You may have seen Judith Curry’s transcript of an interview she did with Christopher Balkaran of the Strong and Free podcast.
The next podcast at Strong and Free is just out, and it’s called “Climate Change – a Different Perspective with Andy West.”
I haven’t listened to it yet. I’m not an aural person, preferring the written word, so that my lips can move in sync with the text, so I might get round to transcribing it, at least extracts.
Andy asks me to mention that his podcast overlaps in subject with Frank Furedi’s Christmas Lecture t the GWPF, which can be found here.
Many thanks, Geoff.
The Strong and Free Podcasts tackle controversial topics by covering very different perspectives on same, and giving all those perspectives an equal voice to see what comes out. Chris is a great interviewer and has a passion for uncovering what’s beneath the surface, and objectively brining the nub of all those perspectives to his audience.
Great interview Andy. I was surprised to hear Dan Kahan mentioned. I always associated him with the alarmist side. He used to do interviews with Chris Mooney.
Kahan is by no means a skeptic, and indeed via interviews has flirted with the avid believers, although from what I recall of them (there was even one with Lew), this was a vehicle to promote his identity based cognition theories above various alternatives such as ‘merchants of doubt’ and conspiracy ideation. But in the end he’s a lover of actual data, and mostly works from the ‘ground up’, rather than starting with a fancy theoretical concept or even a straight cultural assumption, and falling into biased search and biased fitting of the data to support the idea (seems very common in the social sciences, but in the area of climate change and some other conflicted topics, pretty much endemic!) In the end, and partly because he has defences against bias built into his processes, Kahan has uncovered great stuff, and had to, I suspect, grapple with outcomes he wasn’t comfortable with, which to his credit he’s been doing, albeit such things are iterative. His work is exclusively in the US, but nevertheless his conclusion that in the CC domain public reaction on *both* sides is not about ‘what people know’, but ‘who they are’ (culturally speaking), appears now to have more or less become the mainstream understanding. This replaces older stuff like the Dem/Libs are just right because they like science, and the Rep/Cons are wrong because they’re anti-science. And a lot of folks didn’t like that Dem/Libs are largely believers for the ‘wrong reason’. However, it’s still generally assumed that this rule is US only, because of the uniquely heavy political polarization there that pervades whole public. Elsewhere, it’s still assumed that lack of belief in AGW is due to the old merchants or doubt or anti-science attitudes or whatever. Whereas from my own work, it’s obvious that Kahan’s rule holds everywhere. But in other countries you have to use a religiosity axis to see this, not a political one (I’ve covered 59 countries). Plus, the relationship with religiosity is a split one, because faith simultaneously cooperates and competes with catastrophic climate-change culture, which causes completely different answers to ‘reality-constrained’ questions and ‘unconstrained’ questions across nations. It’s not just about attitudes either, but real-world impact; for instance the commitment to renewables across 35 countries, follows a reality-constrained cultural trend. See the post on this at Climate Etc:
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Andy’s podcast covers the same ground as his recent articles on Climate Etc. about the relation between religious belief and belief in catastrophic climate change, though obviously in less detail. I haven’t read the comments at Climate Etc. Has anybody noticed that Andy has made a hugely important discovery in the social science of religion? Probably not.
The last independent researcher to upset the religious applecart was Darwin, and he provoked an intellectual storm that continues to this day. But that was then, when the number of clever people in Britain could fit in a football stadium. Nowadays there are just so many of us, no-one has the time to faff about a new idea.
According to WordPress only about 10% of people who read this article go on to listen to the podcast. Will you all read it if I transcribe it?
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@ Geoff, yes I’ll read it, but if you don’t transcribe it, I will definitely listen to the cast pod thingy at some point and will comment further then.
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OK, I’ve listened.
It’s very good and although some of us here will have heard about this angle before, the cast pod version is an easily digestible summary. So do not be put off by the technical nature of some of Andy’s articles at Climate etc. Andy comes across well & is able to construct coherent points in a way that is easy to follow.
I scribbled a few notes, frequently consisting only of 2-3 words because the discussion moved quite fast. The things I took away to think about more:
1) the evidence for an idea vs its emotional content
2) that a cultural narrative might be stronger the further it is from reality (something I have questioned before and need to think more about). I think one of the ways Andy put this was that there has to be a gulf between the culture and possible solutions to its problems in order to enable its survival – i.e. you cannot finish the job for fear of putting yourself out of work. As a counter, we have seen Greenpeace reinvent itself once its original issue was resolved.
3) Andy mentioned religion as a cultural narrative of comparable strength to catastrophic climate change. I wondered where nationalism might fit in because certainly in the west nationalism (mebbe patriotism better) is now a dirty word, i.e. we are not allowed to have pride in our country. Maybe there is a constituency adrift here looking for something to believe in.
4) at the moment the cost of adherence to this culture is small to none, and sceptics often call it “virtue signalling.” Will this situation continue?
5) sceptics don’t seem to have a compelling alternative narrative. That may be a problem but it is also encouraging that we have mebbe reached our position through thought rather than emotion. (I like to think I did so, but am aware of myself becoming more angry about the pronouncements and policies emanating from my government and its loyal opposition.)
6) The problem diagnosed, there was a query about medicine. Here the ground is less sure. My own view is that the elastic will snap sooner or later and there will be, at last, widespread opposition. I don’t know what effect this will have. But I do suspect that there are a lot of people saying nothing out of fear.
Anyway, it’s worth an hour of your time. You can get it on Spotify if you have that sort of thing.
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The point about the connection to religiosity (I think – Andy will correct me if I’m wrong) is that he has discovered two conflicting messages in the polling data, depending on whether the rating of climate catastrophe is reality-constrained (i.e. compared to other possible problems) or unconstrained (considered on its own.) There’s a positive correlation between religiosity and the unconstrained sort
and a negative correlation with the constrained sort, when climate change is rated alongside competing problems because among other things:
Quite apart from its interest in explaining belief in climate catastrophe, it’s an original contribution to the sociology of religion. Being neither a pollster nor an academic, Andy is unlikely to get much credit.
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Geoff at 06 Feb 21 9:31 pm, spot on!
JIT, great notes, thank you!
Re 2), I don’t think I would say that the original Greenpeace was mainly cultural. There’s a lot of reality based reasons to oppose nuclear tests (and ultimately the nuclear war they make possible). Likewise with its next generation goals of toxic waste and saving the whales. However, it’s become more and more cultural as it aligned more and more with the catastrophic climate-change narrative. Having said that, generically speaking, while strong cultures will indeed distance themselves far from reality to avoid challenge, they also evolve continuously, and can explore simultaneously several routes that may be better or worse to avoid future challenge; given they are blind and it’s selection that picks the winner, as long as the failed ones aren’t so disastrous as to take them out, the culture will continue its trajectory.
Re 3) we’re none of us Vulcans and so all subject to some cultural influence. And bear in mind it originally evolved because it was an *advantage*. (Allowed bigger and bigger groups). So while mild nationalism may be net positive, the problem occurs when it’s extreme, and the negative aspects take over. When it’s trending towards urgent and existential (e.g. we’re all doomed and our children will all be corrupted because ethnicity X is diluting our population), is the time to worry. Given cultures compete, some now are indeed attempting to undermine older forms, and one way this happens is to make what is a positive / benign / moderate cultural aspect, look like it’s the extreme and bad form. This is happening with pride in country and history (and even family!) now.
Re 6) cultures police their narratives and demonise out-groupers, so indeed many do not speak through fear of status degrade in society, or outright cancellation. I’ve got no idea where it’s all going to go. From a historical point of view there’s a wide range of outcomes (some are very nasty though). I think it’s probably the case that bulk skepticism in the population, which we can see is there and is due to innate skepticism not rational skepticism, needs to be further aroused in response. Rational arguments about climate science aren’t going to do that. And there is some danger, that a new culture could spring from fuelled up innate sketpicism that is let loose. But nothing has no risk, including doing nothing.
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@ Geoff I think I misapprehended what exactly was meant by constrained and unconstrained as “free” – e.g. “Do you think the government should do something about climate change?” vs “material cost” – “How much of your money should the government take to do something about climate change?”
I could not really see that religion and climate change were competing, because secular governments don’t spend money on religion.
@ Andy this particular beast is rather amorphous. It reminds me of the dragon in Carl Sagan’s garage. When you try to pin it down it easily wriggles away. Roger Hallam is now citing the precautionary principle: even if the chance of catastrophe is very small, we have to act decisively.
Here he has managed to invoke patriotism and resistance in the same breath (when in fact, although folk like him like to think of themselves as the Rebel Alliance, they became the Empire a long, long time ago…)
My own little blow for freedom came out a month or so ago (?see gravatar at left if you can?). I have a few copies here if anyone would like one – the only cliscepper to have perused one so far is Alan. I did mention it on another thread, but I don’t think anyone noticed 🙂
“I could not really see that religion and climate change were competing, because secular governments don’t spend money on religion.”
They both compete and co-operate, simultaneously, which ultimately causes the two trends that Geoff mentions above. And these trends are amazingly robust across all nations / ethnicities / faiths, and from 24% religiosity (Sweden) to 99% (several places). It’s not about money, it’s about something far more fundamental, which is identity. But money can indeed be one of the reality constraints, because if you spend it on X, you must have less to spend on Y and Z etc, and public priorities regarding X, Y, and Z correspond to cultural values. Plus, to a secondary degree, money cushions cultural effects (both cultural belief and innate skepticism in opposition), so most of the variance about the above trends is not noise but systemic, due to GDP-per-Capita, but *not* absolute GDPpC, rather, GDP-pC relative to Religio-regional peer-group norms.
“@ Andy this particular beast is rather amorphous.”
In some ways, cultures can indeed be slippy. But Hallam is textbook here. Very basic ‘cultural narrative trumps all’, in this case expressed as gross misuse of the precautionary principle, a tactic already expressed elsewhere by CCCC. For instance, notably by Lewandowsky in formal papers (he hooked up with actual climate-scientists to this purpose). But indeed as you say, from an elitist PoV, adherents of CCCC are on the inside not the outside. However, the sub-narrative of grass-roots resistance still has power that helps garner new recruits, especially among the young. Whether it’s true or not is irrelevant.
Is Denierland downloadable on Amazon or Smashwords or somewhere?
@ Andy it should pop up on Amazon if you type in Denierland (I hope), but I can send you a physical copy if you can find some non-public way of sending me your snail mail address!
JIT, I got the Kindle version. I won’t be able to give it full attention it deserves yet as I’m intensely busy for quite a few weeks. But it looks very well laid out and I’m liking the intro section, which also gives short summary on each chapter. And I’m very much liking indeed the phrase in there that says: ‘The catastrophe narrative is not mainstream science: it’s just the inevitable evolutionary endpoint of a powerful idea’, and similar implications. You vector to the physical, not my territory, to ‘argue that the catastrophe narrative is entirely wrong’, but in your return in Chapter 9, the comparisons to religion and some explanatory mechanics like how bidding wars of emotive stories can overwhelm rationality, are right on the nail imo. Indeed this is emotive selection in action, a fundamental driving force common to all cultures. It’s well-written and must have been a huge effort to produce. There’s a set of universal characteristics associated with cultural spread, of which one is that every generation thinks it is special, and typically specially threatened too, so will have to be especially heroic to fix. I refer to such myself, and note that this exactly is in your ‘lure of the apocalypse’ section. As also is consensus policing in the following section; another classic feature of cultures. I like having stacks of reference / links on the end too 🙂 Regarding a ‘solution’ though, I think the issue is that it’s going to be far harder to fix the culture, than to accommodate the modest physicals that even mainstream science says will occur.
So, overall, a great book! Kudos.
@ Andy thanks for the kind comments. I wasn’t 100% sure how the formatting would turn out on the kindle, which is why I was angling to send you a physical copy.
It was something of an effort, and needed updating as soon as it was finished. Publishing was a way to draw a line under it, but it will need to be revised at some point.
Re: the references, there should be an article by a certain West, A. in there somewhere…
JIT, ah yes, I see it, ‘CAGW A Snarl Word?’ reference. I’m honoured 🙂 The format is fine, although it says ‘searches are not enabled yet on this publication’.
@ Andy dang it, I didn’t know that was even a thing. I’ll have to find out about that for the revision. A bunch of text that you can’t search? Seems curious. (I wonder if this is a separate list of keywords – i.e. equivalent to the index in the paper version that I deleted for the kindle version…)
Re: Roger Hallam – I had in mind the way that, rather than resist a rational position a sceptic might take (e.g. Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity is below 2 K), he can easily accept that, then use the long tail of a right-skewed pdf to argue that a catastrophic outcome can’t be discounted. Therefore we have to take all available measures to head off this small possibility.
I am sure that if a sceptic replies with the vast cost entailed, that XR will state that the necessary actions will have a net benefit economically as well as ecologically. At this stage everything really is up for grabs because there are so many ways to mangle the numbers.
Hey JIT – well done – have to get Attenborough to narrate it for the young folk & “mangle the numbers” tho!!!
ps – are warm in Norfolk !!!!
JIT, sadly I’ve no idea how to drive the features for kindle format.
“Re: Roger Hallam – I had in mind the way that, rather than resist a rational position a sceptic might take (e.g. Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity is below 2 K), he can easily accept that, then use the long tail of a right-skewed pdf to argue that a catastrophic outcome can’t be discounted. Therefore we have to take all available measures to head off this small possibility.”
That’s exactly the same as what Lewandowsky and Risbey et al did with their two-part study back in 2014, but much more formally. And it’s a pretty well-trodden path, as pointed out by Judith Curry even back then: “John Kerry frequently does this, as does Joe Romm (and Rachendra Pachauri).” It happens exactly because they’re all working backwards from absolute conviction, which is emotive not rational and invoked by (very) strong cultural belief. In fact Lew was even a notch worse, saying that the more uncertainty there was, the more urgency and resource humanity needed to throw at the issue.
“I am sure that if a sceptic replies with the vast cost entailed, that XR will state that the necessary actions will have a net benefit economically as well as ecologically.”
If one believes in something strongly enough, i.e. it’s a true emotive / cultural belief and not arrived at through rationality, *no* argument will pull down that belief. And anything which threatens the belief will be countered with fairy stories that somehow or other apparently square an obvious circle. To pursue these arguments is futile; you won’t convince a died-in-the-wool religious believer to give up his god via any rational argument.
Fortunately, only a small minority of people will have belief at this level. As it fans out it gets weaker, but in a kind of cascade of leverage, as long as the narrative retains enough credibility, especially with elites, it can co-opt whole populations and vast resources, despite bulk skepticism also existing. (Public bulk skepticism is also not from rationality. Publics are not climate literate, so they can’t get to skepticism via rationality because this needs knowledge. They get there by instinctively recognising that there are strong cultural aspects to the belief in certain catastrophe; they don’t buy the culture, not the so called science it happens to be couched in).
JIT (8 Feb21 9.21pm)
This is what Monbiot did on the only occasion he deigned to answer me at Comment is Free. I challenged him to name one scientific paper that established the existence of catastrophic clmate change and he came back with a paper by Stott of the Met arguing that the fat tail might be longer and fatter than we thought. This is both a non sequitur and a non starter, since there’s no climate data in a pdf, but only opinions on the climate. It’s as valid as arguing for the existence of God using opinion surveys.
It’s an argument that can be used to argue for the suppression of anything and everything. The probability of a dangerous accident at a nuclear power station would produce a similar fat tailed distribution (with no upper limit to the possible number of fatalities, unlike a mining disaster, which can only kill the number of miners in the mine.) So you can argue that science-trained Merkel is only applying current “scientific” logic in closing down nuclear power before the worst happens. 120 years ago she would have suppressed the horseless carriage using the same logic.
“Everything must be stopped before it becomes dangerous” is a recipe for turning the West into a giant Amish settlement.
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@ DFHUNTER, yes it’s a tad chilly. Probably about 1 here in sunny Norwich. I’ve just got back from a quick run. Or rather a slow run. Running in the snow beats running in the heat. (Re: Denierland, I can send you a copy, but you’ll have to find some way of telling me where without telling the rest of the world.)
@ Geoff and Andy so Net Zero can be justified rationally based on the precautionary principle. The cost in terms of freedom and gold can be swerved. If we are left with innate scepticism, that won’t convince the shakers and movers to shake or move in a different direction. If we are waiting for a grass roots rebellion driven by some of the consequences of Net Zero policies, we could be waiting a long time. The true culprit behind the pain is often well hidden. As an example, a few days ago OFGEM announced the raising of the domestic energy price cap, owing to “increased costs for suppliers” or something like that. Elsewhere it was blamed on “increasing wholesale costs”. When you delve into the weeds of this you easily find that a large chunk of the increased costs are due to the addition of renewables to the grid. But there seems to be an aversion to reporting this in the media. So I can moan about the increased cost all I like, but unless I know where to direct my anger, nothing will change. (Must scour the news to see if anyone beyond sceptical blogs did actually investigate the why of this.)
(Perhaps we have to wait for policies that are unarguably driven by Net Zero to cut in…)
And this is just what we in the sceptical bubble are doing – waiting to say “I told you so.”
I think this is a monumental mistake. The GWPF is reporting on a Deutsche Bank paper which sensibly points out that sooner or later there will be a political backlash. As things stand, that can only come from the populist right, which would plunge Europe and the UK into the kind of psychological civil war that has infected the USA. On the other hand, I don’t know what else we can do.
“@ Geoff and Andy so Net Zero can be justified rationally based on the precautionary principle.”
Well it’s highly irrational, though I know what you mean, it is passing for rational due to immense cultural bias all around.
“I think this is a monumental mistake. The GWPF is reporting on a Deutsche Bank paper which sensibly points out that sooner or later there will be a political backlash. As things stand, that can only come from the populist right, which would plunge Europe and the UK into the kind of psychological civil war that has infected the USA. On the other hand, I don’t know what else we can do.”
Geoff has the nub of the problem here. While it may in principle be ‘a mistake’, what the hell are the realistic options? But…
“If we are left with innate scepticism, that won’t convince the shakers and movers to shake or move in a different direction.”
…this may be wrong. Innate skepticism is instinctive not rational either, but is bulk in populations, and it’s strong. It’s the backbone behind reaction like the Gillet Jeunes, who didn’t give a flying f**k about saving the planet if their fuel went up a few Euros when they’re already on the edge. Because they *instinctively* know the planet is no way in danger from this. They know, subconsciously, that the narrative is *not true*, because it’s cultural. Hence this empowers them to demonstrate hard. This force could be much more seriously awoken, and without leaving it to far right agendas to do it; but it’d still need huge political effort.
And borrowing from historic precedent is also worthwhile. When women were trying to get equal rights a century ago (and indeed in some respects, right up to recent history), they didn’t for instance argue that religion was a fairy-tale which had become a huge tool of patriarchy to hold them down. They argued instead that there ought to be women priests too! And that eventually came about, but these kind of changes eventually contributed to the serious decline of religion in the West, because it could then be seen that religion had supported what were clearly arbitrary values to preserve particular elites / social hierarchies. For the climate-change domain I think the biggest hope of change likewise still comes from those who, to some extent at least, are within their hearts still nominal believers, yet are trying to reform the system *from within*, as it were. Schellenberger and Lomborg et al, these are the folks that could really make a big change, because they are using the narrative to undermine the narrative, so to speak, even though that’s not their primary intent. Planet of the Humans was likewise in this vein. We don’t give a damn where the reform comes from, if it works. And likewise to historic example, such reforms would likely lead in time lead to the defeat of the narrative anyhow.
Hi JIT – never realised you had a blog/ish
(Re: Denierland, I can send you a copy, but you’ll have to find some way of telling me where without telling the rest of the world.)
if you mean email, send it to email@example.com – don’t care who knows!!!
I see from Amazon you have a few novels published already, well done 🙂
@ Andy at times I have wondered whether going all out for Net Zero might actually be the quickest way to reverse course. Kinda like the kids in the back shouting “Go faster!” and three handbrake turns later, “Stop! Let me out!”
It seems as if Lomborg and his ilk are not able to make a dent. Nothing seems to make a dent. We seem to have daily reports of negative consequences of climate policies, but the shine doesn’t come off. And our superiors are good at hiding those negative consequences: as an example, itemised energy bills would be an incredible blow against the juggernaut.
@ DFHunter, your inbox momentarily! (It’s not a blog, it’s an old bandage – something you know you ought to sort out one day – the smell kinda getting a little ripe – but you just promise yourself you’ll do it later, soon.)
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