The New Clarion

The New Clarion header image 2

Climate Change Truth

June 29th, 2009 by Bill Brown · 16 Comments · Environmentalism

A senior EPA scientist was rebuffed after trying to distribute a report expressing doubts about a pending global warming policy. He was told that it would not be released since it might jeopardize the policy, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has discovered. The author took the EPA to task for relying on outdated research and for relying on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It was a last-minute attempt to inject some caution into the incautious process by which the EPA was going to officially declare carbon dioxide a pollutant. After an online blizzard of indignation curiously absent from the media, he was relieved of all climate-related duties and advised to get an attorney.

A polar bear expert was told that he wasn’t welcome at a meeting of the Polar Bear Specialist Group because he has argued repeatedly that polar bear populations are actually increasing. The chairman of the group explicitly stated that his views “counter to human-induced climate change are extremely unhelpful.” He had obtained funds to travel to the meeting but the members of the group voted down his attendance in spite of his unassailable expertise.

These two recent episodes are but the latest in a long series of denying dissent by the proponents of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Spend any time online researching global warming and you’ll quickly discover countless more examples of earnest dissenters citing a laundry list of reasons to doubt only to be derided as “deniers” and shouted down until they leave. The pattern plays out time and again. What the EPA scientist, the polar bear researcher, and these online denizens fail to realize is that the truth is utterly irrelevant to AGW advocates.

(For the record, I am on the fence about the validity of the science of the AGW debate. Warming may or may not be happening and it may or may not be a consequence of mankind’s industrialization—I’ve seen convincing support for each. I am quite unqualified to pass judgement on the scientific merits of either side’s position or to dispute the findings of actual researchers. I read widely on the matter and have been following it since James Hansen’s Congressional testimony in 1988, but neither fact counts for much as far as science goes. However, I can opine on the political implications of the conclusions and the culture of AGW as a lay observer and I will strive to confine myself to that perspective.)

The rational person spends a tremendous amount of time and effort looking at reality, evaluating hypotheses, and considering alternative explanations when he tries to come to know something. After the effort is expended and the conclusions are arrived at, he can legitimately claim the mantle of “certainty” about the item before him. But his certainty is not inviolable: if new data or new facts come to light that he hadn’t considered, he will evaluate his certainty and amend his conclusions to reflect them. He understands that knowledge is not a static destination, but an ongoing process with milestones representing the intermediate points. This view is not skepticism—where knowledge and certainty are impossible—but an openness to re-consider one’s premises.

When a rational person sees someone come to the wrong conclusion, he assumes that that person is much like him. So he will point out the pertinent facts and try to help that person come to see the wider context that negates or modifies the earlier conclusion. If he’s right, he just might persuade the other person to change his mind.

Scientists generally operate like the rational person described above. They work according to the scientific method, which enshrines the inductive approach. Publishing their findings in a scientific journal is supposed to be the beginning of the journey to knowledge as other scientists test the results and publish their own findings. This emerging consensus is then grist for causal explanation, which is then itself tested in new scenarios and experiments. This process is more rigorous and formal than the rational person’s due to its inherently social nature: the rational person really only needs to understand an issue in his own mind whereas a scientist must cast his understanding in precise, objective terms that are available to others.

At odds with both the rational person and the scientist is the man of faith. For him, knowledge once obtained is sacrosanct; his certainty is absolute and unshakeable. In contrast, the process by which he acquires such certainty is relatively effortless: he is told what to believe and he accepts it wholesale. His mind is literally closed off to contradictory information as he resolutely refuses to consider it.

The source of his knowledge and certainty is other people so the pedigree is of vital importance to him. If he is a Christian, the opinions of his fellow worshippers might carry some weight but pale next to his priest or the Pope. If he is a Marxist, then an economics professor’s ideas trump a graduate student’s but lose out to a consensus of five economics professors. When knowledge is severed from its ties to an objective reality, the need for a standard does not vanish so it morphs into an authority accounting game.

Dissent—or even worse, apostasy—cannot be tolerated in the realm of faith. Doubt is an injection of reason that undermines the received knowledge. So men of faith gather with other men of faith, trusting that none of whom will raise uncomfortable doubts or ask serious questions of each other’s certainties. They take solace in the mutual affirmations of rightness and correctness. When they come across dissent, their defense mechanisms react automatically to neutralize the doubt and quash the questions that percolate to the surface of their faith. The faithful swarm to prevent a mental foothold and seize on their numbers for reassurance that they can’t all be wrong.

By now, you can probably already guess which side I think the AGW group falls into. For the most strident of AGW advocates, the ones who loudly proclaim that the debate is over, AGW has become an article of faith—a religion with all the dogma, rituals, and trappings of any traditional one. For them, AGW must never be questioned and they are prepared to do whatever it takes to accomplish that. If doubt does come up, they ratchet up the rhetoric to cow the less-fanatical proponents through a variant of Pascal’s Wager.

The rank and file listen to what the leaders tell them and the clustering with those of like “mind” prevents them from having to question their beliefs. Their lack of doubt is more a happenstance of laziness or ignorance or intellectual sloth than a conscious use of mental blinders. They are the ones most open to suasion: the prolonged cold snap is distinctly at odds with alarmism and the hyperbole of the leaders is so over the top that even the dimmest must recoil.

On that front, there is reason for hope. Australia recently rejected a climate change bill. 40% of Americans think that global warming is not caused by man. There was even some spirited opposition on the House floor last week.

But it may prove to be a false hope. Those unwilling to do the intellectual legwork necessary to come to a firm conclusion about AGW (or any issue, for that matter) are easily recalled to the fold should things get warmer or dissent be silenced. While rejoicing in the momentary victories of rejection of this or that anti-man piece of legislation, we cannot let up on the culture war. Victory there is the only longstanding one. To achieve that, we need a resurgence of reason and rational people. Luckily, there’s some positive signs on that front as well.

16 Comments so far ↓

  • Andrew Dalton

    I have a new absurdity for you: Paul Krugman writes that House members who voted against the recent “climate change” bill have committed “treason against the planet.” Seriously.

    Krugman has divorced moral concepts from human values to the same absurd extent that religionists do when they describe pro-gay legislation as an “offense against God.” The fact that he uses the bullying language of tyranny (“treason,” which was narrowly defined in the Constitution for a very good reason) foreshadows the endgame of environmentalist politics.

  • Bill Brown

    Just when you think Krugman can’t go any lower, he surprises you. Treason is a serious charge that carries with it serious (and severe) implications. The whole “denial” label is troubling enough, given that Holocaust denial is against the law in Germany. But unleashing treason is stepping things up quite a bit.

    “Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about.” This from the man that thinks Obama isn’t spending enough!

  • Andrew Dalton

    The “denier” epithet is also an equivocation. It lumps together the science of climate with the political prescriptions commonly offered by those who support the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). The former is an empirical question in a specialized subject; the latter is a moral/political question. Whatever the facts regarding AGW, we can know from philosophical principles that any conclusion such as: “therefore, we need to give up industrial civilization,” or “therefore, we need to impose a centrally planned economy” is false.

    Most conservatives don’t understand this distinction, and they fall into the leftists’ trap when they make (frequently poor) arguments against AGW science in order to attack AGW politics. (That’s not to say that some of the arguments that we hear in favor of AGW theory — such as blaming single weather events on AGW — aren’t genuinely bad.)

    I’m sure that there are many honest climate scientists who are uncomfortable with the manner in which these two issues are conflated as one “consensus” by the national media. But scientist-activists such as James Hansen (whose vices go far beyond epistemology) bear a large share of the blame for this confusion, and so do non-activist scientists who remain silent about Hansen and his ilk.

  • Rajesh Dhawan

    Another fallout of this environmental faith is the wider acceptance of the climate change in underdeveloped countries.

    In India this is threatening to undo the gains made from free-market reforms in recent years as the western environmentalists are increasingly influencing and boosting the anti-business lobbies .

    One of the examples is the start of mandatory CNG fuel for commercial vehicles in New Delhi which have an unfortunate tendency to burst into flames and have caused dozens of horrible deaths by burning. Besides the obvious costs in coversion and the the losses suffered by poor auto-ricksaw/taxi drivers, it is literally killing people.

    Just goes on to show the real motives of the environmental movement – people be damned, at least the air is cleaner.

  • Richard

    The polar bear concern kills me. It is such a blatant example of rationalization. On this issue the AGWers not only blank out factual data, they reject the understanding of their hallowed “First Nations” people. Not only do polar bear census data indicate that the number of polar bears have increased, so it is the opinion of the much revered understanding of the Inuit elders et al.

    The Environmentalists would not hesitate to publicize a comment by a single *blind* elder if he were to say that the white man is destroying polar bear population. This is no different from their shameless use of two drowned polar bears, that “could not find solid ice”, as an indication of what GW will do to the bears. Polar bears, as a species, ‘know’ to head for the coastline in the Arctic spring. Logically, some will be late, and may drown, especially if *weather* systems, GW or not, cause a year of rapid thawing.

    Why might the PB population be increasing?

    While PB brings to mind jars in garbage dumps, there might be a better reason. If, at least in N. America, Arctic conditions are warmer —as I think they are, whatever the cause— then surely there must be more natural growth. That growth simply adds to the food chain, both on land and at sea. The first organisms to benefit from it will be indigenous. If the change of conditions is lasting, then there may be a northward movement of a number of non-indigenous species… *but that does not mean a wholesale invasion*. On average every Celsius degree warmer one can expect a pole-ward shift of habitat by some one~ to two~ hundred kilometers. Per degree, the shift will be slow, and will vary with water body locations, mountains, and the resistance of those indigenous species and, of course, the natural ability of the organisms to move —wings and legs being faster than seeds and spores.

    Since the globe was significantly warmer one millennium ago, we know we are no where near any sort of catastrophe of the sort predicted by the Goron and his AGW followers.

    Why do we never hear about the Medieval Warm Period? There are several sources where you can quickly learn how McMann contrived the “hockey stick” graph (used by the Goron) using data transformations that virtually guaranteed a “hockey stick” curve with any data set. Here is one, and if you scroll down you will also see the actual data plot of the MWP.

  • Richard

    I think the following statement by Bill B. is worth some discussion. It is an epistemological evaluation of what constitutes “Certainty”. He writes,
    But his certainty is not inviolable: if new data or new facts come to light that he hadn’t considered, he will evaluate his certainty and amend his conclusions to reflect them. He understands that knowledge is not a static destination, but an ongoing process with milestones representing the intermediate points. This view is not skepticism—where knowledge and certainty are impossible—but an openness to re-consider one’s premises.

    Leonard Peikoff sets out three levels of knowledge of reality: probably, possible, and certain. This sounds great, if certainty is only an epistemological truth status. He goes on to suggest that to be the case, using the example of taking a commercial airline flight. When one steps on the plane they fully expect to reach their destination alive. They are certain, even if their is a vanishing chance of catastrophe.

    I have no problem with that, because the chance of catastrophe IS vanishing. That is, metaphysics and human engineering all but guarantee a *Platonic* (i.e. Intrinsically guaranteed) safe arrival. Its epistemological status is “certain”, even if not metaphysically so.

    But there is NO chance that Evolution occurs by Lamarckian methods; it is Darwin, Mendel & modern organic chemistry, ALL the way metaphysically. What ‘kind’ of Certainty is that? Can Objectivism have degrees of certainty?

    Is it at this point that a (epistemological) certainty becomes a (Natural) Law, a metaphysical fact apart from Mankind?

  • Galileo Blogs

    Bill, great job. You show the connection between the method of faith and how it works out in practice: the deference to authority, the seeking out of like-minded people, the shunning of apostates, etc. This accurately describes the behavior of Marxists, environmentalists, and religionists.

    Andrew Dalton, excellent point. You are making the key point about the global warming debate. The issue of whether AGW is true is nearly a red-herring. It is so because even if true, one cannot prescribe the violation of rights as the “solution.” In exchange for forestalling an alleged couple feet increase in sea levels over one hundred years, the global warmers want to extend ultimately dictatorial control over the economy, as Myrhaf pointed out in his earlier post. That cannot be justified. Moreover, individuals who are *free* to adjust and adapt will use their freedom and wealth to adjust to such a slow-moving phenomenon as a sea level that rises one-half inch per year.

    In concrete terms, we need to be free like Holland (but even more free) to effectively deal with land that lies below sea level as they do (2/3 of Holland lies below sea level). Otherwise, we will suffer the fate of Bangladesh where people die every year from predictable and preventable flooding because they are too poor to take the measures to prevent the floods.

    The global warming legislation moves us in the direction of responding to natural disasters the way the Bangladeshis do. Impoverished and in tune with nature, they do not sully it with technologies such as dikes, damps, and water pumps.

  • madmax

    The earth has always fluctuated from periods of extreme heat and cold. Two times in the geologic past the *entire* planet was covered in ice. 250 million years ago because of massive volcanism in what is today Siberia (!!) the earth’s temperature rose significantly killing of 90% of all living species in what is today called the Permian Extinction.

    We are actually living in a great geologic time period where the earth is rather stable. Hopefully this will continue for a few thousand years more; time enough for mankind to solve its philosophic problems, establish laissez-faire, and colonize other planets along with building such high-tech societies that we are basically immune to ecological disasters (terrestrial or extra-terrestrial; ie volcanoes or asteroids).

    That being said, I still feel that the Objectivist commentary on this lacks a really good answer to the all too common question: “but what if mankind really is causing unstable ecological conditions?” This is sort of like the plot to the Superman comic: Jor-el warns the Kryptonians that Krypton was destroying itself and nobody listens to him. I think this is all nonsense but what would be a really good answer to that question, which in one sense is not totally unreasonable.

    I think that environmentalism ultimately comes down to the collectivist premise that “rational man if left free will destroy himself by means of capitalism and technology.” This reduces to “man is by nature flawed/sinful/destructive, etc.” But I would like to see a comprehensive answer to the possibility of man-caused disaster and the claim that government must regulate us to prevent our destruction.

  • Bill Brown

    I almost went there at the end, madmax. I think this entry warrants another part discussing the specific political implications as well as precisely that question. (If any other New Clarion authors want to take that baton instead, I wouldn’t mind at all—just let me know via email.)

  • Jim May

    “but what if mankind really is causing unstable ecological conditions?”

    Then we’ve discovered that we are now sufficiently powerful to *control* the climate. I say, take advantage of it!


    “I think that environmentalism ultimately comes down to the collectivist premise that “rational man if left free will destroy himself by means of capitalism and technology.””

    The deeper root of *that* is the Pandora’s Box phobia. It is the end-of-road of primitive minds; to them, the products of reason are indistinguishable from magic, and only gods should wield such power — so let us relinquish it, lest we anger them. It is the inverse of the healthy mind’s eager anticipation of all the cool things that we could DO with the power of our minds.

    To use Billy Beck’s term: where the latter is the mindset of the Enlightenment, the former is that of its opposite: the Endarkenment.

  • Joseph Kellard

    Paul Krugman today had a column in the New York Times entitled: “Betratying the Planet.” There was also a pull quote-like subhead that read: “On the immorality of climate-change denial.” I didn’t read it, but thought I should let writers and readers of this blog know about it.

  • Joseph Kellard

    As the kids say today, “My bad.” I see that there is mention of Krugman’s column at the start of this thread.

  • Galileo Blogs


    Even if we knew that man’s acts of production today and over ensuing decades would cause ocean levels to rise by something like 1/2 inch per year for a century, that would not constitute a “man-made ecological disaster” for which some kind of extraordinary action is required.

    The fact is, all of man’s activities affect the ecology and even other men. Car exhaust, overflowing garbage cans, unpleasant smells are facts of life. They are mere inconveniences. More than that, there is no way to counteract them without imposing an injustice on the offenders (e.g., banning offending perfumes).

    The same principle applies to the global warming issue. The only way to stop the gradually rising ocean levels — if we are to accept the environmentalists’ arguments at face value — would be to shut down or severely hamper industrial production, transportation, and all the benefits we derive from the use of electricity.

    Given that choice, I would consider a gradually rising ocean as a minor inconvenience on the order of all those breathfuls of car exhaust or noxious perfumes or visions of unsightly garbage that I must encounter over the course of my life.

    Now, if there were a *real* ecological disaster that would constitute a grave and imminent threat to man (global warming is neither), then what should we do? Well, I can think of several answers. Better yet, I would like to see someone put those answers into an interesting science fiction story where the protagonists wrestle with this issue and resolve it in rational terms. That’s a proposal for any philosophically-minded fiction writers out there.

  • Myrhaf

    What if the Christians are right, and humans are judged in the afterlife by whether or not they accept Jesus as their savior? What if the communists are right, and the dictatorship of the proletariat will leade to paradise on earth? What if Ahmadinejad is right and there was no Holocaust? What if those cultists were right about the Hale-Bopp Comet? What if Oliver Stone is right about the assassination of JFK? What if the environmentalists are right about global warming?

    None of them is right, so why should we waste time answering their fantasies?

  • madmax

    Thanks to all who responded.

    Myrhaf, on the deepest level you are of course right. The Ecology movement has in common with all the other isms you mentioned that it is based on the arbitrary. These are all non-reality based ideas.

  • madmax

    Doug Reich has posted some great quotes from George Reisman and links to Resiman’s article on environmentalism that I had forgotten about. (I always tend to forget about Reisman. I wish ARI and Reisman would reconcile.)