Weak Minds Think Alike
This article is part of an occasional series exploring the possibility (or rather the necessity) of a sociological analysis of climate catastrophism. Others can be found at
It argues 1) that the key criterion for identifying the social class which has propelled climate catastrophism to centre stage (the green blob; the chattering classes, Guardianistas, the “right on” generation – define them how you will) is university education and 2) an explanation is required of how such a weak (woolly, vague, unconvincing) idea as environmentalism (“we live on a fragile planet”; “we need to recycle/conserve/cycle to work to prevent the sixth great extinction” etc.) has conquered the world. Both ideas I have lifted from the work of Emmanuel Todd, a French historian and demographer I have often referred to in different posts. I’ve added an appendix describing Todd’s work, which is of great interest outside the narrow bounds of an analysis of climate catastrophism.
Belief in climate catastrophism is a social phenomenon, and requires an explanation in terms of the social sciences. There are a number of interesting psychological theories around – in fact every climate sceptic seems to have one. But while a psychological analysis may explain why certain people choose to be environmentalists, it can never explain how environmentalism – and in particular its most acute form, climate catastrophism – came to conquer the world; how, in other words, belief in climate catastrophism managed to attain a critical mass that permitted it to impose itself as a consensus belief, or ideology. Only a sociological explanation can do that. And a sociological explanation must account for a unique event – the rise of climate catastrophism – in terms of unique, or at least rarely repeated, social phenomena.
It’s easy enough to identify the social group which has most fervently adopted the climate catastrophism ideology. It’s the university-educated, upper-middle-class intelligentsia:- metropolitain; left-liberal; more likely to be humanities graduates than scientists; often working in academia, the media, or in related professions involved in the collection and exchange of information of all sorts. The libertarian social theorist Thomas Sowell in his book “Intellectuals and Society” defines “idea workers” as “people whose occupations deal primarily with ideas (writers, historians, academics, etc.) [and who] usually consider themselves as “anointed”, or as endowed with superior intellect or insight with which to guide the masses and those who have authority over them.”[Wiki]
I’ve often mentioned the work of the French historian Emmanuel Todd and its usefulness for understanding the catastrophist phenomenon (though he has never, to my knowledge, mentioned environment policy in his numerous comments on current politics).
One of his major achievements is to have convincingly demonstrated the close correlation between political revolutions and the attainment of universal literacy: in 16th century Germany at the time of the Protestant Reform; in England in the 17th century, announcing the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution; in France in the late 18th and in Russia in the early 20th century. His demonstration that literacy, rather than economic exploitation, is the prime cause of social upheaval destroys a major pillar of Marxism, but it also confirms Marx’s fundamental insight about the importance of class struggle in the evolution of society.
In an aside somewhere on the decline of the French Socialist Party Todd highlights one of the unintended consequences of advances in education. Whereas the attainment of universal literacy naturally reinforces egalitarian tendencies in society – leading, if not always to democracy, at least to nominal respect for the Common Man – the advent of mass tertiary education has the opposite effect.
For most of the 20th century university education was the reserve of a tiny élite, highly concentrated in the professions (law, medicine, academia..) Though they undoubtedly exercised disproportionate influence, as does any élite group, whether in Parliament, in their clubs and learned societies, or in the letter page of the Times, they were too few and isolated to be able to ignore entirely the opinions of their less educated fellow citizens, particularly as the latter included a large number of people (in industry, finance, the armed services, the media, as well as in the organised working class) who were obviously their intellectual equals.
[The late Guardian political correspondent Simon Hoggart recalled arriving at the Guardian in the fifties as one of just two graduates who were allowed in every year, by-passing the union rule that demanded two years’ apprenticeship on a provincial paper before setting foot in Fleet Street. Sixty years on, I transcribed a Greenpeace debate moderated by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, who spent an inordinate amount of time boasting that his ten or eleven environmental journalists all had three or four degrees apiece. Hasn’t he heard that anything above two degrees is dangerous?]
In just over a half a century the percentage of graduates in the twenties age group has risen from a few percent to 20-30%. Graduates in my crusty generation of baby boomers were always conscious of being members of a privileged minority (about 5% in the sixties I believe) and of the fact that the most talented members of our generation (Lennon, Jagger) only entered college to drop out again. Todd points out that when graduates are counted in millions, accounting for 20-30% of an age group, they cease to be a dispersed minority and become an autonomous class, with their own culture and ideology, firmly anchored on the centre left and in the professional classes, but largely transcending traditional social categories. Whether in hippy commune or government-sponsored thinktank, they share a common belief in their superiority to the undiploma-ed masses. They notoriously rule the centre left parties, having all but ousted their traditional working class core, and have, via their control of academia and the media, imposed their ideologies on society at large: (pro-Europeanism and wilful blindness to the effects of uncontrolled immigration at the expense of the working class; militant sexual liberalism at the expense of the feelings of religious minorities; climate catastrophism at the expense of scientific rigour and common sense). Their disdain for the common man was long masked by their leftwing pose, but their reaction to the victory of the Brexit campaign has brought it out in the open. (See for example the emails in Ian Woolley’s recent article).
The idea of an autonomous educated class reversing the trend of several centuries of increasing egalitarianism and unconsciously adopting anti-egalitarian policies (while continuing to declare itself as “of the left”) because of supposed intellectual superiority has tremendous explanatory power, not least in accounting for catastrophic enviro-mentalism. As with many of Todd’s creative perceptions, it is highly speculative, but also scientific, because rooted in empirical data.
Todd has expanded his criticisms of the educated middle class and its epiphenomenon, the French Socialist Party, in a book on the reaction to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015 – “Qui Est Charlie?” (translated as Who is Charlie? Xenophobia and the New Middle Class: Polity Press) which has brought him media notoriety and the detestation of most of the French intelligentsia.
In this book Todd examines the relative strength of the turnout at the huge public demonstrations in sympathy with the families of the murdered journalists, in favour of Charlie, and in defence of its right to publish blasphemous cartoons mocking Mohammed. He discovered that turnout was highest, not in the centre and south of France characterised by an egalitarian family structure – the part of France which instigated the French Revolution and has voted left for two centuries – but on the East and West peripheries, characterised by an inegalitarian family structure and a continuation of an anti-republican Catholic tradition into the mid-twentieth century. He had already established in a recent cartographic study of French voting patterns that support for the Socialist Party had migrated in recent decades from the egalitarian Paris basin and Mediterranean coast to the ex-Catholic strongholds of the Atlantic coast and German border. This led him to posit the existence of a socio-political force he labelled “Zombie Catholicism”. As Catholic belief collapsed in the mid-twentieth century, ex-believers sought refuge in the Socialist Party, which shared some of the characteristics of the church they had so recently deserted (a universalist ethic, belief in social justice, internationalism…) This movement changed the nature of the Socialist Party, effacing its egalitarian principles and links with the urban working class, and raising pan-Europeanism and worship of the Euro to the status of an ideology.
Todd places himself on the centre left, but is a wicked critic of the ruling Socialist Party, President Hollande, and the chattering classes in general, who have betrayed a two hundred-year-old tradition of radical middle class activism in ignoring the suffering imposed on the working classes by austerity and endemic mass unemployment provoked by economic liberalism and the economic nonsense of the single currency. Add climate catastrophism to the list of ingredients of the blinkered dominant ideology and you have an excellent framework for analysing what’s wrong with the modern developed world.
Qui Est Charlie? was largely written off in the French media as a bilious anti-Hollande pamphlet. In fact it is a densely written sociological thesis, as are all his books. And it introduces one new theoretical concept which seems particularly apposite to the analysis of climate catastrophism: the explanation of how a weak affect arising from an unconscious social structure can be transformed into a strong social force.
After accusing the socialist governments since 1983 of having pursued economic policies which penalise the working class and maintain the immigrant minority in a state of apartheid which the socialists then accuse certain immigrants of maintaining in the name of “communitarianism”, Todd then proposes the following explanation of what seems to be a contradiction in his thesis: (The translation is mine, and sometimes deviates from the literal in the interest of transmitting its polemical flavour)
P178: The Insignificance of the Actors and the Violence of their Ideologies
“I’m very conscious of the fact that the anthropological model proposed above is difficult to accept…The interpretation which I have given suggests, not only an extreme violence and an immense hypocrisy on the part of the people involved, but also a high level of conviction, of determination and of strength.
“It’s easy to imagine such characteristics in the case of far right politicians; or Moslem fundamentalists, or militant atheists, but how can you explain them in the case of people who place themselves on the centre left? The President of the Republic for example, is someone easy-going, insignificant, “an ordinary bloke”, according to his own description.
“The socialists are moderate in all things. Our thesis seems to be incompatible with the reality of a bunch of big girls’ blouses who believe in nothing very much, an army of militant softies. How to explain how such weak tendencies towards differentiation and inegalitarianism can result at the level of society at large, in a stubbornness of such a rare violence?”
Todd goes on to suggest that weakly held beliefs (such as the fundamentally inegalitarian world view unconsciously held by recently converted socialists emanating from a “Catholic Zombie” background) are particuarly prone to being transmitted in the holders’ milieu by a kind of mimetism: the weaker, the vaguer the idea, the more easily it can be adopted by the surrounding milieu. And Todd cites his personal experience of being able, in one-to-one conversation, to persuade a pro-European that current EU policies can only lead to the sacrifice of Southern European countries on the altar of a German ideal of economic rigour. But once the conversation terminated, the interlocutors revert to their (firmly held, because socially determined) belief in the importance of maintaining the Euro at any price, suppressing political dissent in recalcitrant countries, etc.
Here is a sociological model that seems to apply perfectly to the case of climate catastrophism. Who has not had a conversation in which he has seemingly persuaded his interlocutor that global temperature measures are not all they’re cracked up to be; that maybe some environmentalists exaggerate a little; that scientists are not saints; that windpower and electric cars are rubbish: only to find at the end of the conversation the interlocutor activating the kind of spring mechanism that rewinds the cord on your vacuum cleaner and retracting all the admissions he’s made in order to revert to the position of faithful Guardian reader he assumed at the outset?
And who, among those of you who place sceptical comments at warmist articles (and Gaia bless you for your efforts) has not been astonished at the pathetic nature of the opposition? I’m thinking of a couple of articles at the New Statesman (a once great journal that boasted Bertrand Russell and George Orwell among its contributors) by Brian Cox and Naomi Klein. These are mega stars in the intellectual firmament, yet their pro-catastrophe articles provoked opposition from maybe a half dozen of us sceptics, and we found ourselves opposed, not by 97% of the intellectual world, but by a handful of peabrained greenies who couldn’t reason or form proper sentences. Environmentalism, like Gravity, is a weak force which appears to govern the universe – until a stronger force opposes it. (Neither Klein nor Cox have been back, and the Statesman has now suppressed all comments on its articles).
It does seem a bit cheeky to accuse the likes of Sir Paul Nurse and Professor Brian Cox of mimetism, as if they were some kind of rather unimaginative reptile, but – frankly – has anyone got a better explanation?
Appendix: More on Todd’s Sociological System
Emmanuel Todd is by profession a demographer, though he describes himself as a historian of long-term trends, and he is as at home using the tools of American economists or German sociologists as quoting the French Annales school of historians (which includes Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, author of a massive History of Climate).
His entire system is based on the idea, at once simple and radical, that certain long-term tendencies of history, such as political ideologies, are largely determined by the details of family structure (inheritance patterns, numbers of generations living under one roof, acceptance or not of marriage between cousins, etc.) These family structures, once rigidly imposed by custom at the level of nation, tribe, or even village, continue to exist unconsciously in the minds of inhabitants even after they have been effaced in reality by migration, technological advance, and all the contingencies of a fast changing and convergent society. While working on his doctorate at Cambridge on family structure in different peasant societies in Europe he was struck by the similarities in family structure in Russia, Vietnam, and China, but also in Tuscany, southern Portugal and Kerala province in India. The communist vote in Kerala has been around 30%, and until quite recently Florence had a communist mayor. The fishermen of Kerala and the handbag manufacturers of Florence are about as far as you can get from an exploited urban proletariat, but no political scientist, Marxist or otherwise, has ever bothered to try and explain this flagrant contradiction. Todd explained it, and was politely ignored.
Todd’s position in French intellectual circles is a strange one. He achieved some notoriety back in 1976 at the age of 26 with a short book predicting the downfall of the Soviet Union. His analysis was based, not on the political science of professional Kremlin watchers, but on first hand observation of life in Budapest and analysis of the meagre statistics available. Demographic data are difficult to falsify, since everyone has to be born and die sometime and somehow, and Todd noted that infant mortality, which had steadily declined, even in the worst days of Stalinism, had begun to rise under Brezhnev. To a demographer, an inability to keep newborn babies alive suggests a society in a very bad way, if not on the brink of collapse.
It was thirteen years before Todd’s prediction was verified, and in the meantime he embarked on a lifetime’s work analysing the relation between family structure, literacy, and political development. His fundamental discovery that the great political movements of the past five centuries years can be largely explained empirically in terms of family structure and the advent of mass literacy is one of the great advances in the social sciences of the past century, comparable to Freud’s discovery of the unconscious and the importance of infantile sexuality. Freud’s discoveries were ignored at first, but, twenty years after their publication, they were eagerly discussed by intellectuals all over the world – by poets and philosophers as well as by doctors and academics. Todd’s principal ideas were published thirty years ago, and achieved a certain amount of media notoriety in France, but were never, as far as I know, seriously analysed by his peers. The French have never liked empiricism backed up by statistics, preferring their ideas woolly and unverifiable. But his books have nearly all been translated into English. In the 1920s every poet, painter and parson in the Western world was aware of the ideas of Marx and Freud. Today’s cultural élite is more likely to be going on a European Union-sponsored trip to Greenland to look at glaciers than be reading books. It is a frightening reflection on the state of our intellectual life that profoundly original ideas such a Todd’s can be published, verified by correct predictions, and then politely ignored.
Only with the publication of the polemical Qui Est Charlie? did intellectuals start to take notice of Todd’s theories of the deep anthropological structure of our political and ideological beliefs, and that was usually to vilify him as a reactionary and a closet racist.
I hope this article will have demonstrated that there is more to social science than the mendacious pseudo-science of a Royal Society laureate like Stephan Lewandowsky. Todd, ex-member of the French Communist Party, successfully predicted the downfall of the Soviet Union. While proclaiming himself a supporter of the centre left, he has provided a devastating analysis of the failure of the French Socialist Party. His theoretical models, when applied to the rise of climate catastrophism, can provide fresh insights. They can be invalidated empirically. In other words they are scientific – something rare in the social sciences.
Interesting post. Talk of the “social sciences” leaves me feeling distinctly chilly and I still cannot fully grasp how a commune of people labouring individually under the prescriptive diktats of a ‘personal psychology’ – which nonetheless must arise at least partly via a distinctly common biological/cultural heritage – translates into workable ‘social science theory’. “Society” seems to me to be one of the most highly overrated, rigorously fabricated and uniquely intangible aspects of modern day living. Let’s face it, any structure which can seamlessly accommodate such disparate transient and totally banal features as say, a craze for avocado bathroom suites and Hessian wallpaper, or the up-to-the-minute Pokemon Go (whatever that is) craze, must itself invite a certain amount of scepticism as to its vital function in terms of guiding and providing valid expression for communal human behaviour. To me, it just seems to be more and more a conduit for the communally acquired banal and an expression of the march towards an egalitarian idiocracy.
Which brings me nicely onto the conversion of the polytechnics to “technical universities” in 1992. This is what sparked mass higher education in the UK to ultimately create the burgeoning ‘university educated (indoctrinated) social class’ which we see today. Higher education has become a predominant leftwing leveller-type idiocracy where quantity lauds it over quality and where substance takes a back seat to the burning quest to elevate the insubstantial and intangible; where data and facts are often anathema to self-serving dogmatic ideologies, propagandized memes and collectively inherited politically correct soundbites.
The physical sciences, inevitably, would begin to be eroded in such a toxic tertiary environment and we see the fruits of that decay very clearly in ‘climate science’, which has virtually become a byword for climate catastrophism. I quote from a very recent Heartland Institute article:
“Unfortunately, the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s definition of climate science literacy raises the question of whether climatology is even a science. It defines climate science literacy as “an understanding of your influence on climate and climate’s influence on you and society.
How can students understand and put into perspective their influence on the Earth’s climate if they don’t understand the myriad of processes that affect our climate—or understand the complexity of climate itself? And if they don’t understand these processes, how can they possibly comprehend how climate influences them and society in general?”
It’s not much different here in the UK. Lamentable. Will Brexit stop the rot? I have no idea.
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There is a very long report by some climate-evangelists at Yale called Global Warming’s Six Americas that divides people into the six groups: Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, Dismissive (academics in this field seem to enjoy being divisive).
It discusses demographics on p 24, p 35 and in the table of numbers on p 120. Apparently The Alarmed are “more likely to be women, older middle-aged (55-64 years old), college educated, and upper income, and hold relatively strong egalitarian values, favoring government intervention to assure the basic needs of all people”. So that fits with your argument. But interestingly, The Dismissive are also more likely than average to have a college degree.
Geoff, thanks for the excellent article. IMO, it is my impression, at least in Canada, that the university-educated class is disproportionately employed in the public sector or tax supported sectors (health, education, civil service, environmental regulation, public or tax-subsidized media) or compliance with government regulations. They are more likely to benefit from a wealthier government than private sector workers in factories, mines, restaurants etc.
Quite aside from Toddian concepts, it seems to me that there is a “class interest” (in a Marxist sense) in which public sector employees have a class interest that is not the same as the class interest of private sector employees. The stronger support of climate catastrophism by those supportive of the public-sector class seems to be connected.
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Catastrophism is as built into our psyche. Not only do we all indulge in it from time to time, we actually enjoy it. Some use it very effectively for their advancement. It’s part of the toolkit for creating societies. Religion is entwined with it. Religions are born from the need to impose rules that are not necessarily memorable or believable. They evolved to teach and guide but without real explanation. CAGW seeks to do the same but with a more knowing and cynical populous it’s doomed for failure. Worse, it pushes co-operation further into the future and damages public trust.
In some ways the lack of meaningful thought about how they proceed over AGW is indicative that few think it’s really a problem. To most, it’s as fantastical as Friday the 13th and walking under ladder. So long as it costs them very little they play at believing but when real worries intrude, they conveniently forget about it.
The work of people like Dr Lew suffers from their totally one sided view of what’s right or wrong. They appear to have no conception or interest in why AGW might be exaggerated. For them it’s a tool to make the word a ‘better place’ so no matter how wrong. It’s right. They have no appreciation for how fossil fuels have genuinely made the world better and that there isn’t a handy alternative.
The tried and tested ways for forging society need to change because we have changed. Catastrophism is one of the old tools. Brexit is proof that it’s failing. The political elite were mystified by the Brexit. It rewrote the political divide. It demonstrated that people are chosing sides based on their own ideas, not parroting that of their ‘betters’.
As an aside – one of the tools that warmists try to use is by fielding a green celeb and getting them to call on their admirers to follow suit. I’ve even read of instances where people wonder which right wing figure would sway right wing supporters in the same way. I couldn’t decide if it was just me, right wingers or people in general who don’t respond in that way. When a celeb I like supports something I dislike, I don’t think better of the issue, I think worse of the person. I think Brexit proves that it doesn’t work with either side of politics.
Emmanuel Todd’s prediction of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1976 means he was a year ahead of Bernard Levin’s Most Accurate Prediction in History, which I first learned about from the astounded (and clueless) Soviet scholars of the National Interest writing sixteen years later. Levin did, remarkably, suggest the year 1989 and the rise of a Gorby-like figure, to be fair. I wonder if the two ever met.
“I still cannot fully grasp how a commune of people labouring individually under the prescriptive diktats of a ‘personal psychology’… translates into workable ‘social science theory’. “Society” seems to me to be one of the most highly overrated, rigorously fabricated and uniquely intangible aspects of modern day living.”
Don’t try to grasp it. That’s not how it works. Sociology rejects all such reductionism. That’s why Lewandowsky and his kind are so wrong. Even if we were all raving moon landing deniers he’d still be wrong. There’s no necessary causal link between personal psychology and social movements, any more than there’s a causal link between a taste for hessian wallpaper and voting Liberal Democrat.
Your examples of the uniquely intangible aspects of modern day living are just the sort of thing that a creative sociology might attempt to explain. Alas, there’s kudos, and more loot, in the form of Royal Society handouts, to be had cheerleading for the latest fad of the intelligentsia.
It wasn’t always so. Max Weber, when he wasn’t analysing the Protestant work ethic, also had a go at explaining the emancipation of the pianoforte as a middle class instrument. Forget respectable matrons swooning over Chopin and Lizt. It’s all about having a manufacturing base capable of fashioning the iron frames, and apartments with floors capable of supporting them (the frames, not the matrons).
The separate class interest of public sector workers is certainly evident here in France, where government workers of all kinds, from train drivers to top civil servants, still enjoy a certain status which sets them apart and anchors them firmly on the left. I think things are much more blurred in the UK, due to privatisation and the general widening of the income gap. It’s been a while since a British postman, for example, has felt any benefit from a wealthier government.
Your example, and the profiles mentioned by Paul Matthews above, do suggest that the definition of the class nature of the believer/sceptical divide could be refined, possibly indefinitely. The interest of the educational criterion is that it is fixed for life (except for a small percentage of late developers, like John Cook). This is clearly not true of age, or even social class. And it explains the disdain felt by believers (in Europe or climate catastrophism) for the non-believer.
Your article gives many thoughtful points. However, I think the title “Weak Minds Think Alike” is not quite appropriate. The problem of the Centre-Left University-educated intellectuals is not that they are stupid, or do not think, but in their points of reference. For Todd there is a strong empirical base to his theories. For the Centre-Left Intellectuals much greater emphasis is given to the collective opinion of others. Climate “Science” is an extreme version of the differences in approach. To the pure empiricist, Cook’s 97% consensus amongst academics for some sort of relationship to is not just irrelevant to predicted climate catastrophism, it is a perversion of empirically-based science. For the Centre-Left Intellectuals it is confirmation that their personal outlook and that of their immediate peers is widespread. There are two quite different dangers of the Intellectual approach.
The first is with the key data for climate change – the surface temperature data sets – is based on averaging spatially different data stations from temperature stations that have superficially quite different trends. Anomalous data can be rejected/adjusted both for measurement biases (instrumental or siting biases) and for real world reasons (e.g. mountainous areas dividing two climate types). Repetitive adjustments of adjusted data by those with a pre-conceived idea of how the data ought to look will lead to increased conformity to those perceptions with each adjustment cycle.
The second is with climate change policy. The correct policy is that which a consensus of experts believes, derived from modelled forecasts based on expert assumptions. There is no learning from experience; nor actually adding up the proposals to see if they achieve the objective of reducing global GHG emissions; nor looking at the unintended consequences of policy; nor measuring policy outturns against the original objectives. It is the collective opinion that is primary and experience is either accommodated or ignored.
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MANICBEANCOUNTER (20 Jul 16 at 10:55 pm)
You’re absolutely right that my title is misleading; it’s not the minds that are weak, but the ideas. I can never resist a silly title.
I intend to explore further this concept of weak ideas, and try to define it in such a way as to remove the pejorative connotation. Todd came up with it in order to resolve a specific mystery, namely: how did it happen that a group of people (the educated élite of centre left or centre right) who are so manifestly kind, reasonable and anti-extremist in every way, came up with an idea (the Euro) which is so obviously extreme in its effects (mass youth unemployment, servitude of the countries of Southern Europe, incitement of a far right reaction..) and cling to it with such fervour?
It seems to me that precisely the same mystery hangs over the climate debate. Environmentalists are almost by definition concerned, compassionate, nice people. How did they come to propulse into leadership positions the likes of Mann and Lewandowsky? Why do they persist in theories which are evidently false and policies which are counterproductive? Why the obsession with consensus and the determination to crush the 3%?
I had a look at environmentalism as a weak idea in a discussion I had with Dr Adam Corner at
and continued at
where I analysed the concept of the New Ecological Paradigm first put forward by Dunlap and Van Leire in 1978. Getting 80% of people to agree that “we live on a fragile planet” or that “humans are seriously abusing the environment” seems to me a perfect example of the spread of a weak idea. The fact that these obscure authors aim to do nothing less than overturn the dominant social paradigm (Capitalism? Humanism? The Enlightenment? – they don’t say) is in itself evidence of the apparent force – and danger – of weak ideas.
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How about ‘Weak Minds are the Perfect Receptacle for Weak Ideas’? I’m of the opinion that a strong mind is an independent mind; thus a majority of perhaps not technically stupid or thick University types are, nonetheless, infected by groupthink to such an extent that we can assign the label ‘weak’ to their overall intellectual faculties.
I’m even less generous when it comes to an examination of their supposedly noble motives. Geoff says:
“Environmentalists are almost by definition concerned, compassionate, nice people.”
This definition is about 20 or even 30 years out of date. Very, very few modern so called ‘environmentalists’ fit this description. Indeed, many are among the least compassionate, small minded, egotistical, unconcerned people you may care to meet.
Even the weakest of ideas – as long as they possess the necessary ‘wow’ factor (climate catastrophism being the obvious example) can cement together entire communities of weak minds who, collectively, can then project a very powerful and extraordinarily resilient ideology onto the human sphere. Nothing bypasses natural humanity, reason, logic, compassion, quite like an all-encompassing powerful ideology, where such qualities are suppressed within the individual, but presumed inherent within the main ideological framework, therefore ennobled by proxy, preserved for ‘the greater good’.
Your last paragraph expresses exactly what Todd is getting at. You’re obviously a born sociologist. 😉
I’m still intrigued by the hessian wallpaper. It was in fashion among my sort of people back in the sixties. Has it come back? Or did it never go away? Cats love it, for all the wrong reasons.
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I used to know someone who lived in the middle of nowhere who still had Hessian wallpaper as a relic from the 70s and I still remember the story of the hippy cat lover who would stick his cat on a nearby convenient wall whilst he lit up a joint!
Check out the “Social Construction of A Quasi-Reality”,
Original Paper at http://multi-science.metapress.com/content/v84152h64m5r36t5/
GLOBAL WARMING: THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF A QUASI-REALITY?
Journal Energy & Environment, Volume 18, Number 6 / November 2007 Pages 805-813
It looks at the work of the Tyndall Centre, founded by Professor Mike Hulme in 2000 which has now evolved into one of the foremost “scaremonger” institutions:
“The socio-psychological mechanisms at work were skilfully identified in …Tyndall working paper 58 ‘The Social Simulation of the Public Perception of Weather Events and their Effect upon the Development of Belief in Anthropogenic Climate Change’
The paper is described as ‘presenting a quantitative dynamic simulation model of the social construction of a quasi-reality, a reality thus far defined by expert knowledge and surrounded by uncertainty.’
“…forces act to maintain or denounce a perceived reality, which has already been constructed. That is, an issue introduced by science (or media for that matter) needs continual expression of confirmation if it is to be maintained as an issue. How do people make sense or construct a reality of something that they can never experience in its totality (climate) and a reality that has not yet manifested (i.e. climate change)?”
The most telling observation concerns the language used to describe the concept of global warming.
They note that if the term ‘global warming’ is used, only positive temperature anomalies will be seen as indicating change, whereas if ‘climate change’ is used then both positive and negative anomalies can be seen as indicators of change.
It is proposed that where climate change is the term used in preference to global warming, that unseasonably cold temperatures should also be interpreted as a sign of global warming.”
[They really said that – Working Paper 58, Dennis Bray and Simon Shackley, (September 2004. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research].
Also of interest, “We are thinking the wrong thoughts”
“Those of who have long been in denial about the realities of global warming and the credibility of the IPCC, can now feel relieved, there may be hope for us yet. The diagnosis has been made; we have a psychological problem, which so far has failed to respond to the millions upon millions of dollars spent in “communicating” climate change to the masses.”
And also, a follow-on:
“We are not thinking the Wrong Thoughts, We just Don’t Know How To Think The Right Thoughts”
In what sense is environmentalism a weak idea? Protecting the environment one lives in is not limited to a few woolly liberals, but has wide appeal in modern society and others. It is a powerful instinct. That it conflicts with personal greed (something you’d perhaps consider a strong idea) is a feature not a bug.
Geoff explains what he means by “weak” in the first paragraph in italics: (woolly, vague, unconvincing). See also the links in his 6.27am comment to his discussion of the fuzzy touchy-feely NEP questions.
Perhaps, even, your statement that it is a powerful instinct with wide appeal fits with why he calls it a weak idea.
Okay, perhaps I’ll rephrase that as, why is protecting the environment one lives in woolly, vague or unconvincing? Earlier civilizations didn’t think it was vague to live with nature not against it, they were convinced that it was in their interests. Is it just modern technology that makes you (Geoff, Paul, anyone) doubt that or do you think they were wrong?
I think it’s the quality of the argument and the case being made that’s weak – but it’s Geoff’s point so I’ll leave it to him to comment further.
“Earlier civilizations didn’t think it was vague to live with nature.” Raff.
That’s a good example of woolly thinking. Earlier civilisations didn’t live with nature, the dominated it. It was their smaller numbers and relatively primitive practices that made the difference.
Maybe I just have a romantic idea of aboriginal peoples of the US and Australia living in balance or even “harmony” with nature. You are the expert and I guess you’ll tell me that is wrong.
But you cannot be saying that modern environmentalists are the first in history to be concerned about to attempt to protect the (or their) environment, as that would be stupid. So maybe the thesis is just that those who do campaign for the environment were always in the minority but that these days they have have more influence – it is sorrow on your part for a loss of power.
One of the environmentalist mantras is the Tropical Rain Forest and that it is essential to the survival of the planet. Professor Philip Stott still has some material on the web, particularly this one:
“Anti-Ecohype, a Cure for Ecochondria” – http://www.probiotech.fsnet.co.uk/trf.html
“At the end of the last ice age, only some 12-18000 years ago, the tropics were covered by seasonal savannah grasslands, cooler and much drier than now. There were no rain forests in the Malay Peninsula and much of Amazonia, and, despite the increasing human development of forested space, there are still more rain forests persisting, than existed then.
As in Europe and North America, the forests came and went as climate changed; there is no Clementsian “long period of control” under one climate. Beneath many rain forests, there are sheets of ash, a testimony in the soil to past fires and non-forested landscapes.
The whole farrago of scientific gobbledegook becomes painfully obvious in the control myths of the rain forest as ‘the lungs of the world* and as ‘the carbon sinks of the Earth.”
In “Jungles of the Mind”, http://www.historytoday.com/philip-stott/jungles-mind-invention-tropical-rain-forest, he says:
“The idea of ‘tropical rain forest’ had to be created in the European mind before it could be seen on the ground. The term itself was invented in 1898, although the idea had been prefigured in the writings of the German naturalist and polymath, Alexander von Humboldt (17691859). As the historian David Arnold argues, Humboldt, through his Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the Americas (1824-25), ‘helped invent the tropics both as a field for systematic scientific enquiry and a realm of aesthetic appreciation’. However, it would take nearly a century before his ‘Romantic belief in the fundamental unity of the natural world’ (the Cosmos) and his ideas of ‘organic richness’ would give rise to the tropischer Regenwald, ‘tropical rain forest’, proper.”
I share your romantic notions of Aborigines, Native Americans and other tribal peoples who it seems generally did live in harmony with nature. They certainly respected and understood the natural world a lot more than your average modern day citizen. But tribal peoples don’t really qualify as ‘early civilisations’. The rise of ‘civilised’, settled, agrarian societies heralded the gradual loss of an intimate connection with nature within the populace.
Most of our long ago ancestors were in harmony with nature in that they predated on a much larger population of plants and animals. They ate animals and wore their skins and feathers. What’s changed is the numbers. We’d wipe out the natural world even faster if we went back to the old ways. You can pretend that the problem is modern humans but it’s just humans full stop. We’ve even added modern medicine and sanitation to the mix, which makes us even more out of kilter with nature. But who’d suggest genocide or an end to medicine? The alternative to modern farming is mass starvation. Does that appeal to you? Did natives poop in the woods like the bears? What if your entire town tried that more ‘natural’ solution?
Nobody is suggesting we don’t try to protect the environment but current proposals are not working and aren’t likely to. They’re minutely reducing the total CO2 by indulging in damaging, ineffective renewables. That’s like peeing on a forest fire and saying the third degree genital burns are worth the attempt. Woolly thinking. Worse, genuine and solvable environmental issues are being sidelined so that CO2 is king. I don’t know about you but I don’t throw my money away on stuff I know doesn’t work. I either keep looking for a solution or save my money to mitigate the problem later.
The CO2 issue has become entwined with the redistribution of wealth plan, which is a great way to ensure failure. It’s the increased wealth of the masses that has led to increased CO2, not the enrichment of oil execs. But that’s another of those wooly issues that you can’t get to grips with. To reduce CO2 would take a massive change in society and acceptance of the way humans really think, not how Dr Lew paints them. Catastrophism doesn’t mobilise the masses any more.
The only thing the environmentalists have achieved is the death of a lot of birds and bats and a lot of wasted air miles and money. Does that count as more influence? Should I be happy about it?
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It’s worth noting that native Americans and Australians almost certainly had a hand in the extiction of the megafauna in their areas. In harmony… some of the time.
Protecting the environment requires wealth, great gobs of it, which is why only wealthy societies can do it.
Aboriginals and other nomads don`t have to bother about the environment, because as soon as they and their flocks have fouled things up, they move on and let nature do the clean-up. However, as soon as those nomads settle down into farming communities and villages, the local water supply usually gets fouled, which is why water-borne diseases such as cholera were a scourge in previous centuries. This situation only changed when societies, such as the Romans, created sufficient wealth to be able to build sewage systems and pipe in water from distant places.
Later on, industrial civilizations created, and still do create, massive pollution, which their descendants have to clean up. I remember the Thames in London in the 1950`s which was a lifeless sewer so polluted that if you fell in you were automatically taken to an isolation hospital and locked in for a couple of weeks. Nowadays you can fish in it. This didn`t happen without vast expenditure. China and India are in much the same state that Britain was in during its industrial revolution, and hopefully they will clean up their environments in a few decades from now.
In short, protecting the environment means more than being BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything). It mostly means cleaning up after the event. Most environmentalists want their iPhones and cars and fridges, yet don`t seem to realise that in order to manufacture them we have to dig large holes in the ground to get the minerals and then smelt them in messy furnaces. It requires great wealth and the political will to spend that wealth to clean things up, but it can be done. Take a look at the Rhondda Valley in South Wales now and compare it with fifty years ago.
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RAFF (21 Jul 16 at 3:43 pm)
“Protecting the environment one lives in is not limited to a few woolly liberals, but has wide appeal in modern society and others. It is a powerful instinct.”
I don’t think instinct is the right word. It’s a powerful idea, which is exactly my point. Dunlap and van Leire found 80-90% agreement with many of the propositions that defined their New Ecological paradigm, so it’s certainly not an idea limited to woolly liberals.
What we can say about the defining propositions of environmentalism is that
1) they command wide acceptance, and
2) They’re extremely imprecise.
In this they are quite unlike the ideas expressed by the founders of environmentalism, e.g. Darwin who devoted a lot of time and effort examining individual cases (gooseberries and pigeons were among his favourites) before coming to any conclusions.
That’s not how science works now. E.O. Wilson opined in the seventies that species were disappearing a thousand or ten thousand times faster than pre-Anthropocene, and biologists have been trying to prove him right ever since, by e.g. comparing loss of genera of molluscs a hundred million years ago with loss of species of vertebra in the age of exploration. Apples and oranges? Or pigeons and gooseberries?
Dunlap and van Leire obviously realised that detailed discussion of fossil molluscs or the reasons for the differences among varieties of pigeon was not going to provoke the paradigm shift they were looking for, while “humans are seriously abusing the environment” would do the trick. It’s a weak idea, but a good one.
As I said above, I’d like to develop the idea of weak ideas further. One possibility would be to define weak ideas by their observed characteristics, e.g. their ability to spread without taking root. A weak idea is immiscible, like oil on water. It spreads, is everywhere, and then is broken down and disappears. Almost all the people I know believe in dangerous global warming. Not one of them has ever heard of NOAA, GISS, HADCRUT; UAH, IPCC AR5, let alone looked at a graph emanating from one of these bodies. I’m talking about people with PhDs or equivalent. They believe the way a mediaeval peasant believed. “God is love.” “You will burn in hell if you don’t worship Him.” These are powerful ideas, almost totally without meaning.
Another approach would be a linguistic analysis of the core concepts of environmentalism. “We live on a fragile planet” or “humans are seriously abusing the environment” are sentences with a deceptively simple structure masking a complex moral core. It would be fun to conduct surveys testing different sentence structures for their ability to provoke assent, independently of their meaning, e.g.: “Sokalism is a threat to national unity” or “Falafelists should be banned from government employment”.
We’ve seen serious people fighting elections on a programme of fighting climate change. Why not on a programme of fighting falafelism?
Some people consider it gauche or even a bit evil to ask into the details of social/charitable work, especially if it’s funded by governments. It’s taboo to wonder if an issue deserves support or even if the money is well spent. To them, AGW cannot be questioned and therefore, why would you care about the details? The assumption is that the magic government money trees will pay and they in turn will make oil companies pay. Their own contribution to the social fund is not onerous, so they see no reason why the problems should not be solved. No arguments sought or accepted.
This attitude means that they’ve turned a blind eye to the clear failure of the solutions. If climate science is complicated, energy supply isn’t but still they’re blind to it. To question any part of the green blob is equivalent to hating the environment – look at Raff’s predictable misdirections. Isn’t it sad that people don’t care enough about issues to want to be effective in solving them? Personally I think an important part of caring about something is to ensure value for money and that actions are not wasted.
‘Only a sociological explanation can do that’
How about a technological explanation?
Mass communication around the globe for almost nothing and computer modeling.
The whole farrago is underpinned by climate change models which seem to have taken on the status of a Delphic Oracle. Never believe anything that came out of a computer unless you can check it independently and CC models do not fall into that category. Even the simplest computer models are capable of producing ‘chaos’ in a mathematical sense (Mandlebrot sets). The bigger and more non-linear the models, the more likely they are to be unstable with multiple solutions. Yet, a scientist will say, “My computer model says … ” and we are all supposed to bow down and believe.
Cheap mass communication allows small, active minorities to blow themselves up out of all proportion to their importance, whilst the rest of the world gets on with their daily lives. I could develop the theme but I desist.
Geoff, the thing about “humans are seriously abusing the environment” is that it is so clearly a true and powerful message. It is even invoked (“wind turbines killing of birds and bats”)by climate science skeptics.
Was Darwin was a founder of environmentalism? It seems an odd idea.
“That’s not how science works now.”
Er, what? On what do you base your opinion on how science (you know, physics, chemistry, biology, genetics, etc) works? Not personal experience, I believe, or am I wrong?
Tiny, “…genuine and solvable environmental issues are being sidelined so that CO2 is king”. Such as? I mean there are always issues that could use more money or attention, but can you show that they don’t get it because of action against climate change?
“They believe the way a mediaeval peasant believed.”
No, they believe in science because it has, over the last few centuries, delivered things that would be unbelievable to mediaeval peasants (whose belief, if it was such, was based on fear and superstition).
Tiny: “genuine and solvable environmental issues are being sidelined so that CO2 is king”. Such as?
Raff, why does climate change get the blame for migrating diseases and parasites when poor bio security or health care is to blame? So that nobody has to do anything about it.
Why did the number of diesel cars go up? Why are we still running older coal stations instead of new coal or gas? Why are we burning food as fuel, which in turn means more land must be farmed and more forest burnt. Why are we nagging China over CO2 rather than particulates? Why are we exporting industry to countries with poorer environmental controls? Why are we taking out good farm land for solar panels? Why are we risking a massive environmental disaster by trying to barrage a major river system for tidal power? Why have we torn up hillsides and sea beds to put in bases, roads and cables for wind power? Why are we burning forests for power? Why are we encouraging countries not to industrialise, thereby endangering both the environment from over population and the people from primitive conditions (eg dung fires, poor sanitation). I could go on.
Tiny, those aren’t areas that are sidelined. Rather they are problems created. I don’t suppose many environmentalists find them desirable.
Read the list again Raff. Most, if not all existed before AGW scares and many could have been improved, rather than allowed get worse or even made to deteriorate because of poor choices. How many countries are using Western induced AGW to excuse doing very little about locally induced environmental problems? Some countries have a long history blaming all their problems on others, AGW is a bottomless pit of buck passing. We’d not be relying on aging power stations and emergency diesel engines this winter if particulates were the number one priority. Environmentalism waters down success by adding more and (often contradictory) goals. The grown up response to being asked to choose between two plans is not to say ‘both’. Which is more important CO2 reduction or poverty reduction? The two are not compatible at this time.
Money to solve problems is not limitless. The support of business and the public has boundaries. The more issues you try to solve, the less success you’ll see in each. So just by adding CO2 to the utopian wish list, all the other items get less support. That is a simple concept.
“why does climate change get the blame for migrating diseases and parasites when poor bio security or health care is to blame? So that nobody has to do anything about it.”
Except it doesn’t. Like the other things you mentioned, disease and parasite migration is complex. But you see it only through a lens of climate change.
Picking up on TinyCO2’s points 6.55pm and later – one of the myths about climate sceptics is that they don’t care about the environment. This will be the subject of a future post. It’s an example of the weak, sloppy thinking of climate activists to jump to this conclusion from a criticism of carbon catastrophism. See for example this list which has several environmentalist climate sceptics.
“Worse, genuine and solvable environmental issues are being sidelined so that CO2 is king.” As well as the examples Tiny cites, where ‘climate action’ directly damages the environment (wind farms, biofuels, diesel cars…) there are many other issues that have dropped off the radar because of the CO2 hysteria. See ecologist Daniel Botkin’s testimony to the Science Committee, page 9.
Raff, did you not understand the concept of there being a limit to funds and man power for governmental plans? If you spend the money on A, it’s not availlable for plan B or the rest of the alphabet. If you impact on your tax revenue stream (eg oil tax), that money falls even further. When countries get together to try and solve international issues, there is a limited amount of time and good will. If you’re asking favours over AGW, you can’t ask as much about humanitarian issues or other forms of environmental or ecological damage.
To bring it down to a human level – the people who are often most successful are those who are very single minded. They concentrate on a few goals, not start a new one every week. What typifies the least successful are those who just sit around talking about how others are preventing them for succeeding. Which sums up warmists.
Great example Paul, do you think his expert testimony will make an impression on Raff?
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Admittedly, I’m no investigative journalist, but try getting some idea of how much WWF spends on promoting action on climate change and its dream of a carbon free ‘sustainable’ future in comparison to traditional wildlife conservation – it’s next to impossible. Even Christopher Booker doesn’t seem to have penetrated to the nitty-gritty of how much WWF capital is actually sourced via climate change funding and how much WWF actually spends on climate activism in comparison to straightforward species and habitat conservation.
They don’t issue the information because they know people would be horrified how little goes towards solving problems rather than fund raising, lobbying, debating, report writing and observing. The same applies to the EU, the UN and many government departments. Just think what could have been done if all the money that has been spent on trying to eliminate poverty had just been given to the poor. Not that I’d do that. I’d be helping them to industrialise. Just think if the money for the WHO etc had been spent on medicines and medical staff. We could have built a new fleet of nuclear power stations and had our own supply of gas with the money we’ve frittered on conferences, researchers and windmills. We could even be considering electric central heating.
Doing the minimum to push issues into the future has become a habit. It gives everyone the impression of progress but just keeps middle wo/men in well paid jobs. They’d claim to be facillitators. Helping or pushing others to solve problems is their task in life. Doing? That’s for lesser mortals.
Here is Bolton’s list of areas that are not addressed because of AGW, which Paul Matthews referred to:
Phosphorus and other essential minerals
Pollution by directly toxic substances
I’ll come back to it, little time now.
A medieval North American culture that wasn’t in harmony with nature – emerged during a warm wet period and declined during a cold drought period. There are South American cultures that mirror this pattern.
“…people would be horrified how little goes towards solving problems rather than fund raising, lobbying, debating, report writing and observing.”
This ties in with Paul Dodgshun’s observation (21 Jul 16 at 10:44 pm) about digital technology … mass communication around the globe for almost nothing and computer modeling. When I was involved in data collection and analysis about 35 years ago, data presentation cost money. Even a simple pie chart had to be drawn by hand. Now the app does the thinking. I’ve seen official reports by international bodies headlined in the press as “proving” that we are facing catastrophe which consisted of nothing – absolutely nothing – but coloured blobs. It is so much more fun producing charts with coloured blobs than thinking hard about – say – energy policy for Africa. And anyway, that’s being taken care of by Bank of America Merrill Lynch with the aid of EDF and Oxfam. See
to learn how a paper trail of green-millionaire-funded bumpf led to the tale of how one of the world’s biggest banks teamed up with one of the world’s biggest energy providers and one of the world’s leading charities to provide Africa with a few Megawatts of reneawable energy.
How many green analysts does it take to provide renewable energy for one hospital in Southern Africa? It depends (as always) on whether the wind is blowing.
GEOFF CHAMBERS @ 21 Jul 16 at 6:27 am
You make a very interesting point that I would encourage you to develop further.
“I intend to explore further this concept of weak ideas, and try to define it in such a way as to remove the pejorative connotation. ”
To explore the concept of weak ideas I first suggest you need some sort of concept (or concepts) what constitute strong ideas. There are a few contrasts, that I proposed three years ago, that might help construct this notion of strong ideas. Please take them as contrasts, with the aim being to progress towards one side and move away from the other.
Positive v normative statements. A progressive climatology should aim to make statements about the world have an increasing empirical content and rely less on opinion, especially those that rely on a particular world outlook.
Relevant v irrelevant evidence. With an empirically-based subject such as climatology progressiveness means looking for evidence that confirms the hypothesis of coming climate catastrophism, and rejecting evidence of random variability or of people’s opinions. The problem is that relevant evidence cuts both ways. A pause in warming when GHG emissions are accelerating; or lack of patterns of more extreme weather events suggests that the catastrophism concept is overblown. The Cook et al. 97% consensus is an extreme example of irrelevant evidence. It is not about belief in catastrophism, just in belief in the relationship; it did not ask people what their opinions were, just divined them from reading journal articles: and it did not restrict the journal articles to climatologists with demonstrated expertise in the subject, but to anyone who had published in the area of climatology, or mentioned the subject, or who were writing up opinion polls conducted in the area.
Orders of magnitude. Evidence supporting human-caused catastrophic global warming should be on a vast scale. The fact that summer rainfall in parts of England appear to be higher than in the 1990s is insignificant and trivial. The signposts to catastrophism should be in terms of increasing deaths global, or increasing real damage costs on a global scale. The same goes for policy. If the aim is to reduce global GHG emissions, it is irrelevant that EU vacuum cleaners consume less power, or the levels of recycling in England, or anything that the Scottish Parliament might do, unless such initiatives are in conjunction with (and possibly inspire) initiatives elsewhere that add up to reducing total global reductions in emissions.
False Positives and False Negatives. We have to distinguish between to the human-caused element of climate from GHG emissions, and all other causes. Saying that random extreme events are evidence of human-caused climate change are usually cases of false positives.
I’m not going to comment on weak minds.
I can understand…
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Clipe – agreed.
So, … I don’t get the deal with Botkin’s list. As one-word points it is unclear what some refer to. Some of the items will probably be exacerbated by climate change, so addressing CC addresses them too. But is he (or are you, PM, others) saying that if there had been no public money spent on climate science research or no feed-in tariffs spent on renewables that those line-items would have received more attention? Maybe Tiny’s argument applies: that there is only so much money to go around and hence that more on one item automatically means less on the others. But these seem weak arguments (does that make your minds “weak” too?).
I mean we could address invasive species by not allowing the transport of plants and animals across borders. That is just regulation, it needs no money spent. Similarly, with phosphorous, regulate farming to prevent excess application. With fisheries, stop catching so many; with toxins, disallow their use or disposal; with endangered species, stop the overexploitation of their habitats; with habitat destruction, stop doing it; with fresh water, stop wasting it. All these things are controllable with regulation (and maybe contraception would help) and need little money.
Extra regulation is likely to be anathema to “free market” types, but to the majority of us should be clearly easy wins.
“Men follow their sentiments and their self-interest, but it pleases them to imagine that they follow reason. And so they look for, and always find, some theory which, a posteriori, makes their actions appear to be logical. If that theory could be demolished scientifically, the only result would be that another theory would be substituted for the first one, and for the same purpose.”
– Vilfredo Pareto
It is pointless to apply logic to the discussion of CAGW belief/non-belief. It is an issue dominated by emotion and self interest per Pareto…and I agree. In general, logical discussions will not yield converts. Do any of you really think that the logic battering which goes on between the believers and non-believers of CAGW produces any true converts?
Short term conversion of a belief may occur following a major event: For example, a gun control advocate who is robbed at gunpoint may respond by quickly purchasing a firearm. Long term conversion may occur as a result of serious independent study. Often times boredom leads to a belief being deposited on the shelf of disinterest and replaced by a new belief…or a better belief, such as the Zombie Catholics described in the post.
The emotional component probably reaches its greatest potential via family, close friends and associates. It is through intimate contact where components of a new belief can be introduced through the mind shield and allowed to grow…but it is emotional at first, then comes the logic as Pareto postulated. Happened to me circa 20 years ago regarding CAGW: my son, the statistical meteorologist, opened my eyes to the data manipulation which was occurring.
Polar bears: no more iconic a species supposedly threatened by climate change does there exist. Just one small problem – the ‘threat’ is entirely imagined/projected, not real and imminent. Polar bear populations have failed to plummet as predicted by climate catastrophists, despite reductions in sea-ice. But a real threat exists – commercial hunting disguised as strictly regulated quota trophy hunting, allowed by just one country, Canada. The hides and fur are fetching record prices in Chinese and Russian markets. Alarm bells should be ringing. If Canada does not ban all hunting of polar bears, they risk creating an ever more voracious and lucrative market, driven principally by greed for a ‘luxury’ product in foreign markets and by the psychotic urges of a few rich trophy hunters. It is hard to imagine that this will not impact seriously upon polar bear numbers in the near future and if it does, any decline will most likely be blamed on climate change, sans actual evidence.
Very interesting article. Hurrah for sociological explanations, which I have long pursued 🙂
You raise several points that I agree with, of which the migration of folks from religious cultures to strong ‘replacement’ secular cultures is just one. However, I think your analysis gets as far as proximate causes rather than down to root causes. The domain of cultural evolution is I believe the place to dig down to the bottom (and wider evolution too), revealing for instance the fundamental mechanisms which cause cultural entities of this type to emerge, as they have done endlessly throughout human existence. As TinyCO2 notes catastrophism is built into our psyche, and also hope of salvation and the concept of an idyllic past and various other potent notions besides. This is due to a long gene / meme co-evolution, in which emergent cultures enforcing social consensuses were a strong evolutionary advantage (hence our sensitivity to the emotive memes on which they run). When pretty much everything is unknown, a socially enforced consensus that enables common action in the face of the unknown, is pretty hugely useful.
While there have been other secular cultures, religions are the familiar examples, and wrt your own thoughts above it is interesting to note that these are often promoted by literate elites. However, the mechanisms of meme competition and selection, the resultant emotive bias and consensus policing mechanisms, etc. are not fundamentally different beneath the hood for say Catholicism or ancient religions or CAGW or the extreme wings of politics or ancestor worship or the cultural alliance of eugenics with anti-Semitism and national socialism (cultures endemically form alliance strings).
A list of other expected characteristics of such cultures are noted here, and CAGW is a good match:
Detailed bias mechanisms will emerge such as described in my series at WUWT ‘Wrapped in Lew Papers: The psychology of climate psychologization’, but these are underpinned by a general emotional bias: http://judithcurry.com/2015/04/24/contradiction-on-emotional-bias-in-the-climate-domain/
It can be hard to get one’s head around the implications of the above explanation. While on the upside this explanation doesn’t depend upon any particular politics or political assumptions, and also rules out hoaxes and conspiracies (albeit such are frequently bolted on as secondary phenomena to any sufficiently large human enterprise), the fact that cultural entities are emergent means you can’t point to any one institution or authority group (including universities) as primary cause, which I think will be frustrating for many. Cultural entities emerge from the bottom up, not the top down, despite the important role of elites in transmission. Another issue is that we are sensitive to cultural entities because they have been net advantageous in our evolutionary history, and considering how much we still don’t know about our optimum path forward, we may not have grown out of them yet. I.e. they may still be *net* useful, even if they can sometimes hi-jack science or result in other major downsides like major cultural conflict. A further issue to grapple with is that despite not being either sentient nor even agential, through the mechanism of selection cultural entities have an agenda, and in the shorter term that agenda may not be advantageous to the human hosts who support the culture. Well, I find that a challenging concept anyhow, yet it also provides clues about the trajectory of the culture.
On a tongue-in-cheek historical side-note, the climate culture of the Lambeyeque (lived where Peru is now) is perhaps a lesson. They built man-made mountains to predict / control the El Ninos that could ruin their crops. The elite who literally lived atop these mountains, which were a constant and huge labor to build, very likely came to a sticky end, and certainly their palaces and temples were burned down. I guess their lack of control may have become obvious at some point, and the belief of the populous turned into rejection.
Thanks for exploring this issue. My own thinking is influenced also by insights from Marshall McLuhan.
I’ve saved your comment from trash and removed your last comment. Apologies to you Ruth Dixon and others who had comments witheld. Sometimes it’s due to more than two links in a comment, which gets it identified by WordPress as spam.
Geoff Chambers says: 24 Jul 16 at 8:05 pm
Thanks Geoff 🙂
Thanks to the 3 commenters mentioned below for their links. I recommend anyone reading this to follow up these links, which are all enlightening in different ways. And I say this as a Luddite who regards reliance on links as one of the most noxious symptoms of our consensus culture.
Thanks for the link. Your article is essentially about philosophy of science – how it’s conducted, how it’s validated, how it’s judged. My “ideas” are social constructs, things that are “in the air”. Kuhn v Popper is never going to make it into my little world of stuff that can be measured by public opinion surveys, more’s the pity.
Without having explored the idea any further, I think we can say this about “strong” ideas: they’re the stuff of democracy; they’re what divides us and what we argue about. In the European Union or Out? More government planning (and therefore control) or less? Brexit has revealed an important cleavage that wasn’t obvious before – between the extremes (who retain a belief in passionate debate) and the soft centre who tend to avoid “strong”’ ideas and favour consensus. The sneers from the metropolitain Guardianista set at the Brexiteers was a swipe at both UKIP and at Corbynist Old Labour.
I take your point about cultural entities being emergent, and I acknowledge that your apporoach takes logical precedence, since it aims to explain that emergence in general terms, across all cultures and all types of belief. I’ve been limiting myself to the questions: why Environmentalism/Climate Catastrophism? And: Why here and now?
I haven’t read all your articles which you reference, but I promise I will. I agree wholeheartedly that “you can’t point to any one institution or authority group (including universities) as primary cause”. The nearest I have come to an explanation of the success of envonmentalism (which must also be an explanation of the failure of numerous competing ideas “in the air”, notably Marxism in its various forms and a centre-left idea which I find particularly significant – the Blairite project of “Making Poverty History”) is the vague idea of a “critical mass” acting in the formation of opinions. Below a certain level of assent (10%?) ideas remain marginal. Above they can become the subject of consensus. This idea has been modelled by a French physicist Serge Galam, who I’ll be writing about soon. There was an article on the same lines at WattsUpWithThat a few years back by a couple of guys from an American Business School. Does anyone have a reference for that?
The reception – and then the disappearance – of the ideas of McLuhan from public discourse is a fascinating subject in its own right. The ideas of Darwin, Marx and Freud were discussed widely, and often violently; disciples formed opposing factions; opponents opposed. McLuhan’s ideas fascinated the chattering classes for a few years, and then were quietly dropped. Like Todd’s theories of the fundamental role played by family structure, they weren’t debated with a views to establishing whether of not they were true. They just suddenly stopped being interesting – just before the internet revolutionised our relationship with the media – alas, after Mcluhan’s disappearance. He was an academic. Where are his disciples? Wher is the application of his ideas? What the frack is the point of universities?
‘Why Environmentalism/Climate Catastrophism? And: Why here and now?’
Noble questions to address, Geoff. But I think a very difficult challenge to set yourself in answering with any degree of certitude.
There are various traditions of mathematical modelling of social systems or subsystems, from cultural evolution (including memetics) with models that I guess were originally inspired by genetic evolution, from economics and sometimes using game theory, from political science often on voting system models, and cascade theory (don’t know where that one originated). Not an area I know a lot about (my maths atrophied long ago) and maybe you know much more, but I think complexities such as some ideas conferring immunity to others (e.g. ‘there is one god and his name is x’) are maybe handled by memetic models (at least this is a basic concept in memetics). My very limited knowledge suggests that none of these are ready for prime time, i.e. initializing to the thousands of competing ideas and cultural immunities at a particular instant, then rolling forward to expect a reasonable prediction of what will emerge. They are no doubt very helpful to assist a more traditional analysis based on a detailed knowledge of social and political history. Not heard of Serge Galam before, and ‘sociophysics’ that is on the blurb for his book; looks interesting, will look forward to your article.
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This seems to be me to be a tremendous post, one which tackles what has long been in the penumbra of my thinking – how come CO2/climate catastrophism has been such a political success? A weak, and beneficial warming trend was turned into a major scare by means of shonky science like the hockey stick and slick propaganda like ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. The case for such alarm is a very very weak one, but yet it took off. Geoff’s observation looks like he’s on to something that could explain a lot of it:
‘Belief in climate catastrophism is a social phenomenon, and requires an explanation in terms of the social sciences.’
Meanwhile, a social scientist lets his side down down-under with an essay of supine conformity to the ‘CO2 crisis establishment’ and blyth ignorance of the views of those whom he denigrates: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11681154 .
Some commentary on it here: http://www.climateconversation.wordshine.co.nz/2016/07/pontificating-piffle-on-climate/ , including an acknowledgement that the social scientist chap did not write the headline to his essay, and has distanced himself from it:
‘Dr Jarrod Gilbert: Why climate denial should be a criminal offence’
But the headline writer can be forgiven too, since these sentences are in the essay:
‘The worst of these problems will impact more greatly on generations to come, but to ignore them now is as unconscionable as it is selfish. It ought be seen as a crime.
John Shade says: 26 Jul 16 at 8:34 am
Explaining why scary narratives based on little or no truth can become dominant forces in society, within the modern era even potent enough to hi-jack science, is not too difficult a task with current knowledge on social mechanics (and plenty of historical examples to work with too, mainly religious but also some secular). Plus CAGW has all the right emotional and existential ingredients along with plenty of genuine uncertainty in the past and current state of climate science, which allows emotive memes to prosper (and such memes once dominant will actually work to preserve this uncertainty).
But explaining as Geoff says, why climate catastrophe in particular, and why now, as opposed to all the other competing scary narratives that may have just as potent a set of ingredients, or indeed unscary narratives that may prosper for different reasons, is a much harder question to answer. This requires not only an understanding of the generic mechanics, but also a detailed understanding of the entire topography of existing cultures and would-be ones represented by upcoming narratives, going back potentially generations to figure out the roots. And including for instance per Geoff above the potential waning of past successful cultures / cultural stories and for what reasons why (e.g. communism and the cold war, religions in the West), plus the reasons why the competitive ones were eventually beaten out, etc. Not an easy task!
A huge impediment to spreading even the more basic understanding in paragraph one above, as exemplified by your quoted example of Dr Gilbert, is that all the folks in the relevant disciplines who are guardians of the knowledge (and advancement) of said social mechanics, think climate calamity is merely a matter of hard science. I.e. they believed the memes, one of which is the hi-jacked authority of science. Hence they do not seek to apply their huge canon of knowledge to this issue, except in an attempt to deploy that knowledge to figure out what must be wrong with CC ‘deniers’ and a skeptical public. Needless to say, there’s never a reasonable answer because nothing is wrong with them, and hence this topic remains a great puzzle in the social sciences. But looked at objectively, why wouldn’t they (or at least most of them) think calamitous CC is merely a matter of hard science?; the claim that it is just this, is after all one of its strongest memes. And no-one is immune to pesky memes, me included of course, but like with immune systems, some of us are always more immune to some memes if not others. One can always boost one’s immune system too 🙂
What disappoints me even more about Gilbert (and very many others) is the use of the denier term:
‘Denial has become a yardstick by which intelligence can be tested. The term climate sceptic is now interchangeable with the term mindless fool.’
Even to folks with CC bias, it is pretty obvious from the main support of ‘denialism’ in the literature, a term deployed in many domains, that there is no such psychological phenomenon ‘denialism’ as the said literature frames it:
Great read Geoff. I’d like to add a few points, which I hope are interesting, some of which you’ll be familiar with.
The rise of tertiary education is interesting. As one who did a degree relatively recently as a mature student, I was able to compare notes about experience of University with friends my age, my classmates, and friends who were as much older than me again. The expansion of higher education has come with a transformation of the University. As Jamie notes above, there is the post-92 transformation in the UK. One thing I noticed was how older academics tended to have fewer advanced degrees. It seems uncontroversial to say that the rise of tertiary education has not raised the level of education as much lowered the standard, and has not elevated ambitions or expectations.
Dumbing down can’t just be the unfortunate consequence of squeezing 50% of the population into degree courses. It struck me, too, that even the requirement of having advanced degrees had not prevented some actually quite thick (in the head) individuals from arriving, so to speak, at the new campus. Thick, but nonetheless competent at compiling what was necessary to support a mediocre idea. In particular, mediocre ideas yet with seemingly important social imperatives.
The two most obvious transformations here, then, are the University as three year relief from the dole queue for middle class youngsters (i.e. Major’s legacy, ‘post-92’), and the expectation that research has to demonstrate its utility to wider society (Thatcher’s ‘relevance’ legacy). To cut some long story short, we should also add Brown/Blair’s legacies: ‘Government of all the Talents’ (GOAT), and the development of relationships between business, government, the ‘third sector’ and academy. The elevation of academics to experts and technocrats came after a call from government. The point here being the third transformation the politicisation of the University: one cannot get a job as a “conservative” researcher at a school, established on a dead philanthropist’s legacy, which promotes research into ‘social inclusion’, or ‘equality’. In the same way, one cannot get a job as a climate sceptic in The School of Sustainability at New or Old University. Yet it is academics from these institutions who are called on to comment, and who dominate, excluding the public from participating in arguably *political* debates, and rendering politicians merely ‘policymakers’, whose job it is to take advice from whichever researcher has produce the most alarming report. The politicisation of the academy implies a de-politicisation of wider society and public life.
Weak ideas, it seems to me, have emerged from the academy, because of pressure from without, and from above, not merely because of the swelling of the numbers entering it. In other words, although tertiary education has expanded, environmentalism has remained an elite preoccupation. It’s true that there has been no major resistance to emphasis on climate change (as some of us bored old lapsed bloggers have lamented), yet there is conversely no overwhelming support for it from even the barely-educated alumni. And everywhere its leaders are dullard toffs, from Jonathan Porrit, to the likes of Tamsin Omond.
I don’t think environmentalism is a powerful idea, then. And I don’t think the era of university has made it the wellspring of ideas. Rather, the era is characterised by a dearth of ideas. “[weak ideas] ability to spread without taking root”, speaks to the infertile ground they have colonised — the barest topsoil in the West gives ground to green ideas, whereas other parts of the world are prospering. I offer three points in the last half century that I think give us a clue.
First is the emergence of the neomalthusians in the 60s and 70s. Second is more complete absorption of the green agenda by the UN in the 1980s after Brundtland, after which climate was emphasised by Thatcher. Third is the emergence of the green/left in the 1980s and 1990s. Briefly: the Neomalthusians were Conservatives (and billionaires) whose time came as the world plunged from postwar boom into oil shocks and deep recession. Brundtland, some time later, sought to establish ‘sustainable development’ for the sake of ‘future generations’ as the basis of supranational politics, largely because those institutions couldn’t speak to the present generation about development at all. Equally, Thatcher, having realised her domestic political project, found herself alienated. And the ‘left’, too, found itself incapable of engaging with the masses it had once claimed to speak for. One way of accounting for this then, is that any system of ideas, or any institution that needs a system of ideas of some kind to function with legitimacy, has a tendency to respond to its own crises of legitimacy and relevance by ‘naturalising’ its outlook. (War, poverty, criminality, and so on, are now explained in terms of biology and increasingly, as the consequence of climate change, for example).
Hence it was ‘capitalists’ and their appointed agents, who, having unleashed creative potential, turned instead to the Natural Order of Things when the oil well seemed to run dry, to account for their inability to make sense of economic chaos. Ditto, radical movements, unable to form enduring criticisms of capital, found authority in the same notion of natural limits, rather than by standing Against Nature, to overcome them; the “people” became merely unruly metabolic entities, not agents of their own future. It was the job of the green leftoid to merely feed, clothe and house them, not to put them in charge of the means of production (they would run amok in planes and cars, rather than take the bus and consume ‘responsibly’). And the UN? It is telling that, for only a brief moment following the collapse of the Soviet Union, its narrative was optimistic. Without the geopolitics that had dominated the era in which it had been established, it was disoriented. But at the same time, whereas the foreshadowing of nuclear winter had driven its agenda, now ecological degradation presented an opportunity. The minute-before-midnight narrative returned to pages of UN reports, the mushroom-cloud-shaped hole in the hearts of UN hacks’ souls had been filled, and the institutions had been rescued from the threat of optimism. Phew!
Green is the colour of political exhaustion. Hence red, blue and even brown now put green first. And what underlines this is the intellectual exhaustion of those who were nonetheless able to hold on to, and even build on the institutional wreckage that aimlessly bobbed about. Although stranded initially, they found each other.
The problem, i have argued, with seeing environmentalism as an ‘ideology’ or doctrine of ideas is that it credits it with too much. Too much coherence, too much self-awareness, and too much of an understanding of the world. An overly ‘ideo-centric’ view of history supposes that the engineers of ideas have a grasp on the world that in fact turns out to be opposite of the case. Instead, don’t the angry and wild claims of environmentalists — and green academics in particular — look like tantrums at being unable to make sense of the world *at*all*, yet carrying the burden of the entitlement to say how it should be? Environmentalism is narcissistic, but not self-aware. It lives in its own fantasy, divorced from the world, not better connected to it. And its ideas are not coherent, but are invariably formed from the discombobulated and failed perspectives of eras past — everything “from Plato to NATO” has been repainted green. Bad ideas propagate when there are no better ideas.
Or, as you put it, ‘Environmentalism, like Gravity, is a weak force which appears to govern the universe – until a stronger force opposes it.’ Clearly there is more going on than ‘ideas’. We shouldn’t be surprised then, that even when we convince people that we can save 2 billion lives at a stroke by demonstrating the overstatement of climate catastrophism, they nonetheless retreat back to the authority of the consensus. This is why I have said to many sceptics, it really doesn’t matter how many hockey sticks we debunk. So, while I agree that the sociological (and historical, political) is essential — more fundamental than debunking the claims of palaeoclimatologists — I don’t agree that a certain and *broad* class and an ideology can be identified. Rather, we waste our time with Guadianistas, who are ultimately no more than a Reserve Army, whose vapid and disposable opinions are reinvented (or merely restated) as soon as they are debunked. The academy prospers so long as its policy-relevance flatters some number of policy-makers.
We need more focus then, not on a broad class and its nebulous ideology, but on particular institutions and their populations. We need to ask what legitimises them, what crises they experience, and how their emphasis on existential, external threats — “global challenges” — are at best self-justifications, not facts about the world. And we need to show how those institutions are able to close ranks against the rest of the population, merely having won a War of Position, not a contest of ideas. The ideas, and the institutions that champion them are not even popular, even amongst the chatteratti… I went to have a look at a demo against fracking in 2012 — there were barely 300 people in central London, on a Saturday. A year or so later, Greenpeace brought only a couple of thousand people from across Britain to Westminster. And only a few multiples more buy the Guardian, which itself burns more than a £million a week — around £7.50 per hardcopy buyer — advancing its hackneyed positions. Environmentalism is rearguard action — the desperate moves of a narrow and remote establishment, trying to sustain its position against forces it cannot hope to contain, with merely the dwindling resources it acquired a century ago. If the left, the right, academics, NGOs have gone green, it is because they are dead and have gone mouldy, or they are about to die, gangrene having set in. Anything resembling a popular green movement consists of alienated weirdos, not a mass of engaged individuals — people who refuse to vaccinate their kids, breastfeed them until they are 15 before weaning them onto lentils, and retreat from Brighton and London to undiscovered Wales on trust funds, to live ‘sustainable’ and ‘self-sufficient’ lifestyles.
Apologies for the overlong comment.
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Two cases in point, from today’s news…
First, meet the Allens — the sustainable couple, who are trying — and failing — to raise £100,000 through crowdfunding, to move their young family away from things like education, healthcare, to live freely amongst things that will eat their infants. http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2016/07/26/these_off_grid_allen_family_wants_you_to_give_them_100_000.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_fb_top
As fascinating as a sociological exploration of the phenomena that the Allens are a part of would be, I don’t think it would help us form an understanding of climate alarmism as an expression of the academy’s overreach.
On that point, today sees the publication of the latest Stern Review… https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/research-excellence-framework-review which aims to revise the way universities account for themselves and their research budgets. The cost of this audit has risen to a whopping £246 million.
Few readers here would believe Stern, latterly of the LSE and Grantham Institute, is the right man for that job. Yet the fact that it is he who was chosen for that job — and other jobs that put him in a very powerful position over UK university’s research priorities — should raise questions.
Ben Pile, at our invitation, is revising his comment above which will be published as a separate article.
DRCRINUM (23 Jul 16 at 2:23 pm)
Apologies for having missed your interesting comment. Pareto is one of the founding fathers of sociology as an independent discipline, and your quote neatly summarises one of sociology’s most ambitious aims: to explain to us what we are doing and why we are doing it. The idea that the real causes of social events can escape the understanding of the actors has parallels with Freud’s theory of the unconscious motivations of individuals.
Sociology, like any interesting human endeavour, had its origins in people posing interesting questions. As Ben describes above, and in many articles at http://www.climate-resistance.org/ too many academics devote themselves to posing questions that their financial masters want answered, like “How to make people believe what we want them to believe?”
The simple question I posed in a comment above: “Why Enviornmentalism? Why now?” needs breaking down into its component parts and treating in the kind of detail Ben provides.
Ben pile: 28 Jul 16 at 1:08 pm
‘I don’t think environmentalism is a powerful idea, then.’
Intellectually, I would agree not. Yet emotively, yes.
‘Bad ideas propagate when there are no better ideas.’
No doubt they do. Yet they still can when there are good ideas around too. Essentially those bad ideas that are easy to absorb and much more emotive, and despite (or maybe because of) their simplicity, can invoke existential issues very directly too. These have a great route into people’s psyches to garner support. Dictators, extremist politicians, and cultish religious leaders have variously and most obviously benefited from this effect.
‘ Clearly there is more going on than ‘ideas’ ‘
Agreed; the ‘bad ideas’ above are I think more usefully understood in terms of their emotive motivation, rather than the intellectual content we normally associate with being the most important thing about an idea. Such motivation can produce very strong social force, despite being intellectually weak. Typically a strong narrative gaining traction in this way will include a raft of mutually supporting emotive themes invoking fear, hope, anxiety and more, even say joy (in anticipation of a new world order, for instance).
‘… seeing environmentalism as an ‘ideology’ or doctrine of ideas is that it credits it with too much.’
Quite possibly, although there are differing interpretations of what ‘ideology’ means. The terms ‘ideology’ and ‘culture’ overlap (and some consider the former to be a subset of the latter), yet I think ‘culture’ is a more appropriate term for CAGW (environmentalism is maybe too broad and varied for either term to be accurate). ‘Ideology’ is often deployed to mean a propagandized secular culture with a formal constitution and especially from the nineteenth century onward, e.g. Marxism. While an ideology thus defined typically evolves from its original constitution (if indeed it ever satisfied that at all), e.g. rapidly to Stalinism in the USSR, there were theoretically at least powerful intellectual ideas involved at the start. The super-set of culture can include social entities that do not have a consciously expressed constitution or strong intellectual foundations, even while they do have an emotively powered (non-sentient, non-agential) agenda.
‘Environmentalism is rearguard action…’
I would like to think so, but I’m not sure about that. Emotively powered cultures can be extremely strong, and green environmentalism still has a lot of policy strength and moral buy-in. Whoever does or doesn’t openly advocate for it (and some are afraid to openly act against it), the policies are what affects people’s lives. I think it’s a long way from the moldering stage yet.
Re generic cultural strength: around 2.5 centuries on from the blossoming of science within the mainstream, during the ‘age of reason’, several major religions are still pretty healthy and a majority of the world still believes in some deity or super-natural spirit of some kind. Ultimately, CAGW lives on a secular invocation of similar emotive responses.
Many intellectual institutions which might oppose misconceived environmentalism do seem to be slumbering or falling prey themselves. Not good.
‘And we need to show how those institutions are able to close ranks against the rest of the population, merely having won a War of Position, not a contest of ideas.’
Indeed. One of the primary functions of a culture is to create a socially enforced consensus. This is an evolutionary advantage. When pretty much everything was unknown, a consensus that enables common action in the face of the unknown, is a pretty handy thing. Unfortunately the various disciplines who know most about how the mechanisms of closing ranks work, pretty much all believe that calamitous climate change is merely a matter of hard science, so they don’t think to deploy their knowledge to investigate it as a culture. It seems that knowledge of an effect, doesn’t necessarily grant immunity from it.
Good post – but not enough emphasis on the fact that it’s only half or less of the graduates that fall for carefully crafted wordy explanations. Graduate scientists and engineers tend to wait until they’ve investigated something before giving an opinion.
The real divide is between people who believe words alone, and those that believe the world keeps giving us surprises . If interested, they’ll ask for evidence, and what exactly is meant by what you say. Loads of “what ifs” and “what elses” are thought about.
The BREXIT vote is exactly the same. Lots of ordinary people, of high intelligence, with a good education, are unimpressed by talk of economic growth when it comes with destructive developments and overcrowding. Leavers are not just the working poor. They’re Middle England as well. Getting things done e.g. effective campaigning against windmills & HS2.
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You’re quite right in saying that: “The real divide is between people who believe words alone, and those that believe the world keeps giving us surprises”.
The argument is that massively increased tertiary education is the main factor in opening up a new social divide and creating a new social class, which is not to say that all graduates (or even all arts graduates) share the same ideology. Someone (Sowell I think) invented the term ”opiniocracy” for that class (working in journalism, the media, academia, advertising, marketing, etc) who live by exchange of “information” (more accurately: opinions and attitudes) largely independently of the working of the rest of society. I see it (it’s only a metaphor) as having arrrived at a critical mass that has to coalesce round some core belief, something bigger and more important than its own futile self. Not the nation, not society, not any slogan that might soon seem shopworn like Peace or Progress; only the Planet will do.
I need a bit more explanation for what I’m trying to get at.
So, for the “the social class which has propelled climate catastrophism to centre stage” I agree that education has helped to make people aware. I remember reading “Silent Spring” when it came out – I was 16, still at school. My subsequent university education taught me a lot about how to approach science. So I graduated a lot more sceptical of it’s conclusions that I started. And almost all the people I know with my sort of computing /engineering background are unconvinced. However, some influential people were convinced and managed to get the UN to act on it, using their huge PR skills.
What I’m trying to point towards, is that anybody can be taken in by PR persuasion with words – not just those with higher education. Whereas, it does take a tertiary education to be skilled in critiquing the theory, and hence able to be sceptical.
Therefore the main drivers for climate catastrophism to be centre stage are actually the increased use of PR persuasive skills and Group-Think throughout an increased media. Greenpeace in particular never bothers about keeping to the truth nor the law. Right from the beginning they did or said whatever was necessary for publicity.
I’ve just noticed and corrected a couple of silly mistakes in the article: obstination > stubbornness and “by experience” > empirically. I’ve lived in France for 35 years and my English is getting rusty.
It’s never too late (I hope) to reply to intelligent criticism.
That’s good news. But the people you know are clearly not making their voice heard politically. Comments at sceptical sites and some informal surveys suggest that engineers and scientists form the major part of active sceptics – but we’re talking about a few thousand individuals, whereas the 10-40% of the population who express scepticism about the official story are counted in tens or hundreds of millions, most of whom are no doubt entirely ignorant of the relevant facts, and are probably motivated by distrust of government, bloodymindedness etc.
True. But its mainly the highly educated who join movements, write to newspapers, work at the UN etc., and therefore have an effect politically.
True. But most of us satisfy our need to demonstrate our educational superiority by attacking racists, homophobes, Brexiters.. Why wrack your brains or waste your time working out the truth about something as complicated and boring as climate change when you can establish your intellectual superiority over the chavs so easily? Why use the skills acquired froma tertiary education to make yourself unpopular when the same skills can make you acceptable among people like you? (That’s a question for us sceptics.)
Note that this discussion is not about the correct interpretation of climate data, but about the way ideas develop in a complex society.
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If it takes a tertiary education to be sceptical then there is something wrong with schools. But I’m not convinced that sceptics make any coherent arguments despite their education. In the end although it might be wrapped up in erudite (or not so) discussion of aspects of science, it mostly boils down to the level of that ignorant Australian MP claiming NASA are faking it.
Raff, how are bias corrections and adjustments such as homogenization validated?
i.e. how do we know that adjusted data is more useful for comparison purposes
(for the sake of argument, let’s accept that it’s artificially precise and of unknown
accuracy; for trend comparisons these are secondary concerns).
Most ‘real’ skeptics accept that there is a need for some data processing. However,
when talking in public to lay people (as Brian Cocks did) it’s disingenuous to present
a data series as temperatures when it’s effectively a model realization of a temperature
series which has been processed. I didn’t see any uncertainty ranges on the graph
Cox’s graph was as good a presentation of temperature as any in the context, JonA, being from an authoritative source and widely recognised and accepted. You might think that he should have explained in the heat of debate that it wasn’t temperature but a “model realization of a temperature series which has been processed”, but how long do you think explaining that would have taken and to what end for a general audience? Maybe the MP should have explained his evidence, but it was a TV question show, not a court hearing or a conference. Ditto for the use of uncertainty ranges.
Can anybody smell an interminable stream of whingy special pleading?
Yes, if Cox had said it’s ‘a model realization of a temperature series which has been processed’ not only would the audience have fallen asleep by the time he got to the end of it, he’d have given the impression that the MP had a point. So no, don’t say that.
My experience is that sceptics refer to satellite temperature indices as temperature, not as model realizations of microwave sensor data which has been processed, even though such data must have the balls processed off it to make it say something useful, unlike thermometer data which anyone can use to compute an index. So special pleading, Ben Pile? Your game I think. Cox showed up the MP as laughable, and you lot support the MP, which says something about your seriousness.
… My experience is…
… as recent history shows… embedded in its own fantasy, up its own arse.
You can’t even refer to the argument you object to — the five seconds on TV stands for hundreds of pages here. You’re an intellectual coward. And a moron.
So yeah, special pleading.
Weak minds ‘seem’ to think alike, but how to measure, if exists, any thinking at all? God created spontaneous EMR exitance to space as a way of reducing the illusion of ever increasing entropy.
We now observe ever increasing ‘stupidity”. Perhaps time to discover why God created “hungry Volcanoes”!
If, ben pile, you find yourself agreeing with the cretin in a discussion about physics between a physicist and the cretin, you ought to examine whether you are also a cretin (in addition to being an arsehole).
Careful, calling other people “arseholes” is Ben Pile’s speciality. If you take that away from him, he might have nothing left.
will –” how to measure, if exists, any thinking at all “–
It’s like trying to find black holes, but it is possible. Consensus Enforcers are invariably dim, having surrendered critical thinking in exchange for membership of the Konzensus. Which is, after all, what deference to a consensus means — you don’t have to understand it, it’s about faith, not reason. OTOH, you know you’re arguing with an intelligent life form when you can see some level of comprehension of your own argument. If there is no sign of your own argument there, you can be sure that something other than thought is going on. Hence RAFF believes he’s arguing with an MP from Australia, not climate sceptics with their own understanding of the debate, who arrive at their understanding through reasoning independently of the Australian MP.
Ditto, at the institutional level, monoliths show no more responsiveness to the thing they seemingly institutionalise than their zombie populations. The effect — if not the point (to credit these entities with intentionality is too much) — is to dominate the public sphere at the expense of dialogue. It is a metastasisation of bureaucracy, which I think Geoff identifies a root of. Can an expanded tertiary education *industry* really churn out so many independent thinkers? And can an ever more bloated academy really police the quality of its own research, much less its teaching, most of which it undertakes begrudgingly? After all, with so many coming through its doors to spend three years or so not on the dole before doing something else entirely, researchers/teachers must wonder what the point is, too. It has always only been presumed to be a Good Thing, but it might not be.
RAFF has imagined a conversation between a physicist and a cretin and a sceptic, in which the sceptic decides who to take at face value. RAFF says the sceptic decides with the cretin, making the sceptic a cretin (and an arsehole).
Except that never happened. The sceptic doesn’t face such a dilemma: that is merely a condition that the Consensus Enforcer imposes on the debate. The sceptic can decide to take neither at face value — indeed, that is what scepticism is.
RAFF has to insist that the sceptic must face the dilemma because he cannot cope with any other judgement because that is the extent of his own intellectual ability. It is how *he* makes his decisions, so it *must* be how everyone else makes them. He might as well say he prefers Cox’s grin to the MP’s mug.
It’s the imposition that makes RAFF an arsehole. He will drag any discussion down to his own level.
A nice illustration of the false dilemma imposed by the likes of RAFF and Ken Rice and by their own colleagues, is over at Brandon S’s blog.
New ‘research’ from Lew has excited the SKS crowd, and seemingly identifies the incoherence of ‘deniers’ arguments… They emphasise some of the big evil climate baddies, and Ian Plimer in particular. Brandon points out the problems of Lew et al’s understanding of Plimer’s work, though not as a defence, adding,
— As a final note, please do not take anything I”ve said in this topic as a defense of Ian Plimer, the book he wrote or what the authors of this paper quote him as saying. I am dead-serious when I say This book is terrible. Nobody should listen to Ian Plimer. —
It’s only on the polarised view of the debate that Brandon and Plimer *must* agree with each other, and hence that disagreeing with each other represents ‘incoherence’. The notion that Brandon, or any other sceptic, can have arrived at his own understanding independently is beyond the understanding of Consensus Enforcement.
In other words, Consensus Enforcers, in encountering ‘incoherence’ are merely confronted with their own inability to process nuance or complexity.
ATTP, would you tolerate such a post at your own site?
Though I have to commend you on the clarity of thepost. A marked
improvement on your usual self-obsessed drivel.
That is the pile effect, JonA. A polite conversation rapidly descends into insults when ben pile pops up to preen his ego.
So did you check out Victor’s work on validating the sort of processing NASA does on thermometer data? It might assuage your doubts.
RAFF – 22 Sep 16 at 2:12 pm : I’m not convinced that sceptics make any coherent arguments despite their education. In the end although it might be wrapped up in erudite (or not so) discussion of aspects of science, it mostly boils down to the level of that ignorant Australian MP claiming NASA are faking it.
BEN PILE – 22 Sep 16 at 5:06 pm : Can anybody smell an interminable stream of whingy special pleading?
RAFF – 23 Sep 16 at 3:01 pm : That is the pile effect, JonA. A polite conversation rapidly descends into insults when ben pile pops up to preen his ego.
The timeline shows that the tone was lowered, and the content emptied by RAFF.
Yeah, looks like I did throw the first stone. A bad habit for which I apologise. All the same, you are an arsehole, Ben Pile.
I am as concerned about RAFF’s judgement that I am an arsehole as I am convinced of his concern about avoiding ‘A polite conversation [that] rapidly descends into insults’.
It is the MO of Consensus Enforcers to attribute to others their own traits, as is epitomised by Lewendowsky’s latest ‘Alice in Wonderland’ schtick.
Raff bizarrely characterises the discussion between Cox and Roberts as one about ‘physics’, between a physicist and a cretin. There are certain difficulties with this curious point of view:
1. The discussion was not about physics, it was about man-made climate change and the possible corruption of temperature data.
2. Though Cox is most certainly a physicist, the description of Roberts as a “cretin” is very much a value judgement.
3. One could easily invoke a value judgement to conclude that Cox is also a cretin, in which case we have an argument between two ‘cretins’, each labelled as such by competing sceptics and global warmists, and it then boils down to which of the two proved himself more worthy of the qualitatively assigned epithet on the day. My money is on Cox.
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> So did you check out Victor’s work on validating the sort of processing NASA does on thermometer ?> data? It might assuage your doubts.
No. I’ve seen a couple of papers by Pat Frank, which I think are very good, which discuss
metrology abuses as well as common statistical abuses around central limit theorem and
the law of large numbers. I’ve also seen Kennedy’s work on SST uncertainty. It’s one of
the few ‘climate science’ papers I’ve seen which acknowledges systematic error (which
does not average out).
You’d be better to read Victor Venema than Frank, whose work should probably be ignored – see comments by sceptics Jeff I’d and Carrick amongst others at https://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/11874/
When Jeff Id and Carrick publish papers in peer reviewed literature I’ll take notice.
Do you have a link to Victor?
Jaime Jessop says: 23 Sep 16 at 5:33 pm
“3. One could easily invoke a value judgement to conclude that Cox is also a cretin, in which case we have an argument between two ‘cretins’, each labelled as such by competing sceptics and global warmists, and it then boils down to which of the two proved himself more worthy of the qualitatively assigned epithet on the day. My money is on Cox.”
Do you really think Cox can make it up to the level of ‘cretin’? He is supposedly to remain as ‘entertainer’ in this caste society!
A strange reply from a sceptic, JonA. You’ll listen to fellow well known sceptics only when they publish in peer reviewed journals! Because they are attacking a paper you like the sound of. As Id pointed out, if you had 100℅ perfect sensors, measurements and coverage, Frank’s method would still give wide error bars. That should be enough to sink it really.
Search for Victor Venema or Variable Variability. You’ll have to browse his articles to find the validation studies.