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Jordan Peterson on Climate Change

We’ve discussed Jordan Peterson a couple of times previously here. In particular, Ian wrote An Invitation to Jordan Peterson, encouraging him to investigate the “vast continent of muddled thinking in the climate debate”.  Well, it appears that Dr Peterson read Ian’s post and has risen to the challenge — either that or he’s been talking about climate because people have asked him about it.

Peterson rose to public prominence as a result of his book, 12 Rules for Life, and an interview with Cathy Newman, which currently has over 12 million views on youtube.  In recent months he’s been touring, giving talks and interviews. He’s currently in the UK, having appeared at Manchester, Cambridge and several other venues, filling arenas normally used by rock stars or comedians. He will be a panellist on Question Time tonight (“we’re going to be joined by a man who’s been described as the most influential public intellectual in the western world, and equally as a professor of piffle. Campaigner against political correctness, Jordan Peterson,” said David Dimbleby at the end of last week’s show), where he’ll be up against intellectual heavyweight Diane Abbot.

At two recent events, the topic of climate change has come up. The first was an interview for GQ magazine with Helen Lewis, who writes about the experience here. It’s been on youtube for a week and already has 2 million views, the second most popular video on the GQ youtube channel.  It was quite a long session, but this link starts with the climate question:

 

Here is a transcript of most of the interview. The … indicates where I have omitted some bits.

HL: OK, climate change. I saw you posting a link to a study suggesting that a lot of the way that it’s talked about has been over-hyped. What are your beliefs about climate change?

JP: Well, I don’t really have beliefs about climate change, I wouldn’t say. I think the climate is probably warming, but it’s been warming since the last ice age, so,

HL: But It’s dramatically accelerated in the last couple of decades.

JP: Yeah, maybe, possibly, it’s not so obvious, I spent quite a bit of time going through the relevant literature, I read about 200 books on ecology and economy when I worked for the UN for a 2-year period and it’s not so obvious what’s happening, just like with any complex system. The problem I have, fundamentally, isn’t really a climate change issue. It’s that I find it very difficult to distinguish valid environmental claims from environmental claims that are made as a secondary anti-capitalist front, so it’s so politicised that it’s very difficult to parse out the data from the politicisation.

HL: I saw there’s a line in 12 rules which says people stricken with poverty don’t care about carbon dioxide.

JP: Yeah That’s definitely the case.

HL: And I think that’s not an unreasonable point to make … However I don’t think that’s a reason not to tackle climate change…

JP: It’s partly a reason… coal generated plants stop people from starving, so yes its partly a reason, and it’s certainly the case that making energy more expensive obviously makes things more difficult for poor people, so yes it’s definitely an issue. And I would say it’s a conundrum for those on the left, what’s it going to be, clean air or hungry people?

HL: Or renewable energy?

JP: Oh good luck with that!

HL: Or nuclear power. I’d be fine with more nuclear power stations.

JP:  Yeah, well, it doesn’t look like we’re moving in that direction very fast… Well it worked for the French…

[Discussion of David Attenborough and population, omitted]

JP: This is the problem I have with much of the environmentalist movement, there’s a powerful stream of anti-human sentiment that motivates it, masquerading under the guise of virtue on a planetary scale…

HL: But that’s why I’m fascinated on where you come from on this, because the book is so much about things being in balance and harmony, right, well what over-population has done is got to the…

JP: Who says that we have overpopulation?

HL: Well I think it’s very difficult to see under the current model of fossil-fuel based capitalism… when we run out of fossil fuels…

JP: Yeah that’s not going to happen.

HL: Well it will happen.

JP:  Yeah, people have been saying that’s going to happen for 50 years, and now the United States is a net exporter of fossil fuel and no-one saw that coming did they? But it happened.

HL: You’re right that may be the case, but at the moment I would say that China is putting up new coal-fired power stations by the bucket load, it is entirely possible that the stuff that the developed nations did, that now developing nations did…

JP: They’ll get concerned about clean air when they get richer, that’s what the data indicate, once you get GDP up to about $5000 per year people start to become concerned with environmental issues.

HL: But that might happen too late, right?

JP: I don’t think so. It’ll happen too late for some things, it looks like we’re going to top out at about 9 billion, I think we can handle that… there’s every reason to assume that we can cope with that, especially given the rapid decreases in poverty around the world at the moment. There’s a bit of a bottle-neck, there’ll probably be some more extinction, what we’re doing to the oceans by over-fishing doesn’t seem very smart. But we’ve only been aware of our role as planetary stewards since 1960 I would say, and we’re not doing too bad for people who just woke up to the fact that that we’re actually a planetary force and
I don’t think that we are overpopulated I think all the people who made those arguments in the 1960s like Paul Ehrlich, I think he wrote the population bomb, predicted mass starvation by the year 2000, he was absolutely and completely wrong.

HL: We’ve been very lucky with things like golden rice, for example, and genetic engineering of crops…

JP: It’s not luck!

HL: Well, I agree, human ingenuity is a huge part of that, definitely.

JP: Right well and more people, more ingenuity. Bjorn Lomborg, who I really admire, the skeptical environmentalist, who’s actually gone a long way to try to figure out what we could do at a planetary level that would actually be useful and productive, his research has indicated the best possible investment isn’t carbon tax, isn’t cessation of utilisation of carbon-based fuel, it’s probably investment in early infant care around the world, especially in developing countries. Seems right to me, he’s done the analysis very carefully.

 


 

The second event was at the Cambridge Union on 2 November. This clip again starts from the question. A student cites droughts and floods and then suggests that the climate change issue could be one that unites left and right. Peterson just says “no” to this dumb question and gets a laugh and applause.  Clearly neither the student asking the question nor Jordan Peterson are aware that the IPCC reports say that floods and droughts aren’t increasing.

Peterson makes some of the same points as in the GQ interview, although his style is different — he’s performing to an audience rather than being interviewed, so there’s more rhetoric and flourish.

Here are a few excerpts, from the start and the end of his long answer:

“I spent a lot of time reading – I worked for a UN committee for 2 years on sustainable economic and ecological development, and read a very large amount during that period of time and learned a lot, much of which made me much more optimistic than I had been before I read the relevant literature, which was a real shock to me.

But the climate change issue is an absolutely catastrophic nightmarish mess, and the idea that that will unite us, that’s not going to unite us. First of all it’s very difficult to separate the science from the politics, and second, even if the claims, the more radical claims are true we have no idea what to do about it, and so, no.

Besides it’s even worse than that, here’s one of the worst things about the whole mess — as you project outwards, with regard to your climate change projections, which are quite unreliable to begin with, the unreliability of the measurement magnifies as you move forward in time, obviously, because the errors accumulate, so if you go out 50 years the error bars around the projections are already so wide that we won’t be able to measure the positive or negative effects of anything we do right now, so how in the world are you going to solve a problem when you can’t even measure the consequence of your actions, how is that even possible?

[Criticism of renewable energy, remarks on poverty reduction, praise for Bjorn Lomborg…]

You know there’s more trees in the Northern Hemisphere than there were 100 years ago, no-one knows that but it’s true and by a substantial margin. You know why in part? Because people burned coal instead of wood. Like everyone says, you shouldn’t burn coal, OK, fair enough, what do you want to do, burn trees instead? Because that’s what poor people would’ve done. ‘Coal isn’t good’ – well, it’s better than burning wood.

So these things are complicated, unbelievably complicated, so no it’s not going to unite us, and we’re not going to do a damn thing about it either, so it doesn’t really matter.

What are we gonna do? Are you going to stop having heat? Stop having electricity? You gonna stop driving your cars? Stop taking trains? Stop using your i-phones? You’re not going to do any of that. And no wonder. So… so… no.”

 

33 thoughts on “Jordan Peterson on Climate Change

  1. At the Cambridge Union the discussion of climate starts at 20’33” with this question from the audience:

    “Drought, flooding and ocean acidification unanticipated for 65 million years all result from climate change, according to over 700 of your fellow scientists. So I was wondering whether you thought climate change could be an issue that could unite us all on left and right moving us beyond debates about C16 to discussions at the UN at Katowice next month, where perhaps humanity might discover its global map of meaning?”

    Jordan Peterson: No.

    [huge laughter and applause from the audience]

    Around 22’50” there’s a shot of the audience looking puzzled, doubtful, but intensely interested, with one guy faintly smiling… A still from that shot could be our polar bear poster child..

    Like

  2. He will be a panellist on Question Time tonight …where he’ll be up against intellectual heavyweight Diane Abbot.

    I once shared a flat with Diane Abbott, and was responsible for signing her into the Labour Party. How different my life might have been if I’d shared a flat with Jordan Peterson…

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Peterson does make a mistake when it comes to running out of fossil fuels. I have been in the oil and gas industry and we are running out of places to explore for oil and gas. Exploration results have been grim for over a decade and now we are down to squeezing hydrocarbons out of really low quality rocks.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I watched the entire GQ interview last week. I was particularly amused by
    the follow up article by Helen Lewis; she certainly put a more positive shine
    on her encounter than I would have.

    Like

  5. Paul, I agree. History is rife with non-visionaries who could not perceive
    the world outside of what was already in existence i.e. we’ll only ever
    need five computers etc.

    Like

  6. One thing he did get wrong was on Germany, where he overstated the case regarding their Energiewahnsinn:

    “And besides that, what’s the solution? What are we going to do? Switch to wind and solar? Well good luck with that. Try it and see what happens. We can’t store the power. Germany tried it. They produced more carbon dioxide than they did when they started because they had to turn on their coal fired plants again. That wasn’t a very good plan. Well we don’t want nuclear. OK, what happens at night? Oh! The sun goes down! Isn’t that something we should’ve taken into account. We’ve got to flick on the coal fired plants. It was a complete catastrophe and all that happened was the price of electricity shot up. Like zero utility. That’s not a solution.”

    Germany’s carbon emissions didn’t actually go up, they just didn’t go down very much, missing their targets.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I guess it depends on where you look. CO2 emissions are/were coming down anyway – they’re
    pretty much flat now and have been for a few years.

    Interestingly, according to the World Bank, in 2014 China emitted more CO2 per capita
    than the UK. It’s definitely not political though…

    Like

  8. Fernando, I am somewhat surprised to see someone writing about a future shortage of fluid fossil fuels. I used to be an advocate of peak oil (or rather peak cheap oil) but around about the time I stopped teaching 1) support for this seemed suddenly to collapse and disappear and 2) I lost my last contacts with industry. All I seem to hear these days are estimates of staggeringly huge estimates of resources, sometimes reserves, in new tight plays – like the organic rich Permian shales/limestones of the Delaware Basin.
    So when is the next estimate for when oil production will start to decrease because of a decline in reserves? How accepted are such estimates? This is also important to those still worried by CO2. Some older estimates suggested there were insufficient fossil fuels to sustain many of the future scenarios that are used in climate models.

    Like

  9. I thought the Peterson i/v with Helen Lewis was fascinating and enthralling (it was past midnight when I started and I couldn’t stop it until the end). Credit to Ms Lewis for interesting questions, especially the quick-fire ones at the end, and to both for keeping the whole discussion well mannered despite their obvious differences. Interesting to read Helen’s comments about “winning” in the GQ article, yes, I’m sure some followers will always look for “owning” etc but it would be nice to accept there was a good robust discussion between two intellectuals with not a straw man in sight (a la Ms Newman).
    Jordan Peterson was superb as usual and it’s easy to understand the left’s obsession with trying to do him down – they certainly feel threatened by him.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jona

    “History is rife with non-visionaries who could not perceive
    the world outside of what was already in existence i.e. we’ll only ever
    need five computers etc.”

    History, sure, but I just don’t see anyone making such a dumb mistake these days. We pretty much know the future now, to a good degree of approximation, say the people whose job it is to say we pretty much know the future.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. We pretty much know the future
    Sure. Right.
    The iPhone was released in June 2007.
    Of course we all saw that coming and what the results would be. Right!

    Like

  12. John,

    we must have seen the iPhone coming (I don’t personally remember either way).

    Because otherwise you’re positing that one of the world’s biggest companies, with employees on four continents, managed to keep a secret like that until the moment Steve Jobs could announce it at WWDC07.

    Sorry, but that’s a conspiracy theory. What are you going to tell us next: that the 9/11 hijackers weren’t spontaneous protestors at all but were all part of some plot? Julius Caesar’s killers didn’t just coincidentally draw their knives at the same time, like mainstream history tells us, but somehow planned it in advance?

    Oh, please. We may be skeptics, but there are limits to even OUR gullibility.

    Like

  13. John F. Hultquist says: “The iPhone was released in June 2007. Of course we all saw that coming and what the results would be.”

    There is no “we”. I had an HP Jornada PDA (personal digital assistant) which was basically the same thing long before iPhone. Add a cellphone and viola, iPhone, more or less. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jornada_%28PDA%29

    Like

  14. BRAD KEYES (09 Nov 18 at 5:04 am)

    Sorry, but that’s a conspiracy theory. What are you going to tell us next: that the 9/11 hijackers weren’t spontaneous protestors at all but were all part of some plot?

    It’s always the way when discussion gets historical. Someone comes along and suggests that there’s some kind of organised co-operation going on. Co-operative effort is the last refuge of the lazy post-Marxist slob who can’t be bothered to think for himself. As Jordan Peterson puts it so well in the Cambridge debate:

    Get your act together man, ‘cos no-one’s gonna do it for you. Don’t rely on the other guy, ‘cos he’s likely as doggone useless as you, you little creep. Don’t think you can get anywhere with co-operation man, or friggin’ mutual aid, ‘cos that’s the road to hell, man. Civilisation wasn’t created by folks gettin’ together and deciding to dig the coal and smelt the iron for their mutual benefit man. It was some sonofabitch who’d smartened up, cleaned his room and got the other jerks to dig the coal on pain of starvation. And any idea of organising anything leads straight to the concentration camp and the millions that Marx, Derrida and those other post modern tyrants strangled with their bare hands, as Solzhenitsyn makes clear in his “Condition of the English Working Class.” So straighten up your back, pat a lobster when you see one, and buy a signed copy of my book at jbpsigned@gmail.com or I’ll slap you.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. John B, yes, the interview was very good, her article about it less so. She keeps going on about who “won” the “combat” (well Helen, I think he won the climate round!) and then right at the end there’s a nasty smear where she attempts to associate him with Trump, Putin and Bolsonaro.

    Like

  16. If anyone’s interested in last night’s Question Time, the whole thing is here, or if you don’t want the other panellists and the audience comments there’s an edited-down version including Peterson’s answers here.

    It wasn’t very exciting. Topics covered were knife crime, Brexit and whether being offensive should be a crime. Peterson got quite a lot of applause.

    Like

  17. Off topic, but the US is undergoing a Nationwide ballot box stuffing campaign to redress the lack of democrat party victories this week.
    It could get ugly quickly over here.
    Democrats are very upset their Russian strategy to undo the election didn’t work out so well.
    This time they’re just going to force recounts, and control the counts until they get the needed results.
    Sort of like with temperature histories…

    Like

  18. Brad @ 09 Nov 18 at 2:02 am
    Whilst visionaries of the today would not make the same mistakes as those of the past, there are still being mistakes made. An example today is the idea that an agreement between nations can reduce global emissions to zero is less than 40 years. They ignore at least three factors.

    1) Developing nations are excluded from any obligation to reduce emissions, and collectively show no inclination to do so.2) Many nations with large reserves of fossil fuels and are reliant on exports of oil, gas and coal for a large part of their national income (Russia, Middle East etc) have no inclination to shut down their economies.3) Most nations have what they consider to be more important priorities, that conflict with reducing emissions.

    When achieving your vision is contingent on persuading the likes of Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, Pakistan, India etc to dramatically change their national priorities, then you need some sort of reality check.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Paul
    “MBC, I wonder if you’re not quite tuned in to Brad’s comments”.

    Who is? Poor fellow.

    Like

  20. Paul, Alan,

    I guarantee Manic knows I was being ironic, but used the option (which everyone has BTW) to treat an ironic comment as a literal idea and then analyse its intuitive implausibility. Such a strategy is often generative of new insight, and isn’t to be confused with the humorless rebuttals you can expect to receive at WUWT if you deviate even slightly into the realm of the playful or facetious.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. At least Brad you didn’t reach the nadir of WUWT of having your views being mistaken for those of “a commie”. Mind you, being mistaken as a non-English personage with missing funnybones takes some beating.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Breaking OT: Peter Gleik just won the 2018 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization. The prize recognizes researchers who have contributed to the public understanding and appreciation of science.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thanks for the link Canman –

    partial quote from the header at Carl Sagan site –
    “In exchange for freedom of inquiry, scientists are obliged to explain their work. If science is considered a closed priesthood, too difficult and arcane for the average person to understand, the dangers of abuse are greater”

    then –
    Peter H. Gleick – 2018 Sagan Prize Recipient
    To be nominated for the Sagan Prize, an individual must:
    1.Have contributed mightily to the public understanding and appreciation of science.
    2.Be a resident of one of the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties.
    3.Have a history of accomplishment in scientific research.

    Congrats to Peter, he meets point 2 at least.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Canman,

    thanks, this is great news for those of us who’ve been waiting for climate parody to go mainstream.

    Fellow bloggers, mind if I take this one? I’ll try to work DFHUNTERDOUGIEH’s mordant observation into it.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. There must be “BILLIONS AND BILLIONS” of possible recipients for the Carl Sagan Prize. Why Peter H. Gleick ? Perhaps he is getting the Prize under someone else’s name.

    Liked by 2 people

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