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Godwin's Law and Global Warming:

Roger Pielke Jr. has had enough of comparisons between global warming skeptics and holocaust deniers.

Let's be blunt. The phrase "climate change denier" is meant to be evocative of the phrase "holocaust denier". As such the phrase conjurs up a symbolic allusion fully intended to equate questioning of climate change with questioning of the Holocaust.

Let's be blunt. This allusion is an affront to those who suffered and died in the Holocaust. Let those who would make such an allusion instead be absolutely explicit about their assertion of moral equivalency between Holocaust deniers and those that they criticize.

This allusion has no place in the discourse on climate change. I say this as someone fully convinced of a significant human role in the behavior of the climate system.

Let's declare a moratorium on the phrases "climate change denier" and "climate change denial." Let's invoke the equivalent of Godwin's Law in discourse on climate policy. Maybe call it the Prometheus Principle.

No more invocation of "climate change deniers."

Pielke could further add that the allusion is meant to pillory those with dissenting views. Like other forms of ad hominem attack, it assails the individuals, not their arguments. It is also inapt in many cases, as many so-called "climate change deniers" accept that human activity is contributing to climate change. What they dispute is that such effects are necessarily catastrophic and/or that it makes sense to adopt proposed emission control schemes.

UPDATE: Speaking of holocaust analogies in the climate policy debate, a few weeks back Dave Roberts of Grist claimed the global warming "denial industry" should be subject to Nuremberg-style war crimes prosecutions:

When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards -- some sort of climate Nuremberg.
Yesterday Roberts half-heartedly acknowledged his rhetoric might have been a little bit excessive:
Surely we can agree that global warming denialists, while not "as bad" as Holocaust deniers, are nonetheless really damn bad.

Nuremberg trials? Eh, whatever. Sue me for rhetorical excess. But let's not forget that a moral crime is taking place under our noses, and nothing is to be gained by being polite about it.

Today, however, Roberts retracted teh remarks:
There are people and institutions knowingly disseminating falsehoods and distortions about global warming. They deserve to be held publicly accountable.

As to what shape that accountability would take, my analogy to the Nuremberg trials was woefully inappropriate -- nay, stupid. I retract it wholeheartedly.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Roberts Reconsiders Nuremberg Analogy:
  2. Godwin's Law and Global Warming:
  3. Ron Bailey Comes Clean:
M (mail):
I don't know that this had occured to me (and I'd certainly think that the deniers are, at this point, a bit nutty.) Rather, I would have thought the comparison is with those who deny evolution. Certainly the similarity is much closer.
10.12.2006 10:33am
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
I always took attachment to the Holocaust as strange ; the Jewish Christmas book catalogs I used to get were filled with Holocaust for Children books. Something was being gotten out of it that I didn't and don't understand, beyond a warning to watch out for people bent on cleaning up the ethnic mix in the world, because they'll find support.

(There's a poetic point, that everybody is in the position of the Jew, and the uniformity of the world is anxious to do you in, curiously the opposite of what the global warming person needs here.)

I suspect the Holocaust deniers are secondary deniers, anxious to deny the hated Jews whatever advantage they're getting out of remembering it, not to deny the event particularly.

Their sin is hating Jews, not disbelieving.

Whereas global warmening deniers are simply not going along with the crowd, without hating anybody.
10.12.2006 10:38am
frankcross (mail):
Regardless of the merits of the scientific argument, the people who deny x are x deniers. And Mr. Pielke, unless a mind reader, can't say what any particular individual means for the words to convey. I like his site, but it's better on substantive matters than linguistic ones.
10.12.2006 10:49am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
If you want a better comparison, I would think that the sort of thought policing being done with global warming is closer to that of communist proper groupthink.

Part of my scepticism is a result of being subjeccted three times in one year, 16 years ago, to our former Senator, Tim Worth, giving the same impassioned speech on Global Cooling. While that theory never quite took off to the same extent that Global Warming has today, in the right circles back then, it was accepted wisdom.

The panic over both seem to have their roots in a belief that humans are inherantly evil, and when given the chance to ruin the world through their prolifigacy, do.

What is scary though is that I haven't yet seen anything quite like this, where an entire population panics over scanty evidence. Yes, it may be true. But we aren't likely to actually find out one way or another as long as the only funding is going towards proving it. So, you get a lot of highly questionable models with a lot of variables that don't do a really good job of predicting the past, and that is about it.

I should also note that when we get a lot of hurricanes in the Atlantic, the Pacific is ignored. And then, when the number and intensity drops the next year, as it has this year, no mention is made of that, or is there really an attempt to explain how that fits in.

But Jonathan makes probably the best point - that even if it is true, so what? The assumption is, based on the theory that humans are evil and will destroy the world if not controlled, that Global Warming will have dire effects on the environment. But will it?

Yes, there will be winners and losers. NYC might be a loser. Not living there and not really liking it that much, that doesn't keep me up late at night. If Manhattan goes partly underwater, then we will just have to rebuild on higher ground. My personal concern is that the weather patterns seem to maybe possibly drying up Colorado, esp. the mountains, and that means less snow, and, thus, inferior skiing.

But that also ignores that carbon dioxide is used by plants, and more of it in the atmosphere should make it easier for them to grow. Plus, there are billions of acres of unfarmable land across Russia (esp. Siberia) and Canada, that may be ultimately farmable, should the freeze line move north. Just look at a map, and note that a large portion of this planet's surface is not farmable today because it is too cold.
10.12.2006 10:55am
A Guest:
Sorry, I just don't find that persuasive. As Frank Cross notes above, people who deny x are x deniers. Thus, the term "climate change deniers" seems an apt description of those who deny climate change.

To the extent the term is applied to people who do not deny that the climate is changing, I agree with the Professor that it probably doesn't fit. However, that is not an objection to the term itself, it's merely an objection to the application of the term to certain people.
10.12.2006 11:00am
Dan28 (mail):
It's stupid for environmental activists to use the holocaust as an example, when the manipulation of science by the tobacco industry is such a perfect analogy. Heck, the ExxonMobil campaign to confuse the science on this issue even uses the same lobbyists as big tobacco ().

And Bruce, no scientists has ever based anything on "the theory that humans are evil and will destroy the world if not controlled." The idea that global warming will have devastating effects on human life is based on extremely thorough scientific evidence. Don't criticize the scientists for failing to consider factors when, in fact, they most certainly have considered every factor you mentioned, including Pacific storms, effects of carbon dioxide on plant life, and effects of warming on colder climates. Read the science critically, but don't criticize the science until you read it.
10.12.2006 11:08am
Dan28 (mail):
It's stupid for environmental activists to use the holocaust as an example, when the manipulation of science by the tobacco industry is such a perfect analogy. Heck, the ExxonMobil campaign to confuse the science on this issue even uses the same lobbyists as big tobacco ().

And Bruce, no scientists has ever based anything on "the theory that humans are evil and will destroy the world if not controlled." The idea that global warming will have devastating effects on human life is based on extremely thorough scientific evidence. Don't criticize the scientists for failing to consider factors when, in fact, they most certainly have considered every factor you mentioned, including Pacific storms, effects of carbon dioxide on plant life, and effects of warming on colder climates. Read the science critically, but don't criticize the science until you read it.
10.12.2006 11:09am
Kevin P. (mail):
How rude of Roger Pielke to complain about Tim Lambert.
10.12.2006 11:23am
Aaron Bergman (mail):
We're no longer allowed to use the word "denier", now?

Seriously?
10.12.2006 11:28am
Houston Lawyer:
Let's see, with the Holocaust we have eye witnesses to an historic event.

With the human contribution to global warming we have a theory that cannot be empirically proven.

Yep, that's the same. Group think requires words of approbation for those who don't agree. Words like "nigger lover" and "homophobia" come to mind. The use of the word says more about the person using it than the person to whom it is directed.
10.12.2006 11:34am
Steve:
There are plausible scenarios in which history will regard today's climate change deniers much less favorably than Holocaust deniers.
10.12.2006 11:34am
TDPerkins (mail):
Just to document the conflation of the WWII Holocaust with Global Warming pragmatists:

NUREMBERG-STYLE TRIALS PROPOSED FOR GLOBAL WARMING SKEPTICS

Ho hum.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
10.12.2006 11:36am
A. Zarkov (mail):
I think a better term than "denier" would be "agnostic." At this point the evidence seems to be increasing in favor of global warming. But how much warming and what consequences? Some scientists say warming could change the salinity of the Atlantic leading to the elimination of the Gulf Stream. This would put Europe in a pretty deep freeze. These worst-case scenarios do amount to a kind of planetary holocaust. But we don't know how probable they are, and they haven't happened yet. The holocaust did happen, so the deniers are really insulting the victims by telling them that the terrible thing they know happened, didn't.

Global warming is only one of many serious geophysical hazards we face.

*An earthquake in the Cascadia subduction zone would cause catastrophic tsunamis to hit the Pacific Northwest and Japan. The last one in 1700 caused a devastating tsunami to hit Japan. Quakes occur in clusters of 5 with an average inter-arrival time of 300 years. We don't know if we have finished a cluster or have one more to go within a cluster. If the latter is the case, then this could be an immanent threat.

*The Hayward and San Andres Faults are ready to go at anytime. USGS gives a probability of 2/3 of a very large quake (the big one) within 20 years.

*The New Madrid Seismic zone produced the second largest earthquake in the history of the US in 1812. Within 50 years a new powerful quake will almost surely occur in this very densely populated area.

*An eruption of Mount Rainer (not too likely in the near future) would devastate the region.

* One of the largest super volcanoes in the world lies under Yellowstone National Park. If it should have caldera-forming eruption it would bury vast areas of the US under ash and change global climate. Fortunately this is not likely in the near future, but there are other super volcanoes around the world.

* Then there is the planet busting danger of an asteroid collision.

So why focus on Global Warming when there are so many other geophysical hazards that could cause as much, or much more damage?
10.12.2006 11:52am
MnZ (mail):
The idea that global warming will have devastating effects on human life is based on extremely thorough scientific evidence. ... Read the science critically, but don't criticize the science until you read it.


Well, I have read the science, and only a handful of honest scientists would say that global warming is certain to have devastating effects on human life. There are plenty that would say that global warming would be cause human difficulties and suffering. However, the scientific evidence is not there to strongly indicate devastation.
10.12.2006 11:56am
TDPerkins (mail):
Steve, there are plausible scenarios in which history will regard Al Gore and his Global Warming (TM) adherents as the worst sort of loon.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
10.12.2006 12:09pm
Just an Observer:
So why focus on Global Warming when there are so many other geophysical hazards that could cause as much, or much more damage?

The obvious answer is the time-sensitive threat of increased global warming caused by human activity, which should be more amenable to public-policy action than, say, a random strike by a giant asteroid at some hypothetical future date.

While there is some scientific-based dissent from the prevailing consensus view that global warming is real and is exacerbated by modern industrial activity -- and I do not discount such dissent -- what is amazing to me is that global warming has become an issue of political ideology. I cannot see how either conservatives or liberals have any particular claim on being "right" about scientific questions.
10.12.2006 12:10pm
Tim Lambert (mail) (www):
Kevin P linked to one of my posts where I used the term "global warming denialists", not "denier".

In any case I reject Adler's Political Correctness. (Is he PC on other language usage issues?)
10.12.2006 12:10pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
And don't neglect the collapse of the western flank of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, on the southern half of La Palma in the Canary Islands. Mega Tsunami heading towards the East Coast at the speed of a jet plane.

As for 'climate change denier', all you have to do is respond with 'commie traitor' and you'll be even.

Lots of climate questions:

* Is climate changing?
* Did human action cause it?
* Will it cause harm?
* Can human action prevent it?
* Should we respond to the threat by creating a global, totalitarian, socialist state?
* Should we respond to the threat by vaporizing a mountain or a lot of water into the atmoshpere to cause a cooler climate?
10.12.2006 12:15pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
This doesn't go to the main point, but I disagree with the idea that "[t]his allusion is an affront to those who suffered and died in the Holocaust." Holocaust denial isn't bad because a lot of people suffered and died -- it's bad because it's (from what I'm told) historically inaccurate and (I presume) often motivated by anti-Semitism.
10.12.2006 12:18pm
MnZ (mail):
Steve, there are plausible scenarios in which history will regard Al Gore and his Global Warming (TM) adherents as the worst sort of loon.


There are also plausible scenarios in which the solution to global warming causes more human suffering.

Didn't Leninism-Stalinism demonstrate the risks of treating skeptics as heretics and heretics as criminals?
10.12.2006 12:19pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
> what is amazing to me is that global warming has become an issue of political ideology.

Since GW is used as an excuse for a laundry list of political actions, many recycled from previous political campaigns, it would be a surprise if it didn't become an issue of political ideology.
10.12.2006 12:28pm
CrosbyBird:
I think a better term than "denier" would be "agnostic."

Deny, whether legitimately or not, implies even more than sort of strong and willful negation of the concept. Calling someone an "X denier" carries the implication that they are taking this position in the face of that which is universally accepted as indisputable fact. It most certainly could be interpreted by a reasonable person as "attack language."

And Mr. Pielke, unless a mind reader, can't say what any particular individual means for the words to convey.

Assuming the person using the term is reasonably perceptive, he must at least acknowledge the possibility that the language used has the potential to be interpreted by others as such "attack language." It is a simple task to substitute a phrase that does not possess that potential, if indeed, the goal is merely to identify the person as in disagreement.

Yet it prompts the question: Why would there be such a need in conversation to characterize someone in this manner other than to be using weighted language to belittle their position?
10.12.2006 12:32pm
JT Wenting (mail):
And remember that almost noone who isn't convinced by the whole idea of human induced climate catastrophe says the climate isn't changing.
In fact that very change is the best argument against human intervention, the climate changes so rapidly and unpredictably without anything we do that any change we make to that is impossible to detect.
And also the very thing the alarmist claim is causing massive catastrophe (CO2) is only a very small, nigh on insignificant, factor in the entire climate machine that is the solar system.
It has been calculated that the human contribution to atmospheric CO2 has an influence on mean global temperature of 0.6 +/- 0.2 degrees Celcius, which is less than the margin of error in that mean global temperature (which has a margin of error of depending on source 0.7 to 1.5 degrees).
Instead they advocate using things like fuelcells which emit water vapor in massive amounts, a substance which has a far greater contribution to the heat retention capabilities of the atmosphere than does CO2 (and even than the human contribution is negligable).

Dan, there is no "extremely thorough scientific evidence" for your claims.
There is a lot of politically motivated propaganda and junkscience, reports written based on known faulty data that was used only because it supported the conclusions the "scientists" were paid to reach, misinterpreted reports based on inconclusive data, etc. etc.
Even the initial IPCC report which kicked it all off was like that.
The complete report listed the entire catastrophic scenario (which was derived from a study later found to be at the very least questionable, a study where the author has consistently refused to let others examine his sources or methods) as a very minor chance option. But the people responsible for writing the executive summary had a political agenda to push that particular scenario so they excluded everything else from the summary which was presented to the press and politicians as the actual report.
The report itself (and subsequently any research which would yield contradictory evidence to the conclusions brought forward in the summary) were actively and openly suppressed.
People hinting they are not convinced by this religion of human induced climatic catastrophe are denied funding, are openly attacked and preventing from voicing their opinion, there are now calls to put them up in showtrials and convict them of crimes against humanity for daring to suggest the environmentalist position is wrong.

That goes way beyond scientific discourse, it's corruption of science for political means and open censorship of dissenting views.
10.12.2006 12:52pm
rarango (mail):
I do believe the term "denier" is more equivalent to an ad hominum than a rigorous description. For example: I think global warming is an empirical question; simple measurements and comparisons serve to answer that question, and I think that it IS getting warmer. Then we turn to explanations: I am more skeptical about causes of global warming and the relative contribution of say, human activity versus solar activity--or any number other variables which might contribute to global warming. Finally, absent some indication of the percent of variance contributed by each of the potential causes, coupled with a complete lack of financial information about implementing a solution to eliminate or reduce those causes, there isnt much to go on from a policy perspective. Does that make me a denier? I guess it does--but I think the term does little to more fully explain my concerns.
10.12.2006 12:54pm
anonVCfan:
In response to Prof. Adler's point, I think most rhetoric is meant to "pillory those with dissenting views," with varying degrees of subtlety. Anytime you come up with your own term for people who disagree with you, there's something you're doing that goes beyond arguing the ideas on their merits. Mr. Pielke's and Prof. Adler's criticism strikes me as overwrought as best and ridiculous at worst.
10.12.2006 12:57pm
Dan28 (mail):
I agree with this - there is a ton of politically motivated propaganda and junkscience currently being paid for by ExxonMobil and other oil industries, repeating claims that have already been proven false and hyping misleading variables without context. See, for example, this

The fact that you think the thousands of peer-reviewed studies in scientific journals, as well as the study commissioned by President Bush carried out by our most prestigious and important scientific body, the National Academy of Science, are collectively "way beyond scientific discourse" is horrifying. The attack on scientific institutions by the right is turning the Republican Party into the know-nothing party.
10.12.2006 1:15pm
Dan28 (mail):
Whoa, totally wrong link there. See, for example, THIS
10.12.2006 1:16pm
magoo (mail):
Will we be getting a similar post soon on "femi-nazi," "enviro-nazi," and other such terms used by conservatives and libertarians?

In view of the nauseating ad hominen tolerated by VC in its comment section (nothwithstanding its civility policy), especially the endless ad hominen attacks directed at Arabs and Muslims, I find this post rather quaint.
10.12.2006 1:23pm
elChato (mail):
As the first post states, it's far more sensible to compare warming-deniers to those who deny evolution.

They may be irrational but lumping them in with haters is not honest, or helpful.
10.12.2006 1:27pm
Steve P. (mail):
For a person so enamored of free speech, I'm surprised by how many 'moral' rules there are restricting it. I now shouldn't use the word 'denier' because you think it's been appropriated by people who disbelieve/downplay the Holocaust? Wow.
10.12.2006 1:39pm
MnZ (mail):
Dan28,

The IPCC misrepresenting "peer-reviewed studies in scientific journals" is also horrifying.
10.12.2006 1:39pm
donaldk:
I am not exactly a denier, but I am a long way from being convinced that warming is happening - a great deal more accurate trend measurement would be necessary for me. What I am sure of is, that given the uncertainty, the remedies suggested are an unwarranted disruption.

That is just my own opinion and I think I am entitled to it - BUT - I could not care less if some fanatic compares me to a holocaust denier. Use of such a phrase reflects more badly on its user than on its target.
10.12.2006 1:44pm
TDPerkins (mail):
elChato wrote:

They may be irrational but lumping them in with haters is not honest, or helpful.


It is also not helpful to categorize all who dissent from the political postion that global warming is "Global Warming (TM)", as being irrational when the signal you are claiming to find is in fact dwarfed by noise and factors outside our control and no model of the climate which is fed data from the past 100 to last 10 years can accurately forecast the most recent past 10 years.

When you have a tolerably accurate model as opposed to a strong hunch, you will have begun to make the case that governmental legal intervention is warranted to fix a problem.

But the Global Warming (TM) crowd hasn't made it to that first rung yet.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
10.12.2006 1:51pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Tim Lambert:

Kevin P linked to one of my posts where I used the term "global warming denialists", not "denier".

In any case I reject Adler's Political Correctness. (Is he PC on other language usage issues?)


I looked in three dictionaries, including the Cambridge dictionary, and could not find the word denialist.

Does this mean that you accuse people of being things that don't exist?

Why not just use the word denier?
10.12.2006 1:53pm
TDPerkins (mail):
Steve P., there is no contradiciton between any person saying that something shouldn't be said, and that person affirming the principle of free speech.

That's because the principle of free speech is solely abrogated by extraconstitutional action by government to prevent said speech.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
10.12.2006 1:54pm
guest (mail):
People: it's ad hominem. Not ad hominum, not ad hominen. Ad hominem.
10.12.2006 2:16pm
Hattio (mail):
I think the term Global Warming Denier is apt (though unwise) when used to describe one specific group of people, those who believe the earth is not warming. As a previous commentator pointed out, even most scientists who don't believe human factors are a major cause of global warming do believe the earth has warmed. The evidence that the earth is warming is immense, I also believe the evidence establishes that it is caused at least in part by humans, but I admit this is trickier. But to deny it exists? Go to a Northern climate, and talk to old-timers. I know it's only anecdotal but it's so obvious. Or, go to Valley Forge this winter, and compare it to stories of Washington's army.
10.12.2006 2:29pm
Kazinski:
I'd like to have a better idea of what constitutes a denier. I do believe climate change is taking place, and I think we are in a warming trend. But I think solar cycles is a much better explanation of why the earth is warming, especially since the same thing appears to be happening on Mars.

Mars may be going through a period of climate change, new findings from NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter suggest.

...

One explanation could be that Mars is just coming out of an ice age," Feldman said. "In some low-latitude areas, the ice has already dissipated. In others, that process is slower and hasn't reached an equilibrium yet. Those areas are like the patches of snow you sometimes see persisting in protected spots long after the last snowfall of the winter.


Mars and Earth share the same sun, Mars and Earth do not share the same atmosphere. So if I do believe in climate change (when hasn't the climate been changing?), but I do not think that human created greenhouse gasses are a major contributor, will I still have to stand trial?
10.12.2006 2:40pm
KingOfMyCastle:
I agree with Crosbybird's comments above. The term denier is generally used to describe someone who denies something that is held to be a truth - in the context of someone who 'refuses to accept or believe'.

Sometimes the GLOBAL WARMING!!! (as opposed to global warming) crowd seems more like a religious cult than anything.
10.12.2006 3:25pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Mars and Earth share the same sun, Mars and Earth do not share the same atmosphere. So if I do believe in climate change (when hasn't the climate been changing?), but I do not think that human created greenhouse gasses are a major contributor, will I still have to stand trial?
Yes, you will, because you deny the essential elements of orthodoxy:

1. Humans are evil.

2. Capitalism is evil.

3. Emotional responses are more "authentic" than absurd and irrevelant facts about the limits of planetary atmospheres.

Sad to say, I have had to explain to people that fancy themselves intelligent that Mars global warming cannot be the result of man's actions--and this therefore raises serious questions about how much (if any) of the Earth's somewhat debatable global warming is anthropogenic. Apparently, this concept that our atmosphere doesn't extend to Mars wasn't part of the "Love Mother Earth, Don't Hurt It" science education many environmentalists now receive.

Trying to explain to people this ignorant the evidence of increased solar output (or this one), the Medieval Warm Period, or this work on the cosmic ray flux/solar output involvement in climate. That's just too technical for them to grasp.
10.12.2006 3:26pm
plunge (mail):
Let's be blunt: Roger Pielke Jr.'s criticism doesn't hold water.

The comparison to holocaust deniers isn't about the holocaust at all, it's about the particular tactics of argumentation that they share with holocaust deniers and creationists.

They are:
1) make your case primarily to the public and in the press rather than with research
2) repeatedly misrepresent debates within the field as being debates that undermine the entire legitimacy of the field
3) raise a lot of complex sounding objections quickly that the public has no ability to process or judge the validity of, and which take much much longer explanations to refute

Like it or not, this is the reason for the comparison: it's a sociological classification of a particular set of tactics in a movement trying to challenge a mainstream academic view. It's a fair comparison in all three senses.

"As the first post states, it's far more sensible to compare warming-deniers to those who deny evolution."

In fact, all three groups are described as using the same tactics. All three groups are largely outside of the mainstream academic community and whose major voices are not experts of any kind.

If anything, it is creationists and holocaust deniers that fit better together, because there is a very fair point in Adler's claim that many people who a skeptics about the harm that might be caused by global warming are labeled deniers, when in fact this is a subject that IS under serious dispute.
10.12.2006 3:36pm
TDPerkins (mail):

They are:
1) make your case primarily to the public and in the press rather than with research
2) repeatedly misrepresent debates within the field as being debates that undermine the entire legitimacy of the field
3) raise a lot of complex sounding objections quickly that the public has no ability to process or judge the validity of, and which take much much longer explanations to refute


You are talking about the Global Warming (TM) proponents like Al Gore, right?

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
10.12.2006 3:49pm
TDPerkins (mail):
If anything, it is creationists and holocaust deniers that fit better together, because there is a very fair point in Adler's claim that many people who a[sic]are[/sic] skeptics about the harm that might be caused by global warming are labeled deniers, when in fact this is a subject that IS under serious dispute.


According to the Global Warming (TM) crowd, just saying their is serious dispute about that point makes you a denier.

I suggest that The Grist and Al Gore should be ignored until they start making sense.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
10.12.2006 4:00pm
SabreRedleg:

And Mr. Pielke, unless a mind reader, can't say what any particular individual means for the words to convey.


If only that were the standard for all speech.
10.12.2006 4:02pm
frankcross (mail):
Assuming the person using the term is reasonably perceptive, he must at least acknowledge the possibility that the language used has the potential to be interpreted by others as such "attack language." It is a simple task to substitute a phrase that does not possess that potential, if indeed, the goal is merely to identify the person as in disagreement.

This position reminds me of the argument that "niggardly" should not be used.
10.12.2006 4:02pm
Steve:
To those who find, shall we say, militant global warming activists to be rather obnoxious and overbearing, do you not find people like TDP to be equally ridiculous?

I mean, to pretend that Al Gore's statements are not backed up by hundreds of bona fide scientific studies is simply counterfactual. That doesn't mean you have to agree with his conclusions or recommendations, but it's silly to equate him with the side of the debate which relies primarily on Wall Street Journal op-eds to conclude that "the jury is still out."
10.12.2006 4:08pm
TDPerkins (mail):
I mean, to pretend that Al Gore's statements are not backed up by hundreds of bona fide scientific studies is simply counterfactual.


And to say those hundreds of studies aren't being contested by equally reasonable and scientific criticism is counterfactual; also, Al Gore's statements are that those "conclusions or recommendations" are backed up by those hundreds of studies. Either they do or don't back up those conclusions and recomendations.

Gobal warming has happened to the tune of 1 degree C in the last century.

The extent to which human activity which we can afford to modify is responsible for that increase, that is reasonably under debate. The reasonable range of that responsibility varies from negligible to substantial, and there is no conclusion to be drawn as to the degree of that responsibility to date.

What is ridiculous about that claim?

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
10.12.2006 4:25pm
Truth Seeker:
I find TDP to be rational and Gore to be power hungry and delusional and a distortionist. Many of the scientific studies are biased and ignore anything and anyone who does not suport their religious Global Warming Creed.
10.12.2006 4:28pm
raj (mail):
It strikes me that Mr. Pielke has a bit too much time on his hands. Surely he could find something useful to complain about.
10.12.2006 4:32pm
The General:
Actually, use of term "deniers" could be quite helpful. Like "supply-side deniers" i.e., those who deny the benefits of cutting income taxes, despite all of the economic models and data that show tax cuts stimulate the economy nad increase goverment revenues. I like it.
10.12.2006 4:43pm
The General:
Really, shouldn't we be just as skeptical of a "scientific study" funded by some environmental activist group, as we are of one paid for by some oil company?
10.12.2006 4:50pm
JRL:

Gobal warming has happened to the tune of 1 degree C in the last century.


Even this is a contested claim.
10.12.2006 5:13pm
happylee:
Dissenters must be destroyed and will be destroyed. Labeling them is just one small part of a larger strategy. Afterall, the global warming myth can't stand up to scrutiny any more than the HIV myth -- that's why we need to demonize those who question the accepted dogma.

It reminds me of a scene in Joe v. The Volcano. Joe tells his lady friend that he had his eyes closed his whole life, and when he finally opened them, he couldn't close them again. Needless to say, guys like Joe are the bane of those selling lies.

Cogito, ergo doleo.
10.12.2006 5:31pm
raj (mail):
>>>Gobal warming has happened to the tune of 1 degree C in the last century.

Even this is a contested claim.


Any claim can be contested. The problem with those who are doing the contesting is that there is more than a bit of evidence to support the claim. I presume that you know how to read a graph.
10.12.2006 5:33pm
JRL:
Thank you for presuming that I know how to read a graph. In fact, you are correct. I do know how to read a graph. The problem here lies in the data set, not the graph, and more specifically, the observation points.

Or, in a word, it's bunk.
10.12.2006 5:39pm
Colin (mail):
Afterall, the global warming myth can't stand up to scrutiny any more than the HIV myth -- that's why we need to demonize those who question the accepted dogma.

Is that sarcasm? It's getting to the point where you can't tell the players apart without a program.
10.12.2006 5:43pm
happylee:
See www.reviewingaids.org or virusmyth.net or google "Peter Duesberg"



10.12.2006 6:11pm
A Zarkov (mail):
Just an Observer:

The obvious answer is the time-sensitive threat of increased global warming caused by human activity, which should be more amenable to public-policy action than, say, a random strike by a giant asteroid at some hypothetical future date.

You picked the least likely geophysical hazard. But even there public policy action is possible in terms of increashttp://volokh.com/posts/1160656660.shtml#ed surveillance and planning and construction of defenses. On a more mundane level, we have the very real threat of a major earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area within 20 years. San Francisco had no building codes between 1907 and 1950. Thus even if the seismically resistant new buildings should survive a major quake, most of the residential and old commercial building are going to come down. Even the Golden Gate Bridge could collapse. Remember the surprises in Kobe Japan where supposedly new, seismically resistant highways and buildings collapsed because the shaking motion that actually happened was not anticipated.

To my mind the threat of a major earthquake is a more realistic danger than global warming, and we should first try to mitigate that problem. The costs to the US of trying to mitigate global warming, especially when China and India are exempt, will be enormous and drain away funds that could be better used on other geophysical hazards. Finally the tsunami hazard for the Pacific Northwest and northern California can also be mitigated with public policy action. At a minimum we should do what Japan does, but we don't. I would think that the recent Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people would be enough of a wake up call.
10.12.2006 6:22pm
Steve:
The costs to the US of trying to mitigate global warming, especially when China and India are exempt, will be enormous and drain away funds that could be better used on other geophysical hazards.

Who thinks China and India should be exempt from trying to mitigate global warming? Not Al Gore, that's for sure. Are we still arguing about the shape of things from a decade ago?
10.12.2006 6:28pm
TDPerkins (mail):
Steve wrote:

Who thinks China and India should be exempt from trying to mitigate global warming? Not Al Gore, that's for sure.


Unless you propose to make war on those not inconsiderable nations so as to enforce on them the poverty that is now concomittant with significantly reduced CO2 emission (when there is little enough evidence that such reduced emissions will do much good anyway), then you are saying nothing much at all.

In fact, the wealth and productivity that is associated with increased CO2 emission is what is most likely to promote and permit the introduction of new technologies that will in fact reduce the manmade greenhouse gasses which have you terribly overwrought. And that without governmental pressure, just by natural, uncoerced market forces.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
10.12.2006 6:46pm
A Zarkov (mail):
Steve:

Who thinks China and India should be exempt from trying to mitigate global warming?

The Kyoto Protocols. According to Wikipedia:


"India signed and ratified the Protocol in August, 2002. Since India is exempted from the framework of the treaty, it is expected to gain from the protocol in terms of transfer of technology and related foreign investments… "




"China insists that the emissions level of any given country is a multiplication of its per capita emission and its population. Because China has emplaced population control measures while maintaining low emissions per capita, it claims it should therefore in both the above aspects be considered a contributor to the world environment. China considers the criticism of its energy policy unjust …"



I don't know what Al Gore thinks, but presumably he is not the central clearinghouse for information about mitigation policies. Now I'm not sure if the following is an urban myth, but I seem to recall that Gore didn't take a college level science course until his senior year and then got a "D." Does he really understand subjects like thermodynamics, atmospheric chemistry, general circulation models, and the carbon cycle?
10.12.2006 7:03pm
Jefe:
Earth's temperature has varied by several degrees up and down over the millenia and is varying now. The crux is whether what humankind is doing (versus a large number of other possible and interacting factors) is responsible for observed variation or not. Simply correlating a couple of the myriad of factors affecting the earch's mean temperature is not sufficent proof of anything. Within the last 20 years I seem to recall there were many environmental experts saying that we were headed towards a global ice age. That track record doesn't inspire confidence.
10.12.2006 7:03pm
Steve:
...the introduction of new technologies that will in fact reduce the manmade greenhouse gasses which have you terribly overwrought. And that without governmental pressure, just by natural, uncoerced market forces.

Well, if that's your position, then we're not very far apart, nor is Al Gore. No one is suggesting that the entire world should suddenly agree to ride bicycles to work every day.

What we need, as you note, is progress in the alternative energy field. The message is very simple, and it's extremely pro-America, extremely pro-business: if we do what it takes to develop these new energy technologies, we can get rich by selling them to the entire developing world (in which I include India and China), and alternative energy can be a key industry to ensure American prosperity through the next century and beyond.

It seems like we can agree on all that. What we have left is a basic ideological debate: you think the free market can make it happen on its own, I think we can use the power of government to give it a helpful boost. Without pretending that we can resolve a basic conservative/liberal debate in a few short minutes, I'd just offer two points:

1) The more speculative and long-term the reward is from research in a particular field, the harder it will be to make progress through free-market incentives alone. To take an extreme example, consider the space program. To take a more reasonable example, consider how heavily pharmaceutical R&D is in this country, and consider that it's no coincidence that we are also the world leader in the field.

2) The American energy industry as it stands is hardly a shining example of free-market principles in the first place. The government already has a heavy thumb on the scale, and in a way that tends to discourage development of alternative energy in favor of the existing, favored sources. Maybe I'm wrong about point #1 and in a pure free market, alternative energy would do just fine; but regardless, the status quo should not be mistaken for a free market.
10.12.2006 7:07pm
Steve:
Who thinks China and India should be exempt from trying to mitigate global warming? The Kyoto Protocols.

Right. As I noted above, the Kyoto framework that was overwhelmingly rejected by the Senate a decade ago isn't really the answer. Particularly when you look at what the Chinese and Indian economies have done in the last several years, there's no conceivable solution that involves giving them a free pass. The U.S. will never agree to take sole responsibility for fixing the CO2 problems of the world, and that remains true whichever party is in charge.

Now I'm not sure if the following is an urban myth, but I seem to recall that Gore didn't take a college level science course until his senior year and then got a "D." Does he really understand subjects like thermodynamics, atmospheric chemistry, general circulation models, and the carbon cycle?

I'm not sure if it's an urban myth either, but I'm fairly certain that one's college studies from 40 years ago couldn't be any less relevant. The guy has been seriously invested in the climate change issue for decades. I wouldn't just blithely assume he's unfamiliar with basic scientific concepts - nor, in any event, are we contemplating making him Supreme Climate Change Dictator.
10.12.2006 7:17pm
A Zarkov (mail):
I'm not sure if it's an urban myth either, but I'm fairly certain that one's college studies from 40 years ago couldn't be any less relevant.

I agree completely. But Bush's opponents made a big deal out of his school record. Kerry wouldn't release his records during the campaign for obvious reasons—it was worse than Bush. People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

I wouldn't just blithely assume he's unfamiliar with basic scientific concepts - nor, in any event, are we contemplating making him Supreme Climate Change Dictator.

I wouldn't assume the opposite either. Politicians with a few exceptions have a poor grasp of scientific concepts at anything other than the most superficial level. They usually parrot what their consultants tell them. One exception is John Sununu (former governor of NH) who has a PhD from MIT in (I think) fluid mechanics. He was also an associate professor at Tufts in mechanical engineering. But don't take this as any kind of endorsement on my part.

What I'm trying to do is push for the big picture. I think we should try to mitigate against geophysical hazards, and not leave it up to the "free market" (another religious dogma). While I think the global warming problem is real, at this point in my understanding, I don't put it at the top of the list for mitigation. That could change as I learn more.
10.12.2006 8:06pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Pielke's argument is stronger, if still weak, if we use the narrowest of definitions of holocaust deniers. The handful of people, some of whom are neonazis, who dispute that the german and polish death camps were just that, and that large numbers of jews died there. E.g. Prussian Blue. But it is also possible to use the term Holocaust more broadly, and as the term is broadened, you get more deniers, some of whom will come across as reasonable. The term holocaust originally refers to burnt offerings. It can be reasonably applied to the christian community at Nagasaki, to the civilans at Dresden, to the millions starved by Stalin in Ukrania, Mao's victims, to vietnamese bombed by napalm, to rabbits blinded by cosmetic testing, abortions, maybe to Haiti and Rwanda. Some people deny that these things happened, other people deny that it is proper to refer to these things as an ongoing holocaust. I'm not sure if that second, larger, group can be accurately called holocaust deniers. But if so, it takes much of the sting out of the phrase.
10.12.2006 8:07pm
TDPerkins (mail):
Well, if that's your position, then we're not very far apart, nor is Al Gore.


Al Gore, if in fact he is not proposing any government regulation to the ends he proposes, is a wiser man than I am led to believe.

Of course, there is no credibility to your claim.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
10.12.2006 8:13pm
TDPerkins (mail):
A Zarkov wrote:

I think we should try to mitigate against geophysical hazards, and not leave it up to the "free market"
(another religious dogma).


Actually Zarkov, in addition to the physical world, I think the only thing that exists to humanity is the market, in the sense that people are able to decide to risk the likely consequences of their actions in whatever market they find themselves. The "free market" in fact does not exist, nor is it likely to, but I can find no good argument it is not an ideal which we should strive for as a society.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
10.12.2006 8:23pm
err (mail):
Something new (well, to me anyways) to throw in the mix.
10.12.2006 8:25pm
davod (mail):
"There are people and institutions knowingly disseminating falsehoods and distortions about global warming. They deserve to be held publicly accountable."

Why then are the proponents of Global Warming not being held publically accountable.
10.12.2006 9:24pm
e:
The new comparison is to those who deny that a passenger plane hit the Pentagon, or that the World Trade Center buildings fell without explosives. No need for neo-nazi motivation, just willingness to buy into the thinnest of arguments in the face of overwhelming evidence. Though I get many of the skeptics' points, it would be silly to expect the climate to not change or to pretend that the current trend might be anything other than warming. Heat-island effects and local anomalies aside the trend is clear. Tougher to show that the human effects matter much or convincing econominds that a clean environment has value.
10.12.2006 10:17pm
MnZ (mail):
Tougher to show that the human effects matter much or convincing econominds that a clean environment has value.


Sure, a clean environment has value...just many other things. The critical public policy question is what the value of what must be given up vs. the value of a cleaner environment.
10.12.2006 11:09pm
MnZ (mail):
Oops...proofread.

Sure, a clean environment has value...just like many other things. The critical public policy question is: what is the value of that which is given up vs. the value of a cleaner environment?
10.12.2006 11:12pm
Ken Arromdee:
Some people deny that these things happened, other people deny that it is proper to refer to these things as an ongoing holocaust.

Holocaust denial does not mean "denying that rabbits are blinded by cosmetic testing", because phrases have meaning other than the literal. It's the same reason that we don't refer to people who bake cakes as "creationists".
10.12.2006 11:15pm
Seerak (mail):
...many so-called "climate change deniers" accept that human activity is contributing to climate change. What they dispute is that such effects are necessarily catastrophic and/or that it makes sense to adopt proposed emission control schemes.

Funny, I'm of the other stripe -- I expect that climate change is happening (it's a dynamic universe, duh!) but the idea that the human input is anything greater than local in effect and negligible on the planetary scale, is tantamount to magical thinking.

I've always found it amusing that a lot of people who like to talk about how "small" they feel that humanity is, when presented with natural grandeur (mountains etc.) seem to think that mankind can overpower a planet and its star when it comes to this one issue.

As for myself, I think we are going to look awfully stupid in 50 years, after we hamstring industry and expand government power even further (now there's something we **know** for a fact kills; out of control government. OF course, that only kills humans to any large degree, so that makes it OK to the enviros, I guess) only to find that the climate just keep on changing with or without us.

We should be focussing on adapting to climate change first; at least that's a given whether we caused it or not.
10.12.2006 11:22pm
Seerak (mail):
Will we be getting a similar post soon on "femi-nazi," "enviro-nazi," and other such terms used by conservatives and libertarians?

The analogy doesn't apply, as the ideological genes common to those movements and the various strains of socialism are readily identifiable. Questioning anthropogenic global warming is one issue, not an ideology.
10.12.2006 11:25pm
Lev:

Now I'm not sure if the following is an urban myth, but I seem to recall that Gore didn't take a college level science course until his senior year and then got a "D."


There may be a link to it, but here it is:

Gore's Grades Belie Image of Studiousness - His School Transcripts are a lot like Bush's
By David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima
Sunday, March 19, 2000
Washington Post


...For all of Gore's later fascination with science and technology, he often struggled academically in those subjects. The political champion of the natural world received that sophomore D in Natual Sciences 6 (Man's Place in Nature) and then got a C plus in Natural Sciences 118 his senior year. The self-proclaimed inventor of the Internet avoided all courses in mathematics and logic throughout college, despite his outstanding score on the math portion of the SAT. As was the case with many of his classmates, his high school mathgrades had dropped from A's to C's as he advanced from trigonometry to calculus his senior year....


Maraniss, 48, joined the staff of the Washington Post in 1977. He won the Pulitzer Prize for national coverage in 1993 for his articles on Clinton's life and political record, written during Clinton's 1992 campaign for the presidency. In 1997, the American Society of Newspaper Editors awarded him the Jesse Laventhol Prize for deadline news reporting.
10.13.2006 4:04am
rosignol (mail):
Why do so many people simply assume that global warming would be bad? Is it a reflexive 'change is bad' thinking, or something else?

The geologic record proves that the climate on this planet has not always been like it is now, and it is foolish to think that the climate on this planet will always be like it is now.

What I do not understand is why so many people think that it is within humanity's power to control the weather, much less significantly influence it. Yeah, we've come a long, long way in the last 10,000 years... but being able to do that is still a very long way off. How can we control something when we don't know how it works, and don't even have a reliable predictive model?
10.13.2006 4:40am
TDPerkins (mail):
Rosignol wrote:

Why do so many people simply assume that global warming would be bad? Is it a reflexive 'change is bad' thinking, or something else?


I think it is two assumptions simultaneously, 1) that humanity is causing a lot of global warming and that 2) that must have bad consequences to outweigh the good ones.

I don't think either assumption is justified.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
10.13.2006 6:45am
A Zarkov (mail):
Lev:

Note that Gore took what seem like survey courses in the natural sciences. Without college-level calculus it's very difficult to grasp the fundamentals of physics. Moreover, how can he appreciate the concepts of uncertainty and randomness without courses in probability and statistics? Would he understand the phrase "sensitive dependence on initial conditions?" Does he understand the difference between weather and climate and why one might be predicable and not the other? It's hard for me to take him seriously. In fact I've never heard Gore (or Bush) make what I would consider an intelligent statement about anything.
10.13.2006 7:15am
exfizz:
M: "...the comparison is with those who deny evolution."
elChato: "...it's far more sensible to compare warming-deniers to those who deny evolution."


I see the two as very different, because the strengths of the truth claims they deny are very different.

Science requires a certain degree of patience.

Evolution: 2500 years of theory; two centuries of hard evidence; half century of really effin' hard evidence; numerous disciplines feeding into and out from it. Reasons to deny evolution include an emotional need to cling to a Bronze Age legend.

Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming: a decade or two of theory. Reasons to request more evidence for the more extreme claims of CAGW include wishing to avoid potentially wasting $Trillions on a mirage. (Y'know, like the previous climate change fad.)

Bottom line: Denying -- no, requesting more evidence for -- CAGW is closer to denying, say, string theory than to denying evolution. Please update analogies accordingly.
10.13.2006 2:40pm
Joshua:
Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming: a decade or two of theory. Reasons to request more evidence for the more extreme claims of CAGW include wishing to avoid potentially wasting $Trillions on a mirage. (Y'know, like the previous climate change fad.)

The problem with waiting for more studies is that if CAGW is for real, a decade or two from now the damage may already be done, and too late to reverse. This is the great, unspoken but ever-present dilemma of the global-warming debate: Act now based on what we know now, and risk wasting exorbitant amounts of time, efforts and resources on a mirage; or wait until we have a better grasp of the problem and risk letting it worsen during that time, perhaps beyond repair?
10.13.2006 7:12pm
exfizz:
Joshua,

Okay, but the same reasoning can be applied to any extravagant claim, e.g. "The troll in my garden shed must be appeased, and the longer we wait to appease him, the angrier he gets, so appease him now!"

(I apologize if that example seems to make light of your comment -- especially since I agree with your statement and I'd welcome an exhaustive rational discussion of the dilemma you correctly identify -- but Troll-Appeasing is the terminus of the ActRightNow™ hyper-precautionary principle that some CAGW True Believers exhibit. The risk, of course, is that other activists/cranks/hustlers over time will feel incented to make ever more dire claims, with ever-shorter time horizons, until we're in a Speed world where numberless Dennis Hoppers keep badgering us to "Think Fast.")

The challenge, then, is how to steer a course that best manages the various risks. That sounds horribly difficult, but structured planning methods exist to help set priorities even in such an emotionally charged and high-stakes environment. Even though I'm moderately skeptical toward CAGW, I could buy into such a method, if the True Believers would agree to abide by it, too.
10.14.2006 1:33am
exfizz:
Per Jonathan's remarkable update, anyone wishing to continue this discussion can write to me c/o Spandau Prison. Looks like you'll be able to reach Jonathan there, too.

Hmmmm. So. You like gardening, Jon? And how 'bout those Indians.
10.14.2006 1:43am
orson23 (mail):
Contrary to the ignorance parading about here, according to the last survey of climate scientists, the "consensus view" is held by no more than two-thirds of all of the relevant scientists - as little as 60%. The rest have a range of views on what's going on in climate and what human responsibility might be,

The latest satellite-based evidence shows some warming in the Northern hemisphere over the past 14 or so years, but none in the Southern. No previous theory of ACW predicted these data points, since CO2 is a well-mixed gas. The possibility arises that perhaps chan ges in human land use (like de-forestation and cultivation) may be a greater cause of climate change than CO2.

IF protecting the Truth of ACW requiries extremist demonization, and we act on it (like with Kyoto), but it "solves" the wrong problem - then where are we? We will be stupid! Yet that's precisely what the purveyors of demonization before the facts are known deserve to be called - stupid. I thank Roger Pielke, Jr for displaying good sense in the face of group think. Such bravery ued to win prize, but no more, not in today's polluted science discourse.
10.14.2006 11:19pm