Embracing a low profile in the climate debate

Are you trying to say, MT, that Joe may be in danger of becoming the Matt Taibbi of climate blogging? Lord knows it’s certainly a temptation.

One of the reasons why I let this nugget from Lomborg go by was my desire to shift the conversation in a more productive or at least interesting direction. I had a post written that I just couldn’t bring myself to put up (I’ll put part of it up here now, because I think it can serve as a springboard for further discussion of MT’s points). It’s certainly satisfying to rip into people like Lomborg, and there is undeniably a market for such posts- my own on Lomborg (and similarly, Will) inevitably draw more traffic than the ones brushing against the larger issues of economic-biosphere realism. Anyway, here’s the meat of it:

Greenfyre has this part of it right on. He [Lomborg] does not take his own arguments seriously.

He simply takes a sprinkling of “facts” and extrapolates or distorts them well beyond any possible legitimacy to back a predetermined position that inevitably seeks to minimize the threat posed by climate change. He has done this using the 1998/10 years of cooling denialist canard, he’s done it multiple times in misrepresenting sea level rise. He does it on the “expected” temp reduction under mitigation (by pretending Kyoto was actually meant to be a realistic mitigation treaty rather than the initial framework for one). And he does so in [his Guardian op-ed], the headline of which borders on self-parody.

Moreover, he is invariably incredibly lazy in doing so- here relying on the same handful of papers years after they were written (the “latest”, although published in 2006, was written back in 2004). The studies (yes, even the “global” one) he cites use references that end up being specific to Europe- their conclusions don’t even appear hold up when looking at other nations with significant population levels at high latitudes and similar climates like the US, let alone areas with large percentages of at risk population in hotter climates and milder winters. He does not seem to consider whether or not extremes regardless of direction are more important than the issue of heat or cold itself, i.e. that the number of heat deaths may “depressed” due to high-risk summer potential mortalities passing away during winter. In fact, a cursory look reveals there is preliminary research that indicates this could very well be the case, which would mean Lomborg is in effect “double counting” a significant number of winter mortalities. And of course his grossly oversimplified accounting fails to consider other mortality issues related to temperature outside of Europe like water availability, famine, etc.

In essence, what really, really irks me is that Lomborg is happy to repeat the same shtick over and over again, to the point of ignoring other/newer evidence that could arguably be used more convincingly, provided it was presented with the proper caveats (e.g. recent findings with regard to the link between low absolute humidity and wintertime infections of influenza and how that could change under warming).

[Incidentally, the day before (March 11) he had an article promoting genetically-modified foods, published by the right wing, market fundamentalist think tank Manhattan Institute’s in-house quarterly: City Journal: “Another Green Revolution”.

At first blush, this might seem like a strange departure from his media blitz coinciding with the Climate Change Congress (three anti-mitigation op-eds in a week!). On the contrary, now that his usefulness in the climate change arguments has all but run its course, he’s simply reverting back to his prior ‘Skeptical Environmentalist’ position as an all around pro-corporation/anti-regulation shill.]

I was going to finish up the post on Lomborg with the not entirely unserious boast that I could crank out a more convincing argument blind-drunk with 10 minutes to do research. It’s an un- or rarely-spoken truism among those who (perhaps foolishly) get down in the mud with the denialists, delayers, and dilettantes [*cough*Dyson*cough*] that dealing with them is actually incredibly reassuring as far as whether the big picture has been more or less pinned down. Quite simply there are no denialists etc. who even come close to presenting as damaging a “case against” anthropogenic warming to the public as those who actually have a working understanding of it could, and with a great deal less effort. Certainly this is not unique to the climate freakshow- someone like Abbie or PZ could present a much more superficially “damning” critique of the popular conception of evolution than the “best and the brightest” creationists could. In part this is due to hearing the same nonsense regurgitated often enough to know what is “sticky” and what isn’t, but it’s mostly the difference between knowledge and trivia.

Working one’s way up to where the genuine (as opposed to the false or unimportant) disagreements and uncertainty exist is to me the whole point of exploring a field/subject/issue. Getting into the messy bits is the only way to move understanding forward. Only coming at the messy bits from the outside, however, doesn’t give you much to work with. The most interesting back-and-forths don’t happen on the denialist blogs for this very reason. Similarly, MT’s point about Climate Progress having a narrow point of view touches on this. You’re likely not going to hear about SLR being significantly less than a meter/century [yes, that’s just for WAIS, I know] there unless it’s to rebut such a claim. Similarly, you’re not going to get a criticism of unrealistic probabilistic estimates of 5-7C warming, or that Hansen is off the reservation [As an aside- I occasionally wish I could force the Solomons of the world to actually read Stoat’s archives, see how un-alarmist (and dare I say at times contrarian?) he can be, and watch their heads explode]. And there is no reason to believe that just because disagreements/discussions exist on these issues that SLR won’t be +1m/century, temp won’t be 5-7C by 2100, or that Hansen isn’t once again more right than wrong- the point being is that neither CP or the denialosphere are the places to go for thoughtful discussion of these issues.

And perhaps it’s for the best policy/publicity-wise that Climate Progress (as MT so humblingly points out) has the kind of numbers it does while the rest of us are relatively ignored (*sniff*). But doesn’t that mean that we can talk about the messy bits without having to worry about rebutting the latest Lomborg or Dyson op-ed? That we can talk about finding an off-ramp from our current, lunatic path without worrying about Club of Rome accusations and conspiracy smears?

[Or at least all of us but MT anyway? ; )]


10 responses to “Embracing a low profile in the climate debate

  1. Interesting read, thanks! I would like to embrace your “low profile” myself and quietly confess that I have never really given any careful thought to AFTIC’s role in the climate blogosphere. Your article and MT’s are making me do so.

    My blog was originally meant, primarily at least, as a personal repository for frequently needed links and arguments to streamline usenet posting at sci.environment. Real Climate outed me one day and I have been flying (okay, strolling along) by the seat of my pants since.

  2. “It’s certainly satisfying to rip into people like Lomborg, and there is undeniably a market for such posts- my own on Lomborg (and similarly, Will) inevitably draw more traffic than the ones brushing against the larger issues of economic-biosphere realism.”

    I honestly cannot understand why so many blogs give these people so much ink and time. Completely wrong strategy IMO. Just keep taking the initiative and blasting people with the strength of the science. Make the deniers respond to the depth and breadth of the science, don’t respond to the deniers. Why is this so hard for most blogs to wrap their mind around?

  3. should be “most bloggers to wrap their minds around” above

    The fact that you get more traffic with your posts on deniers’ comments is really disturbing news–it indicates (perhaps) that readers are more interested in the fact that people are arguing than they are about the science

  4. “Quite simply there are no denialists etc. who even come close to presenting as damaging a “case against” anthropogenic warming to the public as those who actually have a working understanding of it could, and with a great deal less effort. Certainly this is not unique to the climate freakshow…”

    Completely agree and have often had the same thought, viz, “these people don’t even know what arguments that they should really be making”. That’s how ignorant they are. The thing is, ignorant people rarely know or care about that fact.

  5. it indicates (perhaps) that readers are more interested in the fact that people are arguing than they are about the science

    I think it reflects the desire of people who aren’t capable of doing it themselves to have clear rebuttals to FUD. I don’t know about Blogger or Typepad, but with WordPress you can see where incoming links originate, and the whack-a-mole/debunking Lomborg type posts are linked through forums, message boards, and emails. When I can follow them back (obviously I can’t to private boards or emails) they are inevitably posted in response to someone attempting to spread whichever particular talking points my post addressed. In my admittedly limited experience, it’s about rebuttal rather than evidence of legitimate internal debate over the science.

    I have to admit that I am always torn between leaving the nonsense unanswered or risking giving it weight by dignifying it with a response. I think I’m moving away from the latter.

  6. Likewise, my referrals general come from forums or blog threads offered as a counter argument. I have not seen evidence that the existence of rebuttals is used as evidence of the reality of a debate. Though I am not sure what that evidence would look like….

  7. Marion Delgado

    We should also make space for the ones for whom the many blog posts news stories, etc. about how x, y and z are all “worse than we predicted” which is an artifact of the inherently conservative IPCC process plus a bit of self-censorship.

    Hint: The heat and CO2 are both going to start leaving the oceans in our lifetimes (absorbed less and less and precipitously so) and that, too, will evince endless worse than anyone thought articles, only not.

  8. Marion Delgado

    garbled, i meant to write for whom … censorship, do NOT apply (because they estimated more correctly).

    evidence of climate change does not lead to a change to a climate of evidence.

  9. “I think it reflects the desire of people who aren’t capable of doing it themselves to have clear rebuttals to FUD. ”

    Seems reasonable and I sure hope so. And if that is the case, I see no problem with it as long as it spurs real inquiry/learning and good debate rather than just parroting because “scientist or expert x said so”, something probably most of us have been guilty of at one time or another.

  10. Lomborg, Benny Peiser and co are quite simple to figure out. Second rank academics out to see the world. It works.

    (You might argue that Eli is one, but he keeps his ears down. So far no one has even offered a carrot).

    [Have I ever written about my Marjoe gambit daydream? -TB]

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