The bad faith of climate-deniers cannot be denied

The bad faith of climate-deniers cannot be denied August 13, 2013

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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  • 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.

  • Fanraeth

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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)

  • 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.

  • 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 . . . )

  • 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. :)

  • 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. :)

  • 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.

  • 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 . . .

  • 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.

  • 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. =)

  • Vermic

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

  • 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”.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Just like evolution and gravity.

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

  • 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”)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • 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


    Rather accurately sums up carbon credits, IMV.

  • 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.

  • That sounds like Zeno’s Procrastination Paradox.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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’…

  • 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.

  • 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!