I’m confused….

Recently, Warren Pearce and colleagues published a paper called [b]eyond climate consensus which I wrote about here. There was a response from John Cook, one from Naomi Oreskes, and a Guardian article by multiple authors. Pearce et al. have now published a response to these responses.

So, why am I confused? The first Pearce et al. comment suggested that [q]uantification of consensus within climate science continues to occupy a central role in public discussions of climate change and discussed the focus on consensus messaging. The second Pearce et al. comment, though, says

the data shows a clear majority position among Americans: that climate change is real, important and worrisome, and that the US should take policy action and invest in public education. These positions have been reached in the absence of accurate knowledge about the scientific consensus.

If there has been some kind of undue focus on consensus messaging, then how can one claim that the public position has been reached in its absence? The above, therefore, seems inconsistent with what was suggested in the first Pearce et al. comment. On the other hand, maybe the word accurate in the above quote has some significance, but that still doesn’t make much sense. You can’t really imply something about the accuracy of consensus study without some kind of evidence to support that suggestion, and I’m not quite sure how the public would know if the estimates of the scientific consensus were accurate, or not.

So, it seems that the two comments are rather inconsistent. Either we’re giving undue focus to consensus messaging and crowding out more effective/appropriate alternatives, or consensus messaging is having no impact on how people develop their positions, but it can’t really be both.

Let me make an additional comment. The more recent Pearce et al. comment says

First, the debate over the hiatus/pause in global temperature increase was not invented by fossil fuel interests, but is a subject of genuine scientific disagreement ….. . Second, there is increasing expert debate regarding how much carbon dioxide can be emitted while keeping global temperature rise below 1.5°C….. For climate scientists, there is no obvious consensus about questions such as these. On the other hand, Cook, Oreskes and others persist in messaging the minimalist fact that human influence on a changing climate is uncontroversial amongst scientists.

Well, if it is so uncontroversial why do people keep criticising its use? Also, the two examples above essentially miss the point. The consensus position is very simply that humans are causing global warming; it says nothing about specific issues like short-term variability, or carbon budgets. There are also certainly no suggestions that we should promote consensus messaging ahead of discussions about more specific aspects of the topic. Furthermore, the so-called pause certainly does not challenge the basics of anthropogenically-driven climate change and I would argue that there is a consensus about keeping global temperatures below 1.5oC; it’s going to be very difficult to do so.

Let me be clear about something, though. If someone could convince me that consensus messaging was actually counter-productive and that there was a clear alternative that was more appropriate and effective, then I would happily endorse that. However, that there is a strong consensus about the basics is true, and so – in my view – one needs to make a pretty strong argument if one is going to essentially argue that we should avoid highlighting something that is true. Furthermore, we don’t live in a world in which there was no consensus messaging. Therefore, it would seem difficult to make claims about its effectiveness if you don’t really have a control in which it was not used.

So, until someone presents some pretty compelling evidence to support their claims about going beyond consensus messaging, I’m going to continue to be confused as to why its use is so controversial. I’m also quite happy for people to follow many alternative communication strategies, I’m simply unclear as to why there seems to be such a need to criticise consensus messaging. Why not promote your alternative, rather than undermining one that is aimed at highlighting a simple truth?

Update: Steve Bloom’s Twitter comment has clarified – I think – the significance of the term accurate in the bit I’ve quoted above. I think the argument is that a majority regard climate change as important and worrisome despite not having an accurate understanding of the level of consensus. I can see some logic to this argument, but I still think that without some kind of control (which is essentially impossible) it is difficult to draw any strong conclusions about the effectiveness of consensus messaging from these kind of surveys – i.e., you don’t know what the outcome would have been in its absence.

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110 Responses to I’m confused….

  1. Great post. Here is my understanding of what ‘consensus messaging’ is inferred to mean: 97% of climate scientists say its true, so there, shut up, and don’t question it.

    But of course that is the very opposite of what most scientists do when communication the science. They usually never mention the 97%, and if someone asks a question (as I was aked by a 15 year old last week) “I don’t understand why a 0.04% of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is something to worry about”, I answered. He was, by the way happy with the answer. I never mentioned 97%.

    And can I repeat this story …

    I had an interesting experience recently when chatting with an old friend, who asked what I was doing in retirement. “Painting, writing a book, and involved in climate change …”. … “Oh she asked, is it really happening?”. Now she was not a ‘denier’ and certainly not my uncle. But she is very intelligent, and was curious. I think we need to go where people want to go, so I gave a potted 5 minute summary of the state of knowledge, but then moved onto the positives of what can be done. We should not let the negativity of dealing with deniers, somehow deny the need that some people may still have to want to explore questions they do not have the confidence (yet) to explore themselves. Maybe because she trusted me not to be preachy about it, she asked the question. Let’s not create a golden rule that denies that opportunity to others.

    If you want to call this anything, it’s consilience messaging.

  2. Steven Mosher says:

    I suppose if we could wind the clock back to the first time a skeptic said:

    Not every scientist agrees…

    Then I would say the best response is

    S: not every scientist agrees:
    SM: True. Not every scientist agrees that Global warming is caused by humans. And in science
    the lack of unanimity is evidence of exactly nothing. We dont vote in science. we dont ask, does anyone object?. The lack of total agreement is meaningless, just as a majority of agreement would be meaningless. What matters is this: The
    best science, shows that humans have contributed to global warming.

  3. In addition to all that, there’s also the fact that deniers focused so heavily on the ‘hiatus’ that it resulted in ‘seepage’ (see research by Lewandowsky & colleagues) and a disproportionately large amount of research given the relative unimportance of the subject (short-term natural variability). There were certainly fossil fuel interests behind that denier push.

    Perhaps the worst part is that their response completely ignored the research we referenced in support of our points:

    A 2011 study found that support for climate policy was linked to perceptions about scientific agreement on climate change. This finding has since been independently replicated by other research, as well as randomized experiments conducted in Australia and the United States. Still other research confirmed these results using John Oliver’s viral TV segment illustrating the issue of “false balance” to the public.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/oct/02/why-the-97-climate-consensus-is-important

  4. Magma says:

    It may not be you who’s the confused one here.

  5. Richard,

    Here is my understanding of what ‘consensus messaging’ is inferred to mean: 97% of climate scientists say its true, so there, shut up, and don’t question it.

    Indeed, but that is not what consensus messaging about. It is simply a way of highlighting that there is strong agreement about the basics.

    Steven,

    What matters is this: The best science, shows that humans have contributed to global warming.

    Yes, I agree. Because of this, there also happens to be a strong level of agreement amongst relevant experts/within the literature.

    Dana,

    Perhaps the worst part is that their response completely ignored the research we referenced in support of our points:

    Indeed. It seems clear that even if there is some researh indicating that consensus messaging may be ineffective (which may only apply in some circumstances) there is clearly not some kind of consensus amongst those who study consensus messaging that this is the case. In fact, there seems to be quite a lot of evidence indicating the opposite.

    Magma,
    I’m certainly confused in some respects.

  6. If someone could convince me that consensus messaging was actually counter-productive and that there was a clear alternative that was more appropriate and effective, then I would happily endorse that.

    Even if it were counter-productive to say the truth, I would prefer not to lie in my role as scientist and would keep on stating the minimalist fact that human influence on a changing climate is uncontroversial amongst scientists.

  7. Victor,

    Even if it were counter-productive to say the truth, I would prefer not to lie in my role as scientist and would keep on stating the minimalist fact that human influence on a changing climate is uncontroversial amongst scientists.

    Indeed. I don’t think it should be the focus (and I don’t think it is) but it’s hard to see why it should be highlighted when people indicate that they think that there isn’t a strong level of agreement amongst scientists.

  8. Steve Bloom has pointed out that the accurate could refer to people under-estimating the level of consensus when asked what they think that it is. Hence, the argument being that even though people under-estimate the level of consensus, a majority still think that it’s something important and worrisome etc. Still doesn’t seem to be a strong argument that consensus messaging has had no impact on that outome.

  9. ATTP, I think that the 97% really annoys the contrarians, might be a reason for using it with them!! My point is that for the vast majority of people, it is not really a teaching tool.

  10. Richard,

    My point is that for the vast majority of people, it is not really a teaching tool.

    Absolutely, I agree. What’s odd is the suggestion that all Cook et al. want to highlight is the level of consensus, while ignoring that John Cook is the person who developed this.

  11. Joshua says:

    Steven –

    True. Not every scientist agrees that Global warming is caused by humans. And in science
    the lack of unanimity is evidence of exactly nothing. We dont vote in science. we dont ask, does anyone object?. The lack of total agreement is meaningless, just as a majority of agreement would be meaningless. What matters is this: The
    best science, shows that humans have contributed to global warming.

    I don’t often say this, but plus a lot. Thanks for that comment.

    That puts one of the ironies of the “climate consensus” debate into a nice, concise, little package. It’s good to see it laid out so clearly.

    It’s always interesting that “skeptics” don’t see that if you’re going to argue that “consensus ain’t science” then you can’t (in a logically coherent manner) argue that prominent scientists disagreeing matters.

    Of course, there are other ironies about the “consensus” argument as well…. (I won’t bother to elaborate unless someone begs me to)…but that’s probably the irony-est one.

  12. Richard Erskine: “My point is that for the vast majority of people, it is not really a teaching tool.

    I had asthma some years ago. All I checked was whether the doc prescribed the consensus therapy. I ain’t got no time to study all the signalling pathways between the various types of lung cells, all the trails they made and whatever complicated stuff is otherwise relevant. It would easily take a decade until my expertise would be enough to rival the professionals. The only thing I did do additionally was look for life style changes, that kind of cures are unfortunately not seen as legitimate by the medical profession, maybe also because most patients will not implement them.

    When it comes up, talking to strangers, that I am a climate scientist they regularly want to know if minimalist fact that human influence on a changing climate is uncontroversial amongst scientists is true. Makes sense to me. More sense than people being interested in arcane details of the data processing needed to accurately estimate the trend in the global mean temperature. I am honoured by the attention and happy to explain what we do and why, but it is weird. I do not know such details of any other topic outside of the atmospheric sciences.

  13. Steven Mosher says:

    “That puts one of the ironies of the “climate consensus” debate into a nice, concise, little package. It’s good to see it laid out so clearly.”

    Thank you, all that training in irony paid off.

  14. Accurate means that the non-denier climate scientists have yet to completely figure out how to quantify the impact of the natural variability caused by ENSO (and volcanic activity when applicable). That’s changing because the non-denier science is doing better in compensating for the natural variability and deduce more accurately the AGW component.

    And of course this will happen in spite of the uncertainty bores such as Curry, Lindzen, and Tsonis pitching their reactionary chaos theories.

  15. Willard says:

    > consilience messaging

    Love it, Richard.

    ***

    ­> Either we’re giving undue focus to consensus messaging and crowding out more effective/appropriate alternatives, or consensus messaging is having no impact on how people develop their positions, but it can’t really be both.

    It could be both: just make sure one bunch of contrarians holds the first claim, and a second one holds the second claim.

    The Contrarian Matrix is billions upon billions of Procrustes beds.

  16. Joshua says: November 14, 2017 at 9:23 pm
    “It’s always interesting that “skeptics” don’t see that if you’re going to argue that “consensus ain’t science” then you can’t (in a logically coherent manner) argue that prominent scientists disagreeing matters. Of course, there are other ironies about the “consensus” argument as well…. (I won’t bother to elaborate unless someone begs me to)…but that’s probably the irony-est one.”
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Do I have to beg? I’d love to see you put a little more flesh on those bones. : )

  17. Joshua says:

    Either we’re giving undue focus to consensus messaging and crowding out more effective/appropriate alternatives, or consensus messaging is having no impact on how people develop their positions, but it can’t really be both.

    I happen to think that both are the case (although I wouldn’t say that it has “no” impact, just minimal impact and impact that runs in diverging directions depending on the audience).

  18. Joshua says:

    Careful what you ask for, citizens.

    I’ll find time to list a few tomorrow.

  19. Willard says:

    How (self) consilience messaging could help shatter motivated reasoning:

    Though I’d been educated as a scientist at Pennsylvania State University, my opinions were increasingly dictated by my burgeoning conservative political ideology. I rarely conversed with anyone who had a different opinion. I had just enough scientific arguments in my possession to make my positions on climate change sound credible, or so I thought. And I enjoyed poking fun at the very industry in which I found employment, by accusing reporters of not being “balanced” in their coverage, and always equating the worst-case scenario with the most likely scenario.

    When I spoke about global warming on WRAL, for example, I would point to the satellite temperature record showing little or no warming, and that what little warming there was had been detected only in the polar regions at night. Why was that a bad thing? Finally, I’d posture that plants love carbon dioxide, and so more CO2 would actually green up the planet!

    But if I’m truly honest with myself, little by little and over a period of several years, I began to wonder if I was being fair and objective in my assessment of global warming. I wanted others to admit they were wrong, but was I willing to do the same? Finally, around 2005, everything came to a head. I woke up one morning convinced of my own confirmation bias. I felt I’d abandoned my work as a scientist to be an ideologue. I had always embraced science. I was a space program junky in the ’60s and early ’70s. I attended Penn State University to get a degree in Meteorology. Why with this one issue was I so willing to abandon science?

    https://www.cjr.org/special_report/climate-change-skeptic-meteorologist.php

    Via MT.

  20. Willard says:

    Here would be one example, Citizen:

    Why would the divergence of opinion matter if the consensus of the opposite opinion did not?

  21. Everett F Sargent says:

    ATTP,

    Could you clear up some confusion at my end … the temporal paper trail is …

    (0) Warren Pearce commentary (peer reviewed and published)
    (1) John Cook reply (peer reviewed and published)
    (SQRT(-1)) Guardian article by multiple authors (not peer reviewed and not published in said journal)
    (2) Naomi Oreskes reply (peer reviewed and published)
    (3) Warren Pearce single reply to Cook (1) and Oreskes (2) (peer reviewed and published)

    (3)
    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17524032.2017.1392109
    (2)
    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17524032.2017.1377094
    (1)
    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17524032.2017.1377095
    (0)
    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17524032.2017.1333965

    Having not read any of these 4 (or 5) pieces or even much of your own commentary (I would argue that this is a ‘so called’ firewall to other predispositional POV’s), if none of these provide quantitative evidence to support their own POV (e. g. Consensus messaging works, here is the quantitative evidence, after factoring out all other confounding factors. And/or vise versa.), then what is their overriding functional utility (e. g. simply to write stuff)?

    In other words, is this series a matter of facts or are they all a matter of opinion?

    I currently believe that consensus messaging does not work. However, I have no basis for this belief, either qualitative or quantitative (it is quite likely that if such pro/con evidence exists, that I have simply forgotten).

  22. Ragnaar says:

    I liked this from above:

    “On the other hand, Cook, Oreskes and others persist in messaging the minimalist fact that human influence on a changing climate is uncontroversial amongst scientists.”

    Over in the corner is the consensus argument going on. He calls it a minimalist fact. Call it a trivial fact. Getting hung with trivia at the expense of progress.

    I admit it triggers some people. Triggering is not convincing. Then you’ll hear what science is supposed to be.

    Possible approach:
    People don’t know the what the consensus is.
    Tell them what it is with authority.
    See if things get better.
    Trump gets elected.
    Study them.

  23. Willard says:

    Ragnaar,

    Five types of teh Donald voters:

    American Preservationists (20%), Staunch Conservatives (31%), Anti-Elites (19%), Free Marketeers (25%), and the Disengaged (5%)

    Here’s a little something you might like which I recently discovered.

  24. EFS,

    I currently believe that consensus messaging does not work. However, I have no basis for this belief, either qualitative or quantitative (it is quite likely that if such pro/con evidence exists, that I have simply forgotten).

    I think there are indications that it can work in some circumstances (see papers by Leiserowitz, van der Linden, Hamilton, etc) and there are indications that there cases (I think) in which it won’t be effective. I also think (as Joshua would highlight) that many of the claims about it not working are based on studies that don’t have a control (i.e., they don’t actually know what would have happened in its absence). So, my own view is quite simple; it’s true.

  25. Joshua,

    I happen to think that both are the case (although I wouldn’t say that it has “no” impact, just minimal impact and impact that runs in diverging directions depending on the audience).

    I think there are indications that it has impact in some circumstances, but my point was more that if it has little impact (as opposed to having a big negative impact) why are people writing papers criticising its use?

  26. Social science is hard and evidence correspondingly easy to criticise, but does anyone know of an alternative for consensus messaging for which there is stronger evidence it works?

    It is not a silver bullet, but as far as I can see it is the strategy with the best evidence that it works.

    It is also not just aimed at the fundamentalists on WUWT and Co. There are also many on the left in America or innocent Germans that do not know how broad the consensus is and underestimate its size due to an unprecedented misinformation campaign. These people have a right to know the minimalist fact that human influence on a changing climate is uncontroversial amongst scientists.

  27. Victor,

    does anyone know of an alternative for consensus messaging for which there is stronger evidence it works?

    I’d also quite like to know this. Also, consensus messaging is simply one part of a much bigger communication strategy. It’s not as if anyone is suggesting that all that we should be doing is highlighting the consensus; it is simply a way of illustrating the level of agreement that may (in some cases) make it easier to then discuss the actual scientific evidence.

  28. BBD says:

    From the OP:

    Well, if it [consensus messaging] is so uncontroversial why do people keep criticising its use?

    I’m simply unclear as to why there seems to be such a need to criticise consensus messaging. Why not promote your alternative, rather than undermining one that is aimed at highlighting a simple truth?

    And just above:

    my point was more that if it has little impact (as opposed to having a big negative impact) why are people writing papers criticising its use?

    Because they are pushing a contrarian agenda.

  29. BBD,

    Because they are pushing a contrarian agenda.

    I think it’s subtler than that. I think this is just an extension of the science wars. The consensus message is sticky message that highlights an important scientific position and some people don’t like that.

    The annoying thing is that this completely misrepresents the issue. I don’t think many (anyone) thinks that there is a simple linear pathway from scientific evidence to policy decisions. Of course, many others factor (values, etc) play important roles. For some reason, some people seem to think that the way to highlight these other factors is to undermine a message that essentially present a simple truth about our scientific position. I have no idea why this is.

  30. Eli Rabett says:

    One the issue of motivation, allow Eli to return to the ur-text

    You (Roger, Jr.), and to be fair others such as Chris Mooney, function in an honorable tradition which started with the self publishing pamphleteers of the 16th and 17th century. When enough notice had been achieved a book was/is published. More recently public intellectuals started by publishing in the academic press, working in foundations or universities, with the goal of moving on to policy making positions in government. With good luck they become consultants and movers and shakers. No better example of this than Henry Kissinger. Blogs provide a shortcut for this career path. You had the perspicacity to start your blog early in an area that was not well served.

    What you are doing here, and in your publications, and on Prometheus is to assert ownership of a series of issues, the latest of which is hurricane damage due to climate change. Your incessant self citation is a clear indication. I am certain you will reply that somewhere in a post somewhen you may have mentioned another’s work. You react to any challenge to your theses virulently, and in your replies often distort what others have said, for example your last blow up about the Trenberth slide. In short, you act as a policy person, not a science person. Horrors, at least when this is pointed out. But again, sui generis. This is what one expects of a policy wonk, for example Brad de Long. Yet, you keep telling those of us who reply to you that you are scientifically as pure as the driven snow. I beg to differ.

    If you had a better sense of irony you would have named your blog “Zeus’ Eagle”, not let on to what the reference was, and merrily gone on pecking at the livers of those whose research falisified your opinions.

    Which, of course, was the birth of Ethon Raptor

  31. Francis says:

    “These positions have been reached in the absence of accurate knowledge about the scientific consensus.”

    Welcome to humanity. Name a single position held by a majority of Americans on any topic that was done so on the basis of “accurate knowledge about the [] consensus.” Zero, I would argue. As the nice folks at Vox.com have been arguing for quite some time, political positions are largely held on the basis of tribalism and elite messaging.

    This is all another round in the ongoing spreading of FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt.

  32. Everett:

    if none of these provide quantitative evidence to support their own POV

    We (Cook and co.) do. Pearce and co. really do not. They like to pontificate qualitatively while ignoring most of the relevant research. I find it annoying.

    Victor’s point is important about people deferring to expert consensus on issues where we lack expertise. We don’t have time to research everything so we frequently defer to the expert consensus. That’s in fact a point we made in our Guardian post. Expert consensus is very powerful.

  33. paulski0 says:

    One possibility for why consensus messaging wouldn’t work: social scientists come along and publish critiques of consensus studies, which are actually simply arguing that they shouldn’t have bothered but are inevitably reported as challenges to the notion that there is a consensus. Thereby enhancing the appearance of a debate on the fundamentals in the minds of the public and bolstering social scientists belief that consensus messaging doesn’t work. Runaway feedback loop.

  34. Willard says:

    > We (Cook and co.) do [provide quantitative evidence].

    I don’t think that’s the quantitative evidence Everett has in mind when he says:

    quantitative evidence to support their own POV (e. g. Consensus messaging works, here is the quantitative evidence, after factoring out all other confounding factors. And/or vise versa.)

    ***

    > Expert consensus is very powerful.

    The consensus part does most of the work:

  35. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    I think there are indications that it has impact in some circumstances, but my point was more that if it has little impact (as opposed to having a big negative impact) why are people writing papers criticising its use?

    It seems to me that they are quite convinced that the technique is significantly counterproductive.

    I don’t think that they really have solid evidence of such – but they seem to think that they do.

    My guess is that their conviction is largely rooted in a personal distaste for the technique – running from (1) a logical conjecture that people would be put off by it and, (2) extrapolating from a (in my view, unrepresentative) sample of online “skeptics’ who whine about the methodology.

  36. Joshua says:

    citizens –

    Here are a couple.

    (1) “Skeptics” spend significant chunks of their lives arguing that “consensus-messaging” is anti-science or irrelevant to science, but also spend significant chunks of their lives arguing about the specific quantification of the “consensus.” Why would they spend so much time trying to pin down a number if they think it is anti-science and irrelevant?

    (2) Consensus messaging is, in my view, inextricably linked to an argument from authority; I am referencing that in a generic sense, not in the sense of a fallacious argument from authority (whereby if an authority says it, it is necessarily true, but in the non-fallacioous sense that if an authority says something or a consensus of authorities say something, it is useful information regarding probabilities) – but in the normal way that we all rely on consensuses regularly in our every day lives. What makes it ironic is that “skeptics” argue against the relevance of a “consensus” among authorities saying that such is irrelevant to science – yet spend a lot of their lives promoting the views of (a relative minority) authorities, such as RP’s Sr. and Jr., Judith, Spencer, Christy, Lindzen, etc. This is closely tied to the irony that Steven outlined, but I think it has a bit of a twist.

    (3) Directly related to that, “skeptics” often say something like, “consensus ain’t science” but no doubt, almost all of them rely on the existence of a consensus of experts on complex issues, most likely on a regular basis. Further, no doubt, IMO, on a regular basis they exploit the benefits of science which has, to some extent at least, progressed on the application of the relevance of consensus of opinion among experts. Of course, that doesn’t imply that the consensus of experts is always correct, or that all scientific advances have bee-n made as an outgrowth of a consensus of experts.

    (4) Many “skeptics” spend a lot of their lives arguing against :”consensus messaging” as consensus ain’t science, yet they also spend a chunk of their lives arguing that they are, in fact, part of the consensus that believes that ACO2 effects the climate (except they focus on the uncertainty involved), and throwing those “skeptics” who do not hold that belief (such as “skydragons”) under the bus, because those other “skeptics” are out of the mainstream (i.e., cranks).

  37. Joshua,

    My guess is that their conviction is largely rooted in a personal distaste for the technique

    Possibly, but I would add that this appears to also be motivated by a dislike for a prominent message that focuses on what is essentially a scientific message. This seems to just be another form of the science wars. What I fail to understand is how this somehow stops people from also talking about values, etc. I can’t see how and I can’t see how undermining it makes it easier – okay, if your values align with not addressing climate change, then maybe it does.

  38. Willard says:

    > One possibility for why consensus messaging wouldn’t work: […] Runaway feedback loop.

    I think there’s one and only one way to solve that runaway problem – managing ClimateBall subgames properly. Consider the following exchange:

    [Vlad.] We have an incredible difference of opinion on AGW. There’s no consensus!

    [Estr.] Sure, scientists bicker all the time. But there’s a consensus on AGW.

    [Vlad.] Says who, and who cares?

    [Estr.] Many studied the question for years now, and many US voters dispute the fact that there’s a consensus.

    [Vlad.] I mean, why care about the consensus?

    [Estr.] For the same reason you care to mention that we have an incredible difference of opinion on AGW, which is false, BTW.

    [Vlad.] But wait, are you talking about the infamous 97% number? Lulz!

    [Estr.] See for yourself. Handwaves toward C13.

    [Vlad.] Oh, but that paper has been refuted! Handwaves toward some blog post .

    [Estr.] But that’s just a blog post.

    [Vlad.] Peer-reviewed lichurchur is corrupt by a cabal of warmistas!

    Et cetera.

    The problem here is that instead of remaining in the background, C13 comes to the foreground. See what happened: the topic of the exchange went from consensus, to consensus studies, to one specific consensus study. A study that was supposed to put an end to that pickle has itself become the pickle.

    Why? Because there are lots of technical talking points about C13, and scientifically-minded ClimateBall folks are suckers for technical discussion. See for instance:

    https://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/consensus-behind-the-numbers/

    There are at least a hundred blog post like this one. Weeks of bouts, months of fights, years of wars. The comment threads rehearse more or less the same arguments. Contrarian “fixed points” tie everyone in knots.

    How to solve this? The only way I see is by not falling for contrarian baits all the time, and by preventing discussion from turning into contrarian fixed points. One solution to that would be to create a space for each point to be debated ad infinitum. Want to discuss C13? Fine, go to its dedicated space.

    Almost good ol’ null device, with the difference that we could keep a trace of the billions upon billions of comments on (say) C13.

  39. Joshua says:

    Anders –
    What I fail to understand is how this somehow stops people from also talking about values, etc. I can’t see how and I can’t see how undermining it makes it easier – okay, if your values align with not addressing climate change, then maybe it does.

    With “this” being consensus messaging?

  40. Joshua,
    Yes, I just mean that I don’t really see how highlighting that there is strong consensus somehow stops people from engaging with other important aspects, like values, or how undermining that there is a strong consensus, somehow makes discussing values easier.

  41. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    I can’t see how it would either. As I’ve said many times, my personal view is that it doesn’t move the needle much either way. IMO, there are prolly more significant drivers of opinions related to climate change. Those who are already concerned about the risks of ACO2 think that the existence of a consensus supports their reasoning . Those who don’t, think that consensus messaging is proof of how evil climate scientist are. My guess is that only a tiny number of people, relative to the size of the general public, have their views on climate change significantly altered – in either direction – as the result of consensus messaging.

  42. Willard says:

    So I, I’m lookin’ up at the sky
    To see if there’s some kind of an answer for me there
    And I don’t really know what to think
    And I see a shooting star go flying across the sky
    And I think to myself I should make a wish
    But it occurs to me that I don’t know what to wish for

  43. Joshua: “IMO, there are prolly more significant drivers of opinions related to climate change.

    I have been asking for such suggestions. Any ideas beyond buying Republican politicians to change the mind of their tribe?

  44. Magma says:

    Generally speaking, members of the public may not think deeply on scientific topics, but they don’t develop their opinions purely by chance. As David Roberts and others have pointed out, people take cues from educators, media figures, and political leaders.

    Consider statements A and B below. Would individuals who think B is more correct than A be more or less likely than those who think the opposite to support measures to reduce GHG emissions if these policies resulted in a personal economic cost to them? If you had a large economic stake in a fossil fuel industry, how much would it be worth to you to shift public opinion away from A and towards B, even a little, if this bought your investments more time? Conversely, if you had strong interests in minimizing disruptions to the Earth’s ecosystems (including the human ones), how much of your time and effort would it worth to try to shift public opinion towards A, even a little?

    A. Almost all scientists studying Earth’s climate agree that people are affecting climate by emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide, and this will soon have serious, even catastrophic, worldwide effects unless we quickly reduce the emissions of these gases. The short and medium-term costs of doing this now will be less than the long-term costs of floods, droughts, heat waves, rising sea level and ecological damage if we don’t.

    B. Scientists do NOT all agree on the causes of climate change, and even the alarmists admit that climate is very complex and has changed naturally in the past. Many reputable scientists think that we are now in one of these natural cycles, and many economists and engineers say it’s much too early to spend huge amounts of money on untested technology and changes to our way of living to try to ‘prevent’ something we may not be causing in the first place.

  45. Canman says:

    The big, obvious, elephantine, taboo question, whenever someone is talking about “climate” and “consensus”, is:

    Is this a consensus about whether AGW is happening (real or whatever) or is this a consensus about whether it is dangerous?

    This is a very important distinction, and everything I ever read from konsensus types is always a big load of BS, blather meant to avoid, conflate or confuse this distinction!

  46. Willard says:

    > The big, obvious, elephantine, taboo question […]

    Ze question to inject the “but CAGW” meme.

    Well played, Canman!

  47. Canman says:

    And what exactly is wrong with the “but CAGW” meme? I’m feeling too lazy to read any of the links in this post, or even this entire post. But if we were in a bar, I’d be happy to bet a brewsky that nobody here could find anything that would clarify this distinction in any of these links.

  48. Joshua says:

    Can we all just get together, give Canman a big group hug, and thank him for his concerns?

  49. Willard says:

    > And what exactly is wrong with the “but CAGW” meme?

    Besides your peddling and its irrelevance to AT’s post, it’s a very good question, Canman. My next post will be dedicated to it. Stay tuned.

    No more “but CAGW” here, please. Meanwhile, enjoy:

    Thank you for illustrating the exchange I somehow formalized earlier.

  50. JCH says:

    The ACO2 climate is chaotic, and the reason we know this is because natural variation always causes cooling and it’s due to happen precisely between 2018 and 2030.

  51. Ragnaar says:

    Willard:

    Since at least 1946 people were discussing the merits of the corporate income tax. The author at your 2nd link makes arguments that are still made today.

    In a parallel universe, I am a systems analyst. Never took a darn class about the subject, but that high school aptitude test I took said it would be so. So as I draw my flow charts on the beach sands, people of all kinds argue about what the system should be, then and now.

    The author makes something like this point: Let’s tax the Cub Foods chain. I mean their organic stance is weak and mostly pretend. They are huge. Mom & Pop can no longer stay in the grocery business. They don’t pay a living wage. Don’t get me started about offering health insurance. The result of showing them, is higher prices for people who shop at Cub Foods. Be they rich or poor, they all pay a share of the corporate tax in proportion to their money spent there.

    I welcome the proposed corporate tax reduction. More money would be available to pay out in taxable dividends and wages. Huge corporations would have one more reason arguing in favor of not moving to a lower corporate tax country.

    Inside corporate taxation:
    If a corporation leaves the United States, they still have to pay our corporate tax on their earnings here. But their world wide income is now subject their new homes lower corporate rate. This is similar to individual working across state lines. We assume they sell and make money in many nations. In each of those other nations, they’ll pay that nations corporate rate on what they earned there. It seems that over time, large international corporations will migrate to lower tax nations thus hurting the higher corporate tax nations. The same argument can be made for each state in our country. But such decision are not one variable decisions.

    When corporations consider such things, legislatures are ahead of them. Erecting barriers. Trump mentioned doing such things. Money like water finds a way. Accountants sit around trying to figure out new ways that are legal to go around the barriers.

  52. Ragnaar says:

    A. Almost all scientists studying Earth’s climate agree that people are affecting climate by emissions…

    B. Scientists do NOT all agree on the causes of climate change, and even the alarmists admit…

    We have what consensus we have and B is on par with A at the ballot box in the United States.

    The consensus has played itself out, unless we up our attacks on B.

    If I wanted to delay things, this is where I’d have wanted the discussion to end up at and get stuck in.

  53. canman,

    Is this a consensus about whether AGW is happening (real or whatever) or is this a consensus about whether it is dangerous?

    I don’t know how many times I need to say this (many, I suspect) but the consensus is essentially that humans are causing global warming (there are a number of different studies, not all of which asked precisely the same question, or tested the same sample, but this is essentially what it is). The consensus position has nothing to say about whether or not it will be dangerous/catastrophic.

  54. Steven Mosher says:

    “You don’t know what the outcome would have been in its absence.”

    I’ve heard this argument before. Skeptics use it.
    Just saying.

  55. I’ve heard this argument before. Skeptics use it.
    Just saying.

    Do you mean “skeptics”, or skeptics?

  56. Joshua says:

    Just saying.

    Do you have a counter argument? Some people point to the amount of “skepticism” in the US as evidence that “consensus messaging” has a negative impact (stimulates opposition where it wouldn’t be otherwise and hardens opposition where it currently exists). But that seems like a rather specious argument, IMO.

  57. Ken Fabian says:

    Why would anyone expect there to be only one kind of messaging? Especially in this age of targeted advertising.

    Finding people for whom consensus messaging doesn’t work or is counterproductive doesn’t tell us much – they are easy to find, especially amongst people who have been encouraged to take perverse pride in being unmoved by any kind of messaging based on facts or science based reason. And ultimately, even if we give consideration to them we have to do what we can despite their opposition.

    Decoupling the climate issue from broader tribal politicking seems important to me – the climate concerned conservatives from their apathy and tolerance for denial in their political representatives, the business owners that accept climate responsibility decoupled from business associations that lobby against it, those holding positions of responsibility from their belief that being ignorant and choosing to accept the advice of the maverick 3% and reject the mainstream 97% will prevent potential legal actions for negligence over climate change harms.

    I think some of that decoupling can be seen to be taking place; major energy companies in Australia for example, withdrawing support for obstructionist industry lobby groups and making clear statements of support for an energy Transition.

    By default renewable energy has become a very significant proxy as outright denial of climate science becomes increasingly difficult to sustain and increasingly ineffective except with those already firmly persuaded – and the CEO’s of major energy companies are, again, showing signs of “changing sides” – they are making it clear by committing to investments in solar and wind and storage. The political consequences of RE being – even intermittently and periodically – low cost may ultimately be more significant than any direct emissions reductions to date; the economic alarmist fears of commitment to energy Transition, that I think have been far more potent in this than any climate science denial meme, are dissipating.

  58. Willard says:

  59. Canman says:

    [Peddling. Playing the ref. -W]

  60. Ragnaar says:

    “By default renewable energy has become a very significant proxy…”

    The weaker arguments fall. This does reveal the better arguments.

    “…the CEO’s of major energy companies are, again, showing signs of “changing sides””

    They sit between their shareholders, their consumers and the greens. Overlay this with the uncertainty of the impacts and the courts and they hedge.

    When we move to what the CEOs are doing, we are moving away from the science and into policy and politics. It is one thing to own the TCR and another to own the policies. With the recent changes at the EPA, policy has shifted right but one could argue if that shift is a minor one.

    I generally lack confidence in wind and solar to contribute much. To date it’s been a money fest. The product delivered hasn’t improved much but that is subject to debate. I don’t think actual costs have gone down.

  61. izen says:

    @-Ragnaar
    “I don’t think actual costs have gone down.”

    The price per Watt has certainly fallen.
    could you explain what purpose or reference the word ‘actual’ has in your claim?
    (I’m confused…:)

  62. Canman says:

    Izen: “The price per Watt has certainly fallen.

    That ignores the fact that additional wind and solars’ value to grid goes down as penetration goes up.

  63. -1=e^iπ says:

    “If someone could convince me that consensus messaging was actually counter-productive and that there was a clear alternative that was more appropriate and effective”

    Some ‘skeptics’ might view consensus messaging as an appeal to authority logical fallacy. Why not just appeal to the basic physics? That additional CO2 makes the atmosphere more opaque to longwave radiation and as a result of this causes the Earth’s average temperature to increase.

  64. Willard says:

    > Some ‘skeptics’ might view consensus messaging as an appeal to authority logical fallacy.

    They’d be wrong, since having a consensus doesn’t imply it’s correct:

    Isn’t science decided by evidence?

    Absolutely! There is a quote by John Reisman that aptly sums up this sentiment: “Science isn’t a democracy. It’s a dictatorship. Evidence does the dictating.”

    That humans are causing global warming has already been established by many lines of evidence. A number of independent measurements all find a human fingerprint in climate change. Our study establishes that the scientists agree that humans are causing global warming and that their agreement is expressed in the most robust venue for scientific debate – in the peer-reviewed literature.

    Consensus doesn’t prove human-caused global warming. Instead, the body of evidence supporting human-caused global warming has led to a scientific consensus.

    http://theconsensusproject.com/#evidence

    That contrarians may raise that kind of concerns is par for the course.

  65. Ragnaar says:

    “Reductions in the cost of solar-voltaic panels have reduced the cost of building a solar plant by 22 percent between 2010 and 2012, but further reductions are likely to have a lesser effect because the cost of solar panels is only a fraction of the total cost of a utility-scale solar plant.”
    – Brookings Institute

    So the correct metric is not cost per watt. A watt can cost X but last 1/3 as long as a coal power plant. Brookings make the point that it’s not even the majority cost. Home solar needs invertors as does most generation. We could argue there are also increased real estate costs for large arrays of solar.

    The cost per watt should by multiplied times X. With a 20% uptime, X would be 5. Coal with an 80% uptime 1.25. But this claim is not the end all. It is another factor to consider when costing a watt of generation. We could also come up with a value for Y related to the ability to dispatch. Isn’t it nice we can just set our own rules when we cost something? Cost accounting. Lock up the accountants. We try to follow standards, and do what we’ve always done. Because that’s what our peers did.

  66. Ragnaar says:

    “…what purpose or reference the word ‘actual’ has in your claim?”

    I’ll try.

    We sell only product X. We want to also sell product Y. Various ways can be used to cost product Y.

    If we minimize our allocation of costs to Y, it will appear to make more money than it does. Perhaps causing us to shift our efforts and money away from a more profitable X.

    Our historical cost accounting may then tell us to do the wrong thing. So it depends on the sometimes subjective cost allocation. But the goal is to make money, so whatever the allocations are, it should be the ones that leads to making the most money. The accounting that leads to the best choices when using past accounting results to make decisions.

    Call it the quality of the data.

    “Thus it takes six solar plants and almost four wind plants to produce the same amount of electricity as a single coal-fired plant.”

    – Brookings Institute

    Our company sells electricity.

  67. Joshua says:

    Some ‘skeptics’ might view consensus messaging as an appeal to authority logical fallacy…. Why not just appeal to the basic physics?

    The vast majority of people, “skeptics” or otherwise, can’t evaluate the physics themselves. They need to rely on the expertise of experts. But then some “skeptics” would claim that goes back to the fallacy of appeal of authority (they’d be wrong, of course), but then amusingly turn right around and reject the “skydragons'” view of the basic physics, because the “skydragons” are out of the mainstream (e.g., that is what Judith Curry has done many times).

  68. Ken Fabian says:

    My point was not to divert the discussion into the well worn groove of arguing the relative merits of renewable energy, but, rather that, irrespective of it’s ultimate capability to provide abundant, reliable energy at very large scales, it’s near term successes are having a powerful political effect.

    I suspect that rejecting climate science is mostly a tactical/rhetorical response to economic fears of climate responsibility becoming “a thing” – it is one sort of alarmist rhetoric that does have a proven track record for influencing public opinion and political decision making. I suspect those economic fears – not doubts about the science – are a root cause of political opposition to strong climate based energy policies.

    Renewable energy is changing people’s minds about energy policy; that some of the minds being changed now include people who run large scale energy businesses looks very significant. I think it is particularly significant that they are doing so despite the expectation that climate policy will remain contentious, with further expectations that direct subsidies for solar and wind will be reduced and possibly removed and the huge de-facto subsidy enjoyed by fossil fuels – the ongoing amnesty on externalised costs – will continue.

    People who know better about climate are rising to positions of influence within affected industries and others, who may not be willing to have their minds changed about climate science are proving to be willing to change their minds about a transition to non-fossil fuels energy resources. No amount of arguing about climate science has had that amount of impact on our ability to develop climate risk appropriate energy policy.

  69. Joshua says: November 16, 2017 at 4:15 am
    “Some ‘skeptics’ might view consensus messaging as an appeal to authority logical fallacy…. Why not just appeal to the basic physics?” ~ ~ ~
    The vast majority of people, “skeptics” or otherwise, can’t evaluate the physics themselves. They need to rely on the expertise of experts.
    ________________________
    Recently I wrote this:
    ” “Global Warming” vs “Climate Change”
    Climate change is a result, not a cause!
    Give credit where credit is due.
    It’s the atmospheric insulation driving these changes!

    Be clear Anthropogenic Global Warming is the cause and driver
    of the increasingly intense cascading Climate Changes we are witnessing. ”
    ~~~~~~~
    M.Y. responded: “But where is the “clarity”? Please explain what the intense cascading Climate Changes we are witnessing means and show me how it is not a miss-leading statement.”
    ~~~~~~~
    Thus:
    The point is, from a geophysical perspective there is absolutely nothing unnatural about what’s happening today.
    CarbonDioxide has always been a key element, a regulator of our atmosphere’s insulation ability.
    What is happening to our physical planet these days are very natural processes with only one key difference from the historic norm –
    it is humans and not some exceptional natural process such as massive vulcanism phase, driving the atmosphere’s increasing greenhouse gas concentration.

    Cascading Consequences?

    More greenhouse gases in the atmosphere;
    more infrared radiation bouncing around within the atmosphere;
    more heat and energy accumulating within that atmosphere;
    more moisture that atmosphere holds;
    more heat, moisture and energy being moved around by weather systems;
    more intense and destructive weather events.

    One thing leads to another.

    It’s deniable, but unavoidable, physics.
    Our global heat and moisture distribution engine in action.
    ____________________________________________________________________

    I think many try to make Earth’s physics more complex and mysterious than it needs to be when conversing with simple unschooled people.

  70. excuse me, can’t resist adding another one:
    Judith Curry writes, “Anyone blaming Harvey on global warming doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”
    ~~~~~~~
    (I thought she knew about climatology. Please consider.)

    * Global warming is definitely directly related to that hot Gulf of Mexico waters that fed an explosive intensification of a tropical storm.

    * Global warming is definitely directly related to the fact that the atmosphere is holding more moisture and making it available for storm systems such as Harvey to collect and dump.

    * Global warming is definitely directly related to the fact that our Jet Stream has gotten weirder and is in fact currently causing the stalling and reversal of Harvey’s northward movement.

    * Global warming is definitely directly related to the fact that sea level is rising and thus adding substantially to damaging storm surges.

    * Global warming is definitely directly related the Brown Ocean Effect that continued feeding moisture, energy into Harvey after it made land fall.

  71. Joshua says: November 15, 2017 at 10:09 pm
    Just saying.
    Do you have a counter argument? Some people point to the amount of “skepticism” in the US as evidence that “consensus messaging” has a negative impact (stimulates opposition where it wouldn’t be otherwise and hardens opposition where it currently exists). But that seems like a rather specious argument, IMO.
    __________________________
    Seems to me the gorilla in the auditorium is what manmade global warming and its implications means.

    Namely a realization that humans will have to learn to do with less. Had we focused on the problem back in the 70s when we as a people really started realizing what was inexorable happening to our planet – between or runaway population growth and our runaway avaricious material expectations – and continued a steadfastly to work with Earth and future generations in mind, it would have been a little less plus a lot of quality of life benefits. But that didn’t happen. Nearly a half century of pedal-to-the-metal, now we can’t face the fact that we waited too long to do much of effective. What else is there to do, but double down on gorging and denial and alternate reality fabrication.

    Not to mention that it looks as though a third to over half of my country’s people are hooked on magical thinking and an unfathomable disconnect from our planet’s physical realities.

  72. -1,

    Why not just appeal to the basic physics? That additional CO2 makes the atmosphere more opaque to longwave radiation and as a result of this causes the Earth’s average temperature to increase.

    This does indeed happen. It doesn’t mean, however, that’s there no situations in which it is worth pointing out that there is a strong consensus.

  73. russellseitz says:

    In the name of trsnsparency you might ask the former chief of the New York Times Washington bureau to weigh in on his sister Naomi’s account.

  74. Magma says:

    Michael Oreskes is not his sister’s keeper, Russell, or vice versa.

  75. Eli Rabett says:

    Eli refers Euler’s groupie to the Green Plate Effect and the interminable denial of very basic physics it has aroused around the blogs.
    http://rabett.blogspot.com/2017/10/an-evergreen-of-denial-is-that-colder.html

  76. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    Meanwhile, the Breakthrough Boyz have been busy anti-concern-trolling 15,000 of their scaremongering friends and the crisis narrative.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/warning-to-humanity-scientists-scaremongering-1.4403246

    ‘Tis but a scratch!

  77. -1=e^iπ says:

    “The vast majority of people, “skeptics” or otherwise, can’t evaluate the physics themselves.”

    I’m not sure about this. I don’t think that the basic physics are too difficult to grasp. People just don’t try. If only a fraction of the time that people hear politicians or media people talk about global warming and consensus were used to explain some of the basic science, I think that would be a good thing.

  78. -1,

    If only a fraction of the time that people hear politicians or media people talk about global warming and consensus were used to explain some of the basic science, I think that would be a good thing.

    This happens a fair amount of the time.

  79. Joshua says:

    -1 –

    I’ll acknowledge hubris, and use myself as a stand in w/r/t the ability of the general public in this regard. I may not be very smart or technically proficient, but I think I’m a reasonable facsimile for your average Jill and Joe in evaluating complex physics. I can hear experts’ dumbed down explanation of the physics, and process some basics of the end result of their analysis – expressed as opinions. But I am totally incapable of evaluating the merits of their arguments, in any technical sense. If one seemingly credentialed physicist disagree with another seemingly credentialed physicist, I’m left in a bit of a pickle. I can look for obviously flawed reasoning in non-technical aspects of their presentation, as a way to get an (imperfect) angle on the probabilities of their reasoning being subject to various biases, or beyond that, use other commonly-used heuristics like assessing the prevalence of agreement with the two sides, respectively.

    Again, that heuristic is far from perfect, but there is a reason why virtually everyone relies on a “where is the consensus in the expert community” heuristic so often in complex areas where they lack the skills and/or on ledge to do their own assessment.

    On average, it works. When I see “skeptics” argue that using that heuristic is invalid, I see hypocrisy and bias. If someone wants to argue that the heuristic is invalid in a particular context, then to convince me they have to come up with a compelling argument in support. The argument that all climate scientists are either dumb or in on the “hoax” doesn’t cut it, for me. Especially when those same “skeptics” who make that kind of argument frequently are blind to ironies imbedded in their arguments, as I outline above.

  80. Joshua says:

    I would add that (IMO) I’m probably in a much better position than you to judge how well equipped Jack and Jill public are to process and integrate experts’ opinions on complex physics.

  81. Ragnaar says:

    Joshua:

    So most rely on “where is the consensus in the expert community”…

    Now we have the nuclear power option to apply to the problem. I’ll grant you a win on the climate consensus. The next hill to take seems apparent.

    But that may involve some discussion with what may be called your allies.

  82. Joshua says:

    Ragnaar –

    What is the technical issue related to nuclear power that you’re referring to – where there is an overwhelming prevalence of agreement among experts?

  83. Ragnaar says:

    Joshua:

    Are you suggesting I referenced a different kind of consensus?

    It is different in that it is not overwhelming. But that in itself sounds like it might be in Willard’s matrix.

    Plot showing that the more expert one is…

    http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/07/23/an-elaboration-of-aaas-scientists-views/2015-07-23_aaas-members-elaboration_10/

    I don’t know about technical, but what perhaps are the issues? We might have an accident. Spent fuel waste. Security of the fuel in some cases. Costs.

    An important difference may be nuclear power is a specific policy while climate change consensus is mostly not. With policy, people not experts may have more weight because it’s policy which is politics and money.

    We could attempt to to chase the scientists away from nuclear power policy, but then we should do the same for wind and solar policy. From adaptation versus mitigation choices.

  84. Joshua says:

    I don’t know about technical, but what perhaps are the issues?

    Well, yes, exactly.

    The question we were discussing earlier was whether I (or othesr w/o skills and abilities to evaluate the physics of the GHE) could evaluate the physics of global warming, as opposed to instead, relying on the prevalence of shared agreement among experts as a heuristic to evaluate the probabilities.

    So it seems to me that to make the parallel, we would have to pin down the technical issue where you’re saying I should be using prevalence of agreement among experts to assess something (I’m not sure what) about nuclear energy..

    I don’t see technical expertise being as directly connected to the question of whether we should build build more nuclear plants as I do for understanding whether ACO2 emissions contribute to climate change, and if so, how much.

    An important difference may be nuclear power is a specific policy while climate change consensus is mostly not.

    Well, yes. I’m not suggesting that the public would likely use the prevalence of consensus to evaluate specific policies related to climate change (which may be one problem with how “consensus messaging” has been typically used in the context of climate change), and I don’t think that there is such a consensus w/r/t nuclear policy anyway. Obviously, the opinions of different experts would inform my views on any particular climate change related policy., just as they would on any particular nuclear energy policy.

  85. Joshua says:

    Ragnaar –

    We could attempt to to chase the scientists away from nuclear power policy, …

    On top of believing that it wouldn’t be logistically feasible to try to do so, I don’t think that there are any good reasons why we should do that.

  86. Ragnaar says:

    Joshua:

    Okay, it’s different, it’s probably off topic.

    But to take the success of the consensus on climate change and put that in a glass covered box may not be optimal. I call this success a model for future progress. A playbook adaptable for other situations.

    Forbes has an article entitled: The Real Climate Consensus: Nuclear Power

    It lists some people we can probably trust and more than just a consensus, it combines that with a path towards material improvements.

    It’s my idea to have more than a consensus, but to combine that winning strategy with the promises of nuclear power to do something material. The consensus on nuclear power, along with the right’s general trust of it, seems like a winning approach. If the left can cut some of the resisters loose.

  87. Ken Fabian says:

    Ragnaar – “If the left can cut some of the resisters loose”

    And if the pro-nuclear right can’t cut loose the climate science deniers the nuclear industry can’t even rely on the support of a whole lot of people who actually like nuclear. They have to want it – need it – as well. For fixing the climate that is, not for winning points against environmentalism or renewable energy.

  88. Ragnaar says:

    Ken Fabian:

    I’ll try with your first sentence. The right’s view on nuclear power is climate neutral. This is quite generalized. So while this bunch includes some tin foil hat wearers, that’s not an impediment to accomplishing the goal.

    Yes I’d like to win some points against wind and solar by slowing down their increase and some progress on reducing subsidies. I’d like to see some of that money going into carbon soil restoration. I am for watershed improvements. An increased gasoline and diesel tax (by 15%).

  89. BBD says:

    The right’s view on nuclear power is climate neutral.

    I no longer believe this at all. The right uses ‘nuclear’ (in a uselessly undefined way) as a rhetorical tool to attack ‘renewables’ which it sees as a politically-aligned energy policy of the left.

    What makes me want to bang my head on the corner of my desk is that technically realistic estimates of nuclear potential tend to cluster around ~20% global electricity generation by 2050 (if we went at it with a will, starting now). That is not a silver bullet for energy transition even if the only goal were reduced dependence on FFs for non-climate reasons (economic and geopolitical).

  90. JCH says:

    When Texas was building nuclear power plants the last thing on the face of the earth that could stop them was leftist greenies. The nukes stopped themselves. They cannot compete with cheaper fossil fuels. When people realized the taxpayers were going to have to subsidize nukes forever, the bulldozers disappeared.

  91. Andrew Dodds says:

    JCH –

    Was this ‘fully costed fossil fuels’ – with complete long term CCS, heavy metal capture and desulphurisation, and in the case of Natural Gas, all fugitive emissions captured, or ‘fossil fuels allowed to use the atmosphere as a free dump’.

    By all means use economic arguments.. but remember that apples should be compared with other apples. Otherwise it’s perfectly possible to justify virtually any source of energy on economic grounds, which isn’t helpful.

  92. BBD says:

    Beat me to it, Andrew.

  93. JCH says:

    Was this ‘fully costed fossil fuels’ …

    No. It is what happened. When Comanche Peak went online we got two power bills. They thought it would enhance the nuclear movement if people could see the price of their electricity by source. They bills came in separate envelopes. The construction of Comanche Peak took way longer than expected and was way over budget. They should have revisited the marketing plan.

    We got a “glow-in-dark” bill, and we got a “coal-dust” bill. People were horrified. The nuke electricity was significantly more expensive. People were up in arms. The legislature met and changed the accounting rules and the bills were blended.

    And that was basically the end of nuclear power construction in Texas.

  94. BBD says:

    Um, JCH, I don’t think you quite understood Andrew’s point about the *actual* cost of coal.

  95. JCH says:

    Yes, I understand it. In the 1980s leftist greens had little impact on the cessation of nuclear power plant construction. Texans would never have stopped due to them.

  96. BBD says:

    In the 1980s, the externalities of coal were not included in the cost of coal. Nor are they now. If they were, then – and only then – could consumers make an apples with apples cost comparison between coal and nuclear.

  97. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    JCH is not alone in not understanding the scope of externalized costs related to our profligate use of fossil fuels.


    People were horrified…
    People were up in arms.

    When the full bill for fossil fuels eventually appears in the mailbox, many people are going to be shocked, awed, and bankrupt.

    And underwater.

  98. Ragnaar says:

    I agree, nuclear power is used to argue against renewables.

    “Opposition by environmentalists and the neighboring Prairie Island tribe led the Minnesota Legislature to decrease the number of allowed casks to 17; this was sufficient to keep the plant operating through approximately 2003.”
    “When those casks filled, Xcel Energy requested that the limit be expanded beyond 17 casks. The legislature granted the request, but required the company to make greater use of renewable energy in generating power, such as wind power.”
    – Wikipedia
    And in my opinion, we got wind power. We got some large scale solar as well. The waste storage casks were the linchpin for keeping the plant in service and some actors played that well.

    JCH’s point. I don’t know what happened. We used to build nuclear plants for non-green reasons. Now it’s hard. The landscape is littered with failed projects. Economic efficiency is nimble. Throwing up objections that can stick is the opposite of nimble. Someone wanted to ship coal from out west through a large southern Minnesotan town as that’s where the tracks had run for a long time. Nope, too dangerous. The same plan is used for pipe lines. Slow the opposition down.

  99. JCH says:

    If you want to go back to the 1980s and add in all the externalities of both, go ahead. I can think of better uses for my time machine. I call it the coal-dust bill. In actuality it probably reeked of the perfume they stick in natural gas.

  100. JCH says:

    They were being built for political reasons. The nuclear age. Manned space flights. The Jetsons. Etc. It was an ego trip. Ours is bigger than yours.

  101. Ken Fabian says:

    Ragnaar – “Climate neutral” – what does that even mean? It doesn’t sound like something that can deliver anything, let alone nuclear to displace fossil fuels at large scale.

    An absence of commitment is an impediment; it’s very neutrality makes it an impediment to every attempt to every conscientious effort to deal with the climate problem, whatever the technological or policy approach. If nuclear-for-climate depends on the support from pro-renewables environmentalists, because they are the only ones who care enough about climate to have the commitment, then nuclear-for-climate’s outlook is, indeed, very grim.

    Climate science denial and obstructionism – the gift that keeps on taking. Taking motivation and commitment away from those who I would very much like to see being pro-active. It doesn’t matter that I have deep reservations about nuclear; I want the conservative right to be pro-active and committed to minimising climate risks.

    BBD – Yes, the biggest elephant in the subsidy room is the de-facto one fossil fuels enjoy – the continuing amnesty on externalised costs. No option is entirely off the hook when it comes to externalities but fossil fuels appear to be benefiting the most.

    Rejecting the expert advice on climate means rejecting the existence of those externalised climate costs. Rejecting the view that it is a subsidy or market distortion or whatever you want to call it distorts every decision based on relative costs. To my thinking making any energy choices on the basis that those externalised costs don’t really count is a de-facto rejection of climate science.

    Climate science denial and obstructionism! I think it’s influence cannot be understated. Truly, it’s pervasive and insidious, reaching to the highest levels of the world’s most powerful governments and corporations. We can’t even agree on what our existing options cost because of it, let alone get a good handle on what future costs might be. Too many who hold positions of trust, responsibility and influence can’t even see it within their working assumptions or the mistaken judgments that follow as a consequence.

  102. Ragnaar says:

    A Brookings article uses the Hamilton Project paper to say this:

    Coal: 3.2 cents per kilowatt
    Coal external: 5.6 cents per kilowatt

    Natural Gas: 4.1 cents per kilowatt
    Natural Gas external: 1.1 cents per kilowatt

    For each, the 2 numbers are added to get the full cost.

    Externalities should be paid for. It’s difficult to reach the correct policy. We can emit CO2 to the globe and ship our externalities significantly elsewhere. It is also difficult to correctly cost them. This difficult problem is made less bad by reducing externalities. The quantification of externalities is processed by political actors and most actions involve politics. Externalities pre-date global warming and we still have this problem. Through regulation, politics and the courts, externalities in the United States, omitting CO2 and maybe methane leaks, are more under control than they were 50 years ago.

    The Hamilton Project paper shows nuclear while costing more than most alternatives, having zero externalities. The paper doesn’t consider wind or solar without externalities. I think they assume they are backed by Natural Gas with its externalities.

    The above is encouraging. They are not costing wind or solar by itself, but acknowledging that natural gas is required to back it up and including those costs to obtain the actionable number. Which I’d suggest is a more useful number.

    Some of my information is taken from here:
    http://www.hamiltonproject.org/speeches/the_true_costs_of_alternative_energy_sources_are_we_unfairly_penalizin

  103. Joshua says:

    Ragnaar –

    I agree with BBD here:

    I no longer believe this at all. The right uses ‘nuclear’ (in a uselessly undefined way) as a rhetorical tool to attack ‘renewables’ which it sees as a politically-aligned energy policy of the left.

    It seems to me that nuclear on a truly meaningful scale would require significant federal funding and highly centralized energy policies. At least that is what we see in almost all countries that rely more heavily on nuclear than we do.

    It is very convenient for "concervative" political combatants to say – "T'he left' are obviously phonies when it comes to climate change, because they won't support nuclear" as a rhetorical device to demonize "the left." But the problem is that those same "conservatives" are often seen railing against the kinds of taxes that be required to enable federal funding on a meaningful scale, and railing against the federal government centralizing energy policies (except, of course, those energy policies that they like for political reasons).

    And like Ken, I don't know what "climate neutral" means.

  104. Ragnaar says:

    I said:

    “The right’s view on nuclear power is climate neutral.”

    That it doesn’t require a certain position on the problem of global warming. One can think it’s a hoax and be pro-nuclear power. One can be in favor of nuclear power just because a lot of Greens are against it. One can be for it because some Hollywood star is against it.

    It seems to be that the support is at about 80% from the right. Not the block I expected, but not bad.

    Joshua:

    I am helping some people file some back taxes for their losing competence parents. I tell them not to worry. I tell them I see a path to safeness, being done, not having problems, and putting this behind. My arrogance having no bounds, has me looking for another path.

    We’ve seen the pitched battle and are familiar with the tactics. Mine here might be seen as that again. I happen to think a number of Greens block the nuclear power pathway. With the tax returns I am doing, I need to clear the path of problems. The right and libertarians too also block many paths. I in my tiny way to block what I think will not work well. So in this game of everyone trying to block each others paths we may try to open a few, and that’s our policy. And yes I said, I think those are your allies blocking this path or something like that. It was an argument to do what I think would improve things. If you were pro-nuclear power, what would you advise?

  105. Joshua says:

    Ragnaar –

    I feel ya’. At the personal level, it’s tough to know how to make a positive contribution.

    More generally, as to what to do, I think that tagging the obstacles to progress on climate change with an ideological label is always suboptimal. Ultimately, IMO, doing so is going to wind up being a distraction.

  106. Joshua,

    More generally, as to what to do, I think that tagging the obstacles to progress on climate change with an ideological label is always suboptimal.

    I don’t follow what you mean. Can you elaborate?

  107. Joshua says:

    Gotta run. I will come back to that later.

  108. Joshua says:

    So Anders –

    Perhaps an analog, of sorts.

    Sometimes parents of a child with problems play out oppositional roles. One parent is the lenient and nurturing parent while the other the strict, tough love parent. In fact, (IMO) good parenting requires both kinds of structures to be set up for the child. The combination of both roles in the child’s life can form a kind of beneficial symbiosis. Perhaps ideal is when both parents find a balance internally. Or it can also work if working as a team, the parents each play a role that leans in one of the two directions. But sometimes the parents can, largely out of an insecurity that they are overplaying their role and not able to affect that beneficial symbiosis within themselvles, become resentful against the other parent for playing one of the roles. One parent gets labeled (and resented) for being a pushover and the other gets labeled (and resented) for being a hardass.

    I’m suggesting that I think I see a similar kind of balance w/r/t an issue like nuclear. IMO, there are legitimate concerns about excessive fear regarding safety, for example, and there are legitimate concerns about dismissiveness towards safety. A symbiotic balance between the two is needed to instruct policy development, IMO – with awareness of the pitfalls of going to far in either direction. But it’s easy, particularly when people are locked into an ideological struggle, to label the issues as ideological and then hate on otters. The obstacles are, IMO, fairly intrinsic to the issue at hand, and with many issues that require an assessment of risk, especially long term risk. The difficulties are not altogether unlike the pushover/hardass dichotomy. The labels of “the left’ and “the right,” it seems to me, largely miss the point, and interfere with a more integrated process.

    Hmmm. I can hear BBD, response as I type:

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/if-its-a-fight/#comment-106070

  109. Ragnaar says:

    I’ll take another run at it.
    Science of Doom has a number of articles on renewables. I don’t know their background but they drill down on many of the costs, upsides and downsides of wind and solar. Integration with the grid and transmission and sighting issues.

    I think they give a perspective different than the congratulatory headlines we read about wind and solar. As far as their impact to the large picture beyond electricity generation, they don’t seem like the answer. Our subsidies are delivery system based. We picked wind and solar.

    And we have not been picking nuclear power for decades. Yes a few sights stumble along. But how much do we want to reduce CO2 emissions? I see South Korea is planning to go down this path as well as China.

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