they like with their toys at all times.

  • smrnda

    I’d agree on your diagnosis. Free market libertarians believe that government intervention is always bad and that the market will always choose the ideal solution. They can sometimes hand-wave away abuses of workers as ‘well, it’s better that a lot of people be poor and work in terrible conditions because government regulation is icky’ but climate change pulls out some real questions that are harder to wave away, so they just balk and say it must not be true. If government non-intervention into the choices made by people with lots of money is good (my way of phrasing it), it cannot have disastrous effects – therefore, it must be a conspiracy.

    I’m thinking this causes a bit of cognitive dissonance, but I find that it’s common among far right libertarians. They say that their system is best for everyone (certainly better than anything vaguely socialist), point out that it’s shitty for someone, and then the system is defended not on the ends but on magical metaphysical merit. This may just reach a limit with climate change.

  • Veylon

    Libertarianism rejects the concept of there being a “whole”. The economy is always be infinitely subdivided, so there can be no monopoly. There are always more resources to gather. Choice in the market is unlimited. It doesn’t really jibe well with the fact that we all live on a finite ball.

  • dpolicar

    In my experience, the way free market libertarians address negative externalities in general is with some variant of “Yes, that happens, but putting the brakes on the system is the wrong solution. The unfettered free market drives innovation and ultimately innovation solves the problems caused by negative externalities.”

    So, for example, a FML might admit that sure, maybe unrestricted industrial development causes massive catastrophic climate change, but argue that by the time the bill for that comes due it will also have worked out some way of solving the problem (e.g., travel to other planets, or fully enclosed arcologies, or something else).

    Technological infrastructure got us into this mess, why shouldn’t it get us out of it, right?

    And of course there can’t be a counterexample, because in the real world when things get sufficiently bad the free market has a way of either collapsing or being subject to collectivist interventions, which allows the FML to throw their hands up in the air and disclaim all responsibility for the mess. (“If you’d just left the system alone it would have eventually been OK, but now you went and regulated it! All the problems we’re seeing are the fault of the regulation, not the excesses of the unregulated market; never mind that the problems preceded the regulation.”)

    Of course, the fact that even in theory the “us” who suffer from the negative externalities isn’t the same as the “us” who supposedly benefit from the resulting innovation is something we’re supposed to not care about, or at least not notice.

  • phantomreader42

    In my experience, the way free market libertarians address negative externalities is to pretend they don’t exist and act baffled by the concept, because for all their claims of economic knowledge they never even walked by an ECON 101 class.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Rather accurately sums up carbon credits, IMV.

  • Pam

    Techno-optimism. Common belief regarding any sort of hazard, natural or man-made. More likely to be held by wealthy, white, conservative men. There’s some interesting risk perception research that looks into all this.

  • dpolicar

    It ought not be surprising that the more it’s true of the environment in which someone is raised that problems are solvable, the more they come to believe that all problems are solvable.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Socialists had such notions too. Ever read Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy? Even given the technological limitations of his time he posited solutions to the problems of inequality that had, in part, technological natures.

  • Pam

    Haven’t read that, sounds interesting. I was mostly thinking of risk perception work that’s been done around nuclear power, health risks, and natural hazards. Paul Slovic’s a good place to start. I’m a flood geographer, so the sort of things I tend to come across are those who believe that the risk can be removed by building a dam or levee, or diverting a river. In terms of climate change, the equivalent sort of thing would be geoengineering, and technologies like carbon sequestration. It’s not so much that those things don’t play a role, they definitely do. But it’s the belief that the won’t just reduce the risk, but remove it altogether, that’s a problem. Those beliefs will tend to be held by people who are more privileged as well, which is why, on average, affluent conservative white men have lower concern and higher optimism. Statistically, they’re less vulnerable. And it’s easy to dismiss something as not being a problem when you’re not likely to face the worst consequences.

  • arcseconds

    That’s pretty much Levitt’s argument in Superfreakonomics. Environmental problems are fixed by technology, not regulation (his example is horse shit. I mean, literally, it’s the sanitary problem of horse dung in the streets, which was solved by the invention of the motor car.)

    So we don’t have to regulate, we just have to geo-engineer!

    Sure can’t see what could possibly go wrong with continuing carbon emissions at an arbitrarily large scale while off-setting the warming effect by continual emission of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere! Let’s start now!

    However, such people aren’t really climate change denialists, they’re climate change action inhibitors or something. There also seem to be far less of them than climate change denialists, at least in my experience.

    (I’m kind of thinking we may be forced down the geoengineering route, too, but thinking of it as anything other than a shortish-term solution to get our carbon habit under control is bonkers)

  • dpolicar

    There are more free-market libertarians in my environment than climate change denialists, or even skeptics. But environments vary.

    WRT engineering I don’t have a problem with using technology to solve problems. That’s one of the things it’s good for. But there’s a big difference between using technology to solve problems, and going around generating problems in the hope that eventually some currently unavailable technology will solve them.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    If you listen to former YECs, from time to time one of them will say
    that they were actively avoiding information about evolution, for
    example, knowing (perhaps subconsciously, or half-consciously) that this
    might result in a rude shock for them.

    Agreed. I knew a guy who was majoring in physics (!!) and he was also a Baptist. I asked how he planned to deal with the part of radioactive decay that showed the Earth is a lot older than he says it is, and he as much as admitted exactly the above.

    Since a former teacher of his got him a job at a Baptist private school teaching high school physics, my friend was able to not need to deal with the consequences of his purposeful ignorance, since in high school 95-98% of the material is ordinary old classical mechanics.

  • GuestPoster

    Well, I think the idiot republican isn’t arguing that the fish and seas and birds and shrubberies are in on the conspiracy, but that 99.5% of scientists are happily lying about those creatures and environments because… academic scientists get rich off of government largesse? Not that that’s true either, but it gets us to a place where only humans are in on the plot. STILL absurd, of course.

    And this is really my major problem with ‘conservatives’ on climate change (beyond the fact that conservation used to be a conservative plank, once upon a time). It’s one thing to accept the facts and say ‘but we shouldn’t do anything’. It’s a reprehensible thing, but it shows that you understand the reality, admit that it matters, and have chosen to simply ignore the problem. But to say that reality is lying? That the facts must be incorrect, because otherwise your ideology is wrong? That really is, quite simply, bad faith. Once you refuse to agree that the real world is the one that matters, there is no way of ever coming to grips with the people who actually choose to live there.

  • Albanaeon

    I wonder if the quickest way to debunk the World Wide Scientist Conspiracy would be to take the deniers to a science conference. The idea that you could get a room full of argumentative, (often) egotistical, and (again often) socially inept people who take facts and results dead seriously to form a conspiracy for five minutes that lunch is going to be sausage pizza instead of pepperoni is laughable. A world wide one where just one could blow the whole thing because of them being argumentative, egotistical, and/or socially inept is ludicrous.

  • Pam

    I resent the socially inept comment! A more accurate comment, at least from the conferences I’ve been to, would be a room full of big drinkers (seriously, scientists flock to the free alcohol at conferences like moths to a flame). Of course, the drinking thing makes a conspiracy even harder to believe, be cause combine big egos and the tongue-loosening abilities of booze and scientists will pontificate on EVERYTHING. We simply wouldn’t be able to keep a conspiracy secret.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    To be fair, I’ve met a few folks who really are legitimately not in their element at the socially obligatory rubber-chicken dinners at such conferences. I myself don’t like attending them, but expenses are reimbursed, and my supervisor does insist that the networking helps, so mmmyeah.

    And honestly? as far as conferences go? Wait till the denialist sees someone totally mumble their way through a talk that you’d need to be right next to the person to hear. Or the person who reads every slide exactly word for word.

    That ain’t no conspiracy, folks. :P

  • Pam

    Argh, the reading through the slides! It’s always so boring and yet so many people do it. On the plus side, seeing how average the presentation skills of most scientists are made it much less scary the first time I presented at a conference!

  • Albanaeon

    Socially inept, isn’t quite the word choice, honestly. Perhaps not socially nuanced, outside of their own circles? In any case, just can’t see the message discipline necessary for this kind of conspiracy from any scientist person or group I’ve ever met.

    And from my experience in the field on paleontology digs, having to be up at dawn was the only thing ever preventing them become like conferences… and even then, not always.

  • Mark Z.

    We simply wouldn’t be able to keep a conspiracy secret.

    Mitigated somewhat by the fact that the general public doesn’t listen to anything scientists say. You could send a press release to the Los Angeles Times admitting that scientists are plotting world domination, and they’d stick it in the Sunday Home & Garden supplement on the page opposite the easy crossword.

  • LaurenMayer

    Wonderful article, and fascinating!

    You might enjoy a musical take on the same basic idea,
    “Global Warming’s Not A Theory, It’s A Fact!” (a very simple song, since climate-change denial seems to be so dumbed-down . . . )

  • Pam

    I wrote my masters thesis on climate change and have presented posters at two climate change conferences and STILL haven’t received my welcome package for joining the global conspiracy! I’ve a mind to complain – I really want that snazzy badge I’ve heard the conspirators get.