The Tao of Climate Communication

I’m not sure there is such a thing, but it’s probably good to know what your objective is. In this contentious thread, perspectives ran the gamut. One commenter observed:

As difficult it is in this era of “Tea Baggers vs Marxists”, “Denialists vs. Warmistas”, “Conservatards vs. Mann-Made Glo-bull Warmists” or whatever other dumbass portmanteaus each side uses, I -perhaps naively- believe in good faith that at their core each side has the same motive: to promulgate policy and philosophy that best promotes human flourishing in the coming decades. Yes there is a chasm between the two, a fundamental cultural dissonance, but I believe the core intent is the same.

No matter how stupid you think -or know- the other side is, the fact of the matter is we live in a democracy and by definition that means accepting a plurality of viewpoints and working within that cacophony to persuade and build consensus.

Then again, others seem to think that opponents can be worn down:

Blood and vitriol is the only way to burn out the fools.

Might this one be the most realistic, at least from the pro-AGW perspective?

An achievable objective is to stop the contagion from spreading, not to convert the deluded and/or dishonest.

If so, how would that be done? And who is your target audience if they do not include the “deluded” and/or “dishonest”?

44 Responses to “The Tao of Climate Communication”

  1. Tom Fuller says:

    I think the target audience is at this point effectively zero. Those who will ever hold an opinion already do, and it is probably not amenable to persuasion from opponents.

    Sad to say, we’re just throwing rocks at each other.

    What could change? We could be more civil, I suppose. But I’ll bet money that each of us remembers most the worst thing written about us and forgets quickest the tentative (and disappearing) attempts to reach across the line.

    Case in point is yesterday’s exchange between Tobis and Mosher, where Tobis writes that Mosher cannot be admitted to polite society even if he recants everything he’s written.

    Recant? 

  2. Ed Forbes says:

    I find it truly amazing that as much of a parallel between Europe in the 30ys war and the current protagonists in the climate wars can be drawn as there is.

    .
    The battle between the Church and the Church’s breakaway Heretics and Deniers resulted in the primacy of the State over the Church with the Treaty of Westphalia.
    .
    The main difference between now and then is that no one has yet to be tied to a stake and burned over divergent views.
    .
    Currently the Greens have staged a coup and captured control of the State in the Western world, looking to bring enlightenment to mankind and force acceptance and belief in the Church of Mother Gaia through Reform of the State, with the State sanction of requiring the purchase of Carbon Indulgences to placate Mother Gaia.  

    .
    The current climate Heretics and Deniers have nailed the Thesis refuting the primacy of the Church of Gaia to the door of Mother Church. The Counter Reformation is in full cry, the banners raised, and the Armies mobilized and primed for Battle.

  3. BArry Wods says:

    as long as ‘ thinking for yourself’ & ‘asking questions’ based on others sceptical thoughts and questions is considered ‘contagion’ It is hard to see where the pro-CAGW side is going with this.

    As I can happily chat with arguably pro-AGW counterparts, like Leo Hickman, Mark Lynas and IPCC scientists like Richard Betts and Richard Klien, and some others  ( critically, robustly, both ways and open) I don’t think of myself as either deluded or dishonest. 

    If you can share a joke or a pint with someone and get to know them, it is very hard to come out with stuff like , ‘deluded’ ‘dishonest’ and ‘contagion’

    I can also disagree with some sceptics quite a lot, but get a thanks from Steve Mosher, for sending (by request) a copy of his (and Tom’s ! ) ‘contagion’ book to a interested IPCC lead author, who read it with interest and recommended their conluding paragraphs.

    So where is the problem, the extreme advocates, the greenpeaces, etc, NOT the majority of climate scientists, I hope.

  4. David Palmer says:

    Unlike the evolution v creation impasse, time will tell with climate change. Within 20 years we will have a pretty good idea whether the current IPCC scenarios are on the money or not. Best to stay calm, because time will tell.
    The greater reality is the energy demand supply equation – the options for producing energy into the future at reasonable cost given the drive in the developing world to lift their people out of poverty.

  5. Barry Woods says:

    and yes they all say I can’t type or proof read for toffee, my own name 😉 !

    Michael Tobis’s thoughts the other day on Steve Mosher and Climategate – The Crutape Letters, should be enlightening to anybody neutral to the debate.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/2011/08/26/climate-link-makes-landfall-ahead-of-irene/#comment-73747

    Actually the whole comments are interesting.

  6. Paul Kelly says:

    Current social science research demonstrates that the information deficit model is the wrong communication model for the task at hand. This endless hair pulling and haranguing over oh how ever shall we communicate is proof beyond doubt of its irrelevancy and self destructiveness.

  7. jeffn says:

    I think it would be useful to create a better definition of the objective. I’m guessing that at it’s most basic it is still to “replace coal with….” but I’ve seen a pretty wide group of goals including:

    “replace consumer/economic growth society, reduce human population to a sustainable level, make my windmill/solar panel/ ethanol business profitable…”

    On the other side is a very basic “don’t bankrupt me.” I genuinely think one of the climate concerned’s biggest problems is a lack of clarity about what they want.  If I don’t know what you’ll permit me to replace coal with, how do I support your alleged “policy?” This movement tells us a lot about what we can’t do anymore, and the few things it says we can do are accurately portrayed (by supporters of the movement) as “magical thinking.” That leads to stasis and political stalemate.

  8. Lazar says:

    “who is your target audience if they do not include the “deluded” and/or “dishonest”?”

    Most people who are not involved in the incestuous and surreal public brawling on the intertubes and airwaves… flypaper for fundamentalists and PR professionals…

    Whichever way Jo Public swings, s/he generally has far less information or misinformation than the brawlers, is less certain, and much, much more open minded, and generally doesn’t engage in stupid debating tactics.

    Children, students, anyone learning this stuff.

  9. Shub says:

    “An achievable objective is to stop the contagion from spreading, not to convert the deluded and/or dishonest.”

    -from a Club member

    “It is a terrible thing that science has grown so distant from the rest of our intellectual life, for it did not start out that way. …
    The opacity of modern science is an unfortunate side effect of professionalism, and something for which we scientists are often pillories – and dservedly so.”

    -Robert Laughlin

  10. Lazar says:

    The best that can be done is to provide good accessible information and to trust the public.
    Long-term, I can hope that education in logic is stressed and improved.

  11. Lazar says:

    Hello Shub!

  12. Shub says:

    Hello Lazar

    So, you want to bin the religious Midwestern bible thumpers as ‘dishonest’ (and not spread the message of ‘evolution’ among them)?

    How is that productive?

    Won’t they dismiss your views as ‘dishonest’, coming from a Washington/East Coast elite, or something like that?

    How do you intend to square your “trust the public” with your “let’s stop the contagion (of denial I presume) from spreading”?

    After Jesus wanted to spread his message of forgiveness, he lived amongst the whores, thieves, lepers and murderers.

    Or, do you intend to chase away those who argue with you, and then define the remaining as “the public” and then, trust them?

  13. Fred says:

    The Internet has shaped the course of the global warming debate.  It was only after coming across various articles on the Internet that I came to doubt the theory.  Without it I believe cap-and-trade would have become law. 
     
    As an example of how good the Internet is at spreading information on this topic, note the slides from a talk by Prof. Richard Lindzen just days ago:
     
    http://curryja.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/acs-2011-lindzen.pdf
     
    Lindzen’s summary at the end is:
     
    “I hope that what has been shown demonstrates that increasing CO2and greenhouse warming are not at all indicative of alarm, and that there is ample evidence that the system is not particularly sensitive. Moreover, the high sensitivity of some current models would render the stability of the earth over 4.5 billion years dubious. Engineers have long recognized this and generally avoid feedback factors greater than about 0.1.”
     
    Proponents of global warming have attempted to squelch the presentation of the contrary point of view.  For a discussion of one of many such incidents, see:
     
    http://www.masterresource.org/2011/06/lindzen-choi-special-treatment/
     
    In such an environment, the Internet is crucial in ensuring both points of view being heard. 
     
     
     

  14. Ed Forbes says:

    “In such an environment, the Internet is crucial in ensuring both points of view being heard.”

    It took the printing press to break the power of Church. It is fitting that the internet may break the power of the Greens.

  15. Bill says:

    Agreed. The Internet has much to answer for. Ironic that it was invented by the Goracle.

  16. Jack Hughes says:

    @jeffn #7
     
    I also struggle to pin down what exactly the greenies want us to do. An example of this is a fridge magnet from the UK-based bird charity RSPB.
     
    It exhorts me to “turn down your thermostat by one degree”.
     
    It doesn’t say what the temperature should be – just lower than some other number. And it doesn’t even say if the one degree is celsius or fahrenheit. It’s religion redux.

  17. Fred says:

    Below is a link to an article that provides some discussion about the roadblocks put up by warmists before the research on the cosmic ray hypothesis of climate change (Svensmark’s ideas).  
     
    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100102296/sun-causes-climate-change-shock/
     
    For more about the warmist’s crusade against Svensmark’s hypothesis see Svensmark’s videos beginning at:
     
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1qGOUIRac0
     
    Warmists writing on this site have decried Perry as being “anti-science” but the only suppression of scientific thinking occurring on the global warming issue is that of warmists attempting to impede the scientific work of those who disagree with them.

  18. Gary Bowden says:

    “An achievable objective is to stop the contagion from spreading”
     
    A nice, but unlikely, scenario. The trend, from my viewpoint, is toward intensified politicization of science. The summary statement is below, the full post is here: http://ecologicalsociology.blogspot.com/2011/08/brief-meditation-on-science-democracy.html#more
     
    Simply put, in the good old days science and politics were separate because the processes governing the natural world were largely separate from those governing the social world. In Durkheimian terms, natural facts were explainable through reference to other natural facts while social facts were explainable through reference to other social facts. In the modern, complexified world, the natural and the social are intertwined. As a result, the solutions are also intertwined; it is no longer possible to solve global ecological problems without significantly affecting the global social system. It’s a trend that will only get worse, not better, as time goes on and social and ecological processes become more complexly linked and more tightly coupled. That’s the prospect I find terrifying.

  19. jeffn says:

    Gary Bowden #18 notes: “As a result, the solutions are also intertwined; it is no longer possible to solve global ecological problems without significantly affecting the global social system.”
    This is an interesting point, but it’s also an example of what I mean when I say that I don’t know what you want. The electricity that powers the world comes from X, which science suggests we ought not to use anymore. My response is: okay, what’s the Y we should use? The article Gary links to say we need to reorder “the global social system.” I have no idea what that means in practice: change the global social system to what, how, why do you think that would be sustainable, has it been tried before, how violent would it be this time around, why do you think a new social system will emit fewer GHGs, how are you so certain there aren’t other alternatives to coal?
    I think this is one of the reasons this stuff get’s political. You look at the EPA’s review of global warming bills and the assumptions are that it will be “fixed” with non-existent carbon-capture coal plants, and existent nuclear power. So if you really want to get political, the situation is this: science says the greens/Democrats have been dead-wrong for the last 40 years on energy and we should have built nukes when we had the chance. We can either admit this or spend another 20 years speaking in vague euphamisms about “changing the global social system.” For some strange reason, the so-called climate concerned have chosen option B which tells me that they are not concerned at all.

  20. > I -perhaps naively- believe in good faith that at their core each side has the same motive: to promulgate policy and philosophy that best promotes human flourishing in the coming decades.

    That is all broken. There aren’t two sides; there are multiple viewpoints. There is no sceptic credo; there is no GW credo. Similarly, believing that each side is uniformly of good faith, or not, is to fail to realise the diversity.

    > Blood and vitriol is the only way to burn out the fools.

    More in hope than expectation.

    As someone, somewhere recently posted (was it you?) the experiences of a recanted sceptic began with “When I started to read the IPCC report…”. The vital first step of actually finding stuff out is missing from most people. 

  21. Jarmo says:

    Even better, start to read the papers quoted by IPCC.

    Also IPCC represents a viewpoint. 

  22. Sashka says:

    @ Lasar (8)

    Children, students, anyone learning this stuff.

    I’m afraid this is true. They probably hope to brainwash the children and wait until the current generation of skeptics dies out.

  23. Sashka says:

    @ Connoley

    The vital first step of actually finding stuff out is missing from most people.

    What stuff? OK, CO2 traps heat. Absent feedback, 2xCO2 leads to about 1C warming. Feedback are important but are not well quantified. The uncertainty did not decrease since Charney despite 30 years of efforts, giant growth in computer power and billions spent. What else?

  24. jeffn says:

    Sashka, they always assume the “students” – especially college students – are with them but that’s a pipe dream. Today’s 20 somethings grew up in mini-vans and SUVs bolted to car seats in front of video screens.
    They are excited about updating their smartphones every year, are always connected to either the internet, a gaming system or a television. Worst of all, they think you’re a “dinosaur” for driving your 30MPG Honda to a “big box” superstore where you buy multiple items in a single trip.
    They are more enlightened- they shop online so that each item they buy is delivered, separately, to their front door by someone driving a truck that gets 6 MPG and arrives just minutes after the postal service truck that does the same thing. They expect this service to be “free.”
    These are not post-consumer or post-carbon individuals in any meaningful sense of the phrases. They can, however, be counted on to vote for the candidate who promises to “do something about this” as long as the something doesn’t interfere with having the iPhone 5 delivered by overnight airmail to their door from Singapore.

  25. Sashka says:

    Well, be that as it may, but if they actually would vote for the candidate who promises to “do something about this” then it’s not a pipe dream already.

  26. jeffn says:

    Sashka- you missed the fact that they self-contradict: the “something” can’t interfere with their consumerism or high-carbon lifestyle so what happens is that they vote for Obama but are happy that he won’t really  “do something.” It’s a political game- note that global warming is great politics as long as it is vague “pollution is bad.” The moment it gets specific- I will raise the gas tax by $x – it’s lousy politics.
     

  27. NewYorkJ says:

    WC: As someone, somewhere recently posted (was it you?) the experiences of a recanted sceptic began with “When I started to read the IPCC report”¦”. The vital first step of actually finding stuff out is missing from most people. 

    That’s also what stuck out for me as truly vital to Tucker’s conversion.  Even bolded it…

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/2011/08/16/another-conservative-convert/#comment-71888

    Too many don’t really want to learn anything, sticking to the feel-good comfort of shrill political blogs/sources that feed them dubious material they want to read.  Tucker’s a notable exception.

  28. Sashka says:

    No I didn’t miss it. It’s exactly what I meant, too. It is a political game but the one that they might well win.

  29. Ed Forbes says:

    …SUVs bolted to car seats in front of video screens.

    Some big car seats 🙂

    out of context, but still funny

  30. Ed Forbes says:

    William M. Connolley Says:
    August 30th, 2011 at 12:39 pm As someone, somewhere recently posted (was it you?) the experiences of a recanted sceptic began with “When I started to read the IPCC report”¦”. The vital first step of actually finding stuff out is missing from most people. 

    I found reading the IPCC internal comments MUCH more interesting than the report. Gave a pretty good view of what was left out.
    http://hcl.harvard.edu/collections/ipcc/

  31. Lazar says:

    Shub,
    “So, you want to bin the religious Midwestern bible thumpers as “˜dishonest'”
    No Shub. It is you who have associated dishonesty with the category called ‘Bible thumpers’ which you introduced. I do not wish to follow a category error. I have no reason to believe that ‘Bible thumpers’, whoever they may be, are ‘dishonest’. I see no need to mention ‘them’ at all.
    “Won’t they dismiss your views as “˜dishonest'”
    You’re asking me to guess the views of individuals I’ve never met, and assume that they imagine that I believe something which I do not. That’s not a question I can really answer!
    “How do you intend to square your “trust the public” with your “let’s stop the contagion (of denial I presume) from spreading””
    Why do you think something needs squaring?
    “After Jesus wanted to spread his message of forgiveness, he lived amongst the whores, thieves, lepers and murderers.”
    It’s an individual’s right to believe nonsense. If they don’t want to learn, there ain’t nothing you or I can do. But it is not their right to have others pay attention to their nonsense, to discuss their nonsense, or to take their nonsense seriously. I’ve watched the online debate for seven years. I’ve met a total of two skeptics who were willing to alter their beliefs when presented with better information. Our failure is not in failing to engage, it’s in trying to engage with people who don’t want to learn…
    “do you intend to chase away”
    You’re a strange old fellow.

    Of course not.

  32. Lazar says:

    Sashka,
    “They probably”
    I wonder who ‘they’ are?

  33. Lazar says:

    “they always assume”
    Isn’t that an assumption?

  34. jeffn says:

    Sashka: “No I didn’t miss it. It’s exactly what I meant, too. It is a political game but the one that they might well win.”
    I don’t think they can ever win, actually. They might get one or two political victories, but because there never was any support for a policy,  nothing happens.
    The real problem is that this game is what causes the incivility and hyper-partisanship. There really are people out there so poorly educated that they actually believed their candidate was going to to “take action” on global warming but that the bad old GOP stopped them. Non-sense. The Democrats know that a carbon tax or fee has no support (and no expected results) and they know their own voters will reject any of the viable alternatives to coal. So the Democrats opt to do nothing at all and blame the Republicans.  

  35. Tom Scharf says:

    …”The vital first step of actually finding stuff out is missing from most people”

    What you find out, when you go to try and “figure stuff out” is that climate science has not figured it out yet, and appears to be quite a long way from figuring it out.

    Unwinding human influences (CO2 forcing) on the climate from other climate forcings has only just begun, and what you have now is a case of scrambled eggs.  They can’t be unscrambled with the data we have now, and we are only left to wait for better data and endlessly speculate.  We have best guesses, not answers.  This is openly acknowledged.

    Climate models, which are key to establishing the correctness of the forcings, and the “alleged” strong secondary effects of the CO2 forcing, have performed poorly (prediction skill) when compared to actual new measurements over the past few decades.   This results in little faith that climate science has a good grasp on even the coarse drivers of climate.

    It hasn’t even been until recently that ENSO has been seen to play a much bigger role than previously thought.  El Nino and La Nina are significant drivers of climate and predicting these is notoriously difficult.

    This drives a valid conclusion that any alarmism based on theories of tipping points and large future temperatures swings to be unwarranted.  It could happen, but waiting for more firm analysis seems to be the prudent path unless low cost solutions are found.

    Having a debate on what to do in light of this is a debate worth having. 

    Debating whether people who hold this view are “anti-science” is a waste of carbon.

     

  36. Menth says:

    20. “That is all broken. There aren’t two sides; there are multiple viewpoints. There is no sceptic credo; there is no GW credo. Similarly, believing that each side is uniformly of good faith, or not, is to fail to realise the diversity.”


    I agree with this to an extent, indeed there are diverse opinions within each camp. Those at Judith Curry’s site who are “Slaying the sky dragon” of the “myth” of greenhouse gases are certainly different than those who simply believe that the climate sensitivity is lower than currently estimated. Likewise, on the pro consensus side there is a spectrum of belief in the severity and implications of carbon emissions. It is certainly knee-jerk generalizing to pretend pro-consensus members all believe it is rational speculation that aliens are going to eradicate us for capitalizing on fossil fuels and likewise that skeptics all believe in an iron sun.


    However from a sociological scale view there definitely seems a cultural schism between what can best be called for argument’s sake “conservatives” and “liberals”.  What I intended with my comment that Keith excerpted was to point out that in these debates, whether they are about climate change, national debt, social issues, etc. is that both positions are rooted in a deeply held, good faith belief in what is best for humanity (“Human flourishing is rooted in technological advancement,economic prosperity, strong traditional family environments and the ability for free individuals to rise and fall according to merit! vs Human flourishing is rooted within balance with the greater ecosystem, strong social safety nets, and the upward social mobility of those historically left out! Or some variation on these.) Obviously somewhere in between is objective reality which each side sees through their own respective ideological lenses whether it’s in regard to climate science or economics.


    “Similarly, believing that each side is uniformly of good faith, or not, is to fail to realise the diversity.”


    True. However, it’s important to differentiate between the larger socio-cultural groups as a whole and the particular individual internet dick-heads of each group. We are a uniquely social animal. Personally, I believe humanity has flourished in part because of the interplay between these two predominant cultural tendencies within individual societies.
     
    If anybody is still reading then I heartily recommend watching what I believe is an essential TED lecture for our day & age: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vs41JrnGaxc
     
     

  37. Menth says:

    AND…for love of song and the fact I’m on vacation right now and have had a few beers here’s a perhaps more apropos video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcG47CpsU6c
     

  38. Keith Kloor says:

    Speaking of vacation, that’s where I’m headed. See you all next week.

  39. harrywr2 says:

    ‘White Propaganda’, I.E. Selective presentation of facts has a shelf life.
    The only way to fight ‘white propaganda’ is with a full disclosure of facts.
     
     

  40. EdG says:

    “BArry Wods Says:
    August 29th, 2011 at 4:20 pm
    as long as “˜ thinking for yourself’ & “˜asking questions’ based on others sceptical thoughts and questions is considered “˜contagion’ It is hard to see where the pro-CAGW side is going with this.”

    My first thought when I read that too.

    Have a great vacation Keith. Avoid real contagion.

  41. “As someone, somewhere recently posted (was it you?) the experiences of a recanted sceptic began with “When I started to read the IPCC report”¦”. The vital first step of actually finding stuff out is missing from most people.”
    Kinda like people who have opinions about climategate without reading the mails.

  42. Menth says:

    Since Keith is on vacation I’ll go out on a limb and say he would probably have something to say about this column from the libertarian website Reason: http://t.co/QUrZfGY

  43. Jeff Norris says:

    Chapman’s beginning theme is that the original fears later proved unfounded or less catastrophic after more research.   He then goes into the consensus argument.  Notably missing is any highlight of experts or the consensus that supported previous scares.  Alar for example.
     Prior to 1989, five separate, peer-reviewed studies of Alar and its chemical breakdown product, unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH), had found a correlation between exposure to the chemicals and cancerous tumors in lab animals. In 1984 and again in 1987, the EPA classified Alar as a probable human carcinogen. In 1986, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged the EPA to ban it.
    The fight against Alar is not over as witnessed by this recent post by Wendy Gordon who blames Big Orchard.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-gordon/alar-apples-_b_843628.html
     
    His argument really boils down to this time it is different.  Maybe he is right, this time like mostly every other time, the Science is good but the tactic of proponents saying shut up and don’t ask questions does not seem very scientific.
    Now we will  begin the eternal and tiresome at this point “ Consensus Debate”
     

  44. David44 says:

    Perhaps relevant is a presentation by Dan Gardner, a Canadian journalist, on intelligence, knowledge and bullshit.  He very entertainingly makes the case that not only are intelligent people not immune to bullshit, but perhaps more susceptible.  He also provides a cure.  All of us on all sides of the climate debate could profit from his perspective:

    http://www.ideacityonline.com/talks/dan-gardner-on-intelligence-knowledge-and-bullshit/

    Well worth the 15 minutes. (If for some reason the link doesn’t work, google “Dan Gardner ideacity”.)
     
     

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