Guest post: ‘An inconvenient truth’ – Exploring the dynamics of making climate change public

This is a guest post by Brigitte Nerlich and Warren Pearce about their new paper called ‘An inconvenient truth’: A social representation of scientific expertise. I’ve never really had a discussion about Al Gore and “An inconvenient truth” on this blog, but I am aware that it can be a somewhat contentious topic. The reason I invited Warren and Brigitte to write this post was because I found their paper interesting, so can I ask that any who do comment try to comment in a manner that is constructive.

‘An inconvenient truth’ – Exploring the dynamics of making climate change public

In 2006, Al Gore’s climate change documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ (AIT) was released, garnering substantial public attention. In a forthcoming chapter of a book on Science and the Politics of Openness (part of the Leverhulme Trust funded Making Science Public programme), we discuss the film as an example of taking climate change expertise out of the pages of science journals and into the public sphere.

While the purpose of the documentary was to persuade its audience of the consensual truth imparted by climate science experts, its effect was to become a lightning rod for dissent, critique and debate of that expertise. It became a touchstone for consent and dissent, action and reaction.

In our chapter we use some aspects of social representations theory to show how the film fostered the emergence of a (sought-after) dominant or ‘hegemonic’ social representation of climate change, while also triggering a (not so sought-after) ‘polemical’ social representation. We also observe how the film created both a public and a counter-public.

We use aspects of political theory to discuss our findings, mainly taken from the work of John Dewey, as discussed by the political theorist Mark Brown. In around 1900 Dewey started to think about the effects that increasing professionalization and specialisation of expertise could have on what he called the popularisation of knowledge. His thoughts still resonate today. Dewey was worried that these trends would make knowledge less accessible to the public, but more importantly he feared that if expert knowledge was no longer integrated in society, this would spell dangers for democracy.

From this perspective one can see AIT as a success, both as a cultural event and as a means of bringing public meaning to climate change and momentum to climate change mitigation. AIT’s combination of scientific ideas with personal stories and political activism echoes Dewey’s call for ‘bare ideas’ to have ‘imaginative content and emotional appeal’ in order to be effective (Dewey, 1989: 115). AIT also takes seriously Dewey’s notion that scientific expertise is a social product rather than the result of individual scientific brilliance and that science communication marks the return of knowledge to its rightful owners: the public. Indeed, AIT takes this one step further by seeking to empower its audience to gain the expertise to go out and disseminate locally.

Yet while Dewey points to the seeds of AIT’s success, he also shows how the successful communication of scientific knowledge and its social consequences brings more public scrutiny to bear on expertise. AIT does not only fill information deficits or knowledge deficits. Individuals are not merely passive recipients of (dominant or hegemonic) representations; they actively contribute to the construction of new representations in response. Some of these individuals assumed a critical view of AIT and Gore and began to construct a polemical counter-representation that challenged the film’s scientific credentials and its main message. This happened especially on blogs critical of mainstream climate science. A struggle ensued not only over AIT’s scientific accuracy (‘bare ideas’) but also about the films dominant personality, Al Gore as public expert and the financial and political context of his ‘enterprise’ (the social and emotional context). Bare ideas never occur in a vacuum and cannot be transmitted in a vacuum.

In its mix of the scientific, personal and political, AIT is perhaps best thought of as an ambitious, if flawed, experiment in science communication and in making climate change meaningful. It did so, whether consciously or not, by politicising climate change and reintroducing the human into previously apolitical representations of climate change. While it is now time for politics, not science, to bear the load of dealing with climate change, we note that one effect of AIT was to turn climate science into ‘Al Gore’s science’, closely tied to a narrow range of policy options that were anathema to US conservatives. This poses problems for both science and politics.

Both the success and failure of AIT show that while it is important to get (expert) knowledge and information out there, that information is always part of a wider context; and once ‘out there’, it will always take on a life of its own, which is difficult to anticipate and control. Knowledge is produced by people (with political and financial interests) for people (with political and financial interests). As Dewey said, to be effective, ‘bare ideas’ need to have ‘imaginative content and emotional appeal’.

With AIT’s success in bringing social context to scientific content came inevitable contestation. Scientists and experts have to be prepared for this.

 

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137 Responses to Guest post: ‘An inconvenient truth’ – Exploring the dynamics of making climate change public

  1. One of the reasons I found this an interesting paper is that it touches on aspects of science communication and how it can be, or not be, effective. It is regularly claimed that when it comes to actually getting people/policy makers to take action, you need to do more than simply communicate science. I’m never entirely sure as to what is being suggested, but it seems to vary from finding people with whom the public can identify (cultural identities) or trying to personalise the message so that people can identify with what is being communicated (or both, or something else altogether).

    What struck me about this particular situation is that when you do start to personalise the message, it becomes essentially political (you can’t really do so without making quite clear what your own personal choices are) and when you try to find people who might be more effective communicators, they often come with baggage and hence can become easy targets for those who might want to undermine the message.

    In a sense it seems to highlight how difficult this can be. Scientists communicating can be ineffective because science communication alone is unconvincing. Trying to personalise what has been said, so that people can identify with it, can be criticise for politicising the message. Finding messengers who might be more effective can lead to them being attacked for not being perfect. It seems that there isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s also well worth those who might chose to communicate publicly being aware of all the possible pitfalls.

  2. Brigitte says:

    One thing is clear. Science communication is not easy. So I really applaud all the people who are trying to find ways of improving both the theory and practice. Most recently there has been a report published by the National Academies Press (https://www.nap.edu/catalog/18728/sustainable-infrastructures-for-life-science-communication-workshop-summary), which provides a good overview of all the problems science communicators face. It’s worth a read.

  3. Brigitte,
    Thanks. Yes, my own impression is that most of what is being learned by studying science communication is that it’s difficult. A lot of the work appears to mainly highlight problems, without really suggesting solutions. If you highlight a problem, it might indicate a possible solution, but – in this case – it almost seems that the solution to one problem, simply creates another one. Part of me thinks that there are two ways to proceed. One is to get more people to communicate publicly in the hope that the overall message becomes clearer. The other is that although it might be fine to highlight problems, it might also be worth looking at whether or not there really is a solution and making it clearer that there probably isn’t a perfect strategy.

  4. Brigitte says:

    One paragraph in the report I mentioned sounds really sensible (that isn’t to say other parts aren’t) and deals with the recurring issues of trust. “Rosenberg [Andrew Rosenberg from the Union of Concerned Scientists] cautioned that, to improve and maintain trust, we need to be incredibly careful about separating the science itself from the interpretation of the science and from science-based decision making.
    Rosenberg and Duncan [David Ewing Duncan, Freelance Journalist] distinguished between the balanced presentation of opposing scientific data or theories, on the one hand, and misguided attempts (e.g., in the popular media and social media) to balance scientific information against a politically, religiously, or ethically based opinion. Scientists should do a better job of coming together around the things we do know and communicating about those areas of consensus, noted Rosenberg.” And as you say, the more that happens the better

  5. Brigitte,

    Rosenberg [Andrew Rosenberg from the Union of Concerned Scientists] cautioned that, to improve and maintain trust, we need to be incredibly careful about separating the science itself from the interpretation of the science and from science-based decision making.

    Yes, I largely agree with that (with the caveat that I’m not sure what he means by “the science itself” and the “interpretation of the science” because a big part of science is interpretation of results). This is why I think more care should sometimes be taken with critiquing science communication. Scientists who communicate are mostly interested in communicating science, not really in convincing people to do anything, given that information. Convincing people is not their role, but might be the role of others, like – for example – Al Gore, who is quite entitled to use scientific evidence to justify his preferences, but he’s then acting as someone with an agenda (an open one) rather than as a scientist (which is kind of obvious, given that he is a politician, forst and foremost).

  6. While the purpose of the documentary was to persuade its audience of the consensual truth imparted by climate science experts, its effect was to become a lightning rod for dissent, critique and debate of that expertise. It became a touchstone for consent and dissent, action and reaction.

    In its mix of the scientific, personal and political, AIT is perhaps best thought of as an ambitious, if flawed, experiment in science communication and in making climate change meaningful. It did so, whether consciously or not, by politicising climate change and reintroducing the human into previously apolitical representations of climate change. While it is now time for politics, not science, to bear the load of dealing with climate change, we note that one effect of AIT was to turn climate science into ‘Al Gore’s science’, closely tied to a narrow range of policy options that were anathema to US conservatives.

    These are the claims of Warren Pearce’s political movement. The political movement of Al Gore would claim that An Inconvenient Truth woke up America and made the public aware of a topic that was being ignored for political reasons.

    Does the chapter give evidence for these claims of either political movement? Would not any attempt to make the public aware of climate change become of lightning rod for a political movement that aims to keep the population dumb and misinformed? Any evidence that the movie was special in this respect?

    How can a single person or movie “politicise” a topic? Is this a social construct in which the political movement of Warren Pearce was an active participant? There were apparently blog on climate change before this movie (blogs that criticised it), this seems to contradict the claim that the climate change was an “apolitical” concept before the movie. Is it possible for any idea that affects society to be apolitical.

    Who made climate science into Al Gore’s science? Why did the US conservatives accept the “narrow range of policy options” framing. Was it narrow? If yes, why didn’t the US conservatives present their alternative politics options? There must have been plenty options if Al Gore’s range was so narrow.

  7. Victor,
    This seems mostly reasonable to me

    While it is now time for politics, not science, to bear the load of dealing with climate change, we note that one effect of AIT was to turn climate science into ‘Al Gore’s science’, closely tied to a narrow range of policy options that were anathema to US conservatives.

    Maybe I would modify it to “turn the perception of climate science into “Al Gore science”” but, overall, it does seem that many perceive climate science as being politically associated with people like Al Gore and it certainly seems that much of what it suggests/implies is an anathema to US conservatives.

  8. It is a reasonable description of the public claims of the mitigation sceptical movement on An Inconvenient Truth. It seems strange to me for scientists to adopt this view without studying whether it holds and for sociologists to treat Al Gore as the sole aggressor and the mitigation sceptical movement as a purely passively responding group of victims without any personal responsibility.

  9. Okay, I see what you mean. I don’t think Al Gore is alone in influencing how some have responded to what climate science is suggesting. It’s also not clear that it would necessarily be all that different were AIT not to have happened. However, it does seem that it provides a suitable scapegoat in some circumstances.

  10. Maybe Victor should clarify if I get this wrong (and this is also something that Joshua often highlights). There aren’t really any controls in studies like this. We can’t consider a world in which AIT did not happen, or a world in which an alternative strategy was adopted. Therefore strong claims about the consequences of AIT are tricky because you don’t really know how it would have been different had AIT, for example, never happened.

  11. Brigitte says:

    An Inconvenient Truth’ was so successful that it changed the American language. The word inconvenient is now more or less welded to ‘truth’. (I might write about that another time). Al Gore was for a while equated with climate science. This also meant that disagreements around the science were framed around disagreements around Al Gore. This also came out of another piece of research I once did a few years ago in an article on ‘Contesting science by appealing to its norms’. And even earlier in research on blogs, we found that one could distinguish between climate change sceptics, mitigation sceptics and Al Gore sceptics (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1075547009340421)

  12. Brigitte says:

    Ah I left one link out to the ‘Contesting’ article: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1075547012459274

  13. Brigitte says: “An Inconvenient Truth’ was so successful that it changed the American language. The word inconvenient is now more or less welded to ‘truth’. (I might write about that another time). Al Gore was for a while equated with climate science.”

    For me as a continental European who has never seen the movie and was informed of climate change by a functioning press and educational system that is pretty amazing, but that is probably what both political movements agree on. The claims of the above post go beyond the movie being important in the USA.

  14. An Inconvenient Truth’ was so successful that it changed the American language. The word inconvenient is now more or less welded to ‘truth’.

    Okay, that is interesting and probably difficult for it to be anything other than as a response to AIT.

  15. Brigitte says:

    The fate of the movie and the discussion it provoked (in the US and beyond) tells us something about the dilemmatic aspects of (climate) science communication, about the difficulties of providing information and contextualising it and about how ‘the context’ then might bite back etc. The movie was very successful, but the political context in the US also meant it wasn’t. Looking at how it all ‘panned out’ in this ‘case study’ therefore provides some insights into science communication in general, especially its pitfalls.

  16. From the Chapter: “In particular 2007 saw the IPCC released its Fourth Assessment Report which marked a step change in the public visibility of climate science. These events represented a political and cultural reinforcement of the emerging scientific consensus,”

    2007? There was an “emerging scientific consensus” in the 1990s. In 2007 there was a well and long established scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by us. Maybe the American public was kept unaware of this by ‘hegemonic’ economic and political forces that reject “significant personal and political action to address the challenge.” But it was there.

    Rather than blaming AIT for getting the American public up to speed with the science, could one not put some responsibility for this shock on the groups that were responsible for keeping the American public as ignorant as possible?

  17. Brigitte says:

    We talked about ‘reinforcement’ of a consensus. My impression is, but I might be wrong that around the time that AIT appeared everybody believed that climate politics was now finally ready to follow in the footsteps of climate science and that all that was needed was concerted action. However, as we now know, this hopeful atmosphere soon evaporated… for many reasons. Some of the reasons might be that instead of paving the path to a better world, as the film intended, it opened up a space for contestation that was quite unforeseen but became bigger and more forceful over time. AIT was exploited for purposes that were quite inimical to its intentions.

  18. What’s pathetic is that, due to what I consider quite odd peculiarities of our Constitution-derived political system, as well as the social problems highlighted in the article, presentations of risk of scientific phenomena are no longer considered valid concerns of the most capable of doing it. This is, as well as I know history, a stark contrast with the collective U.S. attitude in the last quarter of the 19th century and at least the first quarter, possibly the first half of the 20th.

    While analyses of this kind are understandable, and well intended, I am less sure they are useful. I say the same thing about John Cook’s “Climate Denial 101x” course which I have taken. Scientists and technologists are not “the hidden persuadors,” and, in my opinion, doing that risks whatever remaining credibility we have. Contrast Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is a great science communicator, but only maintains that as long as he does not stray too far into prescription. Bill Nye is a great science communicator as well but; being an engineer like me, has prescription in his blood. We want to fix things. Bill Nye in consequence has been singled out for demonization like Gore.

    There is a sad and ugly possibility which noone seems to want to talk about. This is that the U.S. Constitutional political system., yoked irreversibly with our social structures, levels of education, and present state of media is simply incapable of solving problems of the scale posed by our collective inducement of climate change. We no longer believe in heroes like Edison or Tesla or Verne or even Einstein who would tell us what to do. It could be that we are just another biological population incapable of affecting their collective fate, respondong to just the now, even if some realize what’s wrong.

  19. Brigitte says:

    I agree with this assessment, as sad as it is. And, it’s even sadder to think that nobody knows what to do about it. So in this sense, just writing about problems and dilemmas, old and new, and so on doesn’t really get us any further.

  20. Brigitte says: “We talked about ‘reinforcement’ of a consensus.

    What was the social framework that made you frame the movie in that way? Why did you not talk about empowering people by providing them with information that was apparently withheld from them for over 2 decades by hegemonial economic and political elites? Why did you talk about the movie being “hegemonial”, which according to the paper implies that it is “coercive”?

    Isn’t withholding information from the population coercive? Many Republican politicians accepted climate change a decade ago and some say that in private they still do, but the coercive power of the Koch brothers and their Tea Party has forced them to lie about it. That sounds like hegemonial power to me. Withholding information limits the freedom of the population to deal with reality. Bribing and blackmailing politicians limits the freedom of the population to govern themselves. That sounds like hegemonial power to me. Is providing the population with information on gravity or the ozone layer also coercive? If not, what is the difference?

  21. The attacks on Al Gore have been organized and consistent and to a large extent successful as a monstrous ad hominem. It is sad that people blame victims for what perpetrators have done. Similar efforts have been made elsewhere. Attacking the person rather than the ideas, magnifying every flaw, distorting and oversimplifying, are shown to mislead the credulous.

    AIT was originally a personal presentation that Al Gore used to educate leaders who were willing to meet with him, and grew into the wonky and popular tool it was because he was willing to expose himself to get the information out, and was encouraged to do so. When I saw it very little in it was news to me, but it was encouraging to see wider exposure to it. The attacks were coordinated to dilute that effect.

    Many other excellent efforts, such as Leonardo diCaprio’s Before the Flood (he was also blindsided by the Comey thumb on the scale which came out at the same time), have fallen flat thanks to circumstance and opposition work. ClimateGate was another highly successful opposition tactic, timed to derail Copenhagen.

    You have only to notice that the moment certain items come up there are floods of negative attacks, as keywords bring the organization into play. Across the pond you may not be familiar with the Drudge Report, but nowadays there are so many get out the opposition flashpoints it is no longer possible to see the spikes in the constant barrage of misleading distraction. Back in the day, the moment we saw “manbearpig” we knew what had happened.

  22. Brigitte says:

    Hi Victor
    We say “AIT takes this one step further by seeking to empower its audience to gain the expertise to go out and disseminate locally”. Hegemonic is unfortunately a jargon term in social representations theory. Coercive means that they become part of the collective consciousness, especially once they are ‘fossilised’ in tradition and taken for granted in social practice. Yet, this does not mean that social representations cannot be challenged or changed. One can possibly argue that the polemical social representation that AIT provoked has now become hegemonic in that sense. I’ll have to think about that.

  23. Brigitte says:

    Hi Susan
    we had something on ‘manbearpig’ in the chapter but had to cut it because of word count. For those who don’t know. Gore’s role in popularising climate change was satirised in the South Park episode ‘ManBearPig’, which begins with Gore giving a presentation to South Park Elementary School (Parker, 2006): “I’m here to educate you about the single biggest threat to our planet. You see there is something out there that threatens our very existence and maybe the end to the human race as we know it. I’m talking, of course, about ManBearPig. It is a creature that roams the Earth alone. It is half man, half bear and half pig. Some people say that ManBearPig isn’t real. Well I’m here to tell you that he most certainly exists.” Climate change is equated with a grotesque and laughable monster that is never seen in the episode and heavily implied to be a figment of Gore’s imagination. …..

  24. AIT was the first time people had been confronted with climate change’s hard facts, and they didn’t like it—for it presented the problem unequivocally, but with no acceptable solution. And because they can’t see any acceptable way out of it, CC is a problem that the average person doesn’t want to think about. It’s more comfortable therefore to just look away or, for the most vocal, pick holes and deny the presented evidence. If it hadn’t been AIT, the trigger for the start of mass-denial would have been something else soon after.

    Climate change is a threat like none before; for—short of boarding an interstellar space craft—there is no way to escape it. When confronted by past threats such as war, however threatening, we could always look to a future time when it would all be over; and always think of many places on Earth that it would not touch. But not with climate change. It’s clear that for the foreseeable future climate change can only get worse—and it can only get better in a future time that’s beyond the lives of everyone around us. Any way you look at it, this is a most wicked problem which the human race appears to be not politically—perhaps mentally—equipped to solve. There should be no surprise that it has also produced the most powerful denial the world has probably ever seen.

  25. I seen consensus emerging here that Al Gore was/is not primarily responsible for the anti-science strain in US politics. we can’t be certain, because at ATTP notes, we can’t run a blind study with different spokespersons so that we could suss out the “gore” factor in the culture wars, but I believe that any spokesmodel who would have stepped into this role would have automatically been “gored.” As also noted above, the US has a particularly poor education and media system that allows certain ideas, like economics, engineering, etc to have consequence and weight in realms where they should not be as influential.

    I think it is safe to say that we have problems when a large chunk of the voting population believes that the earth may only be thousands of years old. Crack that nut.

  26. Brigitte says:

    Yes, that’s a good way of putting it “any spokesmodel (person?) who would have stepped into this role would have automatically been ‘gored'”.

  27. Science communication is hard, as Brigitte has pointed out, but we have so many wonder science communicators and in the UK at least, this includes great TV and radio.

    Let’s ask the question: how would you recommend someone engaging for the first time in the discovery of the structure of DNA and the discovery of the mechanisms of life?

    Well, a great first step, for the uninitiated non scientists might be a compelling dramatization (my personal favourite being …
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Story_(1987_film)
    Then one might suggest, as a next step, a first hand account, such as Watson’s memoir, The Double Helix.
    I might suggest that a dip into the source literature would be a great idea, even if the scientific context and methods were a bit out of reach, and the 1953 paper would be great … but then to nuance (the italicised bit above), because it took over a decade to unravel how codons encoded proteins etc. … and this also reveals the messy and complex process of normal science.

    An ‘dramatization”, whether it be Life Story or AIT must ineviatbly take short cuts.

    Does it possess underlying integrity and truth, despite that. Did it set out to mislead or simply to try to simplify (maybe sometimes, over-simplify)? Was there intent to mislead?

    Both these examples have integrity in that sense, but for the curious, they need to explore the subject further, and not let anyone suggest that popular accounts are the end of the learning story. That is a never ending story. AIT was a start for many, but never the end.

  28. Harry Twinotter says:

    An Inconvenient Truth? Old hat 🙂 I saw an OK global warming documentary in 1990 called “After the Warming” narrated by James Burke. It was partially sponsored by Film Australia. James Burke was well known to Australian and British audiences.

  29. Richard,
    I think you make an interesting point. Climate science, in particular, is quite a complex and broad topic. Even a scientist communicating publicly could make a few mistakes. A good communicator who isn’t a scientist may also make some mistakes. Of course you would normally have advisors and people who check, but that still doesn’t guarantee that a mistake won’t creep through. We should learn from this and aim to avoid mistakes, but that’s easy to say in retrospect, but harder to guarantee in advance.

  30. Brigitte says:

    Richard, I agree a dip into the source literature would be great and a ‘life story’ but that’s difficult in climate science, as the source literature is huge and a life story not easy to find. Arrhenius? Tyndall? Difficult.

  31. Thank you Brigitte. Funny, I didn’t know the history. I just found the term applied frequently in the “Al Gore is fat and besides he’s a hypocrite because he has a big house and makes money” sense and it is a useful shortcut for the collective hatred and ignorance that automatically comes up in response to anyone the climate science denial industry and their dupes wish to discredit. Many of these people are innocent of knowledge that they are being manipulated.

    I returned to his The Assault on Reason when I was looking to clarify my thoughts about our emerging membership in a society wholly owned by marketing and infotainment, but found Orwell’s 1984 more cogent.

    Slightly sideways, but I wish communications like this were more in common currency (h/t Willard):

  32. We should aim to avoid mistakes because good science is a value in itself.

    The response to An Inconvenient Truth or any other climate communication attempt would not have been that different. If there had been no mistakes, the mitigation sceptical movement would have made up some complaints. Maintaining a network of blogs that aim to be wrong about climate science, they are the last ones to value reality, they are the last ones to have the right to complain about mistakes of others.

  33. Maintaining a network of blogs that aim to be wrong about climate science, they are the last ones to value reality, they are the last ones to have the right to complain about mistakes of others.

    Yes, this is the aspect that I find remarkably ironic.

  34. Here’s a nice short history. I was looking for a collection of biographies (was it Doc Snow?) which I couldn’t find, but it’s a decent summary by the BBC’s Richard Black: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-15874560

    It omits the aforementioned James Burke. I once pulled up a group of videos for Tamino, including Bell Labs (1950s), Isaac Asimov, Maggie Thatcher, and I think Lyndon Johnson.

  35. Brigitte says:

    If I remember well James Burke’s 1985 The Day the Universe Changed was the first ever science programme I saw when I came to the UK!

  36. Consistent with my previous comment from (2;54 pm), given a public which is not sufficiently educated, I need to ask is it not a weakness of this system for solving big problems (for what else is a political system?) that it is susceptible to such manipulation? I see nothing in the things being talked about which Thucydides didn’t remark up in his History.

  37. I daresay that, from the evidence, it is substantially true that there is just a handful of countries which have publics ` to be not politically—perhaps mentally—equipped to solve’ the problem. Unfortunately, those same countries are both very influential, and perhaps not coincidentally, are responsible for the bulk of the problem.

  38. But these already exist, whether in video form when Tyson takes on climate change in Cosmos or, ready made for a reading course on the subject, Archer & Pierrehumbert’s The Warming Papers: The Scientific Foundation for the Climate Change Forecast, 2011.

  39. > If there had been no mistakes, the mitigation sceptical movement would have made up some complaints.

    Indeed, Victor. To illustrate, I offer a current anecdote by one of Dr. Curry’s Denizens. The true intent of luckwarm honest brokering is best seen when actual policy proposals give them what they’re asking for (efficiency improvements, bridge energy like shale gas, long-term non-intermittent solutions like fission, local autonomy in deciding how to best meet targets, etc.) and they still oppose it AND successfully block it because, activist alarmism.

    ***

    Imagine if tomorrow Donald Trump released essentially the same documentary film with himself as the narrator instead of Al Gore. I think how to induce someone like Trump to make such arguments is a question worth exploring.

  40. Susan Anderson says:

    The story of Roger Revelle and Al Gore might also be of interest in this context. My opinion is that imperfection is a feature rather than a bug of science and scientists should stop joining with their all-too-ready-to-mislead critics in beating themselves up for doing their best.

    DeSmog’s version includes a number of the moving parts: https://www.desmogblog.com/the-deniers-the-world-renowned-scientist-who-got-al-gore-started

    Rabett has the whole sorry story of Singer bullying Revelle as told by Justin Lancaster in his own words here: http://rabett.blogspot.com/2014/09/a-note-about-roger-revelle-julian.html

    (switching to WordPress due to posting difficulties)

  41. Susan,
    Yes, that story of Roger Revelle, Fred Singer and Al Gore is really remarkable (and not in a good way).

  42. izen says:

    I would agree with VV that seeing AIT as a significant science communication event is a rather parochial stance. For much of Europe it was just another in a line of popular science communication going back to the 1980s. Acceptance of AGW had reached hegamonic dominance (sociology meaning) by the end of the 1980s as indicated by the Margaret Thatcher speech at the UN in 89.

    The impact of AIT in the US has less to do with any inherent qualities of the work, much to do with the local socio-political culture. I think it is possible to argue that in the late 80s – early 90s the US did share the general hegemonic dominance of the AGW issue. The loss of that consensus position is a local phenomena that has been researched (Dark Money) but not much mentioned. AIT was significant in the US because it bucked a trend. It re-iterated the message in Thatchers 89 speech and a general view of the issue that was unexceptional in many other nations, but which had been lost in the US for reasons tied to the local political system.

  43. brandonrgates says: “Imagine if tomorrow Donald Trump released essentially the same documentary film with himself as the narrator instead of Al Gore.

    That should be possible with modern technology and a nice exercise in explaining climate change in simple words. I would watch it.

  44. jac. says:

    I am struggling with the paper and a lot of what Victor Venema said resonates with me.
    However, I have no background in social sciences and I have nothing to back up my opinions, so it is just an opinion.

    Reading the paper, I constantly had the feeling that AIT and the response to it were perceived through Dewey-glasses that are not very sensitive to non-Dewey colours.

    Firstly, in my perception, people in a given society have differing moral values but only so within a rather narrow bandwith. I think this even holds true for the global society and that a lot of moral values are universally shared (e.g. ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’). By and large people do not differ enormously on what is clearly right to do and what is clearly wrong. We know what we want for ourselves and our children, and we understand or assume that our fellow-humans want the same, and that we therefor should behave accordingly. I feel that reciprocity is a very fundamental concept of our values (justice?) and morality with regards to human relations.
    The differences in our moral values get most of the attention though, because that is where tensions and frictions in human relations pop up that need to be addressed and reconciled, hence the attention and focus. Policy is all about reconciliation of differing moral values in the face of the facts while adressing societies’ needs. Policy therefor, in my view, is a discussion about a tiny island of disagreement in a culturally bounded ocean of agreement.

    Secondly, I think that the facts of climate change that science presents to us, are ethically/morally charged of their own accord.
    If it is true, as science tells us, that with our behaviour, we are changing the climates, are endangering or destroying the ecosystems of the planet even the systems we depend on, and that we – by long and complicated causal chains that nonetheless are becoming clearer and clearer – are pushing millions or tens of millions fellow-humans into non-subsistence territory, than the moral implications of our behaviour are strong and clear to us – and universally so.

    (I have ventured, very occasionally in denier-blogs, but never did I find there someone claiming that severely changing the climate (‘CAGW’) is morally the right thing to do. That would be a debate they can not win in the mind/heart of the public, and they know it. Lomborg probably comes closest to justifying climate change in saying we can outbetter the climate change we are causing by using it to make the poor countries rich).

    Therefor, I feel that the facts of climate change on their own accord already put a heavy moral responsibility on our shoulders.
    However, this particular moral responsibility seems to demand that we change the energy-infrastructure of our societies, the very same infra-structure that our wealth and our societies are built upon, and may even demand fundamentally changing our ways of life.
    Such a prospect of a total re-design of our societies creates uncertainty and is not a very welcoming perspective if the alternative is not clear. People who are doing very fine in society as it is (and some of them are able to pull at a lot of strings), have very little incentive to re-design it. Neither have people who feel they simply cannot afford a change if it is not guaranteed to be a change for the better.
    That is all very understandable, but still does not chase away the moral imperative that the facts of climate change present to us and that demands some response once we cannot ignore it any longer.

    One response could be saying that the science is wrong, the scientist has a political agenda, it is economically more beneficial and more effective to wait to address the problems of climate change, etc. Such a response would also be very accomodating for people who prefer to be told that they are not bad, immoral people in living as they do.

    I think AIT made it clear to a very big audience, that a very heavy responsibility rests on our shoulders. Our societies’ convenient ‘veil of ignorance’ was lifted and revealed an inconvenient truth that could no longer be ignored.

    The response on AIT than, is exactly what was to be expected. Therefor, I do not think it is fair to criticize Gore and/or imply that he himself created the sticks that were used to beat him, because it is easy to find a stick if you want to beat a dog.
    That is not to say that Gore made no mistakes; but they were relevant only for the clothing of the response to the film and not for the nature of the response.

    Sorry for being long.

    Jac.

  45. lurk says:

    This is 20:20 hindsight, but part of what gave the denialists an emotional punch was A.I.T.’s ending prescription that people should act by cutting their own carbon emissions, by lightbulb-changing. There was no mention of organizing, of pricing carbon, of meaningfully scaling up solutions, that I recall.

    So it was easy to tap into people’s sense of unfairness, that common people were being berated to use less of what rich people use lots of.

  46. Magma says:

    The question as to whether it’s the message or the messenger that drives the AGW denial backlash probably can’t be answered hypothetically. I would guess it’s a mix of the two; political conservatives reacting along group or tribal lines are probably influenced more by the identity of the individuals involved whereas the fossil fuel industry and its paid-for think tanks and lobbyists focus on the message and use whatever tools they have to attack it, including disparaging the messengers among susceptible target groups.

    A test experiment would likely require a high-profile climate change ‘skeptic’ with impeccable conservative bona fides publicly changing stance and accepting the scientific consensus on AGW while explaining the reasons why he (I can’t really think of a she that fits the bill) had done so.

    I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that, mind you. The level of intellectual courage, true skepticism, and open-mindedness required for any ‘leading contrarian’ to publicly shift long-held positions so much is conspicuously lacking among the ones I’m familiar with.

  47. One of the frequent complaints of the WUWT denizens is the politicization of science. The OP echoes this charge when it says that AIT is guilty of “politicising climate change.” The WUWTers believe that scientific results have been shaped to match the researchers political beliefs. Scientists engage in data manipulation to achieve a politically desired result. I.e., the results are fraudulent.

    I do not think this is what the OP intends to convey by saying that AIT is guilty of “politicising climate change.” At least I hope not. What I think they intended to say is that AIT brought climate change to the forefront of political discussion in the USA. For an essay about climate communication these poorly chosen words struck a discordant note with me.

  48. izen says:

    I like anything that claims to be empirical, so this paper about science communication and the possible influence – effect of AIT was one that I tend to agree with.

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-012-0403-y
    Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the U.S., 2002–2010. Brulle, R.J., Carmichael, J. & Jenkins, J.C.

    “A time-series analysis indicates that elite cues and structural economic factors have the largest effect on the level of public concern about climate change. While media coverage exerts an important influence, this coverage is itself largely a function of elite cues and economic factors. Weather extremes have no effect on aggregate public opinion. Promulgation of scientific information to the public on climate change has a minimal effect. … political mobilization by elites and advocacy groups is critical in influencing climate change concern.”

    Think Progress discussed it when it was released in 2012.
    https://thinkprogress.org/exclusive-exciting-public-opinion-study-debunks-claim-al-gore-polarized-the-climate-debate-and-many-323e59a47fee#.bf7jfrzag

    Quote from Brulle;
    “The most important factor in influencing public opinion on climate change, however, is the elite partisan battle over the issue. The two strongest effects on public concern are Democratic Congressional action statements and Republican roll-call votes, which increase and diminish public concern, respectively. This finding points to the effect of polarized political elite that is emitting contrary cues, with resulting (seemingly) contrary levels of public concern. As noted by McDonald (2009: 52) “When elites have consensus, the public follows suit and the issue becomes mainstreamed. When elites disagree, polarization occurs, and citizens rely on other indicators, such as political party or source credibility, to make up their minds.” This appears to be the case with climate change.”

  49. Brigitte says:

    Izen, yes I agree, Europe is a different story and it all began around 1988 with Thatcher, the Spiegel cover (Klimakatastrophe) and so on. However, AIT was also discussed for a while as material for European School curricula. According to wikipedia, In Germany, German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel bought 6,000 DVDs of An Inconvenient Truth to make it available to German schools… so it spilled over a bit.

  50. Bernard J. says:

    Argh. For want of a single slahs…

    [I originally intended to post this after Hypergeometric’s post of 15 January 2017 at 2:54 pm, but it seems that I did not click ‘Send’. Apologies for the repetition of points made subsequently a number of times.]

    Victor,
    This seems mostly reasonable to me

    While it is now time for politics, not science, to bear the load of dealing with climate change, we note that one effect of AIT was to turn climate science into ‘Al Gore’s science’, closely tied to a narrow range of policy options that were anathema to US conservatives.

    Maybe I would modify it to “turn the perception of climate science into “Al Gore science”” but, overall, it does seem that many perceive climate science as being politically associated with people like Al Gore and it certainly seems that much of what it suggests/implies is an anathema to US conservatives.

    The point has been made many times previously but I feel it’s worth reiterating. The antipathy to the policy (as opposed to the political) implications of climate science was around years before ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, and Brigitte and Warren were correct in the lightning rod metaphor. However, just as with lightning rods, it probably doesn’t matter which rod one installs on the roof, the lightning’s going to strike it regardless. Just as with the tobacco (and asbestos, and ozone, and DDT, and…) wars there was a deliberate and concerted action to rebut the understanding of the professional science, and any successful head above the public communication parapet would have been a target.

    At some point in the unfolding, any serious scientific issue that has social repercussions is going to have political ones, and thus science will inevitably become “politically associated” with whomever are the messengers. At some point a pioneering politician will appear and come to represent the “politicisation” of the issue, and even prominent scientists themselves will become political targets, whether or not they are advocating from a scientific perspective or a “political” one. Just ask people like Jim Hansen or Michael Mann…

    I’d say that it was time for politics to be involved from the time of Arrhenius, and Callendar, Plass and Keeling. Politics should certainly have been “bearing the load” from the time that Hansen refined the earlier work, as this is approximately when ecology and ecophysiology as disciplines were starting to really indicate that the warming that was set in train would be damaging to the planet. I’d posit that the reason that political action wasn’t “bearing the load” is precisely because that was how it was intended by those responsible for the politics, whether it was the politicians themselves, or the vested interests who had the ears of politicians.

    It’d have not made a stitch of difference whether it was Al Gore who popped the bubble first, or if it was an earnest Harrison Ford in the ‘Years of Living Dangerously’, or Mohamed Nasheed with The Island President”, or ‘This Changes Everything’ any of a number of other notable films or books. I think that the challenge for science communicators and rational policy agents was never how to carry the message across to the public, but how to counter the deliberate obscuration of the science and of the need for action.

    The fact that a goodly proportion of the Anglophone lay public is primed to hear the obscurantist propaganda is another head on the denialist monster. As is our propensity for and susceptibility to logical fallacy…

    We talked about ‘reinforcement’ of a consensus. My impression is, but I might be wrong that around the time that AIT appeared everybody believed that climate politics was now finally ready to follow in the footsteps of climate science and that all that was needed was concerted action. However, as we now know, this hopeful atmosphere soon evaporated… for many reasons. Some of the reasons might be that instead of paving the path to a better world, as the film intended, it opened up a space for contestation that was quite unforeseen but became bigger and more forceful over time. AIT was exploited for purposes that were quite inimical to its intentions.

    ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was exploited, precisely because it laid out the problem in no uncertain terms, and because Al Gore had a high profile. The political push against the science though started many years earlier than in 2006. There was an organised movement after the 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development iin Rio de Janeiro, and a greater one after the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Even before Rio there was a notable resistance to the science – David Suzuki toured Australia around or just before Rio and I spoke to his after his presentation about the disinformation campaign that I’d recognised had even then been operating for years.

    I suspect that, given the politics, sociological milieu, and ideologies inherent in much of the Anglophone world (where much of the vested interested is located), no one could have been the ‘perfect’ figurehead for the science, and no amount of carefully crafted and accessible presentation of fact could have succeeded in negating the anti-science push-back. This is demonstrated by the fact that discussions continue today about the existence of a ‘greenhouse’ effect, or about human involvement in raising atmospheric CO₂, or about whether it’s warming, or about any number of other nonsensical propositions. We have innumerable resources countering such rubbish and yet, like the sorcerer’s apprentice cleaving broomsticks with an axe, the zombie horde grows, rigid in its thinking and sweeping truth and fact away without care. In this situation it was inevitable that ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ would suffer the fate that it did.

    What we need is a response that is at the level of the sorcerer: science communication as it stands is simply the axe in the apprentice’s hands.

    And +1 to Hypergeometric’s last paragraph at time stamp January 15, 2017 at 2:54 pm

  51. Brigitte says:

    Jac, thanks for engaging with the paper. The film certainly had a moral message as well as a scientific one. It’s huge success probably meant that both messages were heard more clearly in the US at least than before. So it is not really a surprise that it was loathed by those who don’t like the messages. This was not the ‘fault’ of Al Gore. As smallbluemike said, anybody producing and disseminating such a film would probably have been ‘gored’. But Al Gore had a unique position in the US and still has. Of course, as many here say, we can’t do an experiment in which we replace him with somebody else and let the whole show run again….

  52. Brigitte says:

    Oneillsinwisconsin, I agree perhaps we should have said ‘AIT brought climate change to the forefront of political discussion in the USA’. That would have probable be a better word, as the word ‘politicise’ has itself become politicised. According to the OED to politicise means ‘To make political, esp. to make (a person, group, etc.) politically aware or politically active’. Is that not what AIT wanted to achieve?

  53. Brigitte says:

    Bernard J., what can I say, but yes. You put the finger much more on the issue than we did. The good thing is, this is a chapter in a book. It is not published yet and we can still revise it. This is the great thing of making things public before publication. One gets great comments and thoughts worth ruminating on. So thanks! And I love “What we need is a response that is at the level of the sorcerer: science communication as it stands is simply the axe in the apprentice’s hands.” But….. that too opens up a whole shed-load of problems.

  54. izen says:

    I can see how in the American context the intervention of a high profile political figure like Gore advancing an activist agenda on climate change was a bigger deal than it was in other nations. While the UK had spillover from the US contrarian campaigns (desmog blog had a series on the financial connections IIRC) the mainstream, elite, government attitude was to acknowledge the reality of the problem and propose policy responses. Here is the 2006 Government policy statement, complete with a Blair forward repeating the mantra, “Climate change is probably the greatest long-term challenge facing the human race.”

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/272269/6764.pdf

    For a number of European nations, and others, AIT was just another exhortation to go faster in the direction they were already committed to travel. Green activist adopted it to argue that governments were not doing enough, not that the direction was wrong. To employ unflattering stereotypes it was an example of Americans over-personalising, over-hyping and over-simplifying. And late to arrive…

    By contrast in the US, AIT was trying to reverse the direction of a political, elite mainstream that was apparently intent on suppressing any and all action directed towards emission controls. The McCain-Leiberman climate stewardship acts, a very dilute version of the sort of legislation already extant in Europe was repeatedly defeated in the US legislative branch. The Bush/Cheney suppression of science reports and rejection of Kyoto were the Executive direction. Bush even tried to stop any states from passing local rules, bringing him into conflict with the TERMINATOR in California, an event celebrated(?) recently on its tenth birthday. Note which side Blair was on in that conflict.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-bradley/californias-big-climate-p_b_12389910.html

    “Schwarzenegger also talked about one of his last and best acts as governor, successfully leading the charge against the oil-backed 2010 initiative to gut AB 32, as well as his work with Brown in fighting the Bush/Cheney administration’s efforts against California’s climate program.”

  55. Izen, thanks for providing more background to all this. But also remember the Royal Society (mini)controversy here in the UK that unfolded between 2007 and 2010. Looking at a BBC report on this, I found this interesting statement: “Another review member told me: “The sceptics have been very strident and well-organised. It’s not clear to me how we are going to get precise agreement on the wording – we are scientists and we’re being asked to do a job of public communication that is more like journalism.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10178124 (and here is the 2007 ‘simple guide’@ https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/publications/2007/climate-change-controversies/)

  56. verytallguy says:

    I’m sure I read a piece about how group identity is actually strengthened if it requires adherence to ideas known to be counter to the facts.

    Repeating allegiance to such counterfactual ideas is then a way to reinforce the importance of the group by outwardly demonstrating that group belonging is *more* important than factual information. Such pronouncements may therefore be best seen as ritual rather than factual debate.

    For instance, claiming that climate change is a hoax is obviously untrue, but clearly delineates someone as a conservative, and the speaker as one implicitly prepared to go out on a limb for conservatives.

    It’s not a way of operating restricted to conservative politicians. Environmental groups perhaps come close in their ritual denunciation of nuclear power, GMOs and the like. Most if not all cults operate in exactly this way. The difference with climate change and several other current issues is that this seems to have become a mainstream way of behaving rather than something restricted to small niches.

  57. Brigitte says:

    verytallguy, is it this one? http://archive.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/how_facts_backfire/
    The differences/relations between ritual/factual communication/understanding deserve further research, I am sure! Something for science communicators to get their teeth into.

  58. izen says:

    @-brigittenerlich
    “But also remember the Royal Society (mini)controversy here in the UK that unfolded between 2007 and 2010. Looking at a BBC report on this, I found this interesting statement: “Another review member told me: “The sceptics have been very strident and well-organised. ”

    I followed that dispute at the time. A leading instigator was Prof Micheal Kelly, a long-time contrarian with a history of claiming that the warming is causing the CO2 rise and that the warming is a ‘Natural recovery’ from the LIA. He is also linked to the GWPF and various US groups that have disputed the strength of the evidence base. I remember at the time hints of connection with a shadowy Irish group; with organisations like the US Science and public policy institute (a fossil fuel front) involved but my Googlefu has been inadequate to find the links.

    What the push-back at the RS shows is not a real dispute or doubt in the European scientific field, but the invasion of the industry funded disinformation campaign that has dominated US politics. An incursion ably abetted in the UK by a media increasingly dominated by owners with strong anti-science views.

  59. izen says:

    In years past I spent far too much time arguing Evolution against Creationism with Americans on various forums.
    It does make me wonder if the American dysfunctional relationship to scientific reality is not just the result of political lobbying and donations, but the result of more practise in believing 10 impossible things before breakfast.

  60. Izen, thanks for the RS info. Very useful. And as for your final assessment – there could be something in it.
    Susan, sorry I only just watched the nature speaking videos. They are indeed very very good!!

  61. Willard says:

    > A test experiment would likely require a high-profile climate change ‘skeptic’ with impeccable conservative bona fides publicly changing stance and accepting the scientific consensus on AGW while explaining the reasons why he (I can’t really think of a she that fits the bill) had done so.

    For more conservative bona fides, there are Richard Alley, Kerry Emanuel, Jim Hansen, and others.

    Hard to present a non-political view of a set of political problems.

  62. Magma says:

    @Willard

    While those scientists may be Republicans or politically conservative, they are still scientists and subject to all the corruption, fame, and material rewards endemic to that field (rolls eyes).

    I was thinking along the lines of someone much more trustworthy, like a ranking Republican member of Congress, a leader of an evangelical church, a media pundit like Bill O’Reilly or George Will or aaaagh help my eyeballs just spun out of their sockets

  63. Magma says:

    More seriously, the closed and self-reinforcing nature of “climate skeptical” communities means that they are relatively impervious to friendly appeals to reason or hostile attacks from outside, but might be much more malleable from the inside.

    Think of the nature of a bird eggshell. Its domed shape and oriented calcite crystals form a structure tough and resistant to breakage from the outside, but one that a weak chick can easily break from within.

  64. Nicely summarized. Echoes Sagan’s A Demon Haunted World.

  65. … It’s not a way of operating restricted to conservative politicians. Environmental groups perhaps come close in their ritual denunciation of nuclear power, GMOs and the like. Most if not all cults operate in exactly this way …

    While I agree that some aspects of the environmental movement and environmental groups don’t embrace rigorous intellectual analysis, that isn’t a claim that can be levied against all, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Conservation Law Foundation. And I also agree that in principle nuclear power should be an important part of the solution. I’d go so far as to say that nuclear stations which are in operation should remain in operation, until wind, solar, and storage get some serious legs. That said, apparently, Pilgrim Nuclear in Massachusetts has deteriorated in its quality of operation, whether it’s because those those who knew how to run it have long gone, seeing not future, or what.

    And, as far as new nuclear stations go, the trouble is no one seems to know how to do that technology with any kind of financial rigor. All nuclear builds in the United States have shown negative learning curves, meaning that the N+1 copy is more expensive than the N copy. This is not how it should work, and every other technology shows a decrease in cost. And, anticipating, no, this is not because of more stringent and greater number of regulations: That’s been studied and tested.

    I can’t speak for other countries, e.g., France. I know this is the case in the United States.

    The only thing to say about nuclear is that the emissions to produce and pour the massive amounts of concrete in these stations needs to be assigned to them, life cycle style, in the same way ongoing life cycle analyses of wind and solar have to be. Naturally, early wind and solar had terribly high life cycle costs: That’s typical for a brand new technology. Nuclear has been around for a while.

  66. Susan Anderson says:

    I write from an unfolding tragedy here in the US. I too liked Bernard J’s contribution. Please don’t think that there are not many of us in acute distress at the attack on knowledge itself. Fred Singer made an enemy of my father many decades ago by making what he (PW) regarded as a scientifically indecent proposal to him, and watching Singer thrive is nauseating. DeSmog covers the recent gathering of carrion with the Trump development operation, note they scooped up Delingpole (your GWPF is in clover and Theresa May is far form innocent: actions speak louder than words): https://www.desmogblog.com/2016/12/13/exclusive-myron-ebell-donald-trump-s-aide-epa-meets-who-s-who-long-serving-climate-science-deniers

    It brings up old fashioned ideas of good and evil. It is very hard to argue with anyone who doesn’t have the least vestige of a conscience or ethics. That inner emptiness is hard to characterize and harder to work with: there’s nothing there.

    While I doubt Trump is capable of perceiving that all that glitters is not gold, I do think a collection of gorgeous satellite photographs – http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/ – might momentarily distract him from his festival of self-worship.

  67. verytallguy says:

    hypergeometric,

    yes indeed, I wasn’t trying to condemn all environmental groups at all. Equally, there are many conservative politicians that don’t behave in the way those in the US seem to.

    I wouldn’t put forward nuclear as the panacea to solve climate change, but as far as lifecycle comparisons, go, it has similar CO2/power to wind. Though I don’t think that takes into account the need for higher carbon to cover for the intermittency of wind, so nuclear may be better.

    see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life-cycle_greenhouse-gas_emissions_of_energy_sources

    Brigitte, thank you for coming back. I was thinking of something different, but I can’t locate it right now. Will have a look later

  68. Steven Mosher says:

    Thank you willard. You get it.
    I will watch while amateurs talk about choosing spokesmodels.
    DK is in full display.

  69. izen says:

    @-vtg+magma
    “I’m sure I read a piece about how group identity is actually strengthened if it requires adherence to ideas known to be counter to the facts. … Think of the nature of a bird eggshell. Its domed shape and oriented calcite crystals form a structure tough and resistant to breakage from the outside, but one that a weak chick can easily break from within.”

    I have been trying to think of real world examples of groups united by a counterfactual or contrarian dogma, past or present, that has collapsed from inside while impervious to outside attacks.

    There are possible candidates.
    Lysenkoism and the Catholic church? (transubstantiation?!)
    Lysenko leveraged a particularly authoritarian social system to advance his dogma. But the fact it was orthogonal to the Darwinian mainstream, or at least the western social Darwinist eugenics, was a necessary component of its success. Its failure was less an internal emergence of rational insight despite the obvious failure of the method. The death of the political system that it relied on seems to have been a stronger factor.

    I am not sure that the Protestant reformation works as an example of internal reform…

    Dogma unified groups seem most often to subdivide as dissension arises over the degree of adherence to orthodoxy. Can anyone think of a good example of this egg-shell dogma group hatching idea ?

  70. I think nuclear could break even if there we could get rid of the government red tape and allow the nuclear industry to commodify and market the waste products. As long as the industry is on the hook to store and hoard nuclear waste for thousands of years, there is no way the industry can get on an even footing. I favor letting fans of nuclear wander around Chernobyl, TMI and Fukushima to see what value can be derived from cleaning up and selling off the lost resources.

    Warm regards

    Mike

  71. love the relative strength of eggshell model, magma! Hammering on the shell from outside is not going to produce a healthy chick. Maybe we have to think and talk outside the shell more and hammer less.

  72. Brigitte says:

    🙂 Love that metaphor!

  73. recent study indicates that talking with conservatives about future impact of global warming does not reach them. Speaking to them about “the good old days” and what has already been lost does reach them. http://www.pnas.org/content/113/52/14953

  74. Brigitte said: The differences/relations between ritual/factual communication/understanding deserve further research, I am sure! Something for science communicators to get their teeth into.

    I say: http://www.pnas.org/content/113/52/14953

    look at AIT and it’s about what we stand to lose in the future. That does not reach conservatives. We have to talk about what has been lost, not about what we stand to lose if we want to reach conservatives. Talk about the world of our grandparents and what has changed and how we stop the losses, don’t waste your breath talking about what kind of world we are leaving to the grandchildren, it does not work. It’s hammering on the outer surface of the shell. whisper about what has been lost and the little conservative chickies may start pecking from the inside.

    but, hey, what do I know?

  75. Willard says:

    When the conservative thought leaders will change their tune, the contrarians will come, and these thought leaders will not be able to withstand economic calculus for long:

    > When I took a trip last year to the most climate-skeptical place in the country, Woodward County, Oklahoma, I realized there’s much more agreement on this issue — and particularly on solutions to climate change — than we tend to think. The county with the highest rate of climate skepticism, I found, is also home to a booming wind industry, and a world-class wind power jobs training center.

    http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/29/opinions/sutter-conservatives-climate-election/

    Conservatives’ disciplined mind framing may play against them in the end.

  76. there are a lot of good reasons to be suspicious of the ‘facts” at any given moment. My kids were convinced by nutritionists to delay introduction of peanuts to my grandchildren to reduce the chance of peanut allergy. But of course, it turns out that early exposure to peanuts is better at reducing peanut allergy. And of course, for some of us who are getting old, there is always the thalidomide treatment of morning sickness prescribed and approved by the experts. This stuff is real and it powers the skepticism about experts, scientists, factivists.

    connect the dots, kemosabe.

  77. Willard says:

    Susstein recently promoted five books on how to talk to Conservatives. I am neither a fan of Susstein or free book promotion, but I like this idea:

    Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. Some people lack time; others lack friends; still others lack money. Mullainathan and Shafir demonstrate that these diverse forms of scarcity have something important in common: They take over our minds, leaving us with limited “bandwidth.”

    If you’re focused on how to pay next month’s rent, you might not be able to think about much else — how to handle a looming health problem, how to make sure that your teenage son stays out of trouble, and how to get training for a better job. Mullainathan and Shafir show why many public policy initiatives, which impose “bandwidth taxes” (for example, by making people fill out complex forms to receive financial assistance), turn out to be unhelpful and even counterproductive.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-11-30/five-books-to-change-conservatives-minds

    Let’s make science communication great again!

  78. Brigitte says:

    smallbluemike, that PNAS article is very interesting; and thanks Willard for the articles about the mind games people play with their minds, so to speak

  79. izen says:

    @-smallbluemike
    “Talk about the world of our grandparents and what has changed and how we stop the losses, don’t waste your breath talking about what kind of world we are leaving to the grandchildren, it does not work. It’s hammering on the outer surface of the shell. whisper about what has been lost and the little conservative chickies may start pecking from the inside.”

    But what do we whisper?
    the little conservative chicks most often complain about the loss of;- racial deference, the illegality of abortion and the demonization of homosexuality.
    Underlying it is the loss of their share of the wealth that they had in the 50s before the process of re-establishing the inequalities of the gilded age eroded those post war gains. None of which can be directly ascribed to AGW.

    With most living in temperate regions the probability of milder winters and warmer summers may be seen as a feature rather than a flaw.

  80. While these might be lumped by Everyman into the same category of authority, namely, nutrition advisors, popularizers of medical articles, press releases from universities, government authorities, and climate scientists, in fact, they are not equally authoritative. It’s a mistake to assume they are.

    As far the former go, as hard as it is, there’s nothing quite like going to the original studies and sources. Everyman says “I can’t read these. I do not understand them.“ Then Everyman must rely upon intermediaries and take their chances.

    In fact, I’d say the example you pose is exactly the reason why to trust climate science and scientists, and others, like astrophysicists. Anyone who has looked at some recommendations from, say, the American Medical Association, in journals like JAMA or Journal of Cardiology, with a careful statistical eye, understands that there are certain recommendations which have no statistical standing. I won’t go into the reservatol business, or baby Aspirin, but let’s take guidelines for diastolic blood pressure. The current recommendation is under 90 mm Hg, but if you look at the marginal risk between 80 mm and 112 mm, there is no evidence from the metastudies that curtailing affects morbidity or mortality. That is decidedly not the case for systolic blood pressure: There the connection with morbidity and mortality is clear. Yet, there is a solid recommendation on being below 90 mm on the diastolic. Why? I dunno. The best answer I’ve ever gotten is “Well, we have to tell our doctors something.”

    While, from my readings, some climate research doesn’t have the greatest statistical reporting (they continue to use p-values for instance), it is a lot better in more than a few cases than the research we rely upon for our health.

  81. I agree with you HG. I just think it’s very hard for average jane and joe to sort out their sources. Then there is the issue that folks who want to misrepresent the “facts” speak with such certainty, while scientists speak with appropriate uncertainty about cause and effect with extreme weather, global warming etc.
    I remember seeing a headline in carbon brief or some source like that recently that stated something about how the current level of sea ice loss was so unlikely to have occurred in the absence of the global warming that we have already accumulated. Boy, talk about a weak headline or framing of the issue! Presenting global warming and climate change in the frame of statistical uncertainty is a recipe for failure on the task of conveying the gravity of our situation to jane and joe out there.

    Here’s the lead from

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-arctic-is-getting-crazy/

    The Arctic Is Getting Crazy

    Feedback loops between record Arctic temperatures and the jet stream may be altering our weather

    Safe and scientifically correct and sets the table for deniers to say the scientists are not sure what is causing sea ice loss or wild temperature rise in the Arctic. I think that is not the case, but if scientists won’t lead, unequivocally, with somethng like: “Climate change from human GHG emissions is warming the globe and destroying the Arctic Sea ice and this will be disastrous for our species” then it is very difficult for jane and joe to get a firm grasp on the situation.

    I know climate scientists want to stay out of the crosshairs of the culture wars, but maybe that is just is no longer possible. Maybe switch fields and study astrophysics to stay safe?

    Really appreciate ATTP and Brigitte for their engagement with this problem. Go get’m. Think outside the shell about how to achieve the results that are needed. You will be gored. Sorry. Take the heat or engage the warp drive and switch to astrophysics or some less field that has less impact on how we live in the hear and now. yup, I meant to say that.

    Cheers

    Mike

  82. we whisper about the loss of more predictable rain patterns with better farming outputs and fewer multi-year droughts. We whisper about the droughts and crop failures from global warming that are part of the Arab spring and a large part of the rise in numbers of refugees. We whisper about the potency of traditional farming practice that used fewer expensive petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides that allowed farming families to make a living. We whisper about the subsidies to large agro and the petro industries that have wiped out the family farms and how that might be rolled back.
    That’s just a couple of ideas off the top of my head. Bottom line, think creatively and effectively about how to reach the conservatives. The science says future temp rise has no sway and yet our entire process is predicated on preventing rise above 1.5 or 2.0 degrees in the future. The frame is all about the future. We are hammering away on the outside of a shell that is very resistant to outside pressure. Can we be smarter than that?

    Mike

  83. ^Absolutely. Trying to stay ‘objective’ on a sinking ship will either mean one of two things:

    A) you’ve basically got your head in the sand, or

    B) you’ve exchanged ‘judgement’ for ‘evaluations’ in which case you’ve become more like an engineer looking at a system which includes humans as [products of their environment]. Engineers have to be able to take sides though, they will communicate when an idea will not work. People can call that ‘subjective’ once their analysis involves assessing people, but let’s be honest, this really isn’t rocket science. Monotheisms literally tell people Satan planted the dinosaur bones to fool us, and demand followers ‘have faith’/’not question’; there is a full fledged culture war against general scientific literacy and critical reasoning. The bottom line is if scientists won’t shape our cultural narrative, utter charlatans and fanatics will.

  84. russellseitz says:

    It is anachonistic for the authors to write of AIT having “fostered the emergence of a (sought-after) dominant or ‘hegemonic’ social representation of climate change, while also triggering a (not so sought-after) ‘polemical’ social representation. ” , because the film extends a genre that began its long run a generation earlier.

    Environmental disaster films began winning awards a decade before Earth Day. On The Beach’s Oscar was succeeded by Soylent Green’s box office sucess and Roland Emmerich’s Berlin festival medal for The Noah’s Ark Principal- the prequel to The Day After Tomorrow.

    While the focus of this polemic genre shifted from fallout to CO2, after The Day After did its bit to establish the credibility of climate modeling in the popular imagination , – ‘nuclear winter’ is a cold war factoid par excellence, the sociology of the production and critical acceptance of climate disaster films shows as much continuity as the rest of the cultural polemics of the Cold War. witness its 21st centur recrudescence in The Road and of course Al’s film

  85. Willard says:

    Lukewarm optimism is older than cinema, and Al Gore is fat is older still.

  86. Ken Fabian says:

    Al Gore was a Democrat who had been Vice President and ran a close race for President – that virtually anything he promoted would be viewed with hostility by staunch Republicans seems to me to be a given, even if the Conservative position were not, as was the case, already hostile to acceptance of climate science when AIT was released. Because of that I suspect a politically partisan response in the USA was predictable even if it were not intentional. It raised public awareness because of Gore’s high public profile assuring it got widely viewed and discussed but it probably did solidify Republican/Conservative opposition and obstructionism for reasons that had nothing to do with the validity of the information it provided.

    Perhaps a prominent Conservative in Gore’s place may have had a different result, but I think communication of the climate problem ultimately does require communication by impartial scientists. I think bodies like The Royal Society and the US Academy of Sciences are better suited to be in the drivers seat – not that I think they have not done their bit for science communication but I would like to see something more akin to AIT or perhaps David Attenborough, something very watchable, that still does the kind of bottom up review of climate science all the public disputation seems to require, yet something that also humanises the people doing it. Perhaps with some backgrounds of those institutions as well as the lead reviewing scientists and include how they selected the appropriate people and methodologies for such an in depth and public review. The “dry” reports and references should be an accompaniment to such communications rather than the main thrust.

  87. Joshua says:

    ==> Perhaps a prominent Conservative in Gore’s place may have had a different result, ==>

    Perhaps, but I tend to doubt it.

    Although the efforts of folks like Bob Inglis and Katharine Hayhoe came later into the “debate” – when greater polarization might make their situation an imperfect analogy – the reaction to folks like Bob Inglis and Katharin Hayhoe might stand as evidence that it was none of Gore’s fatness, the specifics of his “science communication” style, or his political orientation, that explain the nature of the reaction to AIT.

    Although I would guess that the cause and effect to explain the response to AIT is multi-factorial, and attributes specific to Gore or AIT might provide a partial explanation, I think that in a basic sense considering them as explanatory get the causal mechanism backwards. IOW, (IMO) the reactions to Gore and AIT didn’t happen (mostly) because of specific attributes of Gore or AIT, but because of the ideological associations that are so strong with every aspect of the issue of climate change. The focus on Gore’s weight or his ideology is not the cause of the hatred but more a symptom of the underlying causality, in which people who have a particular ideological orientation are “motivated” to find reasons to hate on Gore, AIT, and even Inglis, Hayhoe, etc.

  88. Though I don’t think that takes into account the need for higher carbon to cover for the intermittency of wind, so nuclear may be better.

    Fine with your post, but just wanted to correct a common misapprehension regarding wind and solar, regarding their intermittency, especially wind. While clearly solar needs insolation, the solution to wind intermittency is spatial support, that is, deployment across larger areas, tied together, excellent forecasting, and day-to-day timing. This cannot be done with today’s utilities and grid. The problem at utilities is a mindset similar to the mindset of designers of the old AMF robots … They didn’t know how to design a control system which could adaptively response to changes in moments of inertia from picking up an arbitrary object, even if well within the torque range of motors, so they made their arms more massive than anything they needed to pick up, and so simplified the controls problem. Accordingly, the solution for wind and solar and storage is forecasting, sensing, and then responding. Basically, this is completely new technology, and you really are abusing it if approached from ideas about “base load”, which is the counterpart of AMF’s making their arms heavy. With base load intermittency doesn’t matter because it’s lost in the round-off.

    It is also incorrect that traditional sources of energy, especially nuclear, are reliable. Pilgrim nuclear, soon to sunset, could offline and take its 640 MW with it, with less than 2 minutes notice, and be down for weeks. Sure, there were a lot of dirty peakers brought online to compensate, but it’s irresponsible to act like only wind and solar have intermittency issues.

    This is a new world. And it’s natural to expect companies who have vested interests and monopolies and their management to try to do everything to protect.

    It will not matter. If they don’t adapt, people will leave, and their corporations will die, like Kodak, like Xerox.

  89. Perhaps a prominent Conservative in Gore’s place may have had a different result, but I think communication of the climate problem ultimately does require communication by impartial scientists. I think bodies like The Royal Society and the US Academy of Sciences are better suited to be in the drivers seat – not that I think they have not done their bit for science communication but I would like to see something more akin to AIT or perhaps David Attenborough, something very watchable …

    Yeah, and the public you want to reach will go off and watch South Park or Amy Schumer or Difficult People.

  90. Eric Rignot seems to feel that’s what’s needed is leaving the cautionary world of standard science talk behind:

  91. angech says:

    It is much easier to be an activist for a cause than a conservative defending the status quo.
    The cause has been well put by AIT.
    The confusion is that the new replaces the old but still believes it is new.
    AGW is now the old conservatism. As emphasised by the consensus.
    Rebellion is now the new activism.
    Fun to be a 60 year old teenager.
    Fun to hear conservatives call Conservatives conservatives.
    To reprise another South Park theme of relevance the Mongols are at the gates.
    The current warmist era, 3 days to start, was completely due to the “Gore effect”.

  92. Andrew Dodds says:

    hypergeometric –

    I think you are a bit over optimistic there.. if you look at:

    https://bravenewclimate.com/2015/11/08/the-capacity-factor-of-wind/

    You’ll see that having an area the size of Australia connected up does not insulate you from wind variability. For wind to provide actual reliable capacity you either need huge levels of overbuild or genuinely vast geographic areas – if solar is to be used as well, you are basically talking about a planetary sized grid capable of shifting 100s of GW half way around the world.

    And the intermittancy of wind and solar is of a different kind to that of thermal plants; wind and solar correlate (so over the past few days, we’ve ‘lost’ about 7GW of wind power), whereas thermal plants don’t – a sudden ‘trip’ of Sizewell B would only lose 1.2GW, but unexpected outages of thermal plants are uncorrelated, so you wouldn’t expect that to lead to others. Most downtime of thermal plants is planned, in any case. This means that the overbuild of these plants only needs to be ~20% to gold plate the system.

    That’s the reality. Some countries can get around it – having a very large hydro resource helps, or you can be like Germany and burn lots of wood. Or the UK and use that overcapacity in dispatchable plant to make up for it. There isn’t any storage technology that can realistically scale to the problem.

    It does worry me because the failure to face this is leading us down a blind alley. A policy of adding renewables whilst opposing new nuclear and doing little about intermittancy – ignoring the problem or claiming that ‘baseload doesn’t exist’ or whatever – is likely to see us with broadly similar emissions and nowhere to go 20 hears hence. The really serious danger is that a set of circumstances – a winter blocking high combined with a gas pipeline shutdown, for instance – leads to large scale blackouts, discrediting the entire renewables industry.

  93. Bernard J. says:

    Greg, thank you for cleaning up my absent-slash mess.

    Sadly, I screwed up my second attempt at post by losing a set of blockquote tags – for those confused by my post at January 16, 2017 at 7:21 am, the text between

    “Victor…” and “… anathema to US conservatives” was supposed to be bracketed as an overall quote.

    In my defense it was several hours after midnight here when I posted!

  94. Bernard J. says:

    … would like to see something more akin to AIT or perhaps David Attenborough, something very watchable, that still does the kind of bottom up review of climate science all the public disputation seems to require, yet something that also humanises the people doing it.

    Attenborough did have a tilt at the problem:

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/DVD-Blu-ray/Truth-About-Climate-Change-DVD/B00179CXIK

    He’s been outspoken since, too, but as with all the other outreaching to the public, those receptive to the message have already received it, and those not receptive are recycling old fallacies to ignore and deny it.

    Sadly, Sir David’s seems to have been just another swing with the axe. If there’s to be a circuit-breaker before the fact of serious (or worse) climate damage, it needs to come from an agent with the type of mastery that we’ve not yet seen.

    I suspect that Goethe would weep tears of blood if he could watch us today.

  95. Bernard J. says:

    Greg? 😉

    Oops. I’ve been toggling between Greg Laden’s and ATTP. And it’s late – again. 🙂

  96. Brigitte says:

    Goethe, poor Goethe! That’s where I meandered into the whole climate blogging thing – more or less http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2012/06/16/scepticism-process-not-position/
    Anyway, thanks for all the fish everybody. I have learned a lot. For the next few days I’ll be mainly and trying to talk down the hype around epigenetics at a conference where, we’ve just been told, there won’t be much wifi access. Let’s see how we’ll cope!

  97. BBD says:

    Andrew (re hypergeometrics misrepresenations)

    It does worry me because the failure to face this is leading us down a blind alley.

    It’s straight-up denialism and it is pernicious in any form.

  98. verytallguy says:

    It’s straight-up denialism and it is pernicious in any form.

    Replies in a bombastic style which must not become the norm.

  99. Andrew Dodds says: “And the intermittancy of wind and solar is of a different kind to that of thermal plants; wind and solar correlate

    Some time ago they found cracks in the hull of nuclear power plants in Belgium. All nuclear power plants of the same firm had to be emergency shut down. That is intermittency. After then tsunami in Japan all nuclear power plants had to be shut down.That is intermittency. That is unexpected and something we need overcapacity for to deal with.

    Nuclear power plants, the real ones not the fairy tale ones, are slow to respond to demand. That is why France is subsidizing night power in Europe because they need to get rid of the stuff.

    Renewable energy is merely variable and reasonably predictably so.

    We have free markets to bring supply and demand together. Storage is just one of the strategies. Simply using less when there is not much and household need it for light and laptops and using more power when it is nearly free is another strategy. Price determines supply and demand, that is how it works for everything in a functioning market economy.

    Just came by a new research project to adapt the production of compressed air & nitrogen to the price/supply. This is 7% of Industrial electricity use. You can do the same for large cooling houses. If power is nearly free half of the time, I am sure also the aluminium smelters will find a way to use this. I look forward to the innovation that is unleashed by the availability of nearly free power for most of the time. Looks like the USA will be intentionally missing out on these technologies and companies of the 21st century.

    But if the right likes the more expensive nuclear solution more, let them fight for it. I would suggest to start with an adult position on climate change.

  100. @Andrew Dodds,

    With sufficiently low capital costs for deployment, impressive overbuilds of wind and solar and storage is exactly what I and others have in mind. Another aspect of this technology is, of course, realizing a need to compensate for “capacity factor,” another term which pretends that the norm is nearly 100% availability.

  101. BBD says:

    Andrew

    I’m getting shit for making factually accurate statements which is unacceptable so I will leave you to deal with this.

    I’ve also had about enough of trying to educate people out of their misconceptions about the potential of renewables.

    As a likely final comment here, I will just say that peddling misinformation about this provides politicians with exactly the policy space they need to keep on screwing up energy policy further and further down the line.

  102. Joshua says:

    BBD –

    ==> As a likely final comment here, ==>

    “Here” meaning this thread, or this website?

  103. I haven’t been closely following this discussion, but it does appear to illustrate why I tend to avoid discussing energy options too much. It seems to be almost as contentious as climate science, but is a topic about which I don’t feel that I know enough to hold strong views. I think a lot of the cautionary views about being overly optimistic about renewables have merit, but I’m a bit reluctant to completely dismiss optimism. There are those who also appear overly optimistic about nuclear which I’m sure will play an important role, but is hard to see how it can be the dominant energy source within the next few decades.

  104. Happy to acknowledge that I am optimistic and could be wrong. What annoys me are only people who are sure renewable energy could not work and ignore many of the reason why it could. One cannot be confident about economic, political and technological developments decades into the future. This is also probably not the best blog to discus this. It is not science.

  105. @ATTP, re Energy:

    It very much depends upon who you ask. I was no energy wonk 4 years ago, but I am trained as an engineer, and am a member of both its Controls and Power and Energy Society, and subscribe to Smart Grids, and the like. I’ve also followed the dramas across the United States and, to some extend, in other countries, relating to solar and wind, including the struggles fought using puppet legislators to defang solar and wind in order to protect big utilities. In many instances, these attempts have been reversed when imposed.

    It really does depend where you are coming from, even as engineers. There are people who have decades of experience in the electrical industry. While not all are this way, many think and talk in terms of protecting the existing grid, and asking good questions about “How are you going to provide voltage stability? Frequency stability?” These are called “ancillary services” in the jargon of that marketplace, and there are, in fact, companies that sell things to provide these.

    But strikingly, most utilities seem to have little understanding of who their customers are, in terms of behavior profiles. I contrast that lack of understanding with retailers on the Internet, who have to know these things, and utilities are just beginning to try to get these data, and worry more about how they are going to pay for the effort than to understand that they are no longer in a monopolistic bubble where they have no competition. Paying for such things, in tech, is the cost of staying in business, not even a cost of doing business. And utilities and their defenders are slow to see that. Those that don’t might, behind the scenes, be worried nonetheless, and are trying, as I believe the fossil fuel companies are, to use regulatory capture to give themselves another decade or two of dominance.

    I know this isn’t Science. It’s Engineering, and that always runs into politics and legalities. (Sorry.) There are several possible futures for any given electrical grid. They may not go that way, and the pathways for utilities dying are several, including simply being abandoned.

    But, whatever your view, just like the fate of of whale oil and horse drawn carriages in their day, fossil fuels will be displaced by this emerging, superior technology. And it has a tailwind, particularly with solar+storage: Localities and villages can take back control of their energy supply from central distributors, and be independent of their long range machines! You say that sounds inefficient, but when energy can be generated close to where it is being consumed, there is no reason for that horrible capital investment in pipeline or grid network. Networks can be powerful, but when they cost a lot, not only in dollars, but eminent domain impacts and side effects (that’s a transmission pipeline constructed by Spectra Energy within the last year which is already leaking natural gas, courtesy of Professor Nathan Phillips of BU). In retrospect, if energy can be generated close to consumption, all this grid network stuff, whether electrical or fossil fuels, looks like some Rube Goldberg conception.

  106. Ken Fabian says:

    Bernard J – “Attenborough did have a tilt at the problem”
    Which is not the same as having the imprimatur of the world’s most trusted science advisory bodies. My own view is that people in positions of trust and responsibility – who I think should have an obligation to be well informed and defer to expert advice – can simply choose to ignore what a TV “entertainer” like Attenborough says. Choosing to ignore the Royal Society, National Academy of Sciences and the like seems to me to be a lot harder for our decision makers to justify. Not that they are not doing so quite brazenly already, but I just suspect that some kind of highly publicised, very public and well credentialled deep review of climate science, in the most high impact communications format, is appropriate and could potentially become a superior reference point for ongoing debate than AIT or Attenborough could ever be. Making the public better aware of what those kinds of peak science bodies are, how they work and the important role they play can’t hurt either.

    On our low emissions energy options, the uncertainties and obstacles are different but they exist for nuclear as well as renewables, yet a firm commitment to a transition to low emissions needs to occur irrespective of those uncertainties – we won’t know and can’t know how the later steps get achieved or how much they will cost but that should not be the blanket excuse to fail to take the earlier steps that are within our current capability. It will almost inevitably depend on technologies that have yet to be developed and proven. I suggest that firm commitment itself removes significant obstacles – mostly political, in policy, planning and regulation, and that will affect the support for R&D that will be the source of solutions to future obstacles.

    It looks to me choosing not to commit to that transition is the course with the least uncertainty; 4 to 6 degrees of warming here we come.

  107. I wonder how AIT (or some new iteration of it) would work if it was made in the frame of the stable weather patterns of our grandparents? The research says that is how we can influence conservatives. In that context, it might work to have Ken Burns take a shot at a climate change flick with a focus on the more stable weather patterns and climate of the past. We don’t have to reach progressives, they like science and understand the problem. We have to reach conservatives and they like history, they do not care much for science or the future. I provided a link to the PNAS study about past orientation already. Attenborough might be fine and prove able to reach conservatives if the frame was the stable climate of the past, I don’t think anyone reaches conservatives talking about how much the temp is going to rise in the future. Conservatives don’t hear in that frame. I have been repeating this past framing approach since I read the PNAS study, but I am not sure liberals and scientists are able to hear discussions abt reframing the discussion (Brigitte is an exception). Mostly I get blasted for suggesting that it might be possible to talk to conservatives at all. But in this AIT thread it makes sense to push the idea that the whole problem of temp rise in the future is built on a premise that does not reach a significant chunk of voters. Don’t talk abt temp rise in the future, talk about the stable climate and weather patterns that have been lost. Or don’t. The hour is getting late.

    Mike

  108. I rather hope that BBD sticks around, specifically for the renewable insight, but everything else too.

  109. Bernard J. says:

    Ken Fabian:

    … just suspect that some kind of highly publicised, very public and well credentialled deep review of climate science, in the most high impact communications format, is appropriate and could potentially become a superior reference point for ongoing debate than AIT or Attenborough could ever be.

    I agree with the whole of your post, and the quote above goes to the point I made previously about the ‘sorcerer’. Whether a global coalition of all preeminent scientific bodies summarising the science and categorically underscoring the danger is sufficient to deal with the anti-science push-back, I don’t know, but I doubt that anything less will work until it’s blatantly obvious to everyone that, like the apprentice, up to our waists in water…

    There’s also the converse issue of how well we will hold responsible those whose duty it is to act on the best information, and those who promulgate dangerous untruths in the face of the best, factual, countering evidence. The way the world’s currently constructed it appears that blatant science denialism – and actions arising – carry little to no penalty, even if the best advice is that it threatens millions of lives, whole societies, biodiversity, and essential planetary ecosystem functions.

  110. Bernard J. says:

    In 2 and 3/4 hours Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Deke Arndt of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information will give a new conference to tell the world that 2016 was the hottest year in recorded history.

    I hope that they take up the mantle of Goethe’s sorcerer and negate the mere legerdemain of the Denialati.

  111. “how well we will hold responsible those whose duty it is to act on the best information, and those who promulgate dangerous untruths in the face of the best, factual, countering evidence”

    I can tell you now there will accountability for those who had a duty act and did not. These folks will be given a golden parachute when they have outlived their usefulness as tools of an economic system that destroys a planet. This will work fine because he damage done now will be felt primarily when these folks are gone, so if you have a sufficiently weak conscience, it is possible to serve the economic system at the expense of a multitude of species. Again, conservatives do not respond to future damage caused by present actions:
    Past-focused environmental comparisons promote proenvironmental outcomes for conservatives
    http://www.pnas.org/content/113/52/14953

    Look at the accountability of the authors of US torture, excuse me, enhanced interrogation, techniques if you need to confirm how accountability works in the US.

  112. Susan Anderson says:

    Hypergeometric “re Energy”

    Thank you for a particularly thoughtful summary from a realistic and knowledgeable point of view.

  113. BBD says:

    Read the link Andrew posted. It is fundamentally important. It was ignored by everyone.

    https://bravenewclimate.com/2015/11/08/the-capacity-factor-of-wind/

    Enthusiasts get so much wrong.

    This applies equally to the nuker brigade and those who think that decarbonisation can be achieved using renewables. Oh, and that storage is somehow going to be cheap.

    Confusing the cost of SPV and wind turbines without storage with total system cost is a fundamental, argument-invalidating mistake. It’s not as bad as conflating electricity generation with total primary energy but hg did that as well.

  114. BBD says:

    @ rust

    Thank you.

  115. I read that link before, and I found nothing new in it. The spatial scale for decorrelating wind has long been known, and is factored in the work of Jacobson, et al (see Figures 2-4, and references, too). The arguments presented here don’t properly separate social-wide aggregation of costs from costs borne by a centralized provider and its ratepayers from those whose capital investments come from other sources, ranging from the private to the speculative. There is nothing in what I said which suggests allocation of wind and solar competing with each other and other sources of energy makes any sense with these technologies and, for obvious reasons, its better they get deliberately constructed to exploit peculiarities of locales, done, as I said, with excellent forecasting both strategic and tactical (see also). And nothing addressed the Sankey inefficiencies of the traditional energy system, which are surmounted by generating close to consumption, or Carnot cycle limitations. Or, for that matter, the fundamental business advantage of wind, solar, and storage: Plummeting levelized costs.

    From my perspective, as I echoed, it’s a choice between this obvious success story, dismantling a baroque, Stalinist electrical system which laughingly now tries to defend itself as a “free market mechanism,” or maintaining a semblance of the present grid, and dissevered into small, almost entirely self-sustaining and completely reinvented if sometimes balkanized pieces, the best and the brightest owned by the wealthiest towns and regions, which, instead of coordinating, will pay the necessarily high fees to pull in energy when they cannot generate. It’ll be worth it to them to do that, nevertheless, because this will be rare. And it will incentivize them to make themselves more and more independent.

  116. seems a little off-topic to me

  117. I’m glad Nehrlich and Pearce agree with me that it was Al Gore whodunnit — polarize the climate debate, that is.

  118. Richard,

    I’m glad Nehrlich and Pearce agree with me that it was Al Gore whodunnit — polarize the climate debate, that is.

    I think that’s rather over-interpreting their analysis (as you probably know). Even if you can make a formal link to Gore (and it is odd how some are willing to accept the causal influence of Gore but not the causal influence of CO2) that doesn’t necessarily mean it was him whodunnit.

    Just out of interest, maybe you could tell us what you think your role has been in polarizing the climate debate. If you think that how people respond to what is said is somehow the fault of the person who speaks out, rather than those responding being responsible for what they say, your contribution to polarizing the debate can’t be negligible, surely?

  119. @wotts
    Thanks for the compliment, but I think my role is roughly zero.

  120. Richard,
    Probably, but not for lack of trying, though.

  121. Bernard J. says:

    …I think my role is roughly zero.

    I think that ATTP was referring to your role in polarising the human-caused climate change discussion, and not to your contribution to the actual science.

    Just saying.

  122. @Bernard
    Google Scholar puts me at #32 in the world for citations in the area of climate change. It may of course be that I was cited 29500 times by people writing how wrong I am.

  123. verytallguy says:

    Google Scholar puts me at #32 in the world for citations in the area of climate change.

    Good to know that, thanks Richard. For some reason it prompts memories of Einstein. Though I’m quite sure that’s not the first or last time your names will be juxtaposed.

  124. Richard,
    I wasn’t really expecting this to be a serious discussion (I didn’t take your initial comment as being serious. Maybe I should have?) Hopefully you realise that number of citations may be an indicator of academic credibility, but it’s certainly not perfect and it is highly area dependant. Since you mention your Google Scholar citations, you do appear to have a remarkably high ratio of Google Scholar citations to Web of Science citations. I think you have more than 4 times as many Google Scholar citations as Web of Science citations, which would seem to indicate that a vast majority of your citations are not coming from traditional academic sources. That may well inidicate that you’re having substantial public impact, but does suggest that a lot of those who are citing you are not other experts in your field. This is just a comment, BTW, not some kind of criticism.

  125. I’m going to be in meetings all afternoon, so maybe we can avoid this becoming a thread about Richard Tol, however interesting that might be 😉

  126. verytallguy says:

    avoid this becoming a thread about Richard Tol, however interesting that might be

    Alas not. Tol’s law of blogs ”. “Any thread with Richard as a contributor inevitably ends with Richard as the subject”.

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/11/26/there-is-no-tribe/#comment-67674

    If violated, you will be able to construct a perpetual motion machine from the pent up hot air.

  127. Willard says:

    Speaking of Richie’s field:

    The first estimate of the social cost of carbon was published in 1982, and 113 papers have been published since with new estimates. (And another 100+ bitching about those estimates.) These papers do all that is suggested above, and more.

    https://judithcurry.com/2017/01/17/rethinking-the-social-cost-of-carbon/#comment-834841

    That’s a tiny field.

  128. verytallguy says:

    Ah, yes, that’s what it was:

    Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

    That it’s probably a misquote seems particularly apt somehow, given both that Richie is the subject and the concurrent events today.

  129. don’t feed the tols

  130. @wotts
    I earlier wrote on this venerable blog that, in my humble opinion, “An Inconvenient Truth” contributed substantially to the polarization of the climate debate, citing Bush the Younger’s campaign pledge to introduce a carbon tax. My remarks were met by fierce resistance. Your guest authors do not disagree with me on this.

  131. Bernard J. says:

    In my institution GS is not used as a publication metric, in part for the reasons to which ATTP alludes. It’s a warning flag for us whenever a potential new staff member uses GS in preference to WoS or Scopus. But this is all by-the-by.

    Let me simply repeat…

    I think that ATTP was referring to your role in polarising the human-caused climate change discussion, and not to your contribution to the actual science.

    Just saying. Again.

  132. Richard,

    I earlier wrote on this venerable blog that, in my humble opinion, “An Inconvenient Truth” contributed substantially to the polarization of the climate debate

    Yes, I realise this is what you’re suggesting. I guess it depends on how one defines “contributes to” but I don’t think the conclusion of this paper is quite as simple as “it was Al Gore whodunnit”. Would be good to get Brigitte, or Warren, to clarify but my understanding is that it is more that the response – from some – focused more on mistakes made and Al Gore himself, than on the substance of what was presented. Essentially, unless you make no mistakes and have a background that is beyond reproach, people will find reasons to criticise. Therefore one could argue that the polarization is more due to the response from those who chose to find reasons to criticise than from Al Gore himself.

  133. Bernard J. says:

    Therefore one could argue that the polarization is more due to the response from those who chose to find reasons to criticise than from Al Gore himself.

    I was about to same essentially the same thing.

    It’s those with the “reasons to criticise” where the real impetus for the polarisation lies. And those reasons are, by far, more based on profit and ideology than on any problem with the integrity of the science.

    Which neatly brings us back to people with apparently humble opinions.

  134. Joshua says:

    ==>… however interesting that might be 😉 ==>

    Not to mention, novel.

  135. Gore received a standing ovation after the premiere of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which opened this year’s Sundance Film Festival
    http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20170121/arts-entertainment/Al-Gore-rouses-festival-with-climate-film.637051

    A second opportunity for Pearce and Tol to pretend to be the passive victims of politicisation to which their tribe contributed nothing.

    Does anyone understand why the Trump tribe prefers victimhood over personal responsibility? Doesn’t it feel better to be an adult and taken responsibility for your decisions and actions?

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