How Do You Know What You Know About Climate Change?

Yesterday, April 22nd, there was a “March for Science” in the District of Columbia and in 400 satellite locations across the world. Speakers included some usual suspects like Bill Nye and Dr. Michel E. Mann, but also some surprisingly not-very-usual suspects like… Questlove Gomez? Yep. Questlove Gomez.

According to organizers, the Mission of the March for Science is to “champion robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.” It has many other principles and goals. Some of them are quite far-reaching, and some are… well, strange. (Humanize science?). (I may write about this scientific worldview later and post the link to that future article here.)

In the Washington Post, the March for Science was called “unprecedented” by “”historians.”” And yes, I am putting “historians” in double-quotes, because the marks signify both a direct quote from the headline and my dubious take on the idea. As the article itself states: “During this era, scientists became deeply attached to the federal government. They helped win wars through military and weapons research. They advised presidents. They also got used to receiving large amounts of public money for more basic and non-classified research.” And as the mission stated, the goal of the march is to champion “robustly funded…science.” Hm… Does this make the march a sham? Not at all. But is it also unprecedented? That’s a stretch.

Now, what I have done in this extended space is three things. First, I provide an answer to what I believe is the main motivation for the March for Science (Spoiler alert: The march is about Climate Change). Second, I offer some case-study observations on how Climate Change rhetoric can appear to the skeptical. Finally, I offer my own thoughts on Climate Change to give a nuanced and in-depth view for those who may have marched or who feel strongly on this issue.

Hopefully, my openness will be helpful to you if you wish to talk about this in the future.

A Broad Answer To The Real Question Behind the “Science March”

Climate Change. This march is about Climate Change. Why do I think that? Because while there might be a valid political argument in, for example, keeping NIH funding from being cut under a Republican/Trump budget, or the proper usage of an executive agency’s twitter handle, no one throws a huge march merely for a valid political argument. There are millions of valid political arguments. You march for Climate Change — always marching for Climate Change. Or Pepsi.

And amidst this crusade against global Climate Change, the constant question from those who accept the prevailing popular scientific consensus on that matter is, “Why do some people still NOT believe in the reality of Climate Change()?” I’d like to answer that, not with a survey, but with a question. Why do YOU believe in Climate Change? The most consistent answer is, “Because the science is settled.” Well, okay. But what do you mean by that?

Are you talking about the widespread agreement shown by surveys of statements by climate scientists? Let’s leave aside the fact that a statement like “97% of climate scientists believe that Climate Change is real” has about the same persuasive power as “97% of theologians believe that God is real.” (And plus, it’s rather misleading.) If “the science” is settled, exactly what science have YOU seen? What exactly is it that you believe?

Thinking About Believing in Science

I’d venture to say that you, Climate Change believer, have not seen any climate science unless you are an actual scientist doing actual work on climate science. Even if you have read peer-reviewed articles on climate science, (and known enough to understand them and critique them,) I’d still say you have not seen any “science.” What you have seen are the words and works of other PEOPLE. If you believe in Climate Change, you may think that you trust “Climate Science.” However, a more complete explanation is that you trust several things:

  • the honesty and forthrightness of a group of people, the current body of climate scientists, who take in and make sense of observable climate data
  • the accuracy, thoroughness, and sufficiency of the scientific measurements and models which provides climate scientists with their data, (and this is different than mere honesty,) and
  • the systems that climate scientists occupy and operate in the production of this knowledge, which include:
    • hypothetical models of future climate projections,
    • the rational arguments which turn observable data into cognizable conclusions by making sense of disparate points of information, and
    • the systems of funding, grants, research, publishing, and peer review which should guard against additional dangers like:
      • confirmation bias
      • politically motivated scientific reasoning
      • selfishly motivated scientific reasoning
      • the desire for publicity over accurate and boring observation.

Whew! That’s a lot. But that’s okay. I do not provide this list to say that it is unreasonable to believe the claims of climate science. After all, just about any human endeavor that seeks knowledge will rely on trusting other people, the systems they operate, and the methods they employ. Climate Change is no different. And it’s not all or nothing, either. Just because a climate scientist has politically motivated scientific reasoning, that doesn’t mean that the entire system is wrong. And it doesn’t even mean that he or she is entirely wrong. All I’m saying is: It’s a balance. You have to make a reasonable call on all of these factors when believing something like “the settled climate science.”

But, unless you yourself are an actual scientist taking actual measurements, I am quite certain that this is precisely what is necessary in believing the settled science. You don’t just believe “the science.” You believe “people.”

And this is not only an issue for Climate Change. For example: Do you believe that the Earth goes around the sun? How do you know this? You may think, “I can go outside and observe it: Boom. Science.” But actually…  …no. What you “observe” is the Sun going around the Earth. You feel no movement of the Earth, and you only see the movement of the Sun. The reason you know that the Earth goes around the Sun is that someone whom you trusted told you, and (unlike their words on Santa Claus) they provided this information consistent with a larger rationally based system which makes this idea both plausible and understandable. That is WHY you believe the scientific fact that the Earth goes around the Sun, even if it is not the reason why it is TRUE.

If you don’t believe me, then imagine that you could travel through time. With only a hypothetical telescope and without Googling the answer, describe the argument you would use to explain to a Ptolemaic astronomer (who has greater experiential knowledge of the heavens than you) why your heliocentric idea is superior to his geocentric model. It’s actually pretty tough. Your belief in a heliocentric idea is a rational belief, even though it is not one you adopted for scientific reasons. And that is okay. It is not an important distinction, unless it is necessary to split hairs (like right now).

However, it is important to realize that science is just as corruptible as any other form of knowledge, from religion to politics, because it is conducted by humans. Also, “Science,” defined as the continuing use of experience, observation, and tests to arrive at factual conclusions, is not the final arbiter of truth. The declaration that “science is the only arbiter of truth” is not itself a scientific finding. It is a belief. Some beliefs are true, and some are false. And “Science” cannot give you the answer to all of them, even though it can give you an answer to some.

For example, science may tell you, “If you undertake this mission, you will most certainly die.” But it would be wrongheaded to conclude, “Therefore, science tells you not to do this act.” As anyone who has served in the military will probably tell you, the proper subsequent step to this scientific finding is to ask, “What is the mission?”, “What are the chances that I can accomplish it before I die?”, and “Is it worth my death?” Creativity, purpose, reason, and an internal will can answer the first question. Science may answer the second question. Morality, ethics, religion, and philosophy can answer the third question.

All are part of an overarching rational process.

No rational man will ignore dangers when deciding whether or not to take a course of action. But only a fool, a coward, or an un-reflective scientist believes that “likely or certain death” alone is the same thing as “a bad idea.”

There is More to “Science” than Just Science

All people, including scientists, arrive at knowledge through a rational process that combines scientific observation, moral reasoning, ethical frameworks, philosophical lenses, logical reason, emotional meaning, religious significance, and an innate judgement of other humans’ honesty and capability. Some people do some of these things well. Others do other things well. Some people really stink at some of these specific sources of knowledge. That’s okay. Some people really stink at some of these specific sources of knowledge, and they don’t know it. That’s less okay. But regardless, we lean on others to fill in the gaps, and human knowledge flourishes. The truth is waiting to be found, and no one path alone is the way.

But the key point is that EVERYONE is capable of participating in the project. “I’m no scientist, but…..” ←that doesn’t matter. I’m a human being. And I have a brain. And so do you. And so do skeptics of Climate Change.

Therefore, it is simply unfair to say that Climate Change skeptics “don’t believe in Science.” It’s much more fair to say that Climate Change skeptics simply don’t believe you.

If you want to convince them, don’t march. Don’t lecture. Don’t yell. And don’t condescend. Instead, first self-reflect. See why you believe what you believe. Think if those reasons would be convincing to another person. Then respect that disagreeing person enough to believe that they are simply leaning on a separate arm of the overarching rational process, which led them to a different conclusion. That is why people don’t believe in Climate Change, and that’s okay. Understanding this is the first step to change anyone’s mind.

Finally: By all means, please, please be nice and respectful about it. No matter how correct you are, human beings are not brains and bodies. Humans don’t have knowledge by “thinking” things. They have knowledge by “believing” them. The mind holds information, but the heart controls what goes in and out. It is wrong to ignore the heart, and this is not only to be more persuasive. Remembering the heart is also necessary to be correct about the truth.

A Case Study for Why People Do Not Believe in Climate Change

Now, that up there is all true and good. But wait! There’s more! In my search for relevant links to feed the above explanation about Climate Change dissent, I found the video below. I wanted to use it as a relevant example, but the entire piece is chock-full of relevant examples.

In addition to being a featured Speaker at the D.C. March on the 22nd of April, Dr. Michael E. Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State University, with “Distinguished” being part of a title, not an adjective. In the following video, he explains why man-made Climate Change is real. Unfortunately, the more I watched, the less I found him convincing, and the less I believed in the truth of man-made global Climate Change. I thought it could be a case study for why people are lothe to believe in Climate Change. So….  I’m about to use it as a case study for why people are loathe to believe in Climate Change.

The overarching theme of this rational disbelief in the science of Climate Change is that Dr. Mann, and most people who speak about Climate Change, say very little about science. They say little about the reliability and relevance of the data they have collected, their collection methods, or about the necessary rational arguments which translate this collected data into cognizable ideas and conclusions.

Instead, Dr. Mann (and others) speak a great deal on subjects in which they do NOT have any expertise. They discuss the psychology of those who doubt their conclusions. They discuss politics. They discuss the “right path” for us to take in light of their findings. They talk about the “cost” of doing nothing. They claim “The cost of doing nothing far outweighs the cost of doing something” without defining “cost,” “nothing,” or “something.”

Now, there’s nothing particularly wrong with speaking on a subject of which one is not an expert. Truth is true no matter who says it. And a reasonably well-educated person can have something good to say on almost any subject that is of interest to him, if he puts in the time of exploration. However, when Dr. Mann’s commentary below runs beyond the scope of his expertise, it frequently lacks self-reflection or humility. When speaking publicly, he often says one thing that seems to contradict another thing minutes later, with no explanation of which one is true. This makes him less believable, not more.

We will see these types of faults below. So, without further ado, here is a full transcript of this video, with my commentary attached.

Dave Rubin (at 1:55): Let’s start — we’re going to do climate science 101. I really want to unpack some basic stuff. So that next time someone on twitter is yelling at me about “It’s a hoax,” I can say “Here’s the video,” “Here’s the stuff.”

Oh boy. This is it. Here is the bare-bones, simple explain-it-to-the-masses truth of how we can know that man-made Climate Change is a real thing. I can’t wait. Let’s hear it.

Rubin [continuing]: So let’s start simply. Man-made Climate Change: Is it real, and how do you know that it is real?

Dr. Michel E. Mann: Yeah, so it literally is the consensus of the world’s scientific community that Climate Change is real and it’s human caused. And the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has weighed in with that conclusion. This is the most authoritative scientific body in the nation, and it was actually initiated by a Republican president — Abraham Lincoln.

Full stop. The questions are “Is it real?” and “How do you know that it is real?” There is an implied “Yes” to the first question. As for the second question, notice what he did not appeal to in his opening statement on how we can know climate change is real: data. We were given no measurement, no experiment, no prediction, and no subsequent observation. Instead, he uses the word “consensus.” And that is how we know a scientific fact is true? That’s not what I think. And I don’t believe the average person thinks so either. Not even scientists in any field other than Climate Change believe that “consensus” is how you know a scientific fact to be true. You have to convince us with evidence.

Next, he gives a reason to trust that Climate Change is real: because an authoritative scientific body — ahem — “the most” authoritative scientific body — the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, has weighed in on the matter, and they agreed.

Now you might be tempted to say that this is a faulty Argument from Authority, but this is not necessarily a bad thing to do. It is proper to respect the opinions of authorities in their fields more than the opinions of a layperson, and we often do.  So, it depends. It may be a fallacy to say “That position is not true because the Pope said it’s not true,” but it is certainly okay to have an argument that says “That position is not Catholic because the Pope says it is not Catholic.”

Finally, he supplements the authority of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences because the U.S. National Academy of Sciences was initiated by Abraham Lincoln, a Republican.

….yeah, that’s a fallacious Argument from Authority. As is the entire following paragraph of the transcript:

Mann [continuing]: Sometimes some of the critics are from the Republican side of the aisle, when it comes to Climate Change. And we find that a lot of the skepticism and contrarianism does come from one side of our political spectrum. And I like to remind some of those folks that — you know — the Republican party actually embraced Science for a long time and in fact even presidents Nixon, Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, actually acted on global environmental problems and saw a role for market based solutions to these problems. So, this shouldn’t be a partisan political issue; it’s unfortunate that it increasingly has become one.

This will be a continuing theme of this video, where Dr. Mann appears to lament the influence of politics on the science of Climate Change. Then, he will do nothing but talk about Climate Change in terms of politics. It’s really quite stunning when you start to notice it. And despite the personal advantage that I would gain by agreeing that because a Republican embraced it, it therefore must be trustworthy, I am duty-bound to remind everyone reading that this is not how scientific knowledge functions.

Sure, there are climate skeptics who believe that all of Climate Change is a hoax designed for the express purpose of limiting the freedom of individuals and growing the state. In fact, they even have a funny mascot for the idea — WatermelonsGreen on the outside, Red on the inside. But that’s not the thrust of the average person’s doubt, or the source of the average person’s inclination to be more skeptical of Climate Change than an academic or politician.

Back to the transcript:

Mann [continuing]: But — Science — You asked about the basics. Um– How do we know this is happening? Why is it that there is such a robust scientific consensus, that every single scientific society in the U.S., in Europe, and around the world that has weighed in has said– has come to the conclusion that Climate Change is real, it is human caused.

Rubin: When you say “robust” real quick, it’s something like 97% of the scientists in this field, correct? So we’re not talking 70/30. I mean, we’re talking really, margin of error kind of stuff, right?

Mann: Yeah, that’s right, and in fact, in one recent survey, they argued it’s closer to 99. The study that found ninety-seven percent was sort of bending over backwards to –uh– you know, um, make concessions to the critics. And a more accurate number might be closer to 99%. Yeah, if you go to a scientific meeting, if you read a peer reviewed scientific journal, you’re not finding scientists contesting that the globe is warming or even that it’s human caused.

Now, before I move on to the next point, I’d like to once again point out that, as a persuasive matter, saying “a robust scientific consensus” exists among climate scientists is NOT convincing.

Scientists are people. Scientists want their stuff published. Self-segregating (the idea that people who don’t believe in man-made global warming are naturally disinclined to become climate scientists) and confirmation bias within the discipline are never addressed. Doubts that arise from the practice of climate scientists who believe in man-made global warming funding scientists who want to study global warming is never assuaged. And note, while we have all this preaching about the “authority” of the sources of this information, we have not been given a single measurement, a single data-point, or a single experiment in his defense of truth about man-made global warming. This is despite the fact that we are about two minutes into answering the question, “Man-made Climate Change: Is it real, and how do you know that it is real?”

This is a little weird. Like… used car salesman weird.

Mann [continuing]: The real debate when it comes to the science is about ‘Just how much warming will we see?’ ‘Precisely what will the impacts of that warming be?’ The scientific community is no longer doubting that Climate Change is real and human caused.

And the reason for that is: This is really basic physics and chemistry that goes back nearly two centuries. There’s a scientist, Joseph Fourier, he gave us the Fourier series in mathematics. He gave us the law of heat conduction. The way that heat moves through an object. That’s Fourier. . . [The video then goes to explain the basics of greenhouse effect, and how we know it is real. And he somehow connects that to heat-seeking missiles, which I have deleted from the transcript, because for the life of me, I cannot understand how that relates to any way to Climate Change other than the word “Heat.”]

Now, let’s get real here. Since the question of Climate Change is not just about whether it is real, but what we are do about it, these “debatable” points that Dr. Mann admits — “Just how much warming will we see?” — “Precisely what will the impacts of that warming be?” — are the only data points that allow us to come to an informed decision on the sacrifices we should make when addressing Climate Change. These “debatable points” ARE the point. But he doesn’t acknowledge any of this. I wonder if he even noticed.

Instead, we get a mostly tangential exploration of an 18th century scientist who discovered the mostly non-controversial subject of the greenhouse effect. This inability to see the importance of these “debatable” points that he is brushing aside, and his prickliness about people’s “doubts” and “denials” of Climate Change are…..    weird.

And note, we are now about four minutes into the answer to “How do we know that Climate Change is real and human-caused?” and the only scientific information we’ve gotten is a basic summary of a 200-year-old scientist’s theory, and no data.

Rubin: So, what is it — So you guys are looking at all of this information. And you see this. And I hear a lot of people say “Well, the Earth has gone through cooling periods and warming periods, and all of this stuff, and you’ve heard all of this, obviously. How do you make the direct correlation between what humans are doing and the actual growth.

Mann: Yeah, so it’s a great question. And you allude to one of the critical issues here which is really the rate of change that we’re seeing.

Rubin: And you have a theory behind this. You came up with the hockey-stick theory that really explains the rate, right?

Mann: In a sense. The hockey-stick curve, we published, it’s hard to believe, more than a decade and a half ago. And there are many other studies that come to the same conclusion that yeah, the recent warming is unprecedented as far back as we can go, for thousands of years. But even over longer time-frames. Let’s go back to the age of dinosaurs. There was a time, the early period, the cretaceous period, where dinosaurs roamed the planet, one hundred million years ago, and we know that concentrations of carbon dioxide were substantially higher than they are today. And we know that the earth was very warm at that time. In fact, it was basically as warm as we would expect given the information we have.

Well, we almost had a data-point or argument: something bout “the rate of change.” Even that was only after a second redirecting question from our very friendly host. But instead of explaining what it is and how he found it, we get vague statements about “other studies that come to the” (very undefined) “same conclusion.”

And then, we get taken on yet another tangent — “let’s go back to the age of dinosaurs” — when we are almost five minutes into (not) giving the most basic scientific explanation of why Climate Change is both real and human-caused.  Weird.

Rubin: Yeah, how do we know that from the carbon dioxide? How do we actually know. Because I think a lot of that is that people just hear that and go, ‘Well, the carbon dioxide was more, but what does that have to do with the temperature?’

This is a good question from Rubin. Even though we were not told how we know there was more CO² in the cretaceous period and even though, therefore, we are not able to cross examine the veracity of this scientific knowledge, he zeroes in on the key point: “How do we directly connect the carbon dioxide of that time period to the increased temperature?”

If we are charitable to Dr. Mann’s lack of answers, and we treat this as bad rhetorical skills, instead of faulty knowledge, this question will be step one of a basic man-made global warming argument:

  1. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the main cause of increased global temperatures across all history.
  2. Humans are increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.
  3. Anything that causes carbon dioxide to increase in the atmosphere is the main cause of increases in global temperatures.
  4. Therefore, Humans are causing increased global temperatures, i.e. Climate Change, by burning fossil fuels.

Let’s see where he goes with it:

Mann: Yeah, so the way we know temperatures were warm. Geologists can see when there is evidence of ice, and we know that we had an ice-free planet. There is no evidence of any sort of scraping of rocks that you would get if you had ice-sheets. Um, so, we’re quite certain that the earth was ice-free at that time. And if you do the calculations, that is consistent with the earth being several degrees warmer than it is today. And so the critics will point to that. Right? They’ll say here was a natural warm period. There weren’t any SUVs around back then. Um, and it’s true that over a timescale of 100 million years, nature is pretty powerful. Nature can vary the concentrations of these greenhouse gases on those timescales through changes in volcanic activity, plate tectonics. So over a timescale of 100 million years, nature is pretty powerful. And the concentration of those greenhouse gases over those timescales are ruled by volcanic eruptions, plate tectonics — what we’re doing is taking all that carbon that is buried naturally by the earth over that ensuing 100 million years since the early cretaceous since the climate cooled down, nature slowly cooled down, and buried all that carbon. What we’re doing is we’re now digging it up. And we’re putting it back into the atmosphere. But we’re doing it over a timescale of about a century — a million times faster than what nature would be able to do on its own. And so that’s really the issue. We’re talking about rates of change that exceed anything that living things let alone us have had to adapt to in our past.

Hm…. Notice that he didn’t exactly answer the question of how we know that the warmer cretaceous period is due to carbon dioxide. All he did was explain that the Earth was warmer 100 million years ago, and then tell us how we know that the earth was warmer 100 million years ago (the lack of any geological signs of ice).

That’s nice, but it does nothing to further the argument that humans are causing global Climate Change, and that they are the main cause of that change.

How do we know, for example, that it was carbon, and not the sun that caused such a difference in temperature 100 million years ago? How do we know today whether it is the sunif it is carbon, or some combination of both? I don’t know. And Dr. Mann hasn’t told me.

All he says is that “nature CAN vary the concentrations of these greenhouse gases on those timescales through changes in volcanic activity, plate tectonics.” I agree. But he gives no evidence that nature DID vary the concentrations of these greenhouse gases through volcanic activity and plate tectonics. Huh….

Once again he didn’t answer the posed question and instead gave us some irrelevant information.   ….That’s weird.

Ruben: Right, so when you see that, then that is the obvious link to the– the new variable here is us, right? I mean is that just — right?– is that as easily as you can make that jump then?

Mann: Yeah, if you look at the concentrations of CO² in the atmosphere, and just a week ago, i was out at the Scripps institution for oceanography  — which is one of the world’s leading institutes for climate studies, and it was the home of Charles Keeling, who back in 1958 first began measurements of atmospheric CO² on Mauna Loa –on the top of this mountain in Hawaii, this very pristine location. And many of your viewers will have seen the famous Keeling curve which shows how CO² has increased over time. And there’s a little bit of an annual wiggle, and that sort of an interesting part of the curve, it has to do with the seasons, but you see this inexorable climb. And that climb took us past a new threshold. A few years ago, we crossed 400 parts per million CO² in the atmosphere. Pre-industrial levels were about 280. So we crossed 400 parts per million for the first time in what we think is literally millions of years.

Rubin: Wow.

Mann: So it is an unprecedented experiment that we are performing with this one planet that we know which can, you know, provide a home for us.

Hm… What an odd argument. He has still not yet made the assertion that the greenhouse effect from CO² is the sole reason for Climate Change — or even that it is the historically predominant reason for Climate Change.

Instead, he has said is that CO² concentrations have jumped. Okay. That may be an important data-point, but it is not an argument. That is not convincing.

Instead, we once again get more authority-preaching about “one of the world’s leading institutes for climate studies” before going to a story about Charles Keeling. Apparently, Charles Keeling began measuring atmospheric CO² on Mauna Loa, “a very pristine location.” I suppose that, as a scientist, he isn’t calling this place “pristine” because it is beautiful, but rather because it is far from any place on earth that would naturally produce a large amount of carbon dioxide and spoil the measurement. You know….   …like an active volcano or something.

But anyway….

The main point that I’d like to draw attention to is that the only “argument” he has laid out is “We’re here,” and “The rate of change” must be us because, as Rubin said, “We are the new variable.” This is not a good argument. It’s a type of Argument from Ignorance. Essentially:

  1. If there was something other than the burning of fossil fuels which significantly contributed to Climate Change, then we would know it.
  2. We do not know of anything other than us burning fossil fuels which is causing Climate Change.
  3. Therefore, our burning of fossil fuels is the cause of Climate Change.

This is a bad argument, because point 2. works out so that the truth of the conclusion (“we are causing Climate Change”) depends on disproving any other explanation of the increase of carbon in the atmosphere or the change of the climate, whether currently known or unknown.  That alone is a huge reason to doubt.

I already mentioned the “sun” explanation of global warming. Even if it is not all of the reason the climate is changing, even if it was part of the reason the climate is changing, that would put serious hurdles in the veracity of the conclusion that “our burning of fossil fuels is the cause of Climate Change.” In fact, just from my own curiosity and a couple of google searches, I found out that Photo-plankton has decreased in the ocean by 40% since 1950.   These microscopic organisms, just like trees, pull CO² out of the environment, and put it into the deep ocean, and are responsible for half of the world’s photosynthetic activity. In fact, that’s enough to have a big effect on global climate, according to a University (Penn.) that Dr. Mann has probably heard of. I mean, wouldn’t it stink if we cut all of our production of CO², but actually our agricultural runoff and wastewater into the oceans was the real problem? That would also be a huge factor in the claim that “The cost of doing nothing far outweighs the cost of doing something.”

But I digress… I do not know the effect of photo-plankton death. I only thought of it yesterday. But Dr. Mann’s argument so far depends on disproving my idea. That’s why it’s a weak argument. So weak, that it’s….

…..weird.

Rubin: Yeah, so everything you just laid out to me sounds like science. It sounds like these are quantifiable, testable practices that you and your colleagues have used to come up with some answers here.

Full stop. Really? I don’t even have anything to make fun of. I just don’t know why Dave Rubin said this. What was the quantifiable, testable practice that Mann and his colleagues have used to come up with the proof that humans are the cause of global Climate Change?

Anyway….

Rubin (continues): But I know that there’s a certain amount of people, and unfortunately its a large amount of people, even if we don’t want it to be, that simply don’t believe in– just some of the things you’re talking about. So for example, if you were to say millions of years ago, this XY&Z happened, well, they would say, ‘actually, you know, according to the Bible, the Earth is only a couple thousand years old or something like that.

Yo, Dave Rubin, I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish with that question, but Michelle Obama’s face right here is the best summation of my feelings right now. THE BEST SUMMATION OF MY FEELINGS RIGHT NOW.

Rubin (continues): How do you fight that? Because you’re trying to use science and rationality, and I talk about this in the political arena all the time. You know, if you’re trying to talk rationality, and somebody else is trying to talk, you know, my imaginary friend or whatever it is, that’s a tough battle to win.

Mann: Yeah, you know, absolutely, and it’s a battle we constantly fight, uh, you know, when it comes to any area of science where there’s a potential conflict between the findings of science and the beliefs of — you know — certain groups of people. Obviously, with the theory of evolution, there’s some opposition to the theory of evolution that comes from certain parts of the religious community, although I would not that the Pope for example firmly accepts the science of evolution. He also accepts the science of Climate Change. In fact, he has been a very important messenger when it comes to the issue.

This is what I’m talking about when I say that Dr. Mann steps outside of his area of expertise and condescendingly psychoanalyzes religious individuals. This Amherst, Massachussetts-raised, U.C. Berkley undergraduate-educated, Yale-graduate studying ivory-tower minion doesn’t know a cock-a-mammy thing about conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists who doubt both Climate Change and evolution.

This is evidenced by the fact that he believes it is a good idea to use the Pope as a persuasive voice of authority for American Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians.

I mean, this may be a crazy idea, but why don’t you just try giving conservative Christians some actual scientific evidence for what you’re saying? Why don’t you explain why you believe what you believe about Climate Change.

Or, do you actually believe what you believe because of “consensus”? I sure hope not, because that would be…    …weird.

Mann (continues): But I think what you find is that there’s a phenomenon that has been termed cultural cognition. And there’s a scientist, Dan Kahan at Yale, who studies this. And what he’s looking at is “how do people process information that they’re provided?” And it turns out that one of the things that’s very relevant here is that people will often, well, they have sort of an ideological filter for the way they take in information. And that filter will reject those — you know — facts, those pieces of information that conflict with their underlying worldview/outlook/ideology.  Um, you know, sometimes called cognitive dissonance. But what it means is that you can’t reach those people simply with facts, because they’re not really looking at it in terms of the evidence per se. They’re looking at it as, you know, ‘I’m  part of a tribe. I’m a loyal TEA-Party Republican. And I know that TEA-Party Republicans are against Climate Change. Um, so,

Rubin: [Laughter]: It’s irrelevant whether they’re against Climate Change, because Climate Change is still coming for you.

Mann: Right. It doesn’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. But nonetheless, it turns out it’s difficult to reach those folks because they’re not necessarily open to being convinced by logic, by data, by facts. Um, there are ways to reach those folks. And there are a number of researchers and practitioners out there who are trying to find ways to those who have otherwise been sort of resistant to accepting the science of Climate Change — resistant to believing a pointy-headed academic like me, but uh, you get a four-star general in front of them, or a former congressman, like Bob Inglis of South Carolina — a conservative Republican, had a nearly perfect — you may have even talked with him at some point. Fascinating guy, he had a perfect conservative voting record, or near perfect. He won in one of the reddest parts, one of the reddest districts of South Carolina, with an overwhelming amount of support, sixty-something percent of the vote. But, he made the mistake of speaking out about the issue of Climate Change on the House floor. He’s an evangelical Christian, and he sees this as a matter of preserving creation for future generations. He decided that he really needed to speak out about Climate Change.

Well, that earned him the ire of the Koch brothers, who heavily funded a primary opponent, Trey Gowdy, who you may have heard of,  who defeated him in the primary election. What they didn’t expect is that Bob Inglis, now in need of a job would decide to devote himself to talking to conservative audiences, and talking about how free market approaches to dealing with this problem make sense in terms of conservative principles. And [he’s] trying to convince some of those folks who, you know, might be resistant to being told something by a pointy-headed academic or a scientist. But, by a fellow conservative who shares, very much shares their values, perhaps there’s, you know, room to make headway there.

And here is even more condescending psychoanalysis. “They’re not necessarily open to being convinced by logic, by data, by facts.” Geez. And this guy wonders why he isn’t getting much headway? And he thinks that resistance is just due to cultural factors, that we don’t believe him because he’s a “pointy-headed academic”? Does he think that we believe four-star generals because they’re four-star generals, or because they (for example) tend to be very open, direct, measured, and respectful in the way they talk about serious issues? Those aren’t qualities that are unique to four-star generals. Even pointy-headed academics can achieve it if they try.

I’ve already pointed out the lack of self-awareness, mainly from his inability to see his own bad arguments which do not assuage people’s reasonable fears and doubts. But without repeating myself, it’s worth noting that he has done it again here.

Finally, he has once again moved back into talking about politics. And he’s not very well-versed in it. For example he believes that the Koch brothers decided to primary Mr. Inglis because he “spoke out on Climate Change.” No. It’s because on the house floor, he proposed a cap-and-trade alternative that would reduce carbon emissions by directly taxing carbon-dioxide emissions and lowering payroll taxes to make up the difference. Basically: Almost everything that Koch does, he wanted to tax more. Payroll taxes, which is not a significant issue for Koch industries compared to other market players, he wanted to lower.

This is not that hard. It’s not some conspiracy to fight against science. Portraying it that way is just…..

…..weird.

Rubin: Are you amazed how politicized this has become? Because for me it’s like, you can’t choose whether or not to believe in science. You know, I always say, “I’m not a scientist.” So, if I’m going to talk about these things, I have to find some people who have done the work, and trust them. And if someone comes along and disproves what they’re saying, so be it. I’ll look at new evidence after.

FULL STOP. How incredibly revealing. It’s almost as if Mr. Rubin agreed with everything I wrote in the first section, but took it the wrong way.

Since he’s not a scientist, he’s going to have trust the scientists, like Mann, that he talks to. But if someone comes along and tries to disprove what people like Mann are saying, only then will he look at the new evidence.

How strange. He just willingly threw out that he simply trusts what Dr. Mann is saying, because he’s not a scientist. But if someone were to try to disprove Dr. Mann, only then he would look at the new scientific evidence. We can only assume he’d look at it critically, trying to poke holes in it and test its veracity.

We can rest assured he would take this new critical strategy because he would suddenly become a scientist, authorized to speak on the subject. We can be assured that this is not because he has any underlying bias of cultural cognition or cognitive dissonance. You know, the things that these men pinned to religious conservatives NOT MORE THAN FIVE MINUTES AGO.

Anyway….

Rubin (continues): But I can’t pretend I know what’s going to happen here. And this has become — and I think you alluded to it — probably a lot because of the Koch brothers — this has become incredibly politicized. So first, can you talk a little bit about the Koch brothers’ involvement in sort of the anti-science part of this is, and then just generally how that’s steeped, how that’s moved into the political arena.

Mann: Sure thing. In fact, I’ve seen the sort of efforts of the Koch brothers first hand in my book the Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. I talk about all of the attacks that were lodged against me.

Rubin: You’ve had a lot of attacks. [Laughter] I went through the list and I thought we could go into this, and I wanted to really stick to the point here.

Mann: Yeah, no, it’s because of the hockey stick we spoke briefly about, this curve that showed how unprecedented recent warming is and the long-term context. That was seen as a threat to the forces of inaction, to those who propose regulating carbon emissions. Because it told a simple story that people could understand. And because of that, I think those — you know, the forces of denial thought it necessary to discredit me personally in an effort to discredit the hockey stick. They’ve been trying. I’ve been fighting back, for well over a decade now. And a lot of those efforts, it turns out, if you scratch just a little bit beneath the surface, what you find is that these are paid advocates, front groups, organizations that are funded, guess what — by the Koch brothers.

And so, a lot of this is, you know, this so-called TEA Party in a sense, was manufactured by the Koch brothers. Americans for Prosperity — you know, this is a lofty sounding group. Who couldn’t be for prosperity?

Rubin: They’re really good with the names, all of these groups. ‘Those guys, they can’t be bad guys! They’re for goodness and prosperity!’

Mann: Yeah, if they had called themselves Citizens for Dirty Fossil Fuel Energy, you know, a little more truth in advertising, then maybe they wouldn’t get so much support. But they’re very good at that. They’re very good at re-framing the debate, making it about values. Um, seemingly making it about the economy, that you know, acting on this problem will destroy the economy, when just the opposite is true. If you talk to leading economists, they’ll tell you the costs of inaction right now is already far greater than the cost of taking action.

And here we go with politics again. And welp, he’s not very good at it. If Americans For Prosperity had called themselves Citizens for Dirty Fossil Fuel Energy, they wouldn’t have gotten so much support? Are you sure about that? What does experience say?

And the fight that Dr. Mann has had against the “forces of denial” might not exactly a good thing on the whole. If he were to recognize that his most effective voice is to be one of sharing scientific information (which we have had almost none of in this entire interview), then he could be much more persuasive instead of downright counterproductive to his stated cause.

And once again, there’s that bumper-sticker line about how “the costs of inaction right now is already far greater than the cost of taking action.” The cost of taking action on what? What do you mean by cost? What action are we supposed to take? How do we know that it will work? All unanswered question.

So, that’s the end of the interview. There’s no…. Oh wait….. wait……  There is one more sentence. Well, surely, it can’t be that bad. It’s not like he will drop any bombs with just one…

Mann (continuing): You know, just look at Sandy, Hurricane Sandy, a storm that we know was made worse by Climate Change.

Um… gosh. I was almost done with this, but now this bothers me so much, I have to sufficiently shoot this down. If this doesn’t bother you, skip to the conclusion. Anyway…

Well, Mother Jones agrees, but what is the evidence? Apparently, the best argument is that because ocean levels have risen between 4 and 8 inches over the past century due to global warming. This means that Hurricane Sandy’s flood waters were about 4 to 8 inches higher than the would have been sans global warming. Also, we had “warmer waters” and a “strange weather pattern” which caused Sandy to take a left hook into Jersey.

First, that 4-8 inches thing is not so convincing, because while the ocean may have changed, “damage” is not determined by the ocean alone. It’s also determined by the ocean’s relationship to the land. We changed the coast of the Northeast a great deal in the century when the ocean was rising. How do we know that we didn’t adjust our buildings and infrastructure for the difference? How do we know that if the same storm had hit the same city, except that it was built over the past century without a the 4-8 inch rise in the oceans, the damage would have been less? That is such a big question of civil engineering and infrastructure, it’s almost nonsensical to cavalierly make such a claim.

And the hurricane was “stronger”? It was a Category 1. And a strange hurricane path? Because supposedly hurricanes don’t have unpredictable paths? This is nonsense.

Hopefully that has been clearly established, but if you want some boring science to explain why this is bogus, knock yourself out. The fact that a “Distinguished Professor” would throw that out there like it’s nothing, with no supporting evidence, no study, and no explanation is just….    …..weird.

Conclusion

Dr. Mann is a perfect example of what you should NOT do when trying to explain climate science. These are not deficiencies in science (because honestly, I didn’t see much of it discussed). They are deficiencies relating to:

  • crafting logical argument,
  • crafting persuasive messages,
  • Providing evidence or information to complete an argumentative thought
  • poor pseudo-psychoanalysis
  • utter absence of evidence
  • lack of specifics when specifics are essential
  • condescension to people who disagree
  • over-used appeals to authority
  • false appeals to authority
  • failing to understand his audience
  • preaching to the choir
  • overblown stories of victim-hood
  • projection of his own “politicization.”
  • a dearth of political knowledge

So don’t do any of that, no matter what side you come out on. Instead, have a conversation. Explore evidence, and realize you might be mistaken about something. Realize that science exists in a much larger rational framework.

Learn the framework. Then use it respectfully and humbly.

My Own Opinions on Climate Change

By now, you may be wondering what I think about Climate Change. This might have colored how you thought about what you read up to this point. Well, I’ll tell you, and I’ll be as frank as I possibly can. I believe the proper term for me is a “Lukewarmer.” A Lukewarmer is someone who thinks global warming is real, mostly man-made and will probably continue, but who also thinks it’s all going to be okay.

How I Have Thought About Climate Change

In general, I trust institutions, but not completely. I’ve found this to be a very helpful way to approach life. I think that there are rational reasons for the things that people do, for the things that people believe, and for the structures and systems people create. This rationality should be assumed until it is disproven. And yes, this even applies to the Climate Change debacle. Therefore, if 97% of climate scientists think that global warming is real, then, well, okay. It’s probably real. Why not?

I also find that in general, predictions of apocalypse generally tend to fall short. And unfortunately, we have a great many predictions of apocalypse. As a general rule, things are usually not as good and not as bad as they are billed to be. Sure, Dr. Mann says that nature has never experienced such a rapid change in the history of the earth. But then again, nature has never had creatures as rational, adaptable, and in charge of their environments as humans. Therefore, I think things will get rough, as they always have been, but we’ll be okay in the end.

As a general matter, I do not find conspiracy theories to be accurate ways of explaining events. That is why I do not buy the “Watermelon” explanation for the origin of the Climate Change movement or the “Koch-funded denier” explanation of Climate Change doubt.

As a general matter, I find money to be corrupting, and the threat of losing money, especially public money, to be a frequent reason otherwise respectable people will say things that end up being a little crazy. I think there’s a big effect with that in Climate Change. I believe that scientists, in their own way, have the same desires for fame, respect, attention, honor, and authority as anyone else. I am also quite turned off by the pipeline of climate-science to politics that does not exist in other areas of life-or-death science, like medicine. I get skeptical of the motives and reliability of people who have put all their efforts into one single (and uncertain) solution to our climate related problems, reducing CO² emissions, when everything from the reliable supply of water to adjusting agricultural practices in the fact of changing climates are equally pressing and almost ignored. Therefore, I believe this needs to be factored in with our views on the body of climate science.

And even though I have become less convinced of the human part of Climate Change merely by writing the previous paragraphs, I realize that Dr. Michael E. Mann is not “Climate Change.” So yeah, even though I have certain problems that shape my views, I don’t really have a problem with the idea that humans are causing the climate to warm.

I think it’s true.

So there, I said it. But notice: that’s a scientific conclusion, but it’s not a scientific argument. It’s a belief about human nature, about political interactions, about institutions at large, and about the reliability of people who I have never met, who also have mixed motives. Very reasonable people may have a very rational reason for coming to a different conclusion. AND THAT’S OKAY!

Which leads me to the real issue.

The Real Issue on Climate Change

The important part is that I do not really care about the scientific question of whether humans are causing the climate to change, and I encourage you to take the same attitude. The reason I do not care is that even if the worst-case scenarios about Climate Change are true, then that still does not answer the question about what we should do. What we should do is a political question, a little bit of a moral one, and only a little bit of a scientific one.

So glaciers are melting and alarming rates due to Climate Change. Okay. So? What is the correct path for the repeat of glaciers? Glaciers are pretty, and amazing.

“If we don’t stop global warming, cities will sink underneath the ocean!” Okay. So? Which is worse: a city slowly going under the ocean or an entire region going under because its carbon-producing economy is deemed “harmful”?

America is the biggest CO² emitter. Okay. So? It’s no accident that these emissions have gone hand in hand with a increased standards of living. Which is better, the earth’s glaciers or our way of life? Is it worth constraining the rise of the third world’s standards of living if that’s what’s necessary to keep CO² levels in check?

If you try to scientifically quantify a way of life, you’re missing the point. These are not scientific questions, but they are the important ones. So to those Science Marchers yesterday, the questions we need to debate are not scientific ones. Our constant wrangling on “The Science” of Climate Change is missing the point.

If we want to live in a healthy world, it’s not a question of how we interact with nature. It’s how we interact with each other. Let’s all take a step back, and realize that maybe marching isn’t our best option.

Maybe we should just sit down and talk to each other like normal, intelligent, mostly non-scientific, and respectable people that we are.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Bob Packman says:

    Exhaustive retort, Caleb, and almost exactly sums up my thoughts, feelings and opinions. Kudos to you for writing it down and publishing. Unfortunately, in order to increase your credibility ( not necessary, really) you could not really get into the the sovereignty of God as it applies to this specifically. And, I endorse you not doing so. In the end my opinion is summed up by yours with one slight addition: As you say- even if man made climate change is real– how does one realistically intend to reverse it? We could throw all the cash in the entire global economy at it, shut down food production, industry, etc. and return to living in huts world wide and no change would be noticed.

    Like

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