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Friday, March 22, 2013

Desdemona's trap: facing denial in the climate change debate


 The plot of Shakespeare's "Othello" can tell us something on how to face denial in the climate change debate. In the figure, we see Desdemona in an interpretation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.


In Shakespeare's "Othello" we see a fine example of how easily people's minds can be manipulated. In the play, evil Iago convinces Desdemona, Othello's wife, to plead with her husband for her friend, Cassio. She doesn't know that, at the same time, Iago had planted in Othello's mind the suspect that she was having an affair with Cassio. So, the more Desdemona pleads for Cassio, the more Othello becomes convinced that she is betraying him. The result is a self-reinforcing chain of misunderstandings that eventually leads to disaster.

Othello, clearly, suffered of what we would call today a "conspiratorial mindset". It is not uncommon as a trait of human personality. Jared Diamond, in his book "The World Until Yesterday," maintains that "constructive paranoia" is a survival-oriented genetic trait. Indeed, it may be better to be afraid of a non-existing danger than to walk unaware into a trap. But, if paranoia may have been an asset in the dangerous world of hunters and gatherers, in our world exploiting paranoia has become an easy way to to manipulate people's minds;  governments do that all the time. But governments are not the only players in this game and a paranoid mindset may also be the main factor that generates the commonly termed "denialist" attitude in the debate on climate change.

"Denialism" is a form of refusal to accept reality that occurs in many fields of knowledge, but that takes an especially virulent aspect in the climate change debate. People who actively engage in the denial of the validity of climate science and of its results are often defined as "deniers" or "fake skeptics." They rarely have scientific credentials in the climate field, or even in science in general and their statements are only superficially scientific. They seem to be focused on the idea that scientists are not just in error with their conclusions but rather are engaged in a plot to spread lies about climate in order to gain prestige and money.

Studies by Lewandowsky and his coworkers show that deniers often have a strong conspiratorial mindset; that is, they tend to believe more than the average person in conspiracies such as "chemtrails," "abiotic oil", assorted 9/11 legends, fake lunar landings, and the like. So, it seems that deniers process information on climate change according to the structure of their specific "cognitive mechanism" which is dominated by the conspiracy concept. Their own constructive paranoia is playing a trick on them, bringing them to the conclusion that climate change is a huge conspiracy that sees climate scientists and governments teaming up in order to trick humankind into submission and slavery (1).

That doesn't mean that there are no powerful lobbies spreading disinformation in the web and in the media - they do exist. And we also have evidence of individual scientists and professionals paid to spread lies around. However, there is no evidence that individual climate deniers of the kind who spend time "trolling" on the web are paid for what they do. We can't exclude that some of them could be, but it matters little. Think about that: how much would you want to be paid to help destroying the world (including yourself)? No payment would be enough, unless you really believed that climate change is an evil conspiracy to enslave everyone. Then, the PR companies that manage denial campaigns for the fossil fuels lobby simply exploit this attitude, without the need of actually paying them.


Once we understand the mindset of deniers, we see how easy it is for scientists to fall into Desdemona's trap. Normally, scientists have been trying to use scientific arguments to defend their points, without realizing that the more they plead for the reality of climate change, the more deniers see their beliefs reinforced. For their conspiracy oriented minds, every rational argument brought into the discussion becomes further proof of the ongoing conspiracy (think of Desdemona's situation!).

At the same time, people who have a scientific mindset find the behavior of deniers completely impossible to understand in rational terms. As a consequence, they tend to think that they are facing professional disinformers. That means, of course, falling even more into Desdemona's trap. If these accusations are explicitly expressed (and sometimes they are) deniers will see their beliefs even more confirmed. These contrasting positions lead to a self-reinforcing loop in which the participants from each side become more and more entrenched in their opposite beliefs. 

In the end, Shakespeare's tragedy is playing out in front of us. The fossil fuel lobby is playing the role of Iago; deniers play the role of Othello; scientists play the role of Desdemona, all totally immersed in their different roles. So far, Iago has been winning hands down playing on the naivety of both Desdemona and Othello. If the "debate" (so to say) continues in these terms, the final result can only be, appropriately, a tragedy - in this case for the whole humankind.

So, how do we avoid falling into Desdemona's trap? Well, there are a number of mistakes that we should avoid. The first is to think that we can convince deniers with scientific arguments. It should be clear that it doesn't work: the more you try to do that, the more you fall in the trap. But the true cardinal mistake that you can make when you debate a denier is to lose your temper and use sarcasm, insults or - worse - accuse him or her to be a paid troll. That's the perfect way of falling head first into Desdemona's trap. Think of the impression you give to the people following the debate who are not conspiracy oriented (2) - they will think that you are the evil guy! At this point, it is game over - you lost.

What should we do, then? Well, remember that conspiracy oriented climate deniers are a tiny minority in the world, even though they may be very noisy. So, the target of your action is not them, it is the large majority of people who are not conspiracy oriented and who haven't yet processed the information about climate change in their minds. So, the best is to avoid the confrontation with deniers (unless it is absolutely necessary) and concentrate in diffusing the concept of climate change with the public in general. For instance, let me cite from "DarwinSF"

"Our one-day elementary school project, Climate Change is Elementary, bypasses the usual negative discourse by assuming that every educated person agrees that it is a scientific "fact" that the climate is changing and that man is largely to blame. We do not confront the deniers and skeptics, we circumvent them by taking the school family directly to a vision of a clean and green future. We also focus on working with the innovators, the early adopters, and the early majority, who tend to agree with us. We ignore the late majority and the laggards, or deniers, who will only hold our program back."

See? This is the way to go. Think positive, circumvent denial, focus on reality. It is a battle that we can still win if we understand how to fight it.



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Notes

(1) There is an interesting question about the conspiratorial mentality of denialists: if they are so worried about being victims of the conspiracy set up by climate scientists how come that they are not worried about the opposite conspiracy set up by the fossil fuels lobby? This is a point that some people think proves they are paid trolls. But this is not necessarily true. As I am citing Shakespeare in this post, I could comment saying that, "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't". My impression is that the "method" lies in the mindset of denialists which is rather coherent in its various facets. Denialists see themselves as freedom fighters, independent thinkers immune to the mind-control machine that governments have set up. As such, they tend to project themselves into the figure of the "lone-scientists-fighting-against-the-establishment" and to place a lot of trust in him (rarely her). That explains, for instance, why people who are sure that oil depletion is a hoax to have us pay higher gasoline prices often fall into ecstatic joy when hearing new promises of free and abundant energy from the lone genius of the day. Indeed, many successful scams are based on the narrative of a lone individual fighting against the establishment. And, getting back to Shakespeare; think of this: how is that Othello suspects Desdemona, but not Iago? Well, because Othello projects his own personality into that of his comrade in arms, Iago, while he can't do the same with Desdemona. We humans are like that: we tend to believe what we think we understand (and Shakespeare understood humans probably better than any other human in history)


(2) Think of another facet of the plot of Shakespeare's tragedy: how the protagonist, Othello, plays the total dumbass of the story - so easily duped into destroying himself and everything around him. And, yet, Othello does not appear to us as a bumbling idiot; no; we see him as a tragic figure we sympathize with. You know why? Because he starts in the play with a big handicap, that of being black in an all-white world. The fact that Othello is black is the crucial point of the plot that, otherwise, would be simply ridiculous. Now, think about deniers in the climate debate: they start with a handicap even bigger than Othello's one. They know little or nothing about the science of climate and yet they have picked up a fight with the best experts in the field. Curiously, this handicap generates a strong psychological effect in their favor: it is called the "appeal of the underdog" (aka the "Sylvester vs. Tweety" effect). You see it used in the movie industry all the time - the final winner of the battle is always the one that looked like the loser at the beginning. So, if you are a climate scientist, be careful at avoiding to place yourself into the role of the evil guy of the movies!

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See also the blog titled "Desdemona's Despair", defined as "the clearinghouse for all of the very worst news about the future of life on Earth, such as global warming, climate change, deforestation, overfishing, acidification, oil spills, resource depletion, drought, pollution, overpopulation, dead zones, mass extinction, and doom." The reasons for the choice of the name "Desdemona" are not stated anywhere in the blog, but may well be the same that I described in this post.





48 comments:

  1. ""Denialism" is a form of refusal to accept reality that occurs in many fields of knowledge.."

    Exactly, its a preferential belief in myths over reality. Like believing the myth that organic food is better than regularly produced food, or the myth that GMO's are not safe to consume, or the myth that wind turbines have a measurable effect on the world's climate, or the myth that the worlds climate never changed until industrialization. I know exactly what you mean.

    klem

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    1. nice try. climate scientists never said the worlds climate never changed before the industrial revolution. that it can change, is part of the whole idea

      heres a current little myth which i'm sure you will instantly accept as true. its rapid climate change is natural, always happening (except now), is lovely and benign and doesn't lead to catastrophic mass extinctions of life on earth.

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    2. Um,... nope. Can't accept that little myth.

      Here's one I'm convinced you already believe, that humanity's relatively tiny amount of GHG emissions will lead to catastrophic mass extinctions on earth.

      cheers

      klem

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  2. The mind games of humans are many and of many sorts and varieties and are certainly interesting as a field of study in and of themselves. Some are played by others on us, some by us on others, some we play unwittingly on ourselves and still others (some of the best ones), once established by whomever, take on a life of their own. Generally mind games are applied to other people in various domains and situations and their effects, outcomes and the reciprocal entrapments they often also can produce end up being called tragedies, comedies or farces. Other times they are merely light entertainment.
    Perhaps someone may even come along one day and say (or has come along and said already) that NO MIND GAMES exist at all and that everything is perfectly WYSIWYG and that everyone always strictly says what they mean and also know themselves what they actually think and say and why. Would that person be playing the mind game of them all? And would that mean that less mind games then would exist thereafter and be played once such a fraud had been exposed?
    Some of course are better than others at both inventing mind games or at seeing them when others play them. And I would certainly agree that if Shakespeare did not understand humans better than any other human in history then he certainly would rank right up there in the very top tier. Some people are professionals at inventing, playing, seeing and sometimes effectively countering mind games while others are only amateurs. The amateurs are generally less effective and more easily become victims. The post above is a reasonable contribution to perhaps making us all a bit less amateurish. (in the realm of either playing mind games on others or of not falling into the trap of other people’s mind games, or of our own, or into “vicious self-amplifying cycles” or paranoia or tit-for-tats and any other such that can be self-reinforcing once the game is set and the dice are rolled. Some of the best mind games are those, such as Desdemona’s, which once set in motion, embed feedback loops that can self-perpetuate and increase effects “automatically”. Much like good diseases do; And also much like many kinds of interpersonal dynamics that can lead to various psychopathologies as R.D. Laing once described well in his “The Politics of Experience”; (one can deny not only climate change but can deny other people’s most intimate experiences as well, and eventually drive them crazy)
    But leaving people, their mind games, and human psychologies as a whole aside for a moment and coming to the substance, personally I have my own understandings and beliefs about climate change (which is not a mental or interpersonal phenomenon) and what is causing it. And if it exists it will exist regardless of anyone’s mind games and if it doesn’t it will not start existing because of someone’s mind games. (including any self-inflicted ones) It has taken me a long time to acquire the understanding which I have (or think I have) and I trust my conclusions since most are based on the practice, findings and conclusions of science and of assorted scientists, which is one of the few things in this world that I trust. And in particular when certain findings or theories or explanations and their evidence have been replicated or have been shown to point in the same direction by countless independent scientists. Naturally I still may be wrong just as I could be wrong about many other things about which I have come to a clear and definite conclusion.
    Coming now to others who may or may not think like me and the effects they may have on society and its ability to act, I also do understand and realize that the more climate change deniers who are out there denying (for whatever reasons they are doing it including perhaps their own entrapment into certain vicious cycles which the post describes nicely) the slower the progress towards a societal solution to the problem is likely to be. (CONTINUED)

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  3. Though not necessarily so, since often key actors in society can and do take action regarding certain objectives they have come to set for themselves and their societies for various reasons, even if the majority of people don’t know why or don’t support their actions or their leadership. And if that weren’t so probably most wars would never have taken place and would have been avoided altogether. Those of us who are pretty sure (or super sure) about man made climate change therefore may not have to convince all 7 billion people living on planet earth about our conclusions before something half way meaningful and significant can be done about the problem. Though of course the more people understand what is happening probably the better it would be and the easier it would become for various kinds of leaders (and many others) to take action. Some changes must involve individuals and changes in their personal behaviors but some changes can be to various systems and practices which can be implemented through policies or strategies.
    And therefore the more people those of us who have understood the problem (or think we have) can convince others (or perhaps better said, can help or facilitate them to convince themselves) the better it will be. And since mind games and their dynamics and mutually reinforcing feedback loops enter into that, it’s probably good to understand them better and try to find the due “leverage points” to break any nasty mental and interpersonal self-amplifying cycles. However I also would add that I personally don’t consider it my job or responsibility to convince anyone who doesn’t want to be convinced of anything. For instance, I am not religious and although the reverse has not been true I have stopped trying to convince the religious people whom I know or come across of my views, long ago. But one can always have a pleasant conversation.
    I am happy to share my views (about climate change) with someone who wants to listen, or to discuss our respective opinions in a sensible and honest manner, but if they don’t want to listen or want to deny (what are by now clear scientific facts) in one way or another and by whatever honest or dishonest means they can come up with, I consider that their own problem, not mine. Their denialism will increasingly fly in the face of their own direct experience. For instance, I am almost certain that fewer climate change denialists exist in the New York City area now after Hurricane Sandy than might have existed before it; and whatever that number or percentage may have been and also regardless of what may have been said about it. Even if strictly speaking that hurricane (or any other single weather event) cannot be attributed to man-made climate change alone. Reality is recalcitrant and has a way of being on the side of those who see it and understand it and against those who don’t.
    I also am more and more convinced that the effects of climate change are only going to become more and far worse. And that many more scientific studies will be done and many more scientific articles will be written all over the world describing what is happening, containing new findings, confirming or updating old ones, and coming up with ever better explanations and future scenarios, and that people will either read them and believe them or they won’t. Maybe something can still be done to avoid the worst or quite probably it’s too late already. But given the nature of humans it is nearly certain that the tragedies, the comedies, the farces and the light entertainment (and the clever or not so clever mind games and vicious loops) all undoubtedly will continue to go on one way or another until the lights go out. And so most definitely many thanks to Shakespeare.

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  4. Yes, lets avoid "stinking thinking". Focus on a positive visualization of a "clean and green future". If we see ourselves winning the climate battle then clearly we will win the battle. Is this not what "the law of attraction" teaches us? Stick to those that have gotten with the program. Those who bring up population and climate change? Defeatists who refuse to see humanity as winners! What of such articles as this one from Spiegel-Online International: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-renewable-energy-policy-takes-toll-on-nature-conservation-a-888094.html. Proof positive that the defeatists are in league with the deniers! Be on the outlook for wreckers and saboteurs of our "clean and green future". Why has the climate stabilization five year plan not been completed in four years? We know the answer! We are the future but are encircled by enemies who should be, with all their kith and kin, wiped from the face of the earth!

    The point? The human mind is a mine filed of irrationality.

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    1. "Is this not what "the law of attraction" teaches us? Stick to those that have gotten with the program"

      No. The law of attraction is that 'opposites attract'. Sticking with those who have gotten with the program is called tribalism.

      klem

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. I hope my English is understandable,anyway, I think that Myths and "reality" are just the same things: only our ideas. Maybe we all need to be more intellectually honest than clever. Be wrong, after all, is not that terrible.

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  6. Ugo.

    I think we should be a little careful to think that denialism is purely a construct of a "conspiratorial mindset". If you haven't already done so, you should read Kari Marie Norgaard's "Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life".

    The book really deals with the sociology of denial, and chronicles how it has emerged in Norway without an aggressive spin operation. And yes Norway obviously has a large hydrocarbon complex, but denial has emerged without the need for a U.S. style libertarian led orchestration. I think Norgaard's main point is that climate change makes people feel uncomfortable—and people don't like to feel uncomfortable so they rationalise away the source of their discomfort. You echoed this in a previous post when you talked about a walk in the woods with a friend; you tried to point out all the signs of climate change and each time the person wanted to change the subject.

    I feel my own way to attack this kind of soft denialism is to show people how they are ultimately being fooled. And surprisingly I think that the market is an ally in this respect. In general, I believe your average citizen is being told to mend their carbon emission ways from purely an ethical perspective. But that is a hard sell: you are basically judging someone over their ethical actions—and people don't like to be judged.

    My own view is that if you can show people that the market accepts climate change as a given—and I have just done a series of posts on my blog covering U.K. flood insurance showing that this is indeed the case—then it is exceptionally difficult for individuals to brand climate change activists as tree-hugging hippies or worse. Such an avenue of attack is also very difficult for climate denials spin doctors to defend against. Most denialist think tanks, for example, are libertarian free market, so to deny what the market is saying about climate change is to deny their very own guiding philosophy.

    I feel like a game keeper turned poacher in this respect having been an economist, analyst and hedge fund manager in the private sector. From the industry I have come from, people don't like climate change because it undermines their life narrative (an identical response to Norgaard's rural Norwegian farmers). But people also don't like to be taken to be stupid. If they are presented with compelling evidence from something that they can't refute, then they will change their view. Unfortunately, I don't think a climate scientist standing up in a room will do this; but an insurer hiking their insurance premium to take into account climate change is an entirely different thing. So ironically, for the committed climate change activist, I believe capitalist, free-market firms that actually have to price climate change into their calculations, are the activists' allies.

    In my blog, I have just done a series of posts about flood risk in the U.K. that build on this idea, but I hope to take this avenue of attack against the climate skeptic stupidity a lot further.

    http://therationalpessimist.com/2013/03/20/flood-risk-in-the-u-k-what-does-mr-market-think-part-4-you-aint-seen-nothing-yet/

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    1. You see, this post is part of a much larger reflection on how to pass the message - I am preparing a longer document on the subject. Basically, there are two kind of denialists: active and passive. The active ones are the trolls, the rabid ones, the peddlers of inverted logic who infest the web and to whom this post is dedicated. They are, in my opinion, a case of total paranoia derived by a conspiratorial mindset.

      But, as always, there are many shades of every concept. On the other side of denial, there is another kind which is the "passive denial" (whom Paul Sandman call simply "denial"). It is the same kind of denial that we all show when we feel that little pain that tells us that we should go to see a dentist, but we do our best to ignore. That has nothing to do with a conspiratorial mindset, these people don't troll the internet telling people that climate scientists are plotting to take over the world and enslave us all. It is simply the human tendency to avoid pain and trouble.

      So, I think your comments refer to the second kind of denial - which indeed should be addressed along the lines you propose. It is a big task we are facing; we have a lot of work to do!

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    2. Hello Ugo,
      To me the core of many denialists mindset is that they are still in the position of considering "nature" as an external object that "mankind" can study, but of course not influence.

      The typical example about that is below argument that you see repeated ad nauseum by them (this also mentionned by James Hansen in a TED conference) :
      1) They show you some historical graph with the rise in CO2 following the rise in temperature
      2) Conclusion : you see the climatologists are stupid, CO2 rise follows temp rise, not the reverse, the "proof" is there !!

      In a way this also corresponds to thinking that science is about "logic", more than systems and equations, as of course if the above shows something, it is that temp and CO2 are indeed correlated positevely in the system, and as we know we are emmitting a lot of CO2 ...

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    3. RP, would you send me your e-mail? I am trying to set up a small discussion group. I am at ugo.bardi(littlewhirlything)unifi.it

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  7. From the post - "Our one-day elementary school project, Climate Change is Elementary, bypasses the usual negative discourse by assuming that every educated person agrees that it is a scientific "fact" that the climate is changing and that man is largely to blame. We do not confront the deniers and skeptics, we circumvent them by taking the school family directly to a vision of a clean and green future."

    Uh-oh. This shows that naivety is truly an infinitely renewable resource.

    No prize needs to be awarded for guessing how that will be framed - "The conspirators weren't getting their way in enslaving us, so now they are stooping to manipulating innocent elementary-school children who don't even have.the cognitive ability to understand what's being done to them."

    The only thing I'm unsure of is whether this is still a part of Desdemona's trap, or is something else. I'll let the literary cognoscenti sort that out.

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    1. I had thought about that and I had published that snippet exactly because of that. It is a way to force deniers in the defensive. All right, so you think we are indoctrinating the children? So come over and tell us what YOU would teach to children. You might discover that children are not so easy to indoctrinate - they are not brain dead as you think they are.

      Seriously - it is going kinetic in the rhetorical battle.

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    2. The Education Minister here in the UK is trying to get Climate Change taken off our school curriculum for everybody except the age 14s and over who have chosen to study Geography GCSE (exams take at age 15). There's a petition against it here:
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/21/school-climate-change-petition

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  8. I think we need to simplify this whole discussion a bit and I regret if I too perhaps (or most probably) complicated it unduly with my own long comment above. I stand by my comment but it may not be all that helpful practically speaking because it is too complex and philosophical and with too many indirect references to such things as systems theory, "feedback loops" and etc. etc. which most people don't have a clue about. This second comment is long too but perhaps more understandable and useful than my former one.
    We (also) need to speak in simple terms and language and not only in scientific or literary language. (although those too are very useful and needed in certain instances and contexts)

    The basic simple answer to denialists (and there are many of them, of different kinds, and prompted into their variable and not uniform stances by different reasons, and possessing and exhibiting different levels of intensity and "proactivity" for different motives….

    (Social reality is complex)

    …is the short sentence just a bit further down.
    And this fact is something that neither "believers in climate change" nor denialists can really deny, though both may well do so, again for various reasons. Similarly there are many types of activists or scientists or "believers in climate change" or "tree hugging hippies" or whatever one wishes to call the other side. And sometimes some people even have a foot in both camps and can switch from one camp to the other. (how many socialists became Nazis and how many Nazis later become socialists of sorts?)

    (Social reality is fluid)

    The simple answer of the "tree huggers and hippies" (I actually like that term and consider it a compliment) to the "professional, unprofessional, amateur, paid or unpaid, paranoid or not paranoid deniers and whether soft or hard (and humour is always useful in working on any issue in life) is this:
    "O.K. buddy, nice talking with you, but now please excuse me because I've got work to do"
    And this "simple answer" is premised on the following facts or realities which I think most of "us"....(people who have a minimum understanding and respect for science -whether physical or social- and its findings and conclusions) could perhaps agree with:

    1. Man made climate change exists and is getting worse

    2. Some people have come to understand this and some haven't (again for various reasons of various kinds) And some people like having understood it and some don’t.

    3. Some people want to try to do something about it (again for various reasons and in various ways) and some don't care (at least not now) or prefer to actively or passively deny the scientific facts and work against them and their implications in various ways. (honest or dishonest, explicit or tacit, reasonable or insidious and etc. etc. and whether they are even aware of what they are doing or not)

    4. "Objectively" something needs to done to at least try to avoid the worst of the problem (if it's still possible) (which is an open question but one that is shutting pretty quickly) unless one simply doesn't give a damn, in which case this whole discussion is not needed and we can all go out for a walk or have lunch or log on to our favorite websites. (CONTINUED)







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  9. 5. It is important to getting something done that may have half a chance of working, to have more and more people understand that there is a problem. But it is not indispensable that every single person on earth be on board to be able to do something just as this is not (and has not been) the case for anything else which is a problem and needs to be addressed. Climate change is not a religion and those who “believe in it” don’t always need to go around proselytizing. Sometimes it is enough to just “do good works” and others may see them and then “convert”.

    6. "Getting something done" and what "getting to work" means will depend on the sorts of models and understandings of the world and how it works and why which various actors in the picture have and operate within, and what their political, economic and cultural background is.

    7. Reality and the various forces it unleashes both physical and social, is on the side of the believers in climate change. Time may not be on our side in some respects, but it is on our side in others.

    8. Generally speaking it is a waste of time to get into arguments with certain sorts of people who think and behave in the way they do for whatever complex reasons or motives they may have and whether they are aware of them or not. Doing so typically only empowers them further. Telling them simply and politely that they are wrong and then ignoring them and moving on to more productive things, is the best approach. (and not only vis a vis climate change deniers but vis-a-vis deniers of many other realities –and particularly political and ideological realities- that are contentious) And if anyone has ever watched "the dog whisperer" - an immensely instructive program- one can observe and study some the very effective ways Mr. Cesar Milan deals with problematic dogs. Many of them also can work on humans.

    9. For the "believers" more important than convincing, persuading or otherwise turning around the "deniers" is “ a) mitigating their worse effects on those who are undecided or otherwise somewhere in the middle; (still a big majority) b) working with various approaches, with various methods, and by targeting various target groups and realities; c) trying to build a more sustainable economy and society in practical ways.

    And let me say one other thing again in simple and perhaps reductionist terms. I basically don't give a damn if someone calls me a "tree hugging hippie". I love trees and I once was a hippie of sorts. So I would consider it a compliment more than an insult.

    And as a result of the above I also couldn't give a damn what various turkeys big or small think.

    As a tree hugging hippie I don't mind at all the company of nearby turkeys in whatever fields or fields of action each of us is engaged in. That too is part of "the real world" and of living in it. (and I certainly don’t need to understand the complete biological evolution of turkeys for the past million years to see what sort of animal I may be dealing with)

    I hope this new comment is perhaps more on target and easier to grasp than my earlier one and could perhaps even provide some useful guidelines.

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  10. Ugo
    A very useful and thought provoking post - if I may say so!
    I personally know at least two well-qualified scientists who are sceptical of climate science. I was amazed when I found out their opinions and reasoning.
    I think that Rational Pessimist (above) has a shrewd point: "people don't like climate change because it undermines their life narrative". I don't like it either even though for me the implications seem only too real! I cannot, however, accept an alternative 'positive narrative', because how ever hard I try, I cannot see a green and positive future version of what our higher income countries in large part have now. That is not something I would dare promise small school children. For sure certainly not if we mean renewable energy. The best I can do is think of my own parents and grandparents for whom a 'sufficiency' for their children and families and some relief from relentless grinding hard work and uncertainty - some collective undepinning of 'security' and 'care' and 'decency', - a chance to be 'buoyant' - would have been seen as having great beauty, beyond price. That hope I still have, however unlikely.

    Footnote. From anthropology I have read that 'hunter gatherers' and their small children can live for the most part in relaxed states of undistracted alert attention and be 'at home', literally, in environments in which we would be either paranoid in our ignorance or dangerously complacent. The key to this alert state, if I understand it, is that social relations are supportive and relatively benign and do not take over the brain with complex and difficult narratives - 'Iago-style'.

    best
    Phil

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  11. Ok, I was thinking is I should post a recent reply to me of one well-kown climate skeptic, with good scientific credentials... but, ok, here it is. It is a response to my question, why climate change panic is an irrational and immoral social construct:

    Alexander, the key adjective in my sentence was "social" - it's a social construct, not a scientific theory, and it's meant to transform the society and bring advantages to those who push this idiocy.

    As a scientific theory, it's complete bunk. There doesn't exist a glimpse of scientific evidence that the climate could realistically evolve in a harmful way at the global scale in the future that is shorter than the millennium time scale where the ice age cycles gradually become important.

    It's immoral for people like you to lie to everyone else. It's immoral for people like you to get salaries for these lies and would-be scientific research that is neither scientific nor research. It's immoral for you to threaten the industrial civilization that's been built for 500 years. It's immoral for you to support political pressures that could prevent the poor people and poor nations from using the fossil fuels, the most reasonable and cheapest resource that decides whether their lives are human or miserable paths towards premature death.

    It's immoral for you to contaminate the Internet in general and my blog in particular with your dishonest pseudoscientific gibberish and abuse the fact that hardcore scammers and fraudsters are not being executed quickly yet. It's hypocritical for you to use the achievements of the modern technology including the Internet and combustion engines even though you're superficially fighting against all these things. It's unethical for you to spread all these fearful lies in front of children who can't immediately see that you're despicable untrustworthy greedy lying bastards and who lose sleep because of all the scary shit that you're spitting everywhere.

    These were just examples of the reasons why people like you are immoral bastards.


    Cheers,

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    Replies
    1. We have a say, in Italy, "things that you eat and don't kill you, fatten you." In communication, we could say, "things that you hear and don't kill you, teach you".

      We must learn from this guy how not to become like him (I suppose "a guy" - women are normally smarter than that)

      Delete
    2. Thanks Ugo,

      exactly. And yes, his name is Luboš Motl - theoretical physicist (PhD at Rutgers University, and working at Harvard University, now in the Czech Republic...)

      Cheers,

      Alex

      Delete
    3. Yes..... and it is clear that what he says, he says because he is convinced of it. Can I publish that piece with some comments of mine?

      Delete
    4. Ugo,

      absolutely no problem with republishing that, since he posted it on the Internet. The link to discussion is here:

      http://motls.blogspot.cz/2013/03/paul-krugman-climate-and-inconceivable.html#disqus_thread

      I am 4th in the thread,

      Alex

      Delete
    5. Depressing..... But we must endure this kind of things

      Delete
    6. BTW... I knew that site. That guy is one of the most rabid deniers around. The curious thing is that he has a background in theoretical physics. Once more, we see that we are driven by our emotions, rather than by rationality

      Delete
    7. Yes Ugo,

      our emotional part of the brain is one of the evolutionary oldest one, so it is hard to separate "knowledge" from "emotions", I think.

      Back to peak oil story, what did you say about shortage of oil and electricity production? Seems to be a close reality for Egyptians!

      "The lagging diesel supply has had an impact on many sectors, and the biggest concern right now is how it will affect the country’s electricity production as the consumption-heavy summer months roll in."

      As diesel shortages continue, impact becomes broader

      Cheers,

      Alex

      Delete
  12. One of the two qualified scientist 'deniers' that I referred to is a friend from youth and the other a younger relative. Both have a PhD & years of research experience. The older man I suspect still has a lot of very influential contacts. He is 'Peak Oil aware' but will not call it that. Neither are bloggers or users of chat rooms. However, both use the same argument used by the apparently psychologically disturbed man quoted above. They all three claim climate science to be 'bad science'.(What BTW does this mean " ... your dishonest pseudoscientific gibberish and abuse the fact that hardcore scammers and fraudsters are not being executed quickly yet"?)

    I think like Ugo that emotion trumps science. Greer has pointed out that such an attack will be all the more fierce when the arguments to be opposed are obviously 'scientific'. Which I think is roughly your position Ugo? The more rational you try to be, the more rage you will provoke?

    best
    Phil

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  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  14. Not related to this post but for information, below last (february 2013) modeling results from Jean Laherrère for peak oil :
    http://iiscn.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/laherrere_all_liquids_production_1900-2200.jpg
    Complete paper (preliminary version) :
    http://tribune-pic-petrolier.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/oilgasprodforecasts-JL-1.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  15. Glad to see this basic info spread around.

    Steve Morgan made a recent brave effort to straighten out the US numbers - especially as they relate to nonsense about US 'energy independence'.
    http://energygraphs.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/us-energy-dependence.html?showComment=1364031003854#c1351987560641615631

    ReplyDelete
  16. And a new report from the "Energy Watch Group" (German study group) :
    http://www.energywatchgroup.org/fileadmin/global/pdf/EWG-update2013_long_18_03_2013.pdf
    « Fossil and Nuclear Fuels – the Supply
    Outlook »
    Very broad summary :
    peak oil is passed
    peak gas : around 2020
    peak coal within next 10 years (page 12)

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  17. I would be more moderate with the so called "denialists". actually, there is no well established physics of the CO2 based greenhouse effect. There only computer models which are now criticized by famous main stream climatologist (S. Manabe himself!). For the experimental evidence, the hockey stick like reconstructions are proven to be junk science and since about 15 years no warming is observed anymore. A pause can happend in global warming, but it was absolutely not forecast by the main stream model. So, climate is changing, but it is not yet proven that anthropogenic CO2 emissions has any role, politically correct or not!

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    Replies
    1. You know, Meynard, you should study physical chemistry before you say "there is no well established physics of the CO2 based greenhouse effect". The heat retaining physics of greenhouse gases has been known for more than a century and it is part of all textbooks in molecular physics.

      Delete
    2. Well yes,

      (whatever) denialism saves a lot of time and saves even more worries (about the future) than studying physical chemistry!!

      And people do not want to be worried about the future, we are born to be optimists.

      In fact, thats why we are all here, since our parents were optimistic about the future!

      Optimism forever :-)

      Cheers,

      Delete
  18. meynard.

    i'm sure you would go easy on denialists, being as you are one one. funny that.

    tell you what, we'll 'go easy' when you all stop talking drivel. case in point, your ridiculous comment - 'no warming in 15 years'. tell that to the arctic ice as it doesnt seem to have got your memo. oh and the array of record warmest years over the last 15 years that bizarrely just seem to keep happening even though C02 has, according to you, temporarily forgotten its known physical properties. i could go on, but seeing as people like you never learn, i can't really be bothered

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    Replies
    1. Easy Andy ... easy ...
      Not too many readers of this blog are going to be impressed with Meynard.
      Climate science is a matter for study, not a matter of belief.
      Thus intrconvertibly the (anthropogenic) CO2 goes on rising and scientific observation continues. It would be odd if climate signals had not by this stage begun to emerge from the background variation, and such signals are indeeed increasingly what we see, but one supposes these guys cling to a belief and the faintest chance they will be proved right. Sad. :-(

      Delete
  19. "these guys [i.e. Meynard] cling to a belief "

    Phil,

    Just as a guy like Meynard can be wrong in his "beliefs", we too can all be wrong in our "beliefs".

    I'm not referring to belief in climate change but rather to inherent belief in something else.

    It is that misguided belief that leads us into misunderstanding Meynard and thinking that we can somehow change his "mind".

    For you see, Meynard does not have a mind --but wait, not in that sense-- for you see, none of us have "minds". We have brains.

    Those are evolution-molded and over-a-life time wired biological organs; not blackboards to which an eraser can be easily applied to create an area of "blank slate" onto which new beliefs can be writ.

    If you, over your life time, have developed a certain model of how the world is put together, it is extremely difficult for any one else to help you change your internal wirings (your "connectome") so as to see the world in a different way.

    At the end of the day we are wasting our time calling people with differently wired brains "denialists". They are merely 'differently wired".

    Our best chances lie in those whose connectomes are more easily re-wired, namely, young people.

    You already probably see that the younger generation "gets it" while the older ones will go to their graves muttering about how, undeniably, the sun "rises" in the East and sets in the West.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Step Back,
      Good post.
      I am always looking for new ways to describe the perceptual blindnesses built into human beings (since it seems like such a difficult concept for so many people to grasp).

      Like Ugo, apparently, I'd never heard of a "connectome" before...
      Thanks for that.

      Delete
    2. but people are no way near that 'hard wired'. i agree we don't have free will at a fundamental level, but we are surely capable of criticizing and altering our beliefs at the fairly trivial level we are talking about here.

      we a talking about relatively simple ideas that can easily be weighed against evidence. its not as though they would have to accept anything on faith, or that goes against common sense or or basic physical laws - such as is the case with their idea of 'infinite growth'.

      that people can change is beyond argument. we've all seen cases of people changing their worldview far more radically than is needed here. fundamentalist christians can become hardcore atheists, which proves people can change alot if they want to.

      of course, with most people being rather self interested [to put it kindly] it helps if it suits them. which is exactly the problem here. because not driving and jetting about the world doesn't suit them at all. if there was something in it for them, some immediate gratification or increased relative status, you can bet they wouldn't be complaining about the science then.

      so you should be wary of going too easy on them. they know exactly what they are doing

      Delete
    3. SB
      Well ... "clinging" was not really meant by me to be a rhetorical put down of my adversary. Sorry. On thinking about your points, it seems from what I experience, possible to learn all sorts of stuff even as you get old. And 'change' happens in our internal life: often without our noticing. I'm not greatly taken with the notion of 'hard-wired' brains. Leaves out all that observed plasticity? Lots of advertising is explicitly addressed to moulding that plasticity - a kind of psueodo science fabricated especially since 1930s. In fact the more I think about it, the concept of us as individual actors seems dubious.
      I see that I dd not call anybody 'a denialist', but wrote of deniers of the main outlines of current climate science. I'm not expecting any time soon any generation to 'get it', in the sense of dismantling the airline industry or whatever. That is not the world we live in, at least not round here, and individual choice is very limited, even in the matter of our grasp of knowledge. My old friend and my young relative relative remain my friend and my relative.
      So it goes.
      Phil

      Delete
    4. Phil,

      I'm sorry that your connectome is currently wired to decode the term "connectome" as meaning hard-wired when in fact it means plasticity; but not clean-slate plasticity.

      If your connectome includes a willing-to-read-up-on-it and learn part then perhaps you will change to see the term and to see the rest of my words in different light.

      But that discourse moves us away from the main topic in issue here, namely, why are the connectomes of "denialists" wired the way they currently are and is it possible --when given the current wirings of these "denialists" connectomes-- to get them to rewire themselves and to start modeling the world in a more reality-based way? More to the point, to get them to understand that Climate Change/ Global Warming is a real, present and imminent danger? To get them to comprehend that Peak Oil is a real, present and global problem? To get them to accept that Thermodynamics and not market dynamics is the thing that drives ultimate outcomes?

      Delete
    5. SB
      You are right about my mistake. It was late at night and I'm getting old! I could have sworn you used the term 'hard-wired'.
      It seems we all establish a lot of our ‘wiring’ very early on in life as well as being moulded as we grow. (In my own experience, error also is a lifetime companion. Even though some do a great deal better than others, even cats can miscalculate their balance. And then we get old.)

      It seems that some of what we think of as essential human 'wired' characteristicscan owe at least as much to our cultural heritage(s), as to our personal trajectories.
      Hat tip to Mat C over at the Archdruid’s blog...
      I found this quick scan at a mix of converging anthropology and neurology stimulating.
      http://www.psmag.com/magazines/pacific-standard-cover-story/joe-henrich-weird-ultimatum-game-shaking-up-psychology-economics-53135/
      I am fairly sure that appeals to rationality (“mine is more valid than yours”) in disputes over fact are bound to infuriate. Fellow scientists in my experience are more than capable of private rage, even when they are polite fellows who confine themselves to expressions like 'bad science'. However, the recent orchestrated campaign to influence the public mind, and, especially to make climate science into a 'matter of opinion', is something else. It appears the campaigners have used some very effective mind-bending tools and have been well funded. Framing arguments is indeed an art form but these tools of mass persuasion have been honed over decades.

      Opinions are very odd things?

      best
      Phil

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    6. Phil,

      No biggie. Don't blow a fuse over it in your connectome's wiring.

      Your intuition about infuriating the other person (the denialist) seems to be borne out by this "How to talk to a denialist" video:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qp-nJKBwQR4

      Also your suspicions about well honed mind messaging methods is spot on. New understandings about neuroscience plus the ability to play videos over the internet (with background music and flashing images) have enabled those who wish to, to readily sway public perceptions in any direction they want to; like puppet masters playing with their play things.

      p.s. Thanks for that link about assumed human natures (presumed hard wirings).

      Delete
  20. Well said, SB. And thanks for the concept of "connectome" - I didn't know about it. (and it is part of the great onrush of things I had never heard about before)

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    Replies
    1. Sorry about that, I should have provided a link (re "connectome")

      It's not all that new, but an emerging concept in neuro science:

      http://www.ted.com/talks/sebastian_seung.html

      Delete
  21. See also, "Rabett Run".

    "...as science advances one funeral at a time, pseudoscience sometimes gets scrubbed away one funeral at a time."

    http://rabett.blogspot.it/2013/03/laughing-at-those-who-laugh-at-science.html

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  22. I am almost certain that fewer climate change denialists exist in the New York City area now after Hurricane Sandy than might have existed before it; Lighting For Artwork

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